I always assumed that hibernation took a lot of advanced planning. I guess that’s why I never tried it before now.  It was too much work.  I’d seen squirrels gathering acorns for months on end just to get ready for the big event. I’d heard that bears worked tirelessly to double their body fat and wandered hither and yon to find the cave that was just right for their epic winter slumber.  And these animals had it in their blood. It was part of their genetic plan – “You will hibernate”. I wasn’t even sure a human could pull it off.  How could a person possibly stay inside for all those months, deprived of light, and breeze, and all other natural elements that make a human feel…human. I figured it must take stamina beyond all stamina and a will made of steel and Styrofoam and Hostess Twinkies and other substances built to last throughout all time and space.

 

But then, out of nowhere, I did it. I didn’t even plan a thing. I hibernated by accident. As a matter of fact I didn’t even realize it was happening at first.

 

I think it all started the day of the first big snow. Somehow despite the downpour I just assumed I could pull off my usual routine. “What’s our adventure for today?” Sage asked when we woke that morning. “We’ll hit the hill for some sledding, down some hot chocolate, build a snow fort, paint with icicles, and the maybe zoom down the driveway using these cookie sheets as skis.” I really was embracing the turn in weather. It was going to be epic.

 

Even when I discovered that I did not own a pair of gloves, or own a car that would agree to drive through snow, I said, “No worries, my hands will freeze, we will walk. We will not be deterred.” And even when I discovered that my daughter did not have legs long enough to actually walk through a foot of snow or a sled sturdy enough to escort her through the very substance that it was invented to slide upon I still ventured forth. “We will make a snowman,” I said, forgetting that one cannot sculpt snow without gloves. “We will look for tracks,” I offered, ignoring the fact that no animal in his right mind would be out in this terrible weather. “We will have a snowball fight,” I said, forgetting that a three-year-old who has been raised by pacifist parents would be confused and traumatized when hit in the face by a piece of ice thrown by her mother. “We will go back home and make hot chocolate,” I said. “Yay,” sniffed my daughter.

 

And so we went back inside. And it was nice. It was warm. My lack of protective clothing was no longer an issue. I felt prepared in this place.  I knew how to navigate the five rooms of my apartment. I could make this work. Maybe the great outdoors was overrated anyway.

 

The next morning I felt guilty. Maybe I should try again. After all, I wanted my daughter to grow up loving the elements. But the driveway was not plowed, and the snowsuit was still wet from the day before, and my daughter begged not to go out. And that was really the excuse I needed to call it quits on the snow. Sure I wanted to raise a hearty kid but maybe I could start that project next year. Maybe this year I could gently expose her…like maybe from the comfort of the couch. “Let’s bring the snow in here,” I declared and leaned out the window with a soup ladle. I caught a few flakes, we studied them, we watched them melt. My daughter was truly wowed. There, no more guilt, she’d had an up close look at some snow. I was off the hook.

 

The next day, when the snow continued to fall I didn’t even make a move for my winter coat. I reached my hand out the window, ripped off some icicles and we dipped them in jell-o powder as we sat under a blanket in bed. “Isn’t winter wonderful!” I cooed as we licked off the mounds of pink sugar.

 

I was enjoying this whole indoor winter thing. The next day I went to the store and bought two months worth of supplies. A few days later I managed to stay in my pajamas all day. “I’m good at this,” I thought to myself. “I bet I could pull this off tomorrow too.” And I did. I did it that next day, and the day after that, and the day after that too.

 

My next move was to stop showering; after all it is hard to shower when you refuse to take off your pajamas. I grew a beard – or at least that little extra facial hair that some women of Eastern European descent get when they loose the will to pluck. My hair got frizzy; almost bear-like. I began getting most of my exercise walking back and forth between the kitchen and the bed. Sleep, eat, sleep eat, became my inner monologue.

