Lorelei's Birthday Non-Letter

Tomorrow Lorelei turns six. For the past almost-nine years, I have spent the night before a child-of-mine's birthday writing her a blog-letter about why she is so cherished. But as they've grown, I have found myself increasingly self-editing. Shouldn't they grow as individual selves, privately and on their own terms? I have journals for both girls, which ought to stick around longer than my blog, and I write to them. That is where this year's birthday letter for Lorelei will go.

So, what am I writing about here?

Having been there at Lorelei's beginning, gestating, birthing, nursing, chasing, trying not to throttle her, the eve of this child's birthday is an expected retrospective. Aw, look how far we've come! Oh, how I love her. My dear Lorelei.

And. Well, as you consider this person for whom you are responsible, yet can never entirely know, it's hard not to start measuring your own mommying of her, mentally pouring into that Pyrex measuring cup and seeing all your efforts, victories, patience, and good calls come up . . . short. Let's pilfer a tablespoon of yelling here, a teaspoon of pointless screen time here (Mommy had a deadline!). Maybe if I jiggle the cup a little, the contents will settle across the imaginary mark. No? No.

Like probably millions of moms of grade-school little ones, I'm swinging on a pendulum between:

To the left: Self-chastisement for my weakness in being stressed and overwhelmed. After all, it's not like I'm a single mom doing it all, or sick, or wondering how we'll pay the mortgage, or without health insurance and worrying about the possibility of my kid getting sick. Oh, waaaaah. I'm cranky because of traffic as I drive my reliable car to my good job from my safe neighborhood where my healthy and beautiful children got onto the safely driven bus with precious friends on their way to a great school. Boo-flipping-hoo. Shut up and get on with it.

Swinging to right: Whhhhhhhyy is this all so hard to manage and why do I keep screwing up every damn thing? Am I the only mother who returns the pumpkin patch field trip permission slip UNSIGNED? Have we EVER been to Sunday School on time? How many effing items do the teachers REALLY need signed on a nightly basis? This homework assignment is bullshit. We are so overscheduled. This is not working this is not working this is not working.

And somewhere in the middle: I just need to work harder. Plan better. Parent the kids differently. Get Chris to see it MY way.

My line of work has exposed me to enough cognitive theory and neuroscience to know that I'm not losing my mind. I'm distracted. My attention is on multiple things at once, all the time. All. The. Time.

At any given point during the evening routine I can have three people talking to me at once. Meanwhile I have my eye on the dog to make sure she's not about to pee in the family room while writing the check for the pumpkin patch field trip. Husband gets annoyed that the girls have verbally overpowered him. Girls get pissy and blame each other for interrupting. Dog literally pisses.

The next day, the teacher sends home the permission slip with a giant sticky note, asking me to actually sign the damn thing. How could I miss that? I wonder.

Today was Columbus Day, a bogus holiday but a day "off" for me. After an incredibly packed weekend, I planned to get my household in order and then read and write the afternoon away until the bus came. I would not check work email. I would not!

Well, Lorelei had her 6-year well-child visit in the morning. As I pulled into the parking lot, I realized I had not, for the first time ever, completed one of the online screenings for her. I freaked out, begged forgiveness at the front desk, and was handed a tablet to quickly complete during Lorelei's eye screen. It was a mercifully short mental health screen. Boom, done.

Taking her back to school, I realized that today coincided with open house, so there was nowhere I could park the massive Ford-150 I was driving. Nowhere. I finally left school grounds, parked at the dentist, and ran with Lorelei into the school just in time for her to join her class on their way to lunch.

Now, I technically could have been an engaged, active parent and popped in on Charlotte's class--there were about 30 minutes left of open house, I think. But I had no idea where she was (third-graders rotate classrooms) or whether she was at lunch or recess or what. Besides, I was parked at the dentist. In a noticeably large truck. I left.

I raced home and prepped the girls' rooms for a furniture delivery--after many years, we're trading in ye olde box springs and mattresses for real wooden beds. What luck that they could deliver on my day off, right?

Also: Do you know what carpet looks like that hasn't seen the light of day in over six years? Yeah. But my vacuum survived.

I raced around, getting caught up on laundry (busy weekend, remember, so I was behind) and mentally planning clothes I'll need for another business trip later this week.

Then: Ding-dong! When the delivery folk arrived, I was politely asked how I was doing, ma'am. "Busy!" I said breathlessly.

The delivery guy actually laughed, disbelief written all over his face. "Really?"

In a flash I saw myself as he probably did: A silly woman in a pretty house fussing, inefficiently,  about silly housewifely things.

I let him in anyway.

I wrapped Lorelei's gifts while they delivery guys were here and had about an hour until the girls came home. Laundry! Naturally, with new beds I had to wash all the bed linens (silly housewifely things!). I literally ran from point to point: putting away, moving, wiping, noting, tossing.

I made it to the bus stop before the bus came (my one point scored today). Charlotte happily announced what she bought at the book fair. (See, I'm so on the ball that I remembered to send her with money!). At which point her sister burst into tears and glared at me. "I couldn't get my book fair money because you made me LATE!"

