You will be okay…

Many years ago, when Jena was young, her dad and I spent an overnight in Pittsburgh. She hated when I went away. She called me at 10pm, missing me. I talked with her and with Barb, our babysitter/nanny/pseudo grandmother/family friend. Jena decided she was okay and would go back to bed. At 11pm the phone rang again. I used my best soothing voice to reassure her and to remind her that we would be home the next day. She settled down, her breathing softening. She said she thought she could fall asleep. I told her I loved her and we hung up. At midnight the phone rang again.

You get the picture. I tried every thing I knew to comfort her. Barb did the same. Each time we settled Jena, an hour later she was upset again, calling. Finally at the 3am call I was exhausted. “Jena, you are going to be okay!” There was silence on the line.

“Oh. Okay. Why didn’t you say that before? Night Mom, see you tomorrow.”

I was dumbfounded as I snapped my cell phone shut for the last time that night. Why hadn’t I said that before? I had spent the entire night consoling, convincing, and conjoling her that my being away for a night was not a big deal. I had tried to come up with solutions, distractions, even bribes.

But what she needed from me was to acknowledge our separation was a very big deal to her and to assure her she would survive it. She needed me to know something that she was unable to know…that she would be okay.

Sometimes that is all we need. To have a trusted other hold our strength when we can’t find it. We have all been there. So far in with no visible way out. Our minds tell us we will always be stuck in this scary place. We lose ourselves and our hope.

Recently I spent time with a friend who had been sick for 3 weeks. She was exhausted, angry and afraid she would never be well again. I told her, with maternal assurance, that she would be well again, that it was just really hard for her to trust that right now. Her smile spoke her appreciation. Some part of her knew that, but it was buried under her current panic. The same was true for Jena. Some part of her knew she would be okay. I simply reminded her.

And that is sometimes that is all we need.
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It feels like Sunday morning…

Some times it is so simple. The special things.

It’s Sunday morning. I am unloading the dishwasher. Tom is cooking breakfast. Eggs. Bacon. Grits. Yo-Yo Ma on the stereo.

I feel at home. I feel grateful. It is these simple things that occur, at a time when I am available to appreciate them, that move me to gratitude and to tears. In these moments I know I am the luckiest woman alive.

The smells of breakfast evoke a memory of a Sunday morning spent with a long-ago friend. We didn’t know each other when we were co-eds at the University of Delaware, but we met through a mutual U of D friend when we both moved to Richmond Va after graduation. We immediately liked each other and decided to get an apartment togther. We found a third floor apartment on Grace Street, in the Fan district of the city. At that time the Fan was considered an unsafe area by those living in the suburbs. To us it was artsy, diverse and the kind of dangerous we loved as 21 years olds. The complex was three, old, southern, brick buildings with a tree filled courtyard in front. Our apartment had French doors opening to a roof terrace with lovely hard wood floors. And it was affordable on our inks-not-dry-on-the-diplomas incomes. Perhaps because we needed to share the space with very large cockroaches. Something neither of us knew about since we were Yankees.

Diane and I sometimes made Sunday morning breakfast together. Music in the background. Good smells filling our look-mom-no-hands sanctuary. I felt like a grown up. I felt like how I imagined it would be when I was on my own. In my own life. In these moments I forgot I was lonely and very broke. I got a job as a bank teller, which was not my strong suit as my drawer never settled. My manager liked my people-skills and knew I wasn’t enough of a math-master-mind to steal from them, so he kept me. I was also homesick for my college roommates who were living together in Philadelphia. When they threw a party they would call me. They passed the phone and I talked to everyone just like I was back at school. When I hung up I would feel a pit in my stomach and question my decision to strike out on my own. (Why I randomly picked Richmond to move to, without a job or knowing anyone is another story. One that has unfolded many times throughout my life uncovering well held family secrets.)

It was the smells and simplicity of this morning that caused me to time traveled 34 years. I tried to describe to Tom what I was feeling; my amazement at my young self, my friendship with Diane, my love for my college roommates, my appreciation of a slow Sunday morning. After several attempts landed on, “It feels like Sunday morning.”

Gratitude born of simplicity gives me hope. I am relieved that I don’t have to do, or have, or be the grand gestures. I also know I have to be moving at a slow enough rate of speed to notice.

