I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Category: Being A Daughter

A Simple Roast Turkey

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Prepared With Complicated Emotions

For those of us with eating issues, Thanksgiving is fraught. I’ve made the long journey from lonely eater, to competitive pie-baking guest, to overwhelmed hostess, to becoming a more loving and thankful person. I have gradually realized that no one wants the turkey with exotic spices; no one wants the healthy version of mashed potatoes; other people want the sweet potatoes with marshmallows even if I don’t. (Surprise, they are now a favorite of mine!) Like the Grinch, I have very slowly realized that it’s not about me, nor the food, nor my ability to control the holiday experience. It’s about everyone being together. And who wants a hostess that is tense and competitive and judgmental? A hostess should be happy and inviting and joyful, like a beloved yoga teacher, making you feel like the most important and most loved person. Yes, I know. Duh. A mundane epiphany. It only took 52 years.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided that I was going to enjoy the holidays. Making my resolve more concrete, I shared my decision out loud with my husband. He characteristically said in his no-nonsense way, “Good! Our kids love the holidays and you should be proud that we’ve created traditions that make them feel loved and happy. Besides, the more you enjoy the holidays, the more they will want to come home for the holidays.” Ah. There it is. The circle of life. As they grow older, I want them to want to come home. Unlike me, I want them to want to visit their parents.

I dug out the recipes, made my shopping list, even found the notes I had made a year ago of missing items and ways to improve the process. I was calm, organized, and ready. And So Excited for my daughter to come home from college for the week.

Then my father called. My 92-year old mother was back in the E.R. The “rehab” center where she was barely surviving the recovery from a broken hip had rushed her there. She was on Coumadin and her blood was too thin. This was it, according to my father. I better prepare to abandon my family and my Thanksgiving to rush to her side to say good-bye. I was, sadly, somewhat immune to his dire predictions. He’s been predicting her demise for the last ten years or so. I went through a laundry list of self-questioning:

  • Was my father’s dramatic pessimism warranted? Maybe. After all, she is 92 and one of these days his dire prediction is going to come true.
  • Did it make sense for me to abandon my family and my Thanksgiving to rush to her side and to help my father? Probably not. It was snowing and the worst travel day of the year.
  • How would I feel if my mother died before I could see her? Deeply sad.

The range of emotions over the next 48 hours was wide and intense.

  • Guilt that I am not near by and don’t want to be more of a caretaker.
  • Anger that my father can still make me feel like a scolded bad girl who must resort to explanations of duty and responsibility to explain why I don’t visit more. (I’m busy, busy, busy!) As opposed to the truth: I am angry at what you did. (Make peace with it, Sally. It’s part of your journey.)
  • Compassion for my father who is so devoted to caring for my mother that he feels shattered at this latest crisis leading to her further deterioration. Compassion for his loneliness and worry about his increasing confusion.
  • Despair that the care options for our aging parents are so medicalized and impersonal, based on aiding survival, not on facilitating love.

48 hours later, on Wednesday, after the hospital treated her for the Coumadin overdose and discovered that she had a UT infection which they were now treating with antibiotics, my mom perked up. About to hop on a train, because my father just that morning had insisted that I really probably should come say good-bye, I spoke to the nurse who said she was doing better. Feeling jerked around but relieved, my father held the phone up to my mother’s ear and she kind of squeaked in greeting. My heart jumped up to my throat and I was overcome with emotion.  Would that happy squeak be the last sound of maternal love I hear from my mother?

I decided that I was going to enjoy Thanksgiving. I do believe you can change your thoughts and make thoughtful decisions about how you are going to react and make conscious choices about what emotion will prevail. More and more, I am choosing joy and laughter. I am still angry, guilty, sad, confused, anxious. I am also loving, capable, funny, generous, thoughtful, and frequently happy. My daughter is home. My mother is alive. I am thankful. So thankful that, at midlife, I feel fully thankful along with all the emotions that come with a poignant sense of gratitude.

(P.S. It’s now Saturday and I am, sadly, on my way to say good-bye to her.)

Simple Thanksgiving Roast Turkey

  • Brine the (≅13 lb) turkey Thursday morning.
    • Dissolve 1½ cups kosher salt, ½ cup dark brown sugar, 1 container orange juice concentrate in a quart of boiling water.
    • Remove neck, giblets and metal truss from the turkey.  Throw away because the giblets make your husband gag.  Rinse and place turkey in a cooler or bucket.
    • Pour brine mixture, 1 gallon of cold water, 1 gallon of ice cubes to submerge turkey. Add chicken broth if turkey is not submerged. Place container out on back porch where it is 40°.
    • Let soak in brine for 5-6 hours.

