Monday, March 26, 2012

Just a Morning Conversation

Over eggs and potatoes, at our favorite monthly breakfast hangout, my friend N. and I talking, me telling her about the trouble with planning this Idaho trip.  Me saying what I've been saying, something about making sure my kids get to hang out with my folks, getting to know my mom especially before she dies.  And how that makes it hard to plan a fun vacation and I haven't been able to figure out what to do, how to book it, how long to stay.

"Listen," she finally says.  "You are terrified--the little girl inside of you is terrified--of your mom dying."

Screeeeech.  Wut.  That feeling where the world stops because you've just heard something really important, that's really, really true and at the core of your being but that you didn't know was there.  Like somebody seeing you for the first time.  And it's almost like you can't hear it because it cracked your brain open and your heart open a little.

"But there's nothing you can do about that.  You are going to lose her some day.  I will lose you someday.  We're all headed there.  But you're not doing anybody any favors to think like that.  You're not doing her any favors.  You can't prepare for it, you don't know how it will be.  So you have to let that go."

I'm not quoting her right.  She also said something about me being love, her being love, and N., maybe you'll email me and let me know and I can fix this post.  There were some things about courage too, mine and my mom's.

But the important thing is that I needed someone to point out to me how scared I am of losing my mom again.  "You're going to lose her again, probably again and again," said N.  Death to the old, rebirth of the new.

Yes, that's it.  And by talking about losing my mom as if I get to choose when it will happen, and to plan trips around that, is about me thinking I can somehow prepare myself for the pain of it.  But my heart knows there's no wisdom down that path and it short circuits my brain.

When things get to misfiring above and below I should remember that's a sign that I'm trying to control things that won't be controlled.

My mom would be mortified to know I've been thinking this way.  I'm mortified to know I've been thinking this way.  It's morbid, this mortifying mortification.  De mort.  But the pain of her breakdown last time was so great.  I felt like I was being torn in two.  Set adrift.  Unmoored, untethered, unchained, unattached, alone.  And I think I'm worried I won't survive the next one if it's the same.  I think that's what it is.  But who knows if there will be a next time, or what it will be like, or when?  And who am I to say who gets to survive what?

Apparently I have some (mis)perceptions of my own courage.

Also, none of the whole scheduling of life and death is up to me.

It can't be planned.

So then I went home from breakfast and planned a proper vacation with time at the lake and on the river and in the woods and with family.  Because life is for celebrating, and because there's only one kind of reservation I really get to make.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Getting Quiet

As I've been getting quiet more and more each day with the mindfulness and the meditation and the staying, I find my mom fills my thoughts more.  I'm thinking about how sad she is, how negative she feels about her life, how her pain affects her.  I notice my urges to change these things for her, and also acknolwedge that I can't, and try to feel my way through to love for her.  When I am quiet and totally in tune with what love feels like, I find that my desire to control or change her just feels like interference, so it's easy to identify.  I don't know if I'll be able to maintain the distinction in her actual presence.  That will be interesting to watch, to figure out if I can stay in love.

There are memories that are coming back, too.  I fear all the time that my memories are gone from me almost as soon as I have them because that just seems to be how my brain works, but as I'm getting quieter some are coming back.  This might suggest that the speed with which I live my life affects my ability to form good attachments and memories.  I don't know yet.

But I was falling asleep the other night and a memory of my mother pulling her panty hose on came to me, me watching her in her bedroom and admiring the concavity of her belly, her telling me how she always sucked her stomach in because it kept those muscles strong.  I sit up straighter just remembering it, before my normal slouch takes back over, a long-ingrained act of defiance.  This thing with the belly is one of the few bits of womanly advice I remember her passing on to me; I don't remember talks about tampons or deodorants or desire.  Mostly she just let me go and certainly I would have resisted anything she had to say anyway, so there we were, opposing forces pushing each other apart, even then.

I first grieve that she let me go so easily, and also think it has made me who I am, and am grateful.

I think of pictures of her, tall and thin, and the whispers in the family, jealous or true, that she didn't eat enough, was maybe anorexic.

That seems possible, or maybe she was very healthy and they weren't, and her not eating cream milkshakes and beef for every meal seemed aberrant to them.  How dare she do things differently.  Who does she think she is.  I think it makes sense that my mom would tightly control her eating the way she tightly controlled her environment because of the way her growing up must have seemed so out of control, the way she was left with strangers when she was just five while my grandmother did I don't know what.  The move from New York to Idaho when my grandmother picked her back up one day.  The marriage to my gruff and difficult German step-grandfather.  The sometimes-insanity of my grandmother, who required her own set of strictures be followed after-the-chaos of the early years.

I think it makes sense that I would do some of the same things, that I am a controller, too.

I cry on and off throughout the days, at odd times, for and about my mother, and for myself, who also lost a mother for a little while at a young age, though I don't remember it, and who feels as if I have lost her again to her illness.  I try not to wipe the tears away so fast but to feel them, let them soak in a little, so that I can know I will survive them just fine and that they might have something to teach me.  I try not to bolt from them.  I remember too, that I am not that little girl anymore, and that my mother is not lost, but changed, as all things change.

