My daughter shoved her finger at a photo of my mom. “Gigi is up,” she asserted, a story I hadn’t told her.
My mom’s voice echoed, believe in miracles.
That night, darkness unfolded from dusk and I saw her shining among stars.
My daughter shoved her finger at a photo of my mom. “Gigi is up,” she asserted, a story I hadn’t told her.
My mom’s voice echoed, believe in miracles.
That night, darkness unfolded from dusk and I saw her shining among stars.
I should’ve climbed out of the boat when Captain Ron’s doppelgänger had me sign my life away on that little piece of paper, but I didn’t.
“You’ll be fine,” he said. “We make sure we take you far enough out to sea.”
Far enough for what? I should’ve thought. But not a single alarm went off in my brain.
Why? I’ll blame it on the blue drink.
We were on vacation in St. Thomas and I couldn’t just sit there on the beach and relax. NOOOO. I wanted excitement and action.
So, after our second day of lounging around on the sand, my husband and I looked into fun island activities.
“How about parasailing?” Justin asked.
“Sounds great!” I exclaimed.
Truthfully, I had no idea what parasailing was, but it sounded leisurely and fun. I thought perhaps it would include me sipping a special island cocktail on a boat, letting my hair get tousled in the salty breeze.
Boy, was I was wrong.
“Why am I signing this?” I asked. The contract mentioned things about death and injury. DEATH! What?! “Are you sure this is safe?” I asked Captain Ron.
“Dude we do this all the time. You should be fine.”
“Should?” I asked. “Well that’s relieving.” Justin and I were new parents. We had a four-month-old daughter at home and all I could think about was leaving her parentless.
Despite my fear, I signed the contract. After that, Captain Ron suited us up with strappy, blue contraptions that went over our shoulders and under our butts. Then he attached some ropes to what looked like a parachute.
The only things that would be keeping me from the sharks were a thin piece of fabric, some rope and a couple of buckles.
“Crap!” I said. “Do we have to do this?”
“We’ll be fine, Danielle,” said my husband. But I think he was trying to convince himself more than me, judging by the crackle in his voice.
“Sit down, legs straight out in front,” said Captain Ron. I listened and quickly assembled myself on the boat floor. The boat accelerated and before I was ready to fly, we were airborne. At first, it was alright. We were hovering just above the boat and the ocean sparkled like a blanket covered in loose diamonds.
“This is nice,” I said as I looked around at the green Caribbean Islands. I liked the way they sliced between the waves.
The boat accelerated again, and I felt a
pang of nausea. Suddenly we went from comfortably high to OMFG. The boat wasn’t more than a dot below us. The rope seemed so impossibly thin and possibly frayed, and I was certain it would rip at any second.
Clearly, I was having the time of my life.
Actually I hated it.
I thought I was going to vomit and die from choking on my puke midair just before my rope had a chance to completely unravel and send me plummeting to the ocean below where I would, instead, be savagely ripped to death by the sharks I couldn’t see.
“Smile for the camera,” my husband said. I squinted my eyes and opened my mouth to expose my teeth, but it didn’t resemble a smile.
“Try and have a good time,” said Justin.
“But I’m terrified!” I whimpered.
“Just try,” he repeated. I tried. And I tried. And it didn’t happen.
Instead, I closed my eyes and waited for it all to be over while I whined like a puppy dangling over a pit of hungry lions.
“Hey,” said my husband. “He’s lowering us. You can open your eyes now.”
I opened my eyes and saw that we were definitely being lowered. But we were also coming in fast and hot. The boat was getting bigger and bigger. The ocean waves were getting closer to the tips of my toes; it didn’t seem like we’d make it. I braced myself, because there was no way this would be a Southwest Airlines clap-your-hands kind of landing. No.
To. An. Abrupt. Stop.
My ass slammed against the boat floor and left bruises for days.
“Sorry about the rough landing, dudes,” said Captain Ron.
I was so happy to see solid-ish ground that I didn’t care about my sore bottom.
“No worries,” I said. I’d had enough excitement and action for the rest of the trip. “Just get me off this boat and give me another blue drink.”