 

My daughter went out, of course. My husband took her on all sorts of adventures; and when she was home I entertained the hell out of her. We put on plays, made movies, did every craft ever invented, read picture books till my throat ran dry, made up songs, took imaginary vacations. But somewhere in the back of my mind, even in my most engaged moments there was that little voice chanting “sleep more, eat more.”

 

At night, after she’d go to bed, I’d just kind of walk around grunting.

“How was your day?” my husband would ask.

“Ummmm, huh,” I’d say “are you talking about yesterday, or the day before that, or that one day from last week? They all seem so similar…is it getting dark in here?”

“Yes honey, it’s night.”

“Huh, where am I? Is it spring yet? What’s that smell? Is that me? Do we have any meat in the house, I’m hungry!.”

“It’s okay honey, go back to bed. You’re just confused.”

 

And so I shuffled about. I ignored the windows all together now. I could hear the plows grinding down the street. I just assumed the snow was probably up to the roof by now.

 

But then out of nowhere, I woke one day to the sound of a bird. I thought it was a car alarm at first, but when I listened harder I found that the sound was more gentle, far more optimistic. I stumbled over to the window… I saw drops of water trickling down the glass.  It was the icicles… they were melting.  And that’s when I looked down at my matted slippers, at my hairy legs, at my ragged unwashed pajamas. It was a terrifying sight. “Quick” I shrieked, “Someone start the shower.” (I had forgotten how). I washed, I tweezed, I shaved, I even applied lotion. I dusted off a pair of daytime clothing.

“You look stunning,” said my husband, as I emerged wearing a pair of jeans and a thermal top.

My daughter was befuddled. “Where’s your uniform?” she asked.

“That wasn’t a uniform,” I corrected. “Those were just mommy’s pajamas.”

 

I cried on my way out the door. I was simply overcome. The possibilities were endless. The feeling of sun on my pasty white skin was almost orgasmic. As Sage and I walked off the front porch and into the slush each step felt like a revelation. I moved like Neil Armstrong on the moon. If I had had a flag I would have planted it right there on the front lawn, just to mark the occasion. If I had had a microphone I would have made a speech, “Hello world, I am back from my hibernation. It was a terrible mistake. People are not meant to disappear when the going gets tough. I will not let it happen again.”  But I did not have a flag or a microphone; I planted no memorabilia, I gave no speeches.  I simply took my daughter’s hand, pointed in the direction of the nearest park and shouted, “LET”S GO!”

 

I’m tired. I’m so tired I feel like I’ve been stuffed inside a zip lock bag full of Jello and then hurled across the sky. According to clocks and all other time telling devices I no longer go to bed during the actual night. The AM signal has made its appearance hours before I’m even ready to consider being in a horizontal position.

Work has kept me doing all manner of crazy things into the wee hours of the morning- writing musical numbers to be performed by inanimate objects, building stets out of construction paper, operating Popsicle stick puppets from underneath a table in a basement. Last night, at two a.m., while the rest of the eastern seaboard was sleeping I was making an inflatable blimp out of a tube sock, a plastic bag, and a bicycle pump (it’s important work…somebody has to do it).

I’ve pulled all-nighters followed by half-nighters and half-nighters that lead into no-nighters (there are just no catchy phrases to sum up how very little rest I am getting).

I imagine this is what it’s like to go on a vision quest or some other spiritual journey where you deprive yourself of sleep for several months and then right when you think you are going to break beyond repair you start hallucinating and meet your spirit animal.  The hallucinations haven’t started yet but if they do begin, and I do indeed meet my spirit animal, I am fairly certain that it will tell me to get some fucking sleep.

Before having a child I would have been able to take this advice. I would have followed any sleepless night with at least three days of doing nothing but lying in bed and rousing only to go to the bathroom or make myself a toaster waffle. But now that there is a little person expecting me to be up with the sun, a day of rest is simply out of the question. I can’t just tell my two-and a-half –year-old, “Hey Mommy’s going to head to bed for the next eleven hours. Here’s how you open the fridge and operate the oven, here’s how you change your own diapers, here are the keys to the car, sing-a-long starts at ten, don’t be late. I’ll just be here in my room with this do not disturb sign on the door. You’re cool right? I’ll see you at dinner.”

