Grumpy about vanity

I am an incredible slob. I can go days without looking in a mirror. Usually I don’t bother to brush my hair in the morning before taking Jesse to school. If I do make the mistake of catching my reflection later in the day, I’m always mortified. Peeps at school must think I have a permanent case of crazy bed-head. But I admit, my mortification lasts but a few fleeting seconds and has no short- or long-term effect on my behavior. My friend Paula asked me yesterday if there was something new about my hair, because it looked good. I had to think for a second. Yes, I HAD done something new! I actually showered in the morning, which is a rare feat indeed.

I’m a t-shirt-and-jeans (and since it’s cold here, sloppy sweater) kinda girl. I rarely wear anything else. It apparently bothers Jesse. She asked me the other day, “why do you only wear jeans?” I answered, “I don’t just ‘only wear jeans,’ my love, I wear the same jeans every day until they can stand on their own.” Her OCD meter went haywire and the conversation thankfully ended. Next she was going to ask me about makeup, and I haven’t worn any of that since my early 20’s.

When I was a lawyer, dressing was easy. I did it like a guy. I had a handful of monkey suits, a bunch of shells in different colors, and a variety of shoes I kept under my desk to slip into after I walked to work. No collars or frills for me, thank you. I did not accessorize, except with a watch and eventually a wedding ring. I got really good haircuts so I wouldn’t have to do anything with my hair. It took me about 15 minutes to get ready and out the door in the morning, including a shower. Anthony helped make sure I was tucked in and labels weren’t showing. Still, I thought I looked pretty professional, but I’m guessing now that I came off as, um, rugged? Okay. Slovenly. At least I didn’t wear seersucker to the courthouse.

Some time in the last year or two I noticed that the enormous fleshy space between my eyes and my eyebrows — what do you call that, the eyelids? It’s kind of different on my half-Korean eyes, because it’s not folded IN, but I guess it’s still the lids. It makes the eye-shadow-on-folded-in-lids things a whole different ball game, which may be part of the no-makeup explanation for me. Euro-teen-girl mags in the early 80’s didn’t tell me how to do things to my eyes that made sense. I always ended up looking weird and wiping the warpaint off before anyone saw me.

Hold on. I’m reading back up to see what I was actually going to say. Right, so I noticed that my eyelids were looking wrinkly, like more wrinkly than the rest of my face. I peered more closely in the mirror and realized those weren’t wrinkles, they were hairs. GAH! This was too much even for me. Anthony has always asked me not to pluck my neanderthal eyebrows because he likes them, and I was more than happy to grant this wish, but I drew the line at eyelid hair. I now pluck those hairs that show up between my actual eyebrows and my eyelashes. It is brutal and painful. I cannot possibly imagine waxing anything, especially after I pluck those 6 or 7 hairs off each of my eyelids. A Brazilian? Are you f***ing crazy? That sort of depilation is not for me. Fortunately, I’m not really that hairy because of my ethnicity. Except for my eyelids, apparently.

But I admit, I forget about those stray eyelid hairs a lot of the time too. No one mentions them, so who am I to complain? I wonder sometimes why I’m so unmoved by a desire to look good. I mean, I do want to look “good,” but for me that means fit, strong, and plain. What I’m wearing, whether my face and hair are gussied up, I just don’t care enough to keep up any pretense for long.

I’ve decided today that it’s because of an episode I went through in eighth grade. I was very religious back then. I went to church and Sunday school every week; I had my own Bibles and I read them. On my own, like I was sneaking. It’s never a good idea to leave a 13-year-old alone with a religious text, especially a confusing and terrifying one. I used to lie awake at night waiting for the end of the world. Every time a plane flew over, I would tremble in terror because I thought it was some apocalyptic natural event beginning, or the sound of all of the USSR’s nukes floating in on their way to Stockton. Also I thought I was supposed to become a nun, or something akin to a nun since I wasn’t Catholic. That was a very bad stretch in my life. I probably should have mentioned my fears to Mom or Dad, or the pastor.

