I Will Never be That Kind of Mom

I follow some pretty amazing women on Instagram who are mommy bloggers. These women–all of them–have their crap together. Yes, I know people typically only post the positive aspect of their lives on social media. I mean, I wouldn’t be sitting here typing these words on my husband’s brand new Mac while eating an ice cream sandwich if I was reading about women like myself. But really, do they even exist?

Today, as I carried my four year-old (upside down–to prevent further urine spillage) to my bathroom and put her in the shower, clothes and all, visions of the IG mamas danced in my head. Okay, they didn’t really dance; they kind of looped through my head, mocking me. Like Mother Teresa taunting Dr. Ruth. And as I positioned myself on all fours on the kitchen floor with paper towels and bleach to scrub away pee for the twenty-seventh time this week, I recalled photos of a chubby, laughing toddler splashing about in a flooded bathroom because oops, mom turned her back for a second and the tub overflowed. Chubby Toddler’s mom then wrote this eloquent piece about patience and children being innocent babes for such a short time and sitting in the floor splashing with that perfect cherub child born of her loins, until their fingers were wrinkled like parched grapes left to whither away on the ground at the local vineyard . Gag.

Then I suddenly snapped out of that IG mama’s photo and heard laughter coming from my own offspring. This time, though, it was the boy, and he wasn’t laughing because I was fun mom with bubbles and water paints and homemade baked cookies, but instead because I had slipped on my yoga mat that had also been saturated by Miss I’m too busy for that long trip to the toilet so I’ll just relieve myself here. I grabbed a Clorox wipe and scrubbed myself with its pleasant smelling chemicals, while yelling how nice it must be for my husband to talk to adults all day while I cleaned bodily fluids and brushed out hair knots and washed god knows what out of the underwear of these short humans I live with. And then it happened again. Those photos of white walls and floor boards, and beautiful british babies frolicking in their backyard picking and eating fresh blueberries. Without one stain on their crisp, linen rompers. Not one!

And then it occurred to me, as the thirteen year-old huffed some (I’m positive) profanity under her breath and rolled her eyes at me because she had to take overflowing bladder baby out of the shower, that I will never be that kind of mom. Ha! You thought I was going to say something philosophical about how we are all perfect moms in our own way, and how I suddenly had an epiphany and now appreciate all the trials and tribulations of motherhood. Well, you’re wrong. I will never be that kind of mom. Sure, I love my kids. They are all pretty cool in their own Children of the Corn Malachi mixed-up sort of way.

But I will never let them wear shoes in the house or crawl into my bed with cute dirty little summer feet or leave their toys strewn all over the house because that is the sign of a home. I don’t want the outside tracked in on my freshly Swiffered floor, I like my sheets clean (minus the Prozac drool), and Barbie shoes and Legos hurt like hell when you step on them. I will never laugh when my bathroom gets flooded because dammit water is scarce. And expensive! I will never grow fruit in my backyard. I mean, I did once, but the dog pooped in the garden so I pulled everything up in a blind rage. I will never be the mom who doesn’t need the assistance of every filter Instagram has to offer. And you know, I’m okay with that.

And I say that I’m okay with that, not because I’m a terrific mom who is suddenly secure in her parenting skills, but because my husband took the kids to the movie theatre, I’m on my second ice cream sandwich, and we bought a lot of wine in the Hill Country last week. Now, where is that cork screw?

 

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Habits, Obsessions, and Superstitions

I have OCD. I have OCD. I have OCD. There, I said it three times, so now my mother’s back won’t break. Wait, that’s a superstition. Not an obsession. And I think a sidewalk crack should have been mentioned somewhere.

I often see the acronym for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder being tossed around by some of my acquaintances to describe habits or superstitions. I keep my mouth shut because I try to avoid confrontation, but for me, OCD is real. It is not something I like to brag about on Facebook just because bleach is a prime commodity in my home. Like water. And Goldfish Crackers.

