I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Category: Midlife

Conversations with my Father

Remembering

We wait until the last hour to let the emotion crack through. It’s always my mom that breaks open our hearts. “I miss her so much,” my father sobs. I was taking photographs of old photographs. Photos of her I had never seen. The photos were in the front hallway in an envelope carefully labeled with instructions to himself in my father’s unmistakable handwriting: “Take to get copies.”

I search her face for a trace of my face. I don’t see any resemblance. Maybe, just maybe, there is a hint of my daughter in her face. My mother didn’t like photographs of herself and tended to avoid eye contact with the camera. She didn’t think she was pretty. To me she was beautiful. On that, my dad and I agree.

I hug him awkwardly, neither one of us very good at it. He resumes cataloging his assets for me, verbally, so that when he dies I will be able to deal appropriately with all the stuff accumulated in the house. If nothing else, he has always been meticulously careful about my financial wellbeing. But it’s not just a catalog. Each item has a story. I only half listen because he’s been pontificating at me for 54 years and I have always dealt with it by only half listening. I will myself to pay attention.

There are 3 violins and 5 bows. The Nicolas Lupot violin has some value. It’s an early Lupot – not one of the later, better ones. Nicolas Lupot was an 18th century French violin-maker in the style of Stradivarius. The Lupot is not the violin he is playing right now. I’m not sure why. It needs to be repaired perhaps? I try to remember the name of the place where I should take the violins when he dies, should I want to sell them. Weaver’s? Potter’s? I think one of the violins might have been my mother’s. I’m not sure. I really should get clarification on that.

They met playing string quartets, but my mom stopped playing after they got married. Relieved of what was mostly a chore for her. My dad, on the other hand, whispered to me at dinner the night before, “I don’t know what I’ll do if I can’t play any more.” Playing the violin is his lifelong passion. Even though his short-term memory is fading in an alarming way, (“Did we do anything yesterday?” he asked me this morning), and he has trouble adding the tip to the dinner bill, he practices the violin every day and plays string quartets once a week. It keeps him alive and in the house. I hope he lives as long as he can and then drops dead of a heart attack. The lingering withering away that my mother experienced is the worst…for all concerned.

Every year when I visit, I take inventory of how he’s doing. Pretty well by all accounts. Not much worse than a year ago. Maybe better. He has his routines, and he has mostly mastered his grief. The house is clean, (cluttered but clean), thanks to Pauline, the woman who has been cleaning the house since 1964. But he now holds on to things for support, acknowledging that a cane may soon be in order. I harangue him about doing his balancing exercises. And really Dad, cut out the sugar! His nutrition information is from 30 years ago and frankly he doesn’t really care. Why should he. Even though his post lunch stupor prevented us from our annual outing to the National Gallery. I could not get him out of his chair. Out of his house. Out of his routine. Inertia.

I am ambitious for him. For me. For us and our visits. This time, I will ask the meaningful questions. This time, we will have a special outing. This time, I will tell him more about me. Do children who live close to their aging parents and see them frequently feel as urgent with their visits? But, we fall into our habits. Overly protective of our private selves. It is not until the last hour that we really connect.

Each year, I ratchet down my ambition. There is more patience and love in our quiet togetherness. I watered his plants, nurturing the living beings in the household. I read. I practiced yoga. I listened to the birds. Waiting for him.

I walked around the house. Remembering. I looked at old photographs. The ones of me when I was growing up. The ones of my mom when she was younger than I am now. We walked around the neighborhood, remembering, and tut-tutting with mutual disgust and judgment at the hideous Mcmansions that have cropped up in our middle class mid-century suburban development. We went out for dinner. We watched tv. We remembered. Maybe it’s enough to just be together.

Choosing Peace

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Uttanasana

I am at peace with my not being at peace. This sums up how I feel this New Year’s.

Gradually, year over year over year, I have moved away from setting ambitious goals and resolutions and moved toward setting intentions – to choose to be more happy and open to love, to listen to my heart more than to my ego, to see what is good – not what is lacking.

