Framing

A friend asked me tonight how I was doing, especially considering the first holidays without my mom.  She knew that our birthdays—mom’s in mid-September and mine in October—had been especially hard.

The closer it got to her birthday, then mine, the harder it got.  I was stuck in those feelings of darkness for longer than I wanted to be.

On Thanksgiving, embracing the spirit of the holiday, I was determined to be thankful.

My sister-in-law had volunteered to cook the Thanksgiving meal this year, and that was such a gift, in ways I am only now coming to understand.  Rather than scurrying to cook, we sat by the fire, read the paper, and watched Polar Express.  We never even turned on the Macy’s Parade.

I thought of my mom plenty, but breaking with tradition helped me focus on what I have in my life.  I allowed myself to let go of my ideas of what the day was supposed to look like and just enjoyed it for what it was.

Don’t get me wrong; I missed my mom.  But rather than being overcome by the feelings, this time, I was able to feel them and let them go.  I let myself really cry, and then made the conscious decision to shift my focus from missing her to being grateful for the love I have in my life, which, of course, is built on the foundation of love that she laid.

That felt like a good way to honor her love.

It reminds me what Karl says to Kai when a great time with friends is coming to a close and he begins to get upset about having to leave/end the play date.

“You have a choice to make, buddy. You can be happy for the time you got, or sad that it is over.”

Seems like that is a choice me make over and over in many different ways–two sides of the same coin.  Which do we choose to see?

De-sanitizing My Life

P1030755     P1030755cropped

Kai at about 10 months old. It is the first time he really felt the breeze on his face. I remember watching this happen and thinking, “Yep, I know that feeling!”  Sheer delight!


I call living at my mom’s “camping.” I say this jokingly, knowing that we are certainly more comfortable than we would be in a tent.  And, having travelled and lived in third world countries, I know that most of the earth’s population lives happily with far less.

But we are living in a house that does not have air conditioning, or at least not the full-house variety. In South Florida.

The notion of living with less-than-modern conveniences shocks people.  It’s funny to watch the look on the faces of some of those who come.

We have window shakers in the bedrooms, but there really is no way to effectively cool the common areas of the home.

Except for the breeze, that is.

The lack of A/C means the house is open, and, we are truly living the indoor-outdoor lifestyle.

We are not closed inside, keeping the natural elements at bay, controlling our environment. Instead, we are a part of it. We respond and adapt to it.

And it feels good.

Karl mocked me about the mystical, mythical breeze before we moved in, but now, he recognizes its power.

I spend so much time lost in my head, planning tomorrow rather than being present in the moment. The breeze makes me stop. I close my eyes and feel the coolness on my skin. I lift my chin, tilt my head back, and smile. It is hard to worry and fret about tomorrow when I am fully present in my body, engaged in the now. The breeze brings me into the moment.

When we first moved in, I decided that if we were “camping,” we would do without media. No cable. No internet. Karl and I had our phones, but we put them down until Kai went to bed, and even then, we used them minimally.

It changed our family’s life.   We went outside, listened to music, snuggled by the fire, and just hung out.  And, even though we now are “connected,” we try to head out back as often as possible.

And one of the things I’ve encouraged Kai to do is to walk the seawall.

The first time I suggested it, he looked at me and said, “Are you kidding me? You are seriously suggesting that I walk on that? Are you trying to kill me?”

I told him that it was four inches wide, the same as a balance beam in gymnastics, and that he was right. He needed to think and be cautious, but that his fear shouldn’t stop him. He looked at me incredulously.

I said, “Look, as your mom, I’m terrified. But, I remember what it was like to be a kid here. I walked that wall every day. And, I loved it. I gained more and more confidence and eventually I could run and jump.”

I told him he would be wise to walk it at high tide to begin with because if he fell at low tide, the oysters would cut him up badly. And, I told him that if he started to lose his balance, he needed to bend his knees, lower his center of gravity, and launch himself into the grass instead of letting himself fall into the water. He still thought I couldn’t possibly be serious.

