2017 – The Year of Not Caring

I’ve always been a pretty optimistic person, someone who believes in love and family and that those two things will see you through any bad time that comes your way. My friends and family have seen me through a couple of harrowing years, one of a scary cancer diagnosis and another seeing me through the job from hell. I don’t know how I would have made it through either of those without the love and support of family and friends. But we all go through phases and stages, and this past year everyone’s phases coalesced into the perfect storm of children pulling away and adults revisiting their purpose in this world, all under the helpless feeling that comes with a tumultuous election of a divisive president. It was a one step in front of the other kind of year, a year of going through the motions, of waking up with a dedication to getting through the day.

And it’s taught me to care less.

Though I’m not a Buddhist, I can finally see how letting go gives peace. I have held tightly to my ties, even while the hands on the other end were slackening their grip. I have sat in the middle of a pile of photo albums that only I look at and cried over times past. I have served dinner in front of a wall of photo collages of happy times and tried to make conversation with people who were intent on showing that they were just not that into me. I have tried to communicate my needs and my desires only to be met with blank stares as I pounded my head against that brick wall. And so I let go.

It’s a lonely feeling to let go.

I have spent a lot of time this year wandering by myself, walking through nature, feeling the salt air on my face, staring at the expanse of the Pacific Ocean and marveling at the giant moon as it rose over the land. I slept in the back of my car to get my camping experience and cried as I listened to the families around me talk and laugh around their own campfires. I have wandered and traveled, all the time taking photos that don’t include the people I love. I have dammed up the feeder stream to friendships that were sustained on my little trickle alone. I have searched inward for solace.

There were islands of joy in my barren year, trips to see Smartypants in Virginia and Sunshine in Colorado, trips that filled my soul and reminded me of what I love most about life. We explored and ate and talked and laughed, and I went home revived, with a full tank to carry me through months of what has become a dry, prickly, arid existence. There was a springtime trip with Mr. A to the national parks, getting away from the roles and responsibilities that have made up our last 23 years in this same spot. But returning to knee-high grass and weeds and those same roles and responsibilities brought reality home like a blast from the furnace, and as Mr. A dove back into work, I was on my own once again.

And so I wandered.

And I stopped caring.

As I said, there’s a freedom that comes from not caring, a vagabond mentality that is always seeking out options. It’s a freedom from fear. It’s a knowledge that anything  stable could be upended without a moment’s notice, and an appreciation for what is going well in the moment. It comes with a humility that I cannot influence what I thought I could, and that being myself might not be enough to work magic in other people’s lives. It’s come with the feeling of teetering on the brink between falling back into a life I’ve always treasured and being pushed into a new existence, a chance to re-imagine myself, that square peg that will never fit into the round hole no matter how much pressure is applied.

And so I’ve wandered through the darkness of 2017 and come to the end intact, though the lessons may have been hard. In the autumn of my life, I watch my expectations change and fall like leaves, clustering at my feet, in sight, but out of reach, before blowing away on each stiff breeze.

I am learning to let go.


 “All that history, the love & laughter, is designed for youth. It is what keeps the story of who we are alive from one generation to the next. It ensures our indelible mark in the souls of generations we will never have the pleasure of holding in a warm embrace. Life is short people. Before you know it, another decade will pass, people you love will be lost to this world, and all that will be left of them is what we carry in our hearts.”
― E.B. Loan

 

Advertisements

In Search of a Holly, Jolly Christmas

Yesterday we got our tree.

I scraped my snuffle-nosed, chilled self up off the couch, out from under the warm blanket, woke Maverick from his lazy, Saturday afternoon nap, and together we joined Mr. A on a trip to a local tree farm in search of the perfect tree. There used to be six of us wandering out in the cold, pointing to different ideas of perfection. Now there are three. Soon there will be only two. (I see a Noble Fir in the future.)