Of course, I still want to have more money, achieve more success, eliminate meat and sugar, be a better citizen of the world, read more books, stop picking my cuticles, throw away stuff, get organized already, be a better mother, and so on. And on. And on.

I am familiar with these goals and make mild progress on them from time to time. Really though, it is exhausting. Bordering on boring.

But when you really stop and ask: what do we want from life? Isn’t it: To feel joy, experience love, reduce suffering.

Peace. Inner peace, if not world peace.

B.K.S. Iyengar says that Uttanasana is “a boon to people who get excited quickly, as it soothes the brain cells. After finishing the pose, one feels calm and cool, the eyes start to glow and the mind feels at peace.” Indeed.

When, at the height of my mid-life anxiety, I would do forward folds in yoga class, I would weep. Turning inward, calming down from my busy busy busy pursuit of not feeling, I would feel. My hamstrings. My breath. My sadness. Of time passing. Of rejections. Of goals not achieved. Yoga class was the only place I would let myself be still, still enough to feel.

Folding forward is private. You can be with your self. Feeling your body, your breath. Just feeling. Just being.

Now, on the other side of my mid-life anxiety, Uttanasana is a pause. A transition. A comforting place to breathe and reflect. Kind of like New Year’s. When I look back on the last year (or years), I see a woman who is happier, more open, more grateful, more able to laugh, more loving.

Instead of focusing on what we don’t have, can we focus on what we do have? What is good, not what is bad.

As this year has ended with great uncertainty about what our world will be like under President-elect Trump, I have to fight against anxiety, anger, panic, despair. It is easy to succumb to the swirl of anxiety.

I will not contribute to negative energy. I resolve to be a force for love, compassion, and positive change.

I will choose peace.

The Mirror

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Homework

I am in the middle of a yoga training with Colleen Saidman Yee. She has designed thought-full and specific sequences of poses to enhance or mitigate significant emotions and life transitions. All with a goal of achieving peace and confidence in ourselves, in order to be able to say: I Am Enough.

Our assignment this week, among other things, was to look in the mirror, see ourselves, our souls, and say I Love You. When I looked in the mirror, I felt so silly. Who says that?

Why not? Why don’t we give ourselves permission to love ourselves?

It brings up a long buried memory. I am at the wedding of our neighbor. My first wedding. I am about 8, perhaps. I am wearing a fancy dress and my mother did my hair in her favorite way, pulled back into a top-knot. I feel excited and grown up. At the wedding we are chit-chatting with another neighbor who remarks how pretty I look. Feeling confident and pleased, I respond, “I know!” My parents are embarrassed and scold me. One should be modest and humble, not braggy and conceited. The neighbor smiles indulgently and defends me. But the damage is done. A lifelong struggle with how to be in this world begins. Pretty? Smart? Assertive? Confident? Bossy? Slutty? Ambitious? Bitchy? NICE?

It is more socially acceptable to commiserate: I am so busy. I am so tired. I have so many problems. Or to be self-deprecating: I’m too heavy. I’m too thin. I’m too old. I hate my hair. When was the last time someone asked you “How are you?” and you answered: “I am beautiful, healthy, and strong. I like my job. My kids amaze me. My husband loves me.” Well, dammit, that’s how I am. I’m tired of complaining.

Don’t get me wrong. I could complain! My beauty is one of a middle-aged woman now. My wrinkles, age-spots, thinning eyebrows, and jowls (wtf?) shock me. SHOCK! I am not passionate about my job, but it’s interesting. I wish I had more time for yoga, both practicing and teaching. I’ve been hurt. Badly. A lot. I worry about everything. But… I am who I am and I am enough.

What is beauty anyway? We women are encouraged to meet an impossible external standard. Tall, thin, fit, young. Those of us who come close work very hard to get closer to the standard and feel like failures when we don’t. Those of us who don’t come close work very hard to get closer to the standard and feel like failures when we don’t. Or, we give up. As we get older, perhaps we find more peace with who we are and how we look, but our fading looks are a bittersweet reminder of the fleeting impermanence of youth and of life.

