The Reading

While out of town on a business trip a few months ago, I had some time to kill after the conference had let out at the end of the first day.  I was kid-free with not one single piece of laundry in sight. The last time that happened was approximately eight years ago, so feeling liberated and unusually relaxed, I found myself wandering the streets of suburban Chicago. After walking past about eleven hundred coffee shops, a CVS, and a ton of quaint little restaurants specializing in various ethnic foods, I turned a corner and nearly ran into a sign advertising psychic readings. Always up for new experiences and having literally nothing else I had to do, I figured, “What the heck?” and followed the arrow on the sign up a narrow flight of stairs.

A woman near my age with eyes that looked decades older answered the door, “Can I help you?”

“I saw your sign…,” I muttered, trailing off awkwardly while pointing down the stairs and immediately regretting my decision. Isn’t this how horror movies start? Or is that porn? Either way, my judgement had obviously been impaired. As a result, something strange and frightening was about to happen. She smiled a tired, spooky smile and listed the services she provided along with prices.

What I thought, “Never mind, I, um, have a…thing…I have to do. So sorry to have bothered you.” What I said, “I’d like a reading please.”

Looking for any additional means of escape other than the front door and mentally kicking my own ass, I followed her down a short hallway into a tiny room with two lavender chairs that faced one another. When I say “tiny,” I mean our knees touched when we sat down. Next to the chairs was a side table with a candle and some other unfamiliar items I assumed to be important psychic-person supplies and quite possibly murder weapons. The wall was light blue with clouds and fat little baby angels painted on them. At least, I think that’s what the room looked like; it was getting hard to see through my increasing anxiety and regret. The woman, whose name was also Nikki (insert Twilight Zone theme song here), asked me to hold out my hands and I complied.

Skeptically Open-Minded

Going into this reading, I had never personally experienced any kind of paranormal phenomenon; no ghosts, goblins, ESP, or telekinesis. The thought of seeing a ghost or having my mind read generally causes an involuntary shudder and as a rule I avoid scary movies and attractions labeled “Haunted” or “Kids Eat Free.”

Despite being a little creeped out by the possibility of such things, I also tend to be a cynic. My assumption has been that a person marketing psychic skills simply makes general statements that can be interpreted in a variety of ways and then provides slightly more specific information as they go along, based upon their customers’ responses.

Still, the vast number of books, television shows, and movies covering the supernatural make me think there could be at least a kernel of truth to some of the stories. Besides, if parents are expected to feed their children three times every day and dress them in clean clothing, why couldn’t someone look at the palm of my hand and tell me precise details about my financial future and the long-term health of my extended relatives?

I went into this experience skeptically open-minded; simultaneously believing everything the other Nikki said would be utterly ridiculous while also kind of hoping to experience something paranormal.

The Reading

My first psychic reading began with a brief examination of the palms of my hands and the declaration that I will live a long life.

“Okay,” I thought, “this is a good start.”

She said a few vague things and then she Climbed. Inside. My. Head. With absolutely no information from me, this psychic named Nikki was able to tell me disturbingly specific and accurate things about myself. She gave me a heads up on a potential health problem and then talked about some work related opportunities I may have to choose from in the future, giving guidance as to the possible outcome of each. She warned me to always read the fine print carefully and urged me to stop limiting myself by thinking I have to choose between two important parts of my life, providing examples of how I might be able to do this. She described my personality, highlighting aspects of me only my closest friends and family could know. She discussed some details of my financial future and emphasized the role that travel may ultimately play in my life.

After several minutes, she stopped and asked if I had any questions for her. I like to think I would have, had I been able to pick my chin up off the floor. All I could say was, “Wow” and  “Huh.” She discouraged me from sharing the specific details of my reading with others as that may “change my fate.” (Hence the annoyingly vague descriptions.)

Once the reading was over, I gave her my money and walked out of the little room, down the hall, through the door, and back down the stairs. Feeling mystified and a little violated, I resumed wandering the streets of suburban Chicago.

Brain Hack

In less than ten minutes, this complete stranger with old eyes was able to tell me who I am, what I want in life, and what gets in my way. She broke down and explained facets of my personality it has taken me 35 years to assemble and that I’ve only recently begun to understand. I haven’t yet found the words to describe how I know that she was “in my head” but she was. The closest I can get is to say that she gave very specific comparisons and reference points that I use in my own thoughts but have never said out loud.

If one went just by the description I gave above, my previous assumption about how psychics work would be very fitting. Anyone could probably take those words and make them fit their own life. However, the actual words she used and the examples she gave felt like they came directly out of my head, word for word as I have thought them. The whole thing created a strange sense of vulnerability that lasted for hours. It was as if the security system in my mind had been breached and now anyone could slip right in, without my consent.

