Him: “Help Mom, I’ve been kidnapped by a giant!” Me: “Now you can’t run away! This is brilliant! Where are the giants when I need them??”
A beautiful thing happened today.
But of course, a whole bunch of ugly precluded it. (That’s basically a law of the universe, right after the one that says if there is only one other person in the gym locker room then it’s guaranteed their locker will be the one adjacent to yours, forcing you both to either have a naked meet-n-greet or do that awkward dance where you decide whether you’d rather show a stranger your tush or your tatas.)
This morning I awoke to the dulcet sounds of my darling children… screaming bloody murder and pummeling each other for a reason that none of them could remember after I broke up the brawl. (Clearly it was very important.) This is the absolute worst way to wake up. I’d rather be drop-kicked out of a deep sleep by cats in heat because at least you can yell at them without having massive guilt. And considering that today was Day SEVEN of the Longest Spring Break Ever (during which my husband is out of town), it didn’t bode well for the rest of the day.
Following suit, my kids whined about the special dinosaur egg oatmeal I had broken down and bought them even though it’s a sugar bomb (to which I have to say a big fat I TOLD YOU SO – I knew that stuff was going to be nasty). Next up was the complaining about doing chores during which Son #2 accused me of birthing him for the sole purpose of slave labor to which I retorted that if that was my plan then it had sorely failed because I was definitely not getting my money’s worth for pushing out a nearly 12-pound baby. Then when I announced our Fun Activity for the day (also known as a way to keep them out of the house and off of each other) – a trip to the Minnesota Science Museum – the real drama commenced. Son #1 had to be told eleventeen times to get dressed in something clean, Son #3 knocked over a floor lamp and shattered all three energy-efficient-and-therefore-mercury-containing bulbs all over the carpet and then Jelly Bean threw one of the most spectacular fits I’ve ever seen over putting on her shoes that ended with her actually tearing off all her clothes in her fit of rage leaving her naked, sobbing and, ironically, still holding the shoes.
I lined them all up and demanded, “You do understand that I’m trying to take you somewhere FUN, right?” They nodded, tears still streaking all their little faces. “Is this FUN??” No, they shook their heads. “You know why?” They didn’t answer but I didn’t care because I was on a roll now. “Because every time I try to do something nice for you guys you have to go and ruin it! With your arguing and fighting and whining – holy buckets of dung beetles the whining – and ignoring me! When I am just trying to do something nice!! You know what you guys are?” They stared at me wide-eyed as a myriad of creative curse words went through my head. “FUN-SUCKERS! You suck the fun out of everything!!” After which I herded them into the van and by the time all the seat belts were buckled 4 out of the 5 of us were crying. The only one who wasn’t was Son #2 and that’s because he was still too mad and arguing with me by muttering under his breath.
Not my proudest parenting moment.
By the time we got to the science museum the kids had settled into a morose silence (but at least it was quiet!). We purchased our over-priced tickets and threw ourselves into the throng of elementary-aged locusts covering the place. After an hour and a snack, the kids were, I think, genuinely having a good time. But I wasn’t. I was still seething about this morning and I was freaking out every five minutes because I kept losing one or the other of them in the crowded exhibits. Plus, as the hours stretched on, I became increasingly bored and exhausted. Fueled only by half a bag of leftover jelly beans (I knew I should have chucked those!), I was running on fumes. At last the kids settled on an exhibit with only one door I could stand guard over and I sat down for the first time in five hours. I did what any awesome mom would do: I completely tuned them out, pulled out my phone and started playing games. No one was fighting. No one could get lost. No one was asking me for anything. Best moment of my day.
And then the beautiful thing happened.
My kids had picked up some stuffed animals and puppets that were lying around and had proceeded to stage a show – not for me, I certainly wasn’t watching. But rather for a very elderly woman sitting on the only chair in the room. It was her voice that startled me out of my reverie and started the magic. She was laughing. “Oh that’s wonderful! What a silly horse! What will the monkey do now? What have you got in your hand there, Monkey??” My kids, natural hams every one, lit up like a Christmas tree. The show took on more layers, more puppets, more costumes – and of course made less sense. At first I was worried they were annoying her but as I walked over to pretend to “supervise” (aka do my mom job), I saw the look on the woman’s face. She was delighted! Absolutely charmed with my children, that dear lady clapped and cheered and commented at every right moment. And there were a lot of moments – at least 15 minutes of them. (They definitely inherited the long-winded gene from their mama!)
