The Last Week of Childhood

It’s happening, y’all. The Last Week of Childhood is happening at my house this week. This coming Friday, we will set off for East Lansing, Michigan to drop my girl off for her freshman year of college. Does my daughter feel like this is the last week of her childhood? I have no idea, although I suspect not. I remember, about a hundred years ago, when I left home for my freshman year at college, and it didn’t feel like an ending to me. I was excited and nervous and couldn’t wait for things to change in my life. I was focussed on beginnings, and I wasn’t thinking about endings at all. Also, I think that’s the way of it when you are young. There are so many beginnings still ahead of you that it seems like endings will never happen.

But, for this Mama, the ending is there. It is buried in amongst the happy feelings of a new chapter and a new adventure, but it sings through all of those things for me. It doesn’t take the shine off the “new”, but it’s there, humming in the background in a way that means I can’t ignore it.

The thing is … I’m not ready for all of this. I’ve been working on getting ready for it. I have been mentally preparing myself for years, and I have been ramping that up over the past year even more, all in the hope that I would be ready for That Day when it arrived. And yet, I find it was wasted effort. Well, perhaps “wasted” is too harsh. Maybe all that effort on my part has made this easier. I don’t know. Because, really, this whole process hurts. It HURTS. It feels like a part of me is tearing away, and I don’t understand how I am supposed to be okay with this. I am taking my most Precious Person — the person who means the most to me in the whole, entire world … the person who holds my whole, entire heart — and I am setting them free into a world that I know is cold and cruel and harsh and just downright mean.

The thing is, I don’t know how this is supposed to work. I’ve spent the last seventeen years, literally, following my daughter around. I made sure she got to appointments. I made sure she had food to eat. I made sure she was where she was supposed to be. I made sure she had fun activities to do. I made sure she was safe every night. I did my best to make sure the cruel parts of the world didn’t touch her, or, if they did, that they didn’t linger. I’m used to her being just down the hall at night. I’m used to hearing her sweet voice singing in the bathroom while she showers. I’m used to seeing her rumpled, slightly grumpy face every morning. I’m even more used to it now, in our pandemic times, which meant remote learning and all of us being together in our house All The Time. I loved remote learning, y’all. I loved knowing that my girl was right down the hall all day long. I loved how she would come and say hi to me in my office during breaks between classes. And now, in one short week, all of that is over and done. The house will be quiet and empty. It’s funny how the thought of just one person leaving a space can make you feel empty inside.

I think my husband is looking forward to our empty nest. It’s not that he is in a hurry for our daughter to leave. It’s more that he can see beyond the next week and into the future. And he sees fun weekend trips and evenings watching movies together and not having to worry about getting a small person to school first thing in the morning or to activities in the evenings. I’m glad he’s excited about it. It actually makes me feel a little better. But, for now, I can’t see it. I can’t see past the next week, and I can’t see past the sadness in my heart. It’s taking all my strength and courage to take a deep breath and let her go into the world.

She will be back, of course. And we are still connected by the ties of family and love. We will see her again in just three short weeks, for her birthday. But, after next week, it will never be the same. Even when she comes home, she won’t truly be “home”. This house — or wherever her dad and I end up — will be a safe place for her, always. Her dad and I will always be a refuge against the world and a support system and her biggest fans. But, from now on, “home” will be what she makes of it on her own, out there in the world. She will be a welcome visitor in the new life that my husband and I make out of our golden years, but she will never belong to us again.

But you know what? I think she never truly did. She was only “mine” for these few, short years that will live forever in my memories and my heart. I’m so grateful for that. It has been the hardest and most wonderful and most amazing thing I have ever done as a human being. Well, until now. Right now, in these last moments of “childhood”, I feel I am facing the hardest part. It’s a “see you later” that feels like a “good-bye”. It’s a time of joy and excitement. And yes, a time to let go, too.

So, I bet you already know what I’m going to do. I’m going to love her with all my heart. I’m going to take a deep breath and tell myself, “You’ve got this, Mama. You can do this.” And I’m going to open my arms and let my sweet girl fly the nest. Because she is ready. Because she can do this. And because I can, too.

A Rough Day

I’m taking a break from my Maui vacation posts. I had a rough day today, and I needed to blog it out. It is the latest in a long string of rough days. My family’s circumstances are changing right around us. It is stressful and a little scary. We are unsettled.

