I See You


photo by heather mildenstein

I wrote this post a couple of years ago. But the reminder was needed this week. Here's to being seen. (Hey, I see you.)

It is nearly eleven o’clock at night and Viola’s cries creep out from under her door, tumble across the hall, and bounce in the kitchen from the unwashed pan to the blinds that need dusting out into the living room and onto my lap. Riley tells me to stay put as he goes to see what is wrong. And I do. Because I am tired. And I know she will cry again in a few hours. And right now, I need to pick up everything and place it on my husband’s square shoulders. I need to disappear, just for a moment. So, I brush the sound of her need off my skirt like so many specks of clinging dust and try to think about something else.

It isn’t working.

I have been so worried about my darling girls.

Viola is at that magic age, the one where the only real concern is whether she is eating and sleeping enough. While the answers to those questions change day to day, lately there have been more noes than yeses. Maybe she is teething? A virus? Riley, put your hand on her head, does she feel warm? And then she is up at 2am and 3am and not sleeping past 6:30, because my goodness, where would be the fun in that? But between the too short naps and too long cries, I can pick her up and make her smile. Because I am all she knows and right now, all she knows is enough.

I don’t know that I am enough for Margaret anymore. My goodness, that sounds a bit dramatic. Meg, you say, that is perhaps a premature pronouncement to make about a three year old. But it is true. She has feelings bigger than my capacity to soothe, fears more complicated than she can articulate and an occasional stubbornness that I can only engage if I am willing to stand till the ragged, tantrum filled end. I don’t mind the tantrums. They are fierce but few and I can handle myself just fine, thank you. No, I feel the most helpless when she collapses, when the light leaves her eyes and all that is left is panic without discernible meaning.  The times when I can see the anxiety climb up her arms and into her ears until it all spills out in hiccups and screams and MOMMY’S! It doesn’t happen every day, but sometimes I think the lines that connect one breakdown to another are becoming shorter.  When it does happen, I hold her close and play with her hair and speak quietly, oh honey, everything is alright. And then, because it calms her down I turn on a movie and give her SHINY BLANKIE and walk away until she comes back to me, all big smiles and bouncing questions.

I think the breakdowns come when she is tired. Or when she is hungry. Maybe they happen because she is a creature of routine. Or because she is bored. Perhaps she reacts poorly to processed foods. There is always the chance that she needs more iron…or less.

I am not sure of anything, except for all the things I am unsure of.

Last night after a mixed meeting with her preschool teachers, (She is a very bright girl! Sometimes she is a little upset.) I came home and cried to Riley. I don’t mind that she gets overwhelmed and breaks for a moment. We all do. And at three she doesn’t know that it is more socially acceptable to eat your anxiety away (chocolate, anyone?) rather than scream it away. (Between you and me, I think the screaming might be the healthier coping mechanism of the two.) No, what I hate is that I don’t know how to help her navigate around this obstacle. I want Zuzu and all the people around her to see exactly who she is. I can see her. She is kindness and giving and warmth and humor and intelligence and strength and dance out in the open with her eyes closed. She is whimsy and steel. I don’t want fear or hysteria to cloud her vision. I am her mother. I am supposed to guide her. I don’t want to change her, I just want to help her.  But, I don’t know how to keep my ignorance – how do I help her? What does she need? – from muddying the waters.

I went to bed last night heavy with doubt. Because if I can’t do this now how will I do this when she is 14? And maybe this is because I am not doing my job well enough. If only we read more, painted more, crafted more. A better mother would know what she needed. A better mother would know. Pressed against the wall, a continent away from Riley, he asked if I was alright. I nodded yes, and closed my eyes. The tears squeezed out hot against the cold night and the phrase repeated itself as I fell asleep – A better mother would know.

And then.

Riley and I fought this morning. I am not sure how it began, but I know just when it got going. He said I am too hard on myself more days than not – that I spill so many wasted thoughts on not being a good enough woman, writer, wife, mother. I told him that he had no right to tell me how I should feel. My goodness, I cried, what do you know about inadequacy and guilt? He isn’t in these four walls all day with two people hungry for more than cheerios. He leaves and I stay and try to be the things I want to be, should be, while wiping the crumbs off my clothes.  Can’t he see all the magic I leave out of so many days with the girls I have been given as daughters? Can’t he feel the weight of the stories that go thought and unwritten again and again until they are forgotten? Does he think I want to be the woman that is too tired for dancing when he gets home after a long day of work? How, I asked angry and misunderstood, how am I supposed to get through this part of my life feeling anything but less than what I wish to be? Do you have any idea what you are talking about? Riley slammed out the door to steam it out in the drive way while I stewed in the shower.

