I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Month: March, 2014

I Spoke to My Mom Today

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And My Mom Spoke to Me

This should not be remarkable, but it is.  After multiple surgeries to remove a recurring benign growth in her throat, she has gradually lost her voice over the last 30 years.  I believe that one’s sense of self is connected to one’s ability to tell your story.  Because she has lost the ability to speak, her self, her stories, and her memories have also gradually faded over the last 30 years.  When I visit her in person, there is a window of time during the visit when she galvanizes her mom persona and I connect with her.  But I don’t visit very often – fraught with old patterns – so most of our interaction is via telephone.  It is difficult to have an in-depth conversation with her in person and even more so on the phone, without eye contact and body language.  She hoarsely whispers and frequently doesn’t finish her sentences.  Our conversations usually consist of me glibly describing my activities and my kids’ activities, a little small talk about the weather and whether she can get outside for a walk, and an attempt to engage with her over whatever book she is reading.  Usually she is reading a book I gave her, because books are where we have always connected and reading together has always been a favorite shared activity.  I am never sure whether she is just going through the motions of reading or whether she is really taking in what she is reading.  She can’t find the words to describe the book to me, other than to tell me that she is enjoying it.

Last week, when we spoke and we completed our routine weekly conversation, she said, lucidly, “I am glad you are doing okay.”  She said it in a way that knocked the breath out of me.  I hadn’t told her anything deep.  She doesn’t know about my writing.  She doesn’t know about my therapy.  She doesn’t know about my midlife search for spirituality.  And yet, she knows?  I shivered.  And wondered if those were her last words to me.  A gentle maternal benediction.  After 51 years, I am doing okay and she can tell.  Perhaps there is more going on inside her than I realize.  Is that what she needs before she dies?  To know that her only child is okay?  I shivered.  That week I dreamt.

Healing

There is a dying withered being, like a malnourished starving child.  My mother?  My self?  My inner child?  It is almost as if she has no skin.  Her eyes are slits.  Oozing.  Tears?  Toxins?  My teacher is there.  She says: Touch her. Use Reiki. But don’t touch her tears, it could make you sick or kill you.  She leaves.  I am alone with this dying creature.  I can’t do this!  I don’t have Reiki power!  I am not a healer!  I am sure she is going to die. I place my hands on her.  She looks at me through those oozing slits. She has no voice and cannot speak. I muster all my compassion and healing energy to comfort her. It is not clear to me that she will survive. I wonder if she will die and feel honored to be the one with her if she passes on to wherever one goes when they die.

This week when we spoke, she was again lucid.  Her voice had some strength and she completed her sentences.  She could tell me what her book was about and that she hadn’t tackled The Goldfinch yet but it was next on her list.  (Same here.)  I told her about my amazing day with my daughter, playing hooky for her 18th birthday.  And then the conversation took a turn:

Mom:  “This is a big year for you.”

Me:  “Yes.  I am trying to spend as much time with my daughter as I can before she leaves for college.  I am going to miss her.”

Mom:  “More than you know.”

Me:  “Mom, did you miss me?”

Mom:  “Oh yes.  So much.”

Quiet pause.  Because neither one of us knows how to take this conversation to the next step.

Mom:  “I am thinking about living to 100.  It’s only 8 more years!”

Me:  Joyful laughter.

Me:  “Mom, is there anything you want to do before you die?”

Mom:  “No.”

Me:  “Just be?”

Mom:  “Just be.”

Quiet pause.  Because neither one us knows how to take this conversation to the next step.

Me:  “Bye Mom, I love you.”

Mom:  “I love you too.”

I wonder what we will talk about next week?

Image:  Visuddha, The Throat Chakra

I Don’t Like Bacon Anymore

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Cooper

Actually, I haven’t liked bacon for a long time.  I have fond memories of liking the smell of bacon and I feel like I should like bacon but I don’t.  We use to have bacon for special occasion breakfasts until I realized that I hated the grease cleanup and didn’t really enjoy the taste, so I stopped initiating them.  Sometimes my family acts a bit wistful for these breakfasts, but not convincingly.

