Standing In The Fire

Last night I had the most terrifying dream that I was in the kitchen cooking and a fire started, and it just kept spreading and spreading until I was entirely surrounded. I was YELLING for help, but my family didn’t hear me. They were all in the next room.

That is what grief feels like.

There have been times in my life when a friend confided something shocking to me that I didn’t know how to deal with, and I handled it poorly. When I was 15 and away at boarding school, my best friend back home got pregnant. She informed me via a handwritten letter that was delivered under my dorm room door, because it was 1995 and that’s how things were done before the internet.

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what to do or how to process the thought of becoming a mother when we didn’t even have a license to drive. I’m pretty sure whatever my response was, it sucked. Just like when my high school friend called one day in July to tell me that he was gay. GAY?! I didn’t know anyone who was gay. I stammered and mumbled and got off the phone as fast as I could, because I didn’t know how to be with him in his fire.

I sucked.

These are the things I think of as I grapple with grief over the fact that we don’t know how much time my mother has left. It could be years. It could be days. No one can tell us for sure, because cancer is fucked up and unpredictable and incurable. And I am here, in this fire, burning. Seeing people fidget and stammer because they don’t know what to say because grief is uncomfortable. Death is uncomfortable. Dealing with loss when no one has died is a strange thing that isn’t easily explained.

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My sons, November 2014

Yesterday I ran into someone I haven’t seen in a long time. You know how sometimes you meet someone and you just really love them and you don’t even know why? Well, there is a lady named Virginia that I feel that way about. I LOVE VIRGINIA.

She asked me a question — “How is your mom doing?” — and really asked it. She wanted me to tell her the truth. Most people might think they want to know the truth, until you start to tell them and they realize how horrible the truth is and they get weird and then you feel even worse because not only are you carrying around this emotional weight, but now you’ve gone and made someone else uncomfortable with it, too.

When Virginia asks a question, she expects an answer. And when I tried to glaze it over, she stopped me. She wouldn’t let me glaze it over. She stood with me, in my anger and in my grief. Do you know how rare that is, for us to stop our lives momentarily to really connect with another human, and stand with them in their mess?

I needed that.

The world needs more Virginias.

What I didn’t know in 1995, but certainly realize now, is that all people really need is for others to genuinely acknowledge their suffering … even if it’s impossible to extinguish the fire that’s causing it.

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It’s Always Something.

It’s always something.”

I remember my parents saying that a lot when I was younger. I nodded like I understood what that meant, because in my life, there was always something. I was wrapped up in getting through college. I spent hours e-mailing my friends who were scattered all over the country in faraway places like medical school. I was too busy to notice my parents, who were saddled with a failing business and struggling to care for my grandparents.

It’s always something.

I looked up from my laptop to see my mother, standing in the doorway of my bedroom. She was in her early forties. She looked tired as she leaned against the entry, telling me that my grandmother was in the hospital. My parents were supposed to take a business trip, but they were postponing it to care for my grandmother.

I blithely responded because saying nothing would be impolite. I may have even believed that I understood what she meant when she said, “It’s always something.” Life is a constant barrage of somethings. For me, it was term papers and finding a parking space at the university. A trail of failed relationships dragged behind me from one college to the next, and finally to my parents’ Louisiana home where I stayed for good, writing and mulling in my bedroom as my friends got engaged and planned their weddings.

I stood in six different weddings in 2002. I was convinced I would never meet the right man and would die alone, surrounded by cats. That would be my final something in a string of always somethings. These are the things that kept me up at night, while my mother was choking under the pressure of running a business and lining up in-home caregivers for her parents.

It’s not that I was any more self-involved than the next 22-year-old; it was that no matter what was going on, she was still my mom, available when I needed her. I went on to marry and have children, and she didn’t miss a thing.

I remember her hurrying into the delivery room with my father following behind hesitantly, likely out of fear that he would see something he could never un-see, and relief crossed her face when she saw they had made it in time. The check engine light was on in their truck, and they were worried they might break down on the highway as they raced to meet their first grandchild.

It’s always something,” I heard her say.

But my mother was always my mother despite the somethings.

Years later, the dynamic has shifted, and I find myself asking out loud to no one in particular, because there is no one around to answer: How does one person care for three children under the age of 6 while her mother’s health slips away?

