I had an old blog years ago, and there was one particular day, when Zizi was 5 years old, in January of 2006, when I had absolutely the quintessential BAD DAY in Motherhood. Seriously. Now I can look back and laugh about it, but I am so, so glad that I took the hours the next day and wrote it all down, because nobody would ever believe me, otherwise, that this really happened. But it did. To me.
This morning, as I logged on to see what new and funny things were happening in George Takei’s internet… I noticed that there was a request for family stories for Unique’s next magazine issue. So I dug out this story, dusted it off, and I’m sure they’ll be editing the hell out of it, given my potty mouth writing style. But I thought I’d post it here. I always meant to include it in this blog, just never got the moment when I could fix it up and put an update onto it. Enjoy!
All About Soul
(Originally written as a post in my personal blog in January, 2006. Updated in May 2013 )
By Liz Whalen Tarditi
It’s all about soul
It’s all about joy that comes out of sorrow
It’s all about soul
Who’s standing now and who’s standing tomorrow
You’ve got to be hard
Hard as the rock in that old rock ‘n’ roll song
But that’s only part, you know in your heart
It’s all about soul
~ Billy Joel
Last night, I lost it. I broke. Between 7 and 8 pm, I sat on the basement floor, by the door to the laundry room, crying my heart out and asking God, the Blessed Mother and my guardian angels: Why? Why? Why? I had been pushed to my limit, and then past my limit. I just couldn’t take any more.
It had been a bad, bad 3 hours.
The day started out pouring heavy rain, but by lunch time the clouds rolled back, and the sun had broken through, and it was like spring. Everything smelled earthy and fresh. The house was all nice and clean, for once, and I was pretty proud (and slightly in dazed awe) of that fact. I love Fridays. I had run to the grocery store for a few things, gotten a new flavor of ice cream as a surprise for Zizi, and found that the big sea scallops were on special. I was all happy, with visions of pan-searing them and putting them over pasta in a vodka-lemon cream sauce, for a nice dinner for myself after she went down for the night.
And, I have to admit, there was a spring in my step. The snow some had predicted never came. My period’s finally almost done. This week, I had a lot of work that I did for Zizi. I was in SuperMom mode, every single day. But I also made time for myself: dinner one night with an old friend; I have my pink sweater outfit all set for Sunday’s party; and I even managed to squeeze a trip up to the mall in, and replaced all my makeup that the kid destroyed last week when she painted the dog. I tried to see the silver lining to the disaster: ok, so I lost 2 full bottles of foundation, eye shadows, lipstick, and my 2 best Mac brushes (that hurt the most, they cost a bloody fortune). The silver lining was that the new spring colors are in, with lots of really pretty pinks. I didn’t really want to drop $225 on cosmetics, but it’s not like I can take the money out of a 5-year-old’s piggy bank. I justified the expense in that the new makeup will last me until summer.
So, like I said, I was happy. I’ve been waiting all week for the weekend to finally arrive, and it was finally here! Hooray! And then Zizi got off the bus.
And she said she wanted to play in the backyard. Great! Take advantage of the nice afternoon, and I could finish up the housework before dinner time. I had the back door open, and I could hear her laughing and playing, with the dog, and I’d peek out the windows as I went from room to room, putting stuff away.
She wasn’t out there 10 minutes, when I looked out the window of my bedroom and saw that she had taken off her clothes (no coat, no pants, no sweater, no socks, no shoes) and was on the sliding board, sliding right into an enormous mud puddle at the bottom. I hadn’t seen the mud puddle from the back door, but seeing from the second floor… oh crap, it was like a grave. Or an elephant wallow. Soaking wet and covered in sticky brown mud from head to toe, my child was having the greatest time in her life. In nothing but a t-shirt and cotton panties. Oh, shit!
I ran. Completely aware with every gasping heartbeat that my child had probably already caught quadruple pneumonia, hypothermia, and some disease they didn’t even have a name for yet combined, while my neighbors were all speed-dialing each other and Child Protective Services over the white trash single mother letting her child run naked, unsupervised, for all the child molesters in the world to see, in January, frolicking in the mud puddle. Oh shit, oh shit oh shit oh shit.
So I got out there, and “convinced” Zizi, who was perfectly happy the way she was, to come inside with me to get a nice warm bubble bath. On the way in, I discover the pile of clothes and shoes by the back door. Soaking wet. With pee.