Then, I told him that it was true that all of those things could happen, but that in all the years I had lived in the house and walked the wall, I had never fallen. Not once. I was smart about it, and I knew he would be, too.

I’m proud to say he walks the wall most days now as part of his “ninja training.”

Back to the breeze.. . it blows dirt and grit into the house. It is impossible to keep it pristine.   Nature is just too powerful.

So, I have a choice–resist or accept.

I’ve decided that there is going to be grit on the floor; whether we mop daily or not, there is going to be grit on the floor.  This life is a bit wild, unwilling to be tamed.  There is no perfection here.   Instead, there is joy and love and adventure and freedom.

When it came time to paint the inside walls and baseboards, Kai and his buddy Ian got to participate. Did they do a less than perfect job? Of course!  But who cares? What really matters is that they got to be a part of it. Regrettably, I couldn’t have allowed that before.

And, what has been most gratifying about our new life here is that our friends come to be with us. Despite the disarray and distress, they come and play with us in our house by the lake, willing to share in this unorthodox journey we have decided to take.  It’s definitely a take-us-as-we-are kind of venue, and we are most grateful for our tribe!

I don’t know how long we will be here, but I know this is where we are supposed to be for now, in our “incubator.”

Birth is messy, but so are some of the best things in life. Like babies. And food. And sex. And love.

So, there is value in the mess.  And, there is a cost to sanitization.  Freedom.

“Sanity” and “sanitize” share the same root, the Latin sanus meaning “sound, healthy.”   I find that ironic considering the insanity with which we try to sanitize our lives, both literally and figuratively.

I’m tired of making the “sane” choice. I’m working on de-sanitizing my life, knowing the muck provides fertile soil.

tribe

WHEEEEEE!!!!!!!!

It’s been so long since I’ve written. A few days passed, and it was harder to return. I felt like I had to apologize and/or to explain. And as more and more time passed, it just got harder.

There are so many things like that in life.

So, rather than beating myself up for what I’m not accomplishing, a regrettably all-too-familiar pastime, I’m going to just start back.

I found the following passage that I wrote back in August, just a couple of days after I had started back to work. I found it particularly difficult to be around people again; it was a hard transition.

Last week was hard.  Wednesday night and Thursday were by far the hardest days I’ve had since mom passed.

On Wednesday night, I was overwhelmed.  By my grief.  By all the change.  By all that must still be done.  By all that cannot be done. By my return to work.  By loss of control.  By fear.

When the tears and trembling started, I couldn’t catch my breath.  I couldn’t find a place for myself.  I paced.  I turned in circles.   And breathed.  Short and fast.  Long and slow.  I breathed like I haven’t breathed since labor.

Thankfully, I am in a much better place now. And, I am learning that grieving comes in waves.

I felt like I might drown in this one, but I didn’t. Much like in the ocean, resistance is futile and will only result in being trapped; instead, if I let it wash over me, without resistance, it will take me where I need to go.

Tonight, as I read what I had written two months ago, I was struck by my reference to labor. Birth.  Breath.  Death.  Breath. Rebirth.

Simply put, giving birth to Kai gave birth to a new me. And, so has my mother’s passing.

I’m sure that it has to do with my age as well, and the fact that it was impossible to watch my mother’s decline without considering my own mortality.

Mid-life is not a cliché. Or, at least not just a cliché. It is a shift in vantage point, and a pretty significant one at that.

What inspired me to sit and write tonight was a passage from Joan Anderson’s A Weekend to Change Your Life, a companion to her first novel entitled A Year by the Sea.

She begins with a quote from T. S. Elliot, “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” I love that.  What if we move beyond the mid-life cliché of the new convertible or young lover?  What if the journey begins with the internal landscape?  What if instead of trying to recreate youth, we recreate ourselves from the inside out?

She then goes on to say, “…if you have been yearning to find the real you, refresh your sagging spirit, be spontaneous, wild, and even free, enjoy the present, let go of control, recover a broken spirit or retrieve the buried parts of you…change your routine, depart from the norm, question the status quo, and take back some of each day just for you.”

