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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Going Home

“You can’t go home again.”

People have told me this my whole life. I hear it all over the place. I suspect pretty much everyone has said this to someone else or to themselves at some point or another. I’ve said it to myself many times, over the years. It’s one of those sayings that seems to fit a lot of different circumstances. It sounds like wisdom. It has the ring of truth to it. And so, it’s easy for people to trot it out when they don’t have anything better to say. Or when they don’t know what to say.

But I don’t think the enormity of this saying — the heavy and real truth behind it — ever hit me until this summer’s trip to Texas. This summer, though, I have found myself thinking about this more than ever. And I have felt the weight of the truth behind what seems to be such a simple statement. You can’t go home again. Because “home” — that place that lives in your childhood memories — isn’t there any longer. Things change. People change. People die. You change. If I’m not the person I was when I was 9 or 10 or 16, how can I expect “home” to be static and unchanging? Funny how I never thought about it that way until this year. Actually, I guess I never thought much about it at all.

We went to visit my Aunt Pat and Uncle Ray’s house in Victoria. This was my first time visiting their house since my Aunt Pat’s death. I knew it was important to my mom for us to go. And it was important to my Uncle Ray, too. And to my sweet cousin, who was so excited for us to come. But … I really didn’t want to go. It’s probably selfish of me, but I didn’t want to face that house without my aunt in it.  I didn’t want to face my feelings and my grief. I didn’t want to feel the reality of her being gone from our lives — from my life. My Aunt Pat was creative and talented, and she poured so much love and energy into her house. Everything in that house is a reflection of her. Everything is just the same as it was when I was a kid and we would visit. Everything … except my sweet and beautiful aunt isn’t there. Her presence is everywhere, but she is not. And so, the house is completely the same but completely different, all at the same time.

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I have many happy memories from her house. My parents moved away from my childhood home when I was in college, so, in a way, my aunt and uncle’s house stands in that place in my mind. Because it’s still there. Because it’s still the same home. Because every stick of furniture and every painting on the walls is the same, even if it feels a little bit empty and hollow now.

I found myself standing in the back room of the house, which had been my Aunt Pat’s sewing room. I have so many memories of just that room. She used to sew all my clothes, and I remember looking over patterns and materials and endless sessions of trying things on and being told not to wiggle so I didn’t get stuck with a pin. Well, they seemed endless back then. I would give almost anything now to have Aunt Pat fuss at me for being too wiggly. I spent hours in that room as a child and teenager when we visited. She had shelves and shelves and shelves of books, including a whole shelf that had books I could read. My favorite was Beautiful Joe. I must have read that book a hundred times over the years. I read it pretty much every time we visited them. It lives with me now, a sweet and incredibly sentimental gift from my cousin. My Aunt Pat had a beautiful wooden cabinet, which she had painted with different types of mushrooms. Inside this cabinet were many treasures, including a set of 6 miniature ceramic horses. I was fascinated with those little horses. I loved them, and I spent hours as a child sitting in front of that cabinet, dreaming up different stories in my head — always with a herd of white horses thundering through the plot line. The cabinet lives with my cousin now, but the little white horses live with me: one of the last gifts my Aunt Pat sent to me, the year before she died. On my daughter’s first Christmas, I fed her in that back room, sitting in the comfortable chair she had covered with sunny yellow fabric.

My Uncle Ray found me standing in the room, looking around at all the things that were the same and the things that had changed. I was lost in my memories. “It’s a bit different, isn’t it?” he asked me. I nodded, because I couldn’t trust my voice. How can it be that a room is the same, the memories are the same, but none of it seems alive any longer? I don’t know, but my Aunt Pat was the life and spirit of that room. It doesn’t feel the same any longer.

It was a hard visit. But it was also good, in a way. It was good to hug my Uncle Ray and my cousin. It was good to visit and tell stories and laugh. Above all, my Aunt Pat and Uncle Ray’s house always seemed to me like a house full of joy, love, laughter, and good memories. And that part is the same. Maybe, in a small way, you can go home again. Even when everything has changed.

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