I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Month: July, 2015

I Learned How To Repress From A Master


Learning to Hug

My father doesn’t know how to hug. When we embrace, he pulls me towards him so I am off balance and I feel like we are both going to fall down. Or, more typically, he won’t allow a full body embrace, holding me at arm’s length, literally. Given that we never hugged much when I was growing up, this is huge progress!

Now when we hug, which is infrequent, we usually cry. It is an emotion so painful to my father that I don’t think he can stand it. On the brink of losing control and succumbing to gasping body-wracking sobs, he quickly recovers and says something like, “It was good to see you. Call me when you get home safely.”

I learned how to repress from a master.

I caressed his face, marveling at how soft his skin is, willing whatever healing Reiki energy I could muster to offer to him, looked him in the eyes and said, “I love you Daddy.”

Whatever anger I have for my father, and there was a lot of anger – mostly misdirected at my self through depression and anxiety – has dissolved with the passing of my mother. Perhaps it is under wraps, waiting to reemerge in a fury. Perhaps it is being rechanneled as anger toward something easier to be angry about. Like Donald Trump, that cad.  Or the godawful trend of building monstrous space-hogging houses on modest lots in my hometown which has sent me into a righteous rage. (Ranting post to come!) Our little triad of a family is now just him and me. Like it or not, I am who I am because of who he is. We are forever connected. With more time and self-awareness and self-compassion has come more understanding and compassion for him.

This weekend was my first visit since the memorial service for my mom. Seven months have passed and he is coping by sticking to his routines. Now we have breakfast. Now we have lunch. We go to this restaurant for dinner. We practice the violin after dinner. We read until midnight. We water the plants on Sundays. We get up and do it over again. Oh yeah, I can relate.  I learned the habits of everyday survival from a master.

Sadly, there is no “we.” Linguistic habits die hard after 54 years of marriage. He is very alone. And lonely.

All I feel now is sadness.

I dragged him to the National Gallery yesterday. After all, he dragged me all over art galleries when I was young, it’s the least I can do now that he is old. My dear friend Paul met us there for lunch and a quick viewing of the special exhibits there. Paul, who is bolder and braver than me at asking emotionally probing questions, gently asked my father: “Do you feel her presence in the house? Is she always just around the corner?” No, he said, he doesn’t feel her presence.

He must refuse to feel her presence. Refuse to feel her loss. Immune to it with his routines. Because she is in every crevice. From the needlepoint-covered brick that serves as a doorstop to the placement of the paintings on the walls. From the black and white tile in the front hall that she picked out long ago to the philodendron that sits waiting for her, forlornly, on her dressing table. Her lipsticks are gone. (I checked.) But she is there. Not the 90+-year-old sitting passively and frail in her spot. No, it is my vibrant mother who, along with my father, made me who I am, who permeates my childhood home with her presence.

My father recently told me, when I asked why he never watches movies or reads fiction, that he either finds them silly or he gets so caught up in the drama that it disturbs him. Wow. That was kind of new and interesting information he revealed. I love getting caught up in the drama of a movie. The more intense the emotion the better. I find it cathartic to cry, well, at least when I let myself cry. But he can’t stand the intensity of the emotion. He can’t stand crying. So he devotes himself to his intellectual pursuits or to the practical acts of survival that fill his day. I used to think he was remote and undemonstrative. Now I think no one taught him how to love. How to cope with the joy and the loss that love requires.

I like to think each generation – or maybe each life, if you believe in reincarnation – peels away another layer of the onion to get closer to enlightenment. For me, enlightenment is understanding – to the core of your being – that nothing really matters except for love. Then acting on that understanding. All the time. Try it. It’s hard. Love is hard. It’s easier to plan what to have for dinner or to get up and go to your job, than to love. All The Time. It is my father’s difficult struggle with intimacy that has given birth to my desperate fight for intimacy.

Maybe you need to know how not to hug in order to be able to hug.

