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Heavy

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So many things have been weighing heavily on my heart lately.

I see the face of the man holding up a tattered cardboard sign on the street corner, beside the freeway onramp, the man whose eyes I dodge weekly, behind my sunglasses, before pushing through the intersection instead of rifling through the handbag beside me to find a dollar bill.

I wonder where he sleeps at night and whether the absence of my dollar in his hand will make his life that much more difficult for him. And then I feel ashamed, driving in my clean car, hands resting comfortably on the steering wheel. His face will stay with me the entire day, if not longer, until it blurs into the face of the next man on a different street corner, the next woman holding a sign and clutching her life’s belongings in a single bag.

They are a sea of anonymous souls, yet they’re familiar. They seep into my subconscious — my conscience — and stay there, as daily reminders of the fragility of life, of life’s misfortune and unrelenting pain.

Since I was a child, I’ve been afflicted with an unnerving sense of worry and on darker days, a nagging sense of outright dread, which I’ve dragged around with me like a clunky, over-packed suitcase. It’s ridiculously odd, I know, yet I somehow always felt I was in control of bad things or good things happening in life, simply through my own actions, which I balanced steadily as if on a delicate tightrope made of a strip of threadbare fabric.

I foolishly thought that if I followed my own imagined “rules,” and maintained an overall sense of duty and benevolence, mostly “good” things would surround me. Or the opposite would result with my bad behavior. I suppose I believed in Karma. As if by stepping the wrong way on a proverbial crack in the pavement, with the wrong foot at the wrong time, the ground beneath me might give out and crumble into dust, or some kind of doom might strike either myself, loved ones close by or complete strangers far away.

“Step on a crack, break your mama’s back.”

I used to believe such silly childhood idioms. I suppose I’m slightly superstitious and I thought my actions were connected to everything in this world, that consequences hinged upon my behavior or my attempts at being kind to others and trying not to break any rules. That one false move, a single misstep on my part, could throw everything off –kilter in the universe (or what makes up a child’s very small universe), a footstep on a crack might render everything doomed — or worse — might do some kind of irreversible damage to someone, somewhere, family, friend or stranger.

I made every attempt to follow the rules as a child and probably into adulthood, to be a good girl, because at the time, I believed good things happened to good people. Good always prevails over evil, right? That if I didn’t step on those real or imagined “cracks,” in the pavement, if I played by the rules and was “good,” nothing would be rendered broken around me. Nothing bad would happen to others or me.

I blame such simplistic thinking on the childhood naiveté of a nervous, tightly wound and somewhat idealistic girl. I obviously know now that I’m not in control of much at all, that I’m certainly not in control of another’s fate, let alone my own. Yet still, I worry. I worry about complete strangers I’ve never met in other countries and best friends in the next town over. I worry about suffering, illness and loss, about sadness, loneliness and hopelessness.

I fret about children I’ve never met and my own children, about scenarios that haven’t yet played out for them and might never play out. Yet still I lie awake at night, worrying, chewing my fingernails down to the quick, running down a mental list of all the possibilities and feeling a sense of overwhelming helplessness. Helplessness about all of the sadness and tragedy in the world that I can’t do anything about, that I can do some miniscule, seemingly insignificant things about in the big picture, but even that makes me feel unbearably small.

I know now that bad things happen to good people and that good things happen to bad people and that an unfair and inexplicable cruelty exists in this world, that there are evil people living amongst us who make it their mission to inflict pain on others. That misery and plight is as inevitable as tomorrow’s sunrise. And still, I wish it wasn’t so. I wish in some way I could prevent it all.

I see the face of the mother in the Target parking lot with her two young children from a few weeks ago, pleading in capital letters scrawled in black ink for help. And again I divert my eyes. And again, I feel ashamed. I’ll think about her worried, near-hopeless face that night as I lie in bed, and I’ll feel helpless and tiny and insignificant all over again. It’s her I worry about and everyone else.

I worry about them all. And each of them feels like a thousand pounds weighing on my heart.

Keeping it Real

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I have a few confessions to make.

I don’t live in a perfectly decorated home. I don’t do creative, DIY crafts with my kids. I don’t make homemade meals from scratch every night. On the nights I’m in charge of dinner (my husband does most of the cooking in our home — he’s just better at it), meals are home cooked, as in cooked at home, but mainly consisting of something from the Trader Joe’s frozen section. I at least make sure there’s a fresh vegetable to accompany it. Other nights, we eat out or bring take-out home.