Sigh. I didn’t know if it had been by accident or on purpose, so there was no point in issuing a punishment – she needed the bath, and by the time that was over, she wouldn’t understand why I was upset about the clothes anymore, anyway.
Oh, damn. Her brand new, less-than-2-week-old sneakers were stinking and soaked as well. I replaced the last pair of sneakers for the same reason – too many “accidents” running down her legs, befouling the shoes. Can I put Nikes in the washing machine? If they had been covered with mud, it wouldn’t have been as bad as this – they may be completely ruined. So I brought her up, thinking this was a new record for the house: the house had been cleaned less than 2 hours ago, and here I was putting a mud-covered child in what had been the pristine bathtub, slopping up the nice clean bathroom, and pretty much canceling out any possibility of sneaking in a relaxing bath myself after she went to bed for the night.
But she was happy to take the bath, and it warmed her up well, and then I dressed her in nice soft clean sweat pants and long-sleeved t-shirt. She told me she was sleepy, and wanted to get into her bed for a nap.
OMG Awesome! A quiet hour so I can go clean up the bathroom, wipe the muddy ring from around the tub, go wash the pee-soaked clothes, and then get back to the housework I dropped 45 minutes ago? A gift from the gods! So, as per Zizi’s request, I laid down next to her in her bed, and rubbed her back, and sang softly to her while she curled up and snuggled her Blankie, and sucked her thumb. After about 10 minutes, she didn’t want me to leave, but I got her to let me go, and stay in the bed.
For all of 5 minutes.
Then she was up and running. And wanted to watch TV, and have a snack. Yeah, the nap was too much to hope for. I’d already known that was truly a miracle if it happened. So I put on her favorite PBS Kids show, got her cookies and milk, and settled her in downstairs in front of the TV. She was warm and clean, and I’d attended to her every desire, so she looked content. She said she was happy.
I went upstairs to try to clean up the bathroom, again, muttering that cleaning it twice in one day never makes it twice as clean. And then I hear her shouting at someone. Sounds like she’s shouting outside, saying “Hello! Hello! I’m Zizi!” to a neighbor. It hadn’t been 10 minutes. WTF? Is she outside? I know I didn’t leave the back door open, I bolted it at the top where she can’t reach. I was on my knees in the other bathroom, cleaning the tub, so I called to her, and asked what she was doing. She yelled back, from what sounded like her bedroom, “Nothing.”
Yeah, right. Mama don’t play that game.
I went looking for her. Searched the whole house, including checking that supposedly bolted door, finally going all the way back upstairs to the bedrooms. She wasn’t in her own room – she was in mine. In my bathroom. She was standing on the toilet seat, had rolled the second-story window wide open, and was shouting out to the neighbors and throwing the contents of my medicine cabinet, my vanity, and all my toiletries out of the window to smash on the cement patio, walkway, and grass below.
“Zizi!” I grabbed her away from the window, absolutely horrified and aghast. She smiled up right in my face, like, “Ha, what are you going to do about it?”
Let me make this clear: the child absolutely knew she was being bad. She has the run of the house, but my room is not a place for her to play. After turning Maggie-dog into a greasy 85-pound makeup brush the previous week, Zizi received a stern lecture, a “time out” and the RULE that she was never to go into my bathroom. This was just mean. Taking pleasure in defiance and destruction.
The piddled-on clothes might have been an accident; this was not. I was furious. Opening that window was absolutely unacceptable. Dear, sweet Lord, if she’d climbed out she would have been killed. I was shaking as it hit me in waves what might have happened to her. She left the cookies and milk for the dog to eat downstairs, had snuck past me, and gone looking for trouble. She knew this was bad, and she did it anyway. I could see it all over her face. I pulled her into her room, yelling about breaking the rule and being a bad girl – and she laughed at me. Laughed right in my face. I told her she was going to “get a spank!” and she laughed about that, right in my face.
Anyone who disagrees with what I’m about to say next, too damn bad. She had to know that if she ever touched that window again, the consequences would be swift and severe, and no laughing matter. I love my child. I would die for my child. I am NOT playing around when it come to lessons involving her safety. I gave her 5 swats, right on her bare little bottom.
And we were both crying on #5.
I said, “Time out!”, left the room, and locked the door so she couldn’t get out and do anything else, while I cleaned up the backyard.