“Change your routine, depart from the norm, question the status quo….”  Indeed.

Mid-life seems like the perfect place to let go of “perfect,” some made-up idea of the way things are supposed to be. I’ve spent much too much time “shoulding” on myself.

Contol. Perfection. Illusion.

On this side of the hill, I am learning to tilt my head back, throw my hands in the air, and yell, “WHEEEEEEEEEEEE!”

It’s as scary as hell sometimes.   But, stasis is scarier still.  So, I am choosing to figure out how far I can go.

Tectonic Fall-Out

Shattered inside. That’s how I’m feeling today. I have no specific reason to feel that way, and yet I do.

The truth is that I’ve had an especially celebratory weekend. Yesterday, I got to celebrate a friend’s 50th birthday. Such great people. So grateful to have met them. And, today, I got to celebrate a mom friend’s graduation from college, surrounded by wonderful women whom I was so fortunate to find when I moved up to Stuart four years ago.

We have laughed and cried together, celebrated and worried over our children. They’ve taught me much about family and friendship. About community. About love, acceptance, and forgiveness. We’ve watched each other’s children grow, and we have grown too, as mothers, as wives, as people.

I am truly blessed to know many intelligent, interesting, dynamic women, and when I get to spend time with them, my soul is nourished.

But today, I am off balance. Needing quiet. Needing rest.

I don’t know precisely why I feel so fragile today, but I recognize that I do.

So many pieces of my life are in transition. Perhaps it is the knowledge that I am not going to see these friends as often. Perhaps it is the impending return to work and school. Perhaps it is just a normal part of the grieving process.

I don’t know why, but I do know the emotions are right there, just below the surface, looking for a crack, an opening, a release.

The genuinely concerned question and tender look in a friend’s eyes is all it takes. “How are you? How are you doing?” And I crumble inside.

In the moment it takes to consider how I feel, my eyes well up. My throat tightens.

But not here, not now, not in the midst of a celebration of someone else’s life.

I’ve noticed I’ve been struggling in the last week. Simple phone calls or texts that I would normally respond to immediately go unanswered. I feel bad. And, I still don’t pick up the phone.  I think I am beginning to understand why.

It hurts too much to hold it in. 

And, it is right there.  And it catches me off guard.  On the phone with the agent who must deal with her retirement benefits.  In the midst of a party.

So, please continue to invite me.  If I don’t show up, or call back, please forgive me and please try not to take it personally. I’m doing the best I can.  And, I don’t want to dump on you.

And, if we are alone, and you ask me how I am, I will tell you, if you really want to listen. And, I will cry.  Freely, if I feel safe to let it out.

And I will be grateful for the comfort of your being with me through my grief.

Tectonic shifts are violent.  I am rough around the edges and shaken to the core.  It is going to take time to soften and reshape the landscape.

Please be patient with me as I learn to be patient with myself.

 

Coloring Outside the Lines

I’ve been having a lot of anxiety lately.

In a semi-conscious state in the middle of the night, I find myself thinking, “She’s gone.  I’m never going to see her again.”  I fall back asleep, but clearly, my psyche is working.

There’s Karl resigning from his position at an agency he believes so deeply in and the uncertainty of future finances.

There is selling, moving, and all the preparations involved.

There is getting Kai set up in a new school and all of the motherly concerns about all of that.

There is starting back at work in three weeks and wondering how to keep it all moving.

There are hormonal changes, the physical pains and weight gain of the last three years, and the understanding that if I don’t figure out a way to take care of me, nothing else will matter.

These thoughts cause distraction at best and paralysis and depression at worst.

When I get overwhelmed, I am trying to stop and consciously reframe.

And, I try to remember what my husband says, “How do you eat an elephant?”

“One bite at a time.”

Rather than just pushing forward with the next thing on my “to do” list—and, it is a long list!—I am trying to stop and give myself time to address my feelings by writing, or taking a walk, or doing some stretching and breathing.  Physical exertion helps. (I need to find a way to continue this once I return to work!)

