Could You Describe the Ruckus, Sir?

Welcome to Vicky Bell's blog.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

And now for something completely different...

I promise you I will never win any Mother of the Year awards.  Some of you already know that my post of October 1st went wildly, unexpectedly viral, and generated hundreds of comments plus phone calls, emails and facebook messages. Many of the messages complimented my parenting skills. It's all very flattering, but... 

My gang.
The post, if you haven't seen it yet, was actually a letter to my 19 year old daughter in college.  It began as a quick email, sent because I missed her but also because there were a couple of things I wanted to tell her.  Shortly after I sent it off I posted it in my blog, thinking it would be read by the 15 or 20 friends and family members that had been following since I started blogging in July.

Then the post went viral.  As of  today (10/09/2010), it has been seen by more than 250,000 readers, and continues to spread through the U.S., Canada,  Asia, South America, the Middle East, Australia, Europe,  and Africa. I promise you, if I had known, I would have cleaned it up a bit.  I reread it now and cringe at a few of the more awkward sentences.  I might have clarified a couple of points in more detail.  But who knew?

And how do you follow that?
With something completely different.

Because I am really not Ms. Mommy Wisdom, and truthfully a little uncomfortable in the role.  My children (2 boys, 1 girl, & one son's gf) have told me that they think I'm a great mom.  That makes me happy, and I believe it is true in the way that all loving moms are great moms.  But I need to keep it real here.  I'm as flawed as anyone, and if I had to choose a mommy hero it wouldn't be the lady with her act together and 5 great kids, it would be someone more like Anne Lamott, former alcoholic, single mom, and refreshingly honest writer.  Lamott is not a cupcake-making kind of mom, and is unapologetic about it.  Because I have sometimes felt cornered into metaphorical cupcake-making- I feel like she's my Norma Rae.  We less-than-perfect Moms need someone to hold up the UNION sign, only it let it say HUMAN instead.

I want to tell you about a couple of her essays, which I recount here from memory because I'm too lazy to trudge upstairs and find the books.  In one essay Lamott recounts the Christian story of Mary and Joseph, their extended family and fellow villagers making the long trek back home from Jerusalem when Jesus is about 12 years old.  They'd been traveling 3 days when they realize Jesus is missing.  In the large traveling crowd Mary and Joseph assumed he'd been hanging out with his cousins and the other young people. So they are worried and not too happy to have to trek back 3 days to find him.  And when they do, he's gets smart mouthy with them the way boys that age can.  And Mary?  First, relief. Then, in Lamotts wonderful vision, she starts fingering some rocks in her pocket...


In another essay Lamott relays a personal story about a time when she and her young son are traveling, and her car stalls and blocks an intersection. As she tried to start it up again she became flustered by all the horn honking and angry words of nearby drivers.  So she asked her son to take a minute and pray with her.  But it's noisy, so trying to be helpful, he rolled down his window and yelled to the honking drivers "Would you shut the fuck up? We're trying to pray here!"

  If Anne Lamott is my mommy-hero, it is because she is heart-breakingly real, and has the courage to be brutally honest about her experience of life and of parenthood.  Most of us just cannot go all the way there.  Yet here is someone who has met her shadow, befriended it, brought it into light, and survived.  Her gift to the rest of us is to say- look, what you are thinking, what you are feeling,- it's normal, it's human.  You can love your child to pieces- you could be Mary,  and still have moments you want to throw rocks at him, or worse.

Her memoir of the first year of her son's life, "Operating Instructions", should be required reading for all pregnant women and their partners.  Let us all step off the pedestal, please.


Unlike Lamott, I'm not ready to go all out honest. It takes too much courage and energy, and I'm just not there yet.  But I can confess one small thing.  I lied about the cookies. Often. 


 I've included a musical video for those of you who'd like to listen to the sound I'll always associate with a change of form......

 

30 comments:

  1. Vicky,
    I found your blog through a friend's facebook wall. I love your letter to your daughter.
    I love this post too. I am currently reading Lamott's Bird by Bird and I am asking myself how it is that I am just now finding this wonderful author. I also love her parenting style as well as her writing. My favorite part in Bird by Bird is the beginning prologue where she mentions her son using his plastic keys to unlock the front door. He is standing there saying, "shit shit shit." When she opens the door and says, "excuse me?!" He says, "I'm sorry i said a bad word mom. It's just these fucking keys don't work." Priceless!
    :)

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  2. You may have changed directions, but you hit the target once again. Most excellent.