I don’t usually write about things like this. I mean, I write about my family sometimes. And I sometimes write about difficult things facing us. But I seldom write about myself, my background, and my own feelings.  I have to admit I don’t feel completely comfortable sharing this. Because I don’t want to hurt anyone, and there is a little kid inside of me who is desperately afraid of the wrong people reading this. Because they wouldn’t understand. And yet, there is something within me that needs to say it out loud, even if it is only to send the words out into the ether.

Sometimes I feel like life pushes me along in its wake. It shoves me this way, then tugs me that way. Which doesn’t sound like a bad thing. Not really. So you just go along with the flow. What could be wrong with that? It’s easy. You don’t have to think. You don’t have to want. You just float along.


But it’s not that great. What if you want to choose for yourself? What if you want to know where you’re going? Maybe you have a destination in mind and want to choose your own path. Maybe there are specific things you want to do or see. But none of that is up to you. Because Life.

I’m a floater. I always have been. I was more or less trained to be this way from birth. I always had to be agreeable. I always had to be pleasing. I had to wear certain things or do certain things or care about certain things. Not because any of it mattered to me, but because it mattered to the people around me. Always put others first. Always care about their feelings, but have none of your own. Don’t make choices. Let others have their way. Don’t have hopes or dreams. Just … Don’t … Want … Anything.

When you grow up like this, you get the message. And it is this: You don’t matter. You are not good enough. You are not real.

I am an adult woman who is nearly incapable of making a decision. Or having an opinion. Or making a choice. Even something as simple as “Where do you want to eat?” or “What movie do you want to see?” ends up with me shrugging and saying that I don’t care. It makes my husband so mad.


And then, one day, you’re all grown up. And you still can’t cope. Maybe you think you can. Maybe you even feel like you have made peace with all those things from your childhood. You have forgiven and moved on.

Except …

All those things are still there. Every hurt. Every sting. Every bruise ever suffered by your tender heart. Every moment of every time you told yourself, “If I do this one thing perfectly, I will be loved. I will matter. I will be real.” It never happens. And somewhere deep inside yourself, you know it never will. You hope for it and you try for it over and over again. And you end up feeling stupid and foolish.

No matter how much you think you have changed … no matter that you are now an adult … Those feelings and insecurities are always inside of you. Sometimes they bubble up to the surface and catch you off guard. And then you find yourself sitting in a public place in full-blown panic attack mode. You can’t stop crying. And you wonder if anyone would notice if you just put your sweater over your head to block out the world. Just for a few moments.


That was me, earlier today. I had a conversation with my mom. It wasn’t any big, heavy conversation or anything. It was just our normal, daily chit-chat. But something she said caught me. All these feelings came bubbling up, too fast and too much.

How foolish I must have looked: an overly-chubby woman with slightly wild blue hair, perched on a stool and crying into my sweater. It was not my finest moment. Luckily for me, I was meeting a dear friend. She arrived and gave me a hug and helped me collect myself.

I wish I could go back in time and meet Younger Me. I wish I could hug her tight and tell her that I love her. I wish I could tell her she is strong and okay the way she is. I wish I could tell her she is enough. And that she matters. And that she is Loved.

Learning to Let Go

I had a learning opportunity this past week. Not a course or certification or something like that, but a life lesson in the fine art of learning how to let go. Let me say this, right up front: It was not easy. It was so “not easy”, in fact, that I have diddled around and avoided writing this post all week, just because I didn’t want to think about it or face up to my feelings on the matter.

Life isn’t static, no matter how much I want it to be. I’m an adult. I’ve had “adult status” for quite a while now. And so, I know this. People I love have gotten older. People I love have died. I’ve lost beloved pets. I’ve lost friendships. I’ve lost my optimistic, sunny outlook on life. I’ve lost faith in myself. I’ve lost my way. The point is this: I have let go. My life has been a series of times when I have had to say good-bye and let go of things I have loved. You would think I would be a pro at it by now. You would think I would be all, “Oh. It’s happening again. That whole Life Is Changing, Gotta Let Go thing. I’ve got this covered. I can do this.”