Anyway, that’s not on point here. What I’m thinking about is a stretch of time when I was addressing myself to the Ten Commandments. I read them, I considered them, I tried to live by them. But I mixed one commandment up. My mind abridged “thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain.” I remembered it instead as “thou shalt not be vain.”

Asking a 13-year-old pubescent girl not to be vain is like asking the sun not to rise in the morning. And I took an extreme view. I thought that if I looked in the mirror to check that my clothing was on correctly, I was being vain. If I worried over my hair or did anything to fix it up, I was being vain. Jewelry? Makeup? Worrying about acne? Vain. Talking about clothes and stuff with friends? Vain. Taking pride in any of my academic or musical accomplishments? Vain. Worrying about eating the right amount so I didn’t get fat? Vain. Vanity, vanity, everything was vanity.

I honestly don’t remember how long this lasted, but it felt like forever as I struggled through the days, trying not to sin. Respecting my parents and not killing someone were EASY commandments. Vanity was impossible to resist. I would desperately avoid looking in the mirror after I dressed myself, steeling my body and soul against the draw of such a sinful act. I took no pride in successful recitals or competitions, good report cards. It was a sin. I wasn’t sure if my natural vanity was hell-worthy, but it was so pervasive I didn’t know what to do.

Finally I bothered to go back to the source, and LO! Angels sang anthems down upon my absurd head as I read the words I had forgotten. Not TAKING THE LORD’S NAME IN vain was something I could manage a whole lot better than not BEING vain. I was so relieved. I stayed up late for at least a week obsessively checking my ass in the mirror, trying on my wardrobe, and diddling with my hair.

I think that episode broke something in me — or spun another way, it freed me. Maybe not so much in my teens, but surely as an adult. And that’s the only legitimate excuse I have for looking like this. Once in a while I pay attention, and then Anthony says things like, “You clean up good.” I guess pretty soon I’ll need to start dressing better just so I don’t embarrass my kids. Until then, it’s a sloppy free-for-all.

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I haven’t been grumpy. Just depressed. Whatever.

For the past few weeks I’ve been sinking into a funk. Superficially I blame Jesse, and also sometimes Nick, but I know it’s really just me. Jesse’s anxiety and PITA syndrome have been in a healthy UP cycle for a good month. It’s a whole lot of emotion management. She lashes out at me a lot, whines a lot, beats up on herself a lot, complains about things from all sides, churns little blips into major issues. It’s all “a lot.” Nick is always A LOT, even when he’s on an even keel (for him). When they’re together with me, they yell over each other constantly to get my attention so I can’t make out anything they’re saying, and even when they’re getting along (which I admit is most of the time) they’re just crazy people. So it only takes a moment for me to reach some serious sensory overload.

I could share anecdotes and stupid stories, but honestly, who cares, because all I’m really saying is this: it’s just the same old boring shit. When I deal with Jesse’s bursts of negativity these days, I feel a combination of bored, bleak, and blank. I’m going through the motions: feed the kids, put on a fake cheerful attitude for other moms, play with the kids (yawn), get my exercise, pick up and drop off the kids here and there, read some news, homework, blah blah blah. What I’m feeling inside is a vague need to escape. I found myself yesterday fantasizing about what my life would be like right now, at 47, if I had never had kids or a partner. Would I be a partner in a law firm instead of a partner to a human? Rich as Roosevelt, socking away bucks for old age, my wardrobe and hair well-attended, a secretary to send my mom flowers on various occasions?