When out to celebrate my daughter’s birthday at one of our special occasion restaurants, I decided to splurge and ordered the roast chicken with apple wood smoked bacon.  When it arrived, the chicken was overcooked and dry.  Highly unusual.  Just as unusual, I sent it back.  They brought me another and it was just a touch less dry.  The smokey smell of the bacon was overpowering.  I could not enjoy it.  Maybe, maybe it was time.

I’ve been very gradually eating less and less meat for several years now.  Not quite putting a stake in the ground.  Rather, I’ve been tip-toeing toward pragmatic vegetarianism.  Eating less meat as long as it didn’t disturb anyone else’s meal plan.  As is my cautious way, afraid to put myself whole heartedly out there with a strong point of view.  I can argue both sides, affiliating with everyone while offending no one, and not really honoring who I am.  After all, I love a juicy roast chicken or a grilled steak or my husband’s homemade meatballs.  And while trying to feed a family of four with completely different food likes and dislikes, why add another challenging component to getting dinner on the table?  Declaring myself a vegetarian seems both selfish and an act of self-sabotage.  It’s hard enough to deal with dinner for the family every night of the week.  Do I really need another food rule to live by?

When I took the step of getting more serious about yoga, I became aware of one of the first principles of yoga, Ahimsa, which translates to nonviolence.  Many yogi’s are vegetarian and base their decision on this precept, to be kind to all living creatures.  That year I reflected on the ways I inflict harm on myself with my cuticle picking and anxious thoughts.  I started looking people in the eye and smiling more.  I noticed that I felt better and slept better when I ate less meat and so my gradual tapering off of meat began.  I found meatless recipes that made it into the family dinner repertoire.  I brown-bagged my lunch and ate out less frequently or at restaurants that had more vegetarian options.  I lost 15 pounds.

But I didn’t really question the values behind the food chain.  Why shouldn’t we eat meat?  It’s what we humans do.

When we went away for vacation last month, I found myself ridiculously sad to leave our two parakeets behind.  We got our first parakeet, Cooper, for Christmas two years ago to satisfy my son’s desire for a dog.  We felt our lifestyle was not amenable to having a dog and settled on a parakeet instead.  Cooper is attentive, social, sweet and adapted quickly to the family, hanging out with us as much as we let him.  We were still away for much of the day, however, and we worried that he was alone and lonely.  So Ginger joined the family a year later.  She has not acclimated as well, presumably because she has Cooper in a way that he didn’t have another bird to fall back on.  She is more wary and less friendly, with a very distinct personality to whom I’ve also grown very attached, identifying with her wariness.

I grew up with pets.  As an only child, I would fantasize about how wonderful it would be to have a companion and wheedle until my parents would give in.  Fish, a turtle, gerbils.  Then there were the more significant and long-lived pets:  George the guinea-pig who would oink excitedly when he heard the refrigerator door open, hopeful that some lettuce was coming his way.  Buddy the parakeet for whom I played a recording of me saying “Hi Buddy!” for hours, hopeful that he would someday say “Hi Buddy!” back.  He never did.  And Pansy the poodle, who became my mother’s dog, not mine, because she was the one who fed her and spent time with her.  When George and Buddy died, I felt enormous guilt.  After the initial infatuation, the drudgery of having a pet set in and there was only so much bonding I was able to do with a guinea pig and a parakeet as a young girl. 

With Cooper, and Ginger, there was some sense of wanting to alleviate my guilt.  Could I take better care of them than I did of Buddy?  I watched them.  I looked them in the eye, trying to understand their moods, imagine what they might be feeling, trying to create a nice life for them, as much as a caged suburban life can be for a wild creature, even if bred for caged suburban life.

Why is it okay to eat chicken and not parakeet?  Why is it okay to eat pig and not dog?  Why is it okay to eat cow and not cat?  After looking in Cooper’s eyes and feeling his heartbeat and his complete trust, I don’t think I can eat animals any more.  Truly, he has a soul.  But what about squishing bugs and eating fish, delicious fish?  Where does one draw the line?

After reading Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, where the man and the boy are the good people in search of other good people while avoiding being killed and eaten by the marauding gangs of bad people, I wondered, if my life depended on it, what would I do?

I am increasingly uncomfortable with considering myself and other humans as better than other animals and entitled to eat them.  I am increasingly uncomfortable with keeping quiet about what I believe to be right for me.

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