If I am being honest, there’s more times than I count that things don’t go my way.
I am sure you know what I am talking about, too.
I am not referring to those petty issues of not getting my way, like I don’t get to watch the reruns of “NCIS” because the game is on or I wanted Italian and everyone else wanted Mexican.
I am referring to those big deal, ginormous issues that explode out of nowhere and make you question your whole existence type of thing.
It seems like there’s times, no matter how hard you try, something goes wrong.
No matter how much I try to do some things, stuff happens and I feel like I am taking two steps back for every step ahead.
“I feel like I am in quicksand,” I said one day. Not to any one particular, mind you, just to myself.
Why? I am a good person, I whined.
I do the right thing. “I think I have some good karma piled up somewhere” is my argument.
But it sometimes feels like I am bombarded with circumstances I shouldn’t be.
I feel like I am sometimes a living Alanis Morissette song – not the angry at her ex-boyfriend raging one, but the one about life’s little bittersweet ironies.
“What do you need?” a friend asked once.
“A wailing wall – you know, a padded wall I can freely throw myself up against and scream and cry and kick and…”
“And wail.” That’s what it feels like on these occasions.
I have my fits, I am not proud of the fact, but I do. My Granny would have her fits too. She said it kept her from imploding to let the steam out instead of blowing like a pressure cooker.
I have had quite a few fits here lately it seems.
“It’s weeds, that’s all it is,” Mama said.
“Yes, weeds,” she replied. “You are letting these little pesky weeds crop up and spoil your garden, Kitten.”
“I don’t have a garden, Mama, literally or figuratively. I am just tired of feeling like I bust my tater all the time and things just go so dadblamed wrong.”
“Weeds,” she repeated. “You do have a garden – it’s called life. And every life has weeds. How you deal with them is up to you.”
I asked Mama where she came up with this weeds thing. “Joel Osteen. A lot of times, he’s preaching to you, you know.”
He may be. Someone needs to, I told her.
“Everyone has weeds, Kitten, everyone. Some people fake it better than others; your problem is you think you are the only one who goes through anything that’s yucky. You aren’t. You just seem to hone in on those weeds though more than you do the blooms.”
That was enough gardening talk for one day. And besides, Mama was getting too close to making sense and that scared me a little.
So there I was, in the middle of a glorious hissie fit, how life had thrown me a dozen lemons and forgot the tequila to go along with it and was just not how I thought it should be.
I’ve had this fit numerous times before – more times than I would care to count – so maybe they were weeds. They were as persistent as weeds could be.
Back to my fit. There I was, having my hissie, to the point I was inconsolable. I was beyond comfort food, cheesecake wouldn’t have made this seem better – everything seemed to be going wrong and it was something cheesecake wouldn’t fix. This was bad.
“Sweet girl, what is wrong?” my child asked.
I shook my head, not wanting to tell him. How do you explain to a child – who still has a lifetime of dreams and hopes ahead of him – that sometimes life is just not fair and your dreams may not only not come true but get stomped on, rolled up, battered and fried and thrown back in your face?
“Nothing,” I lied, wiping my face.
Cole didn’t believe me. “There is something, so tell me. Please.”
He looked at me with such sincerity and earnestness in his eyes, I knew he would persist until I told him. So I simplified it.
“Sometimes, I just get a bit overwhelmed, baby. I feel like life didn’t turn out the way I thought it would and have these issues, circumstances and whatnot pop up at the worst possible time. It’s just more than I think is fair sometimes.”
It sounded simple to me.
“How did you think life would be?” he asked quietly.
He nodded slowly. “What did you think would be better?”
“I don’t know. I thought it would be, I don’t know. Just … better. Easier, maybe, without so many struggles.”
My child smiled and put his hands on the side of my face.
His little voice cracked before he went on. “Mama, there’s people who have cancer, who are homeless … I know what you are feeling right now makes you feel like life is bad, when it’s not. There’s people who, no matter how bad you think things are, would gladly change places with you. Please, don’t let something that really won’t be a big deal tomorrow steal your joy from today. Just look at what you do have.”
“But I know this, Mama,” he continued. “The reason sometimes things seem so yucky is something really wonderful is about to happen. If you lose your faith, it can get you off track. Don’t let it – something awesome is about to happen. I know it.”
My little Minecraft, pig-loving philosopher was right. It was truly all about perspective. And faith. Sure, from where I sat things seemed pretty pitiful. Where someone else sat, their situation may be worse.