It just doesn’t work like that. I can’t even pee with the door closed let alone disappear to take a nap.

So I’ve had to get creative. I’ve had to cut corners… I’m not proud of it, but at the moment it’s the best I can do.

When my daughter wants to play pretend I suggest that we pretend to be babies, “I’ll be an itty bitty baby,” I volunteer. “Did you know that itty bitty babies just lie in bed and sleep and cry? They can’t walk or anything… just watch, it goes something like this.” And then I curl up and attempt to drift off. “Whaaaa!” I cry out every few minutes just so she doesn’t think I’ve stopped playing the game.

Today I suggest we pretend the bathtub was an airplane. “You be the pilot,” I said, and then I sat behind her and rested my head against the faucet while she steered us through the clouds. I was actually managing to get some great rest until she requested that all passengers on the bathtub plane sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” over and over again.

At mealtime, I opt for something that requires nothing more than reheating or calling someone on the phone and saying, “I’d like delivery please”. At bedtime I suggest that my daughter read a story to me. When she naps, I nap, and when she wakes after only twenty minutes I suggest we play a highly competitive game called “pretend nap”.

“See if you can make me think that you are actually sleeping,” I say.  “I’ll play too. Whoever can pretend nap for the longest wins! I’m very good at this game so you are going to have to be very convincing to beat me….”

It’s really shameful to think of all the ways I’ve attempted to avoid our usual boisterous routine. When she asks for dance music so that we can “rock out” I put on a CD that involves a single wooden flute or a lone Monk chanting “Om.”

“Oops,” I say, “wrong CD. But isn’t this music nice. It might not be the best for dancing but do you know what this song is really good for? This song is great for sitting on the floor and staring up at the ceiling. Doesn’t that sound like fun!”

Yesterday at the playground I asked her to push ME on the swing. It was going so well until the force of my weight knocked her into the sand. At one point she was hunting for acorns and I curled up on an empty slide, “Excuse me miss…” I heard a woman say just as I was beginning to relax, “My son would like to use that slide.”  I made up some embarrassed lie, “Heee, heee, I was just playing hide-and-seek with my daughter…. guess I picked the wrong spot.”

I’m pretty sure she thought I was drunk.

Soon I’ll be back in the game. I’ll be energetically chasing my two-and-a-half year old through fields, playing the bongo drums with my feet and hula-hooping with a stuffed monkey taped to my head (you know. The usual parenting stuff.) But for now, for the next day or two… or three, I’ll be I’ll be looking for that bench, or that doorway, or that mattress on the side of the road, where I can pause for just a minute and rest.

 

A few days ago a pregnant friend sent out a desperate message on Facebook. She explained an overwhelming trip to Babys-R-Us that resulted in her feeling like she’d never be fit to raise a child. “Help” she pleaded, “someone please tell me what to register for.”

Eager to jump at a chance to display some parental wisdom  (these opportunities come so rarely) I immediately began composing a response in my head, “Dear friend, children don’t need much. Get a few diapers. Get some onsesies. If you have a sensitive nose get a Diaper Champ or some other device that will make the smell of feces magically disappear from your dwelling place (but you can also just keep your trash on the back porch and occasionally spray it with Febreze). The end.

It was such a neat little note, just what a pregnant mom would want to hear. I decided I’d type it up just as soon as I finished packing for our weeklong family vacation. I’d make it a bit softer, add in some calming humor and press send.

But then something very disturbing happened… as I walked around the house gathering items for the trip I found myself serenaded by the following inner monologue: 

“OK… I better pack six shirts, and also a sweatshirt for the cold nights- and make that two sweatshirts because if she’s wearing anything at night it will likely be covered in ice-cream by the second day. Then I’ll need these orange shoes and also these green shoes for the days when she suddenly and quite arbitrarily decides that these orange shoes are the wrong color and are too tight.