I remember vividly my first encounter with OCD. It was not me who was cursed by it initially, but my mother. I won’t go into detail about my childhood experience because I don’t have permission to expose those demons (and I use this word, not to represent some satanic entity, but as a metaphor for the disease), but I will say that it was a sad, nightmarish moment in my family’s life. The repercussions of not obeying said demons were more than a simple fear of contracting a germ that causes the common cold. If the laundry wasn’t done (and redone) a particular number of times, or we weren’t bathed to the point that our skin was dried and cracking, something horrific would happen to our family.

I was nearing the end of elementary school when my mother sought treatment. By then, I recognized that something wasn’t normal about my family. Because I was spending more time at my grandmother’s house, I began noticing odd behavior from her as well. She once fell dramatically in her office chair—breathing heavily with her head resting on her hand—after having witnessed me walk under a ladder. One of the first times I remember her yelling at me was when I threw my hat on my bed. And spilling salt forced her to hurriedly pick up granules, and throw them over my shoulder. In her mind, it was possible that I might become a witch, die, or be possessed by an evil spirit lurking over my left shoulder. Her superstitions were just as crippling as my mother’s Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I was often embarrassed by their actions, but little did I realize I was beginning to exhibit the same behavior, only with different consequences.

By that time, I had already had the short experience in the Pentecostal church that I previously wrote about, so I often attribute my first bit of intimacy with OCD to that. It’s always good to have the ability to blame those who threaten hellfire and damnation to kindergarteners. I will be fair, though, and admit that the culprit very well could have been all those late-night episodes of “The Twilight Zone” I would watch after my grandparents had gone to bed. No, it was definitely the fear of living eternally in a bed of brimstone. Anyway, I remember lying in bed one night listening to the ticking of an old-fashioned alarm clock that sat on my dresser, when I suddenly felt the need to say “I hate the devil.” So with each tick an obsession was borne: tick “I hate the devil” tick “I hate the devil” tick “I hate the devil,” until my body would begin to shake, and I would simultaneously jump out of bed to tuck the clock inside a drawer underneath a stack of flannel pajamas.

As I grew older, new and improved obsessions took over. And when I think back to the pain and humiliation I felt and/or inflicted on those I loved, I get angry at the aforementioned people who use the term so flippantly. OCD is spending ten years as a single mother checking the light switches three consecutive times to make sure they are in the off position (when clearly the lights are not on), and unplugging everything—everything—before you leave the house for fear that it will catch on fire. OCD is not simply making sure the lights are turned off; that is just being economical. OCD is scrubbing each of your daughters’ heads every night with medicated shampoo just because you saw one of them scratch her head. OCD is not simply bathing your children before they go to bed each night; that’s just good parenting. OCD is taking everything out of the kitchen cabinets, moving the refrigerator and stove, and scrubbing the countertops with bleach several times a week because you live near cotton fields and fear a mouse may have come into your home when you weren’t looking. OCD is not simply wiping down your cabinets after mealtime; that’s just not being gross. OCD is thinking that, because you cannot be there to control every situation, your children are destined to become victims of a fire or an insect or Hantavirus. It is real and painful and exhausting.

So before you take a photo of yourself holding a bottle of Pine Sol with a caption that reads “Cleaning the house. I’m so OCD,” you should know that not only do you NOT have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but your sentence is grammatically incorrect, and it has been said that Pine Sol attracts the Pine Beetle which carries a fungus on its feet. You can check the latter on “MythBusters” if you’d like, but I’m going with it because, well, I have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and I’m not taking any chances.

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Starting Over

I was going to write “feeling depressed” as my Facebook status this morning, but the icon that accompanied that status only had a frown with a single teardrop, which looked nothing like how I felt. I was looking for more of a cross between Jack Nicholson saying “Here’s Johnny” as he swings a fire axe while chasing his annoying wife, and Forrest Gump crying over Jenny’s idyllic gravesite while telling her how perfect their son (who later sees dead people) is. But, that icon doesn’t exist, so here I am. Writing.

