I’m a Velveteen Woman on an authentic journey to become Real.( If you know the story — Oh, my gosh, it makes me cry!!! Like Ugly Cry, complete with quivering lip and all sorts of snot cry!!! — then you know what I mean. And if you don’t — go read it. Like yesterday.) Anyways… I’m a Velveteen Woman on a journey to become Real. And some days I just feel way too torn and tattered to keep going. No, let me clarify. Some WEEKS I just feel way too torn and tattered — and just plain broken– to keep going. And this past week has been that sort of week.
I feel like I’ve been steamrolled by the planet. My bones are weary and my mind is pressed flat. Why, you ask?
Well, maybe it’s because I’m fifty. And the mother of four children — two of whom are twins… boys… who are toddlers. Add to that two girls who are twenty something and on their own authentic journeys to become Real (and I feel every knock and nick that they get along the way — maybe even more-so. Because when your baby hurts, you hurt, no matter how old they get). Then there’s the fact that I’m an English teacher drowning in essays, and that I’m a football widow in the tenth week of football season –and we’re still gunning for another six (Good Lord willing…) Oh, and don’t forget the piece de resistance — my State Health Benefit Plan decided to drop kick our boys’ coverage this week.
So this week, my journey has rubbed off a lot of my edges and stolen some of my shine. Let’s start with the fact that I’m fifty. I am nowhere near as bright and shiny as I was thirty years ago. Back then I had glossy hair and firm skin and stuffing in most of the right places. I had muscles and stamina for days. There was lightning harnessed to my giddy-up. I could run 5Ks, host block parties, create four-course dinners and chop an acre of firewood and still snap, crackle and pop at the end of the day. Now, I’m lucky to have snap, crackle and pop at the breakfast table — unless it’s a chorus from my joints and a bowl of Rice Krispies.
And being the mother of four has done some work on my lovely lady lumps. I wouldn’t go so far as the Bob Segar song and claim my “points were way up firm and high” back then, but they definitely weren’t stretched and deflated to the point of flapping in a brisk wind if they aren’t strapped in properly. Four babies and four years of breastfeeding takes its toll on your breasteses.
And so do three pregnancies – especially one with twins. My skin is puckered and striped and dimpled. I’ve been pulled and torn and redistributed. And stitched back together. My belly bears a nice, six-inch seam where the good doctors scooped out two darling little melon balls in my first and only C-section at age forty-seven. At that age, the elastin in the skin isn’t quite what it once was. Needless to say, my stuffing has fallen and nestled into soft, comfy pooches in inconvenient and unattractive places. Add to that, my saggy hindquarters, and I’m just a soft, comfy lap of lady lumps.
Along with my belly seam, I also bear a dog-legged scar across my right paw, which I earned, of all things, by doing laundry. Two-and-a-half-year-old twins come with not just double the laundry –because, as my friend once said, “one is one and two is ten” – but with exponentially multiplying mountains of laundry. Every day brings ground-in clay and spattered curry, skid marks and grass stains, ripped seams and snotted sleeves… Last December, while putting away the endless backlog of socks and underwear I broke my distal radius. As I stepped to the side to pull open a drawer, Tate at my side, my ankle slid out of joint – yet another weakness from my years of service on this earth – and I had to make a quick choice: sacrifice my wrist or sacrifice my youngest. Since Tate is a relatively important component of our family unit and my right hand is my dominant and most-used portion of my body, it was quite the quandary. In the split second decision, Tate won and my wrist lost. Badly. Between fracture and surgery, it was a five-month loss. If I’d chosen Tate, I bet he would’ve bounced back in two, tops.
So my body has often been sacrificed upon the alter of motherhood. But it’s not been simply limited to my body. My mind has paid a tremendous price, too. I’m not nearly as quick-witted as I once was. It’s a spongey mass of mire, sucking and slurping and slowing me down. I think the majority of decay occurred during the sixteen months of sleeplessness that Mike and I endured after the boys’ birth. Regardless, my electrodes just don’t fire as fast as they once did. Perhaps the biggest impact has been on my teaching load. I feel like I still do a decent job of instructing my students – of leading them through the mazes of symbolism and themes, interpretations and analyses. Where I’ve taken the hardest hits is the grading. Piles of essays grow even faster than my mountains of laundry. My desk looks like the Manhattan skyline. This week, alone, Hamlet and Ophelia have taken up residence in a couple of high-rise stacks already occupied by the Lady of Shallot and a serial killer named Arnold Friend. My gorged and glutted in-box creates strange bedfellows, indeed.