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  3. I am sitting here crying at this post. You have said it perfectly and as a mother of 4 children that is a bit too honest (as my own mother has put it). Just reading of this woman's stories I feel less alone in what has come to feel like my daily screw ups. The kind of mistakes that leave me falling short every night and about 30 minutes after I have tucked them all in bed and I recount every moment of yelling, swearing, lack of patience shared by these little babies and I. Again just tonight I found myself thinking "Why in the hell have I been appointed this job, I am no good at it what so ever". All too often I find myself looking around and comparing myself to all the other mothers I know and how amazing they are.....all too often I think to myself that my children would probably much rather be in that home.

    I came across the post with the letter to your daughter and then this post. I have never heard of this Lammott lady but I will now be purchasing these books you write of.

    Thank you for the very reminder I needed myself tonight. You might not consider yourself a hero but I am certain your children do in their own sort of way. You took the time to write that letter and say those very precious words to your child that so many children in this world will never have the privilege of hearing because their mothers or fathers did not take the time to say them.

    Bless you and thank you for sharing.
    Christy

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  4. ...she starts fingering some rocks in her pocket...I thought, those "serenity" rocks?

    However, the prayer part was HILARIOUS. I would have yelled something quite different (in order to get myself to that place of prayer). Still, self-parenting is at least as challenging as the real thing; afterall, there is limited doting public admiring the cute, the new, and the first great feats and wonders. Seems to be a lot of non-feats and blunders. You suggest that, as a good parent, I can strive to love myself through those moments. So many good lessons we humans can learn from each other.

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  5. I was laughing hysterically at the "STFU" moment. My kids are like that, because I am like that. Uncensored and at times ashamed when it shows in the mouths of babes.

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  6. Vicky, as a sober mama myself, I cannot believe I have never heard of Anne Lamott...I would love to read her books and share it with other sober mamas I know. I think being a sober mama, we are lucky; we KNOW we are not alone, we have support groups and the like to share honestly about what makes us human and we all relate, for that I am lucky that I am an alcoholic. Lots of mamas out there feel alone. They may compare their insides to everybodies outsides and feel they are bad. And as for you Vicky, I bet this kind of thing is how book deals are born (if that is something you ever wanted to do) good luck to you!

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  7. I am positively DELIGHTED to have helped some readers find Anne Lamott- in addition to the books mentioned, check out "Traveling Mercies" and "Plan B". Personally I prefer these essay collections and her memoirs to her fiction. Thanks for the great comments.
    Also, they weren't "serenity" rocks at all, lol, and I hope you'll find and read the original.

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  8. Hi Vicki, Bibi Bell posted a link to your letter to your daughter on Facebook, and thought it was great - something it is so hard for young people to realize is the fact that everything does pass, no matter how awful it is at the time. On a much more important level, it's the same realization you get when it finally dawns on you that the really bad haircut you just got will grow out. I hope the many people who have viewed that post will pass it on to their children and that all of them will take your words to heart.

    I love Anne Lamott - have read most of her books, and agree, I like her memoirs and essays the best. I'm glad I found your blog - will be back! - Mimi Michalski (from the old 'hood!)

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  9. That was supposed to read, "and I thought it was great..."

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  10. HUMAN! Yes! While I try to be super mom and super wife and super employee and super friend and super daughter and super sister... ah the list goes on. I must remember that I am HUMAN and flawed and not perfect. My number one job: Wife. My second job: Mom. I can't play those roles for anyone else. Thank you for reminding me that I also don't have to be perfect. I am in awe of mothers that pull it together with much fewer resources with which I am blessed. Thank you for your honesty and humility!

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  11. This is why I like and appreciate you as a fellow blogger. Real...and not afraid to say it.
    And as someone once told me when I had a hard time accepting my art was..."great"..."embrace it...accept it...because someone out there took the time..went out of their way to acknowledge you ARE worth it."
    Had you been able to go back and change that letter to your daughter...it would not have been received in the same way...it may not have made a difference in that one persons life..that one person who does not have someone to tell them these things..that one person that may have liked the fact that you sounded like an ordinary, normal...mother. You spoke from your heart...you spoke from experience..and you spoke a familiar language that EVERYONE understood. You simply made a human connection to a whole lot of people..a positive connection..what a privilege to witness and experience. Embrace it...you ARE worth it. *hug*

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  12. Hi Vicky,
    Dang girl...you sound so much like me. I am perfectly flawed(purposeful oxymoron there)and yet somehow am admired and well-liked by my children(thank-goodness)and their friends. (son 21, daughter 19, son 13). It's a hard balancing act to not be rigid, not be loose and have rules that sometimes need to be bent, etc. I also enjoy your honesty about your regret that "if you'd only known it would go viral..you would have cleaned it up." haha I can imagine how you feel, but as you can see we all love it just the way it is-warts & all, so my mom used to say! Lol.

