Outing My Inner Fraud
October 15, 2010 § 4 Comments
Yesterday, one of my worst fears was realized. It is a petty fear, one that has nothing to do with my family or with anything really important. It is a fear of the ego, but one that feels so very urgent. So very gripping. I have always been afraid that someday – any day – the world will realize what a fraud I really am. It’s like that dream, where I have no clothes on and the only thing I can hide behind are parking meters.
Recently, I wrote an article for the San Diego Reader on local food and where to get it. I’m a big fan of local food and local farmers, and my piece “Local Harvest” was meant to support San Diego farmers and direct people towards their produce and milk, meat and eggs. I defined local as “in San Diego county.” I was given 1000 words, paid $300, and spent over 40 hours on it. I thought it was good. I talked to farmers and chefs and butchers. I asked everyone I spoke to where I could find local meat, and the answer was always the same. “You can get local cows but they’re sent up to Imperial Valley to be slaughtered.” Or, “You can get local eggs, but no local chickens.” I wrote in my article that local meat – truly local meat – was impossible to find.
Yesterday, my editor sent me a note. You need to write an apology on Twitter, he said. And he forwarded me a link to a blog that skewered me for saying there was no local meat in San Diego. The writer of the blog owns a small restaurant in San Diego and uses local produce, California meat, and he makes his own sausage. He – like me – is a big proponent of local food.
On his blog he accused me of “screwing the factual pooch.” He said my article was a shame “because there might be people in San Diego who are thinking about looking into eating better food or local food, who then read some phoned-in nonsense and erroneously decide there’s no point in even asking for good food.” He said I misquoted the people I spoke with.
I read it and felt a growing sense of horror. I’m on your side, I wanted to say. Did you even read my article?
Regardless, Jay, the mean blogger was on a roll. He took bits of my article, made fun of it, and soon he had 15 commenters talking about what an idiot I was. Each comment seemed less and less based on reality. Each commenter grew more and more militant about things that had never happened. This, I thought is why we are at war with Iraq for the 9/11 bombing committed by Saudi terrorists. One of the commenters was even someone I interviewed and praised in my piece. Maybe she didn’t read the article either?
My favorite comment was from someone named “Becky” who said I wasn’t a “real reporter.” You’re right, I wanted to tell her. I’m not a real anything. I’m trying to be a stay-at-home mom. I’m trying to do some writing. I have a degree in biology, half a clue about parenting, 3 hours of paid childcare a week, and no idea how to do much at all except bake a pretty good pound cake. I wanted to cry, except the babysitter was leaving and my son wanted me to play with him.
Luckily for me, my husband shooed me off to yoga later that night, and on the way to class, I thought about how compassionate my editor was to me, how kind. “Write another article,” he told me. “Call the cranky blogger and follow his leads. See what happens.” I was so relieved, I was so grateful, and then immediately I was so ashamed. I never let people off the hook. Although I don’t want to, I believe people need to pay for what they do. They need to atone. The fact that my editor let me off so quickly, without hesitation, showed me how I keep everyone on the hook, from George W. Bush for the war, to the lady at the dry cleaner for yelling at me for losing my ticket, to myself, for everything.
In yoga last night, Kathy, my instructor started off class talking about teachers. “Our teachers are everywhere,” she said. “The word Guru means to take away the darkness.” Deepak Chopra wrote something similar in The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. “Our tormentors and our teachers are one and the same.” I thought of my editor. I thought of my son, who pushes me to my furthest limits. I thought of my husband. I thought of Jay, the mean blogger. I thought of Becky, who didn’t think I was a real reporter. What is real anyway?
The real reason I was online yesterday and had a babysitter was that I am taking some writing classes through UCLA Extension. Some of the people in my class think I am OK, or at least that is what they say. One side of my computer had my gmail account up, my editor’s email to me and Jay’s blog about my phoned-in nonsense and factual pooch. The other side of my computer had a window up to my online writing class. “I like your story,” someone said. “I think you’re brilliant,” was another comment.