I’ll also need to bring these rubber bands for keeping her hair out of her eyes, and these clips for when she refuses to wear these rubber bands. And I’ll need this brush and this detangling spray just in case she lets me brush her hair and these scissors and that comb in case she doesn’t and I have to cut it all off once and for all.

And I’ll need her toothbrush, and her special toothpaste, and the floss that she does not actually use but likes to pretend to use. And I’ll need the thermometer in case she catches a summer flu, and baby Tylenol in case she catches the summer flu and the vitamins in the hopes that we can avoid the summer flu all together.

I’ll also need the diapers for land, and the diapers for water, and the underpants for when she’s experimenting with no diapers at all, and the roll of paper towels for when the experiment goes awry.

And I can’t forget her special cup, or her other special cup, or her other special cup, or the special straw that she uses in the bathtub. And speaking of special things… I will need to pack her very favorite stuffed black cat, and her very favorite stuffed purple cat, and her very favorite stuffed brown cat. Additionally I’ll need her important baby, and her important books, and the broken leg from the plastic side table that she likes to pretend is her important walking stick.

And I’ll need sunscreen, and that yellow hat that she likes to wear every morning when she’s pretending to be a taxi driver. And I’ll need those puppets, and that maraca, and that notebook for writing about all the stuff she does with those puppets and that maraca. And…”

Suddenly I had an entire store’s worth of goods sprawled out on the floor.  It looked like the scene from “The Cat and The Hat” when the cat has taken over and turned the house upside-down and inside-out and the fish is staring the reader dead in the eyes like, “We’re fucked!”

I immediately began composing a new letter to my pregnant friend. “Dear friend, buy nothing. NOTHING!! I’d like to repeat that for good measure. NOTHING!!

Diapers will only lead to training pants, which will lead to underpants, which will lead to music and books about potty training, which will lead to little potties for home and little potties for on-the-go, and an arsenal of cleaning supplies for when all the little potties fail you.

Onesies (even just a few) will lead to matching pants, which will lead to socks, which will lead to shoes, which will lead to other shoes, which will lead to hats, which will lead to tangled hair. And this tangled hair will lead to conditioning products, and detangling products, and combs, and brushes, and clips, and scissors, and arguments over said combs and brushes and scissors which will lead you to need” that one special” stuffed animal or calming CD or pacifier that will make it all better.

Resist. If you must register for anything, register for a large open field where your diaperless, clothesless baby can run naked amidst the grass. She’ll pee where she likes so there will be no need for diapers- no need for portable defecation devices. She’ll fertilize your land- you’ll be able to grow a kick ass vegetable garden and won’t have to buy her overpriced kid-friendly snacks or snack carrying contraptions. She’ll be out there fashioning a baby doll out of a pinecone. She’ll be whittling a train using the sticks she finds in her field. The wild cats will lick her clean every night. The birds will nest in her hair so you won’t need to worry about brushing that either. They’ll lay eggs in there and at breakfast time she’ll pick one out of her tussled mane, rub two rocks together to make a fire and cook up an omelet. You won’t need kiddie forks, or sippy-cups, or drinking straws, or bibs, or splat-mats, or highchairs, or booster seats or little toys that suction-cup to those booster seats and highchairs, she’ll be eating her home-cooked grub under a little oak tree while being serenaded by a dove. And what will you be doing as your self-reliant, stuff-less child goes about her day? You’ll be RELAXING in a reclining lawn chair in your lovely little field.  The end.”

I’d been feeling pretty proud. On Monday I talked my daughter down from a red alert tantrum and then on Tuesday I got her to eat a three-syllable vegetable. Mid week at the grocery store I convinced her that she was not actually going to die if she didn’t get to open a bag of goldfish crackers “right now, oh Mommy NOW,” and then on Friday I skillfully navigated my way through a no-nap day.

By the weekend I was strutting around saying things like, “I’ve really got this kid down.”

