The Holiday Sneak

Christmas is a sneaky holiday. It had to be said. It’s one of those holidays where, even though you know it’s coming … Even though  you’ve known this for an entire, freaking YEAR … Even though you’ve been hearing about it for months on the radio and news and advertisements … It still manages to land in your lap before you realize what’s happening. It still manages to make you scramble and rush around to try and get things ready in time for “the big day”. It’s one of those holidays for which one can never quite feel prepared or truly ready, and so we end up just tossing out our best effort and going with what we have at the moment Christmas happens. Well, I guess most of us do that. Okay … so I do that. Every darn year. Maybe I’m the only one. I hope I’m not the only one but … yeah. I might be. My Domestic Goddess abilities are definitely lacking, both in terms of skill and level of enthusiasm.

I think part of it is that Christmas comes with so many unreasonable expectations. It’s a time of year that is fraught with emotion and longing. We have to keep moving forward in life. Always forward. We have to keep living every day and remembering how every day is precious and a beautiful gift. Except for Christmas. On that day, it’s hard to continue moving forward. We look backward, toward memories of our youth, and think about the things we have lost along the way over the course of a year. Or five. Or ten. Or twenty.

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Again, maybe this isn’t something everyone does. Maybe it’s just me. But I find myself approaching each Christmas with a bittersweet longing in my heart. The older I get, the more I think back to the Christmasses of my youth, when my whole family would gather together, and we would all be loud: eating and loving each other and playing rowdy games of dominoes and telling funny stories and laughing. Things felt perfect back then. Of course, they weren’t. Nothing is ever perfect in our lives. This is part of being human. But, I remember how full my heart felt back then. I remember the feeling of love and security that came from having my whole family around me. I remember what it felt like to belong. And I do remember thinking, somewhere deep within my little child-sized heart, how things couldn’t quite be more perfect or more glorious. Even then, as a child, there was a part of me that knew it couldn’t stay this way. Things change. We have to grow up. People leave us, even if we don’t want them to go.

For many years, I have gone to extreme lengths to recreate those childhood memories for myself each year. I’m not sure why. I guess part of it was that I wanted to recapture that warm feeling of completeness and safety. And, perhaps, part of it was that these were the things I knew. These were the things you “did” at Christmas, so it didn’t occur to me to do anything different. Each year, I would exhaust myself trying to get everything “just right”. And, of course, I would always fall short. Memories are sweet and beautiful. You can’t recreate them, not really. You can come close, but something will always be missing. Memories live in our hearts. They can’t come out to live in the real world.

This year, Christmas snuck up on me even more than usual. I love Christmas. I love the holiday spirit and the decorations and the carols and the special movies and the excitement and anticipation. I even love the mad rush to get everything done: tree, cards, decorations, baking, gifts.

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Not this year. This year, I couldn’t get past the fact that our family will be celebrating Christmas for the first time without two of our most beloved members. There is nothing like having to unwillingly say good-bye to make you realize nothing can ever, ever be the same. No matter how sweet and perfect your memories might be, they are just that: memories. They will never be real again. Living so far away from the rest of my family, I hardly ever got to see my aunts. I hadn’t been able to see my eldest aunt for at least a couple of years, because she was very ill and frail. I was lucky enough to see my other aunt, very briefly, last summer, during my annual trip home. It’s silly to miss someone you never saw any more. And yet, I do miss them. So much. Just knowing they were out there in the world somehow made my life better and complete. I can’t explain it well, but I feel set adrift by their deaths.

And so, I couldn’t muster any Christmas enthusiasm this year. I was literally at the last minute getting out my cards and my gifts that had to be mailed. I think my husband mailed them on the very last day possible for delivery before Christmas. I didn’t care about our tree. Or any of the decorations. I filled my daughter’s Advent calendar two weeks after December started. I did manage to sit down and paint it. This was my “big” decorating project for this year, and my daughter loves the results. So I suppose that’s something. I waited until the day my parents were to arrive to do any house cleaning, so that I ended up having to do the mad rush around to get the guest room cleared out and ready for them. I was wrapping gifts right up until the night before Christmas Eve. I only baked one pie. It really has been the year of the Grinch in my Christmas heart.