Several years ago, after learning I was not the only wife to my then husband, I filed for divorce and signed up for that little gem known as higher education. At the time, I was working full-time at a supermarket, and coaching tumbling part-time in exchange for lessons for two of my daughters. The other daughter was still attached to my boob like a marsupial, so I bought a breast pump, and checked the box with the words “non-traditional student” printed next to it. For seven years I worked, learned, and read bedtime stories from assigned readings. My children were introduced to literary geniuses whose writings spanned a multitude of genres.

I had it all planned out. I would ultimately assign some of the same books to my students. They would write brilliant, analytical papers that explored Woolf and Joyce, and we would have smart discussions about suicide and symbolism. But alas, I grew tired after seven years, and I was offered a job in another state. Moving away seemed ideal at the time, because I wanted to escape that little town in Texas and the people who had known me since I was “knee high to a grasshopper.”

So with a promise from an administrator (suspicious?), I was told my graduate classes would transfer and I could become a certified teacher through an alternative licensure program. I began teaching seventh grade writing, and less than three weeks later learned that no, my classes would not in fact transfer for the New Mexico certification program. I felt betrayed and angry. In the two years I taught in NM on an emergency license, I never received my certification. In all honesty, I just didn’t have the money to spend on more college courses. My monthly student loan payments were already more than all my other bills combined. I had children to feed. And writing scores to raise.

Three years later I am sitting here typing these words because it’s less pathetic than crying. I am typing these words because I have seven years of college on my transcript with a 4.0 GPA, and I am struggling to find a career that will, at the very least, pay for our health insurance and childcare. I am typing these words because I just accepted a position at a title 1 school where I have led a volunteer tutoring program for three semesters. My salary is less than I made working at the supermarket where it all began, and my self-esteem is somewhat depleted.

I thought I had prepared myself for this, especially after volunteer teaching in Vietnam this summer. After all, those teachers are paid an annual salary of $1200.00. That’s all. Most of them live in huts with dirt floors and walk miles to school each day. But I wasn’t prepared. Regardless of how simple you think you are, it is hard to escape that feeling of inadequacy when you realize your dreams are possibly fictional, much like those novels sitting on your shelf waiting to be analyzed.

Maybe I’ll return to school or attempt a certification program here in the great state of Texas. I have applied for jobs in every market one can imagine, because similar to my daughter who is a sophomore in college, I suddenly feel like I have no clue where my niche is. In a perfect world where there are no bills to pay and college loans are forgiven, I would sit and write all day, and attempt to be as funny as Jenny Lawson and as adventurous as Alex Honnold. But for now, I will step off that ladder I had so eloquently climbed and start over at the bottom. Or maybe I’ll design a new icon. One that’s holding a fire axe.

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Train Ride Epiphany

Last night I had a dream that I was in Vietnam. I was pacing back and forth frantically, worried that I wouldn’t make it to work on time. Crying in frustration over having misplaced my lesson plan, I began yelling at anyone who would listen, although I knew the locals couldn’t understand my language. In some feeble attempt to make myself heard, I began pleading to people in Spanish, but still they just nodded and smiled, oblivious to my words. I walked outside and fell to my knees, exasperated. I felt anxious and angry and resentful. I rose from the ground, worried the mud beneath me might be harboring some sort of parasite that would infest me. And then I awoke.

The train ride to the province of Lao Cai was the most restful of nights during my stint in Vietnam. Recalling a sailboat expedition around the islands of Hawaii when I was twelve, where I vomited profusely while my family mocked my ability to feed all the fish in the Pacific, I made a last-minute decision to take more than the recommended dosage of Dramamine, and my roommate decided to throw in some Melatonin for good measure.

The lull of the train gliding across the tracks, and the rocking back and forth of the car eased me into a peaceful slumber rather quickly. I did awaken around midnight, burning up under the silk sleeping bag I purchased in Hanoi for four American dollars. This was also a last-minute decision I made after listening to some veterans of the trip talk about the thousands of people whose heads and bodies had graced the surface of the mattress and pillow I would be sleeping on that night.