But then something started to happen. It was strange and disturbing. My daughter began to reveal that she had gotten a bead on me, too. All this time she’d been systematically logging my weaknesses, noting the flaws in my logic, and finding the loopholes in my mandates. Without letting on, she had discovered my Achilles heel and amassed an arsenal of little invisible arrows. Suddenly she started firing them at random and taking me out.

On Monday, she somehow convinced me to give her ice cream by skillfully leveraging my own affection for this frozen treat.

“You love ice cream,” she reminded me. “You love chocolate.”

“Yes,” I agreed, “I do.”

“You should have chocolate,” she encouraged.

“Yes, I should,” now resolved to go get a scoop.

But when I returned she immediately commandeered the cone.

“Oh Mommy, I will share this with you, because you love ice cream.”

“Wait… what is going on…I thought this was mine,” but it was already too late.

Midweek she managed to avoid finishing lunch by tapping into my neurosis.

“Sage you need to eat a few more bites,” I said.

“What Mommy?” she responded.

“Bites.” I repeated, “I need you to eat them.”

“Huh…”

“Bites of your sandwich. That thing made of bread that you have barely touched. How about you have some.”

“What?” she persisted?

“Can you hear me?” I asked, now growing concerned.

“Huh?”

“Are your ears okay? Do you have water in there? Should I call the doctor?”

And suddenly I was so distracted by hear ears that I found myself automatically clearing her plate and dumping it’s contents into the sink.

Then at the end of the week she craftily manipulated my inner feminist.

She was in the tub with a friend and was having trouble sharing the many ducks and boats and plastic cups that bobbed under the faucet.

“Mine!” she kept shrieking each time he reached for a toy.

“Sage,” I calmly said. “When we have friends over we share. These are not yours. These are ours. Everything here is OURS!”

She looked me dead in the eyes and rose defiantly out of the water with her arms extended like a gymnast who had just stuck a landing.

“This body is mine,” she said, gesturing to her torso. “My head, my eyes, my heart, my hands.”

I sank into the floor mat ashamed that I had somehow managed to imply that her physical being was a shared commodity.

“Yes,” I agreed. “Those things are definitely yours.”

I took the weekend to recover.

Next week I’ll start afresh. I’ll learn from my two-year-old. I’ll take notes. I’ll dig deeper into my bag of tricks.

On Monday I’ll be back on top.

“It’s going to be so much fun” I say. “Fun like the park, fun like the farm, fun like that one time we wore cereal boxes on our heads. It’s going to be crazy fun.”

My daughter is sold. We hop in the car and I continue to make promises.

“It’s just one giant playroom,” I say.

“There are little kitchens and bedrooms and bathrooms. And you can pretend you live there. Oh and also there are wooden slides and these little tiny rocking chairs and desks for kids just your size. And there are cups in every color of the rainbow and toys and coffee tables with tops that tip up to reveal secret hiding places.”

By the time we finally pull up to IKEA my daughter is practically gnawing at the straps of her car seat. She can’t wait to get a glimpse at this promised wonderland.

“We’re going to the big playroom!” she explodes like she’s been holding a mouthful of water for forty-five minutes and has finally arrived at a place where she can spit.

I begin trotting to the door and making little trumpet sounds to signify our grand arrival.

“It’s IKEA” I shout.

“IKEA” echoes my daughter with even more enthusiasm.

“Look” I say as the doors slide open to reveal the grand lobby- “There’s a lady giving out coupons! There’s a mini pencil to scrawl the vin numbers of all the things we want! Check out the giant blue and yellow bags! We get to carry one of those!”

My daughter shows a vague hint of skepticism.

“But where’s the playroom?” She asks.

“Well…” I say, dangling the word like it’s precious and succulent.

“Right up that escalator.”

And I really do believe that she will be amazed, just as soon as we reach the next floor and she sees the mini rooms and the bunk beds and swivel chairs. I really do believe that this will be like a trip to the zoo or the museum. She’ll frolic in delight. I’ll take pictures. Well talk about it longingly for the next week, “Remember that time…” we’ll say.