We look in the mirror and see our soul shining through our eyes. The same soul from 50 years ago, from 40 years ago, from 30 years ago, from 20 years ago, from 10 years ago. Real beauty is self-acceptance. Self-confidence. Pride. No more wishing to be someone else. No more wishing to be richer, thinner, smarter, nicer, more successful, more popular, more badass, more happy. We are enough.

Besides, it’s not about me anymore. I want my daughter to be happy and to love herself and to know – really know – her value. If I can’t model that kind of love and confidence for me, what makes me think she can do it for her? If my love for myself is a bit tentative and embarrassed and filled with buts and what-if’s, my love for her is fierce.

Dear girl, you are enough.

The Pause

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Before What Is Next

Well. Here we are. Already. August. End of Summer. End of his childhood. The pause after the exhale before the inhale. Before September, the new school year. 12th grade. Before he begins whatever he will be beginning a year from now. Because we don’t know.

Our vacation this summer was a quiet week in Vermont, just the three of us. I missed my daughter, but it felt important to have this time with him. It was sweet to be away from our routine and entwined together, synchronizing our lives to be focused on each other, if only for the week. We listened to music together, impressed that he had such eclectic taste and appreciation for “our” music of the 1970’s. (Thank you, Guardians of the Galaxy.) We adventured together, zip lining down Mt Mansfield and rock climbing a wall. We walked in the woods, read by the pool, and found restaurants with wings for him, pasta for my husband, and vegetables for me. It was a delicious, restorative break, nothing fancy, and I am trying not to be too sad that it is over.

17 years. Over.

I stare at him. Often. He hates it. He thinks I am judging or noticing something he wished I wouldn’t notice. He is self-conscious. Embarrassed. My gaze is really more about wanting to connect. Wanting him to know, to really know deep down in his soul, that I love him and want him to be happy and to know that he is enough just as he is. I want him to know that I am sorry for all the times I do judge and nag and wish for something to be other than it is.

I spend a lot of time judging and nagging and wishing for something to be other than it is. Like the end of August. The end of summer, the end of vacation, the end of childhood. I don’t want it to be over! Hell, I’m just figuring out how to do it … and it’s over?

So. Instead of clinging and resisting, I am trying – trying! – to be patient with the pause. Open to possibility. Open to change. With not knowing what is next. With not rushing to the inhale, but fully and completely exhaling all the air out and pausing. Appreciating the breath. Appreciating the boy who is becoming a man. Gazing at his graceful shape, searching for eye contact with his soul that is embarrassed to be seen. Trying not to be frantic about the college application process. Trying not to grieve for the time that is gone. Trying not to regret all that I could have done differently. Trying not to regret that I’m not a different mother, but to accept that I am the mother I am. Just as he is enough, I am enough.

We are here. Abiding in the pause. Open to what is next. Because we don’t know. Now is enough. We are enough.

The Beautiful Subway Singer

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Finding Love Right Where We Are

Monday, instead of walking across town in my usual commuter bubble to catch my train home, I decided to take the subway. It was hazy, hot, and humid and the sky had turned ominously black while all our cellphones were sirening the alarm that a storm was near. I’ve been caught in that 5:30 pm summer downpour.  Not today.

I headed down the tunnel below ground and just missed a shuttle. In my bubble, I headed toward the next train. Everyone was standing, crowded in the entry way, even though there were plenty of seats in the middle. I made my way through the crowd to sit by myself in my bubble. When the train started moving, the beautiful woman next to me started singing. Well, at least I think she was beautiful because she gave off a beautiful vibe. Beautiful energy. I didn’t actually look at her. I didn’t actually make eye contact with her. After all, I was in my bubble in the city where I was taught not to make eye contact with strangers. Somehow connecting with others was threatening and could incite danger. This was understandable advice to the young single woman I was many many years ago, but it doesn’t really serve me that well any more. I am capable and savvy, unlikely to be accosted by strangers, and far more inclined now to make a warm connection with someone who could use a smile (and usually that someone is me).

