Losing Socks and S**t

I am staring at a pile of socks. My blood begins to boil because I thought I had recovered. I thought that I didn't care that our socks don't match. They will never ever match. I have tried everything to rid myself of the desire to have the socks in our home to match. I myself have (mostly) matching socks and Big Man must have matching socks for work. His sense of humor shows through on his socks. Screaming T Rex's, guitars, and or waddling penguins accompany his conservative suits, but penguins do not walk next to the dinosaurs. Funny would become weird and so his socks match and we have worked hard to make it so.

But kids don't care if their socks match and so I don't care.

Except I really do.

I am looking at this pile of socks and I don't know where their mates are, and I don't even recognize some of these socks as belonging to my family. I know I've seen singular socks on the floor of a car, wedged into the recliner, resting on some lawn toys in the yard,  in the barn, and one scrunched into lunchbox I'd cleaned out after day camp. I DO NOT KNOW HOW THIS HAPPENS. But it does. And then, because of lost socks, I start to lose my shit.

I really know it is not worth losing my shit over mismatched socks. There are bigger fish to fry, more pressing needs, but it can sometimes feel that so little in my life matches up nicely that a simple pairing of the socks would just soothe my weary soul. Except that it doesn't because it can't. We are a family who cannot keep socks in pairs.

I have tried only buying one kind for each kid. But then grandma decides they need socks and they are a different kind. Or the kid who only wears white suddenly wants to wear black. Low socks are out and high socks are in, or these socks make his feet sweat, and these socks have a weird bump and she won't wear them. Oh, and kid's feet? They grow. Quickly. What fit yesterday may not fit today and tomorrow is totally a crap shoot.

Summer is a blissful reprieve since Thing I lives in flip-flops and Thing 2 won't wear shoes. Mostly this will mean he won't wear socks and this makes me soooooo happy because I don't have to wash them or dry them or feel utter failure in trying to pair them since they won't match up anyway.

I try not to lose any sleep over this. In fact, I never used to sleep over much. Until I had kids and I had to start managing their shit.

When they are babies, it is one big shit-managing factory. Then they start to move and you are chasing their shit. Then they are using the potty and you are just praying the shit lands in the right place or near the right place. And might I define 'right'? Is that a toilet? Or outdoors? Near a tree? Or out in open? You start pondering questions about shit you never once considered. But finally their shit is contained. Or at least properly managed. Then they start having opinions about their shit and overnight it seems you have lost control. In my case, I start to not only lose my shit but theirs as well. All of this makes me so tired yet I can't possibly think of losing sleep too.

But I do.  Sometimes I get into bed and my body is screaming for sleep and my mind just won't shut down. I toss and turn. I will myself to breathe in and out slowly. I get quiet. I relax and two hours pass and I am....wide awake.

I start to troll my home like a stranger. I look at this and that as if I have never seen it before because maybe I haven't. Zombies who wander during the day don't really see and since I sometimes lose sleep, I am not always fully alert. These night time strolls give me a chance to examine my own shit. I study my cupboards and my linen closet. Who has one of these? It is fun to say linen closet like you are an adult, but mine is really just some shelves with random stuff shoved here and there. Oh yes! I see a balled up sheet. Ah, my linen closet. I am an adult. I allow myself to feel proud for three minutes before I consider the books I never get to. Rarely will I ever read good books in the middle of the night because I won't be able to stop which means I will never sleep. Just thinking about this as I look at the books starts to make me lose my shit again so I turn on the computer and go to annoying sites. I find myself on People.com. I am so riddled with shame to be reading about someone named Kim Kardashian when I could be reading The Inventions of Wings or The Goldfinch, and yet I am fascinated by the size of her butt. I think my butt is large but not nearly as fascinating but this must mean something good for women to have this brunette with a large ass taking up so much media space and then I lose more time and sleep and my shit wondering what I have done wrong when my butt is large and I am a brunette and yet I can't keep my shit together like she clearly does and could I have not been reading????

I bet she has help.

I have no help. I am not a good shit-manager because I lose my shit too much and so it is likely I would not be good with help or to help so it is best to tackle all of this alone. Private shit-losing just has to be better.

I mean, I can't even match socks. How could I handle help?

It seems like sock-matching should be such a soothing task. This goes with this. Problem. Solution.

But it never works that way. I want to sleep. Sometimes I can. Sometimes I can't. Kim has help. I need help, but I shouldn't get it because I would lost my shit like I lose my socks. And I don't want to lose my shit over socks that don't match. But still, I really want to match my socks.

What a beautiful mess.