When the kids finally finished their last bow, she congratulated each one on a wonderful show and complimented something that each had done. Then turning to me, she said in her age-trembled voice, “Are all these yours? They’re just wonderful. Really wonderful.” Looking at my kids, I suddenly saw them through her eyes. And I remembered. I remembered that they could delight me too. If I let them. Suddenly I had tears in my eyes again.
But when I turned back to thank her, she was gone. (And not gone in a ghostly apparition way – although we were right next to the mummy exhibit.) Her own small child – a granddaughter? great-granddaughter? – had come back from wherever she had been exploring to reclaim her and they were off.
Pure wonderment. This may be one my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken. He was just (forgive me) blown away when he finally “made” a tornado.
After that I tried to let the screws in my heart loosen up a bit. They’re just kids, after all. Growing 6-year-olds knock over lamps. Critically-thinking 9-year-olds argue. Day-dreaming 10-year-olds forget stuff. It’s just what they do. And really, how old is 3, after all? Jelly Bean is still so much a baby but wanting to be big and how could that not be frustrating? They’re my kids, after all. And not only do I need to love them but I need to enjoy them. And I did, today. Finally.
We did the chicken dance in the “colored shadows” light room.
We made flying things and sent them up air tubes.
Jelly Bean wowed us with her mad scientist microscope skills (and her ability to wear four different shades of rainbow – AND a tutu – all at once).
And I finally got to see my oldest son in his element. That kid loves science and once I started paying attention I was amazed at how good he is at it!
As we wandered over to the Science Show stage, I pondered the magic of seeing those we love, but especially ourselves, through the lens of others’ eyes. Sometimes, when the others are cruel, this doesn’t go well. But there are so many more times when people are so much more gentle with us than we are with ourselves. I was reminded of an e-mail I got in response to my post The Year of Fake Charlotte about my twelve months of fake hair, fake eyes and fake boobs. The writer, Erin, shared with me her beautiful story (it’s a little long but I PROMISE you it’s worth reading every word! I thought about editing it but I just couldn’t – she’s too funny to cut any of her words!):
Hi, my name is Erin – Hello Erin! – and I’m a fake person (too?). I’ve been reading your blog for years (pre-Jellybean’s birth) but I’ve never commented or e-mailed you before. Not because I don’t love you or wasn’t tempted by many the entry, but I just never really had anything that seemed worth saying. Or, I’d excitedly have the answer to a question you posed, only to find the answer had been discovered by 15 people in the comment box before me “That Alicia Silverstone movie is called Excess Baggage!” I was actually tempted to comment last week as you had posted the safe driving ad campaign from my city! “Crotches Kill” Yes, Canada is cool. But again figured it wouldn’t nearly be as exciting to you or any one else as it was to me. Which brings is back to why I chose to write this e-mail..
I am currently coming on er, year 7? ish? of fake Erin. And it’s something that I periodically feel bad about, and for the exact same reasons that you penned – er typed? – in your post. So my teeny tiny back story here, I am 26 years old, I’m a Registered Nurse, married..oh and I’m bald. Yeah that’s kind of where the fakeness started. I was perfectly healthy/”normal” until I was 19 years old, when for no apparent reason my hair started to fall out. I think I was asked by about 3 Dr’s if I was pregnant (fitting as your hair thinned after pregnancy) but I most definitely was NOT, and had not been, so no one could seem to figure it out. After 3 months my hair had thinned to the point that I could no longer strategically pin it to hide the patches, and I was forced to buy a wig (like old ladies!, or so I thought).
I did eventually get an official diagnosis, Alopecia Areata, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss Which proceeded to become Alopecia Universalis, as over the next month I lost all my hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, and the even the unwanted body hair. I couldn’t believe that it was happening to me, I felt like there must have been some mistake because I’d never been vain about my hair in my life! I felt like that girl on “The Craft” who loses her hair for being such a bully, except I hadn’t been a bully. In fact I’d been a huge skid (is that Canadian only word?) all through teenage-dom and the most I’d ever done to beautify my hair was dye it black. Growing up I had always had a complex about my weight/appearance (no need to elaborate on that one) so this seemed a pretty devastating blow.
