Sunday, June 22, 2014


"When you guys walk in the gate, we're all on high alert." 

I couldn't think anymore. The pain was too great. All I could say was, "Wow" before my throat constricted and I didn't trust myself to speak. I turned away and I told the kids we were leaving. They flocked around me, asking me what was wrong. I waited until we were out of sight of the front gate of the pool before I stopped and let the sobbing start. 

"What's wrong? What did the pool man say?" they asked. I didn't even know how to explain it to them. He thinks I'm a bad mommy. 

*        *         *

I was completely blindsided. Charlie was on a towel, trying to warm up. Elizabeth had bumped her chin so she was sitting with Adam a few feet behind me. Eddie was jumping into the water over and over, as he loves to do. And Lucy was floating around, her three favorite noodles under her arms, paddling away in her Little Mermaid swimsuit. Then I noticed the Pool Man coming up to us. 

"She can't be out there with the noodles."

I was so confused. "Out where?" I knew that toys and things weren't allowed past the rope that marked the shallow end. But she was on our side of the rope.

"Out there. In fact, I'd prefer it if you didn't use noodles at all, especially since you're not in the water with her." I was sitting on the pool steps, six or seven feet away from her. I looked at her red curls, so bright in the sun. I started to feel a terrible burning in my face but my mouth seemed frozen shut. 

"She can't swim, right?" he continued, and again told us he preferred we'd use a life jacket or something else. Adam started to ask him about the rules about noodles. I waded out to her, a burning darkness spreading inside of me. I brought her up to the steps, took the noodles and put them on the pool deck. The Pool Man walked away. I sat on the steps for a minute. The pool was almost empty. A half an hour ago, it had been crowded with kids splashing and laughing and moms and a few dads sitting on the steps, chatting or throwing balls to the bigger kids. There were lots of kids with noodles. There were lots of moms sitting on the steps. 

"F*** this. We're leaving." I said. I called out to the kids to get ready to go. Adam protested. He wanted to let the kids stay. I sat on the ground and cried. Eventually I left with Charlie, the cold one, my head swirling with everything I should have said and should have done.

When Charlie and I got home, I felt them coming, one by one: the crying jags; the numbness; the desire to hide; the ruminating thoughts. All the depression symptoms came back, familiar but no less dreadful. I didn't want to make dinner. I didn't want to talk to anyone. I just lay on my bed and let Adam do all the work. I pitched in to get the kids to bed, but that was it. Later that night, I talked it over with him. I talked it over with my mom. I talked it over with my friend, who'd witnessed the scene. I knew I should use the skills I'd learned at Crazy School, but I didn't even want to. I could challenge my thoughts. I could act opposite of the emotion. I could do something to distract myself. Maybe I'll just feel better in the morning, I thought. But one thing I did want to do. I wanted to talk to Pool Man again, on my terms, with my thoughts collected and my emotions under control.

This morning, I took the kids on our pre-church walk. In our Sunday best, we walked through the park to the pool. I explained to the kids that I was going to talk to the man in charge of the pool and that they needed to be quiet and wait patiently. What I really meant was, please don't act out of control. Please don't make me look bad. When we got to the gate, I asked to speak to the Pool Man. He came out and I said I wanted to talk about what happened yesterday, to find out more about his concerns. I explained that we were happy to comply with pool rules, but that I'd seen other children with pool noodles before, and other moms sitting on the steps watching their kids play. Why was I being singled out? He told me he was "very concerned." I think he used that phrase a half a dozen times. He referred to our "history" at the pool. Earlier that week, Elizabeth had been helped by a life guard. I was in the bathroom with one of the triplets. My mother's helper was in the water with the other two and Elizabeth was further out. She'd gone to get a ball and had cried for help. She later told me she could touch with her tippy-toes but she was too tired to swim. Neither the lifeguard nor my mother's helper mentioned the incident to me. I didn't find out about it until I was turning in a form at the neighborhood association office and the office worker mentioned it. "My daughter has four kids," she'd said to me, a look of great concern on her face. "So I know how hard it is to keep track of them all." My mind had gone blank then, too, mostly from shock that I hadn't even known what had happened. But hours later, the subtle condescension in her voice made me burn with shame and then anger. 