Mama called it weeds in my garden but my child put it in perspective. All I know is, if he’s right, about something awesome is about to happen, it’s gonna be huge.
According to Mama, I am not a grown up yet. I do not have a full appreciation of country music and until I do, I cannot be deemed a grown up.
I accept her declaration – I just can’t make myself like country music yet.
“That stuff you listen to is garbage,” has been her complaint since I can remember.
My uncle encouraged my garbage loving by getting me my first record player, a huge monstrosity of a cabinet with an 8-track player and a Kiss album. I was 6. Mama was furious.
“You need to try to listen to country,” she ordered. I tried, really, I did. I told her it was depressing and I didn’t care for it.
“Someone’s always leaving someone or someone’s drinking beer in their pickup truck. Just sad,” I said.
Mama said my head-banging metal or dreadful punk mess was far worse. “At least my singers look like humans instead of like they are permanently going trick or treating.”
I ignored her.
“Are you listening to classical music?” she asked me when I was pregnant with Cole. “Kind of,” was my answer. “Who are you listening to?” she asked next.
“Osbourne, Plant and Mercury,” I said. She said she had never heard of them, but she had. Oh, she had. She had complained about my Ozzy, Led and Queen being blared at great decibels for years, she just didn’t recognize the names of the offenders.
“Well, I hope you let him listen to a little bit of country when he gets bigger. Just because his mama doesn’t have any musical taste, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t.”
I had hopes and early signs that my child and I would share a common love for music. When he was younger, he loved “Barracuda” by Heart, singing along in the backseat. “Turn it up!” he would cry when I popped in Queen. AC/DC made him purse his tiny cherubic lips out, close his eyes and nod his head along to the guitar riffs. He even loved Johnny Cash – my closest foray into country music – singing “and it burns, burns, burns, this ring of fire” after eating jalapenos.
Then it happened.
One day, in the midst of the opening of “Sweet Child o’Mine” – you know, that awesome guitar wail that lets you know pure metal awesomeness is about to occur – my child covered his ears with his hands and screamed, “Turn that noise down!”
I glanced in the rearview mirror at my child who looked like he was in pain.
“Cole, you used to love Guns N’ Roses.”
“Ugh,” he said. “It’s too loud. It’s just noise. Why do you have to listen to it so loud?”
He never complained about how loud I had the music before. He loved it loud. Especially if it was something like Gangnam Style – which I can’t even begin to describe my loathing for. We sent Korea Dennis Rodman; Korea gave us Psy. No one won in that exchange.
“It’s GNR; you’ve gotta play it loud,” was my answer.
Music, something we had bonded on before, had become a bone of contention. Maybe it was a rite of passage; as you grow up, you cannot share musical tastes with your mama. Before, he was eager to hear the songs we listened to, telling me to play it again when he came across one he particularly liked. “Can’t we just ride without music on?” he now asked.
Where had I failed my child?
Did he not know that I loved music and it was one thing I loved sharing with him? That I had thought it would be one way we could bond? With his dad, he had everything outdoors – bugs, dirt, bikes and getting dirty. The most boy like thing I could offer him was a shared interest in gems and rocks with the occasional sci-fi movie or Marvel comic thrown in. He loved to read and loved to create but here was one thing I thought we would share a great love for, and he hated what I loved. Mama swore I wouldn’t have this problem if I listened to country music.
“What did you download?” Cole asked, eyeing his father’s phone.
“An album by U2,” I said.
Curious, Cole listened to it and then asked if I could download to his iPod as well. “You like U2?” I asked. “Sure, they sound OK.”
Maybe there was hope, I thought.
In the car one evening, “Bohemian Rhapsody” came on. “Hey, I know this song,” Cole said, excited.
“I remember this! I love this song. Did you know it took like 15 people to write Justin Bieber’s song “Baby” and it only took one to right this? What was his name?”
“Freddie Mercury,” I replied.
“Yeah, that’s it. That’s so cool. This song is awesome.”
I felt a sense of relief. My child had been able to discern between Justin Bieber and a Queen classic. Maybe that earlier musical conditioning had paid off.
I was in my office, finishing some work, when I heard Louis Armstrong’s “What a wonderful world” start playing.
“Sweet girl, I had no idea this was a real song,” Cole said. “I thought you made it up for me. I googled the ‘I see trees of green’ and it pulled up. This is wonderful.”
