The Circus

In Memory of Suzanne Lee Zigler
1965 – 2019

Life is a circus, filled with beautiful creatures that feed off unconditional love. But not everyone welcomes the erratic behavior of a chimpanzee, the roar of a lion or the face of a clown.

In fact, most people would rather pay to see the bearded lady than to spend time getting to know her, but not Suzanne.

Suzanne embraced the circus and all of the uniqueness that comes along with it. She was a ringleader to those who felt like vulnerable misfits, inviting us into her fragile heart and warm home where we were spoon-fed sensitivity, love and compassion.

To Suzanne, friendship was everything: a magnificent display of imperfection held together by a single strand. And she carried it with her wherever she went, dangling it like a carrot in hopes that someone would bite.

Suzanne gave of herself what she secretly craved behind her own dark curtain, the same thing we all crave: to be accepted for who we are—quirks and all.

If only she were here to see what was on the other side.

Suzanne never talked much about her past or how she came to be the person that she was. Instead, she got you to talk about yours—at least every 4-6 weeks when you came in for a trim.

And talk we did, about everything under the sun. We talked about our jobs, our families, our dreams and our losses and on those rare occasions, when the tears began to flow, she would gently place her hand on your shoulder and tell you that everything was going to be okay.

But here’s something you may not know: Suzanne also had a wicked sense of humor.

Though she would happily give you the shirt of her back, she would do so knowing you’d never be able to squeeze your fat head through her size zero designer silk blouse.

Truth be told, Suzanne’s “accidental” shenanigans were often choreographed weeks, months or years in advance. It was her way of sneaking in a laugh in at your expense while giggling behind the scenes—and her delivery was impeccable.

Last week, when I returned home after writing her obituary, I asked my boyfriend what he thought.

“Well,” he smirked, “I find it odd that she has three sisters and ONE of them is Lisa D-claire.”

I told him I had no idea what any of their last names were because it never came up.

Again, he rolled his eyes. “Yeah, but Lisa D-claire? Come on…”

“Look,” I said, “Steve sent over a sheet with names on it and I typed them; that’s all I know,” and with that, I jumped into editing mode.

“Oh shit, did I spell it wrong?”

Quickly, I grabbed my phone, pulled up the document and spelled out her name: D… E… capital C… L – A – I – R – E.”

“Exactly,” he sneered. “Perhaps they didn’t know how to spell it?”

“What do you mean? We all proofread it and Amy was sitting right there. I think she would have known if her sister’s name was spelled wrong.”

“Okay,” he signed, “If you say so… I just find it hard to believe that in the thirty years you knew her, Suzanne never once mentioned she had a sister named Lisa DeClaire.”

And then it hit me—like a brick to the face. “OH MY GOD, I can’t believe she did this.”

The beauty of being friends with Suzanne was what lied underneath the surface… the little things she kept to herself, whether unintentionally or completely on purpose, that would catch you off guard and leave you breathless with laughter.

For those that don’t know me, my name is Lisa (pause…) LeClair and, knowing Suzanne, she is up there right now, laughing her ass off over the fact that she never saw the irony.

Even in death, she still makes me smile every day and probably will for life.

Suzanne had a gift. She knew how to break down walls and expose people for who they really were without deflating egos. If anything, she only empowered them.

“Embrace the awkward,” she would smile, “Come as you are.”

Suzanne listened with her heart. She understood that each and every one of us has a story to tell that defines who we are. She also understood that, just like her imaginary strand, none of those stories were real.

You are not worthless. You are not a failure. You are not stupid, ugly or alone. You are You and YOU deserve love: THAT is the story Suzanne wants you to tell.

So, tell it… and believe it 100 percent because it’s true.

Suzanne taught us how to love ourselves and gave us the tools to rise above our insecurities and bestow the same grace toward others. And now, a million hugs, tears and smiles later, THIS is her circus and WE are her monkeys.

In celebration of her life, let’s blow the dust off our fearless leader’s baton; check our egos at the door and dance through the veil curtains we use to mask our pain.

We are all flawed. We are all damaged, and we are all imperfectly perfect. But we are also a part of the greatest show on Earth: “Suzanne’s Hand-Selected, One-of-a-Kind, Amazingly Wonderful Circus.”

Perhaps it’s time to dry our eyes and show her what we’ve learned.

Staying Married for ‘The Kids’ is a Bad Idea

They say parenting is one of the toughest jobs you’ll ever have. THEY say this, and we listen. We listen so hard it puts tears in our eyes and makes us second-guess having kids at all, but we do it anyway. We do it because, deep down, we want them to be wrong.

 

There are moments in our lives we wish we could erase—strike them from the record and start over. At least, that’s how I felt about my marriage.

 

A month after my daughter was born we lost everything: our home, our savings and most of our self-esteem. Things happened. Lots of things: some I would like to forget and others that have scarred me for life. There were so many things, in fact, that I lost count.