It doesn’t work that way. No matter how many times I have to let go or say good-bye or figure out how to cope with the way my life shifts and changes and flows along, it just never works that way for me. I’m not a letting go person. I am a clinging to the things I love with all my might and wishing for nothing to change kind of person. That’s a mouthful. It’s not any easier to live than it is to type.

So … my lesson for this week.

My Child Unit is a freshman in high school this year. She just turned 14. She is a great kid. She is funny and smart. She is creative and weirdly wacky, which I love. She has purple hair and loves elephants and cats. And she still enjoys doing stuff with her mom. I love this, most of all. But, you know, she’s growing up. This is not easy for me. I feel like I’m totally okay with it, and then … BAM! It all just hits me, hard, right out of the blue. And I mean hard. It takes my breath away and makes me want to cry.

Child Unit is in marching band this year, and they have practice several times a week. On Tuesdays, they practice from 6pm-8:30pm. School gets out at 2:55pm, and Child Unit texted me this past Tuesday to ask if she could stay through after school until band practice. She was going to hang out with her friends, and they had plans to walk to a convenience store for snacks. Even to an old fart like me, it sounded like fun. And I could tell she was excited about it — a first, tiny taste of freedom and independence. I can still remember the heady, exhilarating feeling of that first outing with my friends, independent of my parents. It’s normal and healthy. It’s a rite of passage.


Of course, I said yes. She was very up front about their plans. She told me where they were going. She agreed to the street restrictions I proposed (as in: please don’t cross the insanely busy highway because people are idiots and don’t watch where they are going). She promised to text me as soon as they got back to the band hall so that I would know she was safe. She is a good kid. She is a responsible kid. And she deserves this. She deserves to stretch her wings. She deserves to learn how to be okay without her parents hovering around. She deserves to feel that sweet, terrifying, exciting freedom of being her own person.

The rational part of me knows all of these things. Because it’s logical. She has to live in the world. I won’t be around for forever, and it’s better for her to learn how to do this sooner rather than later. The rational part of me is glad she wants to do things on her own, with her friends.

But … the completely bat-shit crazy, irrational person who lives deep in my heart wants to scream NOOOOOOO! There is a crazy lady inside of me who wants to stop time, hold on tight, and make sure my sweet daughter never grows up. Because my crazy lady … Well, she’s crazy. It’s not that I want my daughter to stay static and be a little kid forever. Even Crazy Lady doesn’t want that. To have her grow up, become independent, and live a happy life is the goal. It’s what I’ve been working toward, from the moment she entered the world. Just … I kind of want her to do all these things in plain view of me, so I always know where she is and what she is doing. That’s not a bad thing, right? I mean … totally rational. And sensible.

Not! I know that. And Crazy Lady knows it, too. We both hate it. Rational me hates it a little. Crazy Lady hates it a lot.


You’ll be happy to know Child Unit, Rational Me, and Crazy Lady all survived. I took a lot of deep breaths and said a lot of prayers. Child Unit had a good time with her friends, remained safe on her outing, and texted me as soon as she got back to the band hall at school — just like she promised. Overall, it was a huge success. It made me happy to see how excited she was when I picked her up that night after practice was over. She told me all about where they went and what they did. I loved hearing those stories.

And yet, there was a touch of bittersweet sadness underneath it all. From the moment she entered this world, she has been growing and changing. First steps … first day of Kindergarten … first day of Middle School … first sleep-over … first field trip … and so many more that I can’t even think to list right now. All of these things have been carrying her away from me, little by little. It didn’t seem possible when she was two or seven or even twelve. The idea that she would, one day, walk away for real seemed foggy and far away. Now, though, it isn’t. It is coming. I look at my daughter and see a woman growing out of the giggly, silly little girl. A beautiful, amazing woman, who is strong and sweet and confident. A beautiful woman, who is walking away from me and into the future that lies ahead.

And that’s okay. Because I will always be back here, cheering her on — no matter how hard it is, and no matter how many times I have to learn to let go.

A Lazy Sunday

Is there anything more lovely than a lazy Sunday? Saturdays, if they are lazy, are wonderful, too. But my Saturdays tend to be more frenzied. There are always errands to run or things to get done or activities in which to participate or friends to see. All of these things are pleasant, and they make Saturdays fun. But I’ve never thought of Saturday as a lazy day. Sundays, though … Sundays seem perfectly made for laziness.

