Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What I learned sitting at the kids' table

This past weekend I took Jovie to the fourth birthday party she'd been to in a month (her social calendar puts mine to shame. Hell, it probably puts the Kardashians to shame). She's met Elsa and Anna, jumped in bouncy castles, made futile attempts to master skee ball and eaten various Disney-character-themed confections and one badass leopard-print cake

And because she's only 3, Brad and/or I have gotten to attend every party, too. 

For all you single, childless readers who are forced to spend their weekends toiling through endless mimosa/Bloody Mary-filled brunches before taking leisurely bike rides or binge-watching entire seasons of whatever show is so hot right now (my guess is, it's not "PJ Masks" or "Paw Patrol") that feeling you have right now? It's called envy.

Who wouldn't want to spend a Saturday afternoon making small talk with the parents of your preschooler's classmates between sneaking bites of your kid's half-eaten cupcake and praying you're not being judged for sugar and white flour consumption or some other breech of etiquette (like maybe having your fly down for the entire party ... which you were mortified to discover when you got home)? 

Usually, I'm the parent accompanying the kid to the birthday party. It's not that Brad won't do it (in fact, he went to two recently), but he gets anxious at the thought of making small talk with his stylist at the Great Clips. Meanwhile, I've been known to seek out random strangers to chat with when we're out and about. The child's birthday party is clearly more in my comfort zone.

But I've been a little burnt out lately. So I wasn't feeling especially social when it came time to go to Saturday's party. I didn't feel like asking about Easter plans or sales on kid's clothes or what developmental stage which kid had reached at which time. You know, all that typical mom stuff. And the mom's in Jovie's class are lovely. Really, all the one's I've met are friendly and warm and engaging. 

But I just couldn't muster up the energy to converse.

So I sat at the kid's table (the kids said it was OK).

One of the little girls seemed like she was in the same mood I was. So, I kept her company. The two of us anti-socialites agreeing that it was perfectly acceptable to skip the pizza and apple sauce and go straight for the cake and ice cream. 

At one point I was turned into a frog (one of the girls used her arcade game winnings on a plastic wand). She later turned Jovie into a moose – at Jovie's request. We weighed the merits of various jelly bean flavors and how smart it was of Fiona to use her tickets for ALL THE CANDY, which she generously shared with her friends. 

It was a nice break. Not having to be on. Just being silly.

I think sometimes we need to sit at the kid's table. 

Maybe all the time. 

At the kids table, there's no shoving down feelings or standing on ceremony or performing (unless, of course, you're performing a made-up song about being turned into a moose). You're just there eating your pizza (or not because the cheese is too slimy) and begging your parents to go back to the indoor playground or inviting all eight of your best friends over to a sleepover that night. 

If you're cranky, you don't pretend not to be cranky simply because you're at a birthday party and birthday parties are supposed to be fun. Sometimes you don't feel like being at a birthday party. Even if it is with all the friends you love chasing around on the playground.

These days it seems like I'm having a lot of conversations with people (including conversations with myself) who are kind of bummed at the birthday party. Only, unlike a 4 year old, they're ashamed to admit it – because we're grownups and showing that you're kind of bummed, much less talking about it openly isn't socially acceptable.

So we're shoving all that down with and putting on a smile. 

But it doesn't quite feel right, does it?

Because there's a reason we feel kind of bummed. And feeling guilty about feeling bummed isn't helping us feel better. And rationalizing the reasons why we shouldn't feel kind of bummed isn't helping.

And telling ourselves that we're not refugees or starving or living under a bridge and therefore shouldn't feel kind of bummed isn't helping.

I mean right? We're still kind of bummed.

And it's OK. Because nobody is judging you for being bummed. They're all too busy being bummed about their own shit or enjoying being not bummed. And if they're going to question you for feeling how you feel, well, those aren't the people you need to be spending time with anyway.

It's not that I recommend you wallow or anything. 

Even a 4 year old knows that you might arrive at the party and be intimidated by all the strange grownups and be a little freaked out by how it's kind of dark and maybe there's a weird smell and maybe you didn't sleep because you had a dream about being force-fed green beans that are absolutely the worst thing you could possibly ever have to eat – where we we? Oh right, you come to the party with all this baggage and it doesn't feel great, and you kind of want to just sit by yourself somewhere. But then all of the sudden you're offered some vanilla ice cream and things start looking a little different. And because you're 4, you don't hold on to the fact that you felt bummed before. You let that feeling go and you celebrate the vanilla ice cream. 

There are a lot of people I know (myself included), who don't feel comfortable feeling certain emotions. We're so divorced from our instinct that we question why we're sad or why we're angry or why we're afraid and then deny the validity of that feeling because it's not socially acceptable. 

But you know what? It's really OK to feel how you feel. And maybe if we allow that feeling to play out how it needs to, then it goes away. And we can start feeling more like ourselves.

