starting in the middle

i’ve been one poor correspondent

i’ve been too, too hard to find

but that doesn’t mean

you ain’t been on my mind.

~ sister golden hair, america


i’ve had so much to say. but for the life of me i haven’t been able to figure out where the hell to start.

it’s all been lying around in messy, sticky, tangled clumps that my brain just can’t manage to wedge into page-long, neatly wrapped parcels.

and then there’s this business of changing names. there’s so much to say about that process too. but mostly it’s derailed me – this concept of working my way through history. it’s wrenched me away from working my way through the present.

as i plowed through may, 2009 yesterday, i came upon this post. no accidents, my friend, carrie would say. as a matter of fact, she DID say exactly that in the comments on that post. that old post was a perfect reminder that it doesn’t always matter HOW we say it. sometimes it just matters that we do. so if you choose to keep reading, consider yourself warned. it may not be pretty. it may not be artfully wrapped. life has lately been neither.

katie. my sweet, beautiful growing-up-before-my-eyes-katie. my katie who begged me to cut her hair into a big-girl bob. my girl who suddenly looks like every bit the tween she’s quickly becoming. when did she lose the ‘little’ in little girl?

but still – and always – my baby. my baby who carries so much more than we see. my baby who walks with a grace it took me nearly forty years to find. a grace i still so often misplace. my girl whose dam finally broke. whose emotions simmered and boiled and finally spilled over in a torrent of messy, urgent need. my girl, overtaken by jagged, heaving sobs as she finally said the words, ‘sometimes i just wish i had a normal sister.’ my girl who has such a facility with language that i forget. i forget that she’s not even nine. my girl who can say, ‘it’s hard, mama. brooke gets away with so much more. and i just feel like you and daddy get so frustrated with me all the time. when i do something wrong – like if i interrupt you guys when you’re talking – you snap at me like you’re really, really mad, but if brooke does exactly the same thing then you use this really soft, lovey voice and you correct her really nicely and you never, ever get mad at her.’

i called the leader of her sib shop – asked her to keep an ear open for some of this. maybe offer some suggestions – or at the least a reminder that there are other places to let it all out. that there’s no judgement. her response surprised me, but it probably shouldn’t have. ‘oh,’ she said. ‘this is actually really good to hear. she never, ever complains in sib shop. i’m so glad she has a place to let it all out.’ we talked for a while. ‘she always takes the high road,’ she said. ‘she always has the noble answer – always says and does the ‘right’ thing. i’ve been thinking about her. it’s a lot to carry on those little shoulders.’

i didn’t know if i should be proud or really, really sad. i was both.

as we spoke, an e-mail hit my inbox. a friend reacting to a story i’d told her. a phrase caught my eye in my e-mail’s preview window – ‘you can’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.’ the words rang in my ears. the same words the sib shop leader had just used not ten seconds earlier. i’m thirty-nine years old and i’m buckling under the self-imposed weight of the world. how is my not yet nine year-old supposed to carry the same weight?

my friend april, my dear, dear friend april sent me a note that night. ‘i’d be concerned about perfectionism,’ she wrote. ‘let her see your mistakes,’ she’d said.

i bristled at her words. how dare she?

i waited.

i didn’t respond to her e-mail. me – of the i-phone, blackberry, on-screen e-mails. me – of the lightning fast response time. i left it alone.

it needed time to steep. i’ve learned. matured, my dad would say – though he says it with a funny hard ‘T” instead of the ‘CH’ that he says means i’ve yet to completely achieve it. anyway, i let it sit.

the very next night katie sat with me while i put on my make-up to go out. i’d been looking at her in the mirror as we spoke. ‘mama,i’m really sorry’ she said out of nowhere.

i stopped. i put down the mascara wand that was hovering just above my lashes and turned to face her. ‘for what, sweet love?’ i asked.

‘for everything. for messing up all the time. for all the stuff i do wrong. i try, but i just feel like i mess stuff up. like before, when i over-reacted to stubbing my toe and i couldn’t stop crying. i try really hard not to cry when stuff like that happens, but sometimes i just can’t help it. so i’m really sorry.’

april. oh, dear sweet april.

‘oh, baby girl,‘ i said as i made room for myself next to her at the edge of the tub. ‘do you know that mama makes a LOT of mistakes?’

she looked at me wide-eyed. those huge hazel eyes so open, so trusting. ‘don’t say that, mama,’ she said. ‘you’re perfect.’

so god-damned sincere. she actually meant it.

oh april, thank god.

‘you know what, katie?’

‘what mama?’

‘you’re right, sweet girl. i am perfect. you want to know why?

she leaned in as though i was about to tell her the meaning of life. perhaps i was. ‘because i am down-right riddled with IMperfections,’ i said. ‘but they’re mine. they are my own, unique brand of imperfection. and together with all my strengths, they make me perfectly who i am. just like you.’

we talked for a long time. i was running late. i didn’t care. we talked about mistakes. we invoked her beloved art teacher’s favorite saying ~ mistakes are great; they help us grow; they teach us what we need to know. we talked about constantly learning and growing and reaching. we talked about the things that challenge us most. and we talked about accepting and loving ourselves – every last bit of ourselves – exactly where we are on the journey – RIGHT THIS VERY SECOND.

we talked about moving forward when we stumble – armed with new knowledge – rather than dwelling in the past. i told her that nothing is ever wasted if we learn something from it.

later that night i fought back tears in the car as i told luau that i needed to set a better example. that i needed to heed my own advice. that i couldn’t fix everything. he said, ‘so you’re saying that what you’ve been doing is .. ‘