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  13. That last post was stunning! I'm glad it was a "real" post. So glad it wasn't cleaned up to the point of perfection in your eyes. Pretty perfect in mine. I, too, will link to it on my Facebook page. My sister, mother of twins in their second year of college posted it this morning. My nieces will be reading it sometime today. I hope they take it to heart.

    I am a resident of State College, PA. I live right across the street from the Penn State campus. The college is large, and each year, at least one student will not make it home again, whether through their carelessness or someone else's or just the overwhelming desire to end their lives. Two or three years ago, a female student was found on the ground beneath her dorm window. She had been lying in the cold for several hours. An ambulance was called but she did not live long after its arrival. It was ruled a suicide. I have no idea which dorm, but it could have been one a stone's throw from my front porch. Every so often, I cry about this girl I did not know because I fear for my nieces. I know they will read your post and it can only be of help to them.

    Thank you far sharing your thoughts with just about everyone!

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  14. I too found this post from a friend's FB wall of the earlier letter to your daughter blog. I absolutely love reading the writings of other honest mommies, especially when we can admit that sometimes they drive us crazy but we love them anyway. And I find it so very non-coincidental that a) someone posted the link to your blog on Momastery's FB page, and b) the owner/writer of Momastery is an excruciatingly honest mommy who is a huge fan of Anne Lamott's. So I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to share her blog link here because I think you would also really enjoy the Momastery community!

    www.momastery.blogspot.com

    Suzy

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  15. You are amazing and don't let anyone tell you any different.

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  16. There is no need to defend yourself. Your letter stood on its own merit and spoke to a throng of people in a time of need. Relish in the moment, human that you are. As for being an expert, I am reminded of what Malcolm Gladwell points out in "Outliers." He writes that to be an expert at something, you need 10,000 hours clocked. Have you put that kind of time into your parenting? Then, my dear, you are an expert.

    I agree with you that every parent should read Anne Lamott's "Operating Instructions" and every writer should read her "Bird on Bird." For those housecleaner/writers out there, may I also suggest "A Broom of One's Own" by Nancy Peacock.

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  17. Real moms raise real kids who then become real moms and dads themselves. My hope is that others will read this and feel ok about being who they are as they raise their kids so that more real, authentic, imperfect parents continue to raise more real, authentic people who know how to be tolerant of others authentic, imperfect selves.
    well done once again Vicky. you have made me a blog follower:)

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  18. I LOVE this! Welcome to the not best mother of the year club. Should there ever be a meeting, I'd like to sit beside you, laugh and share stories, about kids, and crazy viral blog posts (my "Change Your Facebook Settings" post summer 2009 did the same thing).

    Cookies? What cookies?? I missed that part and really want to hear more. :)

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  19. i don't think that ANY mom is the perfect mom.

    but the BEST ones are those who allow others to see their flaws as well as their charms.

    so pretty much this means that i'm awesome, because MY faults have actually evolved to be my greatest gifts...

    <3 andrea

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  20. Anne Lamott is great isn't she? I'm reading one of her books now and I can't wait to finish so I can go on to the next.

    I came across your blog from my friends facebook page regarding the letter written to your daughter and it's perfect. My daughter is only 8 and on Monday at her Brownie Troop meeting we discussed bullying and teasing. It was such a huge success and I couldn't be happier with how it turned out. Kids are so cruel and I think it's so important to always tell kids how they should behave no matter how old they are. I'm 34 and my Mother still tells me how I should behave.

    Thank you

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  21. Thank you for this! I have posted it on my facebook. A little girl that my son went to school just killed herself... its heartbreaking. He gets picked on a lot and I just pray and hope kids will stop. Its so unnecessary! Our children shouldnt be dying before us or because of some stupid kid being mean.
    And dont change a thing! You said what we all want to say to our kids, its real and it is to the heart!

