I was newly a mother of two when a doctor – a kind doctor, a thoughtful doctor – told me that my new daughter would almost certainly end up in the hospital with every respiratory infection she got. Not a great idea, he said about twice-a-week daycare. Probably not, he said about baby-and-parent music classes. No, I don’t think so, was his answer to my hopeful questions about baby swimming, a smaller daycare, a playgroup. After two hospitalizations in her first five months, I believed him.
Through that first winter watched through front windows into an empty courtyard or through car windows into big sister’s preschool, my new daughter and I eyed the world with suspicion: me because it contained too many germs and her because nothing in it made her feel quite right. There was no sleep, no break, no time apart for the two of us to learn the beauty of missing each other and being reunited. There was just us, with the world outside the window a mystery.
I wrote a thing employs the funny, ironic, humblebrag shorthand that is common across social media, but it also evokes a familiar posture: that of a woman trying to make herself as small as possible—a woman standing with her head down and her chin tucked against her chest, hands clasped behind her back, and toe twirling in the dirt, saying, “Oh, this little heap of words here? It was nothing. No big deal. Just, you know, a thing! So maybe read it? Or don’t! Whatever!”
There is nothing more familiar to me than this image she describes, one of a woman attempting to make herself seem humble, self-deprecating, unworthy of attention. I’m as guilty of this as I could be. “I’m doing a little storytelling thing,” I mentioned half-heartedly on my Facebook wall, just once before the event for which I was hand-picked, invited only after the producer had seen me tell stories on stage several times before. It was, if not a BIG deal, at least a medium deal. Still, I didn’t know how to say that aloud or in writing without sounding arrogant, so I didn’t say it at all.
The same thing — or worse — has happened when I’ve published essays. Here on this web site, I add the links to my “Published” page here and on my author site, and I share them on Twitter, where I have a lovely following of strangers and where almost none of my friends know I have an active account. To strangers — and especially to any agents or publishers who might stumble across me — I’m happy to be publicly proud of my work. To the people who know me for real, my constant fear is that they will look at the link and think: “Debi? Really? She’s Sammi’s mom, right? How did SHE get something published there? Maybe she knows someone…”
And, of course, that’s ridiculous. But that’s how imposter syndrome works. Continue Reading…
This poem, by Shel Silverstein, always made me sad. When I was a little girl, I had an audiocassette of him reciting it, and his warm, avuncular voice is the one I hear in my head when I read it.
The Little Boy and the Old Man
by Shel Silverstein (1930-1999)
Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the little old man, “I do that too.”
The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
“I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”
“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
“I know what you mean,” said the little old man.
It’s hard not to feel heard. Little children sense that they’re being ignored even if they can’t express it well. They may do other things to get the attention of grown-ups: break something, have a tantrum, or find other ways to force that grown-up to take notice. Old men may quietly do what they want, or give up entirely, but they have an understanding of who they were when they were young men — that they ignored their elders, that they paid less attention than they wished they had, and the empathy they have might lessen that feeling of sadness. These are expected responses.
When my children were five and almost-two, we moved roughly 2 miles north. We sold our sweet little townhouse in a quiet courtyard in the city and moved to a big single-family home in the nearest suburb north. For the most part, we moved so that our five-year-old could go to a school with smaller class sizes and so that she and her non-sleeping baby sister could have their own bedrooms. Too, there was a part of me that had glimpsed at the process of looking for high schools in Chicago and wanted to avoid it at all costs. We moved for ourselves, thinking only of the life within the walls of our home and the school our kids might attend.
Until then, I’d been living a mostly isolated life as a parent. In our city courtyard, there was only one precious family with identically-aged children, but those children slept like angels — long naps and early bedtimes, short windows of free playtime compatible with my daughters’ chaos. In retrospect, it was an outright blessing and not at all a small thing to have found myself hugely compatible with their mother, someone who became one of my dearest friends and a great teacher to me on topics too great to write here. Still, in those toddler/preschool years, the company we could keep was not daily, and because of my younger daughter’s constant illness in her first two years, I’d not been able to make any other friends with other families. I spent my days largely without adult contact. It was incredibly, incredibly lonely.
When we moved north, then, I didn’t expect much of my life to change. The preschool where my youngest was finally healthy enough to attend was part of a day care center, a remnant from my days of working when my oldest was my only, and so I never knew the other parents well. No one stuck around to chat long — everyone was at the beginning or end of long days, and if I saw them, it was only on the rare occasion that I brought my youngest to preschool at the very beginning of the day or picked her up at the very end. For the most part, I saw the teachers, the barista at the coffeeshop, and my husband. When I moved, I expected that to stay mostly the same.