Tag: Failure


Star-Crossed Lunch

(a story… with pictures)

 Lunch woke up on the wrong side of the bed today.


1 - Lemon gnocchi aka what lunch was supposed to look likePhoto credit: Epicurious

was the plan—soft homemade gnocchi in a creamy, lemon-zested sauce with tender peas and spinach. Commence drooling. I tend to save the best for last in my weekly meal planning, and this promised to be something special. Plus, spinach turns anything into a diet dish. (Feel free not to debate that last point.)

But lo and behold, the peas?

2 - Dead peas

had developed rigor mortis.

Read More »


Dramatic License

Husband, gently: “Aren’t you being just a wee bit dramatic?”

Me, dramatically: “NO! See that gray glob on the kitchen floor? Those are Sophie’s lungs that she screamed out this morning, and next to it are two-thirds of the thumb I slammed in the car door earlier. And next to THAT are the shredded remains of any talent I used to possess, and of course the enormous puddle seeping under the fridge is my sanity.”

I am never anything but strictly literal, you see.

One particular Thursday, over six years ago, Dan sat down in a senior college class lovingly dubbed “Stupid English” and asked the girl next to him if she was having any fun. The girl, who was at that moment being introduced as the class tutor, allegedly told him “Shhhh.” I have no recollection of doing such a thing, but I do remember looking forward to every Thursday morning thereafter. (It had less to do with the Stupid English and more to do with the Future Husband, though I wouldn’t have admitted that at first.)

“Stupid Thursday” has since lived up to its name. The first year of our marriage, we began to notice increasingly stupid things happening each Thursday. Tripping in public, food burning, cars dying, bread landing butter-side-down. By now, catastrophes are a common Thursday occurrence. Today, it was a rusty hacksaw of a molar boring through Sophie’s gums, my thumb discovering just how flat it can get, and Natalie’s lovely flower-shaped Danish Butter Cookies melting to a gooey mess in the oven… not to mention lesser ills like all dropping my keys in the rain while my arms were already full and my freshly-bloodied thumb was screaming obscenities… or all the dirty silverware being dumped out by a family member (no names, but “Sophie” does come to mind)… or stovetop spills or stains on clean clothes or an entire half-chewed banana ending up under the kitchen table.

It is such a relief that days like this are in no way related to my gross incompetence or the inherent need of toddlers to create disasters. No, it’s merely Stupid Thursday, which 1] gives me unlimited license to be dramatic (not that I ever am. ahem.), and [2] means that tomorrow is Not A Thursday. Joy!


Ducks AWOL

It’s a little after midnight, and I really should be in bed. If a 24-hour virus hadn’t made bed a necessity, my 8 a.m. dentist appointment tomorrow certainly should… but I can’t pull myself off the couch just yet. It’s been a hard couple of days. On Monday, Sophie snuggled up to me on the rocking chair and sweetly threw up 15 gallons of curdled milk. I came down with it yesterday around lunch, then Natalie at bed time last night, then Dan this morning, and I would just about trade my soul for a sick day right now. Just one day to settle into my skin without dishes piling up or little tears to wipe. Paid leave to hibernate under the covers and figure out who the heck I am again.

I feel as though my reserves of mothering strength have worn down over the last few weeks through rainy days and too many bouts of sickness, but mommies can’t be pansies. No, every bit of strength goes by instinct to the girls, which means other things suffer—marriage, health (ha!) career aspirations (ha2!). Nothing is terrible right now… just a little frayed. Too tired to exercise, too tired to write, too tired to fully engage my mind with my husband’s, too tired to shut down the computer and go to bed already.

When I was in school, autumn never lagged like this. A little by late November, sure, but there were always still tidy typed deadlines and bursts of knowledge to keep my mind churning along.  Without that pressure, without someone dictating most of my time to me, I feel grossly incapable. I come up with aspirations for myself, then divide them by two little daughters, then subtract housecleaning duties, then lower them by several degrees of self-esteem… and still I can never seem to reach. It sure looks a lot like failure around here.