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But you know what this year has taught me? Christmas is going to happen, whether I choose to participate or not. Things still got done, even if they didn’t happen when I thought they should. The tree is beautiful. The decorations are up and festive. There were presents. There was a Christmas Day “feast”, cooked by my mom and me. We had a lazy, quiet day at home for Christmas: church on Christmas Eve, sleeping in a bit the next morning, presents gathered around the tree, and then my mom and I laughing and talking all afternoon as we cooked together in my kitchen. And my heart was full.

Maybe the memories of my childhood can only live in my heart. Maybe things feel bittersweet and hard sometimes because we have to keep on living, even if we don’t want to do so. Maybe things won’t ever be quite the same as they used to be. But that’s okay. It’s not what I would have chosen, but it’s beautiful in its own way. We will make new memories. We will laugh and love and make new traditions. And those will live in our hearts, too.

The Day Before

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Today was one of those days that feels like it is full of festive promise and excitement. School let out early. We are all looking forward to a nice, long, four-day weekend. My husband and I spent most of the morning running last-minute errands, which should have been annoying but wasn’t. We laughed together and enjoyed the time we had. My daughter’s evening activities were cancelled. She and I took advantage of the early school release time to eat lunch together and catch a movie. This was my little surprise to her; I purchased the tickets earlier today while we were out running the rest of our errands. I think it was a nice surprise, and it was a lovely way to spend a casual, easy afternoon.

Mostly, I’ve been thinking about my childhood today. I don’t feel like I usually wax nostalgic about holidays. But there have been a lot of changes in my family this year. Perhaps that’s why I feel a bit more sentimental than I have in years past. I have been remembering the feeling of freedom that came with knowing there was time off from school. And there was always giddy excitement over waiting for our family gathering. My family was big on gathering for all of the holidays. Our get-togethers were full of funny stories and loud laughter, wild domino matches, and an endless array of mouth-watering desserts.

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I grew up in a teeny-tiny house. We lived out in the country, and our house had four room. Not four bedrooms — four rooms, total, including the single bathroom. It was a cozy way to grow up; to this day, I prefer small spaces and tiny houses. My husband doesn’t share this preference, so I’ve had to get used to the feeling of a larger space around me. But that warm coziness stays with me, planted firmly in my childhood memories.

My favorite part of a holiday was going to bed the night before, full of the anticipation of what was to come, and then waking up the next morning. There would be a few moments, just after waking, when the world still felt fuzzy and new and my brain struggled to wake up and figure out just what was different about this day. I would lie in my bed and listen to the sounds of the house around me. I would hear my mom in the kitchen, the squeak of the floor marking her passage as she moved from sink to stove to table and back again. Sometimes, I would hear her talking with my dad. I would feel the mumble of their voices wash over me, the words indistinct, but the sound of it giving me a warm feeling deep in my heart. Sometimes, I would hear my mother singing as she cooked. Usually hymns. She only sings if she thinks no one can hear her, and the sound of her voice, perfectly imperfect, was beautiful to my ears. The memory of it is still sweet. As I came more awake, I would become more aware of the smells. My mom is the most amazing cook. She would be making a feast in our little kitchen: turkey, stuffing, cranberry, sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, buttermilk pie, pumpkin icebox pie, chocolate pie … and, I’m sure, several things I don’t remember at the moment. And the smells of those things cooking was like magic. It’s what love smells like: the scent and feeling of all the love my mother put into every moment of every dish. There is no better way to wake up than hearing your mama moving around in the kitchen and smelling the deliciousness of the meal that would come later in the day.

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In those moments, cuddled under my blankets against the chill in the house, listening to my mama work her magic in the kitchen, I felt happy. And safe. I knew who I was, and I knew, without a doubt, that I belonged somewhere. I BELONGED somewhere. As a kid,  you don’t realize what an amazing and wonderful thing this is: to know who you are and where you belong. This is the memory that stays with me the strongest. It is the memory that has come to me, again and again, today as I ran errands and sat down to figure out what I was going to take to our gathering tomorrow.