I smiled. “It is. It’s one of my favorite songs, right up there with ‘Unchained Melody.'”
“What’s ‘Unchained Melody?'” he asked.
“A song by the Righteous Brothers,” I told him.
“Are they like Guns N’ Roses?” he asked.
I assured him they were nothing like Axl and Slash.
“Then I may like them. I like this Armstrong fellow and he doesn’t seem to have any reference to a bike either.”
“Is there anyone else you think I may like that you do?”
“Well, there’s Sinatra. I’ve always, always been a sucker for Ol’ Blue Eyes.”
“I’d like to listen to him with you one day,” he said. “I may like him, too.”
Maybe I could find a common musical ground with my child somewhere far away from heavy metal and eons away from hip-hop. Maybe it was from an era when music was really grand and special, in a time neither of us knew. We could bond over classical music that I feared would get lost in the digital age. I could be perfectly happy with that, I thought.
And, the best part of all, it wasn’t country music.
I am not sure what started the discussion but I was in trouble – big, big trouble.
“What was I saying,” I began my train of thought again, “before I was so rudely interrupted by someone?”
“I had to tell y’all that. I finally had both of you together and had been holding that in all day,” my child said in his defense.
He’s a talker. Where he gets it from, I don’t know. For all I know, his father may be a Chatty Cathy and has hidden it all these years.
“Cole, you have to stop interrupting people when they are talking. It’s rude and disrespectful.”
And I know it’s important to him but I can be in the middle of discussing switching cell phone providers with Lamar and be interrupted by the rundown of his latest Minecraft experience.
“What I have to say is important,” he said, a tone of dogged determinedness in his voice.
“What I am saying is important too, Cole,” I replied. “You got in trouble if you interrupted your teacher in school; same principle applies with me. So, please be quite.”
I took a breath to re-start my earlier conversation. “I can’t remember what I was even talking about before.”
“So I get to talk!” Cole announced.
I sighed. He launched into the recap of the last episode of Stampy Cat verbatim.
“Cole, I really need to talk to your father about something.”
“I’m still talking,” he said.
“Cole, I need to tell your father something. So you need to wait please.”
His lips pursed in protest.
I got maybe four words out before he said. “I have rights, you know.”
“I have rights,” he declared again. “I may be a child, but I have rights. MLK died for my rights.”
“Martin Luther King Jr. died for civil rights.”
“That’s what you’re violating – my civil rights.”
“You don’t have any civil rights; you’re a child.”
“That’s what you think. I may be a child, but I am a human – a civil human. And I have rights.”
“Only if I say you do.”
“I have rights and you know it. Can you vote?” he asked.
“What? What does that have to do with the fact I am the boss, applesauce?”
When losing a battle of wits with a child, it always helps to restore balance to the natural order of things by using the “I’m the boss, applesauce” rhyme. Kids can’t argue with rhymes. It would disrespect Dr. Seuss.
“Just answer my question -can you vote?”
“Alright, then. At one time, you couldn’t vote.”
“Not until I was 18. I was considered a child.” I tried to emphasize the child.
“Before that. Women couldn’t vote. Just like other groups of people were not allowed certain rights and freedoms. Children are those people too. I am franchise child.”
“You mean disenfranchised?”
“Whatever it is. But children have rights and you are violating my rights.”
“You are violating my rights by being rude and interrupting me all the time, Cole. I never get to say a whole…”
“How can you say you have rights and I don’t? Does that make sense to you?”
“Because. You are a child. I am the parent. I set the rules, you follow them.”
That did not sit well with this child of mine.
“I am going to start my own children’s rights movement then,” he announced. “I think children have rights – we should not be shushed when we want to talk, we should not have bed times that happen when the sun is still out, and we should not have to take showers – yeah, I said it – showers every day. If we want to be dirty, we can be dirty. If we want Dairy Queen for all of our meals, we should have it. It is time children had someone to be their voice. But, first, I am going to need a snack and a beverage. All this thinking and organizing has made me hungry. So where do y’all want to take me to eat?”
My child, the future leader of the children’s rights movement, was going to need a snack before he got started.
Lamar, who had been silent through the whole thing, glanced at me.
“All this, just because you got your britches twisted about him interrupting me. You’re gonna go down in history as the cause of the children’s rights movements. You should have just let the child talk.”
I sighed. Of course, the mother would be blamed. Maybe after organizing the children’s movement, he could start a mother’s rights one as well.
