Life As It Becomes More

The holidays when you’re 50 are much different than the holidays when you’re, let’s say, 30. I’ve had years in between where my enthusiasm ebbed and flowed. This year I was eager to get the Christmas tree and Veruca was equally excited. The two of us drove to the tree farm and there were about a half dozen families toting dwarf trees to their cars and the pre-cut Frasers were, well, NONE. Anyway, a google search revealed another tree farm in our area I’d never even heard of and let me tell you right now – the tree I reluctantly chose (reluctantly because the branches were upright and tightly hugging the trunk) was the Most Beautiful Tree I’ve had in years.

Anyway, my 50-year-old enthusiasm was limited to the Christmas tree and the stairwell I decorate with garland and baubles every year. The artificial tree we put up in the rec room never made it out of the box. The Christmas Village ceramic houses never made it out either. We didn’t decorate the outside of the house. I’m not sorry. I just didn’t have it to give.

There’s an old quote: “just don’t have it to give.” Came from a Gemini male I once shared a home with in my 20s, who was full of prolific bullshit like statements about me being “uptight.” I learned to cringe when these statements flowed from his or, even years later, others’ lips. But today, older and wiser, I realize that the former statement is a confession moored in self-awareness that is more positive than negative.

I’m trying to avoid the inevitable cliché that comes when one pontificates about life and becoming conscious of what really matters when it happens at the turn of a new year. That it’s also a new decade does not have an elevated significance in my particular case. Unless we’re talking about my new decade.

Anyway. My friend lost her dad in December. The memorial service was earlier this month and I made the hour-and-twenty-minute drive to honor him and support her. Our families have an interesting history.

We were both born and raised in the same town. Like I think it is with most folks, the town is one which is spoken of with both reverence and disdain, often in the same breath. Our town is, uh, town. The town isn’t exactly small, but so many people know each other in a seemingly impossible way that it’s almost incestuous. (Okay not really.)

So… my mom worked with T’s grandmother before I was born and for a couple of years after. My mom somehow always knew T’s parents too. My dad and former stepmother were friends with T’s aunt and uncle (her dad’s brother) – which is where it gets really weird because I remember a time when they took me with them to the aunt and uncle’s home and there were other kids there that I played with. It wasn’t until many years later, when two of those kids (T and her brother, now adults) were working at my mom’s restaurant, that I realized that we had met so many years before. (Do I need a diagram?)

In another strange twist, thanks to Facebook, I noticed that T was friends with someone I went to high school with. T didn’t attend the same school as us, and she is also five years my junior. When I finally remembered to ask the friend how she knew T, it turns out her mother used to work for T’s father.

Anyway, back to the memorial service. Many, many people came. Mom met me there. We stood in the line to see the family, which was really long and moving like a backwards river. Seriously. I found my patience waning fast as folks were stepping out of line to greet and hug others and then the line would come to a standstill until they stepped back into the line. And there’d be this huge gap between people that ramped my anxiety to blast-off.

This well-dressed little old lady with impeccable hair and makeup in front of me stopped moving altogether as she stood staring at her husband who had left the line to chat with old buddies from somewhere. I pondered the possibility that he was deliberately ignoring her gaze. And then was struck with the urge to scream, move the fucking line! But thankfully I’m not yet old enough to pull off shit like this in public, so I said it in my head.

The line went on like this for about 25 minutes and I was beginning to wonder if the services would start on time. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t.) At one point when I thought I’d hit the peak of my anxiety and intolerance, T and I made eye contact and for a brief moment I was sure I felt her. There’s something between us that can be read as instant understanding sometimes. If I ever had a sister, she’d be it. Not because we might be alike, but because in many ways we’re not and there’s this innate understanding that cannot be explained. There are things over the years we have shared with each other that with others might be a, “huh?” that for us is, “haha, YES.” And she is no nonsense. You better buckle up because she will tell you straight up Truth.

So we moved through the line and sat down, which is when my entertainment really begins. The older folks with the bouffant hairdos and the outfits and the jewelry. Familiar faces too (it’s our town, after all). There was this one man who clearly was either wearing a hairpiece or using Grecian formula, with a pencil-thin mustache, and was a dead ringer for one of my family members.

The photos on the monitor could easily have been photos of my own family … the clothes, the hairstyles, the furniture, the backgrounds. There was a picture of T’s dad as a boy on a pony. We have an identical picture of my uncle. It’s all this weird six-degrees-of-separation that isn’t limited to just our town, and it’s so very cool.