Go take a yoga class. Marvel at how beautiful the class is and wonder what it is about the teacher that makes her so popular. Perhaps it is because she is the most welcoming hostess, making each person feel special. Let the revelation sink in. Maybe I too can be a joyful yoga teacher, a welcoming hostess.

Back home to make sides, side by side with my daughter. Imagine Thanksgiving someday at her house where I hope to be a gracious and loving and helpful and proud guest.

After a light lunch, it’s time to deal with the brined turkey.

  • Preheat the oven to 500°. Lug the turkey inside and haul it into the kitchen sink. Pat it dry. Do NOT stuff it. Slather it with canola oil. Think about how you feel about eating turkey and honor your hesitation. Give thanks to the poor turkey for giving its life so you can honor a family and cultural tradition. Place the turkey on a rack inside a roasting pan and place it in the very hot oven for 25 minutes. Do not peek. (Alton Brown taught me this.)

Go watch football with your husband and son for 25 minutes. Wonder why this violent sport is so popular. Acknowledge that you find the familiar sound of whistles blowing on the tv in the background to be nostalgic and comforting. Muse about what Janay Palmer is doing today and how her relationship with Ray Rice will evolve when it is announced that he is being reinstated into the NFL.

  • After 25 minutes, remove the turkey from the oven. Watch the smoke! (Gotta clean the oven!) Turn the temperature down to 350°. Cover the breast with a double layer of foil, cutting out a little hole for the button to pop so you can see it. Place the turkey back in the oven. For 2 hours. Do nothing. REALLY. No basting, no checking, no nothing. (Alton Brown taught me this.)
  • After an hour and 45 minutes, begin peeking at the button to see if it’s popped. It should pop at 2 hours. If it doesn’t pop at 2 hours, take it out anyway and use your own thermometer to check the temperature. I swear it’s done. Do not overcook.

While it is resting, finish your sides and consider making gravy. Have someone else carve it. Serve buffet style, because you are done! How simple was that?  Ask everyone to help with the clean-up.

 

Image Credit:  Wild Turkey Cock, Hen and Young by John James Audubon

 

“Hi Sweetie!”

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Celeste

I was in our local wine shop this morning, running my litany of weekend errands. I was in a contemplative and compassionate mood – always trying to bring the principles of Yoga and Reiki to my life off the mat, with mixed levels of success. Sundays are good days. I am rested and have more time to be patient, to be open, to listen.

The guy at the local wine shop knows me. (Really, I don’t buy or drink that much wine.) We chat. I tell him what wines I like and what wines my husband likes and he shows me new inventory. When impatient, more affluent customers come in, eager for their more expensive selections right away, I wink at him and tell him I am not in a hurry.  I go and browse while he helps the Very Important Person who lives in the Very Rich Suburbs of New York.

As I was browsing, I felt my cell phone vibrating. Hurriedly, I fumbled for it. It was my daughter! She’s been at college for 3 weeks now, and we all agree it feels like 6 months. Our textversations and conversations are truly the highlights of my days. I grabbed my phone, knowing I could go quietly to a corner of the store, welcome and undisturbed, to connect with my beautiful girl.

“Hi Sweetie!” I exclaimed in greeting.

Suddenly, the lovely old woman near me looked me in the eye and smiled.

“I thought you were talking to me!” She laughed.

I laughed at how my exuberant greeting must have come across to her.

I snuck off and had my delicious conversation and then went to the counter to pay for my wine. The old woman and her daughter, a woman of a certain age, like me, were finishing up. I waited. When they turned to leave, the old woman and I cried “Bye Sweetie!” and high-fived. The daughter, quite perplexed, asked her mother if she knew me. We explained our chance meeting and said our good-byes.

The guy at the wine store commented that I made friends so easily. Ha! Not really. At least I don’t think of myself that way. But maybe that is another aspect of my personality that is evolving. Softening.

As I was driving away, I spied the mother and her daughter walking home. I impulsively stopped and offered them a ride. After all, we were friends now! We introduced ourselves. Celeste is 97. She looks 77. I told her that she looks fantastic for her age (yuck, what a horrible way to say that I can’t believe I said that but she didn’t seem to mind). I told her that my mom was 92 and in rehab for a broken hip. Celeste reassured me that she will be fine. That her generation is strong and resilient. They’ve been through World War 2 after all. We parted ways, expecting to never see each other again, but grateful for the serendipitous connection. Of course, now I can’t get her out of my mind and I wish we had exchanged more than just our first names. Since I am too far away to help my 90-something mother, it alleviates some of my guilt to offer help to someone else’s 90-something mother. Though Celeste doesn’t seem to need a lot of help. She is not frail and has a good attitude. May we all live to be 97, as cheerful and healthy as she is.

