Saturday, March 08, 2014

Packing Lists

Champion sweatshirts cut and the neck with shorts that went swish when you walked. Slouch socks, dirty Keds, skin so soft. Sunburns, bug juice, endless peanut butter sandwiches on Wednesdays. Barbeques, crackling bonfires, screaming girl-fights. Plastic showers, moths, shower caddies, moldy towels, pre-dinner wardrobe changes that included spritzes of Anais Anais and too much hair gel. First kisses and fumbling exploration-- wet and hot on a volleyball court or a golf course or behind a bunk. Lights Out! Raids, jacks, a sweep of baby powder will prevent splinters. Breakups, tears, Christopher Cross or Air Supply.

I miss....

Summer nights on Newberry Street in Boston, MA

The soothing sound of the garage door opening in my childhood home while I lay in bed at night. My dad was home.

Sleeping till noon on Saturdays, awakening for a gutted bagel, iced coffee, my walkman and stroll around Gramercy Park, shopping for an outfit to go out in that night. (What I don't miss: That Night).

Being three months in to a great workout regime.

Getting my hair blown out while gorging on fashion magazines.

Fiction writing workshops.

My stinky, scrappy family dog, Oreo.

The amazing Thomas Pink cufflinks that my husband bought me.

Having a GREAT day at work.


The best thing you can ever do for someone is to compliment them on whatever you are finding yourself admiring. A great sweater that you could never pull off, the poreless repeat of their skin, eyes so blue you would wonder if they were real. A stranger, a lover, it doesn't matter. Find space and confidence in your life to tell someone else what is special about theirs. You will both bloom for it.


The freedom to choose. This is what women fought for. But it is always what we want?

Recently, after my missive on this very blog about how much I adore being at home, I went on a dream job interview. It was a news editor position at a magazine. Despite my lack of direct experience, I found myself across the table from an editor in chief, in brand new high heels and an updated portfolio, nodding and smiling and boasting.

(In case you are wondering, the job is in an adjacent city, so my mother drove me to the interview with D, and waited in the parking lot. And five minutes before I was rattling off my strengths and weaknesses, my dress was at my waist and I was breastfeeding in the backseat. But I digress...)

As the editor in chief started to unravel the job description, I floated above my manicured nails and overstyled hair and and watched myself nod enthusiastically, and tried to keep from drooling. This was everything I ever wanted....before.


I started this blog almost 8 years ago, to chronicle life as a new mom with my daughter, Chloe. Tomorrow is her eighth birthday. Looking back now, I wish I had been more diligent recording the details.  But not for memories. For clues.

In the past year, Chloe has been diagnosed with anxiety. It happened after a very long and winding journey, filled with confusion. Because when your otherwise normal child starts complaining about stomach pain, you have to believe it is - what - constipation? heartburn? gas? Gluten allergy? Lactose intolerance? Undiagnosed strep throat? Mono? These are all the things we tried, throwing our hopes against them until one would stick. But none of them did.  The physical symptoms, as real as they appeared, became mere props in the surreal performance that suddenly became our lives, where anxiety took the stage. Every day. A perpetually repetitive performance of pain.

We like to say "It came out of nowhere" because then we can believe that we could not have prevented it.  And because that's what the school psychologist said, convinced that she had some mysterious illness. Why else would a life and love-filled seven year old suddenly become hysterical every morning when dropped off at school? How can someone be allegedly nauseous, all day long, without an ailment of some sort, something that can be cured by medicine that smells like bubble gum and sits in your fridge for 10 days?

But if we are honest -- and that's what therapy at $300 for 45 minutes demands -- this did not come out of nowhere. We had constructed a normal life around her abnormal fears, and it seemed perfectly innocent, parents flexing to minimize their child's quirks. I remember noting to my pediatrician that at those maddening mommy and me classes, Chloe would not meander around with the other kids.  She always sat close on my lap, refusing to budge. "That's a good thing," he'd say.  "She will be less likely to stumble into danger. It's good she's cautious."  So you cling to that validation, and ignore your gut.  So she's cautious, that's a good thing.  And there was no real need to sleep at grandma's house if she didn't want to, and drop off playdates were just another thing for the nanny to have to deal with. Who cares if she didn't want to do those. And then it became no birthday parties. She doesn't like cake, she'd say. And that was $30 less that I would have to spend on some kid she barely knew. And at the parties she did attend, I somehow became the only mother on the sidelines, barely noticing that I was sitting alone where I was once flanked by friends and diaper bags.  So she was building a small world of security around herself, closing out the parts of the world she didn't want to see or hear. And so did I.

There was a part that came out of nowhere - a sudden escalation of the undertones of anxiety that we had grown to live with. It exploded like a sonic boom, with reverberations that have left us shaking. She won't separate at all -- and especially not for school. She screams like a feral animal, "Don't make me go!", twisting and kicking and shaking in the face of danger that only she can see. Her eyes are equally wild and blank. I can't reach her. Once she realizes that missing school is not a option, she devises her own desperate voodoo to ensure her safety - by way of questions - hundreds of questions that assault us from 5:00 in the morning until the 8:00 drop off. They are all the same, but need to be repeated, over and over until something settles inside of her for a second and then rages up again, refusing to soothe her for more than a second. With the questions come the things - things to wear, things to carry, things to eat or not eat, all in an effort to ward off a crippling belief that danger is ahead. And every morning it starts over again. Without fail.

She is loud and relentless. This is not a private disease, and she is a volcano erupting while other mothers bear witness. Their eyes are large with sympathy, concern or confusion, all of which I abhor. So we stop taking the elevator and start taking the stairs - eight flights. Though my legs ache and my hair sweats and we need to pause on each floor so I can either soothe or scream at her through clenched teeth. It sounds heartless, but sometimes all that works is my angry voice - it shakes her out of the daze. The more I soothe, the more despondent she becomes, so there are times when I look at my desperate, devastated child, and I hiss at her, begging her to stop, threatening if she won't.

So we awaken to the fact that this is a THING. And there are books that describe her so closely that bring me hope while also striking fear deep inside of me - that this is a THING that will be with her, with us, forever. It's not a stage, or a phase, or a spurt, or the things that make moms drink wine every night. And the worst thing about the THING is that while it was always around, and part of her, she suddenly seems completely different. I don't want to welcome this person, this daughter who looks like mine but acts so sick, because she's not here to stay. But as long as she's here, my Chloe is gone.