I was startled out of my bubble. Listening. She started out tentatively, a little out of tune. It was a hard song, Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud. I certainly couldn’t sing it. I certainly wouldn’t have the nerve to burst into song in the subway. I don’t even sing at home if anyone else is around. I just listened. She gained confidence and strength. I suppose she does this all day long and this was just another iteration for her, but it was magical for me. It is such an intimate song. Her timing was impeccable, singing the climax “We found love right where we are,” just as we pulled into Grand Central. One of the more exuberant souls on the train exclaimed “Beautiful!” And it was. She was.

I went back today to the same shuttle train to see if she would be there again. Of course she was not there. That anonymous, ephemeral, magical moment could not be repeated. Imagine, finding love, all around, on the subway – in this stormy time.

Bunny and Doug

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Thank You for the Tomato

“Go ahead! You can eat it.”

I am in Bunny and Doug’s vegetable garden. I am 8 years old. Maybe 9. I don’t really remember.

Bunny and Doug lived behind us. But it was a world away. Not the reserved intellectual atmosphere of my household. Bunny was a beautician and ran a hair salon in her basement. Think Steel Magnolias meets Madge “You’re soaking in it!” My mother, who I do not recall ever getting her nails polished and who maybe got her hair trimmed every 3 months – too self-indulgent for a serious academic type – got her hair trimmed by Bunny on those rare occasions. It was fascinating to see my mom and the other ladies sitting under the helmet of the hair dryer. I got to help out, feeling important, sweeping up the hair. Bunny would always pay me a few dollars for the odd jobs for which she earnestly employed me.

One summer I had a “job.” Every other Friday afternoon, I would go over in the afternoon to clean Bunny’s house. I dusted. She showed me how to dust. I got to go in every room, including the bedrooms, which were already perfectly clean in their matchy matchy style of 1971 and completely different from the rooms in my house with mismatched modern pieces and real art on the walls. I would carefully spray the Lemon Pledge and polish the wood frames of the beds and wipe the silver frames of the family photos, the family Bunny adored but who was not near by. I couldn’t retain who was who, but I am pretty sure I was the surrogate granddaughter, an arrangement that worked for me, a quiet only child with no living grandmother.

After dusting, I would go visit Doug who would be in the back yard tending his pigeons. Yes, pigeons. He had a pigeon coop. This completely fascinated me, because really, who has a pigeon coop! Especially in the suburbs of 1971. He didn’t have a few birds. He had dozens. Maybe a hundred? I don’t really remember. It seemed like a lot. I suppose he must have built the coop himself in the back of the yard. It was messy. Lots of poop. Doug knew all the individual pigeons and introduced me to them. He would fly them. They would soar and swoop and dive and soar and swoop and disappear. And come back again. It was very exciting. Choreographed to the second. You could hear and feel the energy of the flock. The flock was one being as they flew home, finally separating, each settling into their individual cubby back in the coop.

Then it was dinnertime. They would let me stay for dinner and sometimes I even slept over, which made me feel very grown up. Bunny would watch all the silly game shows I loved but my parents deemed, well, silly. Out in the vegetable garden – which also fascinated me because really who has a vegetable garden in the 1971 suburbs, at least we certainly didn’t – Bunny would instruct me how to pick the corn and the beans and the tomatoes which we would eat for dinner. Bunny would cook (overcook) those beans until they melted. I never had beans like that at home. It was summer and it was hot. The tomatoes were about the size of tennis balls and red and the perfect texture. Not firm, not mushy. Not grotesquely oversized with unusual colors. Just a regular red tomato.

“Go ahead! You can eat it.” Bunny gave me, the obedient little girl, permission to eat. Biting into that warm, juicy, perfect tomato. My taste buds were amazed. Intensely tomato-y. It was the best tomato ever. I still try to replicate it with every tomato I now eat, and I eat a lot of tomatoes. But they never compare. Kind of like the first time I had pesto with the ultra sophisticated and hip friend of my mother’s as I was emerging into adulthood. Kind of like the orgasmic peach my husband and I shared at a farmstand in Southampton in 1993. It was our first summer together and we were in that cocoon of infatuation, blissfully in love. I don’t know why we didn’t each have our own peach. But that peach we shared was amazing and I have never had as good a one since. Maybe the happy and innocent conditions surrounding that tomato and that peach are what made them special, carving out this insurmountable taste memory. Maybe tomatoes and peaches really are worse, not better. That’s a whole other topic.