I was shaking. I’d had to spank her. It’s the worst thing in the world. It was too early to send her to bed without dinner, and the time out last week had obviously not worked, but I was shaking in both fear and anger. Things like this, I don’t understand – I had treated her lovingly. I had given her a bubble bath, and cookies and milk, and put on her favorite show, I got repaid by this? I just don’t understand it. I don’t know what to do, or how to deal with this.
And the weight of this, the raising of this child, the helplessness I feel and the failure, was heavy on my heart as I walked outside to go clean up. It was everywhere. I was cringing. I could only imagine what the neighbors thought, whoever she’d been yelling to, as they saw me gather my hairbrush and can of hairspray, and styling products in their bright green containers. And the Crest Whitestrips. OMG, the box had broken open and the little foil packets were scattered everywhere across the whole lawn, so now the whole world knows my teeth are naturally beige. And my pretty candle holder that had sat on my sink! Oh, damn, the glass was smashed into a thousand shards, all over the cement and in the grass. Make up sponges everywhere, bottle of Motrin, hand soap pump bottle … and all the brand new, unopened boxes of Lancôme makeup that I’d just spent all that money on, a day before. That I’d been so happy about, that I was going to wear this weekend. The new blush I’d bought had exploded inside its packaging, and I could see the pink dust pieces in the plastic wrapper.
Look, I know it’s just stuff. Just things. But I live for this child. My life revolves around her care and comfort. Is it really, really too much to ask that a few little things remain mine? That they don’t get shared, and trashed, just for her amusement? Is it so very, horribly, selfish of me to want something nice of my own? I picked it all up in silence, too embarrassed to look around and see which neighbors were outside watching me.
I brought it all back up to my bathroom, and wiped the mud and grass off what I could, and if there was any bright light in all of this, it was the packaging, and landing on the wet grass, saved a bottle of the foundation. The blush was ruined. I think there’s still broken glass outside, I have to go back out in full sunshine to make certain there are no more pieces left in the grass.
Mommy needed a timeout.
I sat on my bed, feeling so old and worn down. And so much like a stupid, clueless noob when it comes to motherhood. Shaking my head, I took a few deep breaths to try to center myself again. Then I went back in to her room. The child was still crying, but had calmed herself. She ran to me and said “I’m a good girl, I’m a good girl, Mommy!”
And I picked her up, and sat on her bed, and held her and hugged her gently. We both looked into each other’s eyes, and I said, “Oh, Zizi, we are not having a good day today, are we? What are we going to do?” And I held her, and rocked her like a baby, and kissed her and soothed her, until she wasn’t crying anymore. Then I talked to her, and gently, but firmly, repeated the rules: no going in my bathroom. No touching the window. No climbing up. No touching my stuff. It took a few times before she repeated each thing back to me, one at a time. Once she did, I said she was my good girl, and I love her, and we both walked out of the room together.
I directed her back down to watch the TV, but by now it was time to get dinner ready. She wanted soup, I was grateful for something so easy. We were both ok with each other – loving. Kind. Zizi has a job to feed the dog a cup of kibble at dinner time (with supervision), and she did it right, so I rewarded her with her favorite, a maraschino cherry. The scallops were in the fridge, but I was feeling tired, and sadly thought maybe it wasn’t the night for cooking myself any big-production dinner, even after she went to bed. She ate her soup, and some yogurt, and finally, the new ice cream I’d got her for dessert.
While she ate her ice cream, and watched some Disney, I went into the laundry room, to put those sodden clothes into the washing machine. I had a wet load ready for the dryer, too. Just then, the phone rang. It was about 6:30, the Exhusband was calling (late) to talk to Zizi. They talked for a few minutes, and then I was supposed to talk with him to update him on the progress I’d made for the past 2 days in getting her records from her current program, and who I’d spoken to, and the work I’d done, but I was bone tired. Too tired to even tell him about the day we’d had. I was tired just climbing the 8 steps up from the basement to hang up the phone. I asked if we could talk another time – I was busy with folding wash, and cleaning up the dinner dishes, and we hung up.
I walked back down the basement stairs, hearing an odd noise, a soft metallic bang-bang-bang the sound of something being banged into the metal sides of the appliances?
