I hear the chomping next to me. Chomp, chomp, chomp, chomp. Or maybe it is more like chomp, crinkle, crunch. The consistent rhythm of tiny hands reaching into a small bag to retrieve a Fritos, crinkling it with anxious anticipation, followed by oblivious open mouth crunching. I push my feet into the chain link fence in an unsuccessful attempt at making myself more comfortable. How is it possible that a six year old can have a baseball game lasting two hours? Isn’t this form of cruel and unusual punishment for all parties? I see the parents nervously scrolling through their phones wondering if this game will ever end. I mean the score is 15 to 6. While I appreciate a good lesson in perseverance, I also know my ass fell asleep nearly an hour ago from this torture device known as a folding chair.
“Mommy” my son is pulling on my sweatshirt, breaking my daydream.
“Yes, son” I tell him as I stare blankly at the changing batter.
He pulls again. “Mommmmmyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy”.
As I turn towards him, I immediately recognize the urgency. His face and hands are covered in Cheeto dust which is now covering the side of my sweatshirt. This son likes his hands to be clean. No dirty nails, no soiled clothes.
He gives me a cheesy smile and tells me “I need a wipe”.
Of course. The pocket of my hooded sweatshirt has become the domain of napkins and snotty tissues. My purse is full of crayons, box tops for education, and bottle of Ativan for emergencies in case I have another panic attack. It has been a year?? Two? It is strange to have something that was so present in my daily life become so absent. I am not carrying any wet wipes today. A used tissue dipped in a bottle of water will have to suffice. I have become the MacGyver of mothers- creating inventions out of whatever I have on hand to address the needs of whining children.
As I turn my attention back to the game, I am caught slightly off guard by the veracity in which my son is pulling grass out of the ground. We are on our third year of this. While he can hit the ball, he clearly is distractible. He reminds me of the cat that is always running after something shiny. Is this grass pulling forming him into the next MLB all-star? I have seen a few major league games. Grass pulling seemed to be absent. In addition, I am paying $150 for the opportunity to watch the ball roll between my son’s legs week after week while I get sunburned. There are lady bugs to be handled. There are piles of dirts to kick from one foot to the other. There is also mastery of staring out into the abyss while appearing to be paying attention. This skill will serve them well if they get into office jobs. Should I be frustrated? More cheering! That will help! GOOOO. Clapping? Screaming out instructions from the sidelines is forbidden yet every person here is sitting on their hands to keep from waving them in frustration.
I am not sure I have the temperament to be a sports mom. Sitting in the cold and/or the blazing sun while I am repeated covered in a fine mist of cut grass mixed with pollen is enough to quell the enthusiasm of most mortals. The really irritating factor here is, of course, the other parents. Many of them treat this affair as if it it game seven of the World Series. While my son chases lady bugs, they belt out specific instructions around being “baseball ready”. After spending many years sleeping on the sidewalk, I find the level of intensity they lend to the series of six coach pitches to be almost too much to bear without feeling a streak of violent rage creeping up from oversized Tom knock offs I got from Marshalls for $10.
“Who am I?” I mumble to myself. I have become a few steps away from the stereotypical hover mom with one key exception. I have reason to worry. I don’t want my kids to turn out like I did. I don’t them to turn to cutting or drugs or compulsive overeating. So, I sit my ass in that chair. I clap. I scream. I smile to myself. If this is one of the keys to keeping my kid off drugs, I will happily comply. There will be two more games for two more children.
I try to get back in my “ignore everyone” zone by putting in my headphones. These events make me uncomfortable. This is 100% all my own bullshit. I have trouble feeling like I fit in anywhere. I wonder sometimes if it is because I went straight from active drug use to spending all of my free time at 12 step meetings. I feel out of sorts in the world of “normal” folk. No one has ever been rude to me or given me a sideways glance. I always feel like the other in these situations. All the parents mill around attempting to make small talk while the kids run around in packs like wild dogs fueled by high fructose corn syrup products. My daughter kicks off her shoes despite my pleading that the grass here is the neighborhood equivalent of a fire hydrant. Despite all the signs that say dogs shot stay off the field in English and in Spanish, I can see three of them within fifty feet of our seats. One gray faced canine came over to steal the cheese out of my son’s lunchable. Better the dog than you, I think to myself. That cheese looked one molecule away from the plastic it came in. I like to let the kids do some free ranging here. They rarely get the grass between their toes in the city. I don’t want them to miss out on one of life’s simpler pleasures. This desire is tempered by my practical understanding that I don’t want them to step in dog shit. My mom told me this story about a time when my brother and sister both decided to finger paint in geese shit. That story has been flagged in my mental bookmarks for parenting.