XO

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Seeing myself through another’s eyes…

I feel chronically busy. And never done. My TO-DO list keeps growing despite my check marks of completion.

I have a low grade anxiety as I triage. Each task feels urgently important and well passed its intended finish date. When I do take action — sorting through 10 years of bank statements, retirement accounts, bills, etc., to de-clutter and reclaim the spare room/office I have longed for — I torture myself by mentally rehearsing my unfinished project inventory.

I try soothing my over-active mind, as my 2008 Capital One statements cut into my fingers leaving painful paper cuts, convincing myself that I am doing exactly what I should be doing. One thing at a time, I coo. Unfortunately I don’t believe myself.

The other day I found the CD of a workshop my friend Kathleen and I did in 2006 with Christine Page, MD. In this weekend workshop Christine led us through a kind-of psycho-drama using each participant’s astrological charts. It was fascinating, disturbingly accurate and very insightful. Christine recorded each persons session for later listening.

Eight years later I found the CD in my sorting. I slipped it into my car’s sound system as I headed out for the day for a bit of easy listening. I forgot how much I hate the sound of my recorded voice.

I began to remember where I was in my life in 2006 — separated for 2 years, pretty much single parenting and beginning to experiment with dating. The uncertainty and fear I felt back then filled my body as I sat at a stop light. It was a tough time.

In this tender moment my voice from “Christmas Past” came through the car speakers. I heard myself disclose that I believed when I got everyone and everything taken care of — my kids, my marriage/divorce, my eventual move to the city–then I could have the life I wanted. When everyone else was happy and taken care of, then I could be happy.

Hearing this, as I accelerated through the green light taking myself to the next place on the list, I had an aha moment. My kids are good and are taking care of themselves. My new husband is low maintenance. I have moved to the city and am settled. So what’s my problem? According to my 2006 criteria I should be at peace with myself.

Unfortunately, wherever-you-go-there-you-are. I realized in this come-to-jesus moment that I recreated my belief system with new criteria. Now I tell myself, when I get the house completed; the kitchen refurbished, hard wood floors installed, the deck enlarged, etc., then I can have the life I want.

Apparently in my world there will always be more TO DO.

Kathleen called while I was writing this post. I shared my aha moment with her. She listened and laughed as only an old, dear friend who knows you well, can. She told me about me through her eyes. I liked the woman she described. Talking with her helped me see that I have the life I want. I am writing, working a vibrant practice, traveling, enjoying Tom, my kids, my friends, taking advantage of the cities many blessings and slowly getting my home in order.

But even more importantly, she helped me feel better about me. Seeing myself through her eyes let me off my own hook of never enough, never done.

Perhaps if we see ourselves through our loved ones eyes we will hold ourselves with more compassion. Is this true for you?

XO

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You call me a Bitch…like it’s a bad thing…

27 years ago, in the Chicago Airport, I wanted to get home to my 6 month old son. My X and I were on a layover gone bad. The ticket agent informed us that we were not leaving any time soon since the plane to Pittsburgh was indeterminately delayed. This was not the answer I wanted to hear. I needed to get home to Landon.

I instinctively pulled myself up to my full 5-feet-10-inch height and leaned over the counter, closing the distance between myself and this unsuspecting man’s face. I informed him, in a dangerously quiet voice, tears in my eyes, that I had a son I needed to get home to and I WOULD be leaving soon. Very soon. And he was going to make it happen.

He did. He found a flight that got us home late that evening. Maybe he was glad to get me out of there. Maybe he was a dad and understood my panic. Either way he sent me home.

My X, Landon’s father, called me a Bitch for speaking to the ticket agent that way. I was infuriated by his lack of support that expressed itself in his name calling. I was also a bit ashamed of myself for acting badly to that nice man behind the ticket counter.

Two years later, when our son had a febrile seizure, the doctors insisted on doing a spinal tap. Hearing Landon’s terrified screams from the procedure room, as he was being held down by a team of nurses, I got-in-the face of another man, the doctor. Holding his white jacket lapels–mostly to steady my weak knees, I breathlessly asked if the spinal tap was absolutely necessary. He said it was. My X later told me I was (again) being a Bitch.

