06 June 2008

What Ails Me

Last night, Maddie, Riley, and I attended a butterfly release ceremony put on by the hospice that cared for John in his last days. Partners Hospice was wonderful to John and me both, and since John's death I've received mailings about support groups and events that they sponsor, books that they recommend, and insights that they have to share. None of it really called to me until this butterfly release.

The twins have become obsessed with animals lately, the post-work/pre-bedtime schedule was good, and the setting seemed lovely. John loved nature, and had even considered proposing to me at a butterfly sanctuary, so the whole event seemed designed for our first Family Mourning Experience.

I prepped the twins by telling them that we were going to go to a special park to see butterflies. I explained that we'd have our own butterfly to send up into the sky, and when we did that, we'd think about Daddy. I packed snacks and diapers and cups of milk. I left work early. I even remembered the camera.

But it was drizzly and grey.
And I got caught in a traffic jam on the way to get Maddie and Riley.
And I had forgotten their rain boots, so I had to make a detour home before going to daycare, which made me even more late.
And as we left daycare, Riley pooped, so I had to do an emergency change in the car.
And then we got caught in another traffic jam.

Despite all that, we had a nice drive down, although I was feeling stressed by the traffic and stifled by the sadness that the event was bringing up for me. We arrived—miraculously on time—and I loaded the twins into the stroller and put on their rain boots so that they could stomp in puddles if they so desired. They love to "splash agua."

There was a short ceremony before the actual release of the butterflies. It was quiet, somewhat somber affair, as befit the occasion. As we arrived in a room filled with a mostly older crowd, seated and appropriately reverent, I felt awkward and out of place. The twins were noisy, talking about everything they saw, demanding more strawberries and cheese from the refreshment table, wanting to get out of the stroller. Even during the special children's story, they wandered around and yammered. I felt judged by everyone there (not that anyone was actually judging me, but my own insecurities gave me the impression that they were), as though I could not control my kids. I wanted Maddie and Riley to be a part of the events, but I wasn't sure at what point they would be too disruptive and I would need to take them outside. I ended up taking them into a side room to let them run around about halfway through the proceedings, and, in doing so, missed the reading of the names of those being honored, something I really wanted to hear. I felt my resentment rising.

I suffer from a chronic ailment knowing as Misplaced Expectations (ME). I wish I had recognized the danger signs of an ME episode at this point in our evening. I'd pictured a warm, sunny evening, the kids running around outdoors during the ceremony and delighted by the sight of the butterflies. In my idyllic vision, Maddie and Riley called out, "Bye-bye, Daddy!" as our butterfly was carried towards the sky by a gentle breeze. The scent of flowers hung in the air and a string quartet played soothing music. After the ceremony, we felt emotionally cleansed, bonded together as a threesome, united in our love for John.

Recap to this point: rainy weather, traffic jams and other delays, uncomfortable ceremony. But I beat back my encroaching resentment (a sure sign of an ME episode) and figured hey, the butterfly part would make up for what had happened so far. We could still have our achingly symbolic sendoff of mariposas to the heavens. Our conversations in the car had given me hope that the kids would be enthusiastic participants in this most meaningful part of the evening.

We got our butterfly—wrapped in a slip of paper—and headed outside. The drizzle continued. Riley kept kicking off his boots. Despite the fact that I had regular shoes for him, I kept jamming the boots back on his feet. I had remembered to bring the boots and damn it! he was going to wear them. He complained. I forced. He whined. I insisted. Classic ME. In my mind, he was wearing the boots. In reality, there was no reason for him to do so. But my expectations said one thing, so I kept jamming that square peg into that round hole until it became clear to me that we were on our way to Misplaced Expectations Meltdown. Finally, I relented and put Riley's tennis shoes on, but that damn ME kept flaring up, causing me to remind Riley that he was being TOTALLY RIDICULOUS as I changed his footwear.

At last, it was time to have our Meaningful Moment. We found a lovely flowering bush by the path, parked the stroller next to it, and got ready to unwrap our butterfly and set it free. 

"It's butterfly time!"
"Butterfly! Mariposa!"
"Who are we going to think about while the butterfly flies away?"
"That's right. Daddy, we love you."

And so I unwrapped the butterfly. Maddie and Riley proceeded to recoil in horror. 