I'm not sure why, but making space for the quiet has opened these things up for me, and brought me back to myself also.  There is the not distancing myself from the pain, forcing myself to inhabit my body.    I could maybe call this God's grace?  It's not easy to decide to slow down, to fully experience the boredom, the sadness, the isolation, the loneliness.  And then, it's the easiest thing in the world once you decide to do it, and notice what it brings you.  The other--the dulling and bolting--is much worse, much more deadening.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Anne LaMott on Bolting

From this excellent essay, by Anne LaMott:

I learned from all my teachers that when I feel like shoveling in food, a man, or purchases, the emptiness can be filled only with love—a nap with the dogs, singing off-key with my church. Or maybe, perhaps, a fig.

I learned that opening myself to my own love and to life's tough loveliness was not only the most delicious, amazing thing on Earth but it was also quantum. It would radiate out to a cold, hungry world. Beautiful moments heal, as do real cocoa, Pete Seeger, a walk on old fire roads. All I ever wanted since I arrived here on Earth were the things that turned out to be within reach, the same things I needed as a baby—to go from cold to warm, lonely to held, the vessel to the giver, empty to full. You can change the world with a hot bath, if you sink into it from a place of knowing that you are worth profound care, even when you're dirty and rattled. Who knew? 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Time Flies

I'm listening to one of the best books I've ever "read" on CD, Women, Food, and God, by Geneen Roth, while I work on the quilt (found a huge quilting hoop at the ARC for $1.99!):

Man, does Roth talk over and over again about the importance of "staying," of not "bolting," which for most of us is hard-wired as our number one defense mechanism against pain, discomfort, threat, or anything else as children, but which we then just keep around as a habit as adults.  It's this habit of bolting that keeps us from seriously experiencing our lives, and Roth suggests that instead we really focus on nearly every moment, on fully inhabiting it, on thinking of it as precious.  Think of how a person who died today might view living in your body for just one moment, she says, what a gift that would be to them.  Even if you're disabled or sick.  Even if you're sad.  Even if you have body issues.  Even if you're having a bad hair day or you don't like your outfit or you're used to tuning everything out.

Most of all, it is through our body that we smell the hair of our child, feel our partner's hand in our own, see the spring tulips, hear laughter in the street.  Why forsake that body?  Why not inhabit it more?  Why not live in our heart more fully?

I'm listening to this CD here and there, a bit every day, and then I look up and my oldest has grown out of her clothes again.  Thus the trip to the ARC for new t-shirts for spring.  Everything she picked out has the word peace on it, or a peace sign on it.

And her growing means that her little sister inherited her big sister's clothes, and when she put them on, I notice how long and lean her body is getting, how beautiful and serious and hilarious and special she is, too.

We were in the car the other day and I laughed at this bumper sticker:

It says "2012" and something struck me as funny as listing your graduation date in this way (or your penchant for doomsday scenarios, I guess).  You're announcing to the nervous drivers around you that you're a senior in high school, for one thing, and for another it's a reminder that when you're 18 you feel like you will be 18 forever.

Addie interruptedmby laughter by reminding me her sticker will say 2022.  Otherwise known as the blink of an eye.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Family Out

Spring seems to have come wicked early this year.  Or maybe it's summer that's showing up.  Colorado weather is erratic but this is really something.  It's early March and already the grape hyacinth and the crocus are up, with the tulips pushing up fast behind.  It nearly hit 80 today, and we had our first family day outside.

There may be a few more winter days here and there...March and April are historically snowy months in Denver.  But it definitely feels like spring is here.  I braided my hair, put in some silver hoops, slipped into my flip-flops, and was immediately reminded of an insane, last-minute trip some girlfriends and I took to Tijuana in college over spring break.  We drove down to San Diego and stayed in someone's apartment, and went over the border a few times, loading up on cheap silver jewelry, kissing marines stationed in San Diego, and drinking watered-down tequila.  Also, getting deeply sunburned.  We started out in our long flannel button down shirts and cut-offs and by the end of the week were just in our suits all the time.

It will be fifty degrees Monday and I can't remember the last time I had a real beach vacation, but it's nice to feel the sun on my feet anyway, to clear away the dead leaves and turn the compost.  This is a different life, and still it's nice to recapture some of the ease and spontaneity this time of year brings.

Friday, March 16, 2012


It's my university's spring break this week.  I've had papers to grade and a revision to work on but it's SPRING BREAK so there's been a fair amount of puttering around and sighing contentedly also.  Lots of spring cleaning going on; a re-arrange of the studio; several bags of goodies off to the thrift store.

Everything in the studio is just-so (except, apparently, I haven't put the bedskirt back on yet!), with my desk back in front of the window, and with the too-warm, too-early spring weather, the birds are back with us.  I love the sounds of them in the trees, and having the windows open.

See the jay there, in the middle?

Woodpeckers will be back soon, though with our cedar siding, E. is definitely not happy about that.

The lap blanket I've been knitting also got set aside as the temperatures have risen, in favor of piecing together this project:

For years, I've been adding to my stash of vintage tea towels, table tops, and quilt remnants.  I found the inner layer at the thrift store last fall, and just picked up the liner there last week.  Now the quilting begins!  Thanks to N.D. for the quick primer this winter on how to do it.

