Learning To Be Different

I have recently come to grips with the fact that I am a perfectionistic, uptight person who is way too hard on herself and has a very narrow view of what her life is supposed to look like.

I have a feeling that I’m not alone in this.

When something in my life feels out of my control — and there is literally ALWAYS something bothering me that is out of my control — I have to do something about it. I have to take action, even if that action has absolutely zero effect on the situation. I recently said out loud in a room full of strangers that the scariest thing a control freak can do is have three children, but I also believe that having those children is what will keep me from relapsing. If it were just me and Robbie, and no children, who knows how bad things would have gotten. I wouldn’t have three little people watching me, copying my behaviors, and adapting my fucked up coping mechanisms.

I wouldn’t have a good enough reason to get better.

In the past, my coping included cleaning the house while raging at my family about how messy they are, when in fact, they are just normal people. I would drink to make myself stop obsessing over what I could not control. I would put entirely too much makeup on or nitpick myself to death or yell obscenities or unjustly pick fights with people in my life. I felt personally victimized by minor inconveniences. I was not grateful.

***

“It seems like motherhood is a big source of stress for you.”

My therapist shifted in her seat as she waited for me to respond, uncrossing and re-crossing her legs. I wondered if she was starting to get that tingly feeling that happens just before a limb shuts down.

“I would say so, yes,” I said quietly.

***

Four months into sobriety, I am slowly, painfully, learning how to be different.

I’ve started working again, doing freelance work which is mostly me talking about being sober while also being a parent. My latest essay is one I’m very proud of, and you can find it here.

We have the strength we need to make it through today. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, but today, right now, we are okay, and for that I am learning to be very, very grateful.

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@audreyhayworth discovered that it’s really hard to find greeting cards for people in recovery, so she made one for me herself. I am so lucky to have an amazing support system. I still haven’t found the right words to describe all of the people in my life who are making it their business to help me stay sober, but when I do, I’ll let you know.

For now, no words. Just thanks.

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A Beautiful Destination

I’m 100 days sober today.

I’ve reached a point in my recovery that is notorious for relapse, and now that I’m in it, I can understand why. I’m unearthing years worth of emotional hurt that I’ve spent half of my life distracting myself from fully addressing, with no way to numb the pain other than to keep pressing through it.

Recovery isn’t just about not drinking or using. It’s not as simple as that. All of us have reasons why we are driven to drink or shoplift or lie or sleep with total strangers or whatever that thing is that keeps you from feeling that thing that you don’t want to feel.

I would go to almost any length to avoid feeling those things that I don’t want to feel, and now that I’m sober, I’ve been sitting in them for awhile. That’s why I’ve found myself doing things like baking cookies and eating the entire batch (on two separate occasions) and then being angry that I’ve gained weight, or working out like a crazy person because I have anger that I don’t know how to process, or calling a friend and just sitting in silence on the phone because the simple act of calling someone reminds me that I’m not alone.

It tethers me to something real. It reminds me that I have support, and even if the person on the other line doesn’t always know what to say to me because she isn’t an alcoholic, she is saving my life simply by being there.

As difficult as experiencing the hard stuff is, the good stuff makes the bad stuff almost forgettable. Just like childbirth made me feel like I was literally dying right there on the table — rationally, I figured I wasn’t actually going to die, but my body felt like it was shutting down and my soul was floating away — but the joy of seeing that little face made me immediately forget. All I can remember is that childbirth is unpleasant. This makes me hope that one day I’ll recall 100 days sober as unpleasant, but not bad enough to kill me.

Drinking would kill me.

As I keep inching forward, the pain lessens little by little. Every day, a tiny piece of my soul is restored … I think. Sometimes I can’t tell if my soul is healing, or if I’m simply losing my mind, but I do know one thing: I can’t go back.

The terrified part of me wants to say “NEVER MIND, I WAS JUST KIDDING!” and go right back to drinking, but the tiny shred of sane self I have left knows that I could never un-know that I’m an alcoholic and that there are things in my past that drove me to this point. I could never un-know that my coping mechanisms will send me to an early grave unless I retrain myself how to cope differently. I could never un-know the joy and peace I feel in my good sober moments.

They say it gets better. I believe them. I have to.

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The Process of Unlearning

You know how moms always seem to put the needs of their children above their own? No? Then this post probably isn’t for you.