I am unprepared, gasping for air. I have no headlamp, no footing, no guidance. Nothing.

My mom called one afternoon to tell me what the cardiologist said, right as my oldest got home from school. I strained to hear her through the phone as children swarmed around me. “Hold on just a minute,” I said, covering the phone with my hand. I yelled at my kids to get out of the kitchen, and cradled the phone on my shoulder as I scooped up the TV remote and turned on something—anything—that would keep them quiet for a few minutes.

I choked back the tears as I listened. She sounded tired. The kids were digging in the pantry. I pulled down a bag of Goldfish crackers, and the two older ones dove into it as the baby snacked on the pieces that fell to the floor.

I had more to say, more questions to ask, but my 3-year-old was crying.

It’s always something,” I heard myself say. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Now I understand.

Making the best of it.

Making the best of it.

© 2015 Harmony Hobbs, as first published on Scary Mommy.

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This Holiday.

Since none of the retailers seem to be selling self-respect, sanity, or nannies who are both legal and willing work for free, I’m just going to sit this Cyber Monday out.

While the rest of you frantically put up holiday decorations over the weekend, I was trapped in an enclosed space with four other humans who can’t control their gasses. When we finally got home, I declared Thanksgiving officially over and switched out the wreaths on our front door.

10458214_10155116112855508_734467617946772132_nThis Christmas, I REFUSE to try to make everyone happy. That is an impossible task that is rarely accomplished by anyone, and even if you somehow manage to make it happen and all the people are happy … then you probably aren’t.

I don’t care to make anyone happy except for the people who live in my house. Their happiness is my top priority, and I won’t apologize for it. I hope that doesn’t hurt your feelings, but if it does, you should turn to the people in your own house for comfort.

There will be tacky decorations. There will be hot cocoa. There will be beverages containing alcohol. We will listen for reindeer. We will bake cookies. I will probably yell and then feel bad about it.

The likelihood of me sending out Christmas cards is very, very low. I probably could pull it off if I really put my mind to it and acted like a crazy person for the next few days, but it’s not worth it to me. I just spent the past week of my life acting crazy. I think it’s time to put a stop to that.

There will be no last-minute rush to the store for gifts for so-and-so because we just found out they’re coming over. Nope. No adults will get a gift from us this year, not only because we don’t have the money for it, but because I also do not have the wherewithal to Pinterest some handmade bullshit to wrap up and give away to everyone. I just don’t. I’m not sorry. If you’re expecting a gift, don’t come over.

If you do come over, here’s what you can expect: a very low-key holiday experience full of laughter and the occasional high-pitched screech. There will also be crying, because my kids are small and someone is always crying. You may also get a whiff of a poop or pee smell. I’m sorry about that. The good news is that, overall, my house will smell nice because my mother-in-law gave me some awesome Yankee candles that are “Autumn Leaf” scented and they mask the poop odor like a boss.

It will be cozy here. The floor will be strewn with toys. Something will be baking. The cups will be plastic and the plates will be paper. No one will be camera-ready except for me, because I have a deep, irrational need to look nice when people come over. It’s the one remaining thing I have control over, so don’t hate on the fact that I spent an hour on my hair. I did it because no one in my life is predictable … except for my curling iron.

We have dance parties here. You can join in if you like.

This year, I’m TAKING BACK MY JOY. Starting now. Happy December 1!

I Totally Cried.

Wow. Just … wow.

This morning I was awakened at 4:55 by Asher, who said his legs were itchy. I rubbed lotion on and got him all tucked back in, I climbed back into bed … and decided to check Facebook.

This is when I learned that WE DID IT.

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Not just you and I, but all the other “Scary Mommies” and not-so-scary mommies and businesses and kind-hearted people.

We did it. We made sure 2,152 deserving families will have food on their table on Thanksgiving Day.

TWO THOUSAND, ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY-TWO.

That’s a lot.

Well done, you.

LISTEN UP, PEOPLE.

I could slap you with hundreds of heart-felt stories of those who have been helped by the nonprofit Scary Mommy Nation.

But I won’t.

Not that you aren’t good people, but most of you would skip over it or go to the next page. And I don’t blame you, because I would normally do the exact same thing. I get it. We don’t have extra money. We need our money. Why should we just hand it out to random nonprofits who want to feed total strangers?