"Look at the butterfly!" [Note: it did look a bit shell-shocked and sad.]
"No like it, butterfly."
"Let's put the butterfly on the flower."
"Butterfly hurt Riley?"
"No, honey, the butterfly will not hurt you. Do you want to see the butterfly up close?" [Note: OBVIOUSLY NOT. But my ME was casing me to force the situation.]
"No! No mariposa! No like mariposa! Mama no touch mariposa!"

And so on etc. and so forth. We abandoned our butterfly on the yellow flower and waved a feeble goodbye. I felt angry because none of this was what I had wanted. Nothing about the evening had gone as planned. ME is a preventable disease, but I had fallen right into all of its traps and failed to roll with the punches. 

We strolled around the gorgeous gardens a bit, but all Riley could say was, "No butterfly hurt Riley?" over and over, which really irritated me. So we headed back to the car to go home. A friend was with us, and she gave me a hug after I loaded the twins in the car. "I'm so sorry," she said. Which made me cry, which made me realize how much sadness I was holding in and how sorry I was, too, and how a heartfelt "I'm sorry" is always such an appropriate and good thing to say. 

I wiped my tears away and we drove home. We sang songs and chit-chatted and all was well until we pulled into our parking spot and thus began Boots, Redux. Maddie didn't want to wear her boots across the street and into the house. She wanted her regular shoes. Which I had, but didn't want to bother changing her into. So I insisted that she wear her boots. This led to a full-scale Misplaced Expectations Meltdown. Maddie screamed, "No boots!" all the way across the street. While I had been too lazy to put on her regular shoes, the principled guidelines of an ME episode allowed me to find the reserves to carry a thrashing, screaming toddler across the street and up our stairs, stopping numerous times to jam her kicked-off boots back on to her feet. I only allowed her to take the boots off once she was in the house,* after which she continued to scream to the point that she coughed up a bunch of snot that she'd swallowed during her sob-fest. Poor baby.

I finally got everyone—including myself!—calmed down. We had a snuggle. We read stories. I went to put Maddie in bed, so ready to put an end to an evening that had not in any way been what I wanted, an evening during which I had allowed myself to be a person that I don't like at all, a person ruled by Misplaced Expectations. "I love you, Maddie," I said. "I love you so much, and I'm sorry I was not very nice tonight. Mama's really sad."

"Daddy love Maddie."
"What, sweet?"
"Daddy love Maddie. Butterfly go up high into sky."

And with that, she leaned in towards her crib, ready to climb in and go to sleep. Clearly, she got what she needed from our evening. There's a lesson for me there.

*Topic for another post: my other chronic ailment, If You Give in Once, It's All Over (IYGIOIAO).


Trish said...

First, I'm so sorry I haven't written back to you Snick - I did a rebuild on my mailboxes, because it was doing funky things with email, and it deleted a bunch of emails. Ironically, it deleted all the messages waiting to be answered (which makes me a bad friend, and a bad sister - sorry, Ann!).

Ah, yes, the dreaded ME's. I, too, suffer from them (I think every parent of a small child that I know does, at some point or another). I want to thank you, though, because after 4 years with my stubborn, willful, hard-headed, funny, quirky, delightful (notice how all the negative stuff is listed first? Yeh, obviously I still have some work to do) I thought that what I had done was give up. I now realize it's a ood thing, that I'm letting go of the ME's. I don't fight over dinner with him (hey, I make the food, put it in front of him, and he either eats or doesn't - he hasn't starved yet). I don't fight over clothes (he's dressed? Not naked? Yay! Mission accomplished!). I don't fight over baths (he's filthy? But he's not going anywhere but school tomorrow? Whatever). There are some things I insist on - being kind to others, having manners, not eating too much junk food, playing outside whenever the weather's nice, not smacking the cat, not smacking/spitting on/being disrespectful to others. But beyond that, I'm trying not to worry about the rest.

It's been hard to do (heck, took me 4 years and I'm still working on it), since I'm such a control freak usually. But fortunately my natural laziness kicks in, and it's been such a delight to cut down on the battles, that that has been my motivation and reward.