For those of you who are still reading, I have a recurring urinary tract infection because I tend to hold my pee longer than I should, because I am a procrastinator and also because I have a 3-year-old.

I have a 5-year-old and an 8-year-old, too, but children who are three really do not care how badly you have to pee. Children who are three wait until your bladder feels like it may burst and then they break a dish, throw up on the carpet, or run into the street.

By now, I’m a champ at putting my own bodily functions on hold, not because I enjoy it, because I really don’t at all, but because that’s what moms have to do. We put our bodies, needs, and selves aside sometimes in order to keep other human beings alive, and then we resent the hell out of the men in our lives who wander around seemingly oblivious to our reality.

That habit of putting oneself on the back burner is a slippery slope. I used to think that I was pretty good at self-care, but it’s probably no surprise that I really wasn’t. I may be good at hygiene, but I’m terrible at mindfulness, dealing with uncomfortable feelings, doing anything in moderation, and I don’t even want to talk about my health. I haven’t had a pap smear in almost 4 years.

It was gradual, but my slide downhill was steady and unrelenting, and the more stressful life became for me, the farther down I went. Before I could stop the momentum, I was a functioning alcoholic and pill-popper. I don’t know when I crossed the line between normal and abnormal behavior, because to me, it’s all blurry. I was in a perpetual survival mode for years.

Getting sober is a journey in unlearning everything I thought I knew about life. That’s like, seriously daunting. At least once per day, I get into my bed and hide under the covers and wish that I could just go back to how things were. Change is hard and the looming unknown is terrifying to a control freak with anxiety issues, but I’m stubborn, and I am going to do this.

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Today while the kids were in school I watched an entire season of Catastrophe on Amazon. In bed. Without pants.

My whole body is puffy, probably because my liver and kidneys are like, WTF, where are the alcohol and the chemicals that we have grown so fond of?

I have no idea how to do anything, so I just keep doing the same things over and over. The things that I know work, one day at a time.

P.S. Hobbs & Hayworth made an announcement this week. If you’re interested in seeing THAT, here it is. Every time I got uncomfortable, I pet the dog.

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When The Moon Wakes Up

“Is the moon awake?”

“Almost.”

“Is the sun asleep?”

“It’s going to sleep right now … just like you.”

Pepper smiles then, content, smashing the ear of her bunny rabbit lovey into one eyelid while staring at me with the other. I kiss her, whisper goodnight, and leave, walking down the hall to the computer.

As soon as I open the browser and begin working, I hear her socked feet running down the hall. I stop typing. She peeks in.

“Goodnight, Mommy.”

29 evenings ago, just like every other evening of her life before I took my last drink on February 28, I would have been irritated. I told myself that I drank to cope with the stress of motherhood, that I needed the alcohol to power through rough evenings with three kids on my own without losing my cool. But the truth is, I lost my cool all the time. Alcohol didn’t make me a better mother.

It took nearly a month of detox before I gained the clarity necessary to realize that I’ve cheated my children out of having a sober mother for almost 9 years.

I truly believe that it’s possible to drink like a normal person, it’s just that I’m not able to. Alcoholism is deceitful. It tries to tell me that I’m normal — don’t I seem normal? — and that I can train myself to drink in moderation, if I want to. It tells me that I simply need more willpower. I need to be stronger, and then, I would be okay.

I could win.

Thinking about living the rest of my life sober makes me feel all kinds of feelings that probably aren’t normal or appropriate. I imagine I might feel similarly if I developed a dairy allergy and were facing an uncertain future that did not include real butter, but only if I also held a deep conviction that real butter was the only thing tethering me to sanity.

That’s my relationship with alcohol.

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Me and my smallest.

Slowly, as my body heals from years of abuse and my emotions and soul are restored to a normal state, I am realizing that a great deal of the grief I’ve experienced in motherhood was self-inflicted.

Mothers hold the keys to the emotional health of their household. I knew this, which is why I have been trying so damn hard to get it right. I put enormous pressure on myself to parent effectively, to do the right thing, and I kept failing — which made me drink more. And more. And more. The alcohol numbed me and chipped away at me and distorted my perceptions and clouded my judgment.

That’s not what happens to normal drinkers. That’s what happens to people who drink to completely obliterate their sadness.

