4/28/14

An Open Letter to the Amway Lady Who Ruined My Son's Saturday Night:

Hi Jennifer (I feel comfortable revealing your first name because so many of us share it)!

My name is Jenny (see??). My son has a part-time job at the grocery store in our city. He works there after school and on weekends. He's saving up for a car. Or Chipotle (hey, our accounts are linked...I see where the money goes!). Most of his shifts are spent ringing up customers. Sometimes he does the bagging, sometimes he's the kid out in the parking lot gathering carts.

Last night, however, he was cashiering. You went through his line, with your husband. Apparently the chit-chat was pleasant...since it was nearing the end of my son's shift, he probably appreciated the back and forth with nice people such as yourselves. Ending the night on a good note and all that jazz.

When the goods were bagged up and your credit card slip signed, you could have gone on your merry way and let my son finish his shift and get on with his Saturday night. He's 16 and Saturday nights are like unwritten books just waiting for their stories.

But you didn't, did you?

Nope. You turned back to him, after he wished you a good evening, and you spoke. You touched the sides of your own face, and you said to my son:

"Wow. You have a lot of acne." Then you pulled a business card out of your purse and handed it to my boy.

"I sell products that can help with that. In six months, it'll be gone!"

My son took your card. He took it, and said "Thank you." And then he added, "But no thanks."

He took your card and thanked you because that's how I've been raising him. He's polite. Unfailingly so.

He said "no thanks" because I'm also raising him to speak up for himself. To be proud and to be brave.

I picked him up not long after you left. I'm a single mom of four, and we are a one car household. I spend a lot of my time transporting teens to jobs, activities and friend's houses. In a way, it's a blessing because we have some great talks. We talk about pretty much everything, my kids and I.

Last night, my son and I talked about you.

Your words, regardless of your intent, hurt my son. He told me the story.  His face was illuminated by the glow of his phone as he simultaneously spilled his guts and solidified the evening's plans with his crew. And then, he said the thing that broke my heart and for a second, made me hate you:

"Man. I was having such a good day up until that moment, Mom."

Amway Jennifer, you ruined my son's day.

Now, here's how I operate: I think. I analyze and dig deep and I try really hard to understand the Hows and the Whys of life. I choose not to believe that some people are truly awful. I gave my son some food for thought:

"Maybe they'd been out for dinner and drinks and she was a little buzzed. People lose their filter after a few cocktails."

"Maybe she had bad skin when she was younger and wanted to help you."

"Maybe she's desperate and broke and thought that trying to get a 16 year old grocery store cashier as a customer seemed like a good idea."

I thought, but didn't say out loud:

"Maybe she's a thoughtless, vapid a-hole who has zero social skills and should be sent to live on an island stocked with nothing but Amway brochures."

My son was already smiling, I'm not sure if it was because talking to Mom was reassuring or if one of his friends had just texted something funny. I felt some relief that for the moment, the black cloud you had so carelessly dumped over his day had begun moving along.

That's the thing about this kid. My son. He's a good person. He's smart, he is charismatic and confident. One of the more popular kids in his grade. Scads of friends and a sense of humor that makes me unblushingly proud. He's not a saint, of course, at home I sometimes call him Eric Cartman due to his ability to sound exactly like the rotund, angry child from South Park. But he really is a decent and kind person. I love him with all of my heart.

He has some zits. I guess you could call it acne, it's not an uncommon phenomena in teens. He's well aware of it, as we have several mirrors in our house and his vision is perfect. We have some ProActiv products, some Neutrogena cleansers. I try to buy unprocessed, organic food for my kids as often as my budget allows, because I think it's better for them, and their skin. So yes, this son of mine does have some skin issues.

But here's the deal: he doesn't need it pointed out to him. Especially not on a Saturday night when he's finishing up a shift at his part-time job. And especially not by a stranger trying to sell something. You could have left the store, gone home and done whatever it is you do. But for whatever reason, you thought it was a good idea to confront a captive teenage boy and point out a perceived flaw on his person in order to drum up some business for yourself.

Jennifer? It wasn't a good idea.

He gave me your card. I have it here, in front of me as I type this. As a veteran of a difficult divorce, I have learned that some calls and emails should be given a cooling-off period, so as not to send or say something I might regret later.

I wanted to call you, that night, in the car while my son was sitting there next to me. I wanted to lay into you, rip you a new one, let you know just how absolutely and completely WRONG you were. Your actions brought out the mama bear in me and although she doesn't come out often, when she does, it's on. On like Donkey Kong, Jennifer.