It’s a lame thing to imagine, of course, because it’s just exactly what I rejected, a path that would have been filled with loneliness and long hours and extreme stress. So I think it speaks to a sort of sub-clinical depression. Rationally, I know I’ve been down this road often, most plainly when I began working hard on emotional self-control a few years ago with Jesse. My first order of business when we started taking her to a shrink was to stop losing my shit and screaming at my family. I struggled with it for a few months and felt like I was succeeding, but Anthony eventually confronted me with a big problem. The exorcism was not going as well as I thought. It seemed I had a binary switch: insane rage or sullen bleak depression. This bothered Anthony. I was angry and defensive when he brought it up. It’s all I’ve got, I told him. It’s the best I can do. I’m emptying myself of emotions so I don’t feel anything at all, and that’s how I stop the yelling. I thought that’s what everyone wanted. I don’t have anything positive to fill the chasm my rage usually fills. How come what I’m doing isn’t good enough for you? How come nothing I do is good enough?

When I was done feeling sorry for myself, I took heed of Anthony’s words – spoken in compassion and perhaps fear, not in recrimination — and eventually I was able to work on a more constructive mood, along the lines of calm but not blank, an open space where my mind can think about the problem confronting me, without self judgment, and evaluate whether I can add positive sense or whether I should walk away for a spell. Oftentimes, I can actually find my way there.

But when I get like I’ve been the last few weeks, I’m back at sullen. I don’t know what it is about Jesse that’s so exhausting for the adults around her. I don’t have answers, but I have a lot of fears and I’ve been out of ideas for the next evolution. I also haven’t felt the warmth I need to help her overcome whatever hurdle is lurking in her heart right now, which I’m sure she intuits. I haven’t had a sense of humor about it all, which is essential to survival in my world. I haven’t even felt grumpy, and I’ve had no desire to write and share my vapid thoughts with the 20 or 30 folks who read my dribble. This is really bad.

Stick a fork in my ass and turn me over; I’m done. I’ve been attending my pity party for weeks now and I’m pretty tired of myself. A couple days ago a song came on the radio, and there’s nothing better than a good pop song to break a cycle. “Let’s Be Still,” recorded by The Head and The Heart, brought it on. I listened to that tune and the lyrics, and it broke a dam inside me with an easy sigh and no tears. First it made me laugh, because of course I thought, hey, it’s another mommy song! I’m always asking my kids to be still. But it took me someplace else too. All the hours I spend  trying to own the emotional status of my kids, to spy out the path of their lives, to love them and live with them peacefully and fully — it’s all too much. Living in the moments and small battles, I forget that I have to slow down my racing thoughts and just be still for a moment. Also the song and its band remind me of a lot of music I listened to in a less complicated time in my life, with hints of the Beatles, VU, Mazzy Star and even Tiny Lights. It’s all good, I thought to myself. We’ll make it. It’s not that complicated.

 

Grumpy about a bad night’s sleep

Occasionally I have a night of insomnia. Last night everyone was asleep by 9:00, except me. I lay wide awake in bed while Nick breathed peacefully next to me, his head snuggled up in my armpit. Anthony was snoring with Jesse down the hall. I tried to go to sleep, but it wouldn’t come, and the last time on the clock I remember spying before I finally went to dreamland was 3:55 am. Then Jesse woke me at 6:30. So I floated on two and a half hours of sleep today. I’m feeling a little goofy right now.

It occurred to me this morning that I wasted 7 waking hours during which no one bothered me. I knew what was going on. I could have folded laundry, worked out in the basement, done some sewing, watched a movie or pulled a sitcom marathon off Netflix… I could have written 7 blog posts or started on taxes. Instead, I peed 5 times, played all the fun games I could find on Nick’s iPad, looked up some music videos, and fumed about being awake.

The only arguably interesting music video trail I walked in the middle of the night involved “Say Something,” that song by some 2-guy group that Christina Aguilera did a descant on. I’m not ashamed to admit that I think it’s an awesome pop broken-heart song. When I first heard it on the radio, I thought it was following nicely in the footsteps of Adele, and my heart said it was about a guy leaving a profoundly depressed and addicted girlfriend because she won’t get any help. This probably speaks to my own mindset and not the actual lyrics. Anyway, I like the single voice original more than the one with the descant, and I was curious how two versions came to be. So I googled it and read the wiki entry and lyrics and all that, and then I watched the Aguilera descant video twice, because I was head-scratchy about Aguilera’s performance. Why does she dress like that, and what’s with the over-wrought drama and eye sparkles? She should take a time machine back to the 80’s and spend time training with some Chicago school reality theatre company like Steppenwolf. Do I have that reference right? I’m not sure. I haven’t slept but 2.5 hours in the last 24 hours and my head isn’t straight.

