I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Category: Parenting

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.

Comfort Food

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Jangled

I’m a little jangled right now. My son started his first day of 11th grade, which I dealt with by feeling overwhelmed with stress on the work front. My daughter leaves tomorrow for her second year of college, which leaves me feeling excited, proud, melancholy, and old. Less stressful than Year 1, but still emotional. I took a too-hard, too-crowded, too-much-rap-music (wtf?) yoga class, which made me angry and tearful: My hip is cranky; who are these people who CAN do this class? Clearly I am getting too old. Maybe I will just sing and knit and get fat. Yowza!

Jangled.

Thursday night, I dreamt that my pet parakeet had a new water dispenser and I realized that she could drown in it if I didn’t watch over her at all times. Do you think I am worried about my children? As our pediatrician counseled us at baby-proofing stage, only half-joking: “Never let them out of your sight.”

Friday night, I dreamt that my hair suddenly was much grayer. I wondered if I should begin to color it, debating between being my authentic self and not wanting to look too old. Do you think I am worried about aging? Who IS that woman in the mirror and what did she do with my 35-year-old self?

When doing some back-to-school errands with my daughter, someone made a strange turn at an intersection. I thought about my son beginning to drive and was overcome with the dangers of driving and the fear of losing them to an accident. Which would be devastating.  Which led me to musing at how wonderful both my children are. Precious, good, honest, empathetic, better than me, better than my husband. How is it possible that these two amazing human beings are my children? Which led me me to tears at a stop light. Praying that they survive the dangers of everyday living.  Overcome with love and gratitude.

Jangled.

Clearly, I am in need of some comfort food. The problem is that traditional comfort foods (Macaroni and Cheese, Oreos and Milk, Pot Roast with Gravy) are too rich. I don’t enjoy these foods. I feel too guilty.  And too full.  For me, comfort food is simple and easy, includes favorite childhood foods, can be eaten in large quantities, and is healthily guilt-free.

When I was a little girl, we had a neighbor with an extensive garden who would let me eat tomatoes warm off the vine. They were perhaps the most delicious food ever. I never tire of good tomatoes but am usually frustrated that they never live up to my memory of those garden tomatoes.  Every summer, my mother would make a simple salad of tomatoes and avocado.  She must be one of the first people who put together a simple composed salad without any lettuce. Who needs lettuce!

The local tomatoes have been pretty good this summer. And, ballerina-eating-trick: you can eat vast quantities of tomatoes without incurring a lot of calories. No need for lettuce, the tomatoes form a delicious base for salads and require minimal dressing. While I don’t eat very much meat any more, I do love chicken and indulge in it occasionally.  This is one of my favorite go-to salads and is what I had for lunch on this day of mixed and jangled emotions.

Grilled Chicken Salad with Yogurt Vinaigrette

  • 1 small grilled chicken breast
  • ½ cup leftover brown rice
  • ½ beefsteak tomato
  • ½ avocado
  • Corn, cut from 1 leftover cob (I always make extra corn on the cob for leftovers)

Dice everything into roughly equal sized small pieces. If you are OCD, like me, you can even make sure that you have the same number of pieces of each ingredient, insuring that each bite has a little bit of everything.

Yogurt Vinaigrette

  • 2 Tablespoons plain greek yogurt (ballerina-eating-trick: Replace some fats with plain greek yogurt. Adds tang and has fewer calories and fat. I use plain greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise on sandwiches.)
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar

Whisk together and spoon over salad.

1 large salad for lunch – good for jangled nerves, especially if you share the salad with your college-bound daughter.

Striving For Contentment

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Summer Vacation

We have done some variation on the family beach trip every year. My daughter is 19 and my son is 16. That’s a lot of memory-making. Each year we bring the previous years with us, hanging on to our favorite experiences and recreating what we can of those good times. Each year, though, we are a little different, a little older, a little shifted in a new direction. Last year’s trip, or that really fun one from years ago, cannot be recreated. Each year builds on the past and is a bridge to the next year.

