Oh, the Humanity!

It’s cherry blossom time here in my neck of the woods. Last weekend was the peak weekend for our annual Cherry Blossom Festival. Having lived in this area for a number of years, I think my family and I have become a little bit jaded toward the whole blossom explosion. Truly, it is gorgeous, but there are flowering trees everywhere around here. When you see them constantly on your daily drives — and even have one in your front yard — it all starts to be a bit “ho-hum”. Cherry Blossom Festival time stops being something exciting and new and becomes nothing more than a pain in the hoo-hah because of all the tourists flooding the area.

cherry blossoms in the early morning light

This year, for the first time in about eight or nine years, my family and I decided to go into town to see the trees in full bloom. We planned our outing carefully, deciding to get up early so that we could avoid the crowds and get some nice photos with the just-past-sunrise light.

This was a fantastic plan, and I went to bed the night before eagerly anticipating all the amazing photos I would manage to capture. I had visions of deserted sidewalks and softly pinkish-orange light on calm water, which would, of course, give all my photographs a fairy-tale quality that would shock and amaze anyone looking at them. What can I say? I have a vivid imagination. Too bad I can’t manage to use my powers for good.

Our plan wasn’t easy to implement. I think I have mentioned this before, but I am not a morning person. Let me emphasize: Not A Morning Person. At all. So rolling out of bed before 6:30 in the AM took what can only be described as a Herculean effort on my part. But, I told myself, it would be oh-so-worth it when I was at home later in the afternoon, smugly gloating over my incredibly beautiful photographs.

cherry trees and people -- lots of people

So, you can imagine my dismay when we got into town only to discover that EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE ENTIRE FREAKING UNIVERSE (!!!), apparently, had the exact same early morning cherry blossom attack plan. There were people everywhere — at 7:00 in the blessed AM, even! I couldn’t believe it, and I felt my dreams of gorgeous pictures fizzle right before my eyes. I think I heard them make a sad, little popping sound as they imploded with my first view of the crowds thronging toward our destination.

I mean, really! Didn’t they all know I’m not a morning person? Didn’t they all realize I had gotten up super early and made a special trip into town just to see the cherry trees and get beautiful pictures of deserted sidewalks and pink-orange light on the calm waters? Yeah … apparently, none of them got the memo. Thanks a lot, Universe.

cherry blossoms reflected in the water

It ended up being a nice walk and a lovely morning. And I got to see much more than I had bargained for when we originally planned this excursion. Sure, deserted sidewalks strewn with fallen cherry petals and the soft light of sunrise on a calm river are beautiful. But they can’t hold a candle to the actual sights and sounds we encountered on our cherry blossom outing.

A funny thing happens when you toss bunches of people together into a small space: Humanity, in all its whacked-out, weirdly beautiful glory. We saw a slice of all of it during our stroll along the river and under the beautifully blooming trees. From the Honor Guard at the memorials … to a little dog wearing a coat and sauntering down the sidewalk like a Boss … to happy couples so in love and taking their engagement photos … to people in traditional Japanese dress, who looked right at home amongst the petals as they drifted to the ground on the gentle breeze … to brides in their veils and white dresses … and, yes, even the pregnant lady sitting on the side of the river taking “pregnant belly” photos, which, I have to admit, made me feel awkward and uncomfortable — mainly because the lighting was all wrong, and I just know those photos are going to be terrible … there was a little bit of everything on display. People were letting it all hang out, as people are wont to do, enjoying the unseasonably warm weather and, probably, celebrating the demise of a winter that seemed to drag on for way too long this year.

I felt my spirits lift, just being among them. The carnival atmosphere was contagious and made me happy to be alive and outside enjoying the sunrise and beautiful morning. And I thought to myself: “Yep … It was worth it.”

No deserted sidewalks. No artfully strewn cherry blossom petals. No hushed quiet of the breeze through the trees. No sunrise on calm waters. Just a cacophony of sounds, sights, colors, and crazy, crazy people at every twist and turn. And I wouldn’t have changed a single thing.

dog on a motorcycle ... with goggles

And Then … I Paused

We had our first “snow day” today. I suppose it’s really more of a snow/sleet/freezing rain kind of day, but whatever. Snow fell out of the sky, so, for this winter junkie, it totally counts!