I get impatient with my children more than I’d like to.

I love them deeply and unconditionally, but I sometimes crave moments alone without them, without the boisterous shouting or whining that makes our loud house so very loud from sun up to sun down (and beyond), until the boys finally succumb to sleep. My children go to bed very late (we do everything late and we like to joke that we’re on “European” time). We start our entire nighttime routine on the later side, especially during the summer months, with dinner starting as late as 9:30p.

For some reason, we just can’t seem to get it together before then.

Dinnertime itself isn’t always tranquil or pleasant. In my fantasies, it’s filled with charming dinner conversation over a savory, herb-infused roast chicken, which I start baking from scratch early in the afternoon. There’s an exchange of everyone’s days, with each boy eating every morsel of food with vigor. We eat with matching flatware and without a rainbow of ugly plastic sippy cups lining the table.

And then I wake up.

In reality, our dinnertime usually consists of a battle of the wills and lots of enforcing of food-eating because usually (with the exception of the baby), there is plenty of it that’s unwanted, that’s met with scrunched up faces, turned up noses, or outright disdain. The children are such messy eaters and the aftermath is so appalling, I’ve often contemplated buying a large trough and lining them up, farm-style.

If I’m lucky, I’m usually picking at my food from a bowl at the kitchen counter, in between repeating, ad infinitum, a string of commands that even I get tired of hearing every night:

“Eat your dinner. You can’t do (fill in the blank) until you eat your dinner. Please, eat your dinner. Get back to that table and finish your dinner.

Our boys are for the most part sweet, loving and well behaved, but sometimes they’re not. I find it difficult and challenging when they’re not.  Of course, I don’t expect my children to be perfect, but I do expect a few things: participation in family duties (age-appropriate, of course), some manners, respect for one another, compassion, empathy, responsibility for their space and for themselves (this mostly applies to the oldest who is responsible for showering and brushing his own teeth, wiping up counters, putting his dirty clothes in the hamper, setting the table, cleaning up toys and making his bed). The “babies” are less self-sufficient of course, but we’re slowly working on that with the almost three-year-old.

All this is to say, when getting a glimpse of other families’ lives through social media, many times they look so dreamy and charming and effortless. I see perfectly decorated homes and I wonder where the stains on the sofa are, where the toys are scattered, where the sticky fingerprints on the walls are – or worse, all out toddler wall murals (like a few of ours are covered in). I see stylish moms who look so together. Where’s the frustration? Where’s the repetition of commands? Where’s the exhaustion? Most importantly, where do they find the time? The energy? And how in the heck do they keep their houses so clean while wrangling small children?

How do these moms find the time to make complicated homemade meals from scratch each night with vegetables lovingly grown in organic backyard gardens, while I find it difficult to get five meals on the table at the same time, let alone all sit down together peacefully without someone complaining about what’s on their plate and me having to coax them into eating it.

“Just four more bites, okay just three more bites. Fine, two more bites and you can get up from that table.”

I once read a blogger’s description of her family’s pre-dinner routine, which she illustrated through photos. It involved a sun-dappled living room with squeaky-clean floors, complete with kids quietly painting alone while daddy plucked a quaint little song on the piano for the family. I didn’t see any signs of chaos whatsoever. I thought to myself: “This looks nothing like my evening.” How is it that I can have such an opposite nighttime scenario and how do I get it to look more like hers?”

I really don’t know the answers. My kids are still young and they’re not robots. They’re loud and rambunctious and wild and untamed. I can’t foresee serenity until they’re a little older. Maybe?

I can only hope.

It’s hard not to feel completely inadequate when someone else’s life looks so charmed and idyllic through social media. Where homes look like they’re straight out of Domino magazine or Elle Décor and — and although I aspire to have a comfortable, well-designed interior – for now, mine still ends up looking like a hodgepodge of hand-me-down furniture ruined by toddlers, with food and dog hair on the rugs thrown in for good measure. It’s true, we really can’t have anything nice in our home. The boys just destroy it.

In our house we’re messy, we’re loud, there’s chaos, there’s exhaustion, there’s whining, there’s frustration. But there’s also a lot of laughter, affection and love — even if it doesn’t come in the prettiest of packages.

Some days, I really wish I could be one of those moms. The ones who have it all together, all the time. Or the ones who seem to have it all together, some of the time. And other days, I’m okay with being “good enough.”

Sometimes good enough is okay too.

Or at least that’s what I like to tell myself.