Sick Burn at the Bus Stop

Last Monday morning, a 6-year-old girl roasted me at the bus stop.

It was 8:15 a.m and I repeat, ON A MONDAY. My kids and I crossed the street from our house and waited at the end of our neighbor’s driveway for her crew to meet us for the trip to the corner. My neighbor came out with 3 little girls, my attacker (let’s call her Elizabeth) included. I smiled and said “Hey guys!” as they joined us on the street.

Elizabeth isn’t from the neighborhood. My neighbor babysits her little sister (whom we’ll call Elizabeth’s sister) and every now and then she comes along for the walk. This made her sick burn even more ruthless, a scud missile to the heart.

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Elizabeth’s outfit stood out to me on this crisp, autumn morning. I’m not one to judge a kid’s clothes because, let’s be honest, reasoning with a 6-year-old about their outfit is as useful as a feather fork, but I was kind of digging her look. She had on a royal blue shirt, a pair of navy retro style gym shorts (you know the ones, with the white piping), a pair of white tube socks pulled up to just below her knee and sneakers. I thought, “You go girl! It’s not 100% working but you’re rocking it and I like that about you.” I was happy for her, and convinced she was a free-thinker, I gave her a mental high-five. On we walked.

The bus stop crowd made our normal early a.m. small talk. The bus came, we blew kisses to the older kids as they rode away and we turned to walk back to our homes. It was me, my son (also 6), my neighbor, Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s sister. I looked down to my right to see Elizabeth smiling up at me, a face like a jack-o-lantern with 3 or 4 teeth missing. So cute. “Hey you!” I said. She made direct eye contact with me, grinned sweetly and then…she daggered me.

“You have a sleepy face, ” she said. I’D BEEN UP FOR 2 HOURS. I politely laughed, in my head thinking “SHOTS FIRED! WE HAVE SHOTS FIRED!”

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It’s gonna be like that, Elizabeth?

What I would’ve said if it was one of MY kids was something along the lines of, “UUUHH, YA THINK? Well, maybe if you weren’t wedged up my buttcrack last night and if your sister hadn’t decided to hold a U.N. Sleep Summit in her underwear at 2:30 a.m., lecturing me on how UNJUST it is that you get to sleep between Daddy and I and how her brother gets WHATEVER he wants, YEA, maybe I’d have more of a Brooke Shields Blue Lagoon thing going on right now.”

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You. YOU DID THIS TO ME!!!!

Of course, I couldn’t say THAT. She was someone else’s baby. What I WANTED to say to her was, “Listen, kid-dressed-up-like-a-Harlem-Globetrotter-from-1982, it’s Monday morning. I MAY or MAY NOT HAVE had way too much wine to drink on Saturday and I MAY or MAY NOT still be hung over. You want to ask questions? Halloween’s not for another 2 weeks, so how come you’re dressed like a hipster on her way to a kickball game in a Williamsburg park? Does Tootie from The Facts of Life know you stole her gym clothes? How about you lay off the judgement and stick to eating your own boogers? OKAY, PAW PATROL?!”

Of course, I couldn’t say THAT either. I probably had Cheez-it crumbs in my hair and (most likely) no bra on and in my fragile state, I was NOT taking a chance on her launching another bomb at me. So I just mustered up the 1/2 ounce of dignity I had left, giggled and looked down at her cute, toothless face and said, “Yea, that’s just my normal face.” She just kept smiling and globe trotted her way down the street.

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Take a bow, kid.

It’s fine. Elizabeth’s right. I’m exhausted. In her defense, I’m sure I looked like a Nick Nolte mugshot. Sleeping soundly is a thing of the past. It’s an occupational hazard of motherhood. It’s like musical beds in our house every night. We give in to our kids’ nocturnal demands because, at this point, we just want everyone to sleep. Still, no woman nearing 40 likes to be told she looks tired, even if it’s from a toothless kid in Danny Zuko’s track outfit from Grease.

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I look great and I feel amazing.

When my daughter was born in 2007, I remember boasting to one of the men I worked with, a father to two teenage girls at the time, that there was NO WAY MY KID would EVER sleep in our bed. He’s a lovable, no BS Italian guy from Brooklyn. He looked at me and said, “What the f&ck is the matter with you? Don’t you know that kid’s not going to give a crap about you in about 15 years? LET HER SLEEP IN YOUR BED IF SHE WANTS.”

As new moms, we think we’ll stick to all of the pre-conceived parenting plans we made BEFORE SHIT GOT REAL. No red dye 40. ORGANIC EVERYTHING. No high fructose corn syrup. And 10 minutes later we’re like:

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“WHO NEEDS MORE HAWAIIAN PUNCH?”