I did not intentionally try to be the B word. I knew the rule; If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all. People wouldn’t like me if I was not nice. I was clearly aware, thanks to my moms early training, that it was my job to keep everyone happy-especially her. So I learned the act of pleasantness.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of one of my favorite books, Women Who Run with the Wolves, tells the story of being asked why she had to get so loud and angry when something negatively impacted her. She responded along the lines of, “Well, you don’t hear me when I am quiet.”

Why does an assertive woman get called a bitch? Why is standing my ground considered bitchiness?

When I reached my mid 30’s something began to change inside of me. I stopped feeling guilty for my edginess. In fact, I rather began to enjoy it. I liked speaking up, even if the other person didn’t like what I said. I didn’t stop being kind. I did stop being nice. There is a difference.

Several years into this transformation my X, once again, called me a Bitch. I don’t remember for what. I do remember thanking him for the compliment; explaining that I had been working very hard to develop this skill and I was glad he had noticed.

The world needs more bitchy women.

: )
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I can’t know what I don’t know…and I hate that!

Sometimes we just don’t know. We don’t know the best way to go in our lives, what decision will move us in a desired direction or what will keep us safe in the future.

Staying in the not-knowing is painstakingly hard. I hate it. Most of my friends do too.

I often attempt to correct this unpleasantness with a lot of figuring-out-of-things. Making pro and con lists. Getting others opinions. Imagining into the future. Anything to know.

Living in the question is an act of faith. I have to trust that I will know when I am ready to know. That takes a tremendous amount of confidence…in me. It also means I must remain open to all possibilities, not just the narrow the options I have selected so I feel more comfortable.

My new daughter-in-law was struggling with some career decisions. She wanted to know what she should do…now! She went back and forth, up and down, trying to know the right choice.

I told her that she needed to be willing to live in her question, until her answer appeared. I assured her it would.

I felt like the wise sage offering advise to the fair maiden. Advise born of 5 ½ decades of figuring out life…sometimes more successfully than others. Life takes its own time and its own route. We are best served by being willing companions to the ride.

I like knowing this.
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Let me call me sweetheart…

The other day I was on the floor stretching. I had a pain in my ass. Technically my hip, that tiny bugger of a muscle that is dead center on the hip bone. It can cause a boat load of trouble for being such a small thing.

Anyway, I was being very deliberate and patient with my stretch. The relief I felt was directly related to the angle at which I pulled my bent left leg my over my right hip. Straight to the right was not effective. Over and up toward my chest was the ticket.

Ahhhhhh. I held there for a moment. Breathing. In this pause I heard myself say, “That a girl. That’s it sweetheart. You’re doing great.”

I was speaking sweet nothings to myself. Wow, I was touched by me. How lovely and considerate. Friendly. Someone I would want to go get a cup of coffee with…

This self kindness has not always been my M.O.. There was a time, not so long ago, that I was rather hard on myself. I yanked myself around telling myself to keep-up; get-a-grip; that it’s (whatever “it” happened to be) my fault because I didn’t do it right, say it right, or plan well enough. I could be down right mean. Sometimes I even called myself names. (Sticks a stones can break your bones, but names can break your heart.)

I knew when I had been talking smack on myself because after a day or so I would feel like shit. My breathing was shallow, my shoulders were tense and I didn’t like anybody, especially myself. Hanging out with me was not fun.

But on this particular day I caught myself unawares; being kind, gentle, and encouraging. I was moonstruck.

Now I call me sweetheart. I ask myself if I want to keep up. I remind myself instead of getting-a-grip, I need to let-go. And, if it is my fault I apologize, then move on.

Perhaps I was my pain in my ass.

Go figure.
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Living in the Question…

Staying in the not knowing is painstakingly hard. I hate it. Most of my friends do too.

I attempt to correct this unpleasantness with lots of figuring out of things. Making pro and con lists. Getting others opinions. Imagining into the future. Anything to know.

Living in the question is an act of faith. I have to trust that I will know when I am ready to know. That takes a tremendous amount of confidence…in me. It also means I must remain open to all possibilities, not just the narrow the options I have selected so I feel more comfortable.

My new daughter in law is struggling with some career decisions. She wants to know what she should do…now! She goes back and forth, up and down, trying to know the right choice.