This isn’t exactly how I wanted this year to end. I guess I supposed that 2008 was going to be the year I would get my ducks in a row… but here I am, and one of those ducks is lost somewhere under the couch, and one is partying in Bali, and one drowned just four hours ago under a deluge of preschool vomit, and six are wearing cool glasses in NYC getting published without me, and one tiny one is pecking around in the fridge for something resembling food. The ducks, they’re decidedly NOT in a row, and I’m not sure how okay I am with that. I can’t get to officially living my life until they are, right?

Probably not. I’ve always like John Lennon’s quote, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans,” though I kind of hate it when it applies to me. I enjoy my plans working from time to time… but I’m pretty sure that nothing—plans or life or ducks-getting-in-a-row—is going to happen tonight. Perhaps I should get myself tucked responsibly into bed to get some of that sleep I keep complaining about not having, eh?

P.S. – If you like getting surprises in your mailbox, the holiday goodie from my last entry still stands!


Warning: Do Not Scrapbook

I’ve caught that little internet cold that makes its rounds during the chilling downslope of seasons. I was hoping, sincerely, to catch the homey enchantment of A Week In A Life instead; everyone’s week looks so lovely in detail, and scrapbooking! What says “I am a fount of creativity and time-management” more than that? (I have a beautiful bin of scrapbooking supplies myself, but it only comes out during weeks my family agrees not to eat or wear clothes or use the floors. So, not often.) I did try starting a Week In A Life post, and it went like this:


7:30 a.m. – My alarm goes off, even though I don’t remember setting it last night. I kick husband repeatedly until he gets up to turn it off for me (thankfully for our marriage, he understands I’m not accountable for anything before 10 a.m… and sleeps with me anyway). I lie in bed thinking violent morning thoughts, ruing the day I was born, etc. until Sophie’s hungry shrieks become impossible to tune out.

8:30 a.m. – Natalie, who is coughing up bits of spleen, is sent off to the doctor who prescribes antibiotics and staying home from school. We have a solid ten minutes of fun dusting the living room before she deteriorates into boredom as I start Hour #1 of dishes for the day. “Mommy, can you pleeeeease play with me? Mommy, can you pleeeeease read with me? Mommy, isn’t it a struggle not to succumb to the guilt of wasting away my precious childhood by scrubbing windows that will just be grimy again by the weekend?” She hasn’t coughed once since getting back from the doctor’s, of course.

12:30 p.m. – Sophie, who may or may not be teething, is up from her nap and wants to be held. I, multi-tasker though I am, have limits and cannot manage to hold her whilst simultaneously mashing the potatoes, hanging the wet laundry, and washing Hour #2 of dishes before Dan gets home for lunch. Sophie stands in the middle of the room perfecting her Nazgûl scream. Natalie is frustrated with her puzzle and begins to cry. My sanity calls in a sick day.

Technically, the week started with Sunday, but that found me three seconds away from a nervous breakdown at church, complete with bloodthirsty fantasies toward Natalie’s Sunday School class bully and the very near cussing-out of the kindly old people pestering Sophie into gut-wrenching sobs. It hasn’t exactly been a scrapbook-worthy week.

No, the internet cold I got is the one that makes people forget who they want to be when they grow up and lose inspiration for everything from art to regular showering and wonder why they keep blogging anyway. I caught it right in the face, too. It’s a doozy of a mental crisis, and it usually distills down to The House. More specifically, the messes that characterize The House. Even more specifically, the hours upon vain hours I spend cleaning up the messes that characterize The House under some sort of delusion that it will stay clean. You know, at least for 24 hours.

And now you know how much of a pansy I am. Historically significant elections are going on, my nation is teetering on the brink of economic collapse, war and terrorism are flourishing in the Middle East… and I’m falling into pieces over misplaced loads of laundry and smushed carpet peas. Who knows—maybe The House is just a metaphor for some greater mental tableau I can’t adequately process. I hope I’m that deep.

In some ways, it’s exciting to be in the midst of a breakdown. It means that something is happening, that I could wake up tomorrow with an epiphany or a new superpower. On the other hand, it means I’ve written nary a word in days. It means I feel both aimless and harrowed, and my brain tissue by now is mostly held together with smushed peas. And lemme tell ya—that, combined with soap-splattered clothes and my lack of showering inspiration? Is not a lovely thing.