I’ve never met a Celeste – it’s one of those lovely older names not in common use now. The only Celeste I know is from the Babar books. Babar tragically lost his mother to hunters. This always shocked and saddened me. Orphaned, he befriended an old lady who mentored him. Babar married his 2nd cousin, Celeste, where they ruled with lovingkindness. I loved the Babar books but kind of forgot them. I am feeling soon-to-be-orphaned.  Is this my old lady mentor?  And elephants always make me think of my daughter.  She is in awe of elephants after one waved his ear at her when she was a little girl visiting the zoo.

All in all I think my new friendship must be a good omen.

If I Can Stop One Heart From Breaking, By Emily Dickinson

If I can stop one heart from breaking,

I shall not live in vain;

If I can ease one life the aching,

Or cool one pain,

Or help one fainting robin

Unto his nest again,

I shall not live in vain.

Image:  Celeste from the Babar series  by Jean de Brunhoff

 

Savasana

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Ready to Rest

If death is like Savasana, maybe we have nothing to fear.

Savasana, the deeply restorative “corpse” pose at the end of yoga class, at the end of practice, at the end of life, is when you put aside the ups and downs, the effort and the ease, the breathing in and the breathing out. You just be. Usually, it is simply a sweet break at the end of class. Sometimes, it’s an impatient pause, the anxious to-do list intrudes. Every now and then, it is bliss. Nirvana. Samadhi. It takes a long Savasana for me to reach this point. (Take note yoga teachers! A 2-minute Savasana is not enough!) I float into a state of consciousness that is not awake, not asleep. Sometimes I see colors, feel tingling, radiate intense warmth. But generally I hover, aware of my soul, but not really aware. At these moments, it is profoundly enough to just be.

If death is like Savasana, maybe we have nothing to fear.

But we fear death – for ourselves, for our loved ones – fighting our body’s evolution/devolution, attempting to stave off the inevitable with doctors, pills, and procedures, prolonging life until … until it is not life anymore.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m in favor of life. I want to live to be old. VERY OLD! I am disciplined to the point of being obsessive with eating healthily, staying thin, keeping active. I plan to fight my evolution/devolution HARD!

But maybe, for the person at the end of life, they are ready to rest in Savasana. Maybe we should help them go peacefully to a place of bliss. Maybe we shouldn’t hang on to them so hard, with doctors, pills, and procedures.

My mother is nearing the end of her life. I visited her and my father last weekend, with my daughter. It was painful. Every aspect of their lives is focused on getting her to survive another day. He measures out her pills. He coaxes her to eat. He trains the aide on how he wants her bathed and dressed and exercised and which diapers are for the daytime and which for the nighttime. My mother has stopped speaking and spends most of the day sleeping, exhausted from being fed, medicated, bathed, dressed, exercised. It was the first visit where she was unable to exhibit much enthusiasm for my presence and none for my daughter’s.

As an only child, the aging and inevitable death of my parents is an unshared burden. No siblings to mull over what to do. No siblings to compare notes with. No siblings to mitigate the dysfunction. Just guilt that I am far away and not doing enough. Just anger that there are still so many unresolved issues and things unsaid. Just grief at my beautiful and vibrant mother’s deterioration and regret at the adult mother-daughter friendship we were never able to establish.

People tell me how lucky we are, how sweet it is that my father is so devoted to my mother. I smile and nod agreeably, not wanting to diminish his faithful attachment to her.  It is taboo for me to tell them what I am really thinking. He is terrified of being alone. It is an act of selfishness to keep her alive. Let her go. Let her go to her Savasana.

Every visit I am armed with good intentions to say more, to ask more, to do more. All with the goal of resolving the past, healing the present, trying to find more love and compassion for the future. I try. I never say, ask, or do as much as I intend. I tried waking my mother up in the mornings by offering her Reiki. If nothing else, perhaps it would be soothing to have someone she loves and who loves her offer her healing and loving touch.  I tried to not be judgmental and annoyed with my father.  He tried to not be judgmental and annoyed with me. Negativity begets negativity. In the midst of our awkward attempts to not succumb to judgment and annoyance, he tried to tell me I was a miracle. He tried to be interested and loving and not self-absorbed. I tried to appreciate his terror at being alone, his grief at losing his beautiful and vibrant wife. We tried.

We took pictures. Is this last time I will see her? Is this the last photo I will have of her? I smiled, because that is my habit. It was not all painful – there was some joy in the visit. I am no longer sucked into the dysfunctional triangle that is formed by my parents and me.   I can honor how who they are helped me become who I am.  I can love them for that.  My daughter was with me, thank God, and I am looking forward to being able to build, with her, an adult mother-daughter friendship. It begins now.

Image Credit:  Savasana sketch by Missy Briggs on her blog The Rascally Rabbit, used with permission.  Thank you Missy!

Why Did You Marry Him?