‘no,’ i said emphatically, ‘i’m saying that going forward what i WILL be doing is …’

there’s work to do. always more work to do.

and brooke. my god, brooke. she is redefining EVERYTHING.

again and again and again.

i don’t know where to begin. the changes aren’t always easy to describe. sometimes the tectonic plates just shift over time until one day the landscape looks entirely different. the nuances of language that add so much color to her speech. the ever-emergent will. the funny. my god, the funny.

we were recently overrun by bathroom humor. as age appropriate as it may be, this was NOT ok. please don’t make me explain why. just trust me on perseverative, over the top, no longer developmentally acceptable, bordering on obsessive – got it? so we set some rules. first and foremost, we don’t use the word ‘poop’ unless we have to – well, poop. sorry, mom. since she can no longer use the word, she’ll try anything to get US to use it. and she’s brilliant. did i mention that she’s brilliant? seriously – see for yourself.

she’s tried, ‘mama, COULD you say ‘oopy oopy oop’ with a ‘P’ please?’

she’s taken a run at her sister. ‘katie, what’s yucky and brown?’

but a couple of nights ago – well, a couple of nights ago took the cake.

luau yawned.

‘daddy, how do you feel?’ she asked.

‘sleepy,’ he said.

‘dad, how do you feel sleepy after you bathroom?’

he looked confused.

with an impish grin she asked, ‘do you feel POOPED?’




or when she walked over to me yesterday and announced that jesus has a pair of balls. i … um … well .. i don’t remember that scene in godspell.

‘what’s that honey?’ i asked, trying to sound unfazed.

‘jesus has a pair of balls!’

i looked at luau. luau looked at me. i tried really, really, really hard not to laugh. oh, wait, i thought, i got it!

‘brooke, honey,’ i asked, ‘do you mean jesus has the parables?’


‘no,’ she said. ‘jesus has a pair of balls.’

oh. ok.

and the not so funny. like yesterday when she said, ‘i’m DUMB,’ out of absolutely nowhere. and i didn’t know whether or not it had meaning, but i held her close and told her she’s NOT dumb and katie heard me and chimed in. ‘brooke, you’re not dumb at all. you’re really, really smart’ and then she stage whispered, ‘mama, i wonder if she heard neighborhood girl say that about her.’ and i just wanted to wrap my babies up and hold them tight and never let them go.

no, not funny at all.

there’s more to tell. so much more. but it’s 4:27 am and i’m supposed to be sleeping because i’m on vacation. so don’t tell anyone i wrote to you, ok? last thing i need is a whole rash of crap about how i’m supposed to be relaxing. so not a word about me being up since 2:15.

pinky swear?

20 thoughts on “starting in the middle

  1. You hit home for me…. The fit at dinner, the fit at target, the fit lowes, the fit at school… They are hard, but I know there’s a reason. If only I could get him to talk. Sigh.

  2. Just to let you know, from one imperfect person to another, I never read the time you wrote this. It’ll be our secret!

    I love you!

  3. My prayers always include a request to be used for goodness. That my words, my actions or just my presence bring comfort, guidance, light or inspiration to both those I know and the strangers around me. So often I mess that up – I say or do something that hurts instead of heals. But then, every so often, my prayers are answered and I learn that the risks I take in sharing of myself actually have a positive impact. Those feel like magical moments. This one means more than I can express at the moment. As my good friend would say, “I need to chew on it a bit.” But you can be sure tonight my prayers will include a big thank you for being used for goodness. xo April

  4. Well, any post that quotes me is a great post! : )

    I so get the sibling stuff, and them trying hard to be perfect, and the two sets of rules/standards for behavior, the impatience with them and the infinite patience for the other! I don’t have all the answers, but I do get it!

  5. This is still artfully wrapped. I so admire the way you are with your girls, both of them. You are raising two amazing daughters!

  6. Perfection….the realization that it is ok for me to make mistakes. I’m not good at that, it’s ok for everyone else though. You are such an amazing mother. There are so many parts of this post that speak to me very deeply, but I can’t articulate words at this moment. Just thank you

  7. Wow. That hit home on both levels. Mine used to utter “stupid kid” to himself. We corrected him telling him he’s a *stupendous* kid (told him it means awesome). He no longer says stupid šŸ™‚

  8. Beautiful take on perfection. I jumped back to that old post you metion at the top of this one and decided your family is more and more like mine every day. We too, have a ‘house-cat’ who prefers to stay home and avoid the loud/bright/overwhelming world if given the chance. My NT son and I on the other hand are the ‘alley-cats’ ….must go out before the walls close in. We have all come to accept this little reality, but I make sure if it’s been more than 2 or 3 trips, that house-cat must come along. I don’t think it’s selfish, it’s just part of life she usually does much better than I expect.

    Freedom isn’t free and Perfection isn’t perfect (it’s highly overrated).

  9. so many intense moments! huge ups, huge downs. and some poop jokes thrown into the mix. i know katie is in a tough spot, having to carry around all of those emotions, all of those reactions to brooke, and feeling conflicted about them. so it’s definitely a relief that she can find some way of expressing it, the good feelings, the bad ones. she’s got to sound it all out, it’s the only way for her to get a handle on her reactions. with all of that maturity, i hane no doubt she’ll find a way to sort through it all. in fact, she’s so mature, she might could sort through all of our problems as well. i need to see if she accepts walk-ins.

    hope the trip is going well.

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