Squandered Therapy

The piano and I have a long history, a tabloid-worthy on again, off again relationship. I started lessons at five years old—I remember having to rest my hands on my teacher’s large doughy ones while she played… yeeeesh—and shortly thereafter, my mother took over. Mom was, and still is, a sought-after piano teacher. She’s great at it. But (you knew there had to be a “but,” right?), I was the one student who didn’t “click” with her methods. I learned to play quite well, but it was a lot like me potty-training Natalie: we got where we needed to get, but the journey was decidedly unpleasant.

At the first possible opportunity in high school, I swore off the piano. Years of unwilling sonatas and scales had left me bitter, hating the instrument and hating that I had the weight of my talent hanging over me for eternity. (Um, I’m ever so slightly melodramatic.) Every time I walked by a piano in college, it taunted me à la that guy who keeps popping out at Happy Gilmore to call him a jackass. “Hey there, yeah just walk to class as if you don’t see me, YOU SQUANDERER!”

But toward the end of my sophomore year, my lovely friend Q convinced me to play a song she had written for the Battle of the Bands. I didn’t entirely hate the feel of keys and petals for once. And by  my junior year, I was playing multiple times a week in a little campus band. It was fun, man, and bore no resemblance to those stuffy mathematical Bach compositions I had grown up on.

Word leaked out that I was playing again—I’m told my mom cried for joy when she heard—and my husband and parents conspired to give me an electronic piano for graduation. I was stunned, in a good way. Mostly. All except for the little urge to run. That poor piano has sat untouched for months at a time since I got it; I’ve worked on a piece here or there but mostly felt guilty. There is no way I could devote those necessary daily hours to practicing, so why bother? (FYI, I often feel the same about working out. And then I squelch my guilt with a brownie.)

However, something has shifted in the last month and I’ve become a piano addict. I never realized what an effective stress reliever was gathering dust across the room. When I run into writer’s block or need a break from chores, I pull out my colorful Peanuts songbook and channel Vince Guaraldi ‘til my fingers tingle and my mind quiets down. It’s my creative outlet when others fail me.

So now I’m thinking hopelessly grown-up, motherly things about my preschooler who loves, loves music and is the [supposedly] perfect age to stick her toes into music theory. Will she hate it? Will she feel indebted to it? Will it seem like opportunity or dead weight? Will she do better starting at a formative age or when she’s old enough to make an educated decision? Will I make a crappy piano teacher? Will music suck away her life… or turn into a beautiful self-therapy? And how important is this all anyway?


Leaf Piles of Failure

Yesterday was one of Those Days, the kind you can’t help laughing over when retelling even though you really want to weep. To get my mind off of writer’s block and the subsequent gloom-and-doom of my future, I spent over a significant chunk of day cooking, peeling, and pureeing pumpkin. I whipped up two loaves’ worth of spicy-sweet pumpkin bread batter and deposited them in the oven… at which instant the oven breathed its last. I had to leave the kitchen as-is, heaped with dirty dishes and unbaked bread and orange splatters aplenty, to pick Natalie up from school, and then it took us over two hours to get back. A certain three-year-old—no names, but you catch my drift—dragged her feet to the extent that I pushed two girls with the stroller up-up-uphill. First to one store, then to another, then uphill yet again for an essential we forgot. A certain eleven-month-old—again, no names—threw her hat as we were crossing a spectacularly busy intersection, and the resulting car honks and angry shouts made me die a little inside. Then the stroller tipped over at the park, our grocery bag burst, and we all limped back to our pumpkin-besmeared home spewing a trail of white sugar in our wake. That was when the doorbell rang.

I’m learning that all you can do with a day so determined to be a failure is to let it. Roll around in its messiness and stupidity like a pile of fall leaves and have a blast scattering them to the wind. (Though honestly, I have hated rolling around in leaf piles since I was eight and realized that they probably contain bugs. And also dried leaves, which are awfully poky. And also bugs. Nevertheless, the metaphor stays.) Once I get over my unreasonable expectations, such as productivity and basic hygiene, failure days can be kind of fun. And the best news? Hours away is a brand new day that, chances are, has already learned to behave itself.

(I may acquire a taste for optimism yet… Who would have guessed?)