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The Father of My Children

When I fell in love with my husband, it was love at first sight. We shook hands in greeting and I was electrified by his touch. We met each other’s eyes and I fell hard and deep. I was not thinking about whether or not he would be a good father. He was handsome, strong, intelligent, loyal and truthful, and not particularly introspective, which was a relief. I was sufficiently introspective for both of us, and then some.

My children sometimes wonder about the differences between us, my yin to his yang, and ask, “Why did you marry him?” especially after he revels in teasing me with some comment or action that we all know I will disagree with or when is excruciatingly logical while I swirl in my anxious emotionality. After the glorious and passionate first phase of infatuation settled down, there was a compelling sense of belonging together, that we would be good partners. But nothing prepares you for parenthood. Except, perhaps, a desire to do it better than your own parents.

One area of commonality between us was that we both were children of undemonstrative fathers. The dysfunction was different and the effects were different, but one outcome was that we were united in our desire for a close family in which he would play an involved role. Because I worked full time, there was no other way. We set out to raise happy children who feel loved. We taught them to cook, ski, read, play tennis, knit, tell jokes, dance, nurture plants, enjoy music, watch movies, sail, value family, be alone, ride a bike, practice yoga, taste food, listen to their bodies, be responsible and diligent, write, figure out math problems, and know when to play hooky so as not to get the perfect-attendance award. If my husband was the go-to parent for dessert and tv-watching, playing sports and fixing things, I was the go-to parent for feeling comforted and for taking care of the day-to-day schedule. Together, we complemented each other well.

There is a new book out, Do Fathers Matter? by Paul Raeburn, that reviews all the recent science about the impact of fathers. Apparently, and incredibly, it is only recently that fathers have been acknowledged to have an impact on their offspring. Ask any person and they will be able to comment at length on how their father affected who they are, for better and for worse. In our gut we know that a wise and supportive father can lead to a confident and happy adult and that a judgmental, abusive, or absent father causes lasting damage to the psychological well-being of that person, and even that person’s children. A healthy and happy father can offset the effects of a mother’s depression. An involved father can delay the onset of his daughter’s puberty and sexual initiation. Certainly a nurturing father must be a crucial component of raising sons with emotional intelligence.

As we prepare to celebrate my daughter’s graduation from high school this week and transition her to college this August, I am spending this Father’s Day (and beyond) feeling grateful that I fell in love with a good man who complements me and loves our children (and me). While we have both passed on to her all that we love and all that we value, we are learning to let go and trust that we have given her all she needs to make good decisions, to love good people, to try new things, to find her own way. We will hold hands as she crosses the stage to accept her diploma. I will cry. He will swell with pride.  Together we have nurtured an amazing young woman.

Fly Like an Eagle

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Time Keeps on Slipping, Slipping, Slipping … Into the Future

If the metaphor of life as a mountain is apt, then I am a bit past the summit, wondering how I missed it after all those years of working towards reaching it. Now, I am urgently trying to slow down my hurtling pace toward the valley. I thought the summit would be some grand career achievement.  Looking back at all that hard work on my career, with all the other bazillions of mid-level executives, it’s not the career moments that have been meaningful, it’s the connections with other people that have provided meaning. And my most profound joy has been being a mother to my children.

So you would think Mother’s Day would be a happy day. It is more than a happy day.  For me it is a day of intense emotion, so intense I don’t know what to do with it. Mother’s Day Eve, the intense emotion manifested itself as PAIN, from my heart, through my throat, and up to my ears. I first identified it as sadness and then realized it was mixed with anger. I don’t easily recognize anger, being much more comfortable and familiar with feelings of sadness, depression, and anxiety. Sadness is easy, an easy disguise for more negative emotions. Anger is much more difficult and it takes enormous care on my part to identify it accurately, to not swallow it inwardly, but to express it constructively. Even harder is to acknowledge the mixture of sadness, anger, loneliness, regret, disappointment, longing for what might have been and to let them go. Or at least let them coexist with happiness, to allow room for what is funny or joyful. So much is happy and joyful about my experience of being a mom. How can that joy take up more room in my heart so that there is less emphasis on regret and nostalgia?

I feel such pressure on Mother’s Day to have some kind of outpouring of honest emotion to my mother. Another Mother’s Day has come and gone and I have failed at taking any steps that will bring us closer. I have felt the emotion of love, loss, anger, regret and all that is associated with being a middle-aged daughter welling up in my chest and my throat, but I said nothing new to my mother. Perhaps I will never say all that I would like to say. Perhaps I will never hear all that I would like to hear. It simply may be all that it can be. Perhaps one way to honor my mother is by being more open and honest with my children than she was able to be with me.