In about 15 minutes we had our tree chosen, cut, loaded and paid for, a very quick and efficient trip, a small-sliver reminder of the joyful family times we used to enjoy at this time of year. I should be happy, but I’m feeling rather melancholy.

I have two kids who’ve moved to different states and one stubborn Goose who has decided he doesn’t celebrate Christmas. (I’ll be slipping him a copy of Dicken’s Christmas Carol.) Maverick is left to hold the banner for the offspring branch in this family tree, and he prefers his room to the common area. I am starting to understand how that holly, jolly feeling can be obscured by a dark cloud of unfulfilled expectations. At the same time I am confronted by a social media storm of carefully curated photos of happy, close knit families enjoying the holiday preparations together. Time for a Facebook break.

Maybe I will find my holly, jolly Christmas yet.

Maybe when my system beats back this cold.

Maybe when my Sunshine arrives for a 5-day visit.

Maybe if I can convince my Scrooge McGoose that Christmas is about time with the people you love.

In the meantime, the tree is up and taking up half of my living room. In the spirit of going through the motions, it’s time to decorate.

20171210_104809.jpg

 

 

How Do You Vote?

I’m not stirring the pot of the heated election of 2016. I mean in your life, in your relationships, how do you vote?

Do you vote with your presence… or your absence? In a world filled with distractions, it can be tempting to eschew the company of a loved one for another trip down the Reddit feed or a Snapchat conversation with a friend. I have had many car trips with teenagers glued to their phones, and the longstanding rule of no technology at the table is continuously broken. Each look down instead of up is a choice for and against, and each vote is counted as a tally mark on the heart.

What role does work play in your life? A job is a necessity, but it can become a mission, another separate world complete with its own gravity, populated with its own citizens that speak a completely different language. Family becomes a distant blip on the horizon, a destination that becomes harder and harder to reach.

Do you take the time to visit loved ones, or do distances that are short on the map become insurmountable, as hard to reach as if they were on the other side of the world? It is said, where there’s a will, there’s a way, so the converse must be true as well.

Do you vote with your presence or your absence?


Photo credit: craftivist collective via Foter.com / CC BY

 

Do you vote with words of kindness or of criticism? Do your words uplift or devastate? Negative words are like acid, drop by drop tearing down even the strongest foundation. Kindness is a glue that binds and builds not walls, but webs, scaffolds of strength that hold us all up and unite us. After a long day at work or school, are your words measured and thoughtful or impatient and rude?

Your words are your vote toward what you value. Do you vote with kindness or criticism?


Photo credit: symphony of love via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

Do you vote with your dependability or do you frequently betray trust? Can your partner, your parent, your friend, or your child depend on you to catch them when they fall or do you constantly rock the boat just as soon as they stand? Where do your loyalties lie? Is impressing the masses more important than holding tight to those in the inner circle? In life it’s good to know who’s got your back. Trust is the foundation of love, and without it, love falls apart.


Photo credit: birgerking via Small Kitchen / CC BY

So, in the relationships of life, how do you vote?

 

Echo Chamber

This empty nest thing is for the birds. (Pun intended.) I feel like I should enjoy this silence after years of rambunctious kids and their singing and shouting, TV blaring cartoons through the house, dancing, laughter and fighting. Now  the house is just so quiet.

On a good note, I’m getting more proficient at self-talk. I can almost carry on a whole conversation with myself while walking through the grocery store. I’m not the only one afflicted. I saw a friend in the chip aisle the other day. We were both stocking up for graduation parties. I saw her before she saw me, and didn’t recognize anyone around us she might have been talking to. I approached her and laughingly asked if she was talking to herself. She nodded semi-sheepishly. I think we’ve both come to terms with a certain amount of crazy.

They say you should live long enough to embarrass your kids. I have, but they’re not around enough to be embarrassed.