In yoga class, as I lay in Savasana, I thought about my computer, those disparate messages on my screen. “Not a real reporter.” And “You’re brilliant.” “Screwing the factual pooch,” and “I love how you write.” Opposites, staring up at me. They both can’t be right, I thought. And they both can’t be wrong.
I did some coaching with Rolf Gates this summer and he often reminded me about a poem by Rumi:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.
Rightdoing and Wrongdoing. Wasn’t that how the world worked? You’re right, I’m wrong. Black. White. None of it made any sense. I wasn’t brilliant. I didn’t screw the factual pooch. I wasn’t a real reporter. I wasn’t a fraud. I finally got – lying there on my back in a stinky, sweaty yoga studio – that in the end, it didn’t matter what people said. They would say I was great. They would say I sucked. Neither was right. Neither was wrong. In the end, all there is is the work. In the end, all there is is yourself. You show up. You do what matters. You do your best. You do what you can. Finally, I saw that the reactions – even the good ones I have built my entire life around – were meaningless. Reactions were only other people. Reactions were only their work.
To understand the magnitude of this is to know that my entire life has been based around pleasing people. My whole life has been a huge effort to make sure people don’t know that I am really a fake. That I am not who I pretend to be. And now I see that it just doesn’t matter. What matters is kindness. What matters is love. What matters is letting people off the hook.
I watch my children to whom all of this hard stuff comes easy. My sons fight about Thomas trains. About LEGO catalogs. About crayons. And yet, in the back seat of the car, three seconds later, they are holding hands. They are interlocking a finger. They are holding onto each other. They are showing me what a fraud I am and how, in the end, it doesn’t really matter very much.
God Only Knows What I’d Be Without You
October 9, 2010 § Leave a comment
Yesterday was my husband’s birthday. We should have more of these days, I think, days spent focusing solely on those we love. We should certainly have more than one day out of every three hundred and sixty-five. We had a good day, the boys and I, planning surprises and baking a cake, wrapping presents. That morning, on the way to school, we were listening to Jonatha Brooke sing a remake of “God Only Knows.” :
“I may not always love you. But long as there are stars above you, you never need to doubt it, you can be sure about it, God only knows what I’d be without you.”
I have heard that song so many times, but yesterday, on my husband’s birthday, I heard it almost for the first time. As I listened I thought about how close I came to not marrying my husband, to missing my own life. I didn’t even want to go out with him after I found out he was in the Navy. At the time, he was a grad student at Stanford and I was living in Palo Alto on University Avenue, in the first apartment that was all mine. It was in an old Victorian house and my apartment had walls of windows, hardwood floors, and wainscoting. I adored it. I loved my job in investor relations, and finally, I lived close to my dearest friends in the world, who I ran with on Friday evenings in Huddart Park. So when the night of my first date with Scott arrived, I decided to clean my apartment instead. Why, I thought, would I waste time going out with someone in the Navy? I would never be a Navy wife. Of course, when I met Scott outside my apartment on the evening of our date, I regretted my decision to wear an old cardigan and a scarf around my head. There he was, lean and handsome, wearing cargo pants and a nice shirt, looking like a cross between Cary Grant and Owen Wilson. He was so tall I had to squint into the sun to see his face. And he was a gentleman. He ignored my appearance and we stayed out until after midnight, eating Vietnamese food and talking.
I think about us then, the old us, back when we were still so new. So much has happened since then. Scott left Palo Alto for Philadelphia after graduation, nine months after I met him. I wanted to go with him and he broke my heart by telling me he didn’t want me to. I tried breaking up with him, but somehow, I let him visit me, and a few weeks later, I was on a red-eye to the east coast for a long weekend. This time, when he met me at baggage claim, he was wearing his khaki uniform, and I didn’t like how short his hair was. He reminded me of the serious-eyed photos they showed on the news of the young troops killed in Iraq. I, on the other hand, was out protesting the war, glaring at the SWAT teams that lined the streets of the Palo Alto anti-war demonstrations.I didn’t want to be a Navy Wife. In my head, Navy Wives wore pleated skirts and made meatloaf. They went to church every Sunday and played Bunko. I couldn’t even imagine myself in that role.
