It’s a Process

lunaAnother pomegranate martini lingered in front of me; its sweet red nectar glistening in the glow of lowered lights and laughter. Two of my girlfriends flanked the table and I was absorbed by their presence.

I’m realizing that everyone suffers from some level of loneliness or discontentment. The stay-at-home mom, the working mom, the mom with grown kids, the working woman with no kids, married or not married…we are all the same. We fill the emptiness with food and drinks, shopping, random busyness, excessive exercise or dieting, unfinished projects, sometimes absorbed in self-doubt and gossip. We sabotage our relationships by assuming our significant other innately knows our sadness, this unexplained emptiness, and we carry secret grudges that spill out in bursts of unexpected emotions.

We are surprised by our seemingly sudden lack of emotional endurance and struggle to get through each mundane task.

The first week of school I overheard a group of moms half-joking about their increased anxiety and chaos of trying to maneuver successfully through school schedules, carpool lines, after school activities, dinner, and homework while still keeping the household together and their husbands happy.

“It’s all a process,” one mom said to the other, “eventually it works itself out.”

But maybe it doesn’t ever really “work itself out”.  Perhaps what really needs to happen is that we work it out with ourselves, change our perspective and expectations of what life is supposed to look like in this moment.

There have been different moments in life when I felt content and filled with purpose. Some moments lasting weeks, months and years. Some simply just that, a moment. And then there have been all the “in-between”, the days where the world felt like it was suffocating me and abandoning me all at the same time.

So there I was, having dinner and drinks with a couple of friends last night. We were doing what we’ve done a thousand times before, venting about life and love. There was a fair amount of wallowing in self-pity too, swallowing up the conversation in “If only” and “I need” statements. But as I replayed the conversations in my head this morning, when I really listened to myself, it struck me that these feelings of discontentment are just strands of all the things about myself I don’t really like but could change with a little effort. My loneliness is also me digging in my heels, desperately trying to stand still as my children and my life  have marched forward.

It truly is always a process and a constant state of change. Life doesn’t just work itself out – we have to work harder at finding our own happiness, seeing our own worth and moving towards it every day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best gift we can give our children might be our friends

“Barbara is dying,” my mom’s voice shuddered, “she is in the hospital.”

Barbara and me probably on one of our dates
Barbara and me as a kid

Barbara, or Aunt Barbara as I came to address her, was an adopted family member. I’m not sure who adopted who, but my every childhood memories include her vividly. My mom wanted to make sure we all knew that it was time to say our good-byes and last “I love you’s”. My brothers, sister-in-law and I quickly wrote emails to her son, who then read them by her bedside, surrounding Barbara with our spirit even though our bodies were states away. My heart crumbled after the final phone call on Monday. Even though we knew Barbara would not be with us much longer, last breaths are hard to accept. My immediate question was funeral and obituary information. At first, I was shocked to hear that neither were going to be planned. But then I reminded myself that both funerals and obituaries are mostly to help comfort the living, give closure to our loss. In Barbara’s last years, her circle of friends had dwindled as quickly as the years had increased. I guess that’s how life works. We come into this world knowing only our immediate family, and leave it much the same way. I think it ached all of us to think that such an amazing woman, a woman who lived an exemplary life, would not be honored or remembered.

Barbara's buffet cabinet
Barbara’s buffet cabinet

I spent Monday evening in my living room, sitting silently and staring at Barbara’s beautiful cabinet resting against my cross wall. This cabinet was a prominent part of her living room. Barbara hosted the most amazing parties, filled with culinary delights, clinking glasses, musicians and artists galore.  My brothers and I were the only children in attendance most of the time, yet felt right at home wrapped around her  grand piano, often helping to turn pages or chime in on the chorus. Many of my early opinions of life and love were shaped from listening to glassy-eyed guests talk of everything from politics and religion to philosophy and world events. When we weren’t attending parties at Barbara’s, we were eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches poolside, playing poker with edible money and “smoking” candy cigarettes, having date nights and sleep overs. I remember playing dress-up with her jewelry and having impromptu fashion shows in a bedroom that, to me, resembled something out of a cool and sophisticated magazine.