I distinctly remember the day my mom first showed me her bravery.
We were in my parent’s Chevy Celebrity. I think I was five. The corduroy seats itched the back of my knees, so I kept tugging on my skirt hem. I played with the hand-crank on the window, turning it up and down repeatedly. Each time it was down, warm air seeped inside and got stuck in my nose. And despite the floor being out of reach, I kicked my feet back and forth trying to touch my toes against the carpet.
We were car-dancing to Madonna when my mom gasped and slammed on her brakes. Our heads flew forward then slammed against the seats with a thud. I stopped kicking and car-dancing. Stopped playing with the window. Stopped breathing for the shortest moment.
Everything stood still as our eyes connected in the rear-view mirror. There, I saw concern and love, then determination and strength. All before she blinked.
“Oh, God!” she shouted. I exhaled and the world rotated again. “That car hit the little girl so hard she…” her voice trailed off. I heard the clicking and clacking of the car going into park and her seatbelt being unbuckled, then the slapping of the belt raveling up.
She climbed out of her seat, slammed her door, and stopped in front of my window. “You stay here,” she said, using her voice that meant business. Perseverance filled each line on her face in a way that I had never seen before.
I gulped down a breath bubble and scratched the corduroy seat to feel the fibers under my nails. I nodded yes.
“I mean it, Danielle,” she said.
“Okay, Mommy,” I whispered to her, but she was already jogging away.
I craned my head up to peek out the window and the smell of exhaust fumes overwhelmed me. It was a busy street that felt close to home, but I couldn’t tell which one it was. I saw my mom approach a girl lying face down on the pavement. She wasn’t much bigger than me. And behind the girl was a car. Its windshield was caved in and shards of glass glittered against the street. I looked away, afraid and unsure of what was happening.
Time isn’t the same when you are a child, so I don’t know how long I sat there avoiding the scene out of my window, but it felt like hours. I heard sirens and voices just beyond our car. I saw the flashing lights, but I couldn’t bear to lift my head and watch.
Eventually everything slowed. No more sirens, lights, or commotion.
My mom opened her door, sat back down in the driver’s seat, and cradled her head in her hands. “I couldn’t save her,” she wept. “I couldn’t save the little girl’s life.”
Photo courtesy of Pexels
Slumped beneath the weight of her backpack, my daughter slinked from the school bus steps. Her ocean-blue eyes had faded to stormy skies and her skin was muted.
“How was your day?” I asked. I was concerned. Most days she raced off the steps with a grin so wide her eyes were shut. This day, she didn’t even wave.
“Fine,” she said. The word pushed out of her lips unwillingly, like the last puff of air leaving a balloon. She was deflated.
“Are you sure?” I pressed.
“Yep.” I watched her kick an invisible rock across the driveway.
“You know what?” I said as I cupped my hand around her small shoulder. “I think we should get some ice cream.”
“Really?” she stopped and looked up to me, squinting her eyes against the sun. I realized, in that moment, how fragile she still was. “Before dinner?”
“Yep,” I winked. “Let me get my keys.”
Ten minutes later, we were sitting at the table with bowls of pink frozen yogurt in front of us and I asked again, “Is everything alright, Hun? Did you have a bad day?”
My daughter stuffed her spoon deep into her cardboard bowl and swallowed a mouthful of creamy treat. “Sorta,” she shrugged.
I lowered my eyes to meet hers, pushed my bowl aside, and whispered, “wanna tell me about it?”
She looked away and tears started to gush from her eyes. “Mama, they chased me,” she sobbed. “I wanted to collect rocks and they chased me.” Her chest heaved, catching breath in spurts, and every bit of my heart crumbled.
“Who chased you, Hun?” I scooted my chair closer and wrapped my arms around her. I prayed that somewhere in my embrace she’d find strength, and a that my arms would take her sadness so I could store it under my own skin.
“My friends at recess,” she pressed against my heart like she did as a baby and continued to bawl. “I just needed some alone time.”