The week always puts the kids growth and maturation into sharp – shocking – relief. Remembering a year ago, or five years ago, stuns me. Wasn’t it just yesterday that I was sitting in the shade of an umbrella with an infant son and a bright little girl? Now I am going for long walks with my daughter, a beautiful young woman who amazes me with her bright light. Listening to her sort out her thoughts and aspirations. Counseling her when I can, but mainly listening and loving her, in awe of her humanity.

It’s humbling to have lived through 53 summers. I feel every one of them this year, each making me who I am – the quiet and sensible one who occasionally surprises everyone by dashing spontaneously into the ocean – not the funny one, not the gregarious one. A little sad, a little more relaxed than I was as a young woman, but a little more urgent about not wasting time. After all, how many more summer beach trips will we have together?

When I travel, I make a point of taking a yoga class at a local studio. No matter where I go, I feel at home in a yoga studio. The rituals are the same. Take off your shoes. Set up your mat. Breathe. Move into the familiar poses. Listen to the teacher. I usually hear something in a new way from a different teacher as I listen to my body. Be. Me. This particular beach vacation morning, I knew I needed the grounded familiarity of yoga and snuck off to a class. The studio had Angel Cards. I had never experienced Angel Cards before. I figured it would be fun and was mildly curious as to what I would get. You close your eyes and reach into the bowl and pick a card. What would it be? Wisdom, Birth, Healing? Something powerful and inspirational I was sure. I closed my eyes, stirred the cards, and picked one. Contentment. Contentment? Contentment?! Boring. I laughed and said, “Well, that was not the card I was expecting.” The teacher wisely said, “It usually isn’t.” Indeed.

But, that’s my work. Especially on vacation. How can I be content? Happy with what is instead of unhappy with what isn’t. How can I appreciate where we are right now and not wish for it to be different, longer, more joyful and not dread the end of vacation and the return to another busy busy busy school year and the constant challenge of work.

My 16-year-old son, who likes to stay up late and sleep in, made a firm determination that he wanted to see the sun rise while on vacation. The youngest of the extended family group sharing the beach house this year, he was the one who had (perhaps) most changed, at least in obvious ways, shifting from boy to young man in the last year and taking his place with the men of the family. The first morning, he came down to the porch around 6:45 and learned that you can’t see the sun rise from our porch view. He took some photos on his phone but was teased that he must have taken these photos at noon because the day was already so bright.

He set his ambition with more commitment. He researched the time of sunrise. 6:42 am. We discussed whether this meant the sun would emerge at 6:42 or whether the sun would be fully above the horizon at 6:42. We shared some stories of sunrise watching and sunset watching, considering the benefits of each. He resolved that he would get up at 5:30 so as not to miss a speck of the dawn. I insisted that that was too early, but he was quite adamant. His plan was set. Everyone wished him well and went to bed, pretty sure none of us would be joining him at 5:30 and pretty sure he would not emerge that early either.

Around 6:20 am, I jolted awake, the slight shift in light through the window rousing me. I tiptoed out of bed and down the stairs to get him. He was already gone! Really? Proud and excited, I gazed out from the porch and saw a slender figure in the distance sitting on the beach. He had made it. I headed down the stairs and over the dunes toward that lone figure. When I got there, we knowingly smiled at each other, sharing in the quiet beauty of the moment. The clouds at the horizon were gray, purple, pink, orange, the light gently spreading across the expanse. We gazed. And waited. Waited and waited. Like watching a pot of water prepare to boil. We waited some more. The clouds were heating up with a burning glow. You could see where the spot would be. We gazed and stared and waited some more. Finally – suddenly – the crescent sun peeked above the clouds. Then steadily and quickly rose. There it was! A new day, new hope, new beginnings. I did a sun salutation dance and babbled on about how this was the real meaning of “awesome.” But my son put it best, using a word I had never heard him say before. Majestic. The rising of the sun was majestic.