I don't think I'm going to call you. There have been several emails started, and then deleted. As the hours pass since you first approached my son in that grocery store, the feelings are abating. Slowly, but surely. I'll still send the email to you, guaranteed. You need to know that what you did was wrong. But I'll wait until these mama bear claws retract a bit. Typing with these things can be a bitch.

My son won't forget you. He won't forget you, or how it felt when you touched your face to point out the flaws on his. He won't forget what it felt like to have to swallow his pride and take the card you handed him, because he's 16 and a cashier at a grocery store and it's his job to treat the customers with respect. You taught him a lesson that night, which I'm sure wasn't your intention. You just wanted to sell some stuff.

You taught him that words have power. You opened your mouth and schooled my son on what it's like to be on the receiving end of ill-timed, inappropriate words. You gave him a lesson on what is and what isn't okay to say to perfect strangers. You helped me do what is one of my least-favorite jobs as a parent: you thickened up his skin, made my sweet boy a little bit tougher. You reinforced his armor, that battle gear he can use as he begins navigating life. You helped me, Jennifer. Helped me arm my son. Now he's smarter, and better equipped.

Better equipped to face the world...a world that is full of people just like you.

So please, Amway Lady. Let my son and I teach you something, too. The next time you feel the urge to hawk your wares, think about it. Look at who you're attempting to entice. Before you open your mouth, before you touch your face, before you dig in your purse and fish for one of your business cards...think. And if that isn't something you're capable of, you might want to see if Amway makes a product that could help you.

Sincerely,

Mama Bear














4/14/14

Divorce Warriors: You Will Survive Being Left...My Messy Beautiful

Note: my regular readers will recognize that this post is an amalgamation of the two, yes TWO times my husband left me (so much fun the first time we did it AGAIN!). I blended both stories into one for the Momastery Messy, Beautiful Warriors Project, which I am absolutely honored and humbled to be part of. It's my hope that the women who NEED to read this, will.  


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http://momastery.com/carry-on-warrior




How long has it been? You should really be over it by now.

You need to move on.

You're better off without him! Time to live it up! Hey...it could be worse!

I could live to be 124 years old. Older, even. I could live forever and there are things about that evening I will never be able to forget.

How the August air hung low and thick over the patio that night. How the single candle we had burning flickered, back and forth, even though I swear there was no wind. How I could see inside the house from where I was sitting, see the warm inviting glow of the kitchen light fixtures spilling out onto the lovely hardwood floors. How I could hear a neighbor dog barking, barking out to everybody and nobody in the dark. How the spot on my abdomen, the same area where my numerous c-sections happened, was still sore and tender from the tubal ligation I'd had the week before.

How cool and smooth the wood of the patio table felt on my forehead, and how odd it was that I couldn't cry.

How time slowed down, and then for a few seconds, stopped. That must have been when I cataloged all of these memories. All of these sights and sounds and feelings, filed away under the heading, "The Night He Left Me".

We'd been married for 12 years and there were four children made during the first half of those years. Was our marriage perfect? Were we happy?

No. And yes. At least, I thought we were happy. I thought he was happy. I assumed I was happy.

Were there warning signs? Did you know? Come on. You must have known.

I was up to my armpits in kids. They were little and active and oh my god there were FOUR of them! Our house was old and falling apart, we had cats who sometimes peed in it and my husband left in the morning and came home at night. I wasn't looking for signs of anything other than maybe a sign that this too shall pass or that someday I'd have a few minutes to myself so I could stop and BREATHE and remember to ENJOY the beautiful chaos that surrounded me.

No. There were no signs. No. I didn't know. I had no clue.

And then, that night. The words flew fast and slippery into the air and like a little black thunderhead they floated over to me:

"Jenny...I'm not happy. I feel like I live in a prison. I need some time to myself. I'm leaving."

He didn't apologize. He couldn't look me in the eye. He had sunglasses in his hand, I remember that. And as he talked, as he gave me his goodbye speech, he tapped them on the hard table in perfect cadence with his words. Like a fancy expensive metronome made in Italy with the finest polycarbonate glare-resistant lenses.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tappity--tap. 

He said he'd call me later in the week to "figure things out". He went inside the house, he was swallowed up in that warm inviting kitchen light and he said goodbye to our babies and then he left.

He didn't say goodbye to me.