Lily is a fantastic example for this. She's a raw nerve of a person. Her reactions to any given scenario – hair brushing (OUCH WENCH! WHY MUST YOU TORMENT ME?!!!), Panera's macaroni and cheese (HUZZAH!! YOU HAVE GIVEN ME THE RAREST TREASURE IN ALL THE UNIVERSE!!!), absentee relatives (i just miss grandma and grandpa so much (lots and lots of tears)) – are absolutely genuine. And mercurial.

Her emotions are real. And immediate. And intense. And then they're gone.

And she's back to pestering her sister and pretending to be a talking Saint Bernard puppy and begging to watch YouTube videos.

I'm not suggesting we all scream and flail in the back seat of the car at the mere suggestion we go to a park after school even though our leg really, really hurts because of a mortal (relatively speaking) wound acquired the day before that required treatment with a Band-Aid. 

We are grownups after all. But it's OK that that we revert back to childhood. At least by allowing the emotion to run its course. Be angry. Be sad. Be scared. Be lonely. Be frustrated. 

Be all you need to be. 

Maybe don't scratch your little sister after hissing like a cat.

Though hiss like a cat if you need to.

Then, when the time feels right (or someone hand you ice cream), let it go.

Be happy.

And the moments when you feel like you just can't be happy, go sit at the kid's table. 

They'll show you how it's done.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

How beautiful it can be when things get ugly

Every morning I arrive back home from working at the farm Lily asks me the same question:

"Mom, what happened at the farm today?"

She doesn't want to hear about the how I efficiently fed and watered six horses, three cows, three sheep, three goats, seven pigs, a large flock of chickens and one cat. She doesn't care that I finally, after six months, figured out how to pick a stall without wasting sawdust and flinging poo over (rather than in) the wheelbarrow. She doesn't want to know that I no longer have a fear of retrieving eggs from under ruthless, overprotective hens and their pecky beaks.

No, Lily, with a glimmer in her eye and a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth, doesn't want me to tell her about things going right.

She wants me to tell her that I forgot to shut the door to the feed room door, allowing the pigs to feast on apples intended for horses. She wants me to tell her that Annabelle the sheep escaped from her pen forcing me to lamely chase her up and down the barn aisle because she's was surprisingly nimble and evasive for a frumpy looking Karakul sheep. She wants me to tell her that Alli the horse farted on me (again) while I was giving her water.

Lily celebrates shenanigans. Minor catastrophes. Little annoyances. It's the root of her bubbliest laughter and her most infectious glee.

She makes me want things to go wrong. Well, maybe not totally wrong. But at least harmlessly not right. Because when things go harmlessly not right, I get to see that smile.

And that's finding a bag of M&Ms and a fresh cup of hot coffee with a friend and warm wool socks and the day the paper whites your mom gave you for Christmas finally bloom.

I've been thinking a bit about when things get broken lately. Or when they're not quite right. Just off or a little uncomfortable.

The the perfect things and perfect moments are just so fleeting. Like a snowflake melting on your windshield. There to appreciate in one breath and then gone.

More often we're left to unearth our happiness from these grimy, dark places.

Brad and I have seen this in our marriage recently. There has been anxiety and frustration and anger. There have been cracks we couldn't have predicted seven and a half years ago when we said our vows.

He had a beautiful description in an email last week*: 

"I feel like I'm looking at you and the girls and feeling like it's all very fragile. And I want to hold you all tight and never let go. But also, I want it to be comfortable, like ... to be in a place where it's not tender or fragile, but confident and comfortable and steady. Not stagnant, but steady and settled."

I've realized lately, that it's critical to recognize the fragility of ourselves and our relationships and our communities and our earth. It's only when we recognize each other as breakable that we start to be more careful, right? 

I told Brad that I believed the foundation of our relationship was strong because we also know it's fragile. Like so many things, it's both. Steadfast and fleeting. Delicate and resilient.  

Enormous oak trees gather the light that allows them to survive the winter through leaves that brown and whither by November. 

The things that walk this wire are the most beautiful.

But you only get to witness them at the point when they're near breaking or broken. And then you might dig up something even stronger in the wake.

Lily loves to listen to Adele. 

"You can sing like Adele," I told her.

"No, I can't," she told me. "My voice is too scratchy."

When she told me this, my heart fell. So self-conscious and only 5 years old. But Lily, I said, Adele's voice isn't perfect always. It cracks, too.

In fact, I told her, one of my favorite parts of one of my favorite songs by Adele is when her voice gets a little ugly. The very end of "When We Were Young" when she sings, "Oh I'm so mad I'm getting old / It makes me restless" and you feel her fury and heartache through the shattering of her voice. 

It's true that messes can be frustrating and exhausting. That when things break it makes us feel sad and angry. Lost and afraid. Unsettled and adrift. All those negative things that make us want to crawl into bed, pull the cover over our head and never come out. 

But, just like joy and silliness, these moments of tension are what shape us and give us depth. They're the tinder for the fire in our souls. And without them, we're less alive. 

My 5 year old taught me that.  

* Brad said it was OK for me to share this. Then he said he felt like it was a little bit like being naked in public. Then I said, "Nah, it's just like being naked on the internet." It's what I do. Metaphorically, of course. And for those who worry, we are all just fine.