***

Pepper waits by the door as I stand up and take her by the hand.

“I forgot to say goodnight to you when you said it to me,” she whispered. “So I came to tell you goodnight, Mommy.”

“The moon’s awake now,” I whispered. And we padded down the hall.

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I Don’t Want To Go Back In Time

I cannot tell you how deep I had to dig to keep my emotions in check this summer and how deeply I will fall into a cocktail (or five) when school starts again.

But today, I snapped out of survival mode and realized that I made it. I MADE IT!

My oldest starts 3rd grade tomorrow. “I don’t need you to drive me to school on the first day,” he said. “I can take the bus.” He looked at me and grinned and all the sudden I could see what he’s going to look like when I send him off the college, and I felt momentarily sad.

His little brother is starting Kindergarten at the same elementary school this year, and my long time dream of putting both boys on the school bus and waving goodbye will finally be realized. Can I be honest? I’m not sad, or weepy, or wistful for when they were smaller. I’m proud. I’m elated, actually. I’m happy to have made it to this point in one piece, and I don’t want to go back in time. I want to revel in this.

No one wears diapers anymore.

Everyone talks in coherent sentences.

I’ve taught 3 human beings how to use the toilet and how to stay with me in the store; things can only continue to improve from here.

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Summer, 2016

I see photos of myself from 8 years ago when I first became a mom and I feel a little sorry for that version of me. I don’t want to go back in time and be her again. I don’t want to hold my babies or rock them or see them in their infancy or wish for time to go backwards. I MADE IT, which means I have overcome obstacles, which means I have hope to continue overcoming obstacles, which requires me to continue moving forward.

This summer, I got soaked with water by the boys, who thought it would be funny to spray me after I asked them repeatedly to turn off the water. My kids kept me so busy that I never got around to changing clothes, until hours later, I realized that they were dry again.

This summer, we were lazy. I let them have unlimited screen time and we all ate junk food and laid around the house like total couch potatoes. It was amazing. Now I understand why people make this a full-time thing.

This summer, I didn’t work out. I didn’t weigh myself. I put on the same, falling-apart, ill-fitting bathing suit day after day and got in the pool with my kids. I’m 10 pounds heavier than I was last summer, and caring a lot less about how fat my thighs look.

This summer, I really enjoyed my kids. I did. But now, I’m ready for them to go to school, because I need to shake off the experience of having people with me 24/7 for three straight months, and that can only be done by using expletives and bargain shopping alone. By myself. Without anyone hiding in the clothes racks.

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Pick Up The Phone: Being Responsible For Your Own Happiness

My platform is rooted in honesty.

Lately I’ve felt like a liar because I used to be a humor writer, I think. But then a lot of bad things happened in my life, and I couldn’t find humor as much anymore. But you guys stick with me anyway, even when I write about things like my mom having cancer and about my need for anxiety medication and my uncle getting murdered in my childhood home, and my head injury which, let’s face it, COMPLETELY KNOCKED ME OFF MY GAME.

Here is the truth: I got very depressed in February. Maybe I was depressed in January, and December, and November, and October. I don’t know because I’m in the thick of life right now. I’m swallowed up. I’m in the weeds, you guys. It’s disorienting and I have claustrophobia and I hate how this feels. I hate how it makes me anxious, and my anxiety manifests in anger, so I find myself yelling at my family a lot when they are just doing normal family things like smearing toothpaste on clean hand towels and leaving crumbs all over the floor.

They deserve a better me. I deserve a better me.

So I started therapy — for myself and for my oldest child. It turns out that I am not crazy, it’s just that the anxiety medication I was on was making me depressed and also I have a lot on my plate and my brain was bruised.

Maybe the knock to the head changed my brain chemistry, or maybe I just didn’t need that particular medication anymore, but either way I flushed all those tiny white pills down the toilet and breathed a sigh of relief.

I breathed another sigh of relief when we were told that our child isn’t crazy — in fact, he is quite the opposite. Extremely bright and polite to everyone except for his parents, so we can rule out Oppositional Defiant Disorder (thank God).

Maverick has ADHD. And I’ve long suspected it and I knew it, deep in my soul, but I just didn’t want it to be so. I knew he was hard to parent. So, so hard. He never has been much of a sleeper; he stopped napping at 18 months old. He’s extremely defiant and stubborn and loud and messy, more so than other boys. But he’s also brilliant and charming, just like his Daddy.