Sometime later, after the lawyers had joined our merry little party, after the shock of being left had begun wearing off, I found out about her. I had done a good job of convincing myself, and probably nobody else, that he'd left because of a mid-life crisis, or because he was depressed or because he needed to find himself and a two-bedroom apartment with a tiny balcony and free cable was the place to do that.

But then. I found out about her. The woman he went to, when he left me.

All divorces are different. Those that involve another person though, a Plan B who waits quietly (or not so quietly) in the wings...those are particularly awful. The scars these divorces leave are jagged and ugly and oh-so-slow to heal.

They are disfiguring, at first.

You see it every time you look in a mirror. You used to see YOU when you lifted your gaze to meet the one in the bathroom or the bedroom or the hallway. YOU. Maybe you were a young and pretty and tired mama. You might have been a woman of a certain age, with some mileage around your eyes and lines on your cheeks that deepened when you smiled big. It doesn't matter what you used to see in that mirror.

Now you see the woman who was left. You see the one who lost, the one who didn't measure up. You see the one who was too old or too fat or too cold or too busy or too lazy. You see the one who just couldn't compete with the Other.

You see the one who was left.

I'm not going to lie or sugarcoat or get all Polly-freaking-Anna on you here. If you're going through this, if you've been left, you need to know the truth.

It hurts. It's humiliating and degrading and there will be moments (or hours or days) when you will want the world to open up and swallow you whole. You will maybe do what I did, and think about ending it, ending your life. Write eloquent, tear-stained goodbye letters to your children, your parents. Your husband. Hopefully, you will also do what I did and throw them out after writing them.

Because you need to stick around. Your kids? Oh, I could write a book about what this does to your kids. But the words here, the words I'm clickety clackety typing out right now, these words are for you. The one who was left. I'm telling you, you need to stick around.

I'll tell you why: after some time passes, after the lawyers have collected their fees and you've signed and initialed a stack of papers that are taller than Jack's giant beanstalk, after you've stopped wearing your wedding band and you've downloaded "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor onto your iPod...

You'll look in the mirror one day.

And instead of seeing the one who was left, the one who wasn't chosen, you'll see someone else. A familiar face, a strong and beautiful face. There might be a few more worry lines on that face, maybe there's a new strand or two or twenty of gray in the hair...but you'll know that face.

It's YOU. And you will smile at your reflection, you'll admire the determined tilt of your chin, the knowing and proud look in your eyes. You'll remember what it felt like to be left. You'll remember how sad you were and how mad you were and how desperately you wanted things to be different.

You'll remember feeling like it was the end of the world. And now-- you'll know you were half right about that. One world did end. The world of your marriage, that world filled with promises and hopes and dreams, it did end when he left you.

But oh, my sweet, strong warrior friend...oh my goodness. While that world disappeared into a black hole of grief and endings, a whole new world was born. And this new world, the one you are in right now?

It's yours.

Is it the one you pictured yourself in, all those years ago? The one you imagined while resting your head on the chest of your husband, after the sex happened and the two of you shared that lovely afterglow, embraced in the dark and whispered about the future?

No. It's not. But again, I tell you:

This new world is YOURS.

I won't bullshit you. This new world can be scary. It can be intimidating and overwhelming and at times it can feel impossible to navigate. You will make some mistakes. You will mess up. But that's okay. Because like a baby who stumbles while learning to walk, you recover from each misstep. You get up and you start over. One freaking foot in front of the other, sister.

With every day that passes, milestones will be reached. While your old world ended with a whole lot of "lasts", this new world is full of "firsts":

The first time you don't think about him, not once, from the time you wake up until your head hits the pillow.
The first time you don't think about her. About them. About what they did and where they did it.
The first time you realize you didn't cry that day.
The first time you laugh. Hard. Like, pee-your-pants laugh.
The first time your kids mention something about "dad's house" and you don't wince.
The first time you feel the first-date butterflies. And the first kiss bliss.
The first time you realize that somehow, some way, you seem to have forgiven him.
The first time you understand what "moving on" means.

The first time it hits you, and I mean really HITS you:

You survived being left.

And that is MY Messy Beautiful. Thank you for letting me share this, Glennon. I hope it helps someone.




This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!



4/2/14

Parenting Before There Was Social Media: Did We Have It Easier?

This picture was developed at Target, not on Instagram.


WARNING: I'm about to get all kinds of Grumpy Old Lady on ya. Well, maybe not Grumpy but definitely the kind who begins sentences with the phrase "Back in my day...". You've been warned, lovelies.