I never really know what makes me sleepless. Maybe I was mesmerized by Sylvester Stallone’s performances in Spy Kids 3, which we watched in the evening. Mmm. Unlikely. Maybe I was hypnotized by the all-star cast of that dumb movie — Salma Hayek, Elijah Wood, Cheech, Alan Cumming, Shalhoub, Buscemi, Paxton, Clooney, on and on. I guess when you’re Robert Rodriguez, you get who you want.

I’m thinking it wasn’t that. I didn’t start spinning on the cast and Mr. Stallone until around 2:30 am or so, after I had already indulged racing thoughts on my usual round table of topics — death, God, the end of the universe, my mom’s post-stroke condition, the link between technology and media and ADHD and sleep disorders, imaginary conversations with annoying people where I get the punch line right, global warming, Crimea, how many years I have left to live under conservative estimates and how old my kids will be, staring at Nick as he sleeps and pondering when he’ll learn to read, mulling over how very much I love Anthony and why, which workouts will I do in the coming week, what will I cook for dinner for the next 6 days, what jackass moves will Jesse pull tomorrow, why is Nick poking my ears with his feet even as he sleeps?

Maybe not even REM cycles and dreams are enough to work out the big kinks when my head gets too full of shit. Maybe those are the times my body decides to stay up all night until I’m in a state of delirium, sifting through the detritus of my addled brain. I have excellent training in sleep deprivation thanks to Jesse’s infancy. I survived today in one piece and I didn’t scream at anyone, so I rate an A+ for the day despite the lack of sleep. And now I’m off to bed. I hope I make a quick trip to dreamland this time.

grumpy about the value of education (but I’m still glad I went to Oberlin)

A facebook buddy recently posted a link to an article (or maybe it’s a toss-off blog?) published in the Business Insider, entitled “20 Prestigious Colleges That Offer an Ugly Return on Your Investment.”  The tag line: “Save your money and get a GED.”  The article basically compares the amount one spends on a BS to the salary one earns in the years beyond, and it identifies the colleges where you just don’t earn enough money money MONEY from your desk job to make the degree worth your while. I know, I know, I’m being simplistic, but whatever. So is the article, and I think I’ve captured the point of it. Anyone who gets a secondary degree beyond the BS is excluded from the analysis; anyone who’s not employed for a wage or salary (self-employed peeps, consultants, business owners) is excluded.

Some of the schools are big, some are small liberal arts colleges.  All are referred to by the article as “the dismal schools on this bad-value list.” I scanned the comments section briefly —

I should never read comments sections. It’s always a mistake, because it’s a naked reminder that the world is full of so many unoriginal, self-righteous, judgmental, inarticulate people. They are just like me, which is a realization that unravels the lifeline I cling to when I think of humanity, a lifeline that tells me the world must contain billions of people who are better, smarter, wiser, and saner than me, because otherwise we are in serious trouble.

I just finished working out and I’m losing my train of thought easily. I was saying something, give me a second. Okay, so the point is, my alma mater is number 1 on the list for bad returns. Way to go, Oberlin College! Exploding fist pumps, chest bumps, and woot-woots all around please. I’m cabbage-patching right now. Right now as I type. Because I never knew that Oberlin is “prestigious.” Whoa!

Anyone who actually studied and graduated from a place like Oberlin can argue (annoyingly and persistently, if you’re a typical Obie) about what’s wrong with this article’s simplistic analysis. It didn’t control for career choice. The one-dimensional focus on money reflects some very sad and shallow values in our culture. The exclusion of some highly lucrative fields that require secondary degrees (lawyers, for instance) also seems like a serious limitation. Yadda yadda on all that – this is a “business” article, not an economist-style broader point of view when it comes to utility and value.