Backside of Mural - picture from the Trinitonian
Backside of Mural – picture from the Trinitonian

Barbara was the assistant to the director of the library on campus where my dad worked when we moved to Texas thirty-three years ago. I loved coming to visit her at work. In the center of the library is the most breath-taking mural wrapping around a spiral staircase. It was commissioned and painted by artist James Sicner, who also happened to be a very dear friend of Barbara’s. I remember being in such awe of him when attending her parties. My brothers and I would often play a game with Barbara of who could find the most unexpected treasures in James’ mural. Of course, she always let us win, although now I realize she must have known every layer of that majesty.

Barbara and me when I was 23
Barbara and me when I was 23

Over the next couple of days, little things  popped into my head, reminding me of Barbara’s incredible spirit and zest for life. She oozed joy and delight in all things. She also breathed peace and comfort into every conversation. It was hard not to feel guilty for all the missed years and all the missed opportunities. I regrettably craved those moments. She moved to Florida just before I graduated high school. For a while I was able to travel with my family to visit her each summer, but soon my own life got in the way. It seems nearly impossible that perhaps the last time I wrapped my arms around her was more than 15 years ago. My annual Christmas cards and letters feel inconsequential now. Then yesterday, I had a moment of clarity. I suddenly realized Barbara will never be forgotten and is honored almost daily in my life and the lives of my children. She was an extension of my parents, another example of compassion, honesty, love and generosity. Barbara taught me about valuing relationships, spirituality, seeking beauty in all things and accepting others for who they are, no exception. These qualities remain in me, qualities I am trying to instill in my children too.

I also now realize truly how important it is to surround ourselves with the right people, because the friends we keep become a part of the future we build for our children. The friends we keep are examples of what we believe and what we value. Their behavior and beliefs can either model putrid thinking or unpolluted perspectives. And I will forever be grateful to my parents for giving me the gift of Barbara.

*Read more about Barbara at Coming East blog

3wordwednesday

Five Minute Friday: Home

5-minute-friday-1I know I should say things like “home is where the heart is” or “home is about the people, not the place” but that would be false. Home really is a place to me.

It is where I can let my guard down, speak without fear of being unloved or unwanted for my thoughts or beliefs. Behind these walls I can walk around all day in pajamas, no bra and crazy bed head. I can cry in the shower, mourn losses or regrets over bottles of wine, buckets of chocolate and bags of salt & vinegar chips without condescending looks. It is where I can laugh until snot runs out my nose and I can’t catch my breath. Home is where I can lock myself away for hours in the craft room without explanation, listen to music at full volume or sit in silence watching the snow fall. Home is where I can hide away, pounding on a keyboard, alone with my thoughts and words. It is a place filled with over flowing trinkets and treasures, a living museum of all the personalities abiding in these rooms. Home is where my husband and children come back to each night, sleep soundly in their beds and rise the next morning. It is where we share meals and stories. It is where arguments erupt and forgiveness is found. This place is where unconditional love abounds, blanketing every thought, word or deed. It is where my children sneak into our room, hiding from a bad dream or scary storm. Home is late night movie marathons, popcorn kernels found underfoot in the dark and sticky counter-tops that make me cringe. Home is where my children’s friends converge on the weekend, pull up swivel chairs and let me in on all their secrets. It is where my friends come to gather, leave the daily grind behind them, bask in the low light of vanilla scented candles and fill their bellies with home-cooked food.

Home is where I remember my grandma singing hymns in her favorite rocking chair, the presence of DW’s grandmother in her worn china cabinet that now holds books, my grandfather’s spirit in a painting he stroked or his wine rack in my kitchen. Home is where I see the loving craftsmanship of my father-in-law, gifted to us in almost every room. It is house-warming presents, anniversary presents, birthday presents and “just because” presents from loved ones and weekend painting parties with best friends. Home features art from trips we took, memories hanging on walls, daily reminders of time spent together.

Home is where I want to be at the end of a long day, a long week or a long year. It is where I picture growing old with DW, my grandchildren coming to visit and filling the house with the smells of chocolate chip cookies and Thanksgiving dinners. This home is the first place my husband and I bought together, carved out a place of our own, filled each nook and cranny with care and purpose.

I just can’t picture home, my home, any other way.

It’s rare, but sometimes I’m right

BetterMondaysLinkup“I don’t know what’s worse, ” I whined, a half-drunk glass in my hand, “letting my child fail in order to learn a lesson or making her mad at me for making the right decision on her behalf  to give her a better chance at success.”