Filled with awe and love, how could I not be content?

Another vacation, another year is behind us. It was an important week. A week of growth and love and sadness and nostalgia and intimacy and connection and hope. With glimmers of an elusive contentment. It was the kind of week that builds memories as we all grow older by another year.

Photo Credit:  Aidan Murphy

Rules of the Road

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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 Did Not Know The Boy Who Died This Week

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Go Deep

I did not know the boy who died this week. The friendly, athletic, well-liked 23-year-old from our town. My kids are in different grades than his younger siblings. They play different sports and hang out with different people. I am woefully unconnected with the school and the town. I’m not unsociable but I am quiet and reserved and I work full time in Manhattan. I worry that my introversion is off-putting and has kept my kids from being more integrated with the community. I prefer smaller groups of family and close friends, so my path did not really intersect with him and his family.

I did not know the boy who died this week. While I thought about him and his mother and his father and his sisters and his friends and all those who were touched by him, I did not feel I had a place at the wake or the funeral. I don’t know this family. But they are part of my world. I feel like I could know him. He could have been any number of amazing, interesting, fun 20-somethings that I do know. With full lives ahead of them. I guess he was out with friends. I suppose alcohol was involved. I am sure he thought he was invincible. Don’t we all at 23? It could have been anyone. It could have been my child.

It takes some living and some near misses to learn that accidents do happen. I could die at any moment. You could die at any moment. My children could die at any moment. As babies, I held them close. Nursing, co-sleeping, baby-proofing. “Never let them out of your sight,” our pediatrician said, only half-jokingly when we asked him for the most significant things we could do to keep them safe. Well, that’s not realistic.  And so we have lived our lives. We put them on the school bus. We sent them on sleep-overs and on school trips. We taught them to ski and take risks and be independent. My daughter drives and my son will soon drive. Off they go. Out of the nest. More out of our sight these days than in our sight. As it should be. And yet, I grasp. I want to hold them close. I want to live forever. I want them to live forever. I never want to let them go.

When they were young, I thought being the mother of a newborn was the hardest thing I had ever done. The exhaustion, the worry. Are they eating? Are they pooping? Are they BREATHING? The mothers of children older than mine would smile indulgently. “Just wait. It gets harder.” What? What could be harder than a newborn?! Now I get it. Now the worries are: Are they safe? Are they happy? Will they live full lives? Will they love and be loved? For many years. For many years, long after I die.

I am a very cerebral and sensible and pragmatic person. Skeptical of the mysterious and unproven. Crazy hokum. And yet. Is it? Crazy hokum? I am fascinated and increasingly open to my intuition and the deep experiences I have had with meditation and Reiki. On Wednesday night, I was drawn to take a yoga class with Colleen Saidman Yee. I don’t know her very well, and I am not a regular student of hers, but she recently published a book, Yoga For Life, that is touching me right now. At Savasana, she said something like: “Dare to go deep.  Deep to the places within. The places that frighten you. The places that you touch and scurry away from.” I tried, but not much happened. Still, I knew shifts have been and are happening.

That night, returning home, the streets were blocked for the wake. The one I didn’t attend because I did not know the boy who died this week. We detoured around to my house. My home. That night, I woke. For my middle-of-the-night battle with my bladder. Should I get up and pee or can I make it through the night? I lay there. And saw something. Felt something. A presence. I laughed. Now I am seeing ghosts? I went to the bathroom and felt the night. Felt the presence. Who was it? I decided it was my mom. Who else would it be? Then that night I dreamt I had siblings. I was talking to my “sister.” She was 17 years older than me and she told me that we had two other brothers. Wow. A whole family of people I never even knew I had?! And then I dreamt I was flying! I was terrified of the sensation. It was exciting but terrifying. I touched the sensation and then scurried away, waking.  Afraid to go too deep.