And then, it all changed. I woke up 4:30 AM on March first, 2005, and knew I was pregnant. I had just had a dream that my ex-boyfriend from years ago jumped off a cliff, and I was certain. I ran out to the Palo Alto Safeway, bought three pregnancy kits, and then called Scott, sobbing. I wish I could say that it was the answer to my prayers. I wish I could say it was meant to be. But it wasn’t. It was hard. I wasn’t ready to be a Navy Wife and Scott wasn’t ready to be a father. We scheduled an abortion, and then, the night before, I changed my mind. I was only five weeks pregnant, but there was a light under my heart that was too bright to put out. There was something in me, the size of a question mark, that I could not bear to erase. For almost five months, I hid the pregnancy from my boss and my family, and then we got married in a small ceremony in Half Moon Bay. Six weeks later, I moved to the east coast, and three months after that, Oliver was born.
As I drive my son to school on my husband’s birthday, the sun filtering through the leaves, golden and red and green, I can’t imagine any other way, any other story. I am a mother now. I am a Navy wife. (I still don’t play Bunko or live on a Navy base). I hope I am a softer person, more kind than I used to be. Every day, I make so many mistakes. But still, I am here, in a house with so many rooms that are still not as many as all of the new rooms that now exist in my heart. I never thought I would be living this life. How could I have not imagined this life? God only knows what I’d be without you.
Scott delights and infuriates me, he is patient with me, he – more than anyone – has tolerated the messy and awkward and scary process of growth. He has grown. Our sons have grown into two little boys who now who help each other pile acorns into toy dump trucks and try to sit on the same pumpkin. They pull each other’s hair and scream so loudly I can barely stand it some days. We eat dinner together, we light candles and say blessings. We give our children baths, which once I thought was the most romantic prospect: bathing the sweet skin of your child. Now, Scott and I flip a coin over who is going to do bedtime, who is going to clean up the kitchen, take out the trash. Life is like that. As beautiful as it is, there is still the trash, the dust in the corners, the overdue library books.
Today, I took the boys to a supermarket to buy their father presents. From Gus, the baby, came a 30th Anniversary bottle of Sierra Nevada. Oliver picked out fruit snacks, the forbidden kind I only allow into the house on special occasions. They each picked out a balloon for their dad. Gus picked out a baseball balloon and Oliver picked out one with a dump truck on it. Perfect, I thought until we watched Gus’ balloon wrestle free from its string in the parking lot and bound up into the sky. There we go, I thought. Just that quickly we are gone.
Tonight, Scott blew out candles. We were 30 together once and now we are 38. We all had too much cake and now I have a canker sore on my tongue. Too much sugar. A day of just sweet. A day of candles, flickering in the darkness. There should definitely be more days like this. Certainly more than one in every three hundred and sixty-five.
How to Get Found
October 4, 2010 § 1 Comment
Yesterday was a hard day in our house. Disgruntled kids, tired parents, too much on the agenda. I went to bed thinking about all the mistakes I make daily as a mother, as a wife, as a daughter, and as a friend. But this morning, the sun shone through the windows as both boys climbed into bed with us. Like little puppies, they eradicate any sense of blue.
And yoga today, where for some reason, things are revealed to me that normally, I don’t see. Truly, it is the doorway to my life, a well-paved entrance to a sense of truth that has nothing to do with right or wrong, good or bad. This afternoon, as we held Warrior I pose for five breaths, something clicked in me, something that seemed so obvious I wondered how I could have questioned it yesterday. There is something about that pose that can make the weakest person feel powerful. Something about rooting into the earth while lifting up your hands in a prayer that brings answers. Yesterday, i was so worried about whether or not it is OK to show feelings around our children, and if so, how much? Today, in Warrior I pose, I realized that feelings aren’t the problem – are never the problem. It’s only our reaction to the feeling that can be scary. And if we are skillful, we can simply be, rather than react. We can be vulnerable but strong; afraid but courageous. We can be angry but not yell. We can be sad but not sobbing.