 

My daughter, on the other hand, didn’t know about the things. She only knew she was loved—beyond her wildest dreams—and she gave it right back, like a boss.

 

But something was weighing on me, heavy. And as much as I wanted to blame it on someone else, I had no one to blame but myself because it turns out, they were right. Parenting IS hard. Damn hard. You are an artist, molding a life, and every choice you make will affect who your children become. But here’s the catch: parenting is only as difficult as the choices you make.

 

When my parents divorced, there were no conversations, no promises of shared custody or visitation—just a quick goodbye from dad and he was gone. It took a long time for me to get over my father leaving, probably longer than it should have, but when I did, I vowed that if I ever had kids (and a troubled marriage), I would do my best to ‘work it out.’

 

Flash forward 10 years, 3 months, 25 days.

 

It was early Spring, 2016. I had just finished taking the dog for a walk when a mail truck whizzed past the house. A few minutes later, I found a cardboard case inside the mailbox, containing a coupon book for a car loan I knew nothing about.

 

At that moment, I realized something: that by enabling his bad behavior, I had sent all the wrong messages to her. Instead of teaching my daughter how to love, I had prepared her to withhold. Instead of showing kindness, I displayed anger. And instead of providing her with the tools needed for a lifetime of wedded bliss, I convinced her that it was normal for a husband to sleep on the couch while his wife wept alone in the bedroom. Without realizing it, I had raised my daughter to believe that staying in an abusive relationship is perfectly acceptable—as long as you have kids.

 

My divorce—a two-year unmerciful trial that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy—was final this past summer.

 

Though there are still empty pages to fill, options to weigh and edits to be made, the bulk of my pain is in the past. I no longer cry myself to sleep; instead, I close my eyes, breathe a heavy sigh of relief and smile, knowing that we are finally free.

 

Parenting is complicated; this much is true, but a poisonous marriage destroys lives. Perhaps the toughest job isn’t parenting at all; perhaps it’s making choices that are best for everyone—including you.

 

A modified version of this story was originally featured on Mamalode.

Who Says Kids are the Only Ones with Imaginary Friends

When my daughter was little, she had hundreds of imaginary friends. They would go with her everywhere, making sure she was safe, happy and ready to face the world.

Often, I would hear her talking to them when she was alone in her room, sharing secrets and passing stories across the pink princess table she used for hosting tea parties.

At times, she would laugh so hard, I’d drop whatever I was doing and peek around the corner just so I could catch a glimpse of her in action.

“I can see you, mom,” she’d scream as if the room were three miles away.

“What’s going on in here?”

“Nothing. Just Watching TV.”

“Who are you talking to?”

“Oh,” she’d smirk, pointing at the television. “I’m just telling my pretend friends which character I wanna be.”

But the second I’d leave the room, she’d start giggling and whispering into thin air again.

Sometimes I wish I had pretend friends. I imagine that life would be much less complicated and lonely if I did. I would tell them all the things I’m afraid to tell anyone else and feel good about myself knowing they weren’t judging me.

Oh, who am I kidding? I DID have imaginary friends, but they stopped talking to me three years ago when they overheard my psychiatrist say they weren’t real.

Let Them Grow: What It Really Feels Like To Miss Your Kid’s Firsts

Photo taken after her SECOND domestic field trip with the school. She was so happy to see me. That didn’t last long.

There are so many firsts in life: the first taste, first step, first grade, and the list goes on until it exhales from memory altogether.

 

We experience life at our own pace, but everything changes when you have kids. You start doing things according to their schedule, not yours. You feed them when they want to be fed, not when it is supper time. You lay them down after they fall asleep, not always before. And when they want to become more independent, you step back and give them the space they need to survive.

 

My daughter woke me one night with tears in her eyes. She was upset over a four-day field trip to another state that she and her classmates had been planning all year long. It was a big deal to both of us because, aside from spending an occasional weekend at her grandparents, she had never been away from home before, and it was all happening the next day.

 

As we sat on the edge of the bed, discussing apprehensions, she shared her biggest concern.

 

“It’s weird how all of my firsts are happening at school,” she said. “I always thought you would be with me the first time I did anything and this will be my first time riding a bus, flying on an airplane or going to a baseball game. I’m just sad that you are not going with me.”

 

We held each other tightly as the weight of her words washed over us. For once, I was going to miss her first, and the thought of it was consuming us both.

 

After squeezing out a few more tears, I shared something else. “You know; you don’t HAVE to go if you don’t want to.”

 

Up until that moment, she was under the impression that any school-related decisions were not hers to make. It was a deliberate plan that I had been drafting for months, but something inside of me was not sitting right and I wanted her to be the one to make the call.

 

“What do you mean, I don’t have to go?” she asked, “Do you mean I can stay home with you?”

 

And then it hit me: I had just taken a year’s worth of fraudulent joy and obliterated it over a moment of weakness.

