Come On Get Happy! Road Trip 2016

Come On Get Happy! Road Trip 2016

Our family is about to embark on an epic road trip where we will explore as much of the western half of this country as can be done in two weeks.

“Now’s the time,” friends have told me. “Once they’re teenagers, it will be a much harder sell.”

Old Faithful!

The Grand Canyon!

Quality Time and free continental breakfasts for all!

It’s going to be great.

Except, you know how some horror movies will begin with, oh, say, a nice family packing for a summer vacation, and it all looks so fun but you KNOW it’s all about to get very scary?

I’m kind of flashing on that, y’all.

First of all, I’ve got two boys, each of whom get carsick on the elevator to their 5th floor orthodontist’s office. Because of this, a road trip feels just a tiny bit risky.

And of course, there’s the fact that they are eleven and thirteen, the age when kiddos really turn on the charm.

(You feel me, moms?)

Then there’s my husband and I.

We have been married fifteen years which he always points out, in Los Angeles, is “a pretty good run.”

Such a romantic.

And while Chris and I are all good with the daily routine, exploring the road less traveled (especially if it’s crammed with tourists in socks and sandals) with all it’s novelty, can sometimes bring out the worst in us.

You know, just a little.

One thing about C. is that he truly wants to make his family happy. (Side note: I am proud to say that, while very tempting, I have never used this to my advantage, as evidenced by the fact that we have neither a chicken coop, nor a manny.)

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I also have a thing about making my family happy, albeit with slightly more of an edge than my husband. Oh yes, I want to make them happy and keep them happy, by god, or die trying!!

In that way (and a few others), we are all batshit crazy.

So a family road trip with us could look something like this:

Four hours into a seven hour drive, one child might whimper, “I don’t feel so good.”

I hand him a plastic Subway bag, to which he responds, “Don’t Mom, you’re making it worse!

They ask how many more miles, and does the motel have a pool.

Four hundred ninety-seven and no, it does not.

T. asks for more room in the backseat, prompting C. to poke his older brother with a fruit roll-up, which inspires T. to fart, then blame the fart on C., forcing C. to retaliate with, what else?

More farting. (Did I mention he is eleven?)

I unroll the windows.

“Look over there!” My husband says then, pointing to an awesome rock formation which looks, you gotta kind of admit, a lot like the last awesome rock formation. “See that??”

Busy licking orange dust out of an empty Doritos bag from three states ago, the little darlings don’t respond to their father, which leads to a very slight tensing of his lower jaw, invisible to to the naked eye unless, of course, the naked eye is my super-human-bionic -mother-eye.

It is then that some very ancient neuron in my brain, buzzing from too many pecan logs and Snapples, fires, and I, for reasons I am not wholly conscious of, set about “lightening the mood” with a friendly game of License Plate Bingo. I crank the audio version One Hundred and One Native American Folk Tales (educational and fun!) and take another family selfie.

#Blessed!

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When both my boys were preschool age, I went to an amazing therapist. (If you read this blog then you know I’m no stranger to the couch.)

I went to her because I was feeling anxious during the long hours I spent alone with my son and newborn baby, and I couldn’t figure out why. Like many new moms, I thought that all I wanted was for my kids to be happy. (This was before Facebook and articles like this that, like a good freinemy, are both helpful and shaming. Now we know better—then, we were totally fucked up.)

No matter what I tried, C. would still have long crying jags in the middle of the night and T. flipped out when riding in his carseat. Everyone else always seemed to be enjoying themselves. What was wrong with us??

“It just feels like someone is always upset,” I said. “I don’t know what to do.”

“So,” she began, all casual-like, “What would a good day look like, for you and the boys?”

I tried to figure out what the right answer was. I knew I needed therapy, but I desperately wanted her to think I didn’t. “Well, I guess if everyone’s happy, then it’s been a good day.”

Nailed it, I thought.

A single mother with two grown kids of her own, she smiled and said, “You might need to rethink your definition of a good day.”

She told me that when you’ve got two kids under five, a day that ends with everyone in one piece might just be as good as it gets.

One kid crying in my arms with a fever while the other watches yet another episode of What Not To Wear in his bouncy seat? Good day.

Honey Bunches of Oats for dinner while wearing our pajamas. (From yesterday?) Good day.

Staying at the fancy Children’s Museum in Beverly Hills for thirty minutes before having to leave with two sobbing kids because C. pooped in his rain boots? Good Day.