Last evening, during dinner, we discussed crying. How adults cry when they are happy and they cry when they are sad. I told my son that when I was about six, I used to cry every time I heard John Denver sing “Sunshine on My Shoulders.” My son laughed. “That’s silly,” he said. “Silly mama,” said the baby. “Silly dada.” “I cry when I hit my head,” said Oliver.
Karen Maezen Miller wrote an amazing essay (entitled The Dharma of Barbie) on children and their lack of judgement. She writes: It’s such a burden, our high-mindedness, and it gets us nowhere. Oh, we might inch along far enough to trade one idea for another, but that’s nowhere new. We’re still bogged down by our biases, hamstrung by principles and blinded by the inviolability of our opinions.
Children have none of our hangups and restrictions. They have no idea that TV is bad or carrots are good. They don’t yet know that anger is bad and happiness is good. To them it is all equal. It is all fresh. It is only us silly adults who put such emotional weight on what is supposedly right and wrong. I also received a beautiful note from Katrina Kenison, who wrote: If I’ve learned anything as a mother, it’s to allow my kids to feel what they feel and to let myself do the same. …What a relief it is, too, to be seen, heard, acknowledged. And there is a kind of relief in just allowing everything to be exactly as it is–to quote Adyashanti.
That sentiment, those words are the home from which I seem to wander away frequently. So I printed them out and hung them on the inside of my kitchen cabinet, the door I open a million times a day to retrieve cups and bowls and plates. It’s such a wise statement but one I think children already know. I watch my sons hug each other, joyfully, full of love, despite the fact that they have a conflict over a toy or book approximately once every twelve minutes. I watch as Gus, the baby tries to hit me when he is frustrated, and then a second later throws his arms around me, as if he knew what he needed all along but was just trying out another option.
Today, while holding Warrior I pose yet again, I started judging myself. My tailbone wasn’t tucked in correctly. And how exactly was I supposed to tuck my tailbone down and lift my heart up? I just couldn’t do this pose. I would never get this pose ….
And then I heard another voice inside my head, which said, Stay calm. Don’t freak out. Our yoga teacher gave us that advice last week while she asked us to hold plank pose for many more breaths than was comfortable. “Just stay calm,” she said. “It’s no big deal. Screwing up your face isn’t going to help.” That could be the best parenting advice ever. It could be the best advice about life ever: All a feeling wants is to be felt. All anyone wants is to be heard. There is a kind of relief in allowing everything to be exactly as it is. Just stay calm. It’s no big deal.
How to Be Lost
October 2, 2010 § 3 Comments
I had a day today that brought me to my knees. Actually, my oldest son, about to turn five, brought me down single-handedly. There wasn’t any one thing he did, but rather everything. The adamant way he abjectly refused to ride his bicycle down the hill from our house to the arts festival down the street, the consistent whining during the ensuing walk there, his insistence to stop in front of every driveway and block his brother from getting by, the way he spoke to his father and me all day, as if we were part of horrible episode of Supernanny. His four, long tantrums, in which he alternatively told me he needed a hug and a kiss and then hid his head in his pillow and told me to go away.
He isn’t always like this. Most days, he loves adventures on his bicycle, says “OK Mommy” when I ask him to help me take laundry from the dryer, and he happily plays trains with his brother. He’s a good kid. He’s never exactly easy, but if he’s strong-willed, he’s also kind and curious, he loves helping out and learning and being in charge of small, manageable tasks.
Just not today. Today in the store he tried to climb over the check-out counter, and when I finally gave into the temptation that was sitting on my shoulder all day and hissed at him to settle down, he yelled at me that I wasn’t talking to him very kindly. Actually, he was right.
And I was at my limit. I thought about a yoga class, where an instructor told us that if we could face our limits on our yoga mat, we could do so in life as well. That yogis were radical. That yogis faced challenges head-on with a sense of curiosity, compassion, and steadiness.