He was already asking me if I would handle the marketing for him.
Maybe I should have just let the child talk.
Part of the joys of homeschooling is seeing my child’s face light up during our discussions, the animated way he gets excited and can sit and talk about certain subjects for 45 minutes – which he said he didn’t have the opportunity to do before. The heartbreak is hearing my child’s fears of failure.
Our new routine has merged into him pursuing his creative endeavors while I work. This is his structured/unstructured art time during the day, which he loves. There is a constant whirlwind of activity in the living room as he makes, creates, tears apart, needs glue, needs more glue, then announces glue didn’t work, he needs tape.
There are cardboard boxes cut apart with paper people cut out and colored to set the scene in his ‘stage.’ He writes his own stories and illustrates them, carefully selecting the perfect colors. Creativity is a very, very messy process I am learning.
When we settle in to do his lessons after I am done with my work, he tackles the lessons he feels confident about with ease. Until, he finds out he missed a question. Then his whole demeanor changes. My child goes from being jubilant and buoyant to anxious and nervous within seconds.
“Why does this bother you so?” I ask. “This is one lesson. Out of hundreds.”
“I’m a failure,” he answered softly. “I want to do it right and I messed up.”
We’ve been over this ground before, usually about his artwork. I’ve never been one to push my child so I don’t know where this stringent perfectionism came from.
“You just need to spend a little more time on it; just review it and try it again,” I advised.
“No, I want to get it right the first time,” he said. “I am just not smart.”
“Now hold on one second,” I began. “You are smart. I’ve had you tested, remember? You are indeed very smart.”
“But I am scared of making a mistake and doing it wrong. I am scared someone’s going to tell me I am not smart,” he admitted. “A kid told me once I was dumb, because of the question I asked. He said everyone knew the answer and that I was stupid. I haven’t forgotten that.”
Any mother can tell you how angry that made me. But children reflect a lot of what they are given, so I wondered if that child had been told he was stupid. “Did he know the answer to your question?” I asked. Cole shook his head. “If one doesn’t know something, the only way to learn is to ask sometimes.”
“But have you ever felt…I dunno how to describe it. Stupid, dumb…less than? I can’t think of the big word for it.”
“Yeah, that’s it. Has anyone ever made you feel that way?”
Oh, heavens, yes. I frowned as I thought about the person who had. An insipid little troll of a man who’s only power came from making the people who worked under him feel inferior and incompetent. This miserable person would embarrass and belittle me and the rest of the department publicly; it was almost like he felt like it was his mission to make everyone in the world feel bad about themselves.
I have never been made to feel so inferior ever – years of being the fat kid weren’t even as bad as how this person made me feel. When I was asked to be the guest speaker at an event for a local college and needed to take the day off, he rolled his eyes and said “Why would they ask you to be the guest speaker?”
I whirled in my chair, feeling like the beat dog that finally snapped and lunged for the owners’ throat. “Because before I came to work for the likes of you, people thought I was pretty much incredible at every job I had. It wasn’t until I started working for you that I realized what a stupid, incompetent, drooling person I supposedly am.”
I don’t use the word hate often but if I had to think of one person I would use it with, it would be him. I was a nervous, anxiety-riddled wreck the whole I worked for this misogynistic bully, coming home in tears many days.
Flash-forward a few gigs later and I was working for the female version of the troll. Her comments and diatribes didn’t faze me.
A co-worker asked me how I could put up with it.
“I guess after working for a troll who told me how stupid I was for so long, I am de-sensitized to it. When you’re told how stupid and worthless you are, it starts to become what you believe, even when the one telling you doesn’t matter.”
Here sat my child, feeling like because he missed one question on a quiz that he was stupid and that some mis-truth some other child told him was fact. And he asked me, if anyone had ever made me feel inferior.
“Cole, I have. And you want to know the truth of it? The people who do it, are the ones who are inferior. Anytime you have to raise yourself up by making others feel or look bad, that’s a reflection of them – not you, not me.
And more importantly, baby, by letting them make us feel that way, we are giving them far more power than they deserve.”
He nodded, “It still makes me feel like it’s the truth, though.”
“It shouldn’t, because it’s a lie. Lies when they are told enough can feel like the truth but eventually, we realize they are just lies. Don’t let their lies become your truth.”
I don’t know if this made sense to my child but somewhere in the core of my soul, it started to ring true with me.