I just read an article on Huffington Post, titled "I'm Done Making My Kid's Lives Magical" by the woman who created the absolutely brilliant and hilarious Honest Toddler website (and soon to be book!), Bunmi Laditan.

For the record, I thoroughly enjoyed her post. It was well written and fun to read. And yes, she made her point.

But one paragraph in, I found myself chuckling (see? CHUCKLING. That's what old people do, right?). It was this paragraph that finally made me turn all Grizzled Old Mom:

"Since when does being a good mom mean you spend your days creating elaborate crafts for your children, making sure their rooms are decked-out Pottery Barn Ikea masterpieces worthy of children's magazines, and dressing them to the nines in trendy coordinated outfits?"

I pushed up the sleeves of my sensible cardigan, and said out loud to nobody:

SINCE NEVER, BUNMI. Never. Nobody EVER said being a good mom meant that you killed yourself planning a chevron-themed birthday party for your one year old, including hand cutting the fondant elepahnt for the cake. Nobody EVER said good parenting was proven by the fact that your kids are wearing casual-chic mini-versions of your clothes. Nobody EVER said that if a child's room is too pretty to play in, mom and dad must be like, the best parents of all time!

I began to lament our society and social media and all of the mother effing first world problems in it. The overdose of images and blog posts and commercials and Pins and everything else that saturates, completely saturates our lives. Stupid Elves on Shelves and hipster parents taking pictures of dinosaurs in compromising positions and then posting them on Instagram and getting all sorts of accolades for it, most of the compliments along the line of "Yeah buddy! Those are some great parents!" and "Now THAT is some good parenting!".

I thought back to the hoopla over the little girl who designs fashion gowns out of paper with her mom and then mom posted the pictures and all of the people saying what a great mom she is and that YEAH that is some good parenting and how very lucky that little girl is to have a mom like that.

I started to get pissy and Grumpy Old Ladyish and then I started to feel kind of sorry for Bunmi and all of the other parents of this current flock of babies and children. I looked back on the days when my kids were infants, and toddlers, and elementary school-aged. I thought about what kind of pressure I felt, as a mom, to be perfect. Did I feel any at all?

Yes. Of course I did. I felt some of it while sitting around in the countless ECFE classes I attended. Some other mom would say something about how her kids had done something special or cute, or how she'd spent the weekend smashing teacups so she and her daughters could make mosaic picture frames...and for a few seconds I'd be all "Well crap. Here I thought I was a rock star because I cut an apple in half and had the kids paint with it."

I remember feeling inadequate when I'd take one of my kids to a birthday party and the house was super organized and tastefully decorated AND there were recent pictures of the family IN FRAMES. But then I'd go home and realize that my house was not going to be super organized while I had four kids under the age of 6 and a husband who worked all.the.time.  And the pressure lifted.

This is when I started to feel really bad for Bunmi, and all of the parents out there like her. I guess the cool thing to call them is millennial parents? Whatever they're called, I felt bad. Because I realized that the pressure I felt, back in my day, was from ONE mom in a parenting class or ONE glimpse into a magazine-cover-perfect home. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be a newer, younger parent and be faced with hundreds of thousands of other moms and other magazine-cover-perfect-homes. I think I may have shed a tear.

I joined Facebook in 2008. My kids were 13, 12, 10 and 8. Before that, my dalliances online were limited to eBay (I was quite the seller, back in the day), a few chatboards, and downloading angry divorce music on iTunes. The bubble I lived in was populated by the other families at school, my neighbors, and to some extent, the celebrities I read about in the gossip magazines at the gym.

The one book I read when I was pregnant was the inane "What To Expect When You're Expecting" and I threw that thing away when it told me that "colic almost always ends by the third month, if your baby still cries more than an hour or so a day after that, you should consult your pediatrician because you've probably given birth to a future serial killer" (I was holding a screaming 6 month old at the time)(and most of that sentence really did appear in the book, at least back in 1994)

The births of my babies were announced with phone calls and were videotaped on actual videotape. If I said I "posted a picture" it would have meant that I sent a photo of the new baby to grandma via snail mail. Chatting with friends meant we all sat in the same room and gabbed. Pinning something? Please. Like I know how to sew.