I heard myself tell her that what she has to be willing to do is live in the question until the answer appears. I assured her it would.

I felt like the wise sage offering advise to the fair maiden. Advise born of 5 ½ decades of figuring out life…sometimes more successfully than others. Life takes its own time and its own route and we are best served by being willing companions to the ride.

I like knowing this.
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Home Improvement Therapy

Lately I have been wanting all the home improvements projects done…yesterday. My mind wanders to my to-do list when I should be listening to how Tom’s day was or paying attention in traffic. I have become obsessed, or organized, I am not sure which. I  document my list in my phone’s reminder app. That way I have it handy at all times.

I have been taking pictures of outdoor lighting at Lowe’s, ceiling fans at Home Depot, ordering new exterior shutters — did you know that the size stated on the shutter is not the actual size of the shutter? The Lowe’s man calmly explained it is similar to a 2×4…they are not really 2″ by 4″ either. Who knew? And how is one to get the right size?

I have also been picking paint colors for different projects. I have even purchased my all-time favorite, a can of black spray paint. It is amazing what a little black spray paint can to to refresh worn stuff. I was tempted to give Tom a little squirt today, but thought better of it.

I am familiar with this pattern in myself. I become a DIY maniac when I don’t want to feel something going on in my life.

Landon’s wedding is 2 weeks away and instead of slowing down to feel the full impact of what that means to me, I am spray painting anything that is spray paintable.

The good news is stuff is getting done. The bad news is my back hurts and I don’t have shoes I can wear for longer than 10 minutes for the wedding. I need to be shoe shopping,  instead I am home improving.

I am fully aware I am sublimating, but I don’t really care. As the serenity prayer says, God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I can’t change that I am old enough to have a son marrying. I also can not change that my son is old enough to be marrying. And I certainly can’t change that my mommying days are done. But I can sure as hell can change the color of the fireplace and update our mailbox!!

Here are my before and after pictures. If you like them I do work for hire…

the fireplace before

the fireplace before

 

and after I got through with it...

and after I got through with it…

 

Before a little black spray paint.

Before a little black spray paint.

and after!!

and after!!

I nested before Landon was born. Everything had to be in order and perfect for his arrival. Perhaps this is similar, but this time I am preparing my new nest for me.

Happy home improving to you,

 

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Will you make the coffee…sweetie pie?

Tom and I drink our coffee in bed each morning. We use this time to talk about the day ahead, plan vacations, up date grocery lists, book get-togethers with friends, finish fights from the day before or sit quietly saying nothing. It is our morning ritual.

We take turns making the coffee. He likes his coffee stronger and with more caffeine than I do, so we custom blend our freshly ground beans, using separate ceramic cones, to make our first cup of morning joe.IMG_0026

This morning was my turn.

I put the water on, filled the cones with precise scoops of caffeine to decaf ratios, filled our mugs with hot tap water to warm them — something I learned from my dad — and sat down to meditate.

Last year, when I was taking my meditation class, I meditated every day. Sometime this year I stopped. I don’t know why, exactly, especially since I felt better when I began each day with mindfulness. Less bugged me, I moved slower and seemed to get more accomplished, and life made more sense in some bigger picture way.

Strange how we drop the things that support us. At least I do.

So recently, while on vacation walking the beach in the early morning, I made a resolution to begin my meditation practice again. I make resolutions two times a year. Once at the New Year and then again on vacation, when I am my-best-relaxed-self.

In keeping with my vacation promise, this morning as the water heated, I sat myself down, straightened my spine, yielded to the chair beneath me and took some slow deep breathes.  I began my meditation practice, again.

My mind cleared.

What a relief!!!

I maintained this for about 3 seconds. Then my to-do list took over. I took another deep breath, found my spine and let go into the chair, again.

So it went for the next 10 minutes.

Mindful awareness. Breathe. Clear mind. Relief.

Then… I need to remember to call about Jena’s student loans. Oh, and I want to get some more flowers for the pots on the deck. And I need to call Susan. I should get up and write this down. No, you are meditating. Don’t get up.

Breathe. Release into the chair. Ahhhh, I love this feeling. I should do it more often.

Do I want to get another dog? I miss having a pet, but none will be like Jeff and we are gone so long during the day, but I think small dogs can be left longer and their poop is smaller, so if they had an accident it is easy to clean up…

OMG. Breathe. Clear mind. Release.