But if my teacher’s inbox is a sprawling, metropolis of gangly skyscrapers, my personal email is an un-weeded garden, where things rank and gross in nature secretly sprout. It is here that the emails regarding our insurance travesty sat like poisonous mushrooms multiplying in the darkness. You see, like Hamlet, my wit’s diseased, and I don’t have good sense enough to regularly monitor my g-mail.
But then again, who would think an insurance company would just drop babies midyear for no clear reason? And send letters about their intentions to old addresses? And not email your work address, where you get all other correspondence, to let you know? And not telephone you at all to inform you you’re under the gun? Apparently, it happens. We were audited. Someone somewhere pointed a mean, nasty middle finger at our family, and BANG.
The State Health Benefit Plan gave us four months to comply with the audit’s demands (so incredibly generous, no?). Unfortunately, for the entire four months we remained blissfully ignorant, thinking we were following the rules of the universe and enjoying our life, liberties and pursuits of happiness. All the while, our insurance providers were tunneling under our best-laid precautions preparing to blow them to smithereens. Two-and-a-half year old twins with no health insurance at the very cusp of cold weather and The Creepy Crud? FML.
Now the boys seem to have taken the news of no insurance in stride, maintaining their status quo of textbook twin toddlers, boisterously brawling and loving in equal measure. They’ve wrangled over bar stools, bloodied their kneecaps, chanted nursery rhymes, fought for control of the cayenne pepper, had meltdowns over melting ice, locked themselves in our van along with my keys, chunked dried apricots at the cat, giggled contagiously in the tub, and hugged one another to the point of unquenchable rage. And that was just yesterday.
Upon the news, Mike continued on the way that he always does, leaping tall buildings and intercepting all the wicked slings and arrows that outrageous fortune has lobbed our way — including the discovery he unearthed yesterday while working his magic and getting our boys back on an insurance policy: Mike himself has had no insurance since October 1st! Yep. Big, fat middle finger pointed our way. But the point is, my man mountain is way-beyond-textbook husband and father. He stands strong in the storm. Every time. I don’t know what I would do without him. He picks up my stuffing. He tucks it back in. He shoulders my shortcomings and he shelters my babes — all four of them. It’s fitting that he’s a Purple Hurricane coach. He knows the ins and outs of life’s storms and he weathers them with grace.
And he is the calm in the storm of my crazy because, Lord, have I been a textbook basket case this week. I’ve been falling apart at my already weakened seams – so much so that I’m shedding hair and tears and sleep and health and sanity until I’m as limp and floppy as the Velveteen Rabbit.
And according to the Skin Horse in the classic tale, “It takes a long time to become real… it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
So, I think this week finally did it. I think I’m finally Real. Maybe a long time is fifty years. I know I don’t break too easily – only one bone so far (knock on wood). Most of my hair has been loved off and my joints are definitely loose and my appearance is shabby – especially if you catch me on the weekends where I choose to never get out of my pjs unless I am absolutely forced to do so. Now my eyes haven’t dropped out yet, but they’re most definitely drooping… And I’m pretty certain this week knocked off any sharp edges I still managed to have left.
So, yeah, I feel like I should finally be Real… But I know it’s never that simple. Because I am on an authentic journey. And it’s never over until it’s over. But as I’ve said in past blogs, I can do this hard thing.
Because what keeps me going is that I KNOW I’m truly loved. By five of the most amazing humans this world has ever cradled: Caitlin, Bethany, Parker, Tate, and Mike. I don’t deserve their love, but I am so eternally grateful for it. And they make me FEEL Real — whether I’m actually there or not. (And I’m sure I’m not.) And I’m loved by the Creator of our Universe. I am snuggled and sheltered, and sometimes weathered and wizened — all in the name wisdom and growth. I have been blessed in so many ways and with so many wonderful experiences. And those experiences sometimes knock me about a bit. But they just add to the love.
So all of you struggling women out there doing the hard thing and getting your edges knocked off and your stuffing pulled out. Keep on keeping on. You’re exhausted. I know. I get it. But we’re all Velveteen Women on our authentic journey to become Real. And the closer we get to Real, the harder it gets and the more knocked-about we feel. But we can do this hard thing. And we are getting there. Every nick, chip, and bruise along the way, we are getting there. We can do this hard thing.