And as far as making my kid's childhoods magical? To be honest with you, that wasn't something I thought about. I was so very, very fortunate to be a stay at home mom during those first several years, and like a lot of the young moms today, I was exhausted and worn out and wished some of the hours and minutes away. We spent some days at the park. Some days with friends. Some days I gave the kids a bunch of daddy's golf tees, their Playskool hammers, a chunk of styrofoam and let them pound the shit out it for hours (and no, I didn't even think about the chemicals in the foam bits that were lodged in the carpet and their ears and my bra because I hadn't just read 68 articles about it).

But here's the difference between my early parenting years and Bunmi's and all the other parents out there: at the end of the day, I didn't open up my laptop and see pictures of my friend Lola and her kids making sandals out of coconut shells and pipe cleaners. I didn't look down at my phone at any point during the day (because it was a Sony cordless, and there was no screen) and get an email from my cousin Bree that contained 30 pictures of her kids during their latest photo shoot, the one where they met the photographer at the local dairy farm and the kids got to milk cows and they all had the cutest matching cowboy boots on!

There wasn't a HuffPost that reminded me every single day about "The 10 Things You Should Never Say To Your Kids Unless You Want To Ruin Their Lives" and "These 4 Moms Are Doing EVERYTHING BETTER THAN YOU!" and of course the "Open Letter To The Judging Bitch At The Playground".

At the end of the day, I sat down on the couch and tried to keep my eyes open long enough to watch Friends or Frasier or CSI. Some days I felt great about what I'd done as a mom, other days I was sure I'd damaged each one of my kid's psyches. But I did so quietly, and without all of those thousands of voices in the background either telling me that I hadn't done enough or that yes, indeed, I had ruined their lives.

I'm not saying that social media is bad. I use it every day, and for the most part, I enjoy it. But it sucks you in, people, into a shiny vortex that has walls made of the same thing the walls were made of in that machine that Charlie and Grandpa Joe were stuck in, in the original (and the best, of course) Willy Wonka movie. You just keep going and going and it's so hard to pull yourself out.

Look, social media can be all kinds of awesome. I'm a blogger, for God's sake. I have received hundreds of emails and messages and comments thanking me for sharing my horror stories (and funny crap) about divorce and single parenting and what it's like to be 47 and look like Hagrid and trying to find true love. My friend and all-around fabulous person Jill Smokler started her super successful website, Scary Mommy, just for parents who want to admit that it's freaking impossible to sprinkle magic fairy fart dust all over every single day of our progeny's lives. There are invaluable online communities where real, live friendships are formed every single day. The internet is a lovely thing.

But it's not where or how we determine who is a good parent. Is the paper dress mom a good parent? Do the Dinovember parents love their kids? Yes and of course, yes. But what about the dad who lives down the street from me? He isn't on facebook and has zero clue as to what Instragram is. This guy meets his little girl at her bus stop and gives her a piggyback ride home. Every damn day. The only difference is, nobody posts pictures of them doing this, and nobody has written a poignant, viral blog post about it. He is most certainly making his daughter's life magical, but he (and his daughter) are content with keeping the magic just between them.

And that's the thing: do these parents, the dress-making, fondant-rolling, dinosaur-posing ones...would they do all of this if there was no place to post pictures? If the only likes or comments or shares they got were from their children? I'd like to think that they would. And I'd like to think that this pressure these parents are facing today, this awful YOU MUST BE PERFECT, YOUR KIDS MUST HAVE AMAZING AND MAGICAL CHILDHOODS pressure, will ease up as more and more of them realize that magic and kids kind of goes hand-in-hand. A package deal. It doesn't have to be forced, or photo-shopped or posted anywhere to make it that way. You. Some time. Love. That's all they really want from us. Everything else is just gravy, and we all know that too much gravy isn't necessarily a good thing.

So, Bunmi, I wish you well on your quest to let your child live a life that isn't picture-perfect every day. I hope you get to stand at your backyard windows and watch her like I used to watch my son William, talking and playing and jousting imaginary foes with a stick. I hope that you, and other smart, creative parents just like you, are able to separate the good from the gilt on social media and all the marketing campaigns and tv shows and realize that when it comes down to magical childhoods, it's not getting the perfect shot of your kids at Disneyworld or having the Instagram pic of your daughter's birthday cake shared 1,000 times or making sure every single holiday is Pinterested to the nth degree.

Like Bunmi said, so wisely, in her post...magic is something you discover on your own.

And we won't discuss the fact that directly above her lovely post was the headline, "DAD TURNS VIDEOS OF HIS TODDLER INTO INSANELY COOL VIDEOS!!!". Sigh.









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