OMG … his Daddy.

His Daddy has ADHD, too.

THAT MUST BE WHY I FELL IN LOVE WITH HIM, BECAUSE HE WAS SO QUIRKY AND BRILLIANT AND UNPREDICTABLE AND NOW WE HAVE BEEN TOGETHER FOR 13 YEARS AND SOMETIMES HE MAKES ME WANT TO SMOTHER HIM WITH A PILLOW BUT I DON’T BECAUSE I REALLY DO LOVE HIM.

I married the right man for me, but it doesn’t mean that we are without our struggles. When we come out on the other side of this difficult phase, I’d maybe like to just forget it ever happened. It’s hard. Marriage is hard. But would I want to tough it out with anyone else?

No.

Mommy and Mav

Back to Maverick, all of the parenting tactics that work for other people? None of them were working for us. We have very low lows and very high highs and as much as I struggled, I fought for my son because I believe in him.

But then I reached a point where I was out of ideas. I needed help.

The day I sat in that dark gray chair decorated with silver studs and the counselor said, “You have done a fantastic job for the past 7 years, but you must be emotionally exhausted,” I burst into tears.

Yes. I am emotionally exhausted.

“Parenting is supposed to be exhausting,” she said. “In fact, if you aren’t exhausted, you probably aren’t doing it right.” She went on to say a whole bunch of other validating, complimentary things that gave me hope and let me know that I did a good thing by seeking help.

People say all the time that it takes a village to raise our children, and lament the modern loss of the village. I say that we have to make our own damn village. My village consists of a therapist for myself, a therapist for my child, teachers for all three of my children, and a handful of extraordinary friends.

Extraordinary friends get a phone call halfway through getting hair extensions put in and head over right away to drive you to the hospital because you’re feeling weird 6 weeks after a concussion and need to have your head scanned again.

Extraordinary friends learn your actual weight — which is not the weight on your driver’s license — because you have to say it out loud in the E.R. triage.

They also understand that they are never speak of it. Ever.

Part of being a grown up is knowing what you need and then going out and getting it, because grown ups are responsible for their own happiness and well-being. So today, my friends, I ask you to take stock of your own lives and make sure you have what you need.

And if you don’t, then WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING READING THIS?! Pick up the phone and make shit happen.

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Toddlers: Making Fools of Parents Since The Beginning of Time

Toddlers love to make fools of us.

Have you noticed? They wait until you’re in a busy parking lot unloading a month’s worth of groceries to melt down and act demon-possessed. They scream for waffles and you finally break down and make waffles and then they scream “NO WAFFLE! YUCKY WAFFLE!” and throw it on the floor.

You are so hungry from all of the intense parenting that you dust it off and eat it yourself. But then they cry because they are hungry.

They cry because you ate their waffle.

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A toddler will proudly recite her full name and phone number over and over, yet when asked to repeat it for an audience (after you have bragged about it incessantly) she remains silent because she’s too busy pooping her pants to be bothered.

Last week, our city was shut down due to severe weather. All of the kids were home, but Robbie was at work because car dealerships never, ever close, even in the face of imminent tornadoes and hail. After all, someone somewhere might still trek out in the middle of destruction to buy a brand-new car, because obviously the best time to make an investment is when you have to drive it home in a hailstorm.

I was already having a hard day because between weather warnings, Asher, the 4-year-old, got super sick and threw up everywhere. I asked Maverick to take his little sister somewhere else in the house to play while I cleaned up the mess. It took me a good 30 minutes to get myself, Asher, and the house back under control, and by the time I was done, the other two were done playing.

Maverick pulled me aside and said, “I think Pepper has one of my marbles.”

I looked at her. She stared back silently.

She had a marble in her mouth.

After I freaked out and removed it, I made a huge production of telling her that only food goes in our mouths. She just laughed.

A few minutes later, I was standing in the play room when she walked up to me with a AA battery in her hand. I took it from her and asked, “Where did you get this?” I discovered that she had removed the bottom of an LED candle that requires two AA batteries to work. I had one of them, and the other one was missing.

I forced myself to remain calm as I searched for the missing battery. It was nowhere to be found.

“Pepper, where is the other battery?”