As I grew up, my visits to Bunny and Doug faded. I barely remember them. They moved, probably to be with their children and grandchildren. I suppose they are long gone. I suppose at the time I dutifully thanked them for their hospitality. But it would have been a young child’s token thank you. I never really hugged them, never really looked them in the eyes and told them how much I appreciated that they took me in and showed me a different world and did it with such good humor and generosity and kindness. I never told them that they were the grandparents I did not have.

Bunny and Doug, thank you for the tomato.

Why Are You Reading That?

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The Pile of Books by My Bed (Not to Mention the Piles on the Floor)

“Why are you reading that?” my husband asked. And asked. It started as gentle teasing, his questioning of my penchant for dark, sad, memoirs of loss and grief. It became a family joke. “Oh, here’s a tragic book Mom will enjoy!” He regularly would recommend fiction. He reads more novels than I do, having more time to read, and his repertoire is impressive. He has a fairly good handle on my taste. Recently his questioning has gotten more probing. “Seriously honey, why do you read these books? Why don’t you try fiction or something lighter?” Puzzled by my fascination with sadness and anxious about my tendency to be anxious and sad, he regularly contemplates how to bring more humor, lightness, and play into my life. I married well.

I have just finished reading When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi’s memoir about dying. And living. It’s a beautiful book, with a stunningly honest and eloquent epilogue written by his wife, after his death. As I was reading, and reflecting on my husband’s questions, it came to me why.

Death is life. When we come to grips, really come to grips, with the fact that our time is finite, we choose differently. What is important? Who is important? If I were to die in the next year, how would I spend my time? Who would I spend my time with? There is nothing so clarifying than contemplating those questions. If my husband, my children, my father, my friends were to die in the next year, have I told them how much I love them? Have we spent our time together the way we want to? Have I asked all the questions? Have I answered all their questions?

As with all books, I connect with the character or the narrator or the author. These books about tragedy and loss, I imagine it happening to me and am of course overwhelmed with intense emotion. These books elicit profound feeling. Through loss and grief, one feels acutely the full range of emotions that makes us feel alive, including love and connection and joy.

It was different than when I was young, devouring first Nancy Drew and then Jane Austen, reading for hours on end, learning how to live and to be a woman. Then, reading was an escape from boredom, anxiety, depression, loneliness. It was an education, an outlet for my imagination. I wanted to be a plucky, adventurous outspoken girl, like my favorite heroines, instead of a quiet and reflective and cautious/sensitive soul. It was a way of understanding the world.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less interested in escaping and intensely interested in real life. I find it almost impossible to read fiction. A troublesome evolution that I blame on my anxiety and the distractions offered by social media. As an English Major, I place great value on literature. I seem to no longer have the patience or the ability to focus on long and complicated novels unless they feature modern-day contemporary women I can identify with or dark and terrifying-to-imagine futuristic scenarios about the apocalypse, such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

The pile (PILE!) of books by my bed expands to include a myriad of genres including books about Yoga and spirituality, books about cooking and eating, inspiring memoirs, self-help, books my son is reading for school, and fascinating non-fiction. But it’s the books that remind me that life is precious, time is short, and people are what matter that take my breath away.

P.S. I took my husband’s advice and am now reading All The Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr.  It is absorbing and immersive, just the way I like my fiction. Maybe I haven’t lost my love of novels after all.

Win Hillary Win!

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I Endorse Hillary Clinton for President

For me there is no other candidate. Win Hillary Win! My support comes from a deep-seated, intuitive place. I don’t have a bunch of statistics at my fingertips. I don’t know every bullet point on her platform. I’m educated and I read the news, but I’m not particularly political and I shy away from arguments, conflict avoidant, not trusting my knowledge of the issues to be better than my opponent’s. I usually rely on: “Because it’s the right thing to do!” Which doesn’t get me very far with someone who is more versed in the nuances…or more skilled at arguing. And with someone who is very persuasive, I can find myself seeing their point of view and shortchanging my point of view.