I don’t know how all this segues into my thoughts about life and where it’s going and what matters. I suppose funerals do that. T’s brother spoke eloquently of time spent with his father and the value of memories…. Though he didn’t say it quite this way, that we have an obligation to impact our children with memories the way our parents did for us.

For the first time I didn’t cry at a funeral. I don’t know if it’s because there wasn’t a profound sadness permeating the room or whether I drew my cues from T, or whether there was larger, deeper impact poking at me. I left there feeling like I needed time to process and reflect on the feelings circling like birds overhead.

Much of my twenties was chaos. Not in the literal way… just chaotic movement from place to place, person to person, living in the moment (sometimes self-destructive) in anticipation of “what’s next.” Never quite sure of myself while being fully myself and lacking the awareness to understand why I did what I did and how not to do certain things again.

The thirties introduced a long period of change and more chaos which turned out to be more destructive even than that of my twenties. The juxtaposition of becoming a parent and loving something more than my own life while simultaneously fighting for my identity. It was a period of survival. I’d forgotten that I had choices. That I’d always had them and that somehow I’d relinquished them to someone else, who had no business deciding for me.

The forties: a rebirth. A remembrance of me. The final hitting of a wall; a wall I couldn’t climb or go around. The revelation that the only choice I had was in fact no choice at all. I had to move forward and away from toxicity and vicious words because the only thing I could change was how I chose to live. And look where it got me!

The fifties have just begun. I embraced that birthday with the spirit I have always had. I’ve been living in joy and peace and contentment for the last 9 years. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Except for less debt and a swimming pool.

Still, there’s more. I want to live in the moment, every one, but this time with the awareness and connection I didn’t have 25 years ago. Less distracted. More tuned in. And I knew this before I googled what it meant to dream of thousands of cats running around my house.

 

 

 

To be continued….

18 and Life

I did a thing. I packed my 18-year-old up – the sum of his most important belongings stacked in the back of Todd’s Explorer – and together with my husband and daughter drove him to college. It’s been a long road to get here, a road I have long known was coming … some day. The impact of it first hit me over a year ago as I watched him during Senior picture day, and I sat in the high school auditorium surrounded by other students and parents fighting back tears and impending hysteria. The months to follow, he was driving independently and going places with friends and that, I think, allowed me to slowly let go.

I proudly made it through his graduation with only a few tears to dab away from the corners. I watched his friends (the closest of them graduated the previous year) rush the field and pick him up and tackle him, and it made my heart sing. The rest of the summer he spent on the go, with friends and occasional weekends with his dad.  And then the days sped up and the time became shorter.

One night several weeks ago he woke me around 1 a.m. with a hand on my arm, and I followed him out to the darkened living room. I won’t betray his trust by discussing details, but let’s just say he was holding a lot of anxiety and trepidation – as we all did in the days before we left home – and we had a long heartfelt talk. It meant the world to me that he came to me with this, proving that time changes little between a mother and son.

Those first moments I had alone with him, after everyone had gone home, were the moments that would bind us to each other for a lifetime.  The moments every mother never forgets – the first time you really see each other, where you stare into those tiny eyes studying the face he will never forget.  Where you hold him close to you and feel his tiny breath on your face and you whisper all the love and hope and longing you have for him.

It was only the two of us for four-and-a-half years; we joined the Mom’s Club together, and through him I met so many wonderful moms who remain my friends today. His arms and heart were always open – he reached for strangers to hold him and eagerly played with anyone who wanted to. He adored my brother, his uncle only 9 years older than he is, from the first day. He sat down and shared his dump truck with my grandfather, a man he’d only just met, and made my Old Paw’s year. One Christmas he climbed up on a recliner with my bemused uncle Barry and proceeded to remove his socks, handing them to him one at a time, so he could clean the lint out from between his little toes (a two-year-old’s favorite pastime).

His sweetness extended to friendships everywhere he went. I worried over him going to preschool, but he walked in the door and never looked back. He welcomed the new kid in kindergarten by showing him around the classroom. Years later, he did the same for a new girl their Junior year, because he didn’t want her to feel alone. His friends today count on him to be there, and often come to him for advice. He is passionate about justice, what is right, and treating people well.

We moved to Maryland in his 7th grade year, and he was apprehensive and more than a little scared. The day we enrolled him, I sat across the table from him and those same brown eyes that stared at me hours after he was born met mine with tears in them and it felt like I was punched. But it didn’t take very long for him to announce how happy he was to have moved here, and it reinforced what I already knew. He is resilient. He is strong. He is my son.