I think the more interesting analysis would compare a student’s own expectations of future income to his or her actual return.  That would be a more meaningful indicator to me of whether a school is coming through for its grads. I’m saddened to think that smart high-schoolers will look at an article like this and be swayed, pulled even further into the stunted view that money alone is what should drive our choices, is what makes an accomplishment like a college degree worthwhile.

On the up side, as I think about my rather narrow circle of Oberlin acquaintances, I can’t help but be proud of who we are, despite the “dismal” school we graduated from. There was quite a bit of liberal-arts-degree-bashing among the comments to the article, but that is seriously lame. My buddies, who got degrees in all sorts of liberal arts topics, are diverse and amazing. Off the top of my head, among the 30 or so people I’ve stayed in touch with I can count one or more of each of these: economist, statistician, professor, doctor, nurse, writer, translator, lawyer, musician, primary education teacher, botanist, biologist, visual artist, tech peep, social advocate, architect, business consultant, TV producer. We’re not plain vanilla. Some of us make a lot of money. All of us probably could make a lot of money if we wanted to. I know I could, because I once did. I was also miserable, constantly pissed off, overworked, and a jerk. My colleagues affectionately called me Snarla, and it was people who seemed to like me who coined that.

Anyway, I find myself coming back again and again to the article’s exclusion of grads who went on to secondary degrees. It seems to me that this is a huge bias, and embedded in it is an anti-education message. I can’t explain why — and today I don’t feel like parsing through the connections in my mind — but it reminds me of two topics my mom used to talk with me about a lot. On the one hand, she would tell me that I needed to be educated, because other than killing me or destroying my brain, no one could ever take that away from me. It would go with me wherever I had to run. As a survivor of the Japanese occupation, World War II, and the Korean War, as a person who fled to the south of Korea from the north as a child, Mom and her family knew all about losing everything. She pressed this point upon me at every opportunity.

At the same time, she would ruminate about the communist revolutions in China and Russia, as well as revolutionary movements during Korea’s history. She would tell me that the real danger in a revolution is that revolutionary leaders will take out the educated, intellectual elite first, and also artists, because those are the most dangerous people – they can’t be brainwashed, they think for themselves, and they speak. I guess I feel like I’m seeing a less violent but more insidious form of that in America now. Our culture looks down on people who obtain advanced degrees, whether those degrees are scientific or leaning toward the philosophical. We’re snobs, elitists, know-it-alls, whose (hypothetically) well-informed opinions have less weight than the empty, angry chatter of a word-slinging ho like Rush Limbaugh. You put a Ph.D. on TV and list her educational credentials, you might as well overdub whatever she says next with “YAAAAAWN.” You put a rich man on TV and say “he’s rich!” — and suddenly he’s worth listening to. It’s sad.

I don’t want my kids to abandon a commitment to education for a commitment to money. I will always prefer a brained elite to a moneyed elite.

Grumpy about death

A dear old friend of mine lost his father last night. They were tight – my friend had relocated to be closer to his dad in the end of days – and he was able to be with his dad at the very end, so it’s going to be a hard grieve for him. But maybe it’s just as hard for those of us who weren’t as close to our parents, or who couldn’t be there for the last moments. I don’t know which is worse, the ache of guilt and abandonment or the ache of simple loss and absence.

If we’re lucky, we’ll all lose our parents instead of the other way around; and then if we’re lucky again in the next iteration, we’ll ache for our progeny as they lose us to death, which has to be better than watching our own children die. But it’s a bitter pill either way, and nothing for it but to wind our way to a graceful ending, if possible.

Thanks to my Jesse, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time pondering death for a good 5 years now. It’s annoying and enriching.