It’s easy to wave the flag for Hillary with other women I know who support her.  But it’s more difficult to champion someone or something with an adversarial audience.  I tend to not speak or hide what I think.  So, at the risk of alienating my more progressive friends and readers and at the risk of alienating my more conservative friends and readers, it’s time I come out clear and strong, no hiding what I think: I support Hillary and can’t wait to vote for her.

They say women like me are part of Hillary’s core support: white and middle-aged. And it is said in a disparaging way. You know, like soccer moms. Yes. That’s me. White and middle-aged, and I’m still driving a mini-van. I support her. I’m right on trend. Right smack in the middle of my demographic. No apologies.

They say we support her because in our lifetime we’ve seen how hard women have had to struggle to make the gains we’ve made. Indeed. In my industry (the dying magazine industry), I see brilliant, hard-working women run magazines, brilliantly, at companies run by men. It’s discouraging.

They say younger women don’t consider themselves feminists. That the feminism of my day is an unnecessary and old cause. Hmmm. Let them work for a decade and get back to me. I am a feminist.

My mother was the first feminist I knew. She was a charter subscriber to Ms. Magazine in 1972, when I was 10. She encouraged me to be proud of being a woman and to think I was capable of doing anything I wanted. I dreamt of being President and couldn’t wait for a time when a woman was considered equal to or better than a man at being our Commander-in-Chief. I’m still dreaming and waiting, not convinced that time has come yet.

I plan to vote for Hillary. Because she is a woman. Apparently, it is anathema to support a woman just because she’s a woman. It discounts her credentials as an outstanding candidate. It’s the height of sexism. Nonsense. One reason I support Hillary is because she is a woman. She’s had to be more organized and better prepared and more experienced. She’s had to deal with the sexism, the barbs, the challenges, the defeats. She’s a mother and a wife. How can it not matter that she is woman?

She fights for issues I care about: women and children, reproductive rights, education, gun-control. She is the most experienced candidate at representing the United States internationally and nurturing international alliances. She is, dare I say it, pragmatic.  She will do a good job. She will bring a sense of mission to her role and, dare I say it, be a great President.

Oh, and her hair is looking good! Damn! You got this Hillary!

Photo Credit:  Doug Miller/The New York Times

The Bowl

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A Gift of Love That Can’t Be Broken

Emily, the bowl broke. The one you gave me us as a wedding gift nearly 22 years ago.

I was in the bathroom when I heard the crash. I knew exactly what it was. I had enlisted my son and his friend to do the dishes. It becomes a game when you’re not the one who does the dishes every night after night after night and you have a friend over to help. They were happy and having fun. It’s good I was in the bathroom. I had time to pause and think about my reaction. Not like my husband who blurted out something like “What the hell are you thinking?!” I didn’t know he cared about the bowl. He is surprisingly sentimental and attached to the stuff of our life together.

We received a lot of bowls as wedding gifts to celebrate our marriage. We call it the wedding of the bowls. And why not? The symbolism of a bowl ready to be filled with food, life, and love is apt. I broke a beautiful large handmade pottery salad bowl the first time I washed it. It was heavy and the soap made it slip right out of my hands. It was a gift from a dear friend. I was crushed, unsure I was going to be good at this marriage, and fretted that I would not be able to reciprocate all the dinners she hosted for me. We break out a lovely Nambé bowl on the occasions when we have friends over for dinner. There are the attractive and useful pasta bowls that we use all the time. And there’s the really ugly bowl that is probably still in the basement in its box.

Yours, dear Emily, was special. A set of two handmade bowls by an artisan ceramicist in Chapel Hill. We used the smaller one, the one that broke, just about every night. It held the evening’s sugar snaps, or cantaloupe chunks, or little red potatoes, or rice and beans, or my daughter’s crop of eggplant from the last summer before she went to college. Usually it held Sally’s Salad. We still have the larger one, but it’s the smaller one that was so much a part of our daily life, with its pretty fluted rim.