So don't kick yourself over this - I think it will come in time, this letting-go-of-the-ME. If there's anything kids do well, it's teach us what really matters. The important thing is you love them, and are trying to be the best mom you can be (as are we all). That alone makes you the perfect mom for them.

And if nothing else, think of them as your own personal little teachers, sent to you by the universe to bring you all those lessons you're learning (yep, that's how I put a positive spin on my parenting experience! LOL).

Sara said...

Oh my, I am sitting at my desk with tears in my eyes. I'm sorry things did not go as planned but it is just perfect how Maddie gets it. It breaks my heart for you and the kiddies. I just think it is so sweet how you share with them about John and try to help them (and yourself) through this process. Good for you.

Becca said...

We call those experiences "Magical Childhood Experiences"... as in "It's not a MCE unless someone is crying in the car on the way home."

So much of what you describe sounds like normal toddler stuff made ten times harder because you are outnumbered. I think I would have forced the boots thing too, btw.

Rev Dr Mom said...


I totally get it about the MEs....and about control. I still work on letting go of all that.

Hope you have a good weekend.

CalBear1993 said...

I hadn't had a name for those feelings that I get sometimes. ME. Perfect.

The best things about young kids is that each morning, everyone wakes up and all is forgiven. They don't remember that Mommy was cranky last night or that she only read every third page of the book at bedtime.

Today is a new day and your babies love you. And somewhere, floating around and enjoying his freedom, is a butterfly you released in memory of John. That's a lovely thing.

LauraC said...

Oh goodness, I can imagine having the MEs during such an important thing for you has to be so hard! I find the biggest disappointments for me are when I have any expectations of the boys. I keep saying over and over that having twins is a lesson in keeping expectations low, but some days you really wish for their cooperation.

I admire you so much for being able to apologize to your kids. That is a lesson for me to take from this.

Kristin.... said...

ME. I love it. I never had a name for it. Now I do. Perfect. And it exists in all moms I think. It is SO HARD to let go of. Those beautiful thoughts about what it IS going to be, only to be replaced by WHAT it is can be so hard to deal with. I think as kids grow older, those issues balance out a bit. At least I hope so.
Maddie...so sweet. It always amazes me when they GET IT.
I'm sorry it didn't all work out the way you planned.

Jen said...

Is it really wrong of me that at this part: "While I had been too lazy to put on her regular shoes, the principled guidelines of an ME episode allowed me to find the reserves to carry a thrashing, screaming toddler across the street and up our stairs, stopping numerous times to jam her kicked-off boots back on to her feet." I totally laughed the sweet laughter of recognition? I don't know how many times X has been too much trouble for me to do, so thanks to my son I have to do Y instead, which is 5 times more difficult. We have been having a lot of kicked-off shoes around here, though thanks be to God the high-chair fights have backed off.

Thinking of you all, and your butterfly, and John especially.


Anonymous said...

Don't beat yourself up over it. Even the millions of parents who have partners encounter such things - it is just magnified, because you are without your helpmate. Even so, don't fret about standing your ground with the kids. It builds character. There's a time and place for both going easy and being firm. Remember that.

- A

Lucky said...

It is so difficult to handle "life goes on" (good and bad) in your children when you are trying to focus on the beauty of a life that you have lost. Yet somehow you continue to do this flawlessly...
Every time that you break down or act out, even to your children, you are showing them the significance of your loss. Because of this, they are already super compassionate for their age. Great job. They are going to be such an asset to the world.

Whitney said...

wow. i'm a new reader (CNN story). thank you.

Lisa said...

Oh, that made me cry.

I, too, have had very bad cases of ME.

This post was beautiful, despite the dismal greyness of it. and there is a lesson for me there, too.

And, I'm so sorry.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry things didn't go as they did in your head. It made a beautiful picture - but you know what? So did what actually happened. A beautiful moment came out of the experience and good for you for recognizing and appreciating it.

I'm still crying BTW.

Anonymous said...

That was one of your most lovely posts -- humorous, poignant, a contribution to others, deeply personal but somehow so much bigger than yourself (even though it was all about "ME") :-)

You really could be making a living at this.

Caroline said...

Thanks for sharing - I needed to read your post today. ((sniffle, sniffle((

Anne said...