I guess it’s hard to admit we want to give up on some of the things we swore by once the rubber really hits the road. But this is one new mom promise I’m going back on. I’ll play along in a round of midnight musical beds or scooch over to make room for a beautiful little monster if I need to. So what if it means a crappy night’s sleep? A kid’s size 11 foot up my butt at 2:30 a.m. will just be a sweet memory someday, even though now it makes me look like a swamp creature at the bus stop.

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The Mother Octopus & Me

When I was 12, I wanted to be a marine biologist. I had Jacques Cousteau quotes on my bedroom wall next to my New Kids on the Block posters. I didn’t know who I wanted to marry more – Jon Knight (yea, I was a Jon girl, there were probably 4 of us on earth) or Jacques. There wasn’t any real explanation for my love of the ocean. We lived near Lake Ontario in Northern New York, 30 miles from Canada. There were snow banks, not sand dunes. My best guess is that it had to do with the time my mother took my brother and I to the Museum of Natural History when I was 5 and I was captivated by the hanging blue whale in the Hall of Ocean Life.

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Me and my brother, J.P. when I was 4.

A few years after our trip to Manhattan when I saw the whale, my brother and I watched the Robin Williams – Shelley Duval version of POPEYE on HBO. The octopus scene became my new obsession. Yes it was yellow with giant menacing eyes, but I was immediately fascinated. My Jacques Cousteau love affair started soon after.

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The heart wants what it wants, you guys.

I graduated from high school and moved to South Carolina where I began the Marine Biology program at Coastal Carolina University, however, one semester in I knew science wasn’t going to be my thing. You’ll learn later why, but I’d begun writing in high school. That was my second love and that would be my GO TO. The beginning of my sophomore year, I transferred to a school in Northern NY and began working on my writing degree.

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Me in college.

Fast forward 20 years. I’m a mother of two with an ex-career in magazine publishing and I wish I still wrote and I wish I’d stayed in school to be a marine biologist. This means I make my kids watch all kinds of YouTube videos and documentaries about things relating to the sea. Most of you will think, like the octopus in my logo, that this blog is named The Mother Octopus because every mom is a supreme juggler who needs 8 hands. True, but no.

In the last couple years I began feeling the tug of the octopus again, pinning artwork and dreaming of cephalopod tattoos. And just recently, in my musings, I came across this:

After mating, it’s game over for octopuses. Mating and parenthood are brief affairs for octopuses, who die shortly after. The species practices external fertilization. Multiple males either insert their spermatophores directly into a tubular funnel that the female uses to breathe, or else literally hand her the sperm, which she always accepts with one of her right arm (researchers do not know why). Afterwards, males wander off to die. As for the females, they can lay up to 400,000 eggs, which they obsessively guard and tend to. Prioritizing their motherly duties, females stop eating. But she doesn’t starve to death–rather, when the eggs hatch, the female’s body turns on her. Her body undertakes a cascade of cellular suicide, starting from the optic glands and rippling outward through her tissues and organs until she dies.” – Rachel Nuwer, Smithsonian.com

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A buzzkill, to say the least, and it struck a chord with me.

I am a mother octopus that kept on living. Some of you probably are too, but afraid to say it out loud.

Please don’t get me wrong. I count my blesssings daily, and like any mom, I’d step in front of a bus for my kids. They make me crazy when they’re with me and the second I’m away from them I worry about them. But when I became a mom, something else in me changed. Accepting the sacrifice was no surprise. Yes, I knew it would be hard work. Something just got lost. My identity became so cloudy that I lost who I was before. I certainly never write anymore (because frankly, this shit is super scary) and in the last few years, working alone, making frames in my basement, I started to feel like so many of the things I was before I was a mom were gone.

To me, the saddest thing about the female octopus is that she doesn’t get to mother her babies. I’m starting to realize that in order to really mother mine, I need to crawl out from under the clutter of our lives and reclaim what’s been lost in the last few years I’ve spent clinging to the rock of my basement business. Feeding my babies, being class mom, making scrapbooks and classroom party snacks, trading in a 6 figure salary to cut craft store coupons. In some ways, I’ve never been happier, and in some ways I’m lost in the deep. Trust me, I belong down here, but I need a fresh perspective to be the mom my kids deserve.

This blog is my attempt to come up for air. To poke my head up like a periscope, get a new view, and take a deep cleansing breath before heading back to work. I hope you’ll stick around for my ascent.

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