It was a segment on NPR’s Studio 360 last Saturday that released the emotion. Beth Greenspan read a poem that is meaningful to her, through tears, about that time in adolescence when you realize that your child is fully separate from you with a world of his/her own that is unknowable to you. And that is how it should be. Part of the parent-child relationship is that the child must create their own life which does not include the parent and it is the parent’s job to allow that happen. The most joyful and heart-wrenching moments of parenting are all those steps they take away from you.

For Mother’s Day, I want my children to be who they are: on the road to becoming responsible and compassionate beings with a sense of ease and confidence. I want them to be less careful and less anxious than me and more able to express their emotions, especially love. I hope they take advantage of opportunities and find pursuits that are fulfilling and fuel their passion. I hope they know that I love them more than anything, certainly more than my career. I hope they know I am proud of them.  With my heart in my throat most of the weekend, sad and excited about what my children are becoming, I told them.  I love them.  Fly!

Into The Kingdom, by Mary Karr

As the boys bones lengthened,
and his head and heart enlarged,
his mother one day failed

to see herself in him.
He was a man then, radiating
the innate loneliness of men.

His expression was ever after
beyond her. When near sleep
his features eased towards childhood,

it was brief.
She could only squeeze
his broad shoulder. What could

she teach him
of loss, who now inflicted it
by entering the kingdom

of his own will?

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

Shredding 26 Pounds

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Shedding the Past, Making Room for the Future

I just got rid of 26 pounds of documents that have been moldering in our basement.  Twenty-six pounds of old bills, tax returns, bank statements, insurance EOB’s, and god knows what else.  My husband, (I am sure rightly so), bought a shredder years ago to dispose of confidential documents and to protect against identity theft.  Our organizational system is to take documents that seem vaguely important to a milk crate in the basement that sits by the shredder.  Don’t ask me why the basement is the proper place for this questionable organizational strategy.  I can’t say that it works very well, because the pile just gets bigger and bigger and nothing actually gets shredded.  One year, probably 8 years ago and the last time anything was shredded, we convinced my son who would have been 6 or 7 at the time that it would be FUN to shred documents.  That lasted about an hour, maybe two, and produced anxiety that he would shred a finger by mistake.  It was not really worth it and we were never again able to persuade him that shredding was fun.  Even a six year old learns quickly that you have to unfold everything, remove the staples, and that forcing more than 3 pages jams the damn thing.  I went to Staples where they have a seemingly secure shredding system.  (Note to Staples:  The salespeople were not particularly friendly nor helpful, probably because they’re not trained well and not paid well – and I don’t understand why Godiva is sold at Staples.  Seems off brand to me.)  

I feel 26 pounds freer.

I don’t have a good filing system.  In addition to the pile of important and confidential documents dessicating in the milk crate in the basement, I have two piles in the front hall requiring immediate attention, piles of bills to be paid, recipes I want to cook, yoga lesson plans for my Thursday night class, newspapers and magazines with articles I am dying to read, but probably won’t before I give up and toss them into the pile of recycling.  Another two piles are hidden inside the beautiful chest in our front hall that my husband thought might inspire us to organize some of our clutter in.  Another six or seven (or twelve) piles surround the floor in our office/guest room that is now so cluttered that it cannot be used for either purpose.  A poor guest would be buried by the pile of clothes-to-be-donated that are sitting in purgatory on the futon bed.  The problem with this organizational strategy is that when I actually need to find something, like the yearbook order form for my daughter’s 12th grade yearbook (important!!!) or some obscure document for the annual tax filing ordeal (coming up!!!), it takes me hours of hunting through the various piles to find what I am looking for.  Or worse, my husband decides he needs something that has ended up in one of these piles and curses disbelievingly at how disorganized we are.  Yeah, like it’s a surprise.  We’ve been disorganized together for 20 years now. 

Neither one of us likes to spend time on organizing.  Somehow our lack of organization is always the other’s fault.  He keeps stuff because We-Might-Need-It-Someday or It-Still-Works.  I am more willing to throw things away, but I don’t because it takes time and decision-making and I have better things to do (like Achieve Greatness).  I am paralyzed by filing, unable to decide what categories to create.  The daughter of a hoarder and organizer-by-piling, I never learned any other way.  My father’s office was off limits because well, I am not sure why.  Forbidden because he didn’t want us to see what was there or forbidden simply because he wanted to control that space?  Under no uncertain terms was anyone allowed in that room.  It was a mess.  Piles of stuff that he wanted no one touching.  During a recent visit, there were 7 empty mouthwash bottles in the bathroom.  I know he had a good plan for using these bottles, but it was bordering on pathological (and laughable if it weren’t so sad).  He has hired a de-clutterer to help him.  I have suggested therapy, but I think it is too late.  He is increasingly overwhelmed with all his important-to-him make-work paper-work.

