motherhood

Dreaming Big

by Becky on October 26, 2013

in Parenting

Snow Capped Mountains

Recently I queued up Grooveshark and listened to the soundtrack from the musical Wicked. Something about Idina Menzel’s Elphaba belting out the grandly hopeful “The Wizard and I” made me think of the way, as a young woman, I was going to conquer the world. Like Elphaba, I felt almost prophetic when I considered how epic my Beautiful Future was going to be. Frankly, I never stopped to think about how I was going to accomplish Something Amazing. I just, well, figured I was on my way. In my very young teenage mind, it wasn’t the process that counted; it was the passionate business of nourishing Big Dreams.

There’s something to be said for Big Dream Love. Yeah, I know, you gotta chunk down those dreams and identify the Measurable Objectives that will propel you forward, and all that (ish). No going anywhere without a plan, I understand that now. But man, I loved that stage of my life, when I just knew deep down that I was on my way to greatness.

Maybe that’s why I love watching my teens dream big, in that improbable, on-the-cusp-of-adulthood way, before the distinct pressures of adulthood inevitably begin to shave some of the beautiful impracticality off the sides of those dreams. If you’d asked my oldest son a few years back how he was going to become a world class surfer, you wouldn’t have gotten the Franklin Planner answer. More likely, you would have heard something like, “I’m going to be in the water more than anyone else, is how I’m going to do it.” To his Mother, my son will always be a world class surfer. Or maybe he’s just world-class–especially because of the way he finally managed to shift a few of his dreams around without compromising their bigness. (Yeah, I’m being a bit cryptic, but I think he’d want it that way.)

As I see it, one of the challenges of mothering teens-with-big-aspirations involves striking a balance: insisting on the work ethic required to fuel a big dream, while getting out of the way enough for that dream to keep all the helium it started out with. Everyone knows a parent who became an unwitting dream-killer. You know, the mom who refused to let her daughter become an Idina Menzel, for example, because she wanted her to be a geneticist (let’s say).

But Ms. Menzel didn’t just leap from teenagehood to Broadway. Like anyone who achieves a Big Dream, she worked for it. And had to sweat a lot and frequent the grocery store and pay bills along the way. Yet I would have loved to take a peek at her life back when she was sixteen, seventeen, eighteen . . . just to get a glimpse of her as a Teen-with-a-dream. I’m told she sang at weddings and bar-mitzvahs while she was studying voice. It’s a far cry from that to the role of Elphaba, which won her a Tony Award.

Only one of my children is no longer a teenager, and I have to confess something about that boy.  I do indeed hope that his dreams will stay buoyant not just because they feel that way but also because he’s learned how to work–hard–to move himself toward them.  And for the petals, still in that stage where their dreams have that ineffable, Technicolor hugeness, my hope is that as they leap toward what they want in life, they can build the mental and physical muscle needed to go the distance.  You know–be willing to be the wedding singers, as it were, as they march toward the Big Time.

A last thought.  The “Big Time” feels vastly different to me now that I’m half a lifetime away from my teen years.  And yes, my dreams changed along the way.  Some days, when my kids were small, my big dream was simply to be able to get my teeth brushed by noon.  But what a revelation, too:  that dreams could take the form of four children who have by turns complicated and beautified my life beyond what I could ever have imagined when I was young.  Motherhood is its own dream, far more fraught and challenging than I realized it would be, but far more meaningful for what it has taught me about sacrifice and love, two words so overused they almost don’t mean anything.  Were I to collide with my much younger self, I’d whisper, “Two boys, two girls, loads of intense work, and a bold new land of joy so big you can’t even map it!”

Snow Capped Mountains

(Photos: Miss Lavender, in the French Pyrenees, leaping and shouting into the void . . . or dream.  Whichever you prefer.)

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

On top of my dining room table, where I used to write, sat a small, paper car. My then eight-year-old son received it one night when the two of us went out to Ruby’s Diner together for some Friday night cheer. He quickly lost interest in his prize, but the thing was too cool (and, truth be told, too pretty) to throw away, so I kept it parked next to my computer, where I could admire the creativity that went into its design. On the bottom of the chassis were directions for the assembly: fold, tuck, fit the tabs into the slots. Easy, breezy! Finished, it was a miniature Woody—spearmint green, with wood paneling on the doors and the tailgate. But what really struck me about the car was both how Ready-to-go! it looked, and how perfectly, utterly useless it was.