Surprisingly, with the support of my family/friends/God I managed to cope with this change/diagnosis pretty well. I was thankful that it waited until after high school and I was able to find some really nice/cool/quality wigs that were very realistic. Unfortunately this is where my personal struggle with compulsive exercising and food obsessions started (seems pretty textbook, can’t control my hair, will control my food..or some such) BUT I am getting away from the reason I wrote this e-mail. Which isn’t really about my alopecia or about my food issues. It’s about my fakeness. So naturally, wearing a wig is pretty fake, right?
I really appreciated what you wrote about how challenging it is for women to lose their hair. I have met many people both on the internet and in person who share my condition and have even met individuals who are unable to leave their homes as a result of the anxiety caused by losing their hair. For me however the biggest loss was feeling the loss of femininity. Suddenly I was bald, with “no face” (eyebrows/eyelashes MAKE YOUR FACE) and it just seemed to amplify all my other issues “flat chest, thick legs..blah blah” I learned to draw my eyebrows on with pencil (some scary years there) and eventually got them tattooed (good tattooed, not like old Asian lady blue eyebrows) I wore fake eyelashes until the blessed day came when they grew back (no other hair, no rhyme or reason, they just came back).
When I was 21 I decided that I wanted to have a breast augmentation. I had never known anyone “in real life” that had had one done, only reductions or reconstructions. But when I explained to my family that alopecia felt as though it had robbed my femininity, no one seemed to think it was a bad idea. So under the knife I went, from a 34AA to a 34D (overshot it a bit, but I blame the surgeon). Anyway this brings us the point of this long rambly e-mail, I swear. To the point I am at today, being I have fake hair, fake eyebrows, fake boobs, and sometimes this makes me feel like a big fake person! Sometimes if someone tells me I’m pretty I want to say “Yeah but I’m all fake!!”. Sometimes I think I would be unrecognizable to people if they saw me as I am at home with my husband, with no makeup or hair.
So ultimately, I really felt like I understood and appreciated with you wrote in your entry. ” We’re supposed to be empowered and feminist and not care about all that frippery and yet, in the end, I just wanted to be a pretty princess like everyone else” Sometimes I feel like I have responsibility to women, to women with alopecia, to Christian women, to rise above my “vanity” and be more “honest” with my appearance. I feel shallow and weak for letting “society” dictate my appearance and my opinion of beauty. I think as I get older, and every year that I live with this condition I am slowly becoming more accepting of myself as I am.
I don’t really have a conclusion to this e-mail the way your post did, I am still fake – haha. But I do think that the years of being “fake” are teaching me the importance of sincerity, perhaps in other areas as well. Anyway – are you still awake? hah! This e-mail got mega long. I know you are a busy mom and I’m sorry for taking up so much time to read this mammoth e-mail. Since I’m already writing you I will include a big thank you for your blog/book. Thank you for talking about issues other people don’t, thank you for sometimes just writing about things that are hilarious. You are my favourite blog, and I appreciate all that you do!
I was in tears by the time I finished Erin’s e-mail. (And can I say, again, that THIS is why I blog. This is what I love – how sharing my stories allows me to hear some of yours. It is a gift and a privilege. I thank every one of you who has shared a piece of yourself!) But part of my tears were because Erin saw her response to her alopecia as a failure or being “fake” when all I could see was someone with a great deal of courage and bravery facing down something both embarrassing and scary. Rather than seeing her wig as fake, I see it as her meeting her struggles, head on. (Ha!) It’s so hard to talk about those things that are so close and yet she is so willing to not only share it with me but with others (yes, I got permission to share this:)). She wrote that she feels the need to be a “good example” to other women suffering hair loss and I would make the case that she already is. And this makes her one of the most authentic people I’ve had the pleasure to “meet.” So now I’d like all of you to meet her. Everyone say “Hi, Erin!”
Sometimes it takes a stranger’s perspective to see the unvarnished beauty in ourselves or others and the older I get the more I realize that love isn’t just something that happens, it’s something we have to cultivate, to learn and to nourish. So to that elderly woman this morning: Thank you. From the bottom of my heart. I didn’t get to tell you how much your small act of kindness meant to me. I’ll remember it always. I’m a better person because of it. To Erin, thank you. To all of you, strangers or not, who have taken the time to help a vulnerable person find something beautiful within them, thank you. To all of you who have taken the charitable view, given the benefit of the doubt or overlooked a mistake – even when a censure would have been warranted – thank you. You do more good than you know.
SO, wow. This got long! (See Erin? I’m totally with you on this too!) Have you guys ever had a moment where seeing yourself or a loved one through a stranger’s perspective changed you? Have you ever done this for someone else?