The Pool Man's face wasn't one of pity. It was steeled. His eyes were narrow and his mouth pinched. He told me he'd seen me "rescue" Lucy a few weeks ago. She'd gone out too far and was in distress and I'd run to get her. The lifeguard hadn't even noticed. He talked about how he's seen how Adam or I will stay in the shallow end with the four kids while the other goes off the diving board a few times; about how we let the kids take turns jumping to us in the deep end. "It's just too hard. Too many kids," he said. I was getting more and more agitated. I asked him how many kids he had. When he answered "two," I said, exasperated, "Then you don't know what it's like. This is what we do. We think we are keeping our kids safe. Where I come from, having four kids isn't a big deal." He repeated that he was very concerned about my kids' safety. I asked if he was targeting us because we have a big family. He said no. "So should we only come if we have four adults?" Again, he said no. Then he told me that he and all the life guards are aware of us, that they've discussed us. That's when he said, "When you guys walk in the gate, we're all on high alert." 

The crash this time was further still. At dinner, Adam and I were struggling to get the kids to set the table, sit down to eat, and be quiet for the blessing on the food. Everything was a battle, and every kid was either crying, whining, or yelling. I walked away from the table, lay down on my bed, and wondered why I even bothered, why I put myself through this. Then my old friends came back. They'd be better off without you. Wouldn't it be better and easier if you just died? I imagined it. I thought of plans. It soothed me and scared me. As soon as Adam came in I told him I'd been having suicidal thoughts. He coaxed me back to the dinner table and the rest of the night with the kids went okay. 

Now they're in bed. I've discussed it again with my mom, with Adam, and with my friend. "He's the one with the problem," they say. "It's about him, not you." "You're doing a good job." But do they really understand? What it's like to be a circus parade everywhere you go? To feel like a pariah at the library when three of your kids are running in all different directions? To want to melt into the earth when you're trying to get them all across the street and one breaks away and runs. You're on high alert, Mr. Pool Man? Try living my life! I'm ALWAYS on high alert! If I were to let that fear rule me, I'd never leave the house with my kids EVER! But deep down, there's the awful monster that eats away at all your confidence and contentment every time you make a mistake, or doubt yourself, or get a rude comment from a stranger about your parenting. Maybe I am neglectful. Maybe I shouldn't try taking them anywhere by myself. Maybe I am a bad mother. 

When I walked with my children away from the pool this morning, I felt like I could never go back there. And tonight, I felt like I couldn't even go on. But I am going on. And I will go back to the pool. I'll let you know how it goes, and what I figure out about myself in the process.


  1. You will go back to the pool. And you will enjoy the cool and the fun. And you will on high alert. And so will they. Because that's the job that ALL of you should be doing. A life guard's job is to watch for distress (and enforce the rules equally), and the job of parents (and caretakers) is to encourage fun, watch for distress (and enforce the rules equally).

    And PS: Even if it feels like it, you are NOT the only one being talked to. Truly and honestly -- you're not. And if you were vindictive, which I'm sure you're not, you'd make sure the pool manager knew every time one of the life guards was chatting or flirting or looking at a phone or taking a bathroom break or hanging out in the shade instead of doing her/his job. But I'm sure you're not vindictive. At all. ;)

  2. I hope this is not offensive in any way to post this, because the only real thing I want to communicate is that I HAVE SO BEEN THERE and I want to punch that guy in the face for you and bring you dinner and babysit and write letters to Pool man's boss, etc. etc. But also, the trigger part made me think of this, which reading it has really helped me. Love you Emily!

  3. I felt so much compassion reading your post Em because it characterizes my own experiences of feeling worthless and like a failure so accurately. Fear, paralyzing fear that masks as anger outwards and hatred inwards cuts us off from the light of the Holy Ghost, allowing the darkness of self-destruction to return. I too have replayed the video over and over, cursing myself for being too weak to say "what I should have said". I too have been consumed with analyzing the injustice and the flaws of those who have wronged me. I too have plummeted into the depths of self-pity, completely insulated from the love around me. And I too have asked my self, "What's the point, they'll be better off without me." However, there is always hope and peace for us, and its very accessible if we choose to seek it.