I painstakingly unwrapped myself from the sleeping bag and clumsily fell from the top bunk. The effort to descend gracefully from my perch would take entirely too much time, and besides, I didn’t want to waste the effect the cocktail of drugs I had already ingested was having on my body and mind. After five minutes of struggling to unlock the door to my room, I stepped into the muggy hall of the train car.

In a fog, I bounced from side to side, hitting the windows of the train car and then the doors of my neighbors, but I finally made it to the restroom. I pushed my way past the train attendants, who had been sleeping on the hard, filthy floor, and slammed the door shut, neglecting to lock it. The window was open just above the toilet, so as I hovered over the hole, I could feel the heaviness of the humidity seeping in, and I could see the shadows of the jungle in my peripheral view. Even in the heat that enveloped me in that tiny room, I shivered thinking about all those men in Tim O’Brien’s books. For the first time since I had landed in Vietnam, I felt torn.

As I made my way back up the hallway, I realized I had no idea what room I had come out of. I leaned against a window and pondered my next move. In a fit of desperation, and a desire not to waste my Dramamine/Melatonin high, I began trying to open doors. Surely, I thought to myself, mine would be the only one unlocked since everyone else seemed to be sleeping. But alas I was wrong, and opened a door to find the French backpackers I had seen at the train station lying in their underwear reading. I cursed them for their disregard for door locks, and for being so liberal with their penises. Angrily, I whipped around to find one of the attendants smiling at me.

She asked in broken English if I was okay, to which I shouted “no,” and for some reason (language barrier, perhaps), she immediately began banging on doors. By then it was after 1:00 a.m. After two wrong tries, my roommate opened the door. I didn’t even apologize for waking her. I simply climbed up to my bunk, crawled into my sleeping bag, and cried myself to sleep burdened by visions of dying soldiers and smiling Vietnamese women. At 6:00 a.m., I awoke to my roommate scrambling to get ready. The train would be pulling into Bac Ha soon, and we would not be given much time to exit the train, she informed me.

I jumped down from my bunk, grabbed my toothbrush and a bottle of water, and hurried down the hall to the sink area. I was walking and squirting toothpaste on my toothbrush simultaneously when I suddenly stopped. There she was. That tangled mess of trees and rain and war stories that had sickened me the night before, had transformed into something so surreal that I wept again. But this time I did not weep for the American soldiers of the past. I wept for the women and children of My Lai. I wept for that naked child running up a dirt road in Trang Bang covered in Napalm. I wept at the beauty of the land before me and the history that negated its beauty.

As I stood at one of the windows when the train stopped before entering the station, I watched men emerge from their shanties to begin their day of tedious farm work. Women, with babies tied to their backs in brightly-colored, hand-made baby carriers swept their dirt floors with brooms made of straw. I saw children herding water buffalo with a stick. Toddlers stood knee-high in water in the terraced rice paddies that covered the land before me. What I noticed most was the silence, as if everything my eyes were witnessing was an animated painting.

In my dream I loathed everyone around me, but really I was the only culprit to blame. On the train, I became angry at the naivety of complete strangers, yet I couldn’t even decipher for whom I should feel the most sorry—American soldiers or Vietnamese women and children—when really, neither should be pitied. I realized that recently I have been going through life fretting over my ability to perform perfectly, because for some petty reason, I have felt so imperfect. Yet, for whom was I trying to prove myself? All the other imperfect humans?

In the process of my inability to obtain flawlessness, I, once an avid hiker and lover of nature, had become flawed in my ability to see the perfection around me that was not manmade. As I stood there, I realized that poverty is not simply a monetary burden; it is comprised of many factors that include blinded humanity. As I watched this primitive act of life unfold from the train window, I felt whole again. When the attendant who struggled to understand my pleas the night before walked past me, we exchanged smiles, and I realized that language transcends linguistic understandings. In that moment of silence, a rebirth occurred, not only for me, but for the ghosts within the books I had read and the photos I had seen.