Perhaps his plight is behind my somewhat sudden and intense desire to free myself of clutter and attempt to become more organized.  I am terrified of ending up like him, obsessively and compulsively spending time on stuff that is not very important or not very effective, while ignoring housekeeping tasks or undervaluing the impact of a streamlined living environment.  I have always been drawn to modern simple de-cluttered spaces depicted so beautifully in home magazines, so foreign to how I live, begging the obvious question:  Where do they keep their stuff?  Sure, there is a lot of stuff when you are an active family of four, but couldn’t we do with less stuff?  Isn’t it time to shed what we don’t need? Especially as my daughter prepares to leave for college and we become a household of three.  Do we really need the toy room?  Perhaps it is time to shed what no longer serves me.

Creeping up on me quietly has been a desire for a serene room in which to write.  The beauty of the laptop is that I can write anywhere.  I usually write in the heart of the house where all the activity is, in the kitchen/family room area.  The parakeets are chirping and hopping on the keyboard, the tv is on, the kids ask for homework help, my husband practices guitar.  It is NOISY.  But I am not home very much so I like being accessible and I like being with my family.  Usually, I can focus and write amidst the activity.  But sometimes, like when I am working out a theme that might require some brave exposure and I want to do it respectfully, I need some peace and quiet.  Just what an office might provide.  Oh yeah! I have an office!  It just happens to be a junk room.  Some people have junk drawers, we have a junk room.  I quietly and gradually have decided that I need that space to be peaceful, clean, organized, and quiet.  I need to get rid of the junk, the clutter.  It’s a daunting task, that I expect will take me the year.  Or more.  But, gradually, I hope to shed the old stuff I don’t need, streamline the stuff I want to keep, and create an open and inviting haven where I feel calm and focused.  Who knows, maybe it will even become a space where guests feel welcome.

Every 3 Hours, A Drunk-Driving Crash Claims the Life of Someone Who Was Not Driving Drunk

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Elizabeth, My Surrogate Sister

It is the anniversary of my cousin Elizabeth’s death.  She was killed by a drunk and stoned driver in 2002 on Labor Day weekend.  A tragedy that stunned me profoundly.  I think of her regularly, and always on Labor Day, and wonder what might have been had she lived.   What more might we have shared?

She was eight years older than me and did not live geographically near me.  It was not until we were both adults that we became close.  I was an only child, so she was the closest I got to having a sister.  How I wanted a sister!  How I still want a sister!  A sibling is not only a built-in playmate and confidante, they share your family history.   How amazing it would be to have someone to share the burden of aging parents and mid-life questioning.  Did that really happen or am I crazy?   Cousins are also uniquely special.  They share your broader family history, while offering you a chance to experience your family through an expanded lens of memories and perspectives.  A different connection can emerge.

One of my first memories of her as her own person was when she visited us one summer.  She must have been 16 or 17 and I would have been 8 or 9.  She slept late.  That is my main memory.  I wanted a sister and companion!  I didn’t understand the teen clock.  My parents wouldn’t let me wake her up early.  Elizabeth was always a night owl, while I was always a morning person.  My parents threw a party (a rare occurrence) during her visit to introduce her to some people her age.  I remember being jealous that my favorite baby-sitter and she hit it off.  I desperately wanted to be older and didn’t understand why they didn’t want me tagging along.

My parents and I visited Elizabeth in 1980 when I was 17 and she was 25 and living at Twin Oaks, an intentional community.   I always admired her idealism and her desire to live according to her values.  This visit made a big impression on me.  I had very little exposure to other ways of living other than how my small family lived with its controlled and orderly routines.  A community of people and families who lived with limited privacy, ate communally and shared resources was eye-opening and mind-boggling to me.

As adults, we cemented our bond during our times together at family weddings and funerals, sharing confidences that we shared with perhaps no one else.  Her sister-in-law’s too-young death from breast cancer.  Her wedding.  My wedding.  Her niece’s wedding.   My family was so small that I felt compelled to value my relationship with Elizabeth at any cost.  She was extroverted and social, idealistic and spontaneous – quite a counterpoint to my shy and careful reserve.  I adored her.  As any little sister would.

One of our most obvious differences was in our weight and our approach to food.  She was sometimes quite heavy, especially when younger, struggling with overeating and what she considered to be an addiction to sugar.  I was sometimes quite thin, struggling with over-exercising and an overly controlled rules-driven approach to eating.  Our dialog about weight and eating was one of the first truly intimate and honest exchanges about the psychology of eating that I had with anyone.  I came to see our struggles as the flip sides of the same coin.  Heavy or thin, we are all connected in our challenge to balance a healthy enjoyment of eating and a confident sense of self and body image.