    Before discussing the solution, we must first identify the REAL problem. These words have often helped me with this process:

    "It is a spiritual axiom that every time we are disturbed, no matter what the cause, there is something wrong with us. If somebody hurts us, and we are sore, we are in the wrong also. But are there no exceptions to this rule? What about justifiable anger? If somebody cheats us, aren't we entitled to be mad? Can't we be properly angry with self-righteous folk? ...Self-righteous anger also can be very enjoyable. In a perverse way we can actually take satisfaction from the fact that many people annoy us, for it brings a comfortable feeling of superiority. Gossip, barbed with our anger, a polite form of murder by character assassination, has its satisfactions for us too. Here we are not trying to help those we criticize; we are trying to proclaim our own righteousness."

    In my struggles I have learned a few things about resentments. I’ve learned the cliché that "Resentment is like drinking poison hoping the other person dies." But more importantly, I have learned out of bitter experience that resentment can ONLY continue as long as I am avoiding humility concerning the situation in which I am resentful about. Freedom from the strong thoughts and emotions spurred on by resentment will never alleviate by focusing on the perceived faults and injustices of the ones we're blaming. Freedom comes from embracing the SOURCE, not the trigger of our disturbances. But how do I honestly realize the source, then achieving humility? There are questions we can sincerely ask ourselves to help us get going.

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  6. - When people trigger my self-centered fear, how can I blame them, for did not the source that caused the disturbance exist within me well before they "wronged me"?
    - What does this situation I am resentful at remind me of from my past?
    - Did I use the solutions I've learned to help me to cope with strong feelings and thoughts, and if I didn't, why not?
    - Are the actions of other without provocation, or did I at some point in the past make a decision based on self that later placed me in a position to be hurt?
    - How could I of handled the situation which caused the resentment better?
    - Do I owe an amends to the person I am resentful at for my reaction?
    - Am I projecting people from my past onto the person with whom I am resentful with?

    When I answer these questions honestly, trying hard to see my shortcomings as a human I am granted release from resentment, for I have then demonstrated humility by clearly recognizing and embracing my faults and frailties, which ultimately are the areas of our being that Heavenly Father is letting us know that we have kept Him away from. Paul wrote, "That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong." I have learned that when I nail my weaknesses to the cross, the healing grace of our Savior can mend the source of our emotional deformities. In fact, all emotional pain is an invitation to embrace the light yoke of Christ and to become more whole. Sure the other person we're resentful at has a part, but we do not gain freedom through other people paying a price for their wrongs. No, our freedom comes ALWAYS from turning the mirror inwards, and letting the Atonement of Christ transform our painful and ugly weaknesses into strengths.

    I invite you Em to seek humility by honestly embracing your part in the conflict, then take what you find, the source of the disturbance, to our Heavenly Father in prayer, as well as pray for the life guards (doesn't need to be genuine), then follow up with constructive action by seeking to bring harmony where there is discord, which ultimately is a safe bet that you are serving our Heavenly Father's will.

  7. Emily:

    You are brave. You are capable. You can do hard things. You've done hard things. You have endured. You have found joy and you will find more joy. You are an amazing, needed woman!!

    I know you know these things, but these are the first things that come to mind when I think of you.

    This may not help but a couple of weeks ago I went to church. I was complimenting myself on making it to church and each person was dressed and for once my kid's clothes were pressed (a real challenge for me) and we came and sat down and I heard a man near us say, "Look at that. The boys don't even have their shirts tucked in. Next thing you know they'll be wearing their pants down by their knees. What will happen next?" I was speechless. What was I supposed to say, "Please pardon me and my gangstas for coming to CHURCH!" All I could really think was "seriously?!"

    I know the circumstances are not the same, but believe me when I tell you, people will always say and think things. We cannot stop them. But as long as we are doing our stinking best we have nothing to regret.

    You are doing your best. You are pressing forward. You take days one minute at a time. Your family is so blessed to have you! Ignore the naysayers and and I-think-I-know-better-condescending-ers and keep moving forward! I know you are. :D