I gathered with three friends last week and we were discussing details of an issue I am working through with my daughter. They thanked me for sharing. They gave me a high five for how Big Man and I were handling things. They said we were being proactive and preventative. It felt weird to accept praise because when you are inside something you simply do the best you can.

The only thing I really know about parenting is that it will kick you six ways to Sunday. No matter who you are and how well you think you know your kid, it is impossible to really understand everything that is going on inside them.

You can do all the "right" things and read the books and all the research and proceed with all cylinders firing and still be thrown for a loop. "Good" parents can be looking and still not see. "Good" kids can still shock you. "Good" kids can still be good and do bad things. "Good" kids get to explore the world right along with the rest of us and sometimes it means they may use poor judgment. I am not saying that you can't know your kid. I am just saying each kid has their own journey. The minute you utter, "My kid would NEVER..." is a way of dishonoring what they just might need to learn through a mistake AND it becomes the exact moment you need to start eating your words. I shudder when parents are unable to admit that their child just may have taken a wrong turn.

I just really hopewishprayencouragebelieve that if we could cut the crapdenialpretense and collectively throw up our hands and say, "Hey! I am trying! I didn't know! I thought this about my kid and I was wrong!" we'd all just really be so much more comfortable when the shit does hit the fan in reaching out to others with our fears and uncertainties and our mistakes. Ours and our kids.

We are not perfect. Our kids are not perfect, and in the end we are all just sort of shooting from the hip. Anyone who has spent time in a formal learning situation knows that reading a "how to" manual is radically different than live learning. Parenting is the ultimate in on-the-job-training and while practice does make better, it is does not make perfect.

I refuse to wear rose-colored glasses. I can list for you a thousand ways in which I love my child and I can list for you a thousand things I love about my child. I can get all Mama Bear with the best of them, but at the end of the day the best thing I can do is share my doubts and admit that it's quite possible I screwed up. It is quite likely I missed something. It is quite likely I had a parenting fail. Or two. Or sixty. And maybe, just maybe, my kid was human and messed up too.

I wish we could all be like this.

Yes, we need to be on the side of our kid. But that side also has to be willing to admit defeat, mistakes, and imperfections because that is where real growth happens. That is when you get to open it up to what I have come to believe is one of the most glorious words in the English language...help.

Thing 1 has some struggles and I am not going to define them as good or bad or right or wrong. What has come from these struggles is that she admitted to them and we were willing to see them. We had been suspicious. Our parenting guts suggested something was off, but it wasn't until we saw some things in writing and she opened up to us that we could really move forward.  None of this has been fun. However, I am completely convinced that the more control we think we have, the more we are deluding ourselves.

I am thankful for my friends who have borne so much from me this year. These people have cheered and lifted and quietly prayed and burned candles all in the name of me and my family and then taken the time to say, "Well done!"


This feels like so much to take in and hold and yet it is exactly what happens when we share and open up and let down the walls.

We are alone as we go about our days and yet when we share, we are together in our messed up and glorious imperfections. I feel like the very best and most perfect thing I can do is admit this and cradle and cherish and be thankful for my particular mess.

I am.

I so am.

And I just really want you to be able to do the same. It is freeing and humbling and what all of us needs to move a little more gently through this wonky world of life.

Only Kindness Matters

I have been thinking a lot about kindness. You know, me and Jewel.

But it's not just Jewel. George Saunders turned a commencement speech into a New York Times best seller and more recently, The Atlantic shared the results of decades of research into how kindness affects marriage.

Mark Twain

and Mother Teresa

and the Dalai Lama have chimed in as well.

So thinking about kindness is not new or revolutionary, but I have been thinking mostly about how it works inside families.

Thing 2 in in Y camp this week. There is someone who is not kind and this niggles at him so we have talked about how he should handle this person. I have reminded him of times when he himself has chosen to be unkind, especially to his sister, in the hopes that he might make some sort of connection as to what causes a person to act this way. He hasn't really figured that out yet so the agreed method is to cast a wide berth around the persistently unkind kid and let the chips fall where they may. This kid isn't in his life forever so it seems ok to let him be unless physical harm occurs. Then it becomes a different matter.

And this makes me think of how much easier it can feel to be kind to strangers than to those you love most. Thing 2 may never have to cross paths with this kid after Friday, but he will be with his sister and us for the rest of his life.

Why do we hurt people closest to us? The persistent messiness of daily life just gets wearing, I guess. Years and hurts stack up. They start to weigh on us until it feels hard to remember not having them. There is no baggage in helping out a stranger. The absence of a mental tally of who did whom wrong way back when and for how long makes the gentle offering of a hand or a dollar to someone unknown much easier.

But here is what I hope and what I strive for in my own family of four and beyond.

