I’ve noticed that a few of my recent articles have been fairly serious and perhaps a bit heavy and emotional for some visitors. I wouldn’t call them “dark” exactly, but they follow the path of how I explore my reality, my self, and my purpose. I truly do write to learn about myself. It sneaks out through the pencil and then even more during the edits.
It may be comforting to know that I do not sit around in the dark--scotch on the rocks in one hand, cigarette dangling from between my fingertips with a twisted pained expression on my face--mainly because
A) Quality Scotch is not in my budget
B) I quit smoking because of my daughter
C) My face hurts when I do that, and my daughter says, “What are you doing?”
I live a “normal” life and I thought it might be refreshing to share a few random things about me, my thoughts, and my life.
1. Bananas: I recently read that wrapping plastic wrap around the stems helps them last longer. It WORKS! I am a slow banana eater--and NO, I don’t mean in the sexy, erotic, banana eating contest kind of way. It’s just that I buy small bunches, maybe four, but after day two I’m bored and need a break from all that “healthy” and they sit for a day or two. Then by the time I’m in the mood again for a banana they are all aged an soft--damn you metaphor--Yes, I just saw it--me and relationships. I told you; I learn a lot about myself while writing. These metaphors for my life just creep in. I digress. Wrap up the stems and they last longer.
2. Perimenopause: I’m in it. It’s a ride let me tell you. For both me and my daughter. My moods used to be fairly predictable. Normal week—irritated week—over the top, edgy, emotional week—happy week. So yes, I only had about 10-12 good days a month. Now I seem to stand outside my body and watch a Joan Crawford “No more wire hangers!” moment move into Gothel singing “Mother Knows Best” to Rapunzel, which might then switch to Julie Andrews singing “My Favorite Things” for my daughter during a tornado warning. This can all occur within an hour; my daughter just stares at me with this expression I haven’t quite named yet. It’s a mix between “Are you done yet?” and “Why does this keep happening to me?”
3. I signed my daughter up for the swim team because she was so excited about trying it this year--but I haven’t joined the pool yet. Do you think that’s a problem? I'm too embarrassed to call Parks and Recreations to ask.
4. I think I will grow out my bangs and just keep letting my hair grow down to my butt. I hear that once you pass 50 you really don’t give a shit what people think of you. Is that true? I might already be there. Thoughts?
5. I love moss. I also love that single day in spring when everything is that one shade of green that you never see again until the next spring.
6. I love love love The Carol Burnett Show!
I was a quiet obedient child. I would cram into my closet and secretly wish I could visit Mr. Tumnus in Narnia, and when I was alone I would talk to the imaginary studio audience and cameras filming my life as if my every move was on T.V. Back in the 1970’s long before “Reality T.V.” I was the star of my life.
I have found myself on a journey to rediscover that star. There just isn't a “right” way or a “fast” way to get there. So I sit; I write; I have a laugh usually at my own expense. It works for me.
I love noticing the crazy things my mind hangs on to. It’s really my ego that clings to certain notions, but I find watching what “she” does humorous. That’s why I enjoy sharing it. Perhaps we all do this sort of stuff, but understanding how my mind works and processes the difficult days is what makes me tick—and laugh—at myself.
This past month when I fill the coffee maker I keep reflecting on how my mind acted when my husband left—what rules I had for my behavior during that difficult transition. I’m sure my mind has gone here a lot lately because I’ve been thinking a great deal about all my relationships (past, present, and future) and my place within them.
After my husband left I would come home from work and clean the kitchen—a lot. It was the only area of my life at that time that I knew I could control. The very first night I knew he wouldn’t be returning I was very purposeful in my evening coffeemaker preparation. We had this awesome coffeemaker that ground the beans and started brewing before we woke up. Bean grinding had become my alarm clock.
I remember carefully measuring out beans and water for only half the pot. I told myself that there was no way in hell I was going to forget that I was alone and mistakenly make 12 cups—coffee for two. I though the ultimate punch in the gut of loneliness would be to mindlessly pour two mugs of coffee and then realize I was alone. Duh.
I search myself, my past, and my heart for the answer as to why in the world I was so hell bent on not letting myself slip up and fall into “married mode.”
All I know was I think I didn’t want loneliness to sneak up on me and surprise me. I wanted to keep it at bay—controlled—on my terms. Feel lonely at the appropriate Conlee-pre-approved moments—no other times. I had a daughter to take care of after all—her Kindergarten year to finish up—my group of 6th graders to teach—I was too busy to be lonely and stupid enough to forget that he was gone. My ego had it all under control and no amount of coffee could convince me otherwise. I was so funny.
The reality is that loneliness snuck in anyway and ironically—or not—it was usually in the wee hours of the pre-work morning while I drank my coffee—alone. My ego told me that I was okay though because feeling lonely was much easier to handle than forgetting I was alone.
This memory is over five years old and has resurfaced to teach me a lesson. Not about marriage or divorce because just last night the whole gang was here—me, daughter, her dad, his girlfriend (one of my closest friends) all watching Frozen, eating, talking, supporting each other, and laughing—a lot. It’s teaching me that surviving my difficult moments involves looking closely at my feelings and letting myself feel them, but to do that I have to let my ego play along by letting her set some of her ridiculous rules. I’m learning to keep her busy while I explore the new tidal wave of emotions that splash through my mornings over coffee.
Over the past three years I’ve entered a few essay contests. I haven’t won but on a personal level each is a huge victory.
