Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Lorelei & Sadie

My daughter Lorelei has been horseback riding for about 18 months. She rides whichever pony her instructor tells her to ride, although she has her favorites. Tracks, an old furry gentleman, is her main squeeze. But Tracks has a gross and stubborn skin problem on his rump, so he can't go to shows. Therefore, Lorelei rides Sadie, an adorable flea-bitten gray mare with prances prettily around the ring.

This past Sunday morning, before the long string of lessons began, Lorelei and I got to the barn so she could ride Sadie by herself. I stayed in the middle of the ring, happy to pretend to be her instructor, being careful to cheer more than correct. Lorelei guided Sadie around the ring, working on getting the correct diagonal while trotting, and transitioning quickly and smoothly from a walk to a canter. She made circles, figure eights, and turns at the quarter line. All was good.

Lorelei pushed Sadie to the middle of the ring to talk with me before doing one last thing, and when she pulled Sadie back to the ring after we chatted, Sadie spooked. Sadie jumped to the left, Lorelei fell to the right. BAM.

Lorelei and Sadie, November 2015
Lorelei was covered in dirt, holding the reins from the ground. It happened so fast! What just happened?!

This was a first for Lorelei. She knew that, at some point, she'd fall from a horse. She had heard my stories of falling--the silly first time when my pony coughed and put his neck down and I toppled right over to the most dramatic time when my horse flipped over me while jumping a bank jump. But someone else's stories don't fully prepare you for doing it yourself.

Lorelei stood up, shaking and crying and confused. I held her for a full minute and I wiped the dirt off her fleece. After a few minutes, I told her she had to get back on--right away. Because that stuff you hear about getting right back on a horse when you fall off is true. You have to, or else the fear lingers and grows and festers. She protested a little but, as she always does, did what I told her to do. After walking for a minute, she trotted around the ring, still shaking and crying. By the time she got back to me and squeezed the reins to a walk, I was crying, too.

We walked around the ring together, talking. Ever-logical Lorelei explained to me her hypothesis about horses freaking out in that I've-figured-out-something-big-that-no-one-else-has tone of voice. Lorelei thought that the two boy-ponies she had ridden and who had spooked (but she'd stayed on) did it at the rail, right there. Sadie, a girl-pony, had spooked in the middle of the ring. Ergo, she knew what to look out for next time. Next time, she'd be ready.

"Sweetie," I said in my I'm-about-to-pass-on-some-wisdom-here tone of voice. We humans want answers, we want the solutions to problems that seem mysterious--it's as if our brains don't like unanswered questions. Because uncertainty stinks! So often our brains get this relief and satisfaction with clear answers and correct solutions. Especially in math and science and geography quizzes like the one in her class last week. But in other subjects, like music and art, there aren't true answers. Things are more random. That's what makes them beautiful.

And horseback riding, that's more art than math. We're riding around on animals that have a mind of their own that we can often, but not always, predict and guide. That's the beauty and the struggle--and what makes riding interesting.

I witnessed my daughter's first fall off a pony. I helped her up, hugged her, brushed her off, and got back on. I know I won't always be there to do this, but I was so very grateful to be there the
first time.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

My Valentine Reality

Confession: Sometimes I plot a Facebook or Instagram post about a moment before that moment ever happens.

I know I'm not alone in this. You might be nodding your head, agreeing that you're guilty of this social media crime, too. Or you know of some show-offy mom whose life is nowhere near as picture-perfect-filtered as the pictures you see in your feed. (It's like she wakes up with make-up! And her kids wake up singing!)


My husband had been traveling for two weeks. He arrived home in the middle of the night, early on the morning of Valentine's Day. My three kids and I had thought it'd be fun to make homemade pasta as a family for Valentine's Day dinner. The four of us had made it about a month before and had a great time getting messy and slurping up every single noodle we made with our own hands.

Perhaps I should give you a head's up that my husband prefers to become one with the sofa during dinner prep and that chaos is not welcome in his aura and that my older son's nascent table manners are one of his biggest pet peeves in his life?

Still, I trudged onward with my plan. I thought I'll take a picture of all of us, making pasta and laughing together, and post "Food is love. And here are the people I love, making food together. My kitchen is full of love, and I'm so grateful." Or something hokey like that.

Great news! I got the picture!

Don't they look so happy to collaborate on this pasta? Can't you see the love?