Before I got good pharmacological help for a radioactive (the word “severe” doesn’t quite describe it) anxiety and depression back in the fall of 2008, I was a Paper Woody. To everyone who knew me, I looked so cheerily Ready-to-go!  On the outside, I appeared well put together; all my visible parts seemed to be in polished, working order. But if you’d pulled up the hood and peered inside, you’d have noticed the missing engine. And if you’d checked the fuel tank, you would have found it empty. And if you’d looked closely, you would have noticed that my wheels would not turn, not for love or money.  When I was ill, the only thing with any appearance of ‘real’ was Me-as-shell, a hollowed-out car.  It felt like, if someone had wanted to, they could have gathered me, crushed me into a tight paper ball, and tossed me into the garbage without even breaking stride.

A fancy Woody I seemed.  But I was going exactly nowhere because I had absolutely zero traction–zero–and I could not rouse myself. Could. Not. Rouse myself. Depressives often use metaphors to describe their anguish. Mine was ‘quicksand.’ Picture it: shiny car, sinking into the muck, which squeezes out light and air as it swallows.  Hard to go anywhere in quicksand.  No, forget ‘go’:  hard to survive when you’re in quicksand.

Five years later and worlds away from that time and that self, I now find that I’ll often notice individuals who look to me like Paper Woodies.  I might see one in the grocery store, her shiny mask slipping momentarily as she waits in the check-out line, where no one else notices the pain that settles on her face for an unguarded moment.  Or maybe when I’m stopped at an intersection, where, in another car, a woman stares ahead at nothing, her expression that unmistakable combination of Hollow and Desperate. I find myself wishing I could talk to them, tell them I get it.

Someone did that for me, actually, back when I was made of paper.  An observant friend, herself a former sufferer, knew what she was looking at, and she helped me connect with a great doctor—a pharmacologist and diagnostician extraordinaire who talked me not only through my medication options but also through their chemical properties in order to help me figure out what might be the right place to start.  I appreciated it, that he talked to me like I still had a mind fit enough for a real chemistry lesson.  More than that, I appreciated that, from Day One, he believed me when I told him I thought my brain was a little broken.

Medication set me on a new path. So did deciding to write about my journey, which became an opportunity to reimagine what it meant both to be medicated and to be well. After all, therapeutic medication and earnest self narratives share the same goal: to relocate the lost You, the once Vibrant Person who began fading to dust when those testy brain chemicals started making life difficult.

Whether you are a Paper Woody or just love one deeply, you ought to know this: there is no shame in reaching out for help. In fact, nothing in my lived experience has felt more true. Had I not gotten help, I don’t know who I’d be right now. I don’t know what the landscape of my family would look like, though I can guarantee you it would be bleak. Nor do I know what the ultimate cost would have been to my sense of self-worth, an already fragile thing corroded by mental illness. I am an advocate for good treatment. After all, the help I got saved not only me but my family: if Mom’s not well, nobody’s well.

If you’ve ever joined me for talk of family, teens, travel, culture, you may have thought my life was charmed.  It’s not.  Most people have no idea how hard I have fought for my health and my happiness.  I guess that’s why I decided, post-Spain, to shift the conversation for a moment, so I could address the theme of mental wellness, a thing so essential to successful mothering that it seems like a foregone conclusion.  But the truth is not just that the mental health of a Mother impacts her family.  That’s obvious, isn’t it?  What’s also true is that Moms have the right to feel and to be mentally healthy, and when they don’t, too often they hide it–perhaps because they mistake unwellness for weakness.  I did that, for a long time.  I wore my coloful Paper Self around, never hinting to anyone close to me that up around my ankles, then my knees, then my hips, then my chest, the quicksand was thickening, threatening to swallow me whole.  I feared that if others knew what I felt, they would judge me, that they would view me as Deficient.  And so I kept silent.  And suffered.  It’s a common tale, and the fact that it’s so common mystifies me now.  I ask myself, Why did I care more about the (often uninformed) opinions of others than about the health of my own mind?

I can be gentler with myself now, in retrospect.  I realize that I was as much a victim of misinformation and misconceptions as I was my own illness.  And I worried about the financial cost of treatment, not appreciating fully that the cost of languishing in the quicksand was far higher than the cost of getting well.  One night, I sat the Eleven O’Clock Dad down and said, basically, “You have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into your business enterprises.  I believe I am an enterprise worth funding.”

Every Mother is an Enterprise Worth Funding.  Every single one.  And for Moms who struggle with depression and anxiety or any combination of ills that damage mind and self-worth and eventually soul, a contribution to her fund–with acknowledgement, support, love, friendship, and meaningful help in all its forms–is also a contribution to the family that counts on her for its own wellness.  The only reason I could ever be the Eleven O’Clock Mom?–I got better.

If you’re that woman in the grocery store check-out line; if you’re that woman at the intersection, I get you.  I believe you.  I was you.  Yes, the quicksand is real (even if it’s invisible to everyone else).  And yes–resoundingly!–you deserve the help that will allow you to address whatever it is that has caused you to sink, whether it’s chemical, situational, whatever.