Today I was not a yogi.
Finally, during dinner tonight, I cried. We were listening to Christine Kane’s beautiful son “Break,” to the verse:
You were last seen working straight around the clock, moving top speed, drinking who-cares-on-the-rocks.
Now the one and only thing that’s left to do is to find a way to break. Fall apart.
You keep holding on to things you know you can’t control. Let go now till you know how.
All the walls around your heart only keep you in the dark till the light shines where the parts have cracked away.
I didn’t sob, it was nothing dramatic. But there were definitely tears leaking out of my eyes, which both of my sons saw. It wasn’t any one thing that set off my waterworks. Rather, it was all that I had carried all day, the weight of all I had done that was wrong as a mother. In my memories, my mother was always steady, unflappable. Once I remember her washing my mouth out with soap, but she never seemed to waver in her abundant care and she never seemed to doubt herself. Today, I felt as lost as a pair of eyeglasses in the darkness. I felt dwarfed by the calm of my husband who always seems a better, more mature parent than I am, diminished by another mother who insinuated that her son wouldn’t eat birthday cake at Oliver’s party because it wasn’t healthy, reduced by son’s behavior, which seemed to be a direct result of my own skills as a mother. And finally, I was humbled by the fact that I couldn’t wait until after dinner to cry.
“Why doesn’t today bother you?” I asked my husband.
“Today was definitely hard,” he said and then shrugged. “But it’s wonderful too,” he told me, “Look at our boys.” This only made me feel worse. Not only was he calm, he had perspective on the situation that I apparently lacked.
“All husbands are like that,” my friend Suzanne said, when she called. “We have more invested in being a good mother than they do. We care more.” It was barely four o’clock there and I could hear the bleep of a checkout counter from the store where she was grocery shopping. At that moment, she felt a million miles away. I haven’t seen her for six months, since we left California for Virginia, and I missed her like crazy. Not only did I not have another “Suzanne” in Virginia, I didn’t have another friend period.
She sounded a little teary herself as we spoke. “Seriously,” she said finally, “I feel like I am going a little crazy.” She normally ran sixty miles a week, but she was injured now and she felt lost within her own life without running and its subsequent endorphin rush. We talked about her three young children, her very dependent mother, and the fact that she was coming up on a one-year anniversary of a very painful illness she suffered from last fall while she was pregnant with her son. But she told me that she didn’t feel entitled to complain about anything because of the abundance in her life. “Three of my friends are getting divorced,” she said, “And I know I have so much. But sometimes, I just feel sad. Or just overwhelmed. And there’s no way to fall apart when you have kids.”
“Ha,” I told her. “I just cried during dinner.”
“Well,” she confessed, in a hushed voice. “I went to bed last night at 6:15. And I had three glasses of wine.”
“So I’m not the only one?” I asked.
There was silence on the other end of the phone. “Who knows.”
I don’t know either.
And here’s what I am trying to figure out: Are we just selfish, over-entitled women who don’t know how to be grateful for our large and lavish gifts? Or are we making ourselves crazy by not allowing ourselves to feel the full range of life, which includes grief as well as joy; darkness as well as light. Is it OK to show our children that sometimes we feel angry and sad and upset and it’s not the end of the world? Or, should we keep up a brave front at all costs?
When my son was little and he cried, he told me, “It’s OK mommy, it’s just a little rain on my face.” That’s how I felt tonight, lying on the dining room bench.
I needed to break a bit. Fall apart. Only I don’t feel allowed. As a mother, I don’t feel entitled to feel what I am feeling in front of my family. So instead, I have an extra glass of wine or I yell at my husband. I eat too much chocolate. And honestly, I am tired of doing that, to adding pain on top of pain.
I was hoping that in writing all of this down, an anecdote would come to me, some story from my past that would clear it all up, or at least show me where I was wrong. But that hasn’t happened. I am still here, sitting in the dark.