But when the escalator spits us out in a display living room full of under-stuffed furniture and vases she will not be allowed to touch my daughter looks at me as if I’ve just poked a hole in her inflatable pool on a day when the temperature is at a record high.

“This is not a playroom,” she states with utter contempt.

I spend a few solid minutes trying to get her back on board. But as I attempt to spin the great myth of IKEA it starts dawning on me that I hate this place. It’s been so long since I’ve made the trip to this giant furniture factory that I actually re-imagined it in my head. I remembered it as a playroom, complete with candy colored slides and kites and balloons. But now, standing there, feeling slightly nauseous and dizzy, gazing down at the epic map detailing the many places I will have to travel in order to find the few things I need, it all comes rushing back to me.

What was I thinking? IKEA is not like a playroom at all. It’s not like a museum, or a zoo, or a traveling circus, or a gymnasium, or even the kid’s corner at the local library.

IKEA is like a bad, bad relationship that just won’t end.

You enter and feel so excited by all the possibilities. Everything looks shiny and new. Flawless. You start re-imagining your life. You think of all the great adventures you will have with that storage unit or that loft bed. You imagine the award winning novels you will write on that pale birch desk. It all feels so inspired. But then after mulling around a bit it begins to strike you that everything looks sort of generic and none of it really seems that stable. And it’s all unfinished. And you’re going to have to put it together yourself with that shitty little hardware and those barely legible instructions. And it’s going to be a lot of work and it will end in you feeling terribly incompetent and taken advantage of.

And you start thinking maybe it’s time to cut your losses and just go. You feel determined to up your standards.

You deserve something better than this.

And just as you are firm in your resolve to leave you notice that they’ve got a cafeteria with really cheap food. It’s practically free. You might as well try it. So you go in and you eat and you eat more. And it’s good. And you start thinking, “Maybe I’ll give this another shot.” You kind of feel like you owe them a second chance. After all, they fed you like eating was going out of style. So despite your better judgment you take another lap around the store.

But the buzz doesn’t last.

And now you really want out. Really, really! But you can’t find your way out. Aisle after aisle you pass through all this shit, and you start thinking maybe you do need it, or maybe you don’t or maybe you just don’t know anymore. Maybe it’s the best you are ever going to find SO you start grabbing things, little things, just in case… after all, you’ve lost sight of your taste and your standards and so who’s to say if you weren’t meant to own that wicker napkin holder or set of plastic cups. And you feel frenetic and you want to cry but you don’t want to be that girl; that girl who cries at IKEA. So you pull it together, just… long… enough… to get out. And you make some witty remark to the cashier, “No, no…thank you.” And you go to your car and you drive like a bat out of hell and you run into your house and you take a shower and you wash it all away. And…if you have a kid you hold her tight.

“I love you sweetie,” you say as you sob into her shoulder.

“I’m sorry… I forgot myself….I lost sight of what’s really important. Everything will be all right…it will go back to the way it was before it all went wrong…. Before IKEA…

Tomorrow we will go to a real playroom.

I promise. “

I’m lying in bed having a happy dream about building a tree house with Puck from the hit TV show Glee when I feel an intense need to wander away. It’s like I’m a super hero and I’ve gotten a telekinetic message that someone is in distress. Suddenly the scene shifts and I find myself on a rooftop with my husband and a small posse of friends. I’m trying to figure out why it is that I’ve been summoned to this location when all at once my husband and our buddies jump through the air and scatter across a dozen different rooftops.

“Go long.” I hear my husband shout and I can see that he is tossing something that appears to be roughly the size of a toddler. I strain forward and discover, much to my horror, that it is our daughter. Panic sets in, “What the hell are you doing?” I bark.

“Don’t you dare! DON”T YOU DARE THROW OUR KID!”

But he doesn’t respond.

I wail. I wildly pump my fists into the air. I froth at the mouth like I’m rabid.

“Help!” I call out.