“So messed up I want you here…” the Stooges loop through my headphones.
One early morning at the baseball fields, one of the moms reported finding a deer carcass. The deer had been torn apart by a mountain lion. It was left with the spine exposed right under the swing set. I used to let the kids play in the bushes around that area. Now, I was hypervigilant. The beautiful scenery was now tainted by my constant fear of predators trying to attack my family. I feel the same way about my past. There is a constant struggle between seeing the joy that surrounds me versus a keen awareness of a darkness that can lie behind around any corner.
There must be a middle ground between my life as a street junkie and life as a suburban mom. I am in an endless struggle to find it. There are days when I feel like that divide is tearing me apart. I want to like the other parents. I NEED to like them- my kids spend so much time around them. I want to feel like I am part of this or any community. Yet, here I sit with all my fears welling up in me. That fear turns into judgment which turns into making me “the other”. They haven’t gotten out the pitchforks yet, I tell myself. Maybe soon though, when they find out who I am.
It seems like there are two kinds of parents out here. There are the cupcake parents and the costco pizza parents. The cupcake parents are making sure that potlucks are covered with necessary items. They have pajama day covered. They have all the supplies ready the first day of school. They bake the cupcakes with the Dr Suess theme. They know how to make cake pops and marshmallow men and all kinds of other crafty bullshit that ranks highly in the eyes of impressionable little kids.
Then there are the Costco parents. The Costco parents are always scrambling at the last minute to fix some parental fuck up. We bring find some unopened crackers in the pantry for snack day. We sign up for juice every single time. We remember pajama day on the way to the school. . We buy cupcakes at the Target with our last minute birthday gift. This is if we didn’t just decide to shove money in a card. I can’t make a cake pop but I can stop at Costco and get Pizza for snack God Damn it. When other people were learning about crafting, I was learning how to construct a house out of a shopping cart and a cardboard box. Give me a fucking break.
Just listen to yourself.
The voice of reason inside my mind puts me in my place. Crippling self doubt is my constant companion. I am well into my eighteenth year of recovery. Shouldn’t I be over this stuff?
“I wanna be your dog…” I hear the voice in my headphones again.
For the first year or more, I could not listen to music. I gave me these all over body cravings. It was as if the music was tied to some type of drug induced muscle memory. If it wasn’t from the heroin, certainly it from all the stimulant issue. I would spent hours endlessly staring out the window of my SRO hotel. I was unsure what I was looking at because my contacts and glasses were long gone. One of my “tweaks”, a habit a person returns to under the influence, was digging in my eyes searching for missing contacts that were not even there. I would get so tired from days of sleep deprivation, I would start self harming in a variety of ways that made perfect sense to me yet were completely insane.
With a past like mine, perhaps the only way to feel at ease is to accept that I see the world through a different filter. On social media, I suppose I would call it the opioid adaptor. Once you have spent a few months deep in the trenches of drug abuse, a portal of your mind opens up to an entirely different world. It goes beyond the “doors of perception”. It goes deep into a new culture, a new vernacular, and a new way of relating to the basic functions of the everyday world. Math is converted into drug math. Can I get a few bags and a rock for x amount of dollars. Distance becomes how far you need to travel to get to the dealer. Time falls into the time/substance continuum. It is a combination of time lost waiting for the connection plus time spent accumulating resources minus the amount time spent actually enjoying whatever has been ingested.
Perhaps it is more a sixth sense. Drug users pick up on cues that might be easy to miss. We see a bruise. We see through an excuse. We know things. Sometimes, we don’t even know why we know things. In 1992, i traveled across the country on the Greyhound bus. I had $900 in my pocket. We stopped in a little town in Nebraska. I thought to myself- this town is just like any other town. I could get off the bus here. I could completely start over, As the bus continued, a few stops down the line we stopped at a different town. Within less than two minutes, I felt the presence of narcotics long before I saw them. I saw all the elements. The check cashing places. The people hurried leaving the fast food place. The glassy eyed people crossing the streets at dusk. I thought to myself- this town is like any other town. Except this one would be a place I would never leave. I would get hooked on drugs. I would die here. So I kept going.
I notice the boys running off the field. It is blur. A flurry of blue shirts and dust from the field running in search of after game snack. I feel a longing in the pit of my stomach. An old familiar feeling existed for a second in the lyrics "Touch me, I'm Sick". Or at least I was. I nod at my son with his blissful lack of awareness. As the music slowly rings through my i-phone, I grab my folding chair. I head towards the mini-van wondering how the fuck did I get here.