Rules of the Road


Sweet 16

My son turned 16 earlier this month. A milestone year. For all concerned. I wanted to honor it appropriately, but there is no “sweet 16” tradition for the boys. When I went to pick out a greeting card, there was a shelf devoted to pink and frilly cards for girls turning 16 but nothing for the boys. Nothing. I was so annoyed, I left the store empty handed. Resentful of overpriced greeting cards, I am regularly disgusted with the dearth of cards for boys and men. I should boycott the whole greeting card thing, but I love presenting a loved one with a meaningful card. It seems that only women are the target audience for greeting cards. The ones for men swing between the extremes of crude (Beer and Boobs!) and earnest (“Son, we are so proud.”) I am particularly DONE with cards for “Husband” that show a silhouette of a young man and a young woman, perhaps with a baby. Ummm. Been there done that. A long time ago. I don’t see myself or my husband or my son in these cards.

I went back to the overpriced card store a few days later, still annoyed. (Papyrus. I hate it. Who pays $8.99 for a greeting card! Oh. Wait. I do.) I was drawn to the juvenile section with its simple and bright designs. The completely adorable pirate hat reminded me of his 5th birthday when pirates were the theme. Nostalgic, I bought it. I reread the earnest “Son, we are so proud” card. Maybe it’s not so hokey. Proud of him, I bought it. But the card I probably should have gotten was the race car card.   Driving. Sixteen. Rite of Passage. Here we go!

My son and I are deeply bonded. There is a connection between us that is so strong it takes my breath away. But over the past year, he has increased the separation between us. As he should. Spending time with friends, asserting his differences from me, aligning with my husband, his dad. Besides, I regularly fall into the role of nagging mom, so why wouldn’t he want to move far away from that? Clearly, we will need to carve out new ways to be with each other as he grows older.

I remember teaching my daughter to drive, several years ago. She too had been moving away from me. But these hugely significant growing up activities, like learning to drive and choosing a college, bring them back. Excited to separate, but kind of scared, they tuck right back into the safe embrace of home.

Every weekend we had our driving time together. In the beginning, it was rocky and terrifying. White knuckled, I would exclaim: Watch out for the car! You are too close to the curb! Slow down! But gradually, we moved from the empty parking lot, to the quiet neighborhood, to the slower side streets. She gained confidence and skills. We developed a little routine for our Sunday drives, jaunting over to the next town or two or three, stopping for a coffee or some other treat. And talking. There is something about being in the car together that facilitates conversation. The bond had loosened, so that it could change.  Through our driving times, it reintegrated. At a more mature level.

By the time she got her license, a year had passed and she was 17. A lot of maturing happens in a year at that age. She was ready. Of course, letting her get into that car and drive alone was terrifying to me. And, frankly, it marked a huge step toward independence. Getting in that car. Alone. Leading her life. I missed our Sunday driving sessions. I missed her.   As a parent, you want to protect them and keep them safe forever. But they have to lead their lives, make their own mistakes. You just pray that they don’t die in the process. And cars are scary. Terrifying. Mass * Velocity = Potentially Fatal Accident.

Nagging mother that I am, I told my son, I will take you to get your learner’s permit as soon as you turn 16, but you better study the manual and do the practice tests. You can get a crummy grade in math, but you can’t get a crummy grade in driving. Your life is at stake.

As the day got closer, he took it more and more seriously. So did I. He took the practice tests. We reviewed the questions he got wrong. When we drove somewhere, I talked through all the rules and choices I was making as I drove, suddenly aware of the multiple nuanced calculations one mindlessly makes when one drives. I quizzed him on the rules of the road. He assured me that he knew them.  “Don’t worry Mom, I know the rites of passage.” I smiled. He meant rules of the road, but – as usual – I liked his way of saying it better. Indeed he does know the rites of passage.

And the rules of the road. He passed.

I Write Because


My Heart Is Full

I write because it is the best way for me to express what I believe, deep in my soul. Talking is too fast. The other person impresses me with their articulate point of view. I can’t find my words quickly enough. If it is a person I care about, my worry about what they think of me gets in the way of being fully honest and centered, grounded in knowing and expressing my point of view. I want to please and be loved. So I sweeten my words, or shift my argument, or become agreeable, nodding in sympathetic understanding. Sometimes I don’t always want to please. Sometimes I want to be funny. Or smart. Or biting. Or right. Yes, I frequently want to be right. But usually, highly conflict-avoidant, I want to please.