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  22. How great it is to come across your blogs. The letter you wrote to your daughter was perfect, you didn't need to change a word. In fact I printed it out for my daughter to read. I'm by no means a perfect mom, but its the willingness to keep trying & loving that counts. Thank you so much for sharing your blogs & stories

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  23. AS A PARENT, I SHARED, AS A CONCERNED PERSON, I SHARED IT. TODAY, I SEE MORE & MORE YOUTH WHO ARE NOT ''TOUCHED'' BY ANY PARENTAL CARING AND IF THEY ONLY KNEW HOW VERY IMPORTANT IT TRULY IS. THE OLD SAYING, ''I HAVE BECOME MY MOM!'' IS SO TRUE....IF WE ARE REALLY PARENTING!!! AND TODAY, MY 31 YR. OLD SON HAS TOLD HIS FATHER & MYSELF THAT HAD WE ''STOOD BACK'' HE MOST LIKELY WOULD BE IN PRISON OR DEAD!!!! AS A TEEN, HE EXPERIMENTED WITH DRUGS, ( MORE THAN WE EVEN KNEW AT THE TIME) BUT I WAS A MOM WHO, WHEN I REALIZED IT, SEARCHED HIS ROOM, SMELLED HIS CLOTHES, WAITED UP FOR HIM, AND GROUNDED, SCREAMED, TOOK CAR AWAY....IT WAS SOOO HARD TO DO MOST TIMES, BUT I KNEW MY SON WAS LEADING A ROAD TO HELL THAT WOULD TAKE NOT ONLY HIM, BUT US AS WELL. TODAY, HE WORKS WITH CHILDREN WHO ARE IN WHAT IS CALLED A HIGHLY STRUCTURED CLASSROOM....( A ROOM WITH PADDED WALLS, & LOCED DOOR!) CAUSE THESE KIDS DON'T HAVE ANYONE AT HOME WHO CARES!!! THE LAW SAYS WE CAN'T ''SPANK'' BUT THE BIBLE SAYS WE MUST NOT SPARE THE ROD!!! I LIVE THE WAY I THINK GOD WANTS. IF I HAD TO HAVE GONE TO JAIL FOR PROTECTING MY SON SINCE I LIVED WITH HIM, I KNEW WHEN HE WAS HIGH, I HUNTED HIM WHEN HE DIDN'T COME HOME, AND I STOOD UP TO THE 6' YOUNG MAN IN MY 5'3'' BARE FEET!!!!!

    OK....THANK YOU ....LOL...I GET CARRIED AWAY ALSO...BUT AS A MOM...WE WILL ALWAYS BE THERE, NOT ONLY LOVING, BUT PROTECTING!!!!

    VICKI IN KENTUCKY!

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  24. Also came here through Facebook, and love Anne Lamott. I'll be following you :) I have a son who is 1 month old and I like your take on parenting.

    Paula

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  25. Well, I came here from Facebook because of That Post - but I'm bookmarking you because of this one.

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  26. I think its probably the fact that it wasn't cleaned up to perfection that made it 'perfect'...loved this post too. Well said!

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  27. Thank you... My girls are still too young to have to deal with the issues of bullying. One is 4 1/2 and the other 22 months. But I caught myself thinking about your post the last several days while I drove my oldest to preschool. I think back 20 years and remember just how devastating everything felt at the time and now it's all just faded memories.

    I also like this post about being real. I have yet to blog outside of twitter because I'm not sure if I could or could not be real. Not sure what kind of comments would I get or want. LOL Maybe some day, when I'm older and have the "I don't care" attitude. " )

    Take care!

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  28. Hi, Vicki! I'm the person who read your letter in Jan Rogers' interview with you. I am a late in life mother. Never thought it would happen, but it did and in spite of all the baby brothers and baby sitting and life experience I felt so unprepared to be a mother. When someone tells me that I'm a good mother, I have to resist the urge to look over my shoulder to see who they're talking to. Motherhood is a funny thing and rarely does any mom I know feel like they're good ones. I've made mistakes, but with my current knowledge, I try to put myself in my son's shoes and figure out what would be the best thing for him. He doesn't always like it, but he realizes that I'm doing the best I know how to do and he respects that. Keep writing, Vicki. Anne Lamott would be proud.

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  29. I left a comment on post "letter to my daughter", not sure it went through, but just want to say I posted it on my blog. Just love your blog. Thanks for sharing...

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