Today, blessed weekend, I took one of my regular yoga classes with one of my yoga friend teachers with my yoga community in my yoga “home.” Heart-openers. Damn you Clare. As I lifted and expanded and breathed into my heart, I thought about the boy I did not know who died this week. And his mom and dad and sisters and friends. And I suppressed tears. Convulsive sobbing tears. I touched that space and scurried away. I wanted to shout to my yoga friends: A young man died this week! I am so sad!  But I didn’t. I went deep but not that deep.

There is a video montage of photos of this boy I did not know who died this week. I watched it. It could be my family photos. Beautiful human beings doing family things together. I saw him grow from a boy to a young man.  I cried. Cathartic heart-opening tears.

A young man died this week! I did not know him. And yet…I do know him.

Go deep. Love deeply. Live joyfully. We all die. And it might be sooner rather than later.

Image:  4th Mandala Heart Chakra, by Jennifer Christenson

Wild and Joyful Dancing!

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The Joy of Dance

A friend of mine posted a photo of her 8-year-old son leaping across a stage, his face lit up with joy. JOY! The expression on his face thrilled me. He wasn’t just smiling. He was beaming! His eyes were smiling. His eyebrows were smiling. His whole body was smiling. His arms were open wide and radiating energy. The photo caught him in mid-air, a feat in and of itself. There was not a speck of self-consciousness. Just pride and joy in his body, the feeling of movement, the pure fun of performing with others. I knew just how he felt and I laughed out loud with joy. So happy for him and his mom. Dancing is so much fun. Especially leaping and flying through the air.

Her son was participating in a program at his school run by the National Dance Institute. NDI programs are offered in public schools impacting 40,000 students annually. They offer classes and workshops that end in a performance experience, with a mission of introducing all kids to dance and engaging them in the arts as a way of learning how to collaborate, work towards a goal, and perform. If anyone doubts the value of arts in education, just look at this photo! I felt inspired and absolutely fierce about defending the role of arts in our world.

My friend confided that her son loves to dance and that she was so appreciative of the NDI program for giving her son an outlet to express himself through dance. She is grateful that the program continues for another year. What’s next went unspoken. But as a dancer and a mother of a son, I took the leap. What’s next is that most boys are not encouraged to dance in our culture. It’s not manly enough nor lucrative enough. No, our manly heroes are sports figures, tech wizards, and movie stars (who all have dance training, btw.) I must say, though, that I do see this changing. Grateful.

If music is as old as culture, surely moving to music is equally old. Dancing is fun and expressive, a way to connect with others. You can tell stories with dance. You can celebrate rites of passage with dance. You can show someone you love them by dancing with them. One of our family traditions is to blast the Beatles Birthday Song on birthdays and dance wildly and joyfully. When my son was younger, he would insist on playing it over and over again so we would keep dancing. It wasn’t every day he got to see his mom dance wildly and joyfully.

What happens to that wild and joyful dancing? As we grow up we are rewarded for A’s and other achievements deemed socially worthy. The playful moments become fewer and their importance is minimized. The 8-year-old boy becomes a 15-year-old-boy with increasing amounts of homework and pressure to get good grades and pursue resumé-building activities that will help him get into college.

Of course there are many ways to feel joy besides dancing with abandon. There are the physical feats, that may involve a bit of speed or fear or adrenalin to catch that thrill. We may avoid the fear of doing that cartwheel or leaping across that stage.  Or, perhaps worse, we may confuse physical joy with an adrenalin rush and require more and more intensity to get the adrenalin to kick in.  But you don’t need adrenalin or fear to find joy. Singing or playing music, sitting quietly in nature, looking a loved one (or a loved animal) in the eyes.  Connecting.