Captain Courage

“We should go out,” Natalie observed this morning once we had finished muddling through breakfast. Oh boy. After twenty-seven deep breaths and a booster shot of Zen, I forced myself to agree. We should go out. It can’t be healthy to cluck around inside our tiny coop alldayeveryday, and maybe the giant-sized world outside would go easy on us — a wee flock of homebound girls with shy feathers.

But first, there were naps and a shower and diaper changes and potty time. Clothes were procured from the laundry line (because one can’t wear a bathrobe forever, you know), hair was brushed, makeup was applied. Sunscreen was dolloped onto wriggling fair-skinned girls, and my industrial-strength corduroy purse was filled: wallet, no wallet (who wants the extra weight?), keys, phone, wallet again (we need to get eggs), lip gloss, tissues, camera, baby food, dirty bib, oops, clean bib, spoons, napkins, water bottle, water to go in the water bottle, sunglasses, did I already get the keys? Natalie got her holey jeans and socks and her cool silvery tennis shoes, plus a polka-dot headband—her latest fashion obsession. Sophie got a hat, until I remembered how she always flings it in the mud, and those great Velcro sandals she loves to remove with her teeth, and I buckled her into the stroller. We were going to do it.

Out the door we traipsed into my Tim Burtonesque imaginationscape. Curly, sunken-eyed trees, purple-tinged sunlight, whimsical hostility at every turn. But I could not in good conscience let myself become a hermit. At least, I could not retreat until we had spent at least as much time outside as we had spent preparing to go out, so I screwed my courage to the sticking place* and marched on.

Natalie skipped and picked pink flowers that “smelled like candy!” while Sophie kicked for joy and occasionally tried to dive-bomb out of her stroller. We bought eggs without any meltdowns or blitzed grocery displays, and my outlook slowly softened. Maybe these great outdoors, buzzing with life and warmth and green, were not so terrifying. Maybe I really could find my way back to my lane in the flow of normalcy and be the kind of mom who breezes her girls to the playground every morning without a hitch. And even if I found it tough to pry myself away from home, I could do it for them. Just seeing Natalie’s palpable excitement about going to play with other children made the trip worth it.

Except that by the time we got to the playground, it was deserted. Every one of the other kids had gone home for lunch. Natalie, ever an optimist, asked me for her pail and shovel (“Sorry, we didn’t bring those”) and then for her soccer ball (“Uh, we didn’t bring that either”) and finally just wandered forlornly around the empty swings and seesaw. I sat down on the winner’s bench for Crappiest Mother of the Year and fed Sophie her puréed blueberries, which she alternately spit out and sneezed out, and my head slowly began closing in on me. The sun was gothic cartoon again, the olive trees dense and grabby. I remembered the piles of dishes and laundry and misplaced toys I had ignored for the sake of this trip, back at home breeding and throwing wild parties like housework tends to do when left to its own devices. And suddenly, I needed to be indoors RIGHT AWAY.

I hate how easily panic hits me these days. There is never a reason or an obvious trigger, though anytime between noon and 7 p.m. is fair game. It just strikes my brain like a lightning bolt, and I can’t catch my breath. I can’t think straight. All I can see is the future billowing in flames around me and some abstract shapes of terror, urgent terror. I wouldn’t be surprised if my eyes turned white during these attacks, like the character from X-Men who summons tornadoes with her thoughts.

There might as well have been tornadoes shrieking over my head as we rushed home today. It had been too much. Simply going out had been too much. Or maybe it was going to all that effort, so much effort, just to reinforce our collective loneliness. I had suddenly acquired a taste for agoraphobia, and it chased me up the elevator, shaking, into our front door. Goodbye world, hello chronic wimp.

Much later in the day, as I was relocating messes and bludgeoning myself over the brain, a quote flashed through my mind: Courage is the willingness to accept fear and act anyway.** Despite my fragile state of mind and irrational fears of the world around me, I made the effort to walk out my front door today. What’s more, I survived. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that hey, this pretty much makes me Captain Courage. With way cuter clothes.

The End

*I have a thing for Shakespeare. Don’t tell Dan.

**Not Shakespeare. Not Jesus. Not sure who said this, in fact. Was it you?

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