I have a dog in this particular fight because I donated my time to write an essay that I didn’t think anyone would ever read. And now it’s going to be published, in a book, that will be released on Monday, November 17. (If you want to buy the book, there is a picture of it on the right side of the screen under the heading “PRE-ORDER THE BOOK!” If you click there, you can buy it. Excuse me while I hyperventilate.)

ANYWAY … whatever royalty money that the authors would have received from sales is going directly to Scary Mommy Nation, and that will translate into families who can’t afford food getting fed. I am incredibly proud to be a very small part of making someone’s holiday better. It doesn’t matter that I don’t know them. It doesn’t matter that we will likely never meet. I HELPED SOMEONE BECAUSE I CAN. Period.

We now have 24 hours left to raise the money needed to feed the remaining families on the waiting list, and I intend to guilt you into donating. Let’s begin!

First, let’s discuss what $50 can buy. I’ll start with this “Figural Turkey Bowl Stand” from Pottery Barn, which costs roughly $50.

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Of course, you could get the “Figural Fox Bowl Stand” instead, shown below. It’s regularly $49.50, which is just fifty cents shy of being enough to FEED A FAMILY IN NEED.

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I’ll let that sink in for a moment.

Are you ready for more? The next one involves this little guy below. Prepare yourselves.

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The “Figural Squirrel Serve Bowl and Stand Set” IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE from Pottery Barn. It looks just like the turkey and the fox, as you can see. But it’s more popular because the squirrel bowl can hold nuts! Apparently so many people with money to spend wanted a squirrel with a bowl for an abdomen that they bought them all up. They’re gone, off to hold appetizers for people whose lives are so bountiful that they serve nuts in bowls held by woodland creatures just because it’s CUTE and THEY CAN.

So, what else can $50 buy? Let’s see …

– This Ninja hoodie.

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– A “Personalized Wood Watch Case,” like this one from overstock.com.

Vintage-Brown-Finish-Wood-Glass-Top-Watch-Case-w-High-Clearance-Holds-10-watches-P13973992– Or … a Snuggie.

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If you love me, and I feel like you do, I am begging you to please take your extra $10 or $20 or $100 and use it to feed a deserving family. Don’t take that money that could be used for good and buy a bunch of crap that takes up space in your home that is already full of beautiful things. Just … don’t.

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To donate to the 2014 Thanksgiving Project, click here.

Did my guilt trip work?!?!? Be sure to let me know!

Disclaimer: I really do love Pottery Barn, just not right now, and if you own anything shown here, I have no judgment. Just remember all the people in need when you enjoy them, is all I’m saying.

Overwhelmed.

Sometimes, like now, I find myself completely overwhelmed with my life and I wonder if something is wrong with me. Why can’t I just chill out and not care about the mountain of laundry shoved in my closet or the toothpaste that got squeezed all over the kid’s bathroom?

I have piles of paperwork-slash-multiple writing projects accumulating all over the house, and just when I get started on one, someone comes along and pushes the papers to the floor, poops their pants, or starts yanking on the cord of my laptop.

Robbie will look at me curiously and throw out comments like, why are you so grumpy? He says that he makes these statements hoping that it will, and I quote, “snap me out of my mood.” I’ll let you draw your own conclusion about how well that works.

 

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Today we all got dressed for church and the children sat nicely on the couch in a row and definitely did not smack each other in the face while they waited for me to take their picture. Asher also did not get upset because his shirt was touching him. He was calm and completely rational.

Maverick listened to all of my instructions and did not squeeze his little sister until she started screaming. And she most certainly did not jerk the bow out of her hair multiple times.

So yes, excellent question, Robbie. Why AM I so grumpy?! Certainly not from tiredness. Since you’re home to watch the kids, maybe I’ll take a little walk and think it over … I’ll come back when I have it all figured out.

I may be gone awhile.

The Optimists.

I have been dealing with two sick toddlers on and off for the past 10 days, I haven’t been exercising, I’ve been eating terribly and yelling a lot. I think I might be half-sick myself, I can’t think of anything funny to say, and I’m cranky because I’m hungry. Now that I’ve gotten the whining out of the way, I can tell you about the little optimists I’m raising.

We went on a boat ride this weekend.