This is another one of my losing essays. I proudly share them here basically for the same reason I write them—it makes me happy and it feels good. This particular prompt was to write about our most courageous moment—and once again my life doesn’t fit into the “all-or-nothing” experience.
I hope you enjoy.
As I look back over my life, it is marked by bravery. Each triumph is very different and more importantly no less brave than the triumph that lived before. I’m certain we each have such milestones. I am inclined to celebrate them equally.
In my first ten years I remember bravely grasping the handlebars of my shiny green bike, charging ahead, determined to ride over that enormous gravel pile left near the new house construction next door.
Bikes and gravel don’t mix—lesson learned.
Knees and palms bloody. I cried.
Ages ten to twenty I buried the secrets of abuse at the hands of people I had trusted. It followed me for years as I navigated life in silent torment.
I am a survivor—lesson learned.
Heart and soul betrayed. I cried.
Years twenty to thirty I watched my mother fight cancer. I sat with her as she spoke of her life, her dreams, and her wishes for my future.
Sometimes all you can do is be fully present for another human being as they retrace their past—lesson learned.
Inner child frightened and lonely. I cried.
Thirty to forty I watched my fifty-nine year old mother take her final breath and I sat for hours with my father in her presence as her soul lifted to heaven. I also had my first and only child six years later that she never got to meet. I was a motherless daughter wanting to call my Mommy and ask questions about my newborn.
Parenting is learn as you go, and you do the best that you can with what you have—lesson learned.
My heart filled with a new kind of love. I cried.
Forty to fifty I calmly watched my husband leave me, and I smiled every day in front of our six year old to show her that she would never have choose between her parents; that she could always be free to think of her Daddy as her Hero. Just like my Daddy is to me. I also left behind a twenty-three year teaching career to begin my own business. It’s not the spectacular success I dreamed it would be.
Sometimes the things you think are going to be so perfect turn out sad and disappointing—lesson learned.
My heart broken and my ego bruised. I cried.
Bravery or the price of being alive? Which is it? I can’t answer that without remembering something my Mom would say to me when I was little and things didn’t go my way, “Into each life some rain must fall,” and today I’m sitting in a torrential downpour. Hell, I’m feeling brave and impressed for just getting out of bed this morning.
Next year I will be fifty. Every day I wake up. I put my feet on the floor and I face the day. I smile as I pack a new 5th grader’s lunch. I know I need to find a new career—well any job really. I call my dad to say “I love you.” I talk to my Mom while I’m folding laundry. I forgive myself for abandoning my inner child, and for failing at a marriage and business. I still hate riding a bike.
Being alone in silence, learning life lessons, knowing when to cry, and knowing how to brush myself off and try again—these are the bravest things any one of us can do when we are given the beauty of another sunrise.
I think my mother was right; to be fully alive is the most courageous thing we do for our soul; rain or shine, but my favorite Longfellow poem this week is Loss and Gain because it is my anthem to bravery and to my decades of courageous living:
Loss and Gain by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
When I compare
What I have lost with what I have gained,
What I have missed with what attained,
Little room do I find for pride.
I am aware
How many days have been idly spent;
How like an arrow the good intent
Has fallen short or been turned aside.
But who shall dare
To measure loss and gain in this wise?
Defeat may be victory in disguise;
The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.
For me mothering is a non-stop, learn-as-I-go adventure with no one to call for help. My mom died when she was 59. I was 32 and it would be another six years before my daughter Skye was born. I wish they had met.
I remember once sitting on my mom’s lap with my hands wrapped in hers—she looked down and said, “Oh God. These are my mother’s hands.” I didn’t understand the tone of her voice at the time. It was almost a mixture of matter-of-fact sorrow, resignation, and exhaustion. Nearly forty year later I finally understood—completely—as I stood flipping a pancake and there she was--her hand—holding my spatula.
My own reflection even surprises me these days. Sometimes I will pass a window and I will have to do a double take because I think my mom is staring back at me. It makes me laugh.
I am sad sometimes that my mom never got to meet my daughter, but I realize now that her hands have. It’s my mother’s hands I see holding Skye’s hand, or face, or brushing her hair. Folding her granddaughter’s clothes even; it makes me smile.
Mom died with typical regrets of not being a “better mother” no matter how much I would try to convince her otherwise. She did crazy little things that made me feel special. She sewed a box full of Barbie clothes, let me “run away” (to the basement), take apart my bed and put it on the floor, and leave my room a holy mess as long as I shut the door. She also taught me to finger paint on the glass top table, to bake, and how to enjoy summers on the patio.
I’m sorry Mom, but you aren’t remembered for putting me through college, although you did, or for the arguments we had during high school, or for any of those harsh words we may have spoken to each other. You will always be remembered as the woman who set up her own mother’s ancient sewing machine to make teeny tiny jackets, skirts, and dresses for my Barbie. It is all these little things that happened in the course of the days that are my lasting memories of “motherhood”.
Sometimes I even have a dream with my mom in it, and I get to watch her with her granddaughter; her face looks like the mom I had when I was ten—before grey hair, before cancer, before regrets.
As I hold my daughter’s hand I know my mom is here—I see it in my hands. She gets to be a part of Skye’s life by proxy. My hair is now turning grey, and I make mistakes, and Skye’s room is a holy mess, but I try not to have regrets. Thirty years from now, when my daughter notices her hands have started to look like mine, I pray she knows just as I have come to understand, that she has four generations of good hands holding her, guiding her, and loving her—always.
This article originally appeared on May 7, 2013 on The Brown Falcon and each year near Mother's Day it needs to be revisited by me, so here it is :-)