But the more I shout the more I’m ignored. My kid is being hurtled across the skyline and these people all think it’s a game.  Then out of nowhere someone hands Sage a big blue balloon. She takes the string in her tiny hands and begins floating towards me. I know that in seconds she’ll be back in my arms and I’ll be able to keep her safe. I breathe for the first time since this whole catastrophe started. But as I reach for her she pulls out a large pair of scissors, stares me dead in the eyes…

And snips the balloon.

Suddenly she begins falling towards the ground and I know there is nothing I can do to stop her.

My entire being shatters as I run down to the pavement and find her lying on the ground.

“This is it,” I think as I approach. “My daughter is paralyzed or worse.” But when I arrive at her side she sits right up, plants her arms on her hips, and rolls her eyes as if to say, ” Jeez Mom what’s the big deal. You are so freakin’ neurotic.”

When I wake in the morning I do not need a book to help me analyze the dream. This night vision is so laden with obvious symbolism that I almost feel mad at my subconscious mind for being so uncreative. There I was building a tree house with one of the hottest stars on prime time television (and I’m pretty sure he was going to make out with me just as soon as we got the floor boards secured) when I pulled myself away from this fantasy world just so that I could worry about my kid.

And what did all that neurotic concern get me- an exasperated eye roll. Apparently my daughter was perfectly capable of falling a dozen stories and landing unscathed.

I should have stayed in the tree house.

The meaning was as plain and simple as a piece of dry toast. I need to be less neurotic. I need to chill. I felt like my subconscious mind was staging an intervention. My first response was denial. “It’s not that bad. I don’t worry ALL the time.” But then I really began to think about it. Lately I’ve caught myself wincing when she climbs the ladder at the playground. At mealtimes I watch her like a hawk to make sure she does not choke. During hide-and-seek I peek to be certain that she does not get abducted during the ten seconds that I’m supposed to be closing my eyes and counting. Sometimes in the freezer section at the grocery store I worry she will get frostbite.

Am I becoming one of THOSE moms? The ones who gasp and bite their nails and make their kids carry a list of things they must never touch. This cannot be. I remember those moms. As a child I hated those moms. I recall a girl at summer camp whose mother made her pack her very own personal smoke detector to install above her bunk. We all sat around making fun of that mother for hours. And then there was my classmate whose mom forbade her from drinking out of water fountains and swimming in pools all because of the germs. Her daughter was absolutely miserable, she missed out on pool parties and hydration. We called her mother “The Witch”.

I was never meant to be one of those moms. I was meant to be the cool mom. The laid back mom. The mom in the yoga pants who just goes with the flow, the mom who builds a tree house with a shirtless heartthrob.

And if I’m ever going to mellow it is going to have to be now. After all it’s now that the stakes are relatively low. All I’ve got to do is calmly watch my child scale a two-foot ladder surrounded by rubber flooring without feeling like I’m going to suffer a heart attack. This should be an attainable goal. It’s not like she’s asking to go skydiving or mountain climbing. Not yet. If I relax now I’ll be able to say yes to these endeavors later. And I want to be the mom who says yes to great adventure.

My resolve is firm.

Tomorrow night if I have the same dream I’m staying in that freakin’ tree house.

A few nights ago I stayed up into the morning playing poker with friends. I was super excited as I sat down to play. In my fantasy life I’m the kind of person who walks into a backcountry bar and slowly makes her way over to the card table. When I join the game everyone groans. “Not another big city chick who thinks she can play with the real boys.” I just smile and say nothing. At first I lose a couple of hands and they start getting all riled up thinking they’re going to make off with all my money. But then I step it up. I make a big bet and take them all out. I win round after round. At one point a gentleman tries to shoot me with a pistol that he’s been hiding in his boot but I’m too fast. I clamp my hand over the gun and say. “Do you really want to do that?” And I lift up my shirt ever so slightly to show off the karate black belt tied around my waist. He backs down and in the next round I wipe everyone out for good. I scoop up all my winnings and leave the crowd in a daze. “That was hot” I hear someone say as I exit the bar but I don’t even turn around to see who. “Not a chance buddy.” I chuckle. And I’m gone.