Tomorrow, my daughter will wake up in the morning. She will be huddled under her blankets. And she will hear me moving around in our kitchen, just down the stairs from her room. She will hear me walking the floor from stove to sink to table and back again. She will hear me talking to her father or to the dogs, because the dogs are always quick to help with kitchen tasks. Sometimes, I wish I was still a child. I wish that I could go back to those days when I was so sure of everything in my life, and when I felt safe, secure, and like I belonged somewhere. But I’m not a child. I’m the mama now. And tomorrow, I hope my own child hears the familiar sounds of home and holiday around her, and I hope they make her feel warm and safe. I hope she will know, in those moments, how very loved she is. I hope she will know that she belongs somewhere.

The Sum

We are the sum of all of our experiences. This is a great saying, isn’t it? Said by someone who is famous and much more clever than me. Of this, I am certain, even though I am currently too lazy to go and look up just who this clever person is. Or was. Or whatever.

No, it’s not that I’m too lazy. It’s more that I know what will happen. I will go off to find this one tidbit of information. And, in doing so, I will run across something else that looks interesting. Maybe it’s a cat picture. Or a link about a dog who learned to play chess. Of course, I will feel almost compelled to click the picture or follow the link. Before I know it, I will look up from the keyboard, realize it’s past midnight (which means my daughter has been left alone at school for a gazillion hours and I can expect a friendly visit from “the authorities” the next day), and I will have gotten nothing done all day. Because I will have allowed myself to get sucked down into the rabbit hole wonderland that is the Interwebs. No, really. This is how they get you. I think it’s a plot by the cats to take over the universe, one click at a time. Well played, cats. Well played.

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The sum of all of our experiences. In theory, I like this idea that everything I have gone through, everything I have learned, everything I have seen or tasted or felt or believed, everything I have survived, everything I have laughed at … That all of it, somehow, mashes up together in some magical sort of potion that makes me the person who is, right at this moment, sitting at her desk and clacking away on her keyboard in the hopes that words will come out of all her effort. And in the further hope that these words will make some sort of sense. This is a total crap-shoot, even on the best of days. But we do our best with what we have.

I love the idea of taking the things that haunt me and using them for something else. Maybe I can even make something beautiful out of what, to me, has been utter and complete shit. As writers, isn’t that part of what we do? We internalize those experiences and brood on them and mix them together to create new characters and worlds and adventures. Because, if something good or beautiful comes out of our pain, it almost feels like the pain was worth it. Like it counted for something. I am not sure I can explain it, not really, but this feels important to me. It feels important that the pain should count for something. That it should go back out into the world transformed into something better: something beautiful or meaningful or brave. Maybe, this would mean I was in control of my own life. Yes, painful things happened to me. But those experiences don’t own me. Instead, I own them. I can make them dance at my whim.

I think this is important, too: to feel as if you are in control of your own life. I have never felt this way. I mostly feel small and afraid — a tiny, tiny speck within a never-ending universe. Insignificant and not quite really “real”. I think some writers are incredibly brave. I admire the way they do exactly the things I can’t do, which is to speak from their experiences and their dreams, even if it hurts. I am not brave at all. I started writing in order to pretend to be someone else. I wanted to be anyone other than the person I was, and writing offered that to me. I could pretend to be amazing or talented or beautiful or loved. Now, I face my second twenties without quite knowing who or what I am. I look into the mirror and don’t recognize the expression in the eyes of the person staring back at me. I want to know her. Now, I find myself no longer wanting to pretend. Instead, I want to write for the person I am today. I want to find her and hold her and tell her things are okay. I want to tell her she is okay. But I find, perhaps, I have spent too much time pretending. And now, when I need them, the words don’t come as easily or as readily. Maybe this is natural. Maybe pretending is easier.

Reflections

You see, I am a little bit stuck. I find myself trapped between wanting to pretend and needing to tell the truths of my own life. There are memories and experiences and feelings which I have held close — oh so closely — all my life. I continue to hold them next to me even now. I can feel them, deep inside, next to my heart, festering. And I think to myself, “One push of the keyboard. Then another and another. What does it matter? It’s only words on a page, and those can’t hurt anyone. If you let them go, you’ll be free.”