I get stupidly excited about snow. I’m not sure why, but it seems to grab hold of that little kid who lives deep down inside of me somewhere. I usually keep her hidden, but snowy days drag her out into the light, where she promptly starts squealing in excitement and dreaming of making snowmen.

My truck  yard light, covered in the first snow of the winter. Dec. 8, 2013

 

I suppose it’s terribly cliche of me, but I think the thing I like most about the snow is how quiet it is. I love to watch the flakes fall from the sky, drifting and twisting on the slightest breeze. They seem so fragile and delicate, and, yet, they obliterate everything in their path, turning even the most rank and disgusting things into something new and beautiful. A surreal landscape decorated with the winking sparkle of nature’s diamonds.

There is something peaceful about it. So often, life is too much. It’s too busy, and it moves too quickly. It’s full of people who are grumpy and rude, or, even, just plain cruel. It seems we are all crammed up against each other and all fighting, tooth and nail, for the same little tidbits life tosses at us. We all want the same parking space … or the last item on the shelf … or to be first in line … or to get home faster than anyone around us … or to make sure we’re the ones the world notices, that everyone knows we are the ones who count. We scratch and claw and honk and spit at each other, until life comes to resemble one of those ridiculous Black Friday videos that go viral, showing two ridiculous people punching each other over who should get the cheapest crappy TV set.

My neighbor's rose, covered in the first snow of the winter. Dec. 8, 2013

I often feel overwhelmed by life and by this place where I live. I long for a quieter, simpler life — perhaps in a smaller town — and I find myself ending most days feeling a bit shell-shocked and beaten up by those around me. But, as the first snowflakes tumble to earth, I hold my breath in anticipation. It feels like, all around me, the entire world does the same, as if my universe decided, just at that moment, to step off the tilt-a-whirl for a little while. The very air around me feels heavy with expectation and the deliciously painful struggle of waiting for the change that, soon, will come.

I stand at my window and watch as the familiar view in front of my house shifts and changes. The curbing around the flower beds disappears. The metal bird beneath my cherry tree becomes some new and mysterious beast. My beloved roses go into hiding beneath a blanket of fluffy white.

I listen as the sounds change, too. The rumble of the train deepens as it rolls over tracks laden with snow. The sounds of people honking at each other on the highway seem more distant, and I can even begin to believe they no longer exist. The sounds of traffic on the street in front of my house fades away, replaced by the quietly comforting shush of tires against a snowy street.

my azalea bush, covered in the first snow of winter. dec. 8, 2013Tomorrow will probably bring a return to normality. It might herald the pressing rush of trying to accomplish all the things I didn’t manage to do today, as well as all the things I am supposed to do tomorrow. It might bring with it gray skies full of rain, a muddy yard, and the smell of wet dog all over my house. And that’s all right. I suppose tomorrow is going to have to take care of itself.

For today, there is peace. And quiet. And space to breathe. And that’s enough.

 

Summer’s Sweet Revenge

I suppose Summer read my post yesterday about how I was so looking forward to the coming of Fall. It would seem she is the jealous sort, because she has managed to take her revenge out on me in quite a handy manner. It appears I have caught a “summer cold”. (I am hearing very dramatic music in my head as I type this. Sort of like: “summer cold” — dun … dun … duuuuuuun!)

some bird houses with red roofsThere’s something extra pathetic and whiny about the summer cold. It truly is a fearsome and unpleasant beast. I can’t think of many things less fun than being stuck in bed while your friends are posting pictures of themselves at the pool or out camping or picnicking or partaking in other fun, summery activities. Truthfully, I don’t even like the pool, but the summer cold renders me even more whiny and pitiful than usual. When I see pool pictures, I find myself wheezing in my saddest nasally voice: “The pooool! No fair. I wanna be at the pool.” Inevitably, my husband will remind me how much I dislike the pool, to which I am forced to reply, “That’s not the point. You don’t get anything.” And then, he will wander away looking confused, leaving me to rumple around in my twisted up sheets and comforter as I grumble about all the things I’m missing because I am sick.

hydrangeasThe truth is — and I think I can admit this here, within the safe confines of my blog — I am not a pleasant sick person. I pretty much feel as icky as I look, and I tend to feel very dramatic about the whole ordeal. As if the universe is out to get me or something. Or, perhaps, it’s just Summer, trying to shut me up about how fantastic Fall is. I can hear her cackling right now. The witch.