In real life however it turns out that I’m not such a good player. As my friends at the table studied their cards plotting their bluffs and weighing their odds I kept glancing over at my Texas Hold ’em cheat sheet. “Crap what if I have two pairs? Is that better than if someone has three of a kind? Can an ace be any number in the deck? Can I turn it into a three?  If I can turn it into a three than I just might have a full house. If not then I’m screwed.” As might be expected of a crappy poker player, I was the first one out. And because I am also no good at shuffling cards I was not elected to become the dealer, which I found out, is what usually happens to the first one out. So I had a lot of time to think, a lot of time.

And what I found myself thinking was, “I would have expected to be better at poker.” Now I’m not completely delusional. I am well aware that my poker fantasy is exactly that- a fantasy. It surly was not going to prepare me for being good at an actual real life poker game but I kind of just assumed that parenting would. After all they both require so many of the same skills. I know from watching poker on TV that the game is all about reading other people’s cues. As a parent, I’ve spent the past twenty-six months perfecting this skill. I can tell when my kid is going to poop forty-five minutes before it happens. I can predict how big a tantrum is going to be based on a subtle shift in her eye color- greenish grey, not so bad, blue-gray you better run. So trying to gauge weather or not someone had a good or bad hand should have been right up my alley.

Then there’s the poker face. The good poker players always seem to wear a mask as they play. Emotions are kept tightly protected. I’ve got this one down too. My kid falls and though I want to screech and gasp and shout, “Oh my god, are you okay?!” I walk leisurely to her side. “No big deal,” I say. “Let’s just shake it off together.” In parenting, my poker face almost always achieves the desired effect. In an actual game of poker it was a lost cause.

And if the emotionless glance wasn’t going to be my secret weapon, I surly thought that bluffing would be in my bag of tricks. As a parent I’ve got that one down to a science. I put on my deep scary voice and say, “Sage I’m going to count to three and you better put those scissors down. One, two…” and as I count up I just kind of hold my breath and hope she’s going to fulfill my request before I arrive at that magic number. In all reality I don’t have fucking clue what happens after three; maybe a trip to her room, maybe a stint in a time out chair. It has never come up. For now it’s just a big old bluff.

And there’s more of course. There’s the fact that both parenting and poker demand patience and resilience. They both make you want to drink and they both require that you go to bed way too late and wake up tired.

But most of all there’s the bravery involved in both. In all the poker movies, the guy you root for always plays with everything he’s got. He’s not timid, he’s not meek, he plunges full force into whatever hand he is dealt. Sometimes he makes a big terrible goof and you gasp and think it’s over but somehow he comes back stronger. He risks everything. He goes all in. As a parent I plunge forward. A lot of the time I do it blindly. I make big decisions and I make big mistakes. I try to be really brave. Each morning I take out my heart and guts and just let my toddler walk around with them. I let her carry my most fragile organs as she throws herself down a slide or walks off with a new friend. I just hold my breath and hope beyond all hope that she’ll be safe and happy. If that isn’t going all in, I don’t know what is.

So why, despite all these parallels was I so bad at poker?  After several days of analyzing and making spreadsheets trying to uncover the disconnect I finally asked my husband, “What makes you good at playing poker?” His answer was simple and elegant.

“Playing poker.”

And that’s when poker became more like parenting than I ever could have anticipated.

Nothing could have prepared me for being a mother; no classes, no books, no rehearsals, no chats with my own mom. Any moment of success or grace that I’ve ever experienced as a parent has come from the fact that I’ve been doing it, every day. I’ve been working hard. I’ve been learning as I go.

So, using parenting as a model and an inspiration, the only way I’m going to get good at poker and fulfill my fantasy of hustling a bunch of burley guys in rural Kentucky is if I get a babysitter for several hours a day and play…

and play…

and play….