We have had much on our plates for the last few years, and I am exhausted.  I look around at my friends, and I know that many of us are. Mid-life is challenging.

Please don’t get me wrong. I recognize that I have much to be grateful for, and these are most definitely “1st World” problems. My basic needs are met.

So then it becomes about happiness. About what feeds my soul.

I feel like I run around giving the best of myself to everyone and everything else, and there is very little left over for my family or for myself.

I don’t want to just “get through” the day, to fall exhausted into bed, with little to look forward to but more of the same.

I don’t want to be so busy with the business of life—the obligations– that there is little time to enjoy this time that most of us openly say is “precious.”

I want more TIME.

Time to plan and cook a delicious, nutritious meal together rather than just rushing to put something on a plate to move on to the next task.

Time to go to play ball or swim before bath. Time to read and enjoy a book together.

Time to just be in the moment, without a million thoughts in my head about all the other stuff I have to get done.

I want to have enough time and energy left at the end of the day to enjoy my life. I don’t want to flop down at the end of the night and get lost in someone else’s story—on tv, or on Facebook or on the news—because I am spent. I want the time and energy to create my own story again.

Over the past few years, I watched my mother suffer a lower quality of life because of her inability to recognize the need for change. If she could have embraced rather than resisted her situation, I could have done so much more for her.

And, Karl and I repeatedly told each other that we wouldn’t make the same mistake. We would not just keep things as they are out of habit or fear.

I can return to teaching because it nourishes my soul, as long as I focus on what happens in my classroom.

I realize that the stress of worrying over my mother’s wellbeing is done, but it can take a year or two to get the business of her life wrapped up.  And, my mother left far more undone than most.

Karl will be able to manage all of the family projects that must be accomplished, and he will be able to go back to college full time.  He wants that degree, for himself and for Kai. And, he doesn’t have the emotional attachments to her stuff like I do.   He can do what I cannot.

We’ve been able to enroll Kai into a brand new charter school which means that he won’t have to try to fit in with already established groups.  And, another friend is putting her child in the same school; our boys have known each other for five years!  I am so thankful for that.

Einstein defined “insanity” as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”

My version…If I want something to change, I have to change something.

We are trying a different approach, re-evaluating and shifting our resources. We are consciously asking, “How can our time, energy, and money best be used to serve our family?”  It is a simple enough question, but not one most people ask regularly.  We do today what we did yesterday.  In that way, our past rather than our future sets our course.

In the past, I would have pushed through the anxiety I was feeling.  Today, I stopped and wrote.  Now, I will head to a meeting with an attorney, and I might need to push a couple of phone calls back to tomorrow because I took this time now.

But regardless, later this afternoon, Kai and I will meet up with Karl at a park or beach,  and we will play together.

I think I’m learning to color outside the lines again!

An Unconventional Choice

On Sunday a week ago, we decided to list our house in Stuart (not on MLS yet) and to move back to Lake Park for a while so that we can better manage my mother’s estate.  On Friday, we made the decision that the best thing we could do for our family was for Karl to resign from his position so that he can manage the many projects that need to be completed.

Many will think we are nuts.  And, they might be right!

We realize we are taking one of the top life stressors–death of a loved one–and adding two more to the mix–moving and change of employment.  A triple header, for sure.

But we want and need change.  We want to have less and do more.  We want to downsize and free ourselves.  That just can’t happen if we are both working full-time.

So, yes, we are scared.  But we are doing it anyway.

We are stepping outside our comfort zone, and we know it will be challenging on many levels.  It is going to require incredible emotional intimacy to successfully navigate the shifting dynamics of our relationship.

And, we will find our way through.

My mother’s transition has motivated us to make significant changes in our lives.  We have a chance to do things differently.

Are we crazy?  Or would it be crazier not to take the chance?

Only time will tell.

I will leave you with a story that came around as an email once, and it resonated with me.  In the unending pursuit of MORE, what are we really getting?

 

The Mexican Fisherman

A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

“Not very long,” answered the Mexican.

“But then, why didn’t you stay out longer and catch more?” asked the American.