“Aww Sweetie, I think you were so brave for standing up for yourself. It can be hard to not give into the pressure of our friends,” I encouraged my daughter and inflated her balloon.
“I don’t know,” she said, then looked down at her sparkle-covered sneakers.
“Trust me. Sometimes our friends don’t understand when we need personal space,” I explained. “We have to tell them when we need to be left alone.”
“I did that Mama, but they kept chasing me!” she stuffed a spoonful of frozen yogurt into her mouth and wiped her face with her shirtsleeve. The parent in me wanted to scold her for staining her shirt, but the mother in me couldn’t. Instead, I handed her a sticky napkin to wipe the tears beneath her eyes.
Conversation comes easy for my little girl when she’s with family, but sometimes large groups of people drain her batteries. An only child for the first five years of her life, my daughter recognized at an early age that alone time helps her recharge. It’s especially necessary during the flurry of a long school day, when staying focused is so important.
“I know it can be frustrating. I need my personal space, too.” I took her soft cheek into my hand. “I get grumpy if I don’t have time to just be quiet and write each day.”
“Really?” she asked.
It is my job, as a mother, to ensure my daughter has enough air in her balloon, enough confidence, to succeed.
“Really,” I said. “Just keep reminding them. And if they don’t get it, it will be okay. At least you know what’s best for you.” I half-hugged her shoulder, then took a bit of my melted yogurt. “Mmm! Is this tomato flavor?”
My daughter laughed and straightened the slump in her shoulders. “Mama, you’re so silly. It’s strawberry!”
Photo courtesy of Seabass Creatives/Unsplash
After high school, I moved in with the person I considered to be my best friend. She and I had the same blue corduroys, pixie haircuts, and infatuation with Brandon Boyd from Incubus.
We were inseparable. We’d go out dancing three nights a week, get wasted, and take turns vomiting in the bathroom after too many margaritas. We screamed Linkin Park songs as we drove around aimlessly in her little white pickup truck smoking cigarettes. She was my soulmate, the Thelma to my Louise.
During the height of our friendship, we made a promise that if we never found love, we’d be there for each other, no matter what. We thought we’d end up two old kid-less ladies in a flat downtown with one cat and two dogs. We’d be chain smokers with curlers in our hair and sparkles on our cheeks. A couple of cougars on the prowl, we’d hit the bars night after night getting trashed and having fun.
Oh, the dreams we have when we’re young and stupid.
Our wild behavior only managed to last so long, before we ran out of money. When that happened, I regretfully returned home to my parents. She started dating a guy she met at the club, and stopped spending time with me on the dance floor. There were no longer midnight cruises with our favorite rock bands. Instead, she stayed home watching movies with him.
I’ve learned over time that one person cannot be the sole communicator in a friendship. Without taking turns listening and talking, without being there emotionally, there isn’t much left to hold it together.
Our friendship was losing importance to her, and our communication was dwindling. Each time I asked her to hang out, she claimed to already have plans. It was a sign that she didn’t want me as her friend anymore. I kept trying, leaving her message after message, but she stopped returning my calls.
Eventually, I stopped dialing her number.
Cherie Burbach, a friendship expert, says lack of communication is “one of the biggest reasons” why friendships end. I didn’t understand why we couldn’t figure out how to put the pieces back together. Especially after we had already put each other through hell, and made it through without a single burn.
She took boyfriends from me and lied about it. I took jewelry from her and kept it. We fought over who got to wear the neon pink leopard halter almost weekly, and who got the last beer in the fridge every time we were running low. But we always picked the friendship over the fight. Nothing could tear us apart, until we didn’t have that willingness on both ends to communicate anymore.
Then we had nothing.
Today, we both have kids roughly the same age. We’re both married. We both have our version of white picket fence perfection. Our paths have been similar, but in opposite directions.
I wonder if our relationship would have lasted, had she and I had been raised today. If she could have texted me when she didn’t feel like talking, or messaged me on Facebook, would we have been better off? Or would it have only delayed the inevitable? In my heart, I know even in modern times with better access to communication tools, she would have eventually stopped responding.