My feeling ok had been dependent on their smiling faces and let me tell you, that shit can drive you nuts. Realizing that I do not operate the on/off switch for anyone’s happiness, and changing my whacked idea of what a good day looks like was, ironically, the key to happiness.

My own, anyway.

And it’s probably also the key to

a totally awesome road trip

a super fun road trip

our road trip 🙂

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I could not come up with anything to write last week.

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I guess it’s more accurate to say that, although I did come up with something last week, I could not stand to publish what I came up with last week.

I could not stand for one more minute, the sentences beginning with I,

the licking out of every corner of my mind.

And then presenting it for you to read?

Unthinkable.

“If you don’t enjoy doing it, don’t do it,” my husband sometimes tells me.

“But I am. I am enjoying it,” I tell him right back.

I enjoy learning that what catches my eye isn’t always the shiny thing, like it was when I was younger. At fifty, I’m not afraid to reach in and pluck the dark moments of any given day. Writing about them, I find they are like berries, the darker the sweeter.

I even enjoy the things about blogging that make me want to take an ice-pick to my computer screen.

Things like software issues, algorithms, SEO optimization and grammar zealots. Last week, after I posted this, I got an email from someone telling me that I should get a proofreader, as I had misused it’s and its several times.

And you know what?

I loved her for that.

In another situation I probably would have gotten shitty about her comment. “That wasn’t the point,” I might have shot back, in defense of myself. I might have made her wrong to whoever would listen, only later taking a bath in my own shame, thinking, it’s true. I’m not smart enough to do this. Everyone sees it.

But because I want to improve my writing more than I want to bubblewrap my ego, and because she was absolutely right, I corrected the mistakes she pointed out (there are many more, I know) and gave a silent prayer gratitude for her suggestions, and for my own surprising ability to not be a jerk about it.

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So yes, I love writing here.

Then what’s the problem? Why am I so worried that I’m taking up this tiny bit of space that should be given to someone else?

Sandra Cisneros gave this piece of advice: “Do not write about what you remember. Write about what you wish you could forget.”

It is Christmas afternoon and my mother is yelling at me that the gifts I made for her and my father were an embarrassment. I had not taken the time I should have, she stands over me and yells, to make sure they were done well. She tells me that I am selfish, thinking I could give him that awful ashtray with “Daddy” painted in red over blue paint that had not yet dried. The paint smeared and looked muddy.

Slapdash.

Mama is furious because, even though I am in third grade, I should know what is high quality work and what is not. That plywood I had been so happy to find under the house, on which I painted a picture of a fish and a ferris wheel for her, was still rough, she yells. It should have been sanded, goddamnit. I should be ashamed, she says, before slamming her bedroom door.

And I am, because she is an artist, and my mother, so she knows.

I never told anyone this story because it always seemed both too sad and also not sad enough to make for interesting conversation, but eventually, I shared it for the first time with a therapist. I couldn’t understand why this quick scene wrecked me when I thought of it.

“That’s must have hurt when your mother said those things,” she said.

“Yeah, but she had a point,” I smiled and shrugged.

“What do you mean?”

“I could have done better.”

“You were in third grade and these were gifts you had made. For her. Who cares if you could have done better?”

“I know, but I knew the paint was wet,” I reason. “And I should have sanded the edges of that painting. She was right.” My therapist looked at me a long time, the way they do. My mother’s words, like a splinter, were in too deep.

Then decades pass. I have not seen my mother in many years. When she is hospitalized, I go to clean out her apartment, where I find stacks of her sculptures, and an outside storage unit filled to the ceiling with even more.IMG_6571 (1)

Taped to many of the pieces are notes describing how they could be improved. Some read like passionate letters of apology, full of frustration and plans of how to make it right next time.

She was in love.

She was in love with the process of creating but her work,  precious in her own eyes, was never, ever good enough for the eyes of others. So she packed all those sculptures away until she died.

The healing of shame is a lifelong process, and the shitty part of it is that the only way I’ve found to heal shame is to let myself feel it.

To write the sentences that begin with I.

When the time came to post on this blog last week and what I had to say seemed half-baked, I picked at that scab a little bit.

Amateur.

Uneducated.

Bored housewife.

This week I wrote what you are looking at right now. I could (part of me thinks that I should) just put it in a box labelled “Proofread. Needs work.” I could leave it to the real writers, wait until my boys are grown, until I get an M.A. (or even a B.A.), or some other permission slip from the People On Top. Until I learn, once and for all, the difference between it’s and its.

Instead, I’m giving it away.

Fuck it.

Because that’s what a personal blog is all about.

Oh, heads up, the edges are a little rough.