The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

“I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs…I have a full life.”

The American interrupted, “I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you!

“You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat. With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers.

“Instead of selling your fish to a middleman, you can negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge enterprise.”

“How long would that take?” asked the Mexican.

“Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years,” replied the American.

“And after that?”

“Afterwards? That’s when it gets really interesting,” answered the American, laughing. “When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!”

“Millions? Really? And after that?”

“After that you’ll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta, and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends!”

 

One month

Is it really possible that a month has passed?  I’ve been so busy trying to clean up her home and take care of the business of her life, trying to find a path through.  I think I am only starting to understand that this is forever. Of course, I know logically, but I can’t wrap my head around the fact that she is gone, at least from this realm.   She was my home, my true north, for so many years.  That she is gone feels as unnatural as if the sun were to rise in the west.

I have heard I will eventually forget her voice. That is unfathomable, yet again, logically, I must acknowledge that if I were to live as long as she did, I would live another forty years. Indeed, in forty years, I would create and lose many memories, and her voice is likely one of those things.

I am so grateful that I saved her last birthday greeting. Every year, she wanted to be the first to call and sing “Happy Birthday” to me. It often meant she that she called first thing in the morning, and if she called when I was in the shower, it meant her message would be on voicemail.

This was a call I liked to miss because I could keep the message and listen to it over and over.  She was just so cute. “Happy Birthday, my Patti.” She is the only one that ever sang it that way, and I could hear her joy, pride, and happiness. “My Patti.”

I understand that love. I know the day I was born was the best day of her life. I know I was her greatest gift and best work. I know because that is how I feel about my son.

From the time he was little, whenever it was time to leave a play date, if Kai began to object, we would say, “You have a choice. You can be happy for the time you had, or you can be sad that is it over.”

Tonight, I realize perhaps I need to tweak that a bit. It is not a choice of which to feel; both are legitimate feelings. The choice is in what we hold on to.

I miss her. I miss my mom.   She’s really gone. I sure am grateful I had her.

How much is enough?

Yesterday, my overwhelming thought was about how much we resist change.  (I recognize that I am writing “we” because it is a little bit more comfortable than “I.” )  I found myself twisting and turning in my head, trying to find a way to hold on to something even though I know it doesn’t work any more.  I am not talking about “stuff” here, but rather about situations.  “If I do this…” or “if I don’t do that, then I can…”

Most of the time, we have to let go of something in order to accomplish or make room for something else.  A child looks across the length of the deep end of the pool and decides to let go, to trust in her abilities to cross to the other side.  A young woman ends a relationship that isn’t so bad, but isn’t so good either because she wants more.

It’s the second situation that is the hardest, I think.  If there is abuse, if the relationship is bad enough, then it is easy for an observer to say, “End it.  Get out.  You can do better.”

(It just occurred to me that as you are reading this you might be thinking I am hinting about my relationship with my husband; I am not.  We are solid!  I am speaking in general about all sorts of relationships and situations, really.)

It is easy to make decisions when the parameters are black and white.  But the majority of our decisions are made in the gray.  What is bad enough to warrant a change?  When is it worth the risk?  Or is it the potential benefit that motivates the shift?

I think the fear of failure keeps most of us holding on to the status quo.  (See how, I just switched to the “us” again!  I really don’t want to own this, do I??)

“It’s good enough.”  Or, “It’s not so bad. ”  Or, “It could be a lot worse.”  Or, “I should be grateful for what I have.”

But how much of our soul do we sacrifice to force ourselves to fit into something that no longer works?  How much of what we do today and will do tomorrow is based on what we have done, not on what we would choose today if we really believed we had a choice?

I’ve been spending a great deal of my head space doing cost-benefit analysis.  I keep trying to figure out the worst-case scenario of what could happen if I tried something completely different and failed.

Could I survive that?

I wonder why I don’t spend as much time considering the costs of NOT changing.

Yes, change feels scary, and leaving things as they are feels safe, but is it? What is it doing to my health, my sanity, my joie de vivre, the essence of me?  How much am I willing to give away?