She looked straight at me and said, “I ate it. It’s in my tummy.”

That is when I panicked.

I made Maverick help me look — his little brother was still sitting exactly where I’d left him, with a mixing bowl in his lap in case he needed to throw up again — and we couldn’t find it anywhere. I asked her again where the battery was and she said, this time more emphatically, “IT’S IN MY TUMMY.”

I called 911.

The nice lady on the other end of the line said yes, my child definitely needed to go to the E.R. I told her to send an ambulance, because I didn’t know which one of my family members I would be able to get in touch with, and I was home alone with the kids … one of whom was projectile vomiting.

The next 20 minutes were a blur of frantic phone calls and adults arriving to help — first, my dad, followed by my in-laws, and finally, the ambulance.

The EMT’s acted like they had ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD, meandering slowly up to my house and into my kitchen. I mean, I understand that a child swallowing a battery is not as emergent, as, say, a child who fell in glass. Because that has also happened in our house, a few years ago. But still — to me, this was emergent.

They slowly nodded their heads and said yes, she needed to go to the hospital to get checked out, but they couldn’t take her. Not because taking her would leave us with an astronomical ambulance bill. Not because they needed to leave and assist someone who was about to bleed to death. Nope. They couldn’t take her to the hospital because they didn’t have a car seat.

I’m going to let that sink in for a moment.

“GET OUT OF MY HOUSE, I’M TAKING HER,” I said. And we left.

The emergency room was packed. Cell phones were blaring with severe weather warnings and they had us all crammed in the interior of the hospital, away from windows and doors, so there was nowhere to sit and there is no telling what kind of illness we picked up there.

Pepper ER

Once we were in a room, the nurse was incredulous: “You think this kid ate a AA battery?” And I said, “THAT’S RIGHT” and tried not to snicker as he had this ridiculous line of questioning with her wherein she repeated everything he said and made him look like a absolute moron.

***

Nurse: “Hi, there.”

Pepper: (Silent stare.)

Nurse: “What did you do with the battery?”

Pepper: “What did you do with the battery?”

Nurse: “Did you throw the battery away?”

Pepper: “Did you throw the battery away?”

Nurse: “Did you put the battery in your tummy?”

Pepper: “Did you put the battery in your tummy?”

***

We got an X-ray.

Our toddler did not eat a battery. She was also growing increasingly annoyed with us and with the entire situation. I was past my breaking point and started feeding her half-wrapped candy from the bottom of my purse just to keep her happy until we could get the hell out of there.

We paid $150 to the hospital for their services, marking the THIRD TIME WE HAVE DONE THIS SINCE 2016 BEGAN, and went home.

The tornadoes headed East.

Robbie went back to work.

And I mustered, from the very bottom of the deepest reserves, the energy to uncork a bottle of wine.

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In Praise Of The Awkward Phase

My awkward phase was brutal. When I see throwback pictures of myself at age 13, I cringe so hard that it basically tricks my body into vomiting.

Okay, not really. But almost.

It was during my peak of awkwardness that I had a bad perm, glasses and the wardrobe of a 40-year-old. Not much has changed since then.

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I was 17 in this photo and trying to kick a terrible case of mononucleosis.

I remember what it felt like to have crushes on boys who thought I was unappealing. I recall the sinking feeling of being shut out of the cool crowd and how heavy a lunch tray can feel while navigating an unfamiliar cafeteria.

I remember the dread and the agony, the frizzy hair and the acne. It sucked.

BUT.

The awkward phase, while excruciating, fortified my character. It was uncomfortable as hell, but I had no choice but to dig deep and find the qualities that now sustain me through the difficulties of life. I think we all know people who never had to dig deep in their earlier years. More than likely, they now struggle as adults with life’s difficulties. Let’s be real: It’s difficult to cope effectively with adversity if you’ve never had to face it.

During this low point in my life, I learned empathy because I knew what it felt like to suffer. I discovered my sense of humor, because laughing is preferable to crying. I honed my instincts and refined my bullshit-o-meter. I discovered hidden talents which didn’t involve my looks—obviously.

Despite the tragedy of it all, I do not intend to shelter my children from experiencing their own version of the awkward phase. Honestly, I welcome it. I hope it’s epic. I want them to see what they’re made of. Winston Churchill famously stated, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

I eventually emerged on the other side of hell and went on to discover important things like tweezers and contact lenses.