She found the perfect career for her personality as a nurse-midwife on the Texas-Mexico border.  Her intelligence and her nurturing empathy endeared her to all.  At her funeral, the church was overflowing with people.  Hundreds of people, from near and far, shocked by her senseless loss, wept and mourned this wonderful woman with so much zest for life.  I learned how to be a friendlier and braver person from her.

Elizabeth left a 10-year-old daughter who will be 21 this month.  She is beautiful, with her own (but similar) personality.  Curious about people and the world, gentle and determined, intelligent and adventurous.  When Elizabeth was killed, I vowed to stay part of her daughter’s life.  Aside from sporadic but heart-felt support of MADD, it was the best way I knew to deal with my shock and my grief.  While our connection ebbs and flows, through emails and occasional visits, our attachment is genuine.  I still cannot fathom why Elizabeth was killed.  I can only hope and trust that my relationship with her daughter will stay strong and serve a purpose.  I can see the essence of Elizabeth shining in her daughter as she grows into her own distinct self builds her life.   Elizabeth would be so proud.

Don’t drink and drive.

Source:  NHTSA 

What Does It Take to be a Champion?

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Good Luck Marion!

When I heard that Marion Bartoli had announced her retirement, tearfully, after losing last week in the second round in Cincinnati, citing constant pain in her body, I sighed.  I get it.  Totally.  I am so glad she won Wimbledon in July!  The pinnacle of a demanding career, she did it!  Nothing left to prove, she’s done.  Just like that, she’s walking away.  Is it an impulsive decision?  Will she come back after taking a well-deserved break?  Who knows?  At 28, highly intelligent, she can do anything she wants.  What an amazing opportunity to forge a new life for herself.

Marion was never the classic tennis superstar everyone wanted to watch because she could be counted on to win.  No, her appeal was in her driven and fierce bulldog approach to tennis.  She was in perpetual motion on the court, bouncing nervously on her toes.  She charged the ball with her two-handed groundstrokes, placing the ball where her opponent was not.  Her service motion was weird, unconventionally reaching her racquet in an awkward motion to the side and back before striking the ball.  Her nerdy, intellectual father-coach hovered in the background, a constant presence.  She was an emotional, smart, and determined player with peaks and valleys of wins and losses.

I was glad to see her play a year ago at the U.S. Open.  She wasn’t one of the superstars who got to play inside Arthur Ashe stadium that day.  She was on Court 11 and that was fine with me.  I prefer the outer courts anyway. You can sit up close on the bleachers and see every tic and every grimace and hear the curses and the self-talk.  It’s like sitting in the front row at the ballet and watching the sweat drops fly during the pirouettes and the effortful lifts that look effortless from afar.  Sometimes I even spy the entourage and scootch to a seat near them to hear the behind-the-scenes chatter that goes on, off-screen.  It makes the sport so much more real.  This intimacy is impossible in the touch-the-blimp seats inside Arthur Ashe where we usually sit.  How do you get good seats anyway?  I guess you have to be wealthy and connected and be willing to use your connections.  Oh well, I’ll stick with the outer courts.

At Wimbledon, Marion showed a new side to her personality.  She overthrew her father as coach.  The announcement in early 2013 said it was a mutual decision.  Maybe.  I suspect it was a painful decision that was all hers.  My god, Marion, that took guts!  What were those conversations like?  How much therapy did you require to tell your father to leave you alone?  To tell him “Hey Dad, it’s my life and I’m going to do it my way now.”  Kudos.  She was on a high of exuberant confidence at Wimbledon.  She had a new and supportive entourage.  She was participating in the community of tennis instead of keeping to herself under her father’s watch.  She looked like she was having fun!  Albeit with even more of her usual intensity, focus, and drive.  And she won!  Without her father, she won!

Was that the problem?  She couldn’t sustain her new-found bold independence from her father, her new-found sense of belonging to a larger community of friends and supporters?  It’s hard for us introverts to transition to a more social role, isn’t it?  It’s hard for us good girls to defy our fathers and go our own way, isn’t it?  Especially if there is parental judgment hovering in the background.  Did you feel compelled to be not successful without him?