 

She sat quietly with her eyes in full swing while contemplating my offer. Then, without so much as a blink, she took my hand and shook me back to consciousness.

 

“I’m going to miss you so much,” she whispered, “but I don’t want to regret not going.”

 

And just like that, my daughter made a choice. She was getting on that airplane whether I liked it or not, and I had to let her go.

 

I woke in the middle of the night to find her standing next to me. The enormity of circumstance had, once again, trumped her confidence, and she was sobbing in much the same way. She crawled into bed with me, and I handed her a box of tissues. Wide awake, we cuddled, giggled and wept for the next two hours until we fell asleep with smiles on our faces… just in time for the alarm to go off. Tomorrow was today, and my baby was leaving.

 

It is difficult to articulate the torment that accompanies parenting; it just is. We worry about everything and whatever lies in between: a curse that comes from loving someone more than yourself.

 

As I hugged her goodbye one last time, my second thoughts were palpable. Every what-if imaginable was now floating through my mind, waving bright red flags of uncertainty.

 

“Don’t do it,” they shouted, “don’t let your little girl get on that plane!”

 

I thought about her a lot that day, as she soared high in the air with a panoramic view of freedom that—at her age—I never knew existed. Like a pilot, I had taken both hands off the wheel and given up complete control because that is what we do: we parent until the memory lands safely back in our minds, and then we thank the powers that be for putting them there.

Why I Hate Christmas Trees | Guest Post by Gina Fenton of Extreme Mom

nutcracker

Having sex with a hostile, sticky porcupine (also known as a live Christmas tree) is número six on my “Things That Make the Season JOYFUL” list.

NOT! I hate live Christmas trees. They are sap-regurgitating pines that contain eleventy gazillion pine needles that end up in my underwear—and other dark recesses.

For the record, it’s not just the sap and needles that make my hair stand straight up like Marge Simpson’s; it’s a combination of that and the ceremonial wrapping and unwrapping of the Screw-You Lights, which are inevitably tangled, dead, or both, EVERY—SINGLE —TIME.

I absolutely despise dancing the tango with lights. The end of that chapter almost always involves scissors, alcohol, and singing the annual holiday overture called Screw This and Screw That.

I especially hate said sap-bleeding monstrosities if one is acquired when it’s 10 degrees outside and the snow is blowing.

Jack Frost definitely blows.

Heck NO, I won’t cut a tree down like a pioneer woman. Leaving my warm castle and driving to the farm stand  in frigid conditions is already  extra credit in my Mom-Call-of-Duty book.

This Christmas it went something like this: “That one looks good.” A new Christmas-tree-picking-out record of less than five minutes was made; and my eeny-meeny-miney-mo blind selection wasn’t half bad. I won at Christmas tree roulette.

Technically, she’s not fully decorated yet, but that’s all I’m going to do for tonight. If my minion-elf family would like the remaining dozen or so bulbs and tinsel hung up around the house, they can do it themselves.

My family still uses tinsel. No kidding. What a shiny disaster it has become. The only real perk is glittery cat turds.

Really.

Yes, even our pets help decorate: We end up with a yard and a litter box that are beauteous.

Live trees for Christmas are lovely and they smell amazing, but after 20-something years of pine needle enemas, I’ve finally had enough. Who needs the extra work and aggravation during this joyful season of stress, exhaustion, and pulling the last hair out of my head?

“Why not use a fake pine?” you ask.

A couple of years ago, and against my family’s wishes, I bought an artificial tree. I figured it would grow on them. I presented my fake tree as now-we’re-one-of-those-hip-families-with-two-trees kinda thing, hoping sooner or later they’d accept it and I’d be free from tree muckery forever.

Technically, I lost by a vote of five to one in favor of a real, muthermucking mess of a tree.

So, for the next few months, I will be dissecting pine needles out of my unmentionables and chanting The Muck It overture.

Next year, count me out. No more Christmas trees, dead or alive (or fake).

 

END

 

“Why I Hate Christmas Trees” is an excerpt from the new anthology Mom for the Holidays: Stories of Love, Laughter, and Tantrums at Christmas and Hanukkah. Visit them at momfortheholidays.com! You couldn’t ask for a better gift to a fellow mom! (Want the UNCENSORED VERSION? It’s available on Kindle here!)

 

Gina Fenton of Extreme Mom: There’s the painfully boring PERFECT mom, and then there’s . . . Extreme Mom. Gina’s blog is the uncut and uncensored thoughts bouncing around in her head, except on speakerphone. Matriarch extraordinaire of four teens including an extra credit bundle called ADHD, OCD, Aspergers, Bipolar, and every other quirk not yet recognized in the DSM Proud member of the Parental Special Forces. That’s like a Green Beret, but with more practical skills. She’d like to advise a rating of M for mature, but mature is not exactly a word she’d use to describe herself. She is more like a fun grown-up. (extrememom.net)

 

Photo credit: Romain Brami via Foter.com / CC BY