A lovely neighborhood dog died when Jesse was three years old. Jesse loved Max, a large reddish-brown mutt with a long muzzle and a lot of fur. Max was a big teddy bear, gentle and mildly playful, a perfect dog for a child with severe anxiety. When he died, his human came by in tears to let us know. Jesse saw him crying and wanted to know why, and this was when Jesse became mildly obsessed with death for the first time. I was amazed that such a small child could suffer so for the loss of a doggy friend, though Max and Jesse did have a special bond. She had trouble pushing her head through his complete, forever gone-ness. “He’s GONE??” she would weep, day after day. Eventually she came to realize she would die, and also me and Anthony.

Jesse really, really doesn’t want to die. She’s not impressed by the idea of heaven. She lives in the moment and she wants to stay right where she belongs, here on Mother Earth.

I do my best to move Jesse’s mind off death at every opportunity, without hiding from it. We talk about spirituality, about life and love, memories and genes. I say what I think most of us would say to a child, little niceties. Things like, you don’t walk this path alone, Jesse, we’re all on the journey together. And also things like, let’s not lose sight of the life we’ve been blessed with here and now, just because we’re wasting our energy on fear of what lies ahead — in shadows or sunlight, depending on your mood, right? I figure someday she’ll find her own way to pondering the vast and bitter suffering of the human condition, and I don’t intend to lead her there on purpose.

One day Jesse made the enormous generalizing leap to a grim and strange reality: everyone will die. Everyone. Every thing. Every plant and creature, the planets, everything. I was there when the lightbulb turned on, and so I got to observe my child lose yet another piece in the puzzle of her innocence. She was overwhelmed. “Wait. Everything will die?? EVERYTHING?? All the people? Everyone I know is going to DIE???” It was an apocalyptic realization, which I couldn’t find a way to sugar coat. Yup, I admitted. The gig is eventually up for all of us. Jesse was overwhelmed with anticipatory grief and shock. The only solace I could give her – and it did make a difference – was that we wouldn’t all die AT THE SAME TIME. Apparently, this was a great relief.

And indeed, as I walk the strange journey I’m on as Intense Jesse’s mom, I’ve come to accept that it is a relief, albeit a small one. There’s a time and place for each of us, whether we perceive it as part of a plan or an arbitrary thing. Except for really bad times – disasters, epidemics, war – most peeps experience death in small doses, small enough to muddle through, mostly in one piece, even though in the moment of loss it feels unspeakably difficult. We scar over, we have moments of forgetting and remembering. Now and then at my age, a friend loses a parent; eventually, not so long from now, we’ll start losing each other. With each stroke of the death clock, I imagine we’ll relive our other losses, give thanks for what remains, and move on. The next generation demands it of us; our own parents, even as they leave us, demand it of us. Life, bitter and joyful, beckons.

Grumpy about the music recital

Yeah, fun times at the elementary school music recital today. It’s sweet and all, but really, the quality of the show was, well… I’m not sure there’s a polite way to say it.

Bad. It was bad. These kids can’t sing.

But whatever. Still cute. Except for second grade. They came streaming onto the stage and right in the middle of the front row was some crazy girl fiddling with her crotch. I don’t know exactly what was going on, but it was clear the fly was down on her skinny jeans. After spending some time doubled over doing something, she finally gave up and got the music teacher Mrs. Scharnick’s attention, and they worked this thing out.

The performance started in earnest, out of tune, stilted, cute, and I couldn’t help but notice that this crazy-ass girl in the front row was still acting up. I was really distracted by her. Now she was leaning sideways so she could see past Mrs. Scharnick’s body and eye the audience, and then she started gesturing. I finally figured out that she was miming someone taking pictures with a camera. She was really persistent about it. I guess she wanted someone in the audience to take her photo. I thought, wow, that girl’s either weirdly delusional or really ill-mannered.

So then that settled down and I was able to focus on the, uh, delightful performance unfolding before my eyes. It really was sweet. They were singing songs about the sea and fish and stuff like that. Then a handful of second-graders got confused about when to stand up and sit down, and sure enough, the little girl in front stood up alone at a random moment, looked around, saw her mistake, and shot back down with her face buried in her hands, crying. Jeez. Right up front making a small scene. That went on for a couple minutes until Mrs. Scharnick bent over and said something, and then the girl settled down for the rest of the recital.