I get it. Kids need their space. My head knows this. I’ve been an independent young person aching to stretch my wings. I lived through the days of no cell phones and probably didn’t call my mom as much as I should have. (Mom, I’m sorry I put you through this.) My head is on board. My heart, however, feels like it’s being ripped out of my chest and trampled on the ground in front of me. (Okay, only slightly dramatic.)

The thing is, I saw my mom starting to teeter with empty nest syndrome, but I was the eldest and didn’t take much time to look back over my shoulder. She coped by adopting a whole new family’s worth of kids, thereby extending her motherhood years by another eighteen. I was not willing to go that route. I looked forward to the day Mr. A and I could spend some quality time together sans kids. The appeal of a $30 dinner bill loomed in the near future. We could go out to eat 3 or 4 times for what it cost to take the family, all of whom are lovers of strawberry lemonade (at $4.00 a pop). We could go to the beach on a whim and not hear anyone complain about the cold or try to figure out an activity that everyone wanted to do. We could watch documentaries without eye rolls. Yet here I am, longing for those days, for the structure of the family web and the love and support we provide each other.

Determined not to be that parent frantically trying to hold onto my kids as they perched precariously at the edge of adulthood, I went back to school and finished up my teaching degree. I wanted a life, something to fall back on after motherhood, an airbag to fill the space left by my fledglings. The thing is, motherhood doesn’t end. Those babies whose first steps you worry about become preschoolers who learn to ride bikes and teenagers who start to drive and develop relationships and head off to college, and you never stop worrying about them. It’s a mentally exhausting job. My life is inextricably intertwined with those of my kids, bonds I’m sure they’re only too eager to hack at with the machete of youth.

I know they’re busy. I was too, at their age. The days go by and my phone doesn’t ring. Texts go unanswered, and then all of a sudden they are there, cheery and wanting to talk, and for a moment, life goes back to the way it used to be. Too soon the conversation ends, and I’m surrounded by silence once more. I’ll be glad to one day reach a state of equilibrium.

In the meantime, won’t you join me in crying over this clip from Toy Story? I’m certain the song was written by an empty-nester.

Transitions

Brown eyes watch my stillness
As an ember glows brightly,
Fanned by the winds of change,
Fed by laughter and footfalls echoing through time
Off photo-plastered walls,
Into a blaze that threatens to engulf.

I am fueled by the fire within.

Photographs of frozen moments
Stand in for warm bear hugs and childish grins.
The jangle of a telephone subdues the flame, and time ticks off
Seconds, minutes, hours in a life of waiting.
Then again, silence – nothing but expectant thumping
Of a dog tail on hardwood floor.

I am fueled by the fire within.

Resigned to fate, I pull on my running shoes.
This race isn’t over yet.
“Ready, girl?” I ask both of us.
The thumping intensifies, a beating drum of anticipation.
I cup a burning ember in hardened hands and place it in my soul.
“Let’s go.”

I am fueled by the fire within.

Retrospective

Home life is quiet now. Too quiet.

If you would have asked me five years ago if my house would ever be quiet, I would have laughed. Smartypants lived 20 miles away at college and would come home on weekends, bringing with him his boisterous laughter and penchant for conversation. B0203012003aubbly, talkative Sunshine was still at home, and we shopped, cooked, and crafted between school, dance competitions and sleepovers with friends. Goose became a trumpet player and Maverick finessed his soccer moves or basketball shots. We relished each other’s company. They fought and laughed. We nagged and teased. The family pulse was beating strongly. Quiet came when no one was home, when work and school and obligations rendered the house devoid of life

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

If you would have asked me ten years ago if my house would ever be quiet, I would have rolled my eyes. Sunshine would have just entered her teen years, complete with slamming doors and shouting about parental atrocities and the unfairness of it all. Smartypants would have still been at home, and the revolving door of his life would have brought friends and a girlfriend, student journalism and robotics, and down time always brought the sound of his guitar. Goose and Maverick would have been alternating between the fantasy world of swordplay and wrestling each other to the ground, small warriors taunting each other with fighting words. Warm summer evenings found us around the fire, with lightsaber fights breaking the tranquility of the night. Remnants of Scattergories, Scrabble and Settlers littered the kitchen table, bearing witness to lively family game nights. Mario Kart challenges were heated, with trash talk and shouts of victory. The speed of life in these days was always at a run. Goose especially lived at full volume and never quite knew how to pull punch. Quiet was relative, and came late at night.