So many times I’ve sat in front of my computer with a half-typed message to her, asking simple niceties. But my fingers hover over the enter button, never quite ready to reopen that line. We weren’t destined to be forever friends.
Our relationship was like throwing kerosene on a bonfire: it was intense, fun, and full of energy. But a fire like that can only get so crazy, before someone has to suffocate it.
Maybe after all these years, I don’t want to find my matches.
Photo courtesy of Joshua Earle/Stocksnap.io
I back out of my driveway when I first see him. The stranger is meandering down the street strangely close to my property. He’s tall, white, and dressed mostly in black. In my rear-view mirror, I watch him get closer and closer to my house. It isn’t even lunch time.
My antique-white colonial sits on two acres of rolling Virginia hills in a small subdivision filled with dense, mature trees and a small creek that weaves in and out of the yards like a thread. We are several miles from the busy part of town, and I know most of my neighbors by face.
My van is halfway down the block when he glances in my direction. His face is unfamiliar. He dips into the woods, just over my property line, causing my heart to skip a beat, then quicken.
What do I do?
I’ve always been the kind of girl who chooses flight over fight. In gym class, I remember ducking every time that red ball came my way, and wincing at the sting on my skin as it bounced off my body.
I also remember getting in trouble during my years as a paralegal. I’d hide under my desk biting my nails, waiting for the lawyer’s backlash to ensue after transposing address numbers or misspelling names like Shwartzman and Agostinelli on important contracts.
In my rearview I see my toddler’s tiny hands swaying back and forth to the beat of “Let it Go,” as Elsa belts it out from her DVD player. This house is where my girls will grow to women.
Flight isn’t an option.
I stop contemplating it, and attempt a U-turn, but my palms are so clammy they can’t grip the steering wheel. I rub my hands across the tops of my thighs hoping the friction helps, and it does. Slowly, I press on the gas and my van turns, then lurches forward down the street.
In front of my property, I watch the stranger walk back and forth through our brush, just beyond the tree line. He keeps getting farther and farther from the street, and closer to my house. I almost can’t see him anymore. I can feel my stomach tighten.
I need a Tums.
“Hey!” I shout. “Do you know you’re on private property?”
He pivots to look at me. His hood is tightly drawn, so I can’t see the color of his hair, but I know I won’t forget his face. He has a smattering of pink acne scars on his cheeks, and his light eyes are darting back and forth erratically.
He starts walking towards me.
Oh shit. Now what?
As the distance between us closes, I can see the muscles in his forehead twitching nervously, too.
He looks guilty!
I glance at his hands and check for any kind of movement that would indicate he might be reaching for a weapon. I’m suddenly quite fearless in my Grand Caravan.
“I’m looking for my phone,” the kid says. He appears to be in his late teens or early twenties. “My girlfriend tossed it in your woods last night. I was just trying to find it.” He puts his hands up defensively.
“Do you live in the neighborhood?” I scrutinize him. I keep my car in drive and my foot on the brake, ready to run him over.
“Yeah, I live over there,” he says, waving a hand in the direction behind me. There are only two streets in my neighborhood, a dead end cul-de-sac and a horseshoe shaped street that intersects the dead end in two places. He didn’t mention either street by name.
I don’t believe you.
“I’m calling the cops,” I say.
“I’ll leave,” he says. “It’s no big deal.”
It’s a very big deal, asshole. You’re trespassing!
I watch him hustle past my van before I roll down the window to take a picture of him on the sly. He turns left into the horseshoe and disappears. Once air returns to my lungs, I call the cops. Minutes drag before the sheriff finally arrives in his cruiser.
“Without a getaway car, a break-in is unlikely,” says the cop. “But you can’t rule it out. I’ll see if I can find him in the neighborhood for a talk right now. And we’ll start patrolling here more frequently.”
What if you don’t see him? What if he comes back?
I taste my morning coffee mixed with bile at the back of my throat.
That little shit.