Now I have a daughter, and she has the kind of cherubic face that makes people stop what they’re doing and stare. We recently walked through our gym hand-in-hand as a water aerobics class was being held, and a literal hush fell over the room. The instructor stopped instructing. Arms drifted down into the water and heads turned as they watched my child toddle by in her Hello Kitty swimsuit and baseball cap.

I can’t blame them. She’s adorable.

The instructor stopped me later and said, “Your little girl is so beautiful. I forgot what I was doing because I was so busy admiring her!”

“Thank you,” I said, as we continued on our way.

My daughter is oblivious to her beauty. She’s a happy, charismatic child, intelligent and charming. She knows her colors and shapes and recognizes numbers and letters, but because she’s beautiful, all people want to talk about is how pretty she is. “But she’s also smart,” I insist. “And funny.”

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No one hears, or maybe they don’t care, because they’re far too busy staring at her wide eyes and dimpled cheeks—and I understand, because I do it too. But I want all three of my children to have strength of character. I want them to know that they have so much more to offer this world than what is visible on the surface.

I want them to be confident in the knowledge that because they survived pimples and name-calling and brutal body odor as an awkward teen, they can also survive rejection and adversity as an adult.

I want them to be kind because they know what it feels like to be on the other side of cruelty. I want them to understand what it’s like to be on top of the world, and then have it all come crashing down in homeroom.

The awkward phase is where life lessons are thrown at you from all directions. It’s painful, but worth it in the end.

Bring on the headgear.

© 2016 Harmony Hobbs, as first published on Scary Mommy.

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Bedtime Prayers: A Tale Of An Ugly Cry

We don’t attend church.

We should. I’d like to. But first, we’d have to find a religion that Robbie and I both feel comfortable with, and then we’d have to physically go to a building. Dressed presentably. All 5 of us.

Big hurdles.

However, I do pray with my kids. We pray before meals and before school, when I remember. My favorite thing, though, is praying with them at night before bed. It makes me feel better, like no matter what kind of shit day we’ve had, if I can end it all on a decent note then we’re all going to be alright.

Tonight I was so tired. I just wanted them to put themselves to bed and let me lie down, but that isn’t how life works. Robbie works all the time now, and I have a lot on my plate and … blah, blah, blah.

By 7 p.m. I am just done.

Homework

Homework time.

I tuck Pepper in first, followed by Asher half an hour later, and then finally Maverick. By the time I get around to Maverick I’m spent, which is unfortunate because he asks the most difficult questions of the three and he likes to wait until bedtime to ask them.

A few examples:

“Mommy? Is ‘bitch’ a bad word?”

“What does it mean when I raise my middle finger?”

“What countries have you visited outside of the U.S., and why did you choose them?”

“How do you say ‘it’s hot in here’ in Spanish?”

“Can two boys marry each other?”

Tonight, I was spared the difficult questions. I think he could sense that I was exhausted. I tucked him in, feeling sad that I was too tired to talk more, thinking of his little brother and how I wished I’d given in and read him a second book — but he wanted to read that book about cats that takes half a lifetime to read, and I just could not do it.

I thought about my two-year-old and how she kept asking “What’s this?” and pointing to her wrist and then my wrist, and I maybe should have spent more time talking to her about our wrists and how they magically connect our hands to our arms.

Maverick chattered to himself as he settled into bed and I thought the aforementioned thoughts. I smoothed back his hair as I started praying, but I was too tired to make it a good one. I basically said, Thank you God for giving me Maverick. Please help me be the best mother I can be for him. And please, please help him to be a good boy.

My son looked straight at me and laughed.

“That was silly,” he said.

“I know. I’m just so tired.”

“No, you don’t understand what I mean.” His eyes bored into me.

I sat up straighter. “What?”

“Of course I’m going to be a good boy,” he said. “You’re a good mother. Why WOULDN’T I be good?” He patted me. “Silly Mommy.”

I was thankful for the darkness that hid my ugly cry.

Is there ever a time when your child reaches a point where you can finally sit back and think to yourself DAMN, I DID A GOOD JOB? Because I look forward to that.

Maybe my kid is right, you know. Maybe I am already the best mother I can humanly, possibly be, and that is enough.

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