My sister-in-law had cut out and posted a quote on her wall (a real wall, not Facebook!) as a reminder to seize the day.  I copied it down, printed it up and posted it in my bathroom.  It is the first thing I see in the morning and the last I see at night.  Not sure of the source, but here it is…

 Life is not a hobby. It is a precious gift.  And you’re one of the lucky ones who gets to experience everything it offers.  Live it with a desire that cannot be contained.  Love it.  Turn every day into a rewarding experience.  Surround yourself with the best life has to offer–from people to places to passions.  Rise up and push yourself for more.  For your life.  And those in it.  This is your time.

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Naked–Pushing Past the Fear

Naked.  That’s how I’m feeling about this whole blog thing.  A bit over-exposed.

I’m determined to give this a go because I know that journaling will help me.  And, this makes me accountable.

But, it is also stream of consciousness. I am used to drafting and re-drafting, working on a piece until it is a well-wrapped package with a clear purpose.  But, this is different.  My goal is simply to write and see where it takes me.

Today, I found lots of things my mom kept from when I was little.  There was a whole stack of drawings and schoolwork she had kept from when I was in kindergarten.  It’s funny to look at what I produced at roughly the same age as my son is now.

I also found the “Golden Egg.”  Again!  It is from the Progressive School’s 1972 Easter Egg hunt.  Inside the plastic egg, a taped note lists my name, date, and event.  It made me laugh, and I pulled it aside to share with Kai because I had told him the story just this year.

There was an egg hunt at school, and the person who found the golden egg got a special prize.  The Progressive School was located in an old estate home in downtown West Palm Beach, near the Norton Museum of Art.  The grounds were beautifully landscaped, and there were lots of places to hide eggs.

I remember scampering all around the yard, moving quickly and purposefully through the shrubbery.  And, then I spotted it–a large urn on the front porch.  It was tall and had a narrow opening.  And, it was too large and heavy to pick up and dump out.  I knew immediately that it was the perfect hiding place, but I did not want to stick my hand in there.

I knew I had to act quickly.  Other kids started to come near.  As one of the boys came running up the steps, I had to choose.  I remember holding my breath and plunging my hand into the darkness.  When my fingers closed around that golden egg, I felt so proud of myself.

A simple feat, for sure. And, some would say random luck.  But, I would disagree, at least in part.

I remember learning two distinct lessons that day:

  1. Trust your instincts, and
  2. If you want the prize, you have to push past the fear.

And, there it is.  That is what this time of transition is all about–trusting my instincts and pushing past the fear.  And this blog is part of that because as I “get naked,” I must examine my choices in light of larger goals, not just act out of habit and the comfort of the status quo.

 

 

 

 

Balancing–Yin and Yang

Tree of Life--Yin and Yang

Karl has requested a leave from work to help me get through everything. They gave him today and tomorrow off as vacation as they make their decision. We worked for hours today. There is no air conditioning, and we are afraid to open windows because they won’t always close. That happened today with one I tried.

Today, Karl picked up a framed needlepoint and asked me what I wanted to do with it. It was a simple question, and I know how much he dislikes folk art, just about as much as I like it. But, he didn’t know this was one my mom had made. Before I even knew it, I blurted out, “I’m not ready to get rid of it!” and started crying.

I like the piece well-enough, but certainly my reaction was not about needlework. It’s about my mom. And, that I miss her. And, that as I make these decisions, these choices, about what I will or won’t keep, I am torn. I want to let go of what doesn’t serve, but there are no do-overs. And, it is easy to confuse the things she touched with her. She is gone, but I want to hold on to her. And, since I can’t have her, I want what was important to her.

I know I must let go, but it is an internal struggle. Moving forward means moving on, and I want to stop a bit and be with her and my memories, not just rush through. But, I am feeling the constraints of time and that I must sift through the remnants of her life. And of my childhood.

I need to slow down a bit. “Hold on” and “let go.” “Be” and “do.” I must honor both to find balance.–Yin and Yang. Past and Present.