Zizi had taken one of her step-stool toys, pulled it over to the two appliances. Climbed up. Reached a 64 oz. bottle of liquid Downey fabric softener. Full bottle.
She’d climbed down again. Opened the DRYER that had been running. Poured the Downy in the machine, on the door, and then, emptied the rest of it all over the floor. Half an inch deep. Then she went to the cleaning closet, got a sponge mop, and was “mopping” it around on the laundry room floor.
How long had it taken me to hang up with the Ex? 3 minutes? Not even. I started to hyperventilate when I saw her in the middle of the lake of Downy. Then I saw the dryer door was open, and oozing, and I started to cry. We can’t afford a new dryer. We just can’t. Oh, God.
And she smiled up at me. I looked at her in horror, at this monster that is my only child.
I picked her up and took her to her room – she immediately started to throw a temper tantrum that she didn’t want to go to bed yet. Kicking and screaming and hitting me. I was speechless. I laid her in the bed, in her sweats, and said “Zizi, look at Mommy. Mommy is crying. Do you see Mommy crying?”
She just didn’t get it. She was pissed at being put to bed, and kept yelling at me, and I couldn’t take it. I walked out and locked the door to her room. I couldn’t even look at her. I was shaking, gasping for air. I made my way down to the kitchen, got a roll of paper towels, then back to the basement, to the doorway to the laundry room.
And then, I just crumbled. Fell to my knees on the carpet, looking at all of the mess. When I looked at the ooze, coming from the dryer, I started sobbing. I couldn’t hold it all back anymore. I just broke.
I’ve been so scared. Those new evaluations came back, and all hell broke loose, and I’m terrified, and all of a sudden, I’m back at square one again, fighting the state to try to get her the help she needs. The school, the school that I thought was doing so much to help her, with all its OT gyms and Masters Degree Special Ed teachers…turns out has not helped, Zizi has not made meaningful progress, she has regressed. I don’t understand it – she’s too much for THEM and they deal with all kinds of special needs kids, even kids with Cerebral Palsy and oxygen tanks and all kinds of scary stuff, but my little girl needs a team of 3 to handle her?!?! Now they have been trying to push her out on to the school district, even though she’s not ready. They don’t want to deal with her for another year. The state agency is already playing politics and negotiation tactics. All these people who chose this as a profession, and have years of training and experience… and none of them have any idea of what to do! How can this be possible?
And the condo hasn’t sold. I’ve been carrying 2 mortgages for 9 months, and have had to borrow against my equity of my house, and replaced the carpets, and still, with two open houses, no offers have come in. And this week, I got a notice from the condo association that they are levying a $5,000 assessment on all the units, to replace all of the furnaces.
The taxes are going to be due in two months, and dear god, how am I going to pay it this year? More equity out of the house? And the support runs out next year. I was supposed to have a business incorporated, and up, and profitable, and I put it aside for one year, then two, and now… forever? How am I going to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads, when every time I try to work again, this child’s needs nuke any chance or hope of me doing anything but taking care of her? Forget about having my own business, how can I hold down a job, when it’s always a crisis, always a new problem, when it never ends?
I’m alone, I’m terrified that I can’t keep it all together. That I’m a terrible mother. That I can’t handle all of this. How can I be calm, and loving, and kind with all of this on my plate? How can I nurture this child, and give her my best, when everything is spiraling so out of control? When I feel so lost, so alone, so completely overwhelmed? How do other single moms do it? I know they do, but HOW?
And I asked God, and the Blessed Mother, and my guardian angels, Why? Why would it be this way, when all I have ever wanted in life is to be loved, and to have a family, and be a good mother, and make a loving home? Why would I chart this for myself in this life, and set myself up for failure? I am failing. I can’t do this. It’s too much and I’m breaking, and I know it.
I love this child. I love her like the ocean it’s so big. And I’m failing her. I’m not good enough. I’m not strong enough. I can’t take any more of the hard part. It was supposed to get easier, the light was supposed to be at the end of the tunnel, and now it’s all taken away? Why? Why would God give me more than I can handle? Because I am not handling this. I am sitting on the floor of my basement, pathetically sobbing over a pool of fabric softener.
And I yelled at God, and the Blessed Mother, and my angels: This is enough. I admit failure. I admit I’m just not good enough. I need help. Pick something. Pick one thing, and take it off my plate, dammit. Sell the condo, or let the school stuff work out right away, or bring me somebody who will be a helpmate. Pick one, and help. Please.