And yet, I can’t seem to do it. No matter how much I need to write my truths, I can’t bring myself to take the action. I come close, but always fail to do it, in the end. Is it a misplaced sense of loyalty? Is it a misplaced sense of responsibility — this idea that I am responsible for the way other people feel? I do know words can hurt. I know this probably better than most people. Is it all right for me to chance inflicting hurt so that I can heal? Is it fear that holds me back? Maybe no one will believe me. Or, perhaps, it’s the small child who still lives somewhere deep down inside of me. She knows better than to talk about anything that happens at home. She has been told this all her life. And some lessons are impossible to unlearn.

I am the sum of all my experiences. They have made me a person who has compassion and care for others. They have given me the ability to mother my child with humor and humility and joy. They have taught me to laugh at life and at the world around me. They have done so many good and wonderful things for me. But they also hold me back. Because I can’t let them go. Amid the gut-wrenching realization that this will never end for me, I want to cling to hope. Because my experiences taught me that, too: If you are alive, there is always hope for things to change. Maybe I can’t write about the things I need to say. Maybe, for today, those experiences remain locked inside of me. But tomorrow is a new day. And so is the day after that. And I’m still alive.

Riding Drag

That’s how I feel today: like I’m the lone cowpoke tasked with riding drag on the cattle drive, which means I’m choking on the world’s dust. Or maybe I just watched too many Rawhide episodes as a kid.

Today hasn’t been a particularly long day. But it’s one of those days that FEELS like a long day. I find myself now, at the end of everything, with the child unit tucked into bed and the washer and dryer humming their music in the background, sitting here in front of my computer and feeling exhausted. Is it this winter that just can’t seem to figure out when it’s time to pack up its toys and go home? Is it the one-two-punch of kidney infection and sinus infection I’ve had over the past three weeks or so? Is it the thought that my husband will be away from home for several days, starting tomorrow, which means all adult responsibility falls onto my shoulders? Is it the realization that my mother arrives in less than a week and I still have a lot to do to get the house ready for her extended visit?

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Maybe it’s a combination of all these things. Or maybe I’m just lazy and whiny. Or maybe it’s a combination of these things AND I’m lazy and whiny. I honestly don’t know. But I do know I wish I could check out of life for a bit — just hunker down in bed with the covers pulled up over my head and let the world slide by for a day or two. Or, perhaps, three.

But, there are meetings to attend and lunches to make and laundry to do and dogs to bathe and errands to run and appointments to make and calendars to schedule and dinners to cook and groceries to buy and on and on and on. A never-ending litany of adult life. When I was a kid, I thought it would be so grand to be an adult. I used to daydream about how I would be able to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, and how there would be no one to hold me back or remind me of life’s rules. Now, I know better. No one tells you, when you’re a kid, that being an adult often sucks. Or that there are more rules than ever. Or that you will spend a ridiculous amount of time cleaning up dog barf. (Well, I guess this wouldn’t apply if you don’t have a dog. But I have two, and I end up cleaning up a LOT of barf. Why don’t dogs figure out that whole “don’t put things in your mouth” thing? But that’s a post for another time, I suppose.)

I guess it’s a good thing no one tells kids what adult life is really like. If they did, no one would ever want to grow up. I know I wouldn’t have.

A Wednesday Confession …

Well, it’s still Wednesday here in my little corner of the universe. Barely, but it counts. My mom always loved telling me, “Close only counts in hand grenades and horseshoes.” But I beg to differ; I think it counts in blogging, too, particularly when one is trying to get something in under the wire of an arbitrarily determined personal deadline.

Anyhow, I thought I might try something a bit new. I’ve never done a “themed” sort of post, but I follow several blogs that employ this tool to wonderful effect. I figured it might be a fun way to shake things up a bit in the middle of the week, as well as helping me attempt to get posts out more frequently. The ten or so people who read my blog might thank me for that. Then again … perhaps you won’t. It’s hard to say.

So … A Wednesday Confession …

statute with flowersI only like grape jelly. Oh yeah, I know. Shocking, right? I think I just heard at least a couple of you guys scream in fear and run from the room in order to escape your computer monitors. Little do you know that my words will follow you … Everywhere. (not really)

Here’s the thing: I have only liked grape jelly from my earliest childhood. When first faced with the decision as to what jelly I should eat, I selected grape. And grape it has been, ever since. This was rather a big deal in my growing-up years, as I come from people who either can their own jellies, jams, and preserves or have ready access to (free) homemade jellies, jams, and preserves. We were not a rich family. And yet, since I subsisted almost entirely on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for most of my childhood, my poor parents were forced to purchase grape jelly from the grocery store. Because, of course, no one we knew had a vineyard. Or even a grape vine.

