Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Through The Looking Glass

I have always loved the number four.  I'm not sure why - my own little touch of OCD, I guess.

Any time I'm picking a number - for anything - I choose four, a number that ends in four or a multiple of four.  A seat number in an airplane or setting my alarm clock (7:04am), for example.  It simply HAS to involve the number four. 

It's been going on since I was a kid - as young as nine or ten - my own little attempt at feeling some semblance of control over my increasingly complicated world.

Tomorrow I turn 44 on the 4th.  That's a lot of fours.

Last night the kids broke out our home movie collection and we sat on the couch and watched our lives from when the kids were babies, toddlers and into their preschool years.

I watched with a mixture of joy and sadness - wistful for their chubby-cheeked youth, for what looks on the screen as a simpler time, but I know differently.

There is Finn in the tub when he was just learning to talk - I'm holding the camera in one hand and bantering with him about his rubber ducky.  He laughs, flashing his two little bottom teeth, just poking through.  "UH-OH," he says, as he plunges the yellow duck under water. "Ducky needs HEWLP"  It looks for all the world like an ideal scene of mother and child bonding. 

But I know that perched behind me on the edge of the sink is a wine glass.  Bath time back then was never done without my liquid assistant.  The days felt interminably long, boring. 

My gut churns as I watch Greta, pigtailed and adorable, coloring and chattering on about her picture.  I'm laughing behind the camera, egging her on, zooming in on her brow knit together in concentration.  I remember what I was thinking, back then - that I was recording for posterity that I was a good mother, not a drunk.  Not an alcoholic.  I was desperate to prove to myself and anyone watching that I was loving, engaged.

I watch the images flickering on the screen and my heart aches.  Shame burns somewhere deep inside, at the very root of me.

How could I not see, I wonder, how blessed I was.

Another disc, fast forward about a year.  Finn is almost two and Greta is almost five.  It's April of 2007.  Steve is filming what looks like an adorable family breakfast scene; Finn happily smearing oatmeal in his hair, perched in his high chair, Greta next to him, prattling on as usual.  Then Steve swings the camera my way, and I'm leaning on the counter, looking weary and bloated. 

"There's Momma," he says.  "She was partying last night, weren't you Momma?"

I cast the camera an irritated, sheepish look.  "Yes," I whisper.  "Stop filming me, you're making me uncomfortable."

I look into my own eyes and want to scream at my visage STOP.  Stop what you're doing, stop sliding down into your own destruction!!!
A mere two months later and I'm conspicuously missing from the videos.  It's summer of 2007, and the kids are at the zoo, the Museum of Science.  My sister-in-law balances Finn on her hip and laughs as the cousins squeal in delight at otters rollicking in their tank. 

I'm not there.  I am in rehab.

A little later, and there we are again, happy kids with a sober Mom.  Finn is closer to four now, Greta is almost seven.  I no longer need the camera lens to prove that I'm present in my life and theirs.  I am slender again, bright eyed and happy. 

But that knot in my stomach as I watch doesn't loosen, and I still want to scream at my image:  be grateful for all you have - ahead of you are some rough waters.  You are going to lose your Dad. You are going to get cancer. 


But that's the thing, isn't it?  Paying attention?  Recognizing how fleeting moments are, even the ones that feel like they last forever?  The long, ordinary days that feel like duplicates of yesterday?  The constant-ness of parenting, laundry, cooking meals, all the mundane rituals that wear you down?

I'm not particularly afraid of getting older, even though the idea of being forty-four seems incredible to me; I feel about twenty eight mentally. 

What jerks me to attention is the idea that life zips by, right under my nose.  The days roll into one another, virtually indistinguishable.  Every now and then something jars me out of my day-to-day existence - something wonderful or something scary - but for the most part forty-four years flew by. 

Why is it so much easier to lose myself to fear of what may be lurking around the corner?  It is far easier to have faith in fear, instead of just plain faith.

Back when I was a drinking Mom, I felt like I was watching my world through dirty glass - there, but not there.  I felt one click removed from everything - my family, myself.  I numbed out the uncertainty with one more glass of chardonnay.  And then one more.

Being sober is scarier - the uncertainty is pointier, right up in my face.  I don't hide behind liquid anesthesia anymore, and I feel scared more than I ever did when I was drinking.

But here's the thing:  the dirty glass is gone, too.  Even fear is a real emotion.   I am present in my life.