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Just in Case I Die

It’s funny how traveling abroad forces you to get in touch with your mortality.

When I was a kid, I wasn’t afraid to die. In fact, I vividly remember praying that God would let me die before I turned twelve years-old. I was probably nine at the time, but for some reason, I believed that the age of accountability was one’s last year as a pre-teen. When I grew up, I thought that was a very strange conversation to have with God, but it turns out I wasn’t the only kid threatened with fire and brimstone and the eternal gnashing of teeth. A friend of mine said she once prayed that God would turn her into a rock. In all reality, my prayer was much less ridiculous.

As a young adult, death really never crossed my mind. In fact, to this day, I am really unsure how I survived my early twenties. I did some very dumb things. I experimented with drugs, drank excessively, and worked in shady places with shady people doing even shadier things than me. No, not United. That job saved me, but that’s another entry.

I really didn’t think of death again until my grandmother began to die. And my grandfather did die. My grandfather was a healthy man. He collapsed on the golf course, and died a few months later from a brain tumor. My grandmother suffocated for five years at the mercy of emphysema and COPD. She swore until the day she died it was only an allergy. The order of their deaths made no sense to me. I don’t mean that cruelly. I loved them equally. But I began to wonder when it would be my time.

Now, I didn’t really obsess over my own death. I don’t even think I really cared yet about dying. I hiked and camped alone, this time minus the chemicals that made hiking much groovier when I was in my late teens and early twenties. Yes, I used the word groovy. I subjected myself to many newsworthy possibilities, but I was never afraid of the finality of my life. In fact, the likelihood of being lost on a trail, or having to use the hunting knife under my sleeping bag excited me.

Recently, however, I began to fear death. As soon as I learned I was traveling to Vietnam without my family, I started preparing to die. And while that may seem morbid to most, especially my husband, I have suddenly felt an overwhelming desire to organize. I have likened my actions to the nesting phase of a pregnant woman.

Keep in mind I am not entering a country burdened by a current war or high crime rate. Vietnam, in fact, has a lower crime rate than the United States. But for some reason beyond my comprehension, I feel it is prudent that in the event of my untimely death, my family knows where important things are. Like the glue gun. And the Neosporin. In just two weeks, I have organized every single drawer in the house: bathroom drawers, dresser drawers, night stand drawers, refrigerator and freezer drawers, and craft bin drawers. I have organized the pantry, the garage, the closets, and the filing cabinets.

I have ensured that my husband donates my clothes, my bike, and my organs. He must keep Karleigh in a car seat until she weighs eighty pounds. No exceptions. I don’t care if she’s in Middle School. There are things far more embarrassing. He is to never allow Hudson to play football. Ever. Boys have enough mental issues without the help of extra injuries caused from repeated concussions. Berkley must never take dance lessons again. The amount of make-up and hairspray used at a dance recital is, I’m sure, deadlier than Napalm. Aaliyah is to never jump on another trampoline. Ever. Straddle jumps are for cheerleaders, not softball players. I sort of verbally plagiarized that from Coach Weese. I did change basketball to softball, though. Moriah has to choose a major and stick with it. Soon. She will be consistently reminded of the four-year plan. And finally, I have instructed Kevin to never remarry the Rebecca DeMornay hand that rocks the cradle type. My children deserve a mom more like June Cleaver. Or Peg Bundy.

On a serious note, sort of, I am looking forward to my trip to Vietnam. I just have control issues, and being in (on?) an airplane for twenty-two hours somewhat lessens my ability to make my own decisions. I cannot control crazy fundamentalist passengers, deep vein thrombosis, drunken pilots, or engine failure, and that is very unsettling to me. Realistically, though, the odds of my fears are very low, unless you count that episode of “The Twilight Zone” where William Shatner sees a gremlin on the airplane wing. That could totally happen.