The water kettle began to whistle.

I slowly left my spot, feeling a bit refreshed and proud of myself for following through with my promise-if only mildly successful- and brewed our morning coffee. I carefully carried the full mugs up the steps to the bedroom.

As we sat sipping our coffee, Tom looked over at me and said, “ You look beautiful this morning.”

I startled. “Really?” I asked, aware of my bed head hair, unwashed face, and sleepies in my eyes.

“You’re glowing.”

“Really?” I am not very articulate in the morning.

As I moved through my day, feeling the residue of mediating, I wondered if what Tom was seeing was my few moments of internal quiet, my breath reaching the bottom of my lungs, my bodying giving-in to the support of the chair, and my spine lengthening to open my torso.

I never thought of meditating as a beauty regiment.

It’s another good reason to keep it up.
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Show Down in Savannah

We left Savannah Island at 9:30 am to begin the first leg of the 12 hour trip north to Pittsburgh. Our plan was to leave early so we could get to Savannah by 10. We had some last minute shopping to do. Tom’s favorite Broughton Street men’s store was having a moving sale and he wanted to check out. I had seen a folkloric, Haitian steel drum mermaid that I wanted to pick up for what is becoming my mermaid collection.

Finding parking was impossible. Little did we know it was graduation day for the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). We circled and swore for over a half hour. Finally we saw an open spot, but it was the wrong way on a one way street. I decided our best course of action was for me to jump out and stake our claim. I would hold it, Tom would circle the block to come at it the right way.

There I stood. I should have had a flag. Perhaps a Union flag. I felt  proud claiming ownership of this metered space.

Until…

A HUGE Ford 150 roughneck truck, the color of the eyes of a blue eyed Barbie, pulled up and began to back into where I was standing. I waved my arms while yelling, “WHOA.” He kept coming. The top of his tail gate was the height of my armpits.

Years ago I had a similar vehicle versus me encounter. It was at the kids bus stop. One of the neighborhood dads would drive his kids and wait with them until the bus came. When the bus arrived, his kids would jump out and run, with all the other kids, to the waiting bus. Despite the bus’s blinking red lights and protective arm stretched out like a mom reaching across the front seat, this dad would pull out and take off down the road.

One morning I had had enough. I casually stood in front of his car, sipping my coffee, waiting for the bus to arrive. The bus came. The kids ran. He put his car in gear and headed toward me. I planted my feet, looked at him through his windshield, pointing to the blinking bus to make my point. I knew I had the law on my side.

He kept coming.

I remember thinking to myself, “He is gong to hit me and it is really going to hurt.” Regardless, my feet didn’t move. I was riveted to the spot. He began shouting at me. I shouted back. By the time we were finished making our points, the bus had left. I stepped aside and let him pass.

So it went with the large southern man in his over sized, compensating for something, truck. He informed me, through his rear cab window, that I couldn’t save this parking place. I told him I could…because I was… little did he know that where I come from people save parking spaces, quite frequently, using plastic lawn chairs. I explained, over the roar of his engine, that we had been looking for parking for half an hour and I was waiting for my husband.

His face got redder and he raised his voice to bully level telling me that since he was there, with his truck, he gets the spot. I explained since I was there first, I get the spot. All the while, I was on the phone with Tom, directing him to the cross streets and explaining that a very mad guy wanted our place, so he had to hurry.

Again, my feet were stuck to the pavement. It wasn’t even a conscious choice. I remember thinking, possession is 9/10’s of the law, as my body stood her ground. I told Tom, as my heart pounded, “This Southern guy, in his big truck, is going to hit me.”

Call it chivalry or perhaps Southern awhner, but when truck dude heard that he yelled, “ I’m not gonna hit you.”  With that he gunned his engine and peeled off. “Damned Yankee,” I imagined him cursing as he stepped on the gas.

Tom found me a few minutes later and slipped our sleek new Lincoln hybrid quietly into the spot. I was glad to see him.

As we gathered our things to go shop, the owner of the tanning salon across the street came out and said he had seen the whole thing.

He congratulated me for holding my ground.

Perhaps it was my Southern blood bubbling again.

Y’all come back, ya hear

 
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