When I write, I go inside. The words pour out. The words I do not have the nerve to say. Those are the words I write. It is intense. So intense that I do not, cannot, do it every day. No, in a good month, I post about three essays a month. Reflective and prone to introversion, that is all I can muster without becoming exhausted with the intensity and the emotion of writing from my soul, my truth. Besides, I am busy busy busy with my non-writing life. Working, parenting, cooking, cleaning, commuting, caring, reading, learning, achieving, yogaing, and measuring.  Measuring my spoken words, making sure they are the right words to please, or to impress. Anxious and horrified when they are not.

When I do carve out time for writing, I write about something that has absorbed me. Something in my life or something in the world that I care about that has affected me deeply. Something I ponder at 3 am. Something I think about when I close my eyes for the last 12 minutes of my commute. Something I want to have a conversation about but have not yet solidified my point of view. Something I want to reveal but haven’t had the guts to do so yet. Something that I think others are thinking but don’t have the guts to reveal yet. Or maybe it’s just something funny. Or maybe it’s something that has gotten easier in the last couple of years. Finally. Ease.

Sometimes, I am overwhelmed with all that I want to write that I cannot choose, I cannot focus, I cannot get the words out because there are too many words. Too many somethings that I care about.

June was too full. My heart was too full. Too full to write. I could not choose.

Why are some human beings evil? Nine human beings coming together on a spiritual journey were shot dead by a racist with a gun. I dragged my son to an exhibit of photographs showing portraits of human beings who have lost a loved one to gun violence. It was moving and opened several important conversations with my son. A human being can marry their loved one, whoever that loved one may be. Love wins. I am grateful. I am moved. Father’s Day. Sigh. I was reminded that even after lots of therapy, even after the profound realization that I am who I am because of all that has happened to me and all the choices I have made, I still feel shame and cry. Even though I laugh more and more and more, I still cry and cry and cry. I was reminded, not that I need reminding, of the power of yoga at an event honoring how yoga can prevent suicide. Indeed. Yoga has certainly reduced the suffering in my life, if not saved my life. July has begun with an equally full slate. My son has turned 16, which surely warrants its own essay, but my heart is too full. Love wins. Grateful.

Because I am now writing, finding my voice, more confident, both in writing and speech, I find I am less willing to sweeten my words, to be agreeable, to be swayed by the other person’s articulate and cogent argument. Sometimes, instead of being quiet or swallowing my words, I am provoked to blurt out, “I fucking can’t!” “I fucking won’t!” “I fucking must!” Like overexerting physically, I feel the effect of these outbursts for days. A headache, a nap, a retreat into silence. I do hope I will become more eloquent with my speech, moved by conviction, with less frustration and anger building to a hurtful or impotent outburst. Speaking in a constructive way, with increasing confidence, like my writing.  Is it true, is it necessary, is it beneficial, is it kind? 

In yoga, Matsyasana, or Fish Pose, is a big backbending heart-opener. I can’t do it. Years of self-preservation and self-protection have rolled my shoulders forward. Years of keeping my words inside, hiding, have rolled my shoulders forward. Years of not feeling deserving enough to take up my space have rolled my shoulders forward. I regularly practice a restorative version of the pose, stretching the front of my body and breathing deeply into my chest. But the full pose has eluded me. It requires great flexibility in the upper back, while stretching and exposing the throat, my throat. Exposing the heart, my heart, causing me fear and anxiety at such vulnerability. At the end of June, that full month, when my yoga teacher announced we were doing Fish Pose, I paused. Is it time to try it again? I asked her to help me. She gently came over and supported my back. I gently stretched my heart and my throat, releasing the crown of my head to the floor. I couldn’t see myself and whether I was doing the pose “right.” (Remember, I like to be right.) But I felt like I was doing the pose. It felt beautiful. And that is all that matters.

Full month. Full heart. I write because my heart is open.

Image Credit:  Matsyasana image from http://www.mindofpeace.com

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