I don’t like people hovering when I am sick. I pretty much want to be left alone to sulk and sleep and die in peace in my own bed. If someone comes in to check and finds my body cold and still, they are allowed to call for help. Until then, just hop to when I ask for something and stay out of my way. This has been a bit of a struggle today, as my mom is visiting, and she is a hovering sort. She keeps asking if I need things, and she wants to hug on me, too. I’m not ungrateful. My mom is lovely, and I appreciate that she loves me and wants to show her concern. At the same time, I am allergic to her hair spray and perfume, which just makes it harder to breathe. I can’t tell her this without hurting her feelings, so I just do my best to wheeze my way through it.

After a rather exhausting bout of dinner, I managed to slink away upstairs. I wallowed in my bed for a bit, and, now, I am sitting here in my dark office. I feel a bit like a dog that has retreated to the safety of its den. I could probably even manage a growl or two, if I tried. Why is the dark so darn comforting when one isn’t feeling their best?

floaties: cape codOne of the things I like best about being sick — once I can get people to leave me alone, that is — is how it gives me a chance to play hooky from my every day life. A day spent lounging in bed, reading or watching a movie? No problem! You’re sick. And so, I’ve stocked up with stacks of books on my nightstand in preparation for tomorrow. Hopefully, Summer’s revenge will be short … but not too short! After all, I’ve got some juicy reading to catch up on. Perhaps I’ll even manage a grumble or a groan every so often, just so folks will know I’m still alive.

 

 

 

Whale Watching

My first whale watching expedition was a failure, mainly because we actually managed to spot our elusive quarry. Odd, isn’t it? You’d think it would be the other way around, but life can sometimes sneak up to surprise a person.

That first expedition happened in California. We joined a small tour, and I was excited. I’m from the Texas Hill Country — a place filled with yucca plants, cactus, rocks, and scorpions. What do I know about the ocean? I couldn’t wait to see my first whale, up close and in person in its natural habitat. I couldn’t wait to get on board that boat and head out!

green buoy, gray ocean: cape cod, mass.We were not on a very large boat, but I didn’t think much about it as we set out on the tour. I was young and a bit stupid back then. We chugged along for an hour or so, until, finally, we came to a spot where another tour had reported sighting some whales. The captain cut our boat’s engines, and we floated along for a bit. I remember it was eerily quiet, except for a little excited murmuring among the people on the boat. And, suddenly, there it was!! A whale!!

Picture this: You are on a little, floating thing out in the middle of miles and miles of ocean. And there, right in front of you, a tail appears. It is so close, you feel like you could reach out and touch it. It is the biggest thing you have ever seen in your life. It is so massive that it takes your breath away. It is so massive that it seems nearly the same size as the boat on which you are standing. And then it hits you: This is only a small part of the whole animal. This leads to the inevitable realization that there is more than one of these huge beasts in the ocean, maybe even just below our boat.

I think this was the first time I realized just how tiny and insignificant I was. Keep in mind this incident happened in my 20s, a time when most of us feel like we own the world, like the cosmos dance around just for our pleasure. Before heading out that day, someone told me seeing the whales was a spiritual experience. They were right about that. I came back to shore shaken and unsure of my place in the world. And absolutely terrified of the ocean. I swore I would never again go out on a boat like that.

whale slapping water; cape cod, mass.Last summer, we visited Cape Cod. On our second-to-last day there, my hubby surprised me with tickets for a whale watching tour. He and our daughter were both bubbling over with excitement, thinking it was the most amazing surprise possible. I, on the other hand, was underwhelmed. Or, maybe, I was overwhelmed with the memory of the fear I had experienced on our previous outing all those years ago.

I decided to keep my fear and uncertainty to myself. Everyone else was thrilled about the whole thing, and it seemed kinder to play along and pretend everything was all right. Still, I didn’t sleep much the night before. I kept having dreams where I was on a teeny boat that got stranded on the back of a giant whale.

view from the boat: cape cod, mass.As we boarded our tour boat, I was relieved to see it was much, much larger than the one I had traveled on all those years ago. I reminded myself I was a grown woman and a mom now, so I had no time for these silly fears. And yet, the uncertainty remained, hovering there in the back of my mind.