So Many Questions

Having my brain hacked by a stranger leaves me with several questions. For example, was it the exchange of money that opened my mind to another? I mean, if the ability to read someone’s mind exists, what are the rules, the boundaries? Can someone with psychic abilities read anyone’s mind anytime anywhere? Do we have any defense against this? Seriously, we all have thoughts not meant to be shared with others. Picture a world in which your friends, family, and co-workers could access your innermost thoughts at will. What an appalling mess that would be! We were created with an inner monologue for a reason. Without mine, I’d be rapidly unemployed, divorced, and no longer allowed to shop at the local K-Mart.

This experience also made me wonder about the prediction of future events. It doesn’t feel like we’re supposed to know what’s going to happen, how it’s all going to work out in the end. Problems are a guaranteed and critical component of life. But if we knew some of those big scary things were just around the bend, how would we ever get out of bed in the morning? I nearly have a panic attack waiting for the seal to pop on those biscuits that come in rolled up tubes; I would be paralyzed with fear if I knew in advance that I was going to be in an accident or get a really bad paper cut later in the day.

I suppose it’s natural to want to know what’s going to happen: Will I find the love of my life? Will I live long and prosper? Will I travel? Will N’Sync ever get back together? Should I do this or should I do that? Will I ever truly solve the mole problem in my backyard, for the love of all that is holy?

But I think the not knowing and waiting and struggling our way through problems are central to the human experience. I believe this process is what ultimately makes us into a whole, strong, and capable human being. I also believe that each decision we make changes our trajectory in life infinitesimally and that the sum total of those tiny changes is our future. If one can look into a crystal ball and see what is going to happen, what does this say about the significance, or lack therein, of the choices we make on a daily basis?

Hypothetically speaking, suppose the clairvoyant Nikki had told me I would be financially independent in a few short years. Since my current income and savings plan would take about 234 years to result in independent wealth, there would have to be a windfall of some kind for that to come true. Would that mean I don’t need to worry about saving money or contributing to a retirement account now? That I could just sit back and wait for the predicted wealth to arrive? I think, just to be safe, I would maintain at least a shred of frugality because, “But the psychic had said…,” doesn’t sound like the start of a very good defense at a bankruptcy hearing.

Wrap It Up, Nikki

Nikki the Psychic didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know or hope to be true. Everything she said supported conclusions toward which I feel I was already guiding myself. Her words did provide me with a renewed motivation, a mental goosing to get me to do what I should have been doing all along. This experience, my first touch with the supernatural, also gave me the chance to think outside the box about the rules and how things work, to ask myself questions I’d never considered. As of right now, I’m not sure I really want answers to those questions. There is an element of fun in wondering about what we don’t know or understand, in considering the seemingly impossible.

Well…I would like to know if there are any mind reading self-defense techniques I could practice to keep people out of my head without my consent. For now though, I guess I’ll just think really quietly so as not to be overheard by any psychic passersby.

 

What is Love, Baby Don’t Hurt Me

For the last quarter century, I thought I knew what love was. I loved my husband. I loved my parents, my sisters, my friends. I loved coffee, books, bright Spring days, and walks on the beach. I was even pretty sure I loved the super hip area rug we found on clearance at the Home Depot. It felt good to love. All soft and mushy. Warm and safe. There I was, minding my own business, loving stuff and feeling great when the craziest thing happened…KIDS. Kids happened. And that’s when I learned the truth: Love Hurts.

Loving is heartbreaking.

“I don’t like you, you’re not my mommy anymore!” The first time you hear this, it’s like you’ve been punched in the gut.* While children don’t believe it, it hurts to take away a privilege or tell them no. My oldest daughter declared that she had the Worst. Parents. Ever. because we held our ground after saying no to something that probably wasn’t that big of a deal anyway. But at that point, we were committed and had to follow through, dammit, because that’s what good parents do.

Telling my 5-year-old that her grandmother had passed away, knowing the pain my words would cause her, was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It was the first time I really didn’t think I could handle something. Watching your little tiny baby infant board the school bus on the first day of kindergarten takes your breath away. And not in a good way, like a neon sign that reads, “76 ICE CREAM FLAVORS!”

Seeing your kid cry after a fight with a friend hurts because you hate to see your child upset but also because your spouse actually has to sit on you to keep you from “addressing the situation” with the friend.

Loving is frustrating.

There is nothing more exasperating than seeing your child suffer because of their own choices and an intense case of stubbornness (that they obviously inherited from their father). Frequently, they aren’t quite ready to learn from the consequences of their actions and so will continue to hurt and guess what? You’re the bad guy. “Yeah, I know it’s my fault you can’t go outside and play because you didn’t clean up the mess you made even though I gave you like SEVENTEEN HOURS to do it. Totally my bad.”

Love is scary.

Because of love, the most mundane things you do with your children can become terrifying. Going to a crowded park, for example, is a wonderful way to both raise your blood pressure and induce paranoia. All you have to do is look away for a second and suddenly your child is missing. Now everyone in the park is a potential predator. And you’ve stepped in dog poop.