There’s no punch line here. You already know that was my Jesse. When the show was over I found her as the kids marched out. Parents aren’t supposed to talk with their kids as they head back to class, but Jesse and I get all kinds of dispensations. She saw me and came running over. I dropped to my knees and held her as she buried her head on my shoulder and cried. I said uninspired sweet nothings and, when she seemed calm enough, sent her on her way. She bucked up and wandered off. What else could I do?

When I picked Jesse up after school, she told me she was really embarrassed about standing up at the wrong time. I told her a lot of other kids made the same mistake and that I didn’t think it was embarrassing at all, just cute and silly, and the other kids didn’t seem to be embarrassed. To which Jesse responded without rancor, “I know that, mommy, but I felt embarrassed.”

Fair enough. This simple self-awareness is one of Jesse’s finest qualities. She never seems to hide from the truth of herself. She’s acutely aware that she acts and reacts differently than most other kids in certain important ways, that she’s more anxious than most people, but she won’t let me or anyone else swap in the majority’s superficial social cues for her own natural feelings. She’s working hard on adjusting, coping, changing her emotional and behavioral patterns; but I don’t think she’ll ever be able to wear a veil. I’m confident that this quality is perceived by many educators and grown-ups as a developmental abnormality, a challenge to be overcome, but I don’t accept that. I think her honesty is a beautiful, spectacular thing. It’s making her journey harder now, because children are expected to fit into a very limited set of molds. But I’m optimistic that somewhere down the road, in maybe 30 or 40 years, it’ll serve her well.

Until then, add a note to my parenting guidebook: elastic-waist pants for all future performances.

Grumpy about bowling

We took the kids bowling for the first time this afternoon. It went about as expected. After a couple frames, Jesse became really, really frustrated and really, really whiny and loud about it. Tears, dramatic postures, foot stamping, slumped shoulders, head drooped passionately on folded arm with chorus of muffled sobs, angry snapping, and so on. (That was Jesse this time, not me.) While Anthony was able to keep faking an upbeat mood, I pouted and sulked on the seats between my frames, muttering mature and useful things to myself like “jackass” and “I should be home doing laundry” and “way to ruin something else, Jesse.”

Meanwhile, Nick continues to fill an important niche as my third butt cheek. Whenever it was my turn, he followed me closely out on the lane and had to be ushered back so I could actually bowl without hurting him. The alley provided a ramp thingy for him to put his ball on to make it go, so that was kind of novel for a few minutes, but after about 4 frames he lost all interest and was bored and ready to leave.

The only reason we went bowling was because Jesse wanted to, and then she threw a hissy fit the whole time. I was livid. Anthony captured our departing mood perfectly, remarking as we walked to the car, “well, add this to the list of activities we can never enjoy together as a family.”

I was in a real funk. I sulked all the way home, pondering how hard it is to do anything with Jesse because of her moodiness and self-loathing and emotional outbursts and blah blah blah. Though at least she didn’t pull her pants down to bare-ass the other bowlers, and she didn’t try to lick the balls or the bottoms of her bowling shoes, which is a decided improvement over her behavior a couple years ago…

I was ready to be depressed all afternoon, but then I talked with a friend whose daughter is being bullied badly at school (physically and emotionally) and school staff haven’t been responsive, and also her father’s having a quadruple bypass. Real problems.

It put the bowling trip in a proper perspective. Jesse apologized sincerely to all of us eventually, and then sat snuggling in my lap doing her big-eyed thing. She wants to go bowling again. “Let me try again, mommy.” Why? I asked irritably. You didn’t even have any fun. “So that I can fix what I did wrong. So that I can make it right. Give me another chance, please?”

I wish there were some way to capture in words how heartbreaking it is to hear my little struggling child speak with such an earnest desire to change herself.

Damn. Looks like I’m probably going bowling again soon.