The Shadow of Gratitude

Dawn breaks into my bedroom like a baseball through a window. I am tired before I even get up, worn out from a game that has not yet begun.

I manage the start well. I pack lunches, check emails, and schedule appointments as I should. I feel even and productive. It is an effort, but I accomplish what needs get done.

As the sun grows brighter my mood dims. A single sock I find on the floor irritates me. A trip to the grocery store seems daunting. An innocuous request by a repair man for a serial number that is difficult for me to read causes me to grit my teeth in frustration.

A friend stops by unexpectedly to pick up a dish. As kind people do when speaking with someone who has been ill, she offers the obligatory, “How are you doing?”

“I’m great,” I muster in my upbeat voice. “Honestly, in the grand scheme of things, I am lucky. It could have been cancer or it could have happened to one of my kids, I am just grateful for all the support we’ve had.”

The dialogue is well-rehearsed and appropriately measured. I hear the words come out with sincerity, and I feel my head bobbing at the right tempo to demonstrate I am engaged in the conversation. My thin lips purse together in a slight smile, and I tilt my head to the side to show I am appreciative of the thoughts and prayers this generous person provided to me during my time of need.

I am always surprised as the bitter taste of resentment creeps up in my throat like bile during these discussions. I am grateful that my community rallied around my family when I suffered from a rare eye disease that sidelined me for several months. I am grateful for the support of my dear family. I am grateful that I did not lose my vision completely as others have.

Yet, my fury at contracting a disease that happens to only one in a million people lays thick like a layer of blubber, crushing my gratitude deeper into a black hole. Despite being on the back end of my recovery, I am still irritated that it ever happened at all.

Following the encounter, my mood changes. The disconnect starts. I feel my energy draining like a toy dying from old batteries. I find myself in a room with my kids, yet I cannot engage in today’s school stories. I smile and nod and sometimes even laugh. I cluck reminders to “hurry up” or “get your soccer shoes on.”  I tell a joke that even gets them to chuckle. Then I walk away from the moment like it never happened.

I look around at my beautiful home but only see the dust and paper and crumbs scattered around like the remains of a party I did not attend. The chaos of a family of five that once brought joy feels more like carrying a pile of bricks on my back. I heave a load of laundry up the stairs to fold, convincing myself of its importance and pushing back the thoughts that I am avoiding interaction with those who love me most.

Alone, I let the shame wash over my body. My pulse quickens as I recite all the positives in my life, a gratitude routine that should bring me peace. I close my eyes and whisper: “Wonderful children, loving husband, healthy body, beautiful home, great friends.”

The chant should calm me, should shift the numbness to happiness, move the feelings of loneliness to love; but it does not work. Again.

The fight I have with gratitude each day is exhausting. It is a never-ending tug-of-war that slowly deflates my soul like a nail in a tire.

The positive attitude that defined my life no longer exists. I am an actress playing a role I no longer understand.

I am placed in a self-defined purgatory. There is no way someone like me, someone who has everything, could be depressed about their life. There is no way I can’t get past this. There is no way I shouldn’t be grateful.

Then night comes, as it always does, and I start to obsess. What else will happen? What bad thing will come next?

As the minutes click by on the red lights illuminating my bedroom, I try and focus on what I have overcome this year which leads to a chain reaction of extreme emotions. I think about finishing my meds for my eye disease. I remember my pride with my daughter’s release from a therapy program. I am happy that my family is now settled after a transfer to a new state. I think about the people I left behind when we moved. I miss the friend I lost to cancer and the dog we put down. I fear my vision will never be the same. I worry about my marriage if we have to move again for my husband’s job.

The push and pull from practicing gratitude weighs heavily on my heart. It never comes easy to me.

It is work. It is hard. It is exhausting.

As night disintegrates into dawn, I slowly wake, feeling raw and weathered from another tortuous sleep. I begin my day the same, but feel like the last threads holding my life together are about to break. Something needs to give.

I decide to walk out of the shadow of gratitude. I decide today, I will be grateful; but first, I will be honest.

