Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Binders Full of Women

*I promise this isn't political. It's just a really clever title (if I do say so myself).

While cleaning out some bookshelves, I came across a stack of organizational binders. They were covered in dust and I had no idea what was lurking inside. It turns out they were binders full of women.

And all the women were Me.

You see, I've gone through many phases in my forty-eight years, and I think I've bought organizational binders for each and every one of them.

With a little hesitancy, I decided to through them. I was surprised by the first binder. It was full of coupons. COUPONS. When did I ever collect coupons? I had no recollection of ever having collected coupons. But there they were, staring me in the face, along with notes about upcoming MOMS Club meetings, playgroups, and reminders about all sorts of things. (One rather ominous reminder was written in bold, frantic letters and said - REMIND JOEL TO RELEASE THE FROGS!!!!)

This was the binder of my Young Mom With Small Children Stage. I'd like to say it was filled with laughter and happy memories, and it was -- a little. But it was also filled with melancholy and regret. Maybe even remorse. Because that was the phase where I was at my very best AND my very worst. It was the phase of unfathomable fatigue, worry, and stress. And immeasurable wonder, joy, and awe.

Coupons. I didn't care about coupons. I was a lonely, often frantic, and completely lost young woman seeking contact with other young women who might also be feeling a bit lonely, frantic, and lost. I attended MOMS Club meetings, scrapbooking get-togethers, and parties where hostesses sold candles and cookware. And obviously, at some point, I went to some coupon-clipping gatherings. (I have a vague recollection of listening to a woman extol the virtues of saving 25 cents on a case of shampoo.)

But all I was really doing was searching.

For myself.

I wanted to crawl into that binder and find myself back in 1999. Maybe I'd say:

Hey Girl - I know you're bored out of your mind. I know you don't give a rat's ass about saving 25 cents on shampoo if you buy it by the case because you're wondering if there's enough money in your checking account to put gas in the car so you can get yourself and your three kids home. I know you wish that lady would shut up about the shampoo and talk about something Meaningful. And Real. 

Like how much you miss yourself.

I see you sitting there in your folding metal chair - YOU - the former fashion design major who ended up with a marketing degree because it got you out of school faster. You're wearing a shapeless blouse designed for breastfeeding and a pair of truly awful mom jeans. You're sadly looking forward to tomorrow because Spin Doctors are going to be on Sesame Street. I know that you wouldn't necessarily even like Spin Doctors if it weren't for the fact that you're so sick to death of Raffi. (I saw you throw that cassette out the window in front of a backseat audience of stunned pre-schoolers because you just couldn't handle Wheels on the Bus....




I know you still dream of leather pants, pink hair, and mosh pits. And that you wonder if it was all a dream. If YOU are just somebody's dream and when they wake up - you'll be gone forever.


I know you feel like you're stranded in an alternate universe where your hair stays nondescript and you're cutting grapes in half so nobody chokes....for all eternity.

Let me tell you some things. 

You will not be listening to Wheels on the Bus forever. The six-year-old at your feet is going to someday text you a picture of Jack White on stage with the message of "Look how close I am, Mom!" She's going to play Franz Ferdinand on her guitar until you think maybe you'd prefer Wheels on the Bus. She's going to go to college on a full music scholarship and play on Big Stages in front of Lots of People and you will clap your hands as your heart threatens to explode inside your chest. It will beat more wildly than it ever did at any rock concert. 

And the boy? The four-year-old? He's going to drive you around in his car, making you a captive audience as he tries to turn you into a Russian pop fan. And you will not get Russian pop.

At all.

He's going to cry tears of joy with you as Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers are simultaneously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. OH MY GOD--YES, WOMAN--RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS IN THE HALL OF FAME!!! Who the hell saw that coming? 

That little boy is going to grow up to be taller than you by a long shot, and he's going to turn to you at a Jane's Addiction concert and say, "Thanks for bringing me, Mom!" And you're going to have a rocking awesome time at the Jane's Addiction concert -- and I promise you that Dave Navarro will look exactly the same as he does today, which is both hot and borderline creepy -- and you won't even mind the migraine you get on the way home. 

And the baby nursing at your breast? He's going to be into Techno. Hardcore Techno. He's also going to idolize Moby and you're going to love him for idolizing Moby. Also? You're going to get tired of Moby. 

I know that as he nurses you feel as if he's sucking the life out of you. Literally sucking you dry until there's nothing left. I promise you that you'll get it all back. For every ounce he's draining, he'll give back tenfold. He's a deep thinker, a ponderer, and he'll be a talker. He'll teach you to think in a new way - and it will fill you up until you think you can't take anymore.

But you can.

He will take the Middle Child Thing seriously - the kid will take getting attention to new and previously unheard of levels....

Oh, wait.

Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned that he's a middle child. I'm not sure you can handle knowing that there are two more coming...

In fact, I know you can't handle that right now. But since I let it slip, let me assure you that you'll be BETTER with them. You will be more patient. You will be kinder. You will not worry that everything is permanent, because by then, you'll know it's not.

Everything is FAR from permanent. In fact, it's the opposite of permanent. And you will be PRESENT and ALIVE and GRATEFUL. 