I am so sorry things didn't work out at the butterfly release, but I thought the lesson you took from the experience was great. I have so much admiration for you because you're able to stop and look at your own thoughts and behavior and decide what you wish to change for the good of your relationship with your kids. So many people, so many parents can't or won't do this, and it winds up being so damaging to their relationships with others.

Speaking of butterfly experiences--we took our 16 month old to a butterfly sanctuary a couple months ago, and she was MUCH more interested in walking over the little wooden bridges they had there than looking at any of the butterflies!

luna said...

this is a really beautiful and honest post. I imagine it would be hard not to have some kind of expectation about such a meaningful event. but as I sit here with tears in my eyes, I see clearly there was meaning to be discovered, despite it not going according to plan (what does?).

Ragtop Day said...

OMG - I haven't read all the comments yet, though I will. I just want to say thank you for putting a name to 2 syndromes I also suffer from - ME and IYGIOIAO! And thank you for being so honest about your feelings about them too - I tend to hide their existence in my dealings with the outside world (including my blog), but especially with myself, at least in the moment.

Giovanna said...

Lovely post!
Made me laugh & cry.
{{{{{hugs}}}}}} for making it through a difficult night.

Rachel said...

Great post. Is it wrong that I saw some dark humor there? And of course the end made me teary. So sweet!

I've gone down that ME road a few times myself, especially during the toddler years. You are wise to have such insight into what is going on.

I think what Trish said was also very wise. Easier said than done, though!

Cathy said...

Oh I so sorry things didn't go as you envisioned. This post made me cry. Damn those pictures we get in our heads!

But it also made me cry because of Maddie, she really gets the whole picture and she's so young.

Keen said...

Aargh. Your post made me cry out of sadness and frustration for you and then laugh in spite of myself. ("No like mariposa! Mama no touch mariposa!" Oh, sweet, sweet Riley.)

Hope things are better. I hadn't put a name to it (like ME), but I hate it when a family activity that sounds so lovely in theory goes to hell in a handbasket.

Also, I completely agree with the poster who said that your children are going to be an asset to the world. That much is already patently clear.

Lots of love to you and those sweet children.

NanarocksWeen said...

Such a wonderful post, Snick.
I cried too. Your little Maddie sure capped off the evening with her incredible insight. Sometimes things end up "just right" even when it seems they went "all wrong."
I agree with the anonymous post - you could be making a living with your writing...you capture these moments so well. We're lucky you allow us into your life through your blog.

Clover said...

Oh Snick- what a hard day for you. Its so hard to have a vision for how a significant event will take place and reconcile it when reality usually falls short. And its doubly hard when the significant event is such a hard one. Thinking of you...

yatima said...

When Maddie said that I just burst into tears.

I am so sorry. I wish John could be with you all in the flesh, telling you to chill out and then making all three of you laugh.

elderflowerpressee said...

Honey, you're grieving. Please, please, please don't be so hard on yourself. Don't label yourself. 'm not sure how to put this, so this will come out clumsily at best, so forgive me, but:
Your account is incredibly articulate, insightful, and self-awareness and analysis are good things, but be careful that the process and articulation themselves don't become a(nother) way of punishing yourself. Thinking of you and wishing you healing.

sheilah said...

I have both of your diseases and always need to remind myself to "not sweat the small stuff".

And, yes, Daddy love Maddie, indeed.

*tears in eyes*

Lori said...

Thank you for naming and defining a disease that I suffer from chronically. From now on, when things don't go exactly as expected, I will think of you, and remember that life is full of ME moments.

mlg said...

Ahhh.. ME. I have long called this the Norman Rockwell phenomenon.

My sister really suffers from this. I used to. I am a bit over it now. I think it is because I have watched my sister do everything she can to prepare for the perfect experience, one that would be caught in a Rockwell print and put on the cover of Life magazine.

I have watched over the years and learned that she is just setting herself up for misery.

Here is the truth sis.. The kid will act up, Dad will get into a bad mood, your husband will start an argument and make you feel stupid, your mother in law will get drunk, something will burn, something will not cook, something will have been left at the store.

For her it is amazing when those things happen and perfection is not achieved.

For me it is amazing that she doesn't get that perfection will not occur and is amazed when those things happen.

The cure for ME? Watch someone else go through it.

Miss Maha said...