The trip out onto open water took a while, and there was a lot of stuff to see. Other than the misfortune of getting the Gilligan’s Island theme song stuck on a loop in my brain — something you don’t want to have happen when you’re heading out on a boat! — it was enjoyable. I liked the chill of the water and the feeling of it against my skin. And the view from the ocean — incredible! I had such a fantastic time laughing and joking with my daughter and snapping pictures of anything and everything.

whale tail: cape cod, mass.At last, after what felt like forever, we arrived at our destination. We didn’t have to wait   long until people started shouting and pointing over the sides of the boat, off into the distance. Our captain moved the boat a little farther and, almost without warning, we were in the midst of a small group of whales. There was even a calf, sticking close to its mother. They went about their business, frolicking in the ocean and feeding, without paying us the least bit of attention. They swam beneath our boat, huge shadows barely visible beneath the water’s surface, which seemed to go on and on before they had finally passed us by.

And it was amazing! I went into the experience with a sinking feeling of dread, fully expecting to be terrified out of my wits. Instead, I was able to share one of the most magical times of my life with my little daughter. As with the first time, all those years ago, it was a spiritual experience — but in a very different way.

At the end of the day, as we headed back to shore, we were tired and excited over the things we had seen and done that day. That night, I fell asleep hearing the slap of waves against a boat, feeling the water roll beneath my feet as gentle giants swam and played beneath me. But I wasn’t afraid.

 

 

 

 

These Dreams …

So, on the outside, I am cool as a cucumber. I am calm like the perfect sunset over a peaceful ocean. I am confident like a … well, like a really confident person. To look at me, most people would think, “Wow, that gal has it all together.” People who don’t know me, that is. People who get to know me — even just a little bit — quickly discover the sad truth I keep hidden from the world at large.

Underneath this wonderfully serene exterior, I am one hot mess.

It’s all right, I can admit it. After living for so many years with the suspicion that my inner life was a bigger mess than anyone could possibly imagine, it’s almost a relief to type it out loud. It might be a mess, but it’s my mess. I’m strong enough to own it.

The funny thing about my “hot mess” is that, for many, many years, I was able to hide it from myself. I smiled and nodded along, feeling like I was sailing through life with no problems at all. No sweat, I used to think to myself. I’ve got this. I can do this with my eyes closed. Until, suddenly, one day … I couldn’t. You see, my eyes were closed, which meant I slammed up into the wall of truth that was looming in front of me the whole time.

These days, I know it’s bad for me to ignore my feelings and thoughts. I might try to hide them from myself, but, inevitably, they will come back to bite me in the hoo-hah. I might not feel particularly stressed or anxious, but those feelings are there — lurking beneath the surface and just waiting for a chance to photo-bomb my dreams.

assassins and angry birds: plushies on my office shelvesThis is just what happened last night. I had the dreaded “stress dream”. For some reason, my stress dreams almost always revolve around school and test situations. And they always leave me feeling a little bit breathless when I wake up in the morning, the dream so vivid in my imagination that I have to remind myself I am not in school any longer so there’s nothing to fear.

So … my crazy dream last night. I found out I had to take a test. I can’t remember what it was for, but I vividly remember the teacher giving this test was Mrs. Miner, one of my strictest high school teachers. Which was strange, because I was clearly in college in my dream. I was supposed to go buy a blue book for the test, and I was on my way to do this when I ran into my mother. She was standing on the corner two streets away from my apartment, because, apparently, she had nothing better to do than stand around and wait for me to walk by. My mom wanted to go shopping, so I told her she could come along with me. But I told her I had to buy a blue book, because I had a test. I was already worried about this test, because I hadn’t studied for it at all. I didn’t even know I was enrolled in the class! But, there you have it: there was a test, so I would have to buck up and do my best. My mom didn’t want to go buy a blue book. She told me that was boring, and she wanted to go shopping for clothes. I needed “something pretty” to wear because all of my clothes were unattractive. I told her no. I needed a blue book, and I didn’t want any new clothes. I particularly didn’t want new clothes that she was going to pick out for me. She completely ignored me, and I ended up spending the entire afternoon following behind her from one store to the next, trying on clothing I didn’t want and didn’t like. Each time I would try to sneak away to buy my blue book, she would catch me. I was trapped.