It’s a fine line between reality discipline and coddling our children sometimes. Friday night I had the fortunate opportunity to have dinner with one of my besties. We both experienced a long week and used our found hour together to share a meal and a couple of glasses of wine. Sometimes the best therapy is just time with someone else who is currently walking in your shoes. We have daughters the same age. We have the same daily struggles with dodging flying hormones and dirty looks. And according to both our children, we are never right.

After my heated conversation with The Tortoise about next year’s schedule, I was totally spent and it was nice to let off a little steam. It felt good to be able to release some emotional vomit and not be judged or criticized. It was doubly good to feel validated about some of my parenting decisions. But the thing I most valued, was my friend’s perspective.

“I think, if we raise our kids to be compassionate, honest, hard-working, faithful, family and community focused adults, then we have raised extraordinary individuals,” she said.

There are times when our kids must fail in order to understand the value of hard work and success. But then there are times we must determine if failing will too greatly impair future success, requiring us to step in and make some hard decisions on our children’s behalf. After all, they are just children. Not allowing The Tortoise to take extra classes next school year was one of those tough decisions. The possible impact of doing any more damage to her already compromised GPA was too much of a risk, in my opinion, something that would impact college applications later. By the time I left the restaurant Friday night, I was at peace about our schedule decision, and I was at peace knowing that in my daughter’s eyes I was completely wrong and unfair.

“Mom,” The Tortoise said the next morning, “I need to tell you something, but I’m a little embarrassed.”

She and I were stealing a few moments alone together in the car to get Saturday morning donuts. I was surprised she was even speaking to me actually, it had only been a couple of days since our fallout.

“Sure,” I replied, “you can say anything you need to.”

The Tortoise took a deep breath before speaking.

“Well, I’ve been thinking a lot about the decision you and dad made about school next year,” she said.

My grip on the steering wheel tightened.

Let her speak without taking it personally, I thought.

“And I realize now that you were right. I had a hard time keeping up with six classes this year. I can’t imagine how I would have kept up with seven next year. Spanish II in summer school does make the most sense.”

“Thank you for telling me,” I replied with a smile, taking her words completely personally.

Writer’s Workshop: My broken pride

Training for my first half marathon was one of the biggest goals I think I have ever set for myself. At least one I never saw myself really accomplishing, and when I did, it was the most empowering feeling in the world. In fact, I enjoyed the whole experience so much, I signed up for a second half marathon.

Saturday, I am supposed to be picking up my race packet for the Detroit Half Marathon. The race is on Sunday. My registration and background check were approved months ago. However, I will not be making that 13.1 mile trek over the Canadian border and back. I am just not ready. The longest distance I have run since August is only a 5k, and although one of my best times, one of the most tiring runs in a long time.

“I’m freaking out about this half-marathon,” I whined to DW a couple of weeks ago.

“Yeah, I bet you are,” he chuckled, acknowledging my lack of preparation.

“This isn’t funny!” I snapped, “The race is non-refundable but if I run it, I’m likely to get injured or not finish. I don’t know what to do.”

“Don’t go,” he said.

The thought had crossed my mind, but I didn’t want to say it out loud.

I didn’t want to be a quitter.

DW must have read my mind.

“It’s not like you are a quitter. You know you can run a half marathon, this just isn’t the right timing. You can always train for another one in the spring, ” he said.

“Yeah,” I sighed, “I’m just a little embarrassed, that’s all. My pride is broken.”

“I’m sure you’ll get over it quickly,” he assured me.

Coincidentally, one of my close friends is hosting her annual fall scrap-booking and stamping retreat this weekend. It has been two years since I have spent some dedicated girl time with my Michigan besties. I sent her a quick text last week asking if she still had room at her retreat.

I quickly received an emphatic “yes!”

Then I told her I was worried about finding a hotel room since everyone already had roommates.

She text-ed back, “You can room with me!”

Instead of picking up a race packet tomorrow, I will be picking up a pair of scissors and enjoying some girl time with my friends. I might even take advantage of a quiet hotel room and sleep until my eyelids flutter open all on their own.

My pride seems to have healed pretty quickly.

This post was inspired by Mama Kat’s Writer’s Workshop