As I grew older, I toyed with other flavors. I tried marmalades and different types of preserves. I tried “normal” flavors, like strawberry, and I even headed over to the exotics for a taste of fig or quince. I won’t lie. I liked some of them. I particularly like fig jelly with the right type of cheese and cracker combo. But I always came back to grape. And, like a lovely memory from my childhood, grape jelly was always there, ready to welcome me back with open arms. It wasn’t that I felt I had been unfaithful to grape. It’s more that my foray into the more adventurous world of jelly-dom deepened my devotion to my childhood favorite. Which is pretty odd, considering I don’t particularly enjoy eating grapes. And I don’t like grape juice, either. What can I say? I’m a complicatedly simple sort of person.

grapes in a vineyard in californiaIn some ways, I feel I have failed at becoming a true adult. I think adults branch out more. They might even do something as insane as eat strawberry jam on their toast. Whereas I remain firmly rooted in the habits of my past. And yet, each time I reach for the Welch’s Grape Jelly, I can’t find it in myself to regret my choices.

So there you have it. My name is Pish … and I like grape.

 

 

Be Nice!

Are there any words in the universe that can make me angrier than the simple, two-word command: “Be nice”?

The answer to this is no, there are not. Which you’ve probably guessed already, considering I’m sitting here typing a blog post about the whole thing. Or, perhaps I’m running out of blog post ideas. This could be either a good thing or a bad thing, depending upon your perspective … but I digress.

sundial, meadowlark botanical gardensThe refrain “be nice” echoes throughout my childhood memories like a bad commercial jingle. You know the ones I mean: the ones with those songs you hate so much that it makes you physically ill to hear them, and yet, they are so catchy that they burrow into your brain and run on an endless loop until you wish you could go mad just so it would stop. Any time I expressed an opinion that differed from those held by my parents, any time I expressed an emotion my mother didn’t like (anger, sorrow, jealousy, etc.), any time I was even remotely upset, “Be Nice!” was the command I heard. As an adult, I even do it to myself! Instead of letting myself feel what I feel, I catch myself saying, “Oh come on now … be nice.” Instead of acknowledging my feelings and their value, thereby acknowledging my  existence and value as a person, I hear those hated words in my head: “Be Nice!”

Each time it happens, I want to scream. Or bang my head against the nearest solid object — not for long, just until the annoyingly smug voice inside it shuts the heck up and stops bothering me. I don’t want to “be nice” — not when this command is a subtle code for doing what someone else expects of me, or, even worse, when it means surrendering the ability to have any of my own emotions. I’ve been there. I lived in that place for a long, long time, and it’s not pretty.

ocean and sand bars, cape cod mass.Perhaps I am overreacting. Scratch that. I’m sure I’m overreacting. But, when you’ve lived with something for your entire life, when that something burrows into you and eats away little parts of your soul until you end up middle aged and wondering if you even really exist … Well, overreacting happens. It is impossible for me to describe the pure, unadulterated hatred I hold in my heart for the command to “be nice”. Let’s put it this way: If “be nice” was on fire, I wouldn’t cross the street to spit on it in order to put out the flames. This is how much I despise these two words.

Don’t get me wrong. Being nice is not a bad thing. I like nice people. I strive to be a nice person in my every day life. I’m confident I don’t always succeed, because I am human. There are times when I feel angry or jealous or just icky. But, underneath all of that is a person who, usually, manages to have compassion and a somewhat positive outlook on life.

cannon, manassas battlefield, virginiaBut here’s the thing about those words. “Be nice” was a loaded gun pointed directly at the core of my being. As a kid, those words told me I wasn’t as important as the people around me. They taught me I wasn’t to have an opinion or even feelings that made other people uncomfortable. They taught me I was flawed, and could never possibly live up to the expectations of those around me. No matter how hard I tried, “be nice” was always there to remind me I had failed. They taught me I didn’t matter. I was to be seen and never heard, unless spoken to first. Each time my mother told me “be nice”, she took away a little part of the unique mixture of personality and emotions and thoughts and experiences that should have taught me who I was and where I existed in this world. Instead, I learned to parrot whatever my parents told me and to stuff down any errant feelings. I was the perfect automaton, although both of my parents — to this day — comment frequently about how stubborn and willful I was. It makes me laugh, mostly because I would cry, otherwise, and they would never understand why. Oh, if they only knew!