I believed her, that her doctor's appointment threw off her place in the classroom routine enough that she was outta luck for the book fair. "Uh, we'll go during extended hours?" I said uncertainly. I'm heading out of town. I had no clue whether Chris could take the girls to the book fair.

When I got home, I had an email from Lorelei's teacher. Confusion. An envelope without a name. Could it be hers?

Yes, I replied, cursing myself. Why wouldn't I have put Lorelei's name on an envelope of cash? Sorry, sorry, I said. This teacher has 26 kindergarteners. She really doesn't need inept mothers sending blank envelopes of cash, especially those who are so smugly proud that they actually remembered to send money for the book fair.

Okay, no problem. Teacher was awesome, more forgiving than she should be. Also, the birthday treat for Lorelei tomorrow. Will I be there? They'll do it at three.

This was the point the tears won. No. No, I will not. Tomorrow is my last day in the office before my trip. I try to figure out a reply to Lorelei's teacher that doesn't essentially say, "I'm too busy and important to deign to attend my kindergartener's happy birthday song and special snack time." I type something out, hating this latest in a million choices that I have to make as a working mom.

Later, Charlotte laid into me for missing parent open house. "Your sister had a doctor's appointment!" I said. Then: "I'm sorry. Were you expecting me to be there?"

She shrugged. "No, not really." Not said meanly. But honestly, which was worse.

She packed up for her violin lesson. Chris, approaching with the mail, asked, "So, did you have a nice day off?" and I pretty much ran him off the driveway as I backed out the truck.

We drove to violin. The truck (you need a truck on the roads we take for this lesson) was silent so Charlotte could multi-task and travel to her lesson while simultaneously doing her reading for school. We live on an agricultural reserve, so nature is a mere minute outside our neighborhood, but her teacher lives far more rurally. We passed pasture and horses, but I didn't see it. I was so frustrated I could cry, and I did a little. I cannot keep this up, I thought. I cannot!

This was about the billionth time I'd had this thought since school started. And I know better! I know everything there is to know! Right?! The profession I work for promotes the importance of PLAY and leisure for kids, and we know--we KNOW--how important it is! The science is there! Charlotte is not getting enough leisure. I'm sure of it, so I stress about the schedule SO MUCH. Each homework assignment or schedule malfunction (dinner ready too late, the kid before her at violin running late, traffic) threatens my bright, sparkly girl's sparkle. I'm too embarrassed to list all her activities, because it's obscene. But she can't let any of them go. (Let the record show I've been against gymnastics since day 1. But damn, Charlotte does a beautiful cartwheel.)

Meanwhile, Chris and I've spent 5 weeks deconstructing the writings of Scottish mystic and minister, George MacDonald (shut up, we're super cool people). And before that, for shits and giggles, Dan Harris's writings (audiobook on the way down to North Carolina--highly recommend). In other words, I know better: Angst about the past, worry about the future---lady, calm the eff down and do the most right thing in this very moment, which is .  . . well, it appears to be taking Charlotte to her violin lesson.

Me, against the voice in my head: Yeah, I bet K--- showed up late for his lesson, so we'll get home late, which makes dinner late. And Charlotte has an early morning with Girls on the Run tomorrow.

Voice in head that knows better: Yeah. But right now, slow down the truck . All you can do at this moment is drive Charlotte to violin. And not crash.

Me: Being "present" doesn't mean the shit that you didn't get to goes away, you know.

Voice in head that knows better: I know. But you can't control it, you anxiety-ridden, shrill, controlling ball of wackadoodle nerves.

Me: That was harsh.

Voice in head knows better: A little.


Charlotte: Wow. Mommy! Look at the sunset! The clouds look pretend. Like you can . . . oh! look at the that one! And a baby cow!"

Folks, a couple weeks I read a book on "mindful parenting," so I--me!--could teach my children to be more mindful, less stressed. Yes, I'm aware of the irony. It's why I'm letting you in on it, dear readers.

My daughter looked up from her homework to notice the sunset.

Voice in head that knows better: See?

Me: I guess.

Voice in head that knows better: You're still worried about everything else, all those balls you're keeping up in the air, aren't you? The details of the girls, the dog's ear infection, the SCHEDULE, your career, the continued backburning of that manuscript. Right?

Me: You're in my head. So, yes. OBVIOUSLY.

Voice in the head that knows better: Is worrying going to help? Your kid is talking to you NOW.

Me: So, Charlotte. How many shades of pink do you see in that cloud?


I wish I could've ended the post there. And I almost did. But the shit I didn't get to today IS still there. I'm just not evolved enough to end my day with pink clouds. No, I'm hyper aware of how much I have to get done this week. How many details have to be remembered. I tried to clarify something with Chris and it's more muddled than before.

I'm not in the mood for tidy answers. Life is not tidy, and my words don't have to be either. I don't know what to do--what activity to kill when Charlotte treasures each one, how much of a team player to be when it comes to another looming trip, whether Emma's ear meds are working, the chances that Lorelei (me) will remember to take her allergy-safe class treat to school tomorrow.

Oh. Look. It's midnight. It's October 9th, Lorelei's birthday. Happy birthday, my dear girl.

I'm doing the best I can.


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