Being a parent makes you the foremost authority on anything that can go catastrophically wrong. Though you are painfully aware of the risks your child faces, you also don’t want to scare the crap out of them so you find yourself giving lame answers and warnings that they just don’t buy.

  • “Don’t climb on there, you’ll fall (and break your head/arm/leg/entire rib cage)!”
  • “I know you want to spend the night at your friend’s house but it just won’t work this weekend (because there are five registered sex offenders within two miles of her house).”
  • “Yes, you washed your hands a little while ago, but I need you to do it again please (because I watched you touch the bottom of your shoe like 16 times and the flu is going around and have you ever heard of MRSA???).”

Love is overwhelming.

Sure, sometimes the love you feel for your child doesn’t rip out your heart. Like when they want to cuddle or show you the picture they just colored. But even when it feels good, the strength of it can shock you. Like the time I was sharing a plate of nachos with my toddler. The plate almost empty, we both made a grab for the cheesiest remaining nacho. Without thinking, I let her have it. As a longtime connoisseur of nachos, I thought to myself, “Whoa. This love stuff is huge.” I would never have sacrificed the cheesiest nacho to my husband. I have, on occasion, sacrificed cheesy nachos to the area rug, but never intentionally.

Speaking of husbands, mine lets me spend as much money as I want, buys thoughtful gifts, and does dishes several times per week. He even cleans the toilets once or twice a year.** But if I thought for one single second that he would harm my children, I would throw him in front of a bus. This sounds a tad over-the-top but my point is that before having kids, he was my Numero Uno, the most important person in my life. I didn’t think anyone would ever be a bigger deal to me than him. I was wrong. Again. It’s not that I love him any less, in fact I’d say I love him more than ever. But now, instead of arguing about exotic things like where we’re going for dinner, we argue about who the idiot was that let my precious babies go outside to play so freaking close to bedtime on a school night when there is MAP testing in the morning and you know the little one has had a cold, seriously, what the hell is wrong with you. Kids change everything.

Love is worth it…I think.

This is the part where I’m supposed to tell you how all the heartbreak, frustration, and fear are worth it, that with this evolving definition of love, there is also much beauty and wonder, blah, blah, blah. I could quote the Bible and Tennyson and sing about how Love Was Made for Me and You.

While I’m sure all of that is true – Tennyson didn’t seem like the type to lie – I’m not going to do that. The thing is, I’m still too deep in the frustration, heartbreak, and fear to weave together words of comfort or wisdom about it. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE loving my kids. What I feel for them is helping (read: aggressively forcing) me to grow and change in countless ways. It’s making me stronger, smarter, braver, and is seniler a word? I like to think it’s doing that for them too, that all of this hard stuff is the path to raising them into strong, smart, and brave adults (they can get senile on their own time).

I think it is worth all the frustration, fear, and yes, the heartbreak. Or it will be. But right now, love hurts sometimes.

 

 *By the 40th time, you’re pretty much over it so you’ve got that to look forward to.          

**He hasn’t put away a single shoe since I met him in 1998, but hey, nobody’s perfect.

 

Before Kids, Back When I Could Still Have Nice Things

Prior to having children, exciting was tickets to a major league baseball game, a night at the bar with a group of friends, a new stereo system, or a weekend out-of-town. After kids, exciting is getting through the day without ruining your shirt, having a few dollars left in the checking account when you’re done paying the bills, or not having to share your pudding cup with a small sticky person.

My life before children was so quiet and calm, so clean and orderly. Sometimes I would reorganize a shelf or drawer simply because I wanted to. Now, organization is a mythical concept found only in my wildest fantasies, right next to free time and surplus income.

Pre-kids, I routinely decided what I wanted to do when and then did that thing for as long as I wished, giving no thought to whether or not it was a school night. I took for granted things like having enough time to blow dry my hair AND style it. If I took the time to dry and style my hair today, it would be at the expense of wearing pants. Actually, that sounds kind of nice.

Before I had children, I collected blown glass vases, first edition books, and concert ticket stubs. Now I sweep pieces of broken glass up off the floor every other week and collect PEZ dispensers, irrational worries, carpet stains, and new ways to conjugate my favorite swear words.

But do you know what else I collect these days? Slobbery kisses. Knock-Knock jokes that don’t make any sense. Stories that begin with, “Mommy, the funniest thing happened at school today…” Tears of frustration and tears of joy. Overwhelming pride when my little humans treat others with kindness or remember to use their manners in public. Delightfully humiliating stories to tell my daughters’ future suitors. Equally humiliating stories of parenting fails to tell my friends. Shared looks with my husband when we’re both trying not to laugh because kids are hilarious without meaning to be.

So maybe I can’t have nice things anymore, but I do get to have nice moments and unlike pudding cups, I don’t mind sharing those with small sticky people.