“Be nice” still haunts me. To this day, my mother frequently will tell me “be nice” in response to various things we discuss in our phone conversations. And you know what? It still cuts me to the quick to hear it. In that moment, I am back there — a lonely, confused child with no self-esteem — and it hurts. But the difference is that, now, I can remind myself I am not that little kid any longer. I can remind myself that “be” and “nice” are just words. And I can end the call and hang up the phone. Sometimes, walking away is the most healing thing we can do for ourselves.

sunflower.The other day, my daughter came to me with a complaint about something. I can’t even remember what it was now, but it was important to her. She’s nine. The world is full of drama. As she was telling me all about who did what and how and how it made her feel so angry, I caught myself starting to say, “Be nice.”

Ugh! Can you believe it? As much as I despise those words, here I was, about to unleash them on my beautiful, amazing daughter. I guess it’s pretty hard to overcome a past that’s deeply and painfully ingrained. Luckily, I caught myself in time. Instead of the hated words, I gave her a hug and told her I was sorry she was sad and hurting. As I held her in my arms, that lonely little kid who still lives somewhere in the back of my psyche whispered, “Be nice or don’t. Be whatever you want to be. You’re perfect just the way you are.”

 

 

 

 

Letting Go

I think the hardest thing about being a parent is learning how to let go. It seems like it would be an easy thing, particularly since children tend to suck up a lot of time, effort, and energy. I remember, when my daughter was a tiny baby, there were so many things I looked forward to: the time when she could finally talk and tell me what was bothering or upsetting her … the time when diapers would be a distant memory … the time when she would finally eat only “regular” food … the time when she would be big enough to explore and interact with her surroundings … and on and on.

my daughter ... around 6 months old, perhapsBack then, when she was still tiny and relied on me for everything — when she, literally, couldn’t go anywhere without me — I thought about the future with a sort of misty-eyed fondness. I thought about how it would be so nice to have more free time. I thought about how it would be much less stressful, once she could tell me what was bothering her, as opposed to trying to interpret various cries of distress. I thought about how nice it would be once I no longer had to carry that heavy diaper bag around. I thought about how lovely it would be to save on the expense of baby food, once she started eating the same things the rest of us ate.

I thought about a lot of things.

my daughter's beautiful smile, ~ 6 years oldWhat I didn’t think about was how hard — how absolutely terrifying — it would be for me to let go. I didn’t realize each new adventure and experience would take her a little farther away from me, along her path toward becoming a teenager and, eventually, an adult. I didn’t think about how I was going to feel, for example, standing on the curb and watching her walk into school the first day of second grade: the first time she told me, “No, Mama. I can go by myself.” I didn’t realize how frightening it was to be the person left behind. Sometimes, I feel like I spent nine months working to bring her into this world, and I will spend the entire rest of her life fighting the urge to stuff her back inside my uterus. Because, once your kids are out there, they are out there. They are part of the world, and you can’t always be with them.

my daughter getting donutsToday, my daughter headed off to Philadelphia for a school field trip. She has been excited about this trip for months, and she was bubbling over with enthusiasm and eagerness this morning. This is the first time, since she started pre-school, that I have not gone as one of the chaperones. And, over the week or so leading up to this trip, I came to realize my biggest fears as a parent are letting go and not being there. Perhaps, they really are the same fear, just all wrapped around each other. I don’t know, but I do know it took a monumental effort for me to smile this morning, kiss my daughter good-bye, and drive away from the school. I looked back and saw her standing on the sidewalk in front of the school, chattering excitedly with her friends and teacher, and felt like some invisible hand had reached into my chest and wrapped my heart in a vice-like squeeze. If I had been alone, I might not have been able to leave. Luckily, my husband was driving, which meant I didn’t have the option of turning around to snatch her up and run for the safety of home.

my daughter with snowBut I have this to cling to:

As I was telling her good-bye, she whispered in my ear, “Don’t worry, Mama. I’ll tell you all about it when I get home tonight.”