My home is more than simple brick and mortar. It’s memories of my children racing down the stairs on Christmas morning. It’s sleepovers with friends and moms’ nights in. It’s kitchen dance parties and summer barbecues on the back porch, catching fireflies in a mason jar at dusk. It’s the place I walk barefoot and bra-less with yesterday’s eyeliner staining the skin beneath my eyes, and everyone accepts me just the same.
And some little jerk in a black hoodie is going encroach on that?
I don’t think so, buddy.
Maybe I’m a ‘fight’ kind of girl, after all…
Photo courtesy of Jordan Whitt/Unsplash
I have no clue what I’m doing.
Not with parenting. Not with cooking and cleaning. Not with social media. Not with putting on my own damn lipstick. No effing clue.
I mean, I’m sure if you looked at my Pinterest page, you would think that I’m this insanely organized person with perfectly planned kid parties, amazing eye makeup, color-coded closets, and healthy home-cooked meals seven days a week. If you looked at my Facebook and Instagram pages, you would find my kids’ happy faces on vacations, playing family games, and going out to eat wearing clean, matching clothes. I look like I know what I’m doing.
But let’s be honest, Pinterest is a place where dreams of healthy, easy recipes, DIY refinished cabinets, labeled spice racks in alphabetical order, and picture frames hung with precision on a pristine gallery wall are born, then immediately murdered. We’ve all “pinned now, to read later”. Right? Only for me, most laters never come to fruition. They just hang out on my cyber pin board collecting digital dust.
Here are some fun facts: I usually have a full-blown anxiety attack that lasts for weeks every time one of my children has a birthday coming up. It ends only when the party is winding down and people are filing out of my house. Pinterest has amplified that anxiety. Fun fact two: my closets are a disaster, with boots piled in one corner, and clothes that have been pushed and smushed in the other. I have so many of those gross metal hangers from the dry cleaner, but I never remember to take them back so they hang there, taunting me with their rigid ugliness. Three: I try to cook. Sometimes it’s edible, and sometimes we end up ordering Chinese. Four: I don’t have time to paint my 1990s oak cabinets, so I am secretly praying for them to eventually be vintage and cool. Five: most of my photos are floating in cyberspace, or getting dusty in a box, instead of being displayed.
And those moments of perfection posted on Facebook and Instagram? Fake!
When my children are in that moment right before chaos, where they both appear to be civilized, I document it. I #hashtag it. I share it. When we make a dinner that actually looks delectable, I post it for all of Instagram to see. But why? Do I want to make someone jealous of my moment? Have I been programmed by social media to broadcast my life across the web, sharing only the moments that make me look like I actually have my shit together? I don’t know, maybe it’s a little of both.
What if I shared the real life things my family does instead. Like when my kids hit each other or pull on each other’s hair: #sisterlylove. Or when my oldest refuses to eat and my youngest chucks her chicken across the room: #dinnerfun. Or maybe when we barely make it to the bus for the hundredth time #mamaislosinghershitagain.
Being so involved on social media makes my brain hurt. The real honest to God’s truth is that most people don’t care what my kids did today. Most people don’t care what ideas I have saved on Pinterest. And most don’t care what I’m eating for dinner.
It’s okay. I understand. The feeling is pretty mutual. So why, then, do I put it all out there? Why do I pretend like I live in a dollhouse where everything is made of cupcakes and my hair doesn’t move, whenever I go online?
Being a mess is okay!
My kids don’t care that I have three unorganized junk drawers and a constant stream of clothes folded in baskets we have to dig through. And they would rather have their parties at Chuckie Cheese instead of at home under duress. And they definitely prefer to eat pasta every single night of the week, than some homemade Paleo/21 Day Fix friendly meal I pinned for my own waistline.
They want me to close my phone and open my eyes, to make mistakes and problem-solve without parenting ques from Facebook. They want me to be real and present. They want my mess.
So maybe it’s time share and pin less. Maybe it’s time to unplug a little more, and stop worrying about the Joneses, the Facebookers, and the Pinners, so I can connect with the people in my small corner of this big world.
Once I have that down, then maybe I can figure out lipstick.
Photo courtesy of Pinterest.
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