Two days before move-in day, I broke down and cried. Todd and Veruca weren’t shocked. I half-expected Todd to pull a tough love on me and tell me I can do this. But he didn’t. Instead, he took the day off to come with us, to support me and Opac. He even packed two boxes of tissues.

Move-in day is a well-oiled machine. There were two lanes of cars next to the dorm, where upperclassman volunteers descended on them, emptied the contents, and delivered them to his door. We found our way to the room and I started making up his bed. I needed to DO something to keep myself from jumping out of my skin. We met the roommate and his dad and sister, and at some point the two young men decided to head over to the student center and that was it. We walked around campus so Todd could see it. We passed O and his roommate, now with a young lady in tow, a handful of times. O gave us a jerk of his head in acknowledgement.

We sat in a group – Todd, V, her dad, and the roommate’s family – on the lawn of the quad and ate a picnic lunch prepared for the students and family. I watched O from afar – seated in a circle with new friends eating lunch – and skulked around trying to snap pics unnoticed. After, he walked over to us and we chatted up a bit before a flash mob of First Year Mentors (aka upperclass orientation leaders) broke into the Git Up dance and I watched his eyes light up. His eyes met mine and I knew it was time.

We walked him back to his dorm room and hung out a bit in the cool air conditioning. I don’t remember what we talked about. V sat on his bed next to him and I snapped a few photos of them. She looked so much older suddenly. She’d been mistaken for a freshman earlier in the day, and now I could fully see it. We didn’t stay for the Opening Convocation. I knew it was time.

We made the move to leave, and I walked up to him and hugged him, and he lifted me off my feet – something he likes to do every now and then to remind me he can pick me up now. My heart overflowed. He hugged V and for the first time in forever she didn’t pull away. I met those eyes one more time and smiled my most deceitful, nonchalant, and bravest smile, walked out the door, and that was it.

The tears pushed through as I felt my composure slipping away. I hurried down the stairs with my sunglasses on before we even reached the outside. I gripped Todd’s hand until we were well past campus, on our way back to the farthest parking lot, where we said goodbye to V and her dad. I was fine. I was fine until we got about 20 minutes into the drive and then all bets were off. You know how hard it is to hold in a really ugly cry?

I volleyed between tears and nausea the rest of the day. I had no appetite. The physical feelings that accompanied this are familiar. It feels like a breakup. My heart feels so heavy and my stomach is in knots. Where you know you are grieving and that there is only ONE thing that is going to make the pain stop. But you aren’t going to get it.

I have to walk through. It is the mantra I use for all things difficult and painful and challenging – that one cannot run away from it, one must Walk Through. It is how we become stronger and capable and successful. What I told O that night in the living room.

Veruca, for her part, is acting all, whatever, about this. She quietly accompanied us and didn’t complain about anything. I was too focused on staying calm to notice at the time. But she has to be feeling something. This brother of hers has loved her from the day she was born, although the love looks a bit different nowadays with the capriciousness of teenaged emotions. Still, when V called me at work yesterday morning crying about her laundry, I knew it wasn’t really dirty clothes she was upset about.

Mom called me Thursday afternoon, knowing from my silence that it was comfort I most needed. And then she hit a curb because she was driving and cut a corner too tight in her new car, and exclaimed “shit!” and there was my comic relief. Sometimes success is finding laughter through the tears. I spent the rest of that day on the couch. I fell asleep early. Mom texted me around 10 saying, and I quote, “& DO NOT go into his room & smell his sheets you!!” And I had to laugh out loud, because it was too late.

So today is day 3. Todd and I had a cookout to go to last night after work – former colleagues of his from the old college that I had never met and I dreaded it. I was still feeling raw and just wanting to Velcro myself to his side. I wasn’t sure I was up for being my social self. But I did it.

~~Walk Through~~

I had a glass of wine and got to talking to some people and Todd was somewhere else and I was completely comfortable in my skin again. I sat outside in the beautiful night air that has turned pleasantly cool after a wicked thunderstorm the previous night and listened to these folks banter with one another and found myself laughing like an old friend. Damn Todd for knowing what’s good for me sometimes. And then the totally unexpected happened.

My butt started vibrating. My cell phone was in my back pocket. And ya’ll know who it was.

My baby. Calling me from a lull in the evening to say hi and tell me how great things are going. How he picked up his books and he was featured on an Instagram post from his department. And there it is – the heart swelling with pride, healing, growing, and knowing what I’ve always known. He’s going to be fine. And so am I.