And so I drove away feeling unsure and inadequate, but also knowing I don’t have to learn how to let go all at one time. For now, this is enough, and the rest will come. Baby steps, which will teach me how to walk before I have to know how to run.

 

 

 

 

Lazy Days

When I was a kid, I often dreaded weekends a little bit. Or maybe a lot. I look back on things now and realize how lucky I was to live in the country. Now, I long for space and peace and quiet. Even as a kid, there were things I loved about living away from the nearest town and neighbors — things I wouldn’t have traded. But the weekend presented a bit of a challenge for my restless spirit.

fountain, meadowlark botanical gardens

My parents were not people who went anywhere on the weekends, other than church. My dad, especially, is a homebody. Even now, he hardly ever goes anywhere. My mom, if she feels the desire to see something other than the four walls of her house, will head out without him. He has mellowed over the years. When I was growing up, he was absolutely in charge of where we went, when we went there, and how long we stayed. At least, during the weeks when he was home from work. Even when he was gone for work, though, he was still kind of in charge because there was a very strict budget to follow. We didn’t dare step outside its lines.

The weekends seemed to stretch in front of me: this block of time, with a space carved out for church, that seemed almost impossible to fill. TV wasn’t allowed, especially during the day, and we lived in a four room house. Four rooms: two bedrooms, a tiny bathroom, and a combination kitchen / living room. It’s not like there were places to go for a change of scenery.

Instead, I changed the scenery inside my head. I read a lot. I wrote, although I was too shy to show my work to anyone. When the weather allowed, I rode my horse. I played with my dog and my cats. But I felt jealous of my friends, who lived closer to town or who were allowed to venture into town from the country. I felt lonely and bored and, often, more than a little bit trapped.

a frog reading a book, meadowlark botanical gardensToday, it often seems as if my life is too busy. I live in a large metropolitan area, where I am forced to deal with traffic and rude people — sometimes on a minute-by-minute basis, it seems! There is no quiet here. Our house is near the metro tracks and a highway. Even with the sound wall nearby, we hear honks, screeches, and the click-clack of the train well into the night from our bedroom upstairs. We live in a townhouse, so there isn’t much space. Our yard is the size of a postage stamp, and our house is connected to our neighbors’ houses. And we can reach restaurants, shopping, school, church, movies … and any variety of entertainment options … within less than an hour, depending on traffic. I am coming and going all the time. Some weeks, it feels almost as if I am never home, between school activities, church activities, and errands.

Even at home, there always seems to be something to do. There is something to clean. There are dogs to tend to. There is a cat box to clean. There are hamster cages to wash. There are meals to fix. There is a child to mother. There are expectations to fulfill. And laundry — of course, there is always laundry, laundry, and more laundry! Even writing devolves into some kind of chore, instead of the escape it used to be. It becomes harder and harder for me to turn my brain off to let the words flow, especially when people are counting on me to finish my writing projects. It’s a lot of pressure when people expect things from you. I’m not saying this is a bad thing. I’m  saying it’s something I am not yet skilled at dealing with regarding my writing.

fish eating cherry blossoms, meadowlark botanical gardensIn many ways, I now have the life I thought I wanted in my youth. Now, of course, I long for many of the things I used to have. I suppose human nature is like that. The grass is always greener on the other side, as the saying goes. But, one thing that has come out of growing up is that I appreciate a free weekend more. Now, when faced with a long Saturday — a day with no appointments to keep and nothing in particular to do — I no longer feel restless or annoyed. Instead, I think to myself, “This is Bliss.”

The Truth

When I started this blog, I told myself I would only put positive emotions in here. Positive words … positive feelings … good things. I really and truly believed I could do that. My previous blog, on Live Journal, devolved into nothing but a whiny rant-fest after several years of activity. That blog saw me through some of my darkest, toughest times. On the one hand, knowing this makes the negativity understandable for me. On the other hand, I just got tired of it. Negativity wears at you after a while. It’s subtle enough that, at first, you don’t notice it. And then, suddenly, you turn around and there are parts of you missing. Parts that make you “you”. Parts that you need. It’s a silent erosion of the soul and psyche. Maybe not for everyone, but for me. And so I thought to myself, “Hey … a blog where I put all my best things. Where I can show just the nicest parts of myself. Where I can, maybe, believe I am a good person, a worthy person. No problem. I can do that.”