I call an old friend to tell her I miss her. I break down asI talk to her about nerve pain, headaches and poor vision. I don’t say it in passing. I discuss it at length and in detail, describing how much it bothers me, how frustrated I am that the scarring in my eye limits my reading, my computer time, my life. I selfishly complain about the little things — too many soccer practices during dinner, not enough time to write, and an annoying encounter with a woman in the grocery store.

I am lighter after hanging up the phone, almost relaxed. The day passes by quickly and effortlessly.

Later, I let my kids eat in front of the television, and I sit with them marveling at their long limbs and dirty feet and hair that smells like sweat and outside. I am relieved to just watch them as they sit like zombies transfixed at the flood of animated colors filling the screen. I find great satisfaction in the comfort of our flesh touching each other against the leather couch without the need to pretend I am engaged in their stories. I enjoy them on my terms and it feels as if I am seeing them for the first time after a long trip.

Later that evening, I lay in my husband’s arms, crying about a life I no longer know how to live. I do not talk myself out of my fear and anger this time. It flows as easily as the tears streaming down my face. I face the dissatisfaction with my life and the events in it head on, accepting that my struggles are difficult and real.

At the end of my break down, I can sense he wants more of me, yet I have nothing left to give. I feel the slightest twinge of guilt as I selfishly leave our bed, but I’m not pretending I’m okay today. Not even for him.

I decide to shower, and it feels more like a baptism as the warm water races over my head. My breathing flows easy and for the first time in what feels like forever, I look forward to the next day. I make plans in my head for what I want to accomplish, excited to tackle my simple life instead of run from it.

As I settle deep under the covers, I recite my gratitude list again. It is easier this time, uninterrupted and longer than usual. I listen to the cadence of my husband’s breathing and despite my swollen eyes and puffy nose, I feel satisfied that this is exactly where I need to be. Yes, even where I want to be.

My thoughts drift to the past year, filled with pain and conflicts and lows. And for the first time, instead of marginalizing my struggles, I embrace it with the all the energy I can muster. It is a part of me, whether I like it or not. I cannot “gratitude” it away, nor pretend it does not exist.

My weaknesses are now exposed, and hiding it no longer seems worthy of the experience. Others suffering may be more, but that does not mean mine did not matter. I cradle the pain, imprinting the feeling on my soul like a tattoo, so as never to forget this flash of understanding.

I am grateful for this moment of consciousness, grateful for my life, grateful to be living it.

And when night returns, as it always does, I sleep.

Embarrassment versus Shame in Parenting

The other day “Ice Ice Baby” came blasting through my iPhone while doing dishes. I instantly squealed, “Oh my God! I used to love this song!” (Don’t judge me. You know you loved it too.)

I put down the dirty dish I held and started busting out my signature move, The Running Man. Of course, I have my own version, but I killed it.

That’s when I received a crushing blow to the gut. My nearly eleven-year-old daughter shouted from across the room, “Mom, seriously. You are so embarrassing.”

I stopped dead in my tracks. As I turned to face her and three of her friends eating pizza at my kitchen counter, I caught the last rotation of an eye roll as she turned her back on me.


So I did what any mom would do. I threw down my dish towel and did a little M.C. Hammer “U Can’t Touch This” shuffle across my hard wood floors and ended with “The Sprinkler,” which may have involved some PG-13 gyrating.

Her friends cheered me on but I could see the pink rising on my daughter’s cheeks. She was smiling, but I could tell the mortification was real. She was ashamed of me.

Later, I thought about how I drew a line in the sand with my daughter by continuing the dance-off. My fellow moms of tweens and I often discus how are lives are changing. Trips to Starbucks and the mall now replace princess tea parties and pretend fashion shows. iEverything’s seem to be glued to their palms and sleepovers replace playdates. And inevitably, there are a few more door slams and sighs then cuddles and kisses.

Some of my friends want to keep their relationships with their tweens/teens in tact and choose to relate to them on their terms. Some respect boundaries and allow their children more independence. Some even insist that they will be the parenting white unicorn — the cool mom.