Think of me as your Eleven O’Clock Sister, if you want.  Your fears, your suffering, your story:  all of it is safe with me.

{ Comments on this entry are closed }

So I decided I’m going to blog. About blogging. About my teenagers. A meta blog! So postmodern, isn’t it? So early two thousands. So bourgeois.

So self-important.

Oh well. Regardless, I’m going to cast myself as the mom who conquered the blogosphere by blogging about it. A blog within a blog! Kind of like Inception, except not about wildly cool dreams imbedded in deeper, equally cool dreams. And not about Leonardo DiCaprio. And without the mindblowing special effects. And also without the surreal box office success. I know, bad comparison. Okay, better one: blogging is like driving an ice cream truck. You wind around and around the same neighborhoods, day in, day out, your quirky little tune getting lost on the breeze, and you’re lucky if two people stop you for one of the treats you’re peddling. But hey, at least if you talk about the journey, you can fool yourself into thinking you’re getting decent gas mileage.

Wait. I’m getting ahead of myself. First, to what I’ll call the L1B, or Layer One Blog. The inspiration came to me one day after I’d seen some disturbing stuff here and there on the web, written by (understandably) hysterical moms of teens. According to these women, their kids were completely out of control: on drugs, having sex, disrespecting their families and themselves and God and thus–like rogue tornadoes–generally cutting wide swaths of the acutest misery through the lives of everyone connected with them. Geez, I thought. Is this all that’s out there? Is no one saying a single positive thing about these not-yet-adults? Granted, teenagehood is tricky, everyone acknowledges that. Those of us who survived our own teenage years still tend to stutter when rehearsing the tales. (Say “still tend to stutter” four times, fast, while imagining yourself as a twitchy high school sophomore whose lips keep snagging on a mouth laced with orthodontic chicken wire.)

Anyway, I decided it was the tone of the web chatter that puzzled me most. So full of contempt. I’d grant them fear, these mom bloggers. Anyone could see why they would be afraid, given the stories I was seeing. I’d even grant them anger, considering some of the shocking things their teens had said and done. But I could not grant them contempt. Which got me thinking: was anyone talking about their teens with (semi) equal parts concern and affection? Or humor?? Was anyone talking about the strange extent to which our teenagers’ fitness for stirring us up may be directly proportional to their wonderful complexity? I mean, they’re interesting, these teens! And yeah, exasperating, here and there. And sometimes frightening. (I’ll grant myself that.) But darn it if every one of them isn’t thoroughly unique, a fact that requires us to put aside our own parental prejudices long enough to suspend judgment, thereby qualifying us to see the beautiful snowflake patterns, as it were, before adulthood tries to dissolve them.

You see, I wanted to talk about the complicated but brilliant business of raising teens. Why? Because my kids bump up the color of my world, all the time. When one of them starts deleriously riffing on something that happened at school–like, say, falling asleep in AP biology and hearing later that the entire class thrust their collective chins toward their drooling classmate when the teacher asked whether she was present–man, I LOVE those stories! I love that drooling, sleeping girl who studies her brains out! Or when one of them receives a special award for having started a service club on campus, an effort that involved making tray favors for hospitalized children, sending donated goods to troops in Afghanistan, and raising money for prostate cancer (I’m not sure why it wasn’t breast cancer, but still), I’m convinced that the applause could never possibly be loud enough. I love that tall, blue-eyed, tray favor-making Fundraiser!

So essentially, my blog was going to be me, in my ice cream truck, blasting my little song about the sangfroid of my teenage offspring. And I am blasting away. I am now Eleven O’Clock Mom. I live at http://www.elevenoclockmom.com. Go to my home page if you don’t believe me.

On to my L2B, then. (Layer Two Blog, if you’re wondering.) This is where I dive deeper, to blog about my blog. In short, this is where I chronicle my life as a mom-of-teens blogger. So far, I’ve learned two things. One, if I take myself too seriously, it will potentially hurt my ice cream sales. Second, if people discover that I don’t look like a top-tier blogger (Samantha Ettus comes to mind), it will hurt my ice cream sales. Thus, I will have to learn not to care what anyone thinks about my middle-agedness and also not to eschew the use of photo-altering technology to conceal the fact that I haven’t had a lip wax since 2011.

Stay tuned for more L2B-ing. In my next post, I plan to talk about why trawling the web in search of other successful mom bloggers in order to tease out their secrets makes you want to crawl headfirst into a pre-heated oven. Stay tuned as well for more of my L1B, where the real substance is. (Because it’s where the kids are.)

Ciao!

{ Comments on this entry are closed }