Looking at the un-sober me on the screen, faking normalcy, wishing with all my heart I was someone else - anyone else - because I didn't know how to be, I feel sorry for her, but I realize she is a necessary part of who I will become.  I mentally wrap my arms around her and forgive her. 

Maybe that's the trick to paying attention.  Constantly loving who we are today, forgiving the person we were yesterday - the one that didn't know what was coming down the road, or who made poor choices. 

Or maybe now we're struggling, and we look back at our former selves and think: man, she had it all together. What happened to me?

Life happened.  Life happens.  The only moment we have is this one, the one right under our noses.

This person right now, today, on this last day of being a forty-three year old wife and mother of two -  she only knows what she knows right now, in this moment.  Regretting the past, or worrying about the future brings back the dirty glass, the one that prevents her from Paying Attention.

It would be nice to believe all those fours - 44 on the 4th - will keep me safe, make for a great year.  But the thing is?  It's a great year already. 

No matter what.


  1. beautiful post ellie...happy bday xoxox

  2. Happy almost birthday! A red letter day.

  3. Beautiful post and a reminder to me. I have four kids, but every day blends into the next. Laundry, dishes, cooking, school... I forget about the little things. So thanks and have a happy birthday!!

  4. May you live this moment well! For those of us who are masters at beating ourselves up, it's a noble fight to keep working on being more compassionate and gentle with the times in our lives we have regrets about. You had the character and integrity to become the person you are today, even with traveling some rough terrain. You know you done good! That is worth pondering - One miracle after blessing after another!

    "life zips by, right under my nose"

    Yes, and in the spirit of those words here are some more "fours" for your collection... Psalm 144 verse 4 "Man is like a breath, his days are like a fleeting shadow" All the more reason to pay attention to the moment and live it fully!

    Happy 44th, Ellie!

  5. Happy Birthday Sweet Beautiful Ellie!!! I can so relate to this post and the numbers... totally consumed by numbers too. My old obsession was #4 - my new numbers are 8's. Regardless, Ellie... this year will be magical for you, of that I have no doubt. We can look back on our lives and wonder how we didn't see our lives but we never can see it the way we see it today - it's just not possible. But what is possible is to offer insight and hope for those that might be bathing their children with a wine glass in hand now and reading your blog wondering if there is a better way. I wished I had been reading back then but maybe my kids will if they are struggling with alcohol and see that there might be an alternative.

    Thanks for your beautiful insightful and heartfelt writing. Much love to you today and celebrate you on July 04. Happy Birthday.

  6. Happy 44!
    Have fun, you deserve a special day.
    Great post, after reading, I abandone the kitchen and watched a Barbie film with my girl!
    We mustn't look back. If you hadn't been there, we wouldn't be here. This was your path, I am grateful for your journey.
    Awesome Ellie!

  7. I will be 44 in October. This is the age my father was when he passed away. As I've gotten closer to this age, I've realized more and more, it's all those seemingly mundane moments that make up a life. And every day that I get to make breakfast, do laundry, run the carpool - is a gift. This is as good as it gets. Sure, there are some days when the oatmeal really isn't that good, but it sure beats the alternative.

    Happy Birthday. May all those fours be with you.

  8. I rarely drank ... UNTIL ... I was 45 ....

    This year I am easing into SIXTY ... 60 , happy, joyous and free! I too was a drunk Mom for a few years and today I am a sober Mom of over 4+ years. Sobriety, the BEST birthday gift on the planet. Happy Birthday Ellie ... savor it! <3

  9. Indeed, "Life happened. Life happens. The only moment we have is this one, the one right under our noses."

    Happy Birthday Ellie! The best years are yet to come. Cheers!

  10. Gillian in WalesJuly 5, 2013 at 10:47 AM

    Lovely lost, as always. Thought provoking too. Again, as always.

    And, most of all - Happy Birthday!! Hope you had a great GREAT day.

  11. Gillian in WalesJuly 5, 2013 at 10:50 AM

    Lovely *post* ... POST. Not 'lost.' D'oh.

  12. lovely post.. may you have a wonderful time. life is so busy we have to make some time free. we live only once so we should enjoy it too.

  13. Happy Birthday, Ellie. I miss my sister whose birthday was the Fourth also. She died at 49 just five years ago and I am still trying to understand why. Your sobriety is something that has helped so Many Women (and men, too, I bet) to get sober and feel welcomed into the world of sober people. Thank you for that.