Well, if you look closely at this picture, you can see where it all fell apart. My youngest son in the blue shirt, the one most obsessed with fairness within our family, is putting his palm where he thinks my husband's pasta should end. That line is clearly less than the length of my younger son's pasta. His big brother Ben's pasta is already longer than his, and his mood is fragile because we've waited too long for this perfect project and he's hungry and he's the third kid and fairly used to getting what he wants. Also, he's four.

Turns out, my husband's pasta was really, really long.

And that threw Kiefer into a pit of despair. He started crying and screaming and sobbing about how he wanted the longest pasta in the world. My husband and I had, I admit, not had the best day as a couple, so our nerves were already frayed. Our reservoir of patience for each other and for our kids was not teeming over. We took turns snapping at him and each other while also trying to console our son and joke him back to his normal jolly self.

By the time we sat down, my ever-enthusiastic daughter was really the only one holding us together. My older son's difficulty eating spaghetti neatly (what seven year old American boy can eat spaghetti neatly?!) inspired every-minute-on-the-minute reminders from my husband to "Chew with your mouth closed, BEN" or "Keep your lips together, BEN" or "BEN, what do you think I'm going to say to you?" or "BEN!"

The good news? The pesto I got for the occasion was really yummy and I tried to focus on that.

Okay, there's more than that. This Valentine's Day went by without any Facebook or Instagram post. And you know what? Who cares? Imperfect as we are, my husband and I are together and our family is eating and laughing and crying and working on manners together.

Happy Valentine's Day, all.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Worst Moment Ever as a Mom

On Day Nine of my 30-day No-Yelling challenge, I slammed a door so hard I shattered the whole thing.

Let me defend myself a teensy bit: I work out a lot. Like, Olympic lifting of really heavy weights. I was and am stronger than the average mom of three kids under the age of four. And I was having a really, really bad day. My marriage was on the brink of nothing good, my husband couldn't express anything besides anger towards me, and I hated many parts of myself. 

Plus, my youngest child refused to put his shoes on and we had to go. If that's not something to throw a mom over the edge, I don't know what is.

So, trying really, really hard not to yell, I set him outside next to his big brother, and I set his shoes beside him, then I slid the sliding glass door shut. Hard. They were outside; I was inside. One of the two shatter-proof glass panes immediately erupted into a zillion pieces, making all three of us freeze in fascination. I could hear the cracks traveling up and down and all around, blurring my view of my two boys.

There was a split second where I willed and hoped and prayed that I could turn back time and un-do this moment. Please, please, please I prayed.

Nope. The shatter-proof glass had, in fact, shattered. Watching the glass break was impressive and mesmerizing, but now pieces of the door were falling in front of my two boys. One nugget of glass at a time. Ka-plink, ka-plank, ka-plunk. Alas, I wasn’t reading my boys Blueberries for Sal. These weren’t the sounds of Little Sal’s sweet blueberries going into the bucket. Sigh. No, this was the door absorbing all of the rage and depression and confusion and disappointment and frustration I’d been feeling in the past six months.

The door shocked all three of us. I understood why my boys were in tears. They just saw a strong bulwark against the real-world shatter and become something they couldn't recognize. I’m talking about the door, sure, but me, too. I was the bulwark, and I was shattering, too. I shocked myself, and snapped out of my rage-filled frustration and became a caring, empathetic mother again. I slid open the door, joined them outside, dropped to my knees, and clung to them. I told them: I'm so sorry.


This happened four years ago, before my youngest child's memory even turned on and started working. But he and his two older siblings so regularly demand that I "tell the story of you breaking the door, Mom" that my youngest has had the memory written in for him.

Why do they want to hear this story over and over again? I always sigh, embarrassed at having to recall my Worst Moment Ever as a mom. But I do tell it. I leave out the details of the cause of that very bad day, but they want all the details of how the door sounded, how long it took to break, how long it took to fix, how much it cost to fix. I recite these facts over and over and over again.

Do they like this story because it shows someone who is usually strong and all-mighty make a mighty mistake? Do they find it comforting to know that I can be at my worst? Have I scarred them for life for sliding glass doors?


End note (or, in case you think I'm a crazy person): People these days talk about being "in a bad place" sometimes. And I was. I was in a really, really bad place emotionally and mentally. I'm not anymore, but I think I've got to write more about that time in my life so I get it out. I need to let it out.  I need to squeeze out any bits that are left in me and leave them on the paper for someone else to learn from. Or be entertained by. Or maybe it's the Catholic part of me that needs to confess my sins, then forgive myself and move on.