A day in the mountains…

I spent yesterday in a time warp. Jena was a bridesmaid in a best-childhood-girlfriends’ wedding, along with several other lifelong friends, and Tom and I were invited to join the celebration.

Going back to the mountains is a mixed bag for me. I feel totally at home and out of place at the same time. This is how I spent the 24 years I lived there. A neighbor and a stranger.

The small church was packed. I recognized one pew full of people on the other side of the church from where Tom and I sat in folding chairs. It was filled with the neighbors and friends I had raised my kids with, and my X husband and his new wife Patty, from Boswell, PA. Really!

The ceremony these two young kids created was touching. It brought me to tears. Their words, humor and poignancy made me realize how grown up our daughters had become. (Jena if you are reading this don’t get any ideas.)The bride (and groom) had clearly designed a wedding that was uniquely their own. Everyone recognized their personalities and quirks. The groom deliberately ended his wedding vows with a preposition (they are both English buffs), to alleviate his brides insecurity that her vows wouldn’t be as good as his. “Where are your vows at?”

Instead of communion, or lighting a common candle, or pouring colored sand into a bottle, the groom poured milk into a goblet, the bride chocolate. Together they stirred it into chocolate milk. The best man provided two straws and together they drank from the same cup. There was not a dry eye, or a face without a smile, in the church.

The bride and her dad danced to a song they sang together on road trips. Not just any song, but the operatic Sarah Brightman & Andrea Bocelli – Time to Say Goodbye. As they spun around the dance floor they sang it to one another, hitting high notes with dramatic flourish.

In his toast, her dad told funny stories. One in particular was about a phone call he got while working the late shift. She told him she had hit a bird with her car. She had killed it. But, it was still stuck in her grill. Could he please get it out when he got home? “Of course,” he said. Turned out the bird was a goose. Stuck in the grill, and the hood, in such a way that as she drove the 4 foot wing span opened and closed.

Again, not a dry eye or an unsmiling face in the room. Conjoined polarities.

At the end of the evening Tom asked me to drive home. I took the wheel without hesitation. I knew these roads. I had driven them most of my adult life. I recently told someone that I am still learning to be a city driver because I am really a country driver. City driving, with all the cars on the road, the on/off ramps that send me careening into 70 mph traffic, the street lingo rolling off natives tongues — the parkway, the crosstown blvd, the boulevard — the surprise road closures that knock me off my course, keeps my breathing shallow and my wits on end. Being in the mountains, driving in the dark was a piece of wedding cake.

Except it wasn’t. And when had it gotten THIS DARK? I couldn’t see anything outside of my headlights. At some point I noticed the road we were on was getting terribly narrow and winding. I didn’t remember this stretch of road from Ohiopyle to Chalk Hill. Where were we and how had I gotten off course?

I could hear Twilight Zone music playing, Rod Sterlings voice saying, “You have just entered another dimension.”

Tom pretended to calmly suggest I wait to find a driveway to turn around in. He was concerned that the sides of the road would be swampy. In a very small voice I told him I didn’t suspect there was going to be any driveways along this road.

And there wasn’t.

I eventually found a wider part of the road and did a K-K-K turn, knowing that to go further could lead us into the part of the mountains where no man has gone before and returned to tell the story. Dunbar.

I wound my way back up the road, totally disoriented in a completely familiar place. And let me say again, it was so damn DARK. We came to an intersection that I sat at for more than a minute, getting my bearings. (You can do that on country roads at 8:30 at night cuz you are the only one on the road.)

My wits returned, I turned right and successfully drove us home. To Pittsburgh. That is my home now. But driving past the entrance to Deer Lake, my home of 24 years, I could have just as easily turned left to go home.

Returning to a past life. That is what I did yesterday. I fell back into conversations as though I hadn’t been gone for 5 years. As though I had seen neighbors just the other day. But when they asked me, “What’s new?” how do I begin to tell them: my whole life.

Perhaps you can never go home again. Or at least not without some disorientation.

 

Mom’s Who Do To Much

The other day a coworker asked what I was doing for Thanksgiving.

nice gloves

 

“Cooking.”

 

She asked if I usually cook Thanksgiving. It struck me as an odd question. Who else would cook?…I am the mom…after all.

 

“Yes, I have cooked, give or take a year, for the past 27 years.”

 

Her eyes got big, “Wow, I never cook Thanksgiving.” Now I was intrigued. She is a mom too. How did she pulled that off?

 

She explained that the first time she cooked a turkey it wasn’t fully cooked when she served it, so her family didn’t want her to be responsible for the next years, or any year after thats’ holiday meal.

 

Brilliant. Why had’t I thought of that? I had, after all, accidentally burned the first shirt my then husband asked me to iron resulting in his never asking again. I had the paradigm. I saw how it worked. I didn’t take the hint.