When he came back in Margaret was eating cereal on the couch and I had nearly finished my makeup in the bathroom. A small comfort, as I prefer to be presentable when ugly crying. We kissed and he held me, sorry for the things we said and perhaps for a few that we didn’t.

He left for work and we survived the day.

Viola has stopped crying and in the rounded silence I have some clarity. Riley wasn’t telling me how to feel, he wasn’t negating my experience, or saying he could do it better. He was saying he can see me. And the woman he sees can do this. She can wake up with a baby who will not sleep. She can break through the wall built by a three year old’s tears. She can write whatever she damn well pleases. She can be the wife she knows her husband deserves. She can dance even when she is too tired to keep standing.

I don’t always know the woman Riley sees. But every once in a while, when he is looking at me, I see her reflected in his eyes. And right now, that glimpse is just enough to get me through one more day, every day.

rage on


I feel like you and I are pretty open with one another. Like this weird internet friendship we have going on is deeper than brightly lit screens and hastily scrawled one liners. We’ve gotten to know another over the past few years. You’ve cheered me on, sorrowed with me, and laughed at my idiocy. You’ve shared your thoughts about the things that move us and shake us and turn us around. The emails I’ve received from you, the happy ones, sad ones, searching ones , - hell! even the angry ones - have changed me for the better.

But this place is still just a little window where we see one another. A place where I can present my most ordered thoughts and sweep the rest under the rug. I don’t always talk about days like today. Days when the anxiety is crushes in until I can feel the walls of my heart press against one another. Days when popcorn and target with the kids wasn’t enough of an escape. Days when the problems in my life are very real and the only solutions seem ephemeral, distant and distracted. Days when I can’t see tomorrow.

The kids are taking naps and it seems I have a few options. I can eat more ice cream and let the sugar rock me to sleep. I can read snarky internet gossip and get charged from the negativity. I can take the last xanax left over from a four year old prescription. Or. I can sit down and be honest with you, my friends. And I don't know. Maybe if I am honest with you, you will be honest with each other. And just perhaps in that honesty, that camaraderie, that acknowledgement of pain, we'll be able to lift the other up from the dark places we all fall into from time to time.

Sometimes life is very, very hard.

My dad’s death in February was the beginning of months of grief and complications that have rubbed us all raw.

There have been the spiritual and mental hurts. The permanent mortal removal of the person that helped motivate your existence tears at the fabric of your reality. I’ve written about that extensively but not, to my chagrin, to the exhaustion of the subject.

There have been the material hurts. A loss of the livelihood my mom and dad built for thirty years. The impending foreclosure of their house. The life insurance company that is trying to not pay my mom because my dad died two days before the contestability period expired. My mom, a woman in her fifties that may be left with nothing because of 48 damn hours. The creditors that can’t see her tear streaked face when she answers their fifteenth call.

There have been family hurts. The kind that slash and then once they are healed do so with a jagged scar.

And there have been the hurts without category or name. The ones that raise up as nightmares in my sleep. The ones that eat alongside me during the day and roil in my stomach at night. The ones that make me cry in the middle of aisle at the grocery store and react with aggression at slights that would usually pass me by unnoticed.

I want to fix it all. I want to jump in front of every bus coming at my mom. I want to shout down every doubt. I want to lift everyone above this year and into the next. But my feet aren’t fast enough, my voice isn’t loud enough and my arms aren’t strong enough.

I almost wish I could call this depression. I’ve experienced that before. I know it’s name and I’m not afraid to say it or treat it. Depression is a quirk of genetics, hormones or circumstance. It is a flawed reality that one must, often with the help of others, extract oneself from. But this...this house of shadows is something so much worse.

This is reality. Unfiltered by hormone or chemistry. I can't extract myself from it. I can only press through it. Or, on days like today, drift along until I catch my breath again.

This is a storm that won’t seem to abate. A consequence of mortality that we all must, at some point, trudge through with uplifted hands and broken hearts. It’s backbreaking and soul shaking and absolutely the most isolating thing I’ve ever experienced in my life.

It is really, really hard.

I am not getting through it very well today.

Thank the Lord for tomorrow.