What struck me about this wonderful photograph is that I realized I rarely see this joy on my 15-year-old’s face any more. Somewhere around puberty, that childish lack of self-consciousness and joyful abandon has been replaced with a desire to fit in and a host of emotions related to the pressure to get good grades. A combination of worry and striving mixed with procrastination and some teenage remoteness are more common expressions.  As I spend my midlife wondering where the joy went and how I can get it back before it is too late, I seem to be dutifully knocking it out of my son so that he can be “successful.” This has to stop! I would give anything to see my son’s face and body light up with joy. What a gift that would be! Instead of killing the joy, I must help him to find his joy.  It would probably help if I set a good example by playing, having more fun, and enjoying my own joyful moments, eh?

Lately, we’ve been lax with playing “Birthday.”  The next family birthday is, ahem, my son’s 16th.  It will be a wonderful occasion for some wild and joyful dancing.

Photo Credit:  Photo by Suzanne Pappas Quint of her 8-year-old son leaping with joy.

Mother’s Day Presence

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My Teachers

I’m feeling a bit subdued this mother’s day. Kind of dreading the cheerful saccharine. Not sure the world needs another mother’s day post. What about all the people who have difficult relationships with their mothers? What about all the people who have lost their mothers? What about all the people who want children but can’t or won’t? What about the women around the globe dying because of poor maternal healthcare? Better to spend the money allocated to mother’s day gifts to helping women and girls around the world. Better to spend the time spent shopping for those mother’s day gifts with people you love. Basking in their presence.

My friend just told me about a student of hers, a high school senior, whose mom is dying of cancer. He is spending mother’s day weeping. It makes me cry. This young man is still a boy. What must this woman be going through? What is it like to know you are dying and to be saying good-bye to your children? I can’t imagine! Well, actually, I can imagine. Sigh. Can’t I just enjoy a nice mother’s day without ruining it with questions and angst?

I am so lucky. I want for nothing. I’m like ridiculously happy that we have a new garbage disposal. We’ve spent the last year (or more) finagling the old broken one. We had a system. My husband would go downstairs and turn on the electricity. Then I would plug it in and let it grind. Then he would turn off the electricity. Then I would unplug the whole contraption. All while yelling up and down at each other.

I’m like incredibly relieved that it didn’t cost $1,000 to fix the minivan with 120,000 miles on it. Come on Honda! You can make it to 200,000 miles and a couple more trips with dormloads of stuff.

I’m like ecstatic and at peace now that my daughter is home from her first year of college. I really don’t want anything. Theater tickets are always on my list though. My husband wants to buy me a tree, but the yard feels as cluttered as the house. Maybe next weekend I’ll feel the urge to plant. All I want today is a day with no errands and chores. And to feel loving presence.

I remember carefully making handmade cards for my mother and picking flowers (aka weeds) for her. When I got older I would bake something special for her. When I no longer lived at home nor near enough to visit easily, I would buy her a nice card, send her flowers or a book, and call her, of course. She always seemed thrilled with whatever tidbit I gave her. She completely understood that I was busy busy busy. Never did she say: “Why don’t you visit me more often? Please come visit me!” Did she not think that? Do I wish she had said that? Shaken me and knocked some sense into me: “Life is short! Stop being so busy busy busy! Come visit me dammit!” But no, she would never have said that.

My dad is very lonely. He deeply misses her presence in the house. He sometimes expresses surprise that I am not more grief-stricken. Me too. But I have mourned her loss for years. She faded to such a shell of herself over the last decade of her life. I was always wondering when she was going to die. It was a relief when she died. Finally. This is how she dies. Now we know. This is how we go on without her. This is it. Life. Flying by. Busy busy busy. Until we die.

Her presence. It’s true. Even as she faded away, her presence still permeated the house. When I did visit, her face would light up and she would forget that she was 92 and forget that she needed a walker and would try to get me food (always food!) or other items I might need or want. Sometimes I see an old woman who reminds me of her. I smile and send her love. When I slow down enough to breathe, to concentrate, to remember, I can conjure her presence. I feel her.

I feel all the women who have touched me, helping me to become who I am. The teachers I idolized. The babysitter I wanted to be. The other moms, my friends’ moms, especially Margie, all unique and different from my mom, adding their own perspectives on how to be a woman. Later, it was my friends who were my teachers. A community of women all worth honoring and celebrating this mother’s day, even if they weren’t or aren’t moms.