Because something is wrong with me, I dressed us like it was still summer. We were the only people on the river without jackets, and my children were huddled and shivering by the end of it all. I just held my head high, like yeah.

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I drew the arrows on the picture above because apparently some of the good people on Facebook thought the entire log was an alligator. Um … if that were the case, I wouldn’t be smiling. It was a baby gator sunning itself, and I heard myself yelling, “WAIT! LET ME TAKE A SELFIE!” because I’m quickly becoming that person.

Now, no disrespect to anyone, but we saw several houses with slides or rope swings, which I assume means people actually swing or slide into the very same river that the baby alligators and the mama alligators live in. What the hell are they thinking? River people must be optimists.

Afterwards, we went to McDonald’s and Maverick dropped his ice cream cone on the floor. He quickly picked it back up and tried to continue eating it. I took it away (i.e. shrieked and jerked it from his grasp) and explained why you can’t eat anything that has landed on a McDonald’s floor … E-V-E-R.

He looked at me and said loudly and with zest, “At least it landed on my pants first!” And then he proceeded to lean over and lick ice cream off the leg of his pants.

Optimists, man. They don’t worry about Ebola, Salmonella, or being eaten alive. They just live.

Our Life Now.

DUDE.

My life is in major overdrive. Suddenly I have plans and goals, which is really disorienting because I can’t remember the last time I had plans or goals that reached past getting through the day at present.

I am accustomed to being in constant survival mode, because almost the entire time I’ve been a stay-at-home mom Robbie was working at a car dealership. Car dealerships can suck it. I hate them all. He pretty much lived at work while I was keeping our kids alive, all the time, and this went on for almost three full years. I don’t know how we’re still married, and I REALLY don’t know how I managed to function. I seem to have already blocked it from memory.

Now that he has a different job (working for my family — ahem) and very normal business hours, a whole new world has opened up to us. Our budget may be tighter, but we don’t miss an LSU game. We can have a social life again … well, first we have to find some friends … but once we do, we can totally hang out with them all weekend.

He took Maverick on a camping trip. They build Lego creations together and got up at 5 a.m. in the middle of the week to see the blood moon. We go on family walks and bike rides. We eat dinner together every night. I could go on and on listing the ways that our family life has improved, and it’s not all rainbows and roses over here, but it’s just really, really … nice.

It’s about damn time.

It took over a month for us to realize that we can slow down and enjoy our simple life at whatever pace we want to FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER. Of course we wish we had more money to slow down and enjoy it with, but when we do things like make a campfire in our backyard and show the older kids the constellations it reminds me of why I quit my job in the first place.

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At the end of the day, when we’re all together looking up at the sky and I am screaming “STAY AWAY FROM THE FIRE!!!” at my 3-year-old and “LEAVE THAT FROG ALONE!” at my 6-year-old, none of it matters. I just want to be with these people as much as I can until I’m sick of them and need to escape to Target for a few hours.

But don’t worry, I always come back.

You Are You And You Are Love.

My mother is very sick.

She is also a very private person, and probably won’t like that I’m putting on the internet that she is sick. But I am not a private person, and I don’t know how to deal, and by the end of this post you will likely understand why today is the day that I decided to write about it.

My mom and I are close. I don’t have siblings, and my parents were young when they had me — just 21 years old. I was so much older than that when I had my first child; I can’t imagine my 21-year-old self caring for a baby, but my parents were and are amazing. I remember my dad’s 26th birthday … he got an ax, and it totally freaked me out. What did he need an ax for? But there are pictures of him grinning with it, and he looks so young. I guess because he was.

A year or two later, my mother and I were in an accident. It was winter, and raining. She was wearing a plaid flannel shirt. Daddy wasn’t home yet, and she needed something from the store. We set out in the little tan Datsun, which had no seat belts. We were just a mile or two from home when we came upon a car that was sitting in the middle of the road. We swerved to avoid it, lost control, and flipped several times before landing in a ditch.

Esther, that’s my mother, slung her right arm across my body to keep me from slamming into the roof of the truck. When we stopped rolling, I didn’t have a scratch on me but she suffered enormous internal injuries. Neighbors came down and dragged me out of the truck window, and I remember seeing her bleeding hands and being terrified. For years after that she had the habit of slinging her arm across me in the car and I made fun of her, but now that I’m older and have my own children, I tear up every time I think about it. Because of course she held me down. I would hold my children down too, and slam into the roof of my vehicle a million times over if that is what it would take to keep them safe.