Oh Marion, I don’t know you.  I can only imagine the years of one-on-one constant, grinding, tennis practice with your father and his intense insistence on your success at tennis.  I can only imagine how you absorbed his dream such that you could no longer distinguish between what was your father’s dream and what was your dream.  Of course you wanted to please him and be a good daughter.  Of course you wanted to win Wimbledon.  You did it!  You won Wimbledon!  It’s completely amazing!  Congratulations!  Are you afraid that you are not a good daughter?  Believe me, you are a good person.  That is all a parent really wants.  For their child to be happy, independent, and a good person.  You can choose to live your own life and still be a loving daughter.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, my husband would lay his head on my belly and whisper to her, “Hit the ball down the line, sweetheart.”  Certainly, he would have loved to have a child who was a tennis champion.  But it is too much.  Constant and grueling, day after day.  The tennis lessons, the discipline, the travel, the expense, the pressure, the competition, the complete focus on tennis, the stress of the tournament circuit.  For everyone in the family.  It’s not just the child’s pursuit, but it is the child’s life that is most affected.  The child has to want to do it.  But how can a child know what they want to do?  It’s the rare child who is truly happy and naturally gifted and who has the ambition and discipline and family support to put 10,000 hours in to become a tennis phenom or a prima ballerina or whatever dream s/he chooses to pursue.  We did not insist on pursuing a tennis life for our children and our children did not choose such a life.  All we want is for them to be happy, independent, good people.  (Bonus, they are pretty good tennis players.)

I watch tennis because I have personal familiarity with the sport.  I enjoy watching tennis because I am fascinated by the stories behind the players.  What drives these players to compete?  Who has the mental capability to win?  They almost all have the physical capability at this level.  It’s the mental focus and ambition, flexibility and intelligence that separate the winners.  What did it take for the players to get here?  What was the parents’ role?  What if my child played at this level?  Would they be happy?  Would I?  And when it’s all over, at such a young age, what next?  Tennis pro?  Tennis commentator?  Or back to school to start a new career?  How do you integrate tennis into your post-tennis life?  Or do you just walk away?

Marion, I wish you well as you navigate your next steps.  I hope that you will own your win at Wimbledon and thoroughly take pride in that achievement.  I hope that you will continue to forge your own path and live your life, independent from your father and supported by your deepening circle of friends and supporters who you are tentatively welcoming into your life.  You have so much to offer, I hope that you will be just as bold and fierce off the tennis court.  Share your passion.  It’s your turn to reflect on what your dreams are now and to go after them in your way.  Good luck.  I am cheering you on.

Hide-and-Seek

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I am at my childhood home, playing Hide-and-Seek with a little girl.  Myself as a child?  The little girl and I go to hide while another little girl (also young sally?) counts to 60.  Or is it 50…my age?  Yes, there are two little girls.  They are both me as a child.  One is hiding and one is seeking.  Hiding girl waves to me and urges me to hide with her.  She slips seamlessly into some bushes.  Small, young, lithe, flexible – poof!  Young sally is gone.  I study the bushes.  There is no place for me in there.  I cannot hide.  I don’t want to disappoint this sweet and innocent girl so eager to play with me, so eager for a friend.  I crouch into a nook beside the house and behind the bush where hiding girl is obscured.  I know I will be found – ending the game…ruining the game.  Seeking girl’s counting is coming to an end.  “48! 49! 50!  Ready or not!  Here I come!”  I hold my breath.  Here she comes.  Humming around the corner of the house, she spies me immediately.  Yelping, “I see you!”  Exposed.  Found out.  Game over.

I am “it” – my turn to be the seeker.  I walk to the side of the house, unsure of the spot where I should count or to what number I should count.  100?  I find a spot (not sure it is the right spot), cover my eyes, and begin counting out loud.  “1!  2!  3!”  I hear everyone sneaking behind me to find their hiding place.  I raise my voice.  “98!  99!  100!  Ready or not!  Here I come!”

The sneaking footsteps were heading down the hill to the backyard.  I begin my search in that direction.

I walk toward the backyard where the swing set used to be, like the swing set my children have outgrown and that we are now passing on to a younger family.  The childhood swing set was where I bit Mary-Ellen because I was so angry and didn’t know how to deal with my frustration.  I don’t remember what I was angry about but I felt so provoked that all I could do was lash out with my teeth.  My father was furious with me.  I remember no effort on his part to discover why I was angry; to support my side of the argument; or to teach me a more constructive way to be angry.  In shame, embarrassment, and with complete humiliation, I had to face her scary and formidable father and go to her to apologize.  My father made me do it after dinner.  You can’t disrupt the dinner routine.  It was the end of my friendship with Mary-Ellen, because I didn’t know how you could be angry and still love someone.

Heading to the backyard in my dream, the swing set is gone.  In its place are cats.  Not small cats.  Big cats.  Cougars.  Pumas.  Panthers.  Sexy older women?  Cougars everywhere.  Baby Cougars.  Adult Cougars.  Slinking, Stalking, Hunting.  Frightened for my life, I become desperate to find my husband.  Where was he hiding?  I had to find him and save him.  He wasn’t in the backyard.  I run to the front yard.  More cougars.  A voice was speaking to me in my head.  “They may seem to not notice you, but they are aware of you and very dangerous to you.  BEWARE!”  I could not find my husband.  The little girls were gone also.  Just me, grown up Sally, exposed.  Heart beating with fear at the danger.

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