 

Later that same day, when rescheduling a client, I offered a session the week of Thanksgiving. She declined explaining she will be too busy preparing for Thanksgiving. She was cooking.

 

I thought of the many Thanksgiving weeks that I worked in Pittsburgh while living in Chalk Hill. An hour and a half commute that I returned home from on Wednesday night around 6 or 7. I had made the stuffing, nut bread, and cranberry bread and shopped the weekend before so all that needed to be done to get dinner on the table in the next 20 hours was par boil, peel and make the white sauce for the creamed onions; peel, boil and mash the potatoes; prepare and boil the green beans to toss into the sautéed garlic and chopped shallots; whip the heavy cream into perfect decadence; put the leaf in the table and set it for 8-10 friends and family; panic because every year I seemed to forget the cornucopia themed paper napkins leaving me with Scott Every Days to design the Martha Stewart wannabe table; oh yeah, stuff and cook the turkey.

Apple and pumpkin pie was deliciously prepared by my then Husband. I never learned how to make pies, so he did. (Hint, hint.) Kathleen brought the sweet potato casserole. Heidi another dessert and/or vegetable.

 

This is what I expected of myself. And soon it became what my family expected also. I  trained them well. It never occurred to me that it was too much to do or that I could do less. Especially when working a full week. Out of town no less.

 

It is Thanksgiving again with Christmas right around the corner. And you know I am no easier on myself at Christmas. I usually begin asking myself, sometime the morning of December 26th, why I do this to myself year after year, concluding with my traditional New Years Resolution promising not do so much in the new year.

 

I do it for other reasons too. I do it for the sake of tradition, so my kids have endearing holiday memories, because my mom cooked Mama B’s cornbread stuffing and creamed onions, although she did not work outside of the home and the tension at the well set table of china and sterling usually made dinner a fast and furious event, because when all the preparations are complete and the people I love most in the world are sitting around the table, I feel sweetly and fully blessed.

 

Yesterday I was offering to teach Jena how to make her great grandmothers Alabama corn bread stuffing. (Perhaps unconsciously passing the torch…PLEASE.) Jena said she was planning on being one of those people that never learned to cook. (She does seem to date guys that love to cook.) I heard myself judgmentally ask,”How do you think that will be for your kids?” My question shamed her into retracting her statement saying she was only kidding.

 

As I retold this exchange to Tom I owned how sexist it was of me to assume holiday traditions will be her responsibility.

 

So how does a mom do it? Create tradition, if that is important to her, and not exhaust herself in the process? Ask for more help? Do less? Care less? It is a labor of love that can end in tired resentment.

 

I would love to hear your ideas. How do you do it?

 

And Happy Happy Thanksgiving!

What is Good Enough?

I am sitting with Clea this morning, waiting for the vet to come make a final house call.

 

Yesterday I sat with Clea, eye to eye, nose to nose, asking her if it was time for her to go. Her empty gaze, dilated pupils said it all. It is time.

 

I think. Is it? I hope I am reading this right. How do I know for sure?

 

I worry I should be doing something special, a ritual of good bye, a meaningful something for Clea. Truthfully, not for Clea but for me. To ease my pending guilt when I accuse myself tomorrow morning of not doing everything I could to save her, of helping her go peacefully, for euthanizing her to early, when I tell myself now it is too late and it is my fault. (Whatever the IT may be.)

 

I foresee this self destructive berating on my horizon. I have beat myself silly though out my life with other perceived infractions. So, I am attempting preemptive action.  I am writing to you as Clea lies next to me. It is the only thing I want to do. It is the only thing I can think of to do. It is my way of comforting myself.

 

Clea is the last of the family pets. With her passing she takes with her the last connection to the family home, the family we once were, the way things were supposed to be. Again I feel guilt. I sold the family home, I divorced my kids father and changed the family unit forever. Granted Clea would still be dying even if we lived in Chalk Hill, but at least the safety net of original family and home would be there.

 

You may be realizing by now, as am I, I have a very close relationship with guilt. Somehow it all becomes my fault…my not doing it right…my missing something…my something. Tom says he wishes I weren’t so hard on myself.

 

The logical question is how come I am?

 

My therapist says it is because I never believe I’m good enough. He is right. The truth is I can never be good enough because I keep moving the bar. Upping the ante.

 

This keeps me in a perpetual state of pushing. Like Sisyphus. Except, unlike this bad boy, I don’t do it as a punishment for tricking the gods, I do it because excepting what is, without guilt, let’s me off a hook I value. The hook is a false sense of power, control, ability to change life so the day turns out better.

 

What if I let myself trust I am doing my best with Clea? And what if my best is all I have? What if it is all any of us really have? At the end of the day.

 

So I will do my best even when it isn’t good enough. And I will live with that. Some days more comfortably than others.

 

Today I feel very sad about my best.