I think you're being a great mom, even on the days when you don't feel like it. In this experience you modeled taking responsibility for your actions by apologizing when you weren't happy with your behavior. They'll learn that from you and develop those helpful skills so many adults don't have.

P.S. Thanks for your note =)

buddha_girl said...

Snick, you have succeeded in giving me a name for my disease as well. My name is Buddha Girl, and I have ME.

I loathe myself when I allow ME to overtake me. I end up acting like a total horse's ass and often hold on to my anger for much longer than is healthy.

We're all a work in progress.

Two more things:
Maddie's short conversation with you before climbing into her crib is a priceless moment of joy.

Your card arrived - and Buddha insisted on carrying it around for almost two hours, in public, while opening and closing it so he could hear the wheels screeching. You guys were a hit in the Buddha House! Thank you.

Watercolor said...


and thank you for the information on ME. It appears I may be similarly inflicted at times and hadn't realized it had an official name... hmm....

Badger said...

much love, as always, to you and the twins, Snick.

mames said...

ME is such a god way to explain and understand all those times. those times i thought i would be a better mom than i am. i am glad you are able to see yourself so well. it is so hard in the moment, but they know, they know you love them and i think they really do know what you want for them. boots and all. hugs to you.

Julia said...

Oh, sweet Maddie. I am glad she said that. But also? I think you are being too hard on yourself. Drizzly miserable weather (not to mention traffic jams) makes everything worse, and expectations are hard to let go when they are about things that are supposed to connect you to the loved ones who are not here anymore. We get so few of these sanctioned occasions, times and places we feel imbued with extra meaning because others see them that way too, that it is very very hard to fight MEs in that territory.
I too am sorry the day turned out the way it did. But Maddie... what a sweet sweet kid.

Anonymous said...

Hey Snick,

I commented earlier, but decided to write again and ask if you'd mind asking readers to keep a young family in their thoughts/prayers. After several years of a battle with brain cancer, today a counselor for one of our local schools passed away. He left behind a wife and three young children between the ages of about four and ten. It was a very long and trying road for this individual - who was one of the nicest men you could ever meet - and I know that his students, colleagues and of course especially his family will miss this incredible man.

- Andrea

Kathryn said...

I've never known anyone as gifted as you Snick, when it comes to turnign a horrible experience into a beautiful gift.
So sorry that things didn't match your hopes...So glad that Maddie saved the day...And ME is the most constant feature of my marital relationship - the children, thankfully, are now exempted, it's just the Longsuffering Clockmaker who "cops it".
You are a star, in every way....Mum, writer, all round top banana :-) xx

TD#3 said...

Wow the MEs - what a perfect phrase - I always try to explain that away and my reaction to it as my loss of control of the situation and then something always bites me and reminds me that I wasn't in control in the first place and ain't ever gonna be. I have yet to learn the lesson and master it. You have such a gift for gleaning the most from these moments. thank you snick...

Kerrie said...

Oh, you poor love...I wish I could hug you and tell you how sorry I am but will have to do it via cyberspace.

The ME's...ugh, as hard as I try I can't shake them but over the years have become better at accepting that some things are just not going to live up to my (exceedingly over the top) expectations. It's damned hard but it does get easier as children get older. I have tried to lower my expectations of others, sometimes it works, bit most times no.

Your little Maddie girl, God love her...she brings tears to my eyes when she speaks of her Papa. She's very self contained and independent, isn't she..?? And Riley...such a beautiful, sensitive soul. I hope you keep blogging for a very long time, I so want to see them grow bigger.

Take care...be gentle with yourself.

Pantheist Mom said...

What a sweet little girl. I think she "knew" you needed to hear that she got it and she let you know.

Anonymous said...

Snick -

I started reading because of the cnn story and the fact my dad has pancratic cancer. Thanks for sharing - you have quite a gift for story telling.

Wendy said...