 

Dad048If you would have asked me fifteen years ago if my house would ever be quiet, I would have looked at you with wide-eyed, shell-shocked wonder. Smartypants would have been a fifth grader with too many activities on his plate, balancing them with Cat in the Hat finesse. Dinners were often on the run. Sunshine’s life revolved around dance classes and play dates, and the Goose and Maverick’s favorite activity was to strip down to their birthday suits and run laughing from one end of the house to the other. Taekwondo high kicks competed with twirling and cartwheels, creating a circus-like atmosphere, the cacophony of children’s voices shouting over
each other and laughter, always lOldShtos275aughter, ringing through the house. There was usually a pretend animal lurking somewhere, and it turns out superheroes are rarely stealthy, at least when they are young. Disney jams were on constant repeat, creating a daily dance party in the living room. Silence was to be found in a locked master bathroom, and then only when Mr. A was home.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you would have asked me twenty years ago if my house would ever be quiet, I would have smiled, as it would not have mattered. Smartypants and Sunshine lit up my world, their days were filled with pretend play and requests, constant requests, for those things young children can’t do for themselves. Mommy, can I have some milk? Can you tie my shoes? Can we go to the park? Can we go for a walk? Will you read me a story? In those days, Barbie shoes and Legos created a barefoot walker’s nightmare, and we skirted them as carefully as we skirt conversation topics now. Silence came at with an early bedtime and a chance for two young parents to finally reconnect.

img005

If you would have asked me twenty-five years ago if my house would ever be quiet, I would not have known how to answer you. We had just entered into this world of parenthood with a colicky, precious little Smartypants. I wore down the sidewalk in front of my house as I tried to soothe him, patting his back so my husband could sleep, grateful for the summer warmth. My days were spent introducing him to his new world, and rediscovering it myself through his sense of wonder. He walked at ten months and ran soon after, and he only slowed down to sleep. The music of my world was infant crying and baby giggles and babbling, then questions and observations from a knee high level. There was no need for silence.

But silence is descending, as sure as the rains come. It will be mere months before Goose and Maverick prime their wings and head off to college. Sunshine still calls frequently, but lives halfway across the country. We are lucky to hear from Smartypants once or twice a month. Very soon we will be true empty-nesters. The prospect of freedom has liberating appeal, quick and light travel, art and writing uninterrupted by small voices, a clean house, making food that is to my liking. (No more spaghetti – ever.)

But those small voices beckon from the past. “Mommy, look at me!” And as I look at them, I am overwhelmed with a sense of pride to see the people they’ve become.

The Curious Compression of Time

“Time is a sort of river of passing events, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.” ~Marcus Aurelius

ToniVC / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

Every once in a while I get the gut-wrenching feeling of suddenly becoming aware of the passage of time. This is followed by a sudden urge to hold it, to make it stop, to hold my kids closer and keep them at this stage and let the drawn-out moments etch themselves on my heart.


ĐāżŦ {mostly absent} / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

The years seem to spiral in, every occasion seemingly coming sooner than the previous year. Thanksgiving is rolling around again, then Christmas will be here. Once again I will say out loud, “Didn’t I just put these decorations away?”

I have so often been in the busyness of the moment that I have neglected to stop and savor it. The overworked, overtired days of being a young parent swiftly transitioned to the busy, scheduled days of school, after-school activities and PTO meetings. Middle school brought band and sports schedules for the kids, plus a return to college for me. When they were in high school there were more intense sports schedules and school dances and driving lessons and college prep. I started teaching. For all of this time, the background music has been that of work and obligation and daily chores.