E and I both have lingering spring colds, so it's back to work today with a mug of lemon-honey-apple cider vinegar.  Gross.  But better than any cold medicine.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

By the Way

Dear Dad,

You are an amazing dad.  By the way, do you like dessert?  And when are we going to Toppings?*


*A frozen yogurt AND hot dog shop.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Moment for Things Not

You all are good about granting me many moments of indulgence.  I lay out my obsessions and fears, my haughtiness and excitements, my theories and neuroses.  And there is self-pity, too.

This might be a moment of that.  Could have been longing, too.  A little sadness, maybe.  Contentment also.

I had to take Addie to the doctor this afternoon because she had a cough and her eyes started to look rheumy which is a sure-fire symptom in my experience that she has a sinus infection.  She wanted to go to school and I let her but I got a call from the school nurse around noon asking me to come pick her up.  So off to the doctor we went.

It's just a cold, thankfully.  Have I mentioned how much easier our lives feel now?  With the kids not always being sick?  With them being able to easily feed and dress themselves?  I hope I never forget the difficulty of their very-young-ness though.  What an education that was.  What a trial-by-fire.  If you have little  Good work.

So Addie and I got home and at the dining room table, E. was sitting with a rep for a solar company--we're trying to figure out if it's feasible and affordable to put some panels on our roof--and with his dad.  E's dad and his wife are visiting us for the weekend.  Anyway, the three men were sitting there, and shuffling papers, and looking busy and official as they talked about this big decision.

Do you think I'm going to say I felt bad because I was left out?  Because the men were making the decision without me?


I was instead flushed with relief.  It was this:  that we have this decision to make, not a life-or-death decision, just a decision about the house, and we usually have to do this all by ourselves, and it feels scary and big.  Sometimes we make mistakes and fail and then it's just us two hammering things out, sometimes supporting each other, sometimes blaming.  But here E. was sitting with his dad, who was asking good questions, and who E. could bounce ideas off of, and ask him what he thought.

I snapped a picture of it but my stupid camera manged it.  But I'll always remember it, what it looked like to come home and see love and support sitting at my dining room table.  And to not feel alone.  Here's a replacement photo from our ski weekend:

So I had this image of what it might be like to have our parents in our lives in this way, and how that has not been the case for lots of reasons, but mostly because we moved away.  I realize I'm romanticizing in all sorts of ways, too, and that this was just one tiny moment, and we have also treasured our independence.

But I had a little moment of grieving for what has not been, I guess.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sometimes I work too much and then get myself a little flu just so I can take a nap.

That's pretty much the story of my last few months, culminating in the last weekend or so, which has involved some mystery gastrointestinal ailments and then an aching chest and hell-wreaking exhaustion that forced me to sleep a good 20 out of 24 hours yesterday and which is only now getting better tonight, thank God.  Just in time for me to enjoy some of the huckleberry jam they're selling at Costco these days, bless their hearts.  I tell you I was tempted to buy about 12 jars of the stuff because those bastards will probably discontinue it before I get back there.  And you know I'm only allowed to go to Costco twice a year, and that's only with accompaniment, never unattended.  Bad things happen when I'm left there unattended.

I should have blogged more along the way during the last few months despite the busy-ness, though, because there have been some good stories.  Like the time I stayed in Albuquerque in a condo with some friends I might be writing a book with, and the walls were paper thin and there were no bathroom fans and we ate six straight meals at the taqueria down the block.  Also, I was sharing a bedroom with my girlfriend.  There were unkindnesses of the digestive variety, I tell you, and much needless running of the water in the bathroom sinks.  Tsk tsk.

Or I could have written about the time that I was telling the family about my obsession with The Tudors, which I can stream for free on my Kindle Fire, and Addie asked about the six wives of Henry VIII, and we ended up having a very interesting discussion about the birds and bees.  E. was super-excited about that turn of events, let me tell you.

Or I could tell you about how much I've been enjoying work lately--the teaching, the writing, the meetings, and I mean that sincerely--but as a result got a bit out of whack.  The meditation helped me from getting sour on it, and work is just qualitatively different these days, no question about it.  But then I just ran out of steam.  Hit the wall.  Burned out.

There have been a few sad things, too.  My mom fighting her addiction and pain; my grandmother sicker still; friends and their loved ones with cancer; struggles with the self; struggles with the other.  The stuff of life, wedged in and around the appointments and due dates and chatter.

Thus, the flu, I think, and the need to sleep, sleep, sleep for days straight.  The fact that I'm having a wicked time with training for this next race, most likely because I'm just tired out.  The falling back into drinking too much coffee and eating too many sweets just to keep the engine running.

But I'm not upset about it.  I put in a lot of good, long hours at work and met some good milestones; now things don't need to be like that anymore.

Maybe the course corrections are getting easier to make.  Or it doesn't all feel as serious anymore.  Dinner can get on the table a little bit late, the bathroom doesn't get cleaned one week, I miss a training run.  So what.  So what.  So what.  So now I rest a little more.