Your post brought sadness and tears, laughter in seeing myself through another's eyes, and sweet memories. We lived in Guantanamo Bay for three years, there was only one store, the "PX" and if the PX didn't have it, you didn't get it. One day driving the 5 kids to the babysitters, me in total daydream, they happily took off their shoes and threw them out the windows... I didn't discover this fact until arriving at day care - I had assumed that quiet laughter in the back of the car was just a blessing for the morning instead of the cries, complaints, whines we usually went through. Well, no shoes, no day care. So I drove back over the route, looking for ten shoes. I found 7 - not all matching. Sobbing I went back home and in hysterics called my mommy. They didn't have any shoes in my children's sizes at the PX, could she go to the shoe store and send me 5 pair of shoes and send them over night mail - I wouldn't be able to go to work until we got the shoes. Overnight mail took a week. The ME held onto me for the first day or so, and then the laughter started. I sight of me driving obliviously along with shoes of all sizes and styles flying out of the windows still brings me to hysterical laughter. And it is one of those "family stories" that bind us together.
One day this "family story" of yours, will be told and retold as the children grow and it will bind you all together too, keeping John close to your memories. Much love!!

Cheryl Lage said...

Oh Snick...
What an artful, self-exposing and (I hope) healing-by-revealing in word post. Do you think we could start a movement/petition Webster's powers-that-be to change the spelling from Mommy to MomME? No, let's not...

You are a wonderful, remarkable Mommy.

Threeundertwo said...

Wow, what an incredible post. Very useful for me, as well, as I prepare to take my twins to their first funeral. Thank you for writing it.

OTRgirl said...

"ME" what a perfect expression for how that all goes down. Your image of the sun setting, the string music, the butterfly flitting into the distance all contrasted with rain and disappointment was SO evocative.

As usual, all I can say is, "I'm so sorry."

Renovation Girl said...

I felt like a bobble-head as I read this...I have the same disorder, as I think most moms do, and have never really acknowledged it before. I guess I blamed it on Builder Boy being impossible sometimes. You're right, though, we do have control over it. It's just hard when you're in the middle of it to step back and see through the frustration.

Sorry things didn't go as planned, but Maddie certainly made the whole event worthwhile. I am continually amazed by your strength!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, thank you. Again you speak words of truth. I have ruined a few family outings/events for myself with a bad case of the MEs. Your honesty and openness is much appreciated.

Mama Nabi said...

Yes... although it didn't meet ME on the surface, I think it did meet ME in all the right places. *hugs* I wish I could give you a real hug. That Maddie is always onto things...

And Riley will be ready for the butterfly next time. LN and I went to a little butterfly exhibit at a Children's festival last week - I was surprised to see that she quickly reached for one and let one walk all over her hand and arm. She would have had Riley's reaction only few months ago.

I *heart* you, Maddie, and Riley... big hugs and kisses....

django's mommy said...

I haven't read the comments yet, but WOW did this post touch a nerve for me. This is exactly why I am so nervous to include my son in any mourning experiences- what if he doesn't do it 'right'?? What if it sucks and I resent him for even being there? I SO appreciate your recap and honest appraisal of your thought processes during the butterfly release. Food for thought for my therapy session tomorrow. Again, heartfelt thanks, Snick.

~Denise~ said...

We were at a local Relay for Life even this weekend and my 5yo got a butterfly to release. I was hoping for some great memories of it, and while she did much better than I expected, it wasn't until afterwards that I realized I had expectations of what would happen.

We're parents, and we're human. It's okay to want things to be memorable and meaningful, without the added screams, tantrums, etc.

Many hugs.

Kim said...

I have never heard of ME. I either live under a rock, or, which is true, in Japan. However, it was a perfect post to help me diagnose myself! I think I will be a much better Mama for having read this post today. Thanks.

Crash Course Widow said...

Love love LOVED this post! I could hear myself and my own Misplaced Expectations howling in my memory. I've been widowed almost 3 years now (our daughter was 10 months old when my husband died; she'll be 4 in September) and there have been sooooooooooo many times where I've wanted to have a sweet, touching, meaningful grief moment or ceremony and it all goes balls up. I laugh at them now (or try to at least), and boy, your post had me laughing. I don't know if you intended it to be funny, but I howled. =) Great topic for the post, and excellent writing too.

Thanks for sharing!

Another fellow young widow with small children....

wendy said...

I'm sitting here crying my eyes out. It's not so much the event (which, OMG, is so very moving) but the fact that I see myself in all you have written here. I should be laughing but sometimes the truth is so very painful. From all I've read, you are truly an amazing woman.