We also sought to fill that time with memories – family vacations and camping trips, baking cookies and holiday traditions, exploring, taking walks together, and many small, inconsequential spread out moments. These are what we remember, but as I look back I wonder, was it enough?

The kids are trickling out of the house, heading off to make their own paths in life. I find myself standing here a little dumbfounded at this curious compression of time. Where has it all gone? Surely we haven’t been able to fill it all up. Years ago it seemed to stretch out indefinitely into the future, but now as I look back it seems to have passed with intense rapidity, moment after moment streaming by until I find myself right here, right now. But isn’t right now where we always are?

There are so many distractions in life – television, computer, cell phones, not to mention work and bills and family obligations. I fill my moments with things that inspire me like books and music and people, but also with time killers like Candy Crush Saga and inane text conversations and mindless television. Maybe it’s necessary to give the brain a break now and then and let the nothingness rush in. I don’t know. It seems wasteful somehow.

The other day I was walking on the beach with a dear friend. I didn’t take a camera, and my phone battery was dead. There was no stopping to take pictures, no interruption of phone calls. There were plenty of moments of stopping and breathing in the salt air, feeling the coolness wash over us, letting our feet sink into the grainy sand, and just admiring the way the ochre cliffs were set against the brilliant blue sky. We talked uninterrupted. We relished each moment we were there.

I feel the need to slow down this spiral, to be in the moment like this, to sense, to feel.

It’s easy to forget that moments of time are all we have. I want to appreciate them before they are gone.

Shhh… Don’t Tell Them Where I’ve Gone

I am at the tail end of parenthood. My first two are successfully out of the house and pursuing their lives, both still at university, one engaged to be married. Getting them to that point hasn’t been easy, but looking back I don’t see the bumps and potholes in the road that got us here.

That leaves me with the two teenage boys at home.

Oh, vey!

If you are not a parent of teens, I don’t know a good analogy. Maybe grabbing two raccoons by their tails and trying to make them walk forward. Maybe harnessing a lion and a cheetah to a cart and asking them to pull. You get the idea. Give an instruction and either they snarl at you or each other, or, best case scenario, they just lay down on the job.

I’m moving to Maine.

I don’t know what makes Maine my nirvana right now. Maybe it’s the farthest I can go within the contiguous United States without bumping into retirees or Micky Mouse. Maine seems remote, quiet, devoid of people who would snarl and slam doors. (Well, the boys don’t slam, but my daughter sure did!) It seems like the last place they would come looking for me.

I had four wonderful, exuberant, loving little kids. I was the sun their little planets orbited. I took them places, made them cookies, read them stories, and tucked them in every single night with a hug and a kiss. Their smiles lit up my world and their tears shook it to the core. I was their rock, and they were my wings.

Until they got wings of their own.

As my kids hit puberty, they began to look at me askance, as if they were questioning how they could have ever held me in such high regard. Our talks became fraught with underlying meaning, and I tried to verse myself in reading between the lines. I even considered taking a course in mind reading, such was the vast desert of communication. Our lively game nights became fewer and farther between, eventually replaced by everyone sitting silently in front of the television in the living room. Finally they just left the living room altogether for the safety of their respective caves. Any forays into the cave were met with stilted conversations and requests for me to close the door on my way out.

My youngest was still cuddling with me at ten.

I know about child psychology and cutting the apron strings and flying the nest. I know that there is a push-pull relationship between parents and teens. I understand all of that. I don’t want my sons to be mommy’s boys. But head knowledge and heart knowledge don’t always jive. I still want to be important to my kids.

If I’m not, I might as well move to Maine.


brentdanley / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “If You Leave.”Life is a series of beginnings and endings. We leave one job to start another; we quit cities, countries, or continents for a fresh start; we leave lovers and begin new relationships. What was the last thing you contemplated leaving? What were the pros and cons? Have you made up your mind? What will you choose?