I could have tried to be more hip to bond with the group, demonstrating that I once was like them. I could have stopped dancing and changed the station to something a little more current. I could have altered who I was at that moment.

But what fun would that be? When did we get so scared of our kids and what they think of us?

There is a lot of discussion about the role shaming has in parenting, so much so that as a culture we bend over backward to ensure we never say or do anything bad that may impact the self-esteem of a child. We worry that our every move will have an impact on their physical, intellectual, and even social well-being.

And this is important stuff. We should not publicly shame our children or make them feel ashamed about their behavior, appearance or choices. They should never feel degraded or diminished.

But that does not mean we should not teach our children the difference between shame, the mis-placed kind because of something someone else does, and good, old-fashioned parental embarrassment.

I think growing up with parents that embarrass the heck out of you truly makes you a stronger person. My dad was a lunatic. Growing up, he would blast show tunes while I was hanging out with my friends in the pool. He would do the moves to cheers when I was on the sidelines in high school. When I brought my very Italian boyfriend home in college, he asked if he could kiss his ring and call him “Godfather.”

It was mortifying. It was annoying. It made me want to curl up in the fetal position and not come out until adulthood.

And he was not the only one. My mom could be worse. She would stay up each night until I walked through the door. She called the parents of my friends —whether she knew them or not — to ensure I was where I said I would be. She would say no to my requests even when every other parent said yes.  I am not sure how I survived.

If parenting is about being brave and steadfast in your decisions, then my parents had cojones the size of Texas. And even with these “flaws,” my house was where my friends wanted to be, where we could all laugh and be ourselves.

I may not purposely do things to embarrass my kids. I won’t show up to their school wearing my pajama bottoms (if you don’t count the drop off line) or chaperone a school dance wearing my old prom dress (unless I can fit in it), but I’m not going to change who I am — or what I believe in — just to ensure they are not embarrassed. And if their friends don’t like me, well, that’s on them.

Because where does it end? There is a limitless list of things kids can be embarrassed about: not arriving to school in the right car or not having the right shoes; mothers who don’t wear make up or don yoga pants every day; or dads who scare boyfriends or dress in ridiculous ties. And yes, even a mom who does the Running Man — even when she nails it.

I know that my kids also will get embarrassed by what I don’t let them do, like wear makeup just because the other girls are or go to a party where I know there is no supervision.

It is a delicate balance when raising older children. I’m sure shortly that just the mere fact I exist will embarrass them.  But I’ve already lived through those painful teenage years of trying to fit in, and I am not doing it again.

My job is showing my kids how to enjoy life and be a responsible, productive member of society. If we can get through that and still be friends, then so be it.

And if they learn a few super-cool dance moves along the way, then that is a bonus.

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Top 10 Signs You Are a Mom on a Girls Weekend

Last year was sad. No girls weekend. No getaways. No stay up too late giggling with your girlfriends.

I aim to change that this year. I am planning a Girls Weekend. Maybe two.

So here it is – Top 10 Signs You are a Mom on a Girls Weekend

  1. A Liquid Lunch has nothing to do with breastfeeding.
  2. After one cocktail and a Maki Roll you decide to lose your Spanx. You need two of your girlfriends to actually get you out of them in the restaurant bathroom.
  3. You log a night of dancing in a club as activity points into Weight Watchers.
  4. When mentioning you think you are about to get a blister, five different character-themed bandaids are thrust at you.
  5. When a fight breaks out in a bar, it initiates a discussion about time outs versus positive parenting.
  6. When you get “hit on” by a guy, you actually text your husband to tell him you still got it.
  7. The only time the discussion gets heated is when debating whose labor/delivery was worse.
  8. When the cabbie slams on the brakes, your hand goes out to protect the other passengers.
  9. When someone wets their pants, you know it was because they were laughing too hard, not because they refused to go on the potty.
  10. You wipe off the table with a Wet Ones before dancing on top of it.

This post originally appeared on Mom Meet Mom.

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