But the truth is that I can’t. Because life just doesn’t work like that. Because people just don’t work like that. Because I don’t work like that. Because, sometimes, life spits in your face. People crowd in at you from all sides, until you want to tell them to back the hell off and give you three feet of personal space. Everyone wants something and they want it now and they don’t really care if it hurts you or not. All around you, there are sights and sounds and just … stuff. And all of it — every last little bit of it — whirls away, dancing beyond the speed of light, all of this shiny, beautiful promise that you want to reach out for but know you’ll never, ever, ever be able to grab. And sometimes, it’s too much. Sometimes, life is too much, and it chokes you until you can’t breathe. And you want to huddle in the corner with your face hidden in your knees and scream until someone stops this crazy, whirly-gig ride and lets you off. Right the heck now.

But you can’t get off, because this is your life. The good parts, the bad parts, the parts that make you want to claw your way out of your own skin — all of it. And, somehow … somehow, you have to find a way to embrace it and love it for what it is. It is beautiful and awful. It is crazy and stable. It is up and down. It is nothing and everything. As my husband loves to say: “It is what it is.” I’m still not sure that saying means anything. And yet, it feels like those words mean everything.

Disney Carousel

I haven’t kept a journal for a long, long time. Not since I was a little girl. Back then, someone close to me found my journal and read what I had written in there. It didn’t matter that those were my private thoughts. All that mattered to this person was that I had hurt them — not with my actions or my words, but with the private thoughts I had written down, which I had never intended to share with anyone else. And that person was so upset with me, so hurt, that they confronted me about it. It remains one of the most painful memories that I carry with me to this day. After that, I tried to journal. But, fearing I would again be discovered, I learned to censor my thoughts. I learned to pretend to be someone I wasn’t and to only write “nice” things. As a result, my journal devolved into a whole lot of entries that read along the lines of: “Today was a boring day. Maybe tomorrow will be better.” In the end, I gave up on it. And I gave up on my life, too, because it was a place where things didn’t happen. More than that, it was a place where I didn’t dare let anything happen.

Tonight, I realized I had fallen into this same trap with this blog. On days that were rough for me, days when I struggled, I avoided posting because I felt I couldn’t share anything “nice” or “pretty” or worth sharing. But I was only avoiding myself.

I don’t know if this makes sense to anyone but me. Maybe it doesn’t, and maybe it shouldn’t. But it felt like something I needed to send out into the wilds of the internet, even if only to hear the echoes of it rumbling back at me. Because at least I had the courage to look myself in the face and admit that, sometimes, I am a liar. Or, perhaps, that’s too harsh. Maybe it’s more accurate to say I’m afraid of the truth.

I still think I’m a fairly positive person. But I have baggage. I struggle. Some days are good; some days are bad. After a string of “bad” emotional days, I feel raw and strung-out — like I’ve, somehow, managed to get turned around until my skin is on wrong-side-out and everything slices through me with a pain that is fresh and raw. Everything feels like nails down a chalkboard, and I just need some space from the world and from myself. And you know what? I feel like I should have figured everything out by now, but, really, I haven’t. I know less today than I did yesterday, and a heck of a lot less than I did ten years ago. And sometimes, I want to scream for the world around me to shut the hell up.

But, maybe … somehow … some way … all of this is “lovely”, too. Not the kind of lovely that  makes us think of teddy bears and puffy hearts or flowers. But its own, weird kind of lovely. Because it is the truth. Because it is life. Because it is my life.

 

Do You Remember?

Do You Remember? A

 

Not the greatest photograph, but I took it quickly with my phone camera. Just wanted to share this. It’s a page from my notebook of scribbles, writing ideas, etc. I carry this thing around with me pretty much all the time so that I can jot down stuff. Because “stuff” has the bad habit of occurring to me at the most inconvenient times. The picture is done with a combination of crayons (because that’s what I had at hand at the time) and a little bit of black felt-tip pen.

Here is the text of the poem, in case you can’t read it in the image:

Do you remember songs of the past

Golden childhood laughing days

Because I do not but wish it was so

Feeling empty and hollow where I should glow.