I hope that I can be the kind of person to pour the first glass of wine, to let the past go, to forgive myself and others, to look for what transcends history, to see beyond disappointments and baggage and fear to clearly identify what is here and now.

Thing 1 and Thing 2 went on a walk together yesterday and in some sort of temporary cosmic shift, there was no bickering. In fact, they were giggling when they returned home and I felt stunned by the ease of their companionship. Rather than call any attention to this event, I allowed myself be quietly hopeful.

I have this same sort of hope inside my extended family and Big Man's family as we navigate aging parents and grandparents and ponder what we should have said or done. I hope for the absence of malice and the spirit of kindness towards each other in the moments that present themselves.

We all have things to let go of and I am working hard to just see and experience what is before me because what is before me is really grand. I would hate to miss it by looking too far backwards.

An exercise

So I wanted to share something I worked on while I was up in Bemidji.

I also need to take the time to say that I learned so much in a short amount of time with Rebecca Brown. She is a brilliant listener. She would lean back in her chair with pen in hand, scribble a note or two while we were reading, and then open it up to the class.When we were done, she would chime in on THE THING that needed to be said. Sometimes other listeners picked up on it, but they would merely hint at THE THING she so clearly heard. I am still learning this. It is different to listen as a writer. This is a real thing, to read and listen as a writer. I soaked up a lot of what she was discussing. I read some of her writing before class so I knew that how she values words shows up in the care of her choice of words. She is precise in the way poets are and not a word is present without just cause.With practice it becomes habit until you don't even notice that you are flash- sifting to find just the right word before it hits the page. I can just now feel myself starting to do this. It's not so much thinking before I write but having what I have learned become part of how I write.

I hope all that just made sense.

About this next piece:

I was taken with a few vignettes written by Kevin Sampsell. They are a collection of chronological memories that seem spare at first, but they are rich. My attempt was nothing like his, but what did happen for me was that I worked more consciously than ever to take what I see in Rebecca's work and think carefully about each word and let the story sort of just tell itself.

I chose to write about what my day was like on 9/11. I chose this for a few reasons. First, we all know what happened to us on that day and I think it is worth a simple recording if only to share with our children and grandchildren. Also, I can see this part of a larger collection and it's impact will be much different in the context of other work. I envision other ordinary days, some full of loss and regret and joy and it will be interesting to see how they fit next to each other.

For now, it stands alone and what I like more than anything is my effort. I am in this piece, but it is a stretch for me not to belabor a point. I feel good that I tried.

9/11, Madison, Wisconsin

We were living in Madison, WI and my husband was in his last year of a family practice residency. He had just gotten home from a long call night and went upstairs to take a shower. He always took a shower when he got off call no matter what time it was. He liked going to sleep clean.

It was hot and humid and our only relief came from a tiny window air conditioner in the living room. That’s where I was, sleeping on the pull-out couch with my three-month old baby.  I woke up when I heard the shower running, sticky from leaking breast milk.  I pulled my daughter closer to me, switched on the television, and began to nurse.  I was half in and out, tired from my baby’s fitful night.  I didn’t understand what I was seeing. I saw masses of blue sky. I saw dark billows of smoke. I saw that one of the twin towers had been hit.  I knew I was looking at the World Trade Center, but why would a small plane just fly into it?

I stared at the screen and tried to make some sense of it. Another plane appeared.
“Hey Bob! Get down here, please! This is so weird. Bob! Shouldn’t a pilot see a tall building?”  I knew he couldn’t hear what I was saying, but I kept talking.

Bob walked into the living room just as the second plane hit. He settled in next to us and we stared at the tv together. I couldn’t stop wondering out loud.

He was quiet, tired from a long night, and I couldn’t tell if he was really paying attention to me. After a bit he said, “It was probably planned, honey.”

“What? Why?”

He never answered my questions and I stopped talking. We continued to watch tv, three of us stretched out on the pull-out couch, the baby in the middle. We drifted in and out of sleep, me waking to nurse, him to find a snack. My chest was sore from the constant feeding, and the exhaustion pressed in around us.

I don’t know how much time passed before he reached for the remote and said, “Let’s turn this off.”

I remember how quiet that room was, except for the cranky sounds coming from the air conditioner. My entire life was curled up next to me on a pull- out bed  and I remember feeling like the world had changed.

I couldn’t help but replay the smoke and crumbling towers in my head until I joined my family in sleep. 

More Cracks

Big Man is getting wiser. My writing workshop ended on a Friday and he asked me not to come home until Saturday. He knows that it is hard work for me, but we are only now starting to figure out why.

I want to explain just a bit about what I am learning and it may sound like a bunch of gobbledy-gook so stay with me if you can.