Mothers are amazing in what they will suffer for the sake of their children.

My mom has been sick off and on for as long as I can remember, and the doctors could never seem to get to the bottom of what was going on. In the past few years I have grown more and more concerned as I have basically watched my mother die right in front of me. Her skin, which is naturally a ruddy color, turned a shade of green that varied depending on how she was feeling, and finally it started to look gray.

The gray week was the week that her cardiologist told her unless she made some drastic changes, she was going to die.

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I found this while going through an old folder of stuff my Grandma saved. It looks like she kept everything I ever gave her. My mom thinks I wrote this in first grade. It’s totally deep, right?!

When a parent delivers news like that, news you don’t find surprising because you already knew it deep down, the absence of surprise doesn’t make it any less upsetting. Once the words are spoken into the air, it’s real and you can’t get away from it. I am a person of action, which is both an obnoxious quality and an effective one, and the very moment she told me I started creating a mental checklist of things that needed to HAPPEN. For the next few weeks I was a mad woman, running myself ragged trying to take control of a situation I have absolutely zero control over.

The thing about grief, or in this case, worrying yourself sick, is that if you’re doing something you think will “help” it more than likely is not helping. It’s only making YOU feel better because you can lay your head down at night feeling like you didn’t just sit idly by and allow something terrible to happen. None of us have the power to “allow” or “stop” an illness, and yet, I had to do SOMETHING.

So I put her on every prayer list I could find. Catholic, Baptist, Seventh-day Adventist … I didn’t discriminate. If they were praying people, I asked them to pray for her.

I prayed diligently on my own.

I loved her even though I was mad at her for being sick, even though I knew she had no control over it.

I cried and I yelled.

It was literally all I talked about to my close girlfriends, BLESS THEM. I can’t say enough how vital close girlfriends are when you’re going through A Thing That Sucks. I love them for listening to me and loving me despite the nonstop barrage I hit them with on the daily. I would say, “I’m sorry I’m going on and on …” but did that stop me? Nope. Not in the least. If you have a friend who is going through something difficult and you feel awkward because you don’t know what to say to her, don’t let that stop you from listening. Having someone listen is incredibly helpful.

Eventually, I accepted that there is nothing I can do but love her through this journey she’s on, and hold tight to the belief that she’s going to get better and go on to live many, many more years. She has to. There is no other option.

I wanted to talk about this before, but it wasn’t the right time. Today is the right time, I think. I hope. I was inspired to share this particular story today because I was talking to her this afternoon and admitted that I’ve been experiencing major anxiety because, hello. Do I even need to explain? And our conversation turned to prayer. I totally believe in prayer. I’m no Bible-thumper, but I believe in God and I desire Him to lead my life even though I don’t live it in the most graceful and serene way all the time.

Okay, fine. None of the time.

Anyway, I said to her “Of course I pray, I ask God every night for protection and guidance,” and she cut me off and said in that stern way only mamas can, “YOU NEED TO STOP ASKING FOR THINGS AND START THANKING HIM FOR WHAT HE HAS ALREADY DONE.”

I have spent weeks, people. Weeks wallowing in deep, strangulating stress, asking and praying and muddling through. And the woman who has the most reason to be asking God for something told me straight up I needed to spend more time thanking God for what He has already done.

Despite everything she has been through and continues to go through on a daily basis, which is a lot, she is still thankful. She admonishes me every time I so much as hint that God might not know what He’s doing up there. Everything happens for a reason, she says. Well … okay. I try to accept that. Sometimes it’s hard.

My mother will maybe be mad at me for writing about her, but I had to because this is the woman who held me down in that truck. This is my mother. All mothers are extraordinary in their own special way, but mine has a distinct grace about her that allows her to happily say “It could always be worse!” even when the walls are all crumbling down. Because she’s right, it could always be worse. She could be dead, and she’s not. Because she’s going to GET BETTER.

So really, this is a damn good day. And if my mother can seize it and be grateful, I will too. And so should you.

Oh yeah … and my dad bought me a book. It’s perfect.

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