It is my own children who have taught me the most about how to be a mom. Their wisdom, their neediness, their resilience, their intuition, their amazing love for me and my breathtaking love for them that has taught me that life is short. Be less busy.

We are past the stage of handmade cards and weed bouquets. But my children are home. I am basking in their presence, feeling my mom with me and all the women who have been moms and mentors to me. Soon enough my children will be grown up and no longer living at home. And if they don’t visit me, well, then, I just might have to visit them.

Sisters and Brothers

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An Only Child and Her Siblings

I didn’t know April 10th was National Sibling Day until my Facebook feed was peppered with sweet photos of brothers and sisters. Awwww. There were my friends posting past childhood photos with their brother or sister. There were my friends posting current family reunion photos of their middle-aged brothers and sisters. And there were my younger friends posting some wonderful old childhood photos of their parents with their sibling(s). It was lovely and fun and I wanted IN on it! But I don’t have a brother or a sister. And of course there were my friends who do have siblings but didn’t post a photo. Hmmm. Not all sibling relationships are Facebook friendly.

I started combing through photos, looking for my own twist on National Sibling Day. Apparently 21% of us are only children. We can be lonely only’s. (Cue sad story to go here.) Or, we can create our surrogate siblings and find the best of what that relationship can be through nurturing our other relationships.

There is my very best friend in the whole world, truly best friends forever, dear Emily. We met at that fragile age of 11, awkwardly and painfully transitioning from girls to teens to young women to married women to moms to middle-aged women. While she did have a brother, she did not have a sister. And so. Sisters we were and are. I’m quite sure we cut our hands and merged our blood in some profound ceremony of our invention. Blood sisters we were and are. Our paths have long gone in different directions. Our personalities are quite distinct. And yet, like “real” sisters, there is a shared history and a shared bond. We know each other’s family secrets. We remember each other’s past. (Yes, that DID happen. No, you’re NOT crazy.) We love each other and support each other, cheering successes and mourning losses.

There is my amazing cousin, dear Elizabeth. The one who was killed at the age of 48 by a drunk driver in 2002. The one I still miss. The only female of my generation in my small family. Older than me, she knew my mother’s family history better than me. Older than me, she offered a window on what being a 20-something woman might be like while I was a sheltered teen in suburbia. I love her and miss her and hold sacred the ties to the others in my small family. She was and is my sister.

When I met my husband, I was fascinated with his siblings and his relationship with them. Like all of ours, his was a dysfunctional family. When his parents divorced, the three siblings relied on each other in a way I have rarely seen. Somewhat poor, somewhat neglected, they had each other. They regale us with their stories of shared adventures, a robbery, a fire (save the bike!), a wayward dog, going to bars for all-you-can-eat, living on one baked potato for a week because they were out of money. (Surely, that is an exaggeration!) The first time I met his brother, I was nervous and wondering if I would recognize him. Of course the second I got off the airplane I realized that the man at the end of the gangway who was the DNA twin of my husband was him. What must it be like to have someone out there who looks like you? They and their dear spouses welcomed me as a sister, which my reserved and lonely only child persona craved. When their parents died, we all gathered to sift through the memories and the artifacts, sharing laughter and tears. It didn’t really matter who got what because there was such closeness between the families. His brother and sister have become my brother and sister. His extended family, my extended family. A tribe with shared memories who would do anything for each other. Who would do anything for each other’s children. Because it is the next generation that consumes us now.