Before I knew it, the entire day was gone, and I had to go to class to take my test. But guess what? All the stores selling blue books were closed! There was no way I could find a blue book, and I just knew Mrs. Miner wouldn’t let me into class for the test without one — not that I even should have been in class, anyhow, since I didn’t remember registering for it.

book with writing

But, anyhow … I raced back to class and darted in just as Mrs. Miner was closing and locking the doors. I have no idea why we were all locked in, but no one thought to ask about it. Mrs. Miner was like that: you just nodded and stepped smartly along without bothering her for the details. She gave me “the look”. You know, the one that said she knew I didn’t have a blue book or even a pen. She was right. I slumped to my desk and sat down, certain I wouldn’t be able to avert tragedy this time.

I looked up, and my first high school boyfriend was sitting across from me. When Mrs. Miner wasn’t looking, I asked him if he would loan me some paper and a pen. He said  yes, and handed over a marker and one (ONE!!) sheet of paper. When I asked for another sheet of paper, he shrugged and told me I should have brought a blue book with me. I wanted to yell at him, but the test was starting. I heard the timer ding, and someone passed the test paper back to me. There was only one question on the test. It was something about the meaning of life and how we connect to others, and we were supposed to write a ten page essay on it.

Ten pages! I only had one piece of paper and a lousy marker! How was I ever going to pull this off? I decided that, if I could write really, really small, I could fit all the words in on the front and back of my paper. And so, that’s what I did. I thought it was all going pretty well, but Mrs. Miner caught me. She sent me out into the hall to finish the test, because I only had one piece of paper instead of a blue book. Needless to say, she didn’t offer me any more paper. Or a real pen. Or even the little-bitty nubbin of a pencil that should have been thrown out already but wasn’t.

Even worse, I had to carry my desk outside — all by myself. It was heavy! I sat down in the hall — with Mrs. Miner watching me — and proceeded to write my essay in little, teeny-tiny writing. I have no idea why, since Mrs. Miner had already told me she wouldn’t grade it. But, whatever … it’s a dream. Dreams are weird. Once I had filled in the whole front of my paper, I turned it over to find the marker had bled through. The entire back-side of my paper was a huge, black blotch of ink! Dismayed, I turned back to the front side to find … you guessed it! A huge, black blotch of ink, instead of the words I had so carefully crammed onto the page.

I thought all was lost, until it started to rain. My paper melted away in front of me, before Mrs. Miner could see what a mess I had made of it all. She didn’t want to stand out in the rain, so she told me I would have to do a make-up test later.

beads in a cupAnd then I woke up.

As I waited for my heart to stop pounding, I said a little prayer of thanksgiving that I wasn’t in school any longer. And felt really grateful that I can, sometimes, keep my inner “hot mess” hidden from the world.

If they only knew …

 

 

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.”

Rain, Rain … Go Away

Today is a gray and rainy day. This is the kind of day that, when I was a kid, would leave me groaning and feeling sorry for myself because it meant being cooped up inside, instead of going out to play or have adventures. I suppose there is something to be said about exploring a world gone gray and wet. Walking under an umbrella can be a bit magical, as the material filters the weak sunlight, enclosing you in a wonderfully colorful make-believe world. Needless to say, I don’t see the point in using an umbrella made of “basic black”. What’s the fun in that? Also, it’s important not to discount the enjoyment of splashing through puddles. Few things in life are as fun and as satisfying. In spite of those little wonders, rainy days of my childhood meant cancelled recess at school, no trips to the park, and having to figure out a way to entertain myself for hours.

As I got older, after we had moved to the country, rainy days meant a lot of extra work wiping down horses and covering feed and hay, all done with the accompanying odor of “wet dog”. I love dogs, and, even as a kid, wouldn’t have traded my loyal pooch for any human companion. Even so, few smells stick in the memory quite like that of a dog that has been out frolicking in the rain and mud.

azaleas in the rainIt’s funny how time changes things. As we grow and learn and age, our perspectives shift a bit, too. Maybe this happens to accommodate the things we experience and the people we encounter along the way. Maybe it’s a natural sort of evolution — part of growing from childhood, through adolescence, and into adulthood. Or, perhaps it’s a factor of meeting ourselves, here and there, throughout the years.

