I threw a big party. I lost ten pounds. I bought a really nice king-size bed and mattress for me and my dog, Potus, to share. And as I was painting the room that was once my boyfriend's office a defiantly girlie shade of lavender pink, I thought: "This is the start of my new life! Everything will make sense from this point forward. I won't need therapists or healers or New Age CDs ever again. I am open to the world, I am vulnerable, I am confident and strong. I will take whatever comes. I will live with the dangers of the world, I will lean into the chaos!"

That was then. Today, five years later, the baby is crying. The 2-year-old won't put on her underwear. My husband left for an early meeting, so it's all up to me. The dogs need to be fed. The sink is filled with dirty dishes. And before he left for school, my 13-year-old stepson told us that if he has to spend another day in a room that's painted lavender pink, he's going to lose his mind.

The world is one big blaring alarm clock going off in my ear, but I'm staring blankly at myself in the mirror. My hair is pulled back in a knot—not the carefree knot of a younger woman who hit the bars last night but the perpetually frazzled-looking knot of a 39-year-old mother who spends her free minutes (what free minutes?) staring into the middle distance like a ghost, fantasizing about central air-conditioning. I look haggard and confused. Why am I getting it all wrong? Why can't I be the kind of mom who gets up early to work out, then showers and styles her hair and gets dressed, the kind of smooth professional who can jiggle the baby while coaxing the 2-year-old into her underwear? Why can't I be the relaxed, organized career mom instead of some harried, slovenly zombie?

But I know the answer to that: I am not and was never going to be the relaxed, organized, manicured career mom, any more than I was going to be the shiny, effusive cheerleader or the diligent Gap employee or the virginal good girl or the wise young lady who dates only responsible, emotionally available guys. I am a disorganized, melancholy second-guesser who rhapsodizes a little too loudly over the pleasures of a cold beer at the end of a long day. I am enthusiastic, yes, and passionate, sure, but I'm also fundamentally ambivalent, angst ridden, and conflicted. I am distracted, overwhelmed, and mostly unprepared for whatever lies ahead.

Sure, I was the lady with the Handi Wipes who stayed calm and called 911, but tomorrow it's just as likely that I will be the one with dust on her face, crying and panicking.

Most of the time, I am the messy disaster, the daydreamer, the disheveled, self-deprecating deep sigher. I am the one who complains bitterly about twisted car-seat straps and an ungodly tide of dirty laundry that never seems to subside. I'm the one who snickers mirthlessly when a moth flies into the baby's milk and it all has to get poured down the sink. What I want to know is how other people my age with my responsibilities get by. I want to know how they try and fail, and I want to know exactly how they feel and act and what they say when they're failing.

"This is a f***ing clown show!" is what one friend tells me he says when everything is going wrong. "What's a clown show?" I asked. He wasn't sure, but I think I know from my own experience: It's loud, stuff is spilling on the floor, and you can't all fit into the car.

But you could never fit into the car in the first place—that was only an illusion. All you can hope for is to accept your flaws and get a reasonable hold on your circumstances. No one wakes up one day and suddenly they're living in the now—even the Reiki healer and Eckhart Tolle and the spiritual masters of the universe agree on that.

You're never fully prepared. You never really arrive. The best you can do is to keep painting the walls to suit your new circumstances.


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