When we married, I knew deep in my soul that I would not have only one child. Two. I had to have two. I imagined that I would have two girls. Two sisters. That seemed the ideal relationship. Two girls to support each other, grow up together, share secrets together. It was the relationship I felt was lacking in my life. So, when the ultrasound indicated that our second child was a boy, I gasped. An alien! I had an alien growing in me! What was I going to do with a boy? What was my daughter going to do with a brother?   From the day he was born, he adored her. “Bia! Bia! Bia!” he cried out for her with excitement. We have picture after picture of him looking up at her with love and awe. She, on the other hand, like a normal big sister, tolerates him and his little brother-ness with a mixture of loving watchfulness, nurturance, and a touch of condescending superiority. There was a time, like around a few years ago until about now, where they barely acknowledged each other. I wonder if and when this will change. I pray it does. My niece and nephew are close, but that closeness seems born out of the shared, sad loss of their father. I guess that is what it takes. Shared history. Shared memories. Shared triumphs, but also shared losses. And that takes time and maturity. It will come. When I determined to have more than one child, it was so that neither would be alone. After we are gone. Perhaps that is naïve and impossible, a mother’s desperate hope that her children will be happier than she. After all, we are all alone and on our own path. We all suffer. But surely, having a sibling, either through “real” family or by creating one, helps. I love the brothers and sisters in my life.

Hey Mom, Could You Sign This?

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Quick!

It’s 7:06 am and in our precisely choreographed busy busy busy morning routine, that means my son has one minute to get out the door to catch the bus. In between my loading the dishwasher, taking out the garbage, organizing everyone’s lunches, and taking a last swig of coffee, my son thrusts a piece of paper at me. “Hey Mom, could you sign this?”

He tried to be nonchalant, but it came across as sheepish.  Waiting for me to yell: “Why do you wait until the last minute? You’ve gotta give this stuff to me the night before! This is just another example of how disorganized and unplanful you are!” But I didn’t yell. I don’t like yelling. I hate it when I yell. I don’t think it helps. He just hides away more, avoiding my judgment. Besides, yelling at him upsets me. Because I love him so much. So, with one minute to spare, I take a breath and calmly look at the piece of paper.

10th Grade Health.  Arguably the most important course he’s taking, except that schools should probably offer this course several years earlier with a more dynamic teacher.  You know the course.  It covers smoking, alcohol, drugs, sex.  And last night’s little assignment.

“List your three top values.”

Okay. Sure. No big deal. Easy.

The clock is ticking.

What should I put down? What are my top 3 values anyway? What should I put that won’t embarrass a 15-year-old boy? Couldn’t he have given this to me last night? We could have had a family discussion. What can I impart of my 52 years of long and hard thinking about the meaning of life into 3 words in 60 seconds. Well, more like 50 seconds by now.

The clock is ticking.

Honesty. I can’t think of any other word. It just bubbles up unannounced. Hmmm. I didn’t know that honesty was my number one value. But there it is. Is that because I’ve spent most of my life chameleon-like pleasing other people, being someone I thought I should be? Now, nothing matters more than for me to be me. Is that because the number one reason I chose my husband is because he was him, the most honest person I had ever met? I write it down. Honesty. 40 seconds to go.

What’s #2? I reach for my yoga, my midlife wisdom. I discard what I might have said even just a few years ago: discipline, hard work, ambition, achievement. Done all that. I check in with my gut. So much wiser than my mind. Ah, there it is. Kindness. Be kind. Lead with the heart. It’s why I wear a heart necklace now. It’s not about me and my ego and my ambition. At least not any more. It’s about love and the people I love and being kind. I write it down. Kindness/Love. 30 seconds to go.

Ack! Now I’m stumped. What’s #3? The clock is ticking. Let’s face it. Smartness matters. I’m pretty determined to be the smartest person in the room. That’s gotta be it. Um, wait. Remember #2. How can I convey my appreciation for all the richness of the world without ego getting in the way? Education? Intelligence? Reading? How can I convey to my son that I want him to appreciate all the richness of the world in whatever way works for him? Ah, there it is. Curiosity. I write it down. 20 seconds.

I sign my name. Pen down! My son grabs his disorganized and jam-packed backpack, he’s ready to go. I look him in the eye, with honesty, kindness, and curiosity, and hand him the piece of paper.