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My First Mountain was a Tree

Although I’ve never ice-climbed, I am obsessed with alpinists. That beautiful death dance that they so bravely perform at the mercy of an ice pick and crampons has always intrigued me. I have free-climbed on the red rocks of Utah, and I have hiked many miles across the U.S. But my story did not begin like those heroes of the mountain whose thoughts and words I so voraciously delve into when I’m missing the smell of my tent or the pain on my shoulders from carrying fifty pounds of gear. Living vicariously through such climbers as Lincoln Hall or Joe Simpson or Andreas Hinterstoisser or, especially, the heroic Tenzing Norgay is what forces me with absolute vigor to desire other lands upon which to tread.

If you have ever read a memoir by a mountaineer, you can almost guarantee it will begin, “I was born with an ice pick in my hand,” or “my father took me climbing before I was off the teat.” It’s true. These guys knew about climbing and experienced it first-hand at an age when most of us are just being manipulated into at least not defecating in our pants in public. My story began even later than that. It began at an age when I came to the realization that I loathed school.

I won’t whine about my childhood, for that is meant to embellish the pages of the aforementioned memoir. And besides, I credit instability and distrust for the stability and trust I find on the trail. If I was asked, like most lovers of nature are asked, when I first realized I loved the solitude of climbing and a trail, I can honestly pinpoint that to my seventh grade year.

I was twelve, about to turn thirteen, when I decided school was boring and pointless. I couldn’t fathom how my teachers, after attending school for twelve or thirteen years, could possibly sign up for more school that would teach them how to remain in school educating snot-nosed, dysfunctional children. It made absolutely no sense to me, this person who would later become a teacher herself. I, like many kids who attended the fifth-grade archaeological dig field trip, was going to discover the bones of our ancestors, and live in a tent made from tree limbs and a quilt my grandmother had purchased at an estate sale. I was going to be a vagabond, and no one could stop me.

And so it was a warmish fall day after my grandmother dropped me off in front of the Middle School, that I had what I remember as my first bout of spontaneity. I walked into the school, immediately turned around, and hurried back outside, across the street to my great-great-aunt’s house. Memaw’s health was already deteriorating at the time, but she still lived alone, save for my eldest brother who stayed with her several days a week, and her housekeeper, Rose, who came often to polish, and slowly turn a piss-yellow, Memaw’s ivory tables that her husband brought back from India during WWII.

Memaw never had children, which is why I, to this day, attribute her good hearing (and my inability to sneak in or out of her house) to the lack of fussing and fighting she had to encounter. Besides, if my brother and I so much as thought of squabbling at her house, you could bet Rose would be there waving the metal end of a fly swatter at us as we ducked and giggled and ran away forgetting why were even arguing in the first place.

As you can guess, Memaw heard me sneak in her back door that day. I simply yelled to her that I had forgotten my lunch as I rummaged through her pantry grabbing some Club Crackers and a glass-bottle of Coca-Cola, and ran out the door shouting “I love you,” while simultaneously scouting my hideout for the day. And there it was, on the side of her house, a tree with a perfect layout of limbs. With my backpack hoisted over my shoulder filled with Nancy Drew mysteries, crackers, and soda, I proceeded to climb that old tree up to the roof of Memaw’s house. And for the remainder of the day, I lounged on a portion of the roof that was actually a decorative overhang, canopied by that old climbing tree whose leaves were just beginning to turn and fall. From my hideout I could see the Middle School, and so I watched with a bit of paranoia for the police to come frantically searching for me, the lost girl, but they never did. It was there in that perfect place that I found security while I read the only mystery books I would ever touch again.

And that is where my love of the mountain, her trails, and their solitude was born. A cabin in New Mexico and young adulthood eventually gifted me with explorations that exceeded the flat, dirt-veiled lands of West Texas. I am no Edmund Hillary, and while my story is different from his, he and I and all of those men and women whose love of climbing could not be deterred, whether we were faced with a 200 foot deep crevasse or a system installed in High School that automatically called parents upon one’s attempt at being truant, all hold a high regard for mountains and their ability to provide a love for something that is much deeper than any love a human can give.

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