Also? That little dream you're quietly nurturing about writing a novel...you should totally do that. It will be published in May of 2014.

That's what I would have told myself.

I yanked the coupons and calendars and memos out of the binder and threw them away.

It was like exhaling after holding your breath for a decade.

I picked up the next binder and dusted it off. Scattered throughout the pages and pages of schedules and routines and lessons and homeschooling curriculum were articles about dyslexia. There was an article about auditory processing disorder...with question marks scribbled all across the top. This one was (short pause for dramatic effect) the What Are We Going to Do About Joel Binder.

If I crawled into that binder, I'd probably find myself sitting at the kitchen table staring helplessly at a little boy with a bowl haircut. He makes all kinds of noises as he leads several pencils into battle against some erasers. He doesn't use many words, just lots and lots of sound effects. He grins up at me, and I grab the pencils away in frustration. We're trying to do math.

"Let's try this another way," I say, while spreading out four of the pencils. "If you have four pencils, can you give someone six of them? Do you REALLY think you can do that? I mean, dude, look at this. There are four. FOUR. One, two, three, four. You cannot give away six when there are only four."

The boy runs off and returns, happily holding more pencils. "Now we can, Mama!" He slams the pencils down on the table. "Now we can have all the pencils we want!"

I want to tell myself:

First of all, calm the hell down. I mean, I'm working really hard not to call you a bitch here -- I'm giving you the benefit of a doubt because you're short on confidence and heavy on the anxiety. Look at your adorable kid. He's a natural problem solver. A brilliant and creative problem solver. He did just solve the pencil problem, no? Also? There was no effing pencil problem to begin with. Nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to make it to adulthood without eventually grasping that you can't take six pencils away if you only have four to begin with. There is no emergency situation where you simply must know that by first grade in order to save the universe. You know what will save the universe? Creative problem solving.

Also - you're right about the dyslexia. He's got it. In the words of a diagnostician you'll meet in a few years, "He's got it bad!" And those little question marks you wrote on that article about auditory processing disorder? Bingo. Jackpot. He's got that too. He also has integrative and expressive language disorders. I'm not telling you all this to freak you out or anything. Because I PROMISE everything will be fine. He'll be reading in two languages by the time he's 18 - and you'll understand most of what he says and he'll understand most of what you say and the times you don't understand each other will usually be hilarious. All that stuff in the binder? The sooner you throw it out, the better. The curriculum isn't going to work. You're going to frustrate yourself (and him) by trying to force a round peg into a square hole. Forget about sending him back to school - he's not going. In fact, you're going to end up homeschooling the whole lot of them.

This child is kind. He is thoughtful. He is freaking hilarious. He will sail through his teen years with a grin on his face, surrounded by friends you adore. He is going to be super handsome, insanely intelligent, ridiculously creative, and you know what's the best part? He's going to be HAPPY. 

He's not, however, going to adhere to that ridiculous schedule you've got in the back of the binder. Just ditch it. You know the one...it starts out: 7:30 - Breakfast....

That is never going to happen. 

I ripped the pages out of that binder and set it aside with relief.

The last binder still sat on the shelf. I didn't really want to open it because I knew the iceberg of fear it contained. It's only been about a year since it's melted. It was given to me by a friend during what was probably the worst phase of my life.

I opened it. The first thing I saw was a medical report:

The patient is a 7-year-old boy who presents with moderate to severe hearing loss....

Next up was a radiology report. It had lots of big words in it - but most they all amounted to two words: brain tumor.

The binder was supposed to help me keep organized after Jules' initial diagnosis so I wouldn't be confused by the many doctor visits, lab reports,and appointments of every kind. It was filled with stuff - none of it organized because hello! This was ME. And it was ME in an emergency. That's the very worst kind of me.

In addition to all of the tumor info, there were articles on hearing impairment. And autism.  **I warned myself way back in the first binder that this kid was going to take Middle Child Syndrome to new heights.

This one was hard. I think if I could crawl inside and go back to myself in the Stage of Hysteria, I would just fall apart all over again. I don't think I'd be of any help to myself at all. But maybe I would at least manage to say this:

Jules does not have a genetic disorder that will lead to more tumors. The people you're dealing with do not know what they're talking about. In fact, when Jules has surgery to finally remove the darn thing when he's fourteen - you'll discover it isn't even the type of tumor they're saying it is. This is the one and only tumor, it will be removed safely, and it will not come back. 

The first thing Jules will say when he comes out of anesthesia is, "It's not my problem." 

It's a joke. You'll get it at the time. 

And then you'll cry. 

A few days later you'll leave that hospital wanting to faint from the enormity of the relief.

You're not cursed. You're blessed. Unbelievably blessed.

Now please try to act like it.

I don't have any more binders. My life is contained in folders and files within a phone. Or in files or folders within a laptop. Just like the binders, they're bursting with good intentions and schemes -- with hopes and dreams.

What woman will I be in ten or fifteen years?

Here's hoping for wiser. And ten pounds lighter would be nice too.


  1. I have binders galore. Trying to get up the courage to label one, Karen and it not be my old vaccination and school papers.

  2. What a beautiful post! Thanks for sharing. I will reread your calming notes to yourself to MYself when I'm panicking about my young kids, which I often do.