As I paused in the bathroom, I pondered the symbolism of the broken bowl. The lovely vessel given to me us by my oldest friend, more a sister to me. The container that held so much of our family dinner, our family life, our family love. Is the broken bowl a harbinger of a broken marriage, a broken friendship? Will our marriage survive the transition to dinners with just the two of us? No children? No bowl? Is the break a referendum on how I do friendships? Busy busy busy and self-absorbed, geographically distant. How does anyone sustain deeply meaningful relationships anymore?

I can’t believe we thought you would make it to the wedding. Three weeks after giving birth to your first-born. It didn’t seem possible to set a different date that would work better for you. As we become adults, the relationship with our partner becomes the priority relationship over other relationships. We move to be with them. And then if and when the children arrive, nothing is more important than the next generation. We think we have time. Like a college student traveling in a foreign country who thinks they will come back and have time to appreciate the exotic destination. We think next year I will make time to visit my friend. Next reunion I will make time to catch up with my friends. But before we know it, we run out of time.

After 22 years of marriage and 42 years of friendship, however, the bonds are deeper than ever. More forgiving of past transgressions, more tolerant of differences, more appreciative of shared history, more interested than ever in each other’s lives.

I leave the bathroom, anxious to let the boys know I understand the broken bowl is an accident. I know they feel badly. After all, it is the gift of love represented by the bowl that is what matters, not the bowl itself.

Thank you Emily for all you have given me.

Japanese Bowl

I’m like one of those Japanese bowls
That were made long ago
I have some cracks in me
They have been filled with gold

That’s what they used back then
When they had a bowl to mend
It did not hide the cracks
It made them shine instead

So now every old scar shows
from every time I broke
And anyone’s eyes can see
I’m not what I used to be

But in a collector’s mind
All of these jagged lines
Make me more beautiful
And worth a higher price

I’m like one of those Japanese bowls
I was made long ago
I have some cracks you can see
See how they shine of gold.
-Peter Mayer

The Light Is Always On

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For You

Last night, your first night of your second year of college, I tiptoed into your room and turned on the light. That simple habit I have from your teen years, welcoming you home on the nights you are out late.

I like to go into your room and soak you in. I look at the mementos, always surprised and touched at something new (to me) that you found meaningful that someone gave you, indicating what a rich life you have – apart from me. I smell your perfume and lie on your bed looking at the posters on the wall. And bask in my pride and my wonder of you.

A year ago, this quiet, occasional ritual would sometimes make me cry. Missing you and wondering where the time went. Now, well, it still can make me cry, but I am so happy you are happy. Confident in your body and your soul, taking your place in the world with energy and intelligence, so honest, wise and compassionate.

While I do miss you, I now know, a year later, that even though your daily presence is gone, we have new traditions for staying connected and a deeper and more mature relationship.

I suppose that a decade from now I will speak with my younger friends about their children going to college and smile indulgently. The trauma having faded. Just like the joys and crises of having a newborn have faded. How could I have thought that was hard! It is SO much harder to have teens. And cope with dying parents. And watch one’s career ambitions shift toward achieving something less material and accomplishing something more meaningful. And cry with frustration at one’s arthritic hip, knee, shoulder. I am looking forward to the increasing peace and contentment that comes with each decade.

But what does terrify me, right now, is that I can now imagine my final good-bye to you. If the last 20 years have flown by, then surely the next 20 or 30 will go by even faster. I try to be present, but my mind races to the future. Like reading the last page instead of enjoying all the details in the middle, I hurry to the end, skimming.

My wish for you as you embark on this next year, this more grown-up year of college, is that you not skim ahead to the end. As you grow up and deal with life’s inevitable losses and disappointments, everyday stress and busyness, new friends and adventures, honor it all. It hurts to see you lose some of your childhood dreams, your childhood heroes, your childhood illusions. But it is through loss and sadness that you gain a richer life with moments of deep passion and joy. May you have a year, a life, filled with passion and joy. And may it move slowly enough for me to savor it with you – as well as apart from you – as we transition to an increasingly mature adult mother-daughter relationship, side-by-side.

The light is on in your room. Always.

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