Honesty. Kindness/Love. Curiosity.  May he cherish these values, my values, as he finds his own.

He’s off! 10 seconds to spare. “Thanks Mom! Love you!”

I love you too.

P.S. We had the family discussion later that night over dinner. His #1 value? Family.

True Love

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Mothers and Daughters

After the memorial service for my mom, I returned to New York and hunkered down for a few days, a rare luxury. (Just as one is allowed a parental leave of absence on the birth of a child, we should be granted a child’s leave of absence on the death of a parent.) I slept, spent time with my family, and watched movies. I was drawn to see Maleficent, Wild, and Into The Woods. Wonderful movies with rich characters. Spoiler alert – read no further if you have not seen them and want to.

Maleficent is the story of the scorned woman, scorned by a man not worthy of her, who gets her revenge by cursing his child. It’s the more interesting and complicated story of the older woman who has lived and raged, not the story of the virginal princess who has yet to learn that “happily ever after” is a fairy tale. As the kiss scene approached, it was obvious that the prince, a marginal character, who is entranced by the princess’s outward beauty but doesn’t know her inner soul could not possibly offer the spell-breaking kiss of true love. I began to ponder the implications of Diaval, Maleficent’s raven/human confidant, being her true love, when my daughter whispered, “It’s Maleficent!” GASP! Of course! What truer love than a mother’s – or fairy godmother’s or revengeful witch’s – for the precious girl in her charge?

Next up was Wild, Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of her physical quest and spiritual journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after hitting lower-than-rock-bottom following the death of her mother. I had read the book upon the recommendation of a yoga friend of mine and loved it, as I love most memoirs by women telling their stories overcoming whatever it is that is holding them back. What came through in the movie for me, even more so than in the book, was the deep bond of true love between mother and daughter. Cheryl is unmoored by the loss of her mother, beautifully played by Laura Dern. Cheryl doesn’t know how to love herself without the presence of her mother. It is mother Bobbi’s passionate insistence on choosing love and a life with no regrets, even while facing death, that is so moving. How could she regret her marriage to an abusive man when it resulted in her amazing daughter? GASP! Indeed.

I found myself sobbing into my daughter’s shoulder when Meryl Streep, the not-so-evil witch from Into The Woods who is raging at the loss of her youth and beauty, sings “Stay With Me” to Rapunzel. I, again, identified with the raging old and ugly witch watching over the beautiful princess, anxious to protect her from selfish and unworthy men and other dark evils of the world. Anxious to restore her own youth and beauty.

Stay With Me (from Into The Woods)

Don’t you know what’s out there in the world?

Someone has to shield you from the world.

Stay with me.

Princes wait there in the world, it’s true.

Princes, yes, but wolves and humans, too.

Stay at home.

I am home.

Who out there could love you more than I?

What out there that I cannot supply?

Stay with me.

Stay with me,

The world is dark and wild.

Stay a child while you can be a child.

With me.

Stay with me my beautiful girl!  I not-so-jokingly sobbed.

But off she goes. Again. For her second semester of college. As she should. As I want her to. I will miss her. Each homecoming and each departure become more familiar but not more easy. My heart is bursting with love and pride. I will return to my busy busy busy life, shocked at the old face I see in the mirror. She will return to new classes, new experiences, deepening friendships, and explorations into the world of love. I want to protect her, but she must learn her own lessons.  It is her turn.

As I mourn the loss of my mother whose love for me was deep and true, I pass on a love for my daughter that is deep and true. I have new appreciation for the tears my mother shed when I left home.  When I cry at each step my daughter takes away from me, they are bittersweet tears of pride and loss.  I don’t really want her to stay with me.  I want her to go.  I will create a haven for her to return to, while encouraging her to create a life she loves apart from me, while together we figure out how to build a grown up mother-daughter friendship.

Live your life my beautiful girl! My love for you is true.

 

Photo Credit:  from Disney’s Maleficent

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