Whatever the reason for it, I find I quite like rainy days now that I am firmly entrenched in my middle adulthood. Truthfully, middle age often feels more like a second childhood than anything else. There are days when I can’t wait to get outside in the rain. I laugh as I twirl beneath the gray sky, my face lifted up to feel the droplets falling onto my skin. And I am convinced no kid ever managed to stomp through a puddle with more enthusiasm than I can summon up for this activity. It’s fun to grab my flowered umbrella and dash out and about on a drippy, gray day. I love the way the sunlight just manages to squeeze through my umbrella, lighting it up just enough so that I can pretend I’m walking beneath my own, personal sky filled with flowers. It never fails to put me in a good mood. Sometimes, I even giggle a little bit, which usually earns me more than a few strange looks. Nothing is more suspicious than a chubby, middle-aged woman giggling like a loon on a rainy day. It’s the stuff of which epic poems are made. Or, at the very least, a limerick or two.

rose bud in the rainSometimes, though, I don’t want to head out into the rain, and that’s quite all right with me, too. Unlike the petulant, bored child I was in my wayward past, I savor my self-imposed solitude. It’s a time for curling up on the sofa with my dogs to watch a favorite movie. It’s a time for reading that book I’ve put aside for too many days in a row as I struggle to accomplish everything on my massive to-do list. It’s a time for thinking and tea. It’s a time for writing — letting go of the world around me so that the words can flow.

journal and penAt other times, rainy days provide quiet moments for listening. I sit at my table or my desk, and the rain patters down onto the roof. Cars go by on the street outside my window, and their tires make a soft shush-shush sound as they pass. My dogs sigh as they settle into their beds or curl up at my feet. The wind rustles the leaves of my cherry tree, scattering droplets against the window panes. This is when I know what it means to be safe and warm. I feel cozy and cheered by the simple fact that life has its golden moments, and I am blessed to be living through one of them right now.

Cherry Bombs

As you all know, I am not a fan of Spring. Yes, it’s a lovely season of rebirth and the world waking up from the long winter and the little woodland creatures coming out to cavort and dance in the meadows and birds singing happily at the very first break of day and all that stuff. But, for me, it’s the season of pollen, swollen eyes, painfully stopped-up sinuses, and sneezing. Just as a little refresher … in case anyone forgot … my feelings about Spring run along the lines of:

Die, Spring!I say it with love, though. I’m not a psychopath; I’m just allergic. To everything.

The one thing I love about Spring, in spite of the allergy pain it will cause me, is seeing the cherry trees in bloom. I like birdsong, too, but nothing lifts my spirits more than cherry blossoms. The trees fill up with buds when the days are still short and the skies are still gray and cold. Every day, it feels like we all watch and wait, almost like the whole world is holding its breath. Will today be the day? Or maybe tomorrow? Perhaps, I might see a teeny, lone bloom here or there, which only serves to whet my appetite and make me even more anxious for the “big show” to come.

cherry bloomI think waiting is the hardest part. In many ways, it feels like waiting for Christmas when I was a kid. There is that feeling of longing, of knowing you will be witness to something more incredible than you can imagine or describe, but, also, the feeling that all the magic and wonder might never arrive. Once I’ve almost given up hope of it ever happening … BOOM! It seems that, overnight, the trees burst into bloom, and I walk out of my house into a fantasy wonderland come to life.

cherry trees and lincoln memorial, wash. dcJust when I had given up hope, resigned to existing in the gray tones of winter, the magic happens. No matter how many times I see it, it always amazes me. I don’t remember seeing many blooming trees during my childhood. I guess the climate was too harsh for them, or, maybe, the soil was too poor. Maybe that is why this aspect of Spring enchants me the way it does. It seems that, everywhere I look — along every hiking trail, bike path, side road, highway, and by-way — there are trees full of delicate, beautiful blooms. Mounds and mounds and mounds of them.

my cherry treeThey stretch out and turn their faces toward the sun, as if reaching out to grab every bit of warmth and love possible. As I walk among them, hearing the swish of fallen blooms under my feet on the sidewalk or path, I feel my own spirit begin to awaken from its long winter’s sleep. The gray of short days and cold, dark nights seems to melt away, just a little. And I feel warmer, a little happier, and maybe even a bit more hopeful. I have survived another winter. Sometimes, that is enough.

cherry tree over water. meadowlark botanical gardensAlmost as soon as they arrive, the petals begin to fall. They drift slowly down to earth, twirling in the wind — graceful, delicate, and beautiful to the very end. I watch them, and I smile as I am reminded that life is beautiful but short. It’s good for us to stretch out our arms and grab all the light we can, while we’re here.