In my growing up years, I hated Sundays. I may have written about this before; I have the distinct and sinking feeling that I’m repeating myself. But there are times when I suspect I don’t have any more original ideas inside my head. And so, off I go: repeating and repeating and repeating. Maybe. Possibly. Or, possibly not. Not that it matters. We are here now, and I want to talk about lazy Sundays. And that’s that.

As I was saying, I disliked Sundays in my growing up years. There was always an early roll call in order to attend Sunday School and church services. I tended to be a bit of a night owl on Saturday nights, often falling asleep around 1 or 2 AM. Being rousted out of a sound sleep at 7 did not make for a happy camper. We had to drive about 30 to 45 minutes (depending on weather and the deer population) to get to church. That drive seemed to take forever and a day. To this day, I swear time died in that car. I thought we would never reach our destination. It should have been a nice time to grab some extra sleep on the way to church, but this wasn’t usually allowed. Nor was sleeping during the hour-plus service. After church, there would be a short time of visiting and then another eternity of a drive home to prepare lunch. Once lunch and clean-up were done, the rest of the day spread out before me like a whole lot of nothing. There were chores to do, of course: dishes to do, horses, dogs, and cats to feed, sometimes some work in my little tack shed or a quick round of cleaning up the horse’s pen. Mostly, though, the heavier chores were done on Saturday.


Childhood Sundays closed in around me like a blanket, muffling the realities of life. I grew up in the country, so it was quiet. Often, my dad was away for work. But, when he was home, my parents would do their own Sunday things, like reading, writing to friends, work on the car, or small household tasks. We never had the TV on during the day. That was reserved for evenings. I remember the small, background sounds of daily life: the hum of conversation in the other room, the clink of dishes in the sink, the snort and stomp of my horses, my dog barking at something outside my window. At the time, I thought Sunday would never end. It was so mind-numbingly BORING. I couldn’t wait for Monday to come so that I could set off into a new week with new adventures, and so I would be able to see my friends at school. Sunday felt like a never-ending span of nothing stretching out before me, into the far reaches of time.

I’ve lived a lot of years since those childhood days. I’ve been to different places, both as a visitor and as a resident. I’ve lived a different type of life. I’ve had excitement and tragedy and happiness and sadness. I’ve found things and lost things, and I’ve left bits and pieces of myself here and there along the way. There have been adventures, and noise, and just … lots of stuff.

And this is what I have discovered: I miss those quiet, lazy Sundays of my youth. There is a restlessness inside of me, but it’s not a restlessness to move forward. On the contrary, I very much wish I could move backward. Not necessarily backward in time, although there are some things I would love to recapture from my youth — in particular, dearly loved ones who have gone and are terribly missed. I would love to go back to a time when my parents weren’t old, and to when my life felt secure and safe. But, no. That time is gone, and it can’t be recaptured. I know that. But those lazy Sundays of my youth stand for a simpler life. A quiet life. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, and now, it seems like something that is forever eluding my grasp. I can feel it, just at the tips of my fingers, but it slips away every single time I reach for it.


Today we had a lazy Sunday at my parents’ house. My daughter and I attended church last night, as is our routine. So I was able to sleep in a little today, and then I kept my mom company while she made lunch and we waited for my dad to come home from their church. We ate together, then all went our separate ways: me to finish reading a novel and take a nap, my dad to watch TV with his headphones on, and my mom to nap in her recliner. My daughter is holed up in her room, playing a game on her DS and writing.

And, as I sit here in my mom’s quiet kitchen, the small house sounds close in on me: the hum of the refrigerator and dishwasher, the click of the tea kettle on the stove as it cools, the sound of ice dropping into the freezer’s bin, the melodic music of the wind chimes outside the back door, and the gentle, electric hum of a house alive with happiness and memories. It has clouded over outside. The wind is picking up, and I hear the distant rumble of thunder. But I have a glass of iced tea on the table next to me. I have the comfort of these computer keys clicking under my fingers. I feel safe — peaceful and content — locked in the world of the lazy Sunday.

I asked my daughter earlier if she was bored. She gave me a funny look and said, “Of course not.” It seems she has learned to appreciate the small and simple pleasures of a lazy, quiet day at an early age. She’s definitely smarter than her Mama!

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

June 2011

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.


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?

toy cars in a window: cape cod

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.”