And then, abashed what I had just done, what I had just said, and the way I had said it, I bowed my head, I added the words, if it be Your will. Your Way, not mine, oh Lord. Your Way, not mine. If it be Your will, please, please help your servant. Help me not to fail. Help me to be the good mother she deserves. Give me strength. Make me better. Lift part of this burden that is breaking me, and I can handle the rest. Sell the condo. Or send me some support, so I’m not doing this all alone. Or take one of the things I am scared about away, and let me do well for this child. Help me to understand and take care of her. Because I am broken.
Maggie dog had seen me crying, and just then came an put her paw on my lap. She understood, even if she didn’t know what it was all about, she understood. I petted her as the flood passed out of me. Finally, when I was recovered enough, I started at the doorway, and began sopping up the fabric softener with the paper towels, making a clean path until I could get to the dryer, without slipping and falling, or getting the Downey all over my skirt. I took the clothes out, and put them into the washer again. Then I wiped and cleaned the door of the dryer, and the insides, until it looked all clean, and it seemed safe to try a test run. After 15 minutes of running empty, no funny smell or smoke came out, and I let out a breath of relief. Zizi hadn’t killed the dryer.
Maybe that counted for my one thing off my plate.
I had put the load back into the washer, to rinse out the Downy again, turned on the machine, and then shuffled upstairs, drained, exhausted beyond anything I can describe, I took a frozen dinner out and put it in the oven. Went and put my pajamas on, then came down and looked at the open bottle of pinot grigio on the door of the fridge, and didn’t pour myself a glass. I was drained. My body was aching. I’d felt chills ever since the afternoon, and knew if I didn’t watch out, I’d have a nasty cold that would ruin Sunday. Besides, there are times, when the wine is good for blowing off steam, and then there are times, when it’s bad for blowing off steam. It had been too bad of a day to end it with alcohol. Beyonde here there be dragons.
I poured myself a big glass of iced tea, and went back downstairs to change the channel. SciFi was coming on any minute. I’d just curl up and wait for my dinner to cook.
The laundry room was flooded with 3 inches of water.
Somehow, in cleaning up the mess, I’d dropped a wad of the paper towels into the utility sink. When the washer drained, it swept them into the drain, plugging it. The sink filled. Then overflowed. I spent the next 3 hours cleaning it up, using beach towels. On commercial breaks. At least the Downey’s been washed away. My bare feet were in the freezing cold water pretty much all night. I was sick before I even went to bed.
Today was better.
Did you really doubt it? It would have been pretty effing hard for it to be any worse!
But I know, we all have days like yesterday. Today was better. Someday, I’ll laugh about yesterday. That my life was a monument to Murphy’s Law. Not quite yet. I really hope tomorrow is a good day.
Post Script, written 7 years later (May, 2013):
The condo finally sold about a month later. I stopped buying Lancôme makeup, and have bought L’Oreal, with coupons, at my local drugstore ever since that episode. The move to the school district was a nightmare – the worst 2 years of our lives – but because of it, the Exhusband offered to pay for her to go to a school that is truly a godsend, for “bright children who learn differently” . With caring, engaged teachers, the right supports in place, and the right medications, we were in a much better place. About 3 years later, the pediatrician suggested we get the micro array test that told us Zizi had a deletion of 16q24.2. Neither of us have the same deletion, and the doctors said Zizi was only the second child in the whole database who’d ever been found with this deletion. Finally, we got the answer to the WHY? All those experts were wrong, they had NEVER seen any child like Zizi before. She is my snowflake child: perfect and unique and a prism of rainbows. Now at age 12, she’s a leader in her school, and she loves it and has blossomed. She stole the show in the school play this past year, played right field on the softball team this spring, … and is such a gifted artist that she creates her own graphic comic books in the Manga style, fortunately using pencils, not makeup, for coloring them in.
Also, thanks to Zizi and the fact I couldn’t go out much at night, I used to play World of Warcraft online. Well, I made a friend in the game, who later became much more than a friend in real life, and the best part was, thanks to the blog I used to have, and posts like this, he knew all about the reality our lives before he became part of them. He was the helpmate that I had been praying for. We got engaged this past Christmas. Zizi adores him, and is very excited to be my Maid of Honor.