Sunday, May 24, 2015

MEMORIES OF MEMORIAL DAYS PAST

Memorial Day Weekend.  People are busy with trips, picnics, camping, gardening...late spring leisure activities, even though where I live it is cloudy and cool -- only 56-degrees during my morning walk along the waterfront.  But this weekend always reminds me of my midwest childhood when Memorial Day was the start of summer and already hot and sunny.

Also the Indy 500 happens this weekend, which made me think of my dad and my paternal relatives in southern Indiana and the childhood drives from our northern Illinois town to Bloomfield, Indiana the nearest little town to the farmstead where my dad grew up.

We passed through Indianapolis on those trips,  -- home of the Indy 500 -- and the biggest thing to happen in Indiana ever, it seemed by all the excitement.  Once further south, in rural Bloomfield where my relatives lived,  parades and picnics and visits to cemeteries were organized around the start time of the race, with the ongoing commentary tuned in on the radio for the entire day. The excitement would build as the men in the family cheered for their favorites as the race was close to ending.   Drivers like A.J. Foyt, Andy Granatelli, Parnelli Jones, and Mario Andretti -- not exactly hometown boys, but heroes of The Brickyard nonetheless -- seemed to always be in the hunt.  As the checkered flag moment approached anyone within earshot of the radio was hushed so the winner's name would be heard and celebrated.  The RADIO!  Seems weird now and makes me feel very old -- but we were in a very rural area and TV reception was horrible, if anyone had a TV at all in the late 50's/early 60's.

My mom called Memorial Day "Decoration Day".  This is a term dating back to the Civil War; a day set aside to honor the Civil War dead.  Eventually it became more widely known as Memorial Day to honor all war dead, but wasn't officially declared a National Holiday until 1971, a fact I find surprising.

The old name, Decoration Day, made perfect sense to me as a child.  I knew it as a day for an outing
to "decorate" the graves of family members who had passed away.  Few if any that I knew of in my family had died in war. Still, fresh flowers, plastic flowers, little live plants, wreaths on wire hangers -- any and all were loaded into the trunk of the Chevy and the whole extended family caravanned to the cemetery.  If we were in Indiana, the cemetery was on the edge of little Bloomfield were my grandparents and a couple of uncles were already buried.  If we stayed home in Illinois, the cemetery was out in the country, the gravesites under shady oaks where my maternal grandparents and parents now rest.

I loved going to the cemeteries.  I found both to be so restful, peaceful, and beautiful.  Both in quiet rural settings with old-fashioned gravestones that marked each plot, giving names, birthdate, and date of death in fancy lettering.  Some, not my family, but some we noted as we wandered about also told a bit about the person who had died.  I loved these little one- or two-line insights into a life.  I filled in whole biographies with my imagination.

I don't visit cemeteries on Memorial Day anymore.  As an adult I moved 2000 miles from "home" and my visits to the midwest now are few.  But today I am thinking of those childhood pilgrimages to honor loved ones and offer some decoration to the stones that mark the lifespan of people who lived, loved, worked, played and raised families.   My ancestors were farmers; my parents the first generation to migrate to the city.  My generation (my brothers and I) never knew the hard-scrabble life of subsistence farming in the Great Depression, taking for granted what my parents provided for us with long hours doing factory work, building a blue-collar Post WWII middle-class life that led to us having so many more opportunities than they ever dreamed of.   I honor them, all of them generations past, and I thank them on this day of Decoration and Memorial.

I planted flowers in my garden today and I lit a candle for those who have passed.  I even briefly tuned into the race....just to hear the roar of those engines and the feel the memory of the warmth of an Indiana sun on my face.

May your Memorial Day be full of warm memories too.  May we all appreciate those who served in so many ways to provide a path to the life we live today.

At least, that's the view from here....

Friday, May 22, 2015

ALTERED STATES

I have re-entered the Twilight Zone.  There is a little self-deprecating joke I tell about the first year or so after Son-Two was born --  "I seem to be present and smiling in all the family photos, but I really don't remember a thing!"   Hahahaha, funny...except that it's true.  Motherhood Amnesia.  I had a high-energy 26 month-old and a colic-y newborn.  I did not sleep for months...years.  Hub had a demanding job with erratic hours.  I had no extended family within 2000 miles.  Thank god for my mom-friends, who supported me and kept me (mostly) sane.

All of that is so far behind me now, that not remembering every detail is expected.  But much of it is coming back to me.  Remember that little baby granddaughter's birth I wrote about in February?  Well, she's growing, healthy, strong, cute, sweet....and today is 4 days shy of 3 months old!

Also, my Granny Nanny stint is in full swing.  I just finished my third week of baby care, three days a week.  Hub is on board too, but as timing would have it, he's had work conflicts galore with his part-time "just filling in" gig and I've been on my own...a very familiar pattern.

I had forgotten how all-consuming an infant is!  Bottle, diaper, playtime, nap, fuss, settle, repeat.  Oh...and walk the floor, juggle and jostle, sing and coo, change clothes, rock,  dance, look in the mirror, survey the garden, take a stroller stroll.... Our ten hour days together are ten hours of non-stop baby, Wednesday through Friday!

I have been outfitting myself with "baby stuff" -- a carseat, a swing, a play mat, a port-a-crib, diapers, wipes, toys, clothing.  Still, I'm amused at the "baby bomb" that seems to hit our house within 30 minutes of her arrival.  I forgot how nearly impossible it is to keep things tidy when the first and only priority is baby.  Things accumulate!

Plus, I know I might be a tad overly attentive.  She prefers to nap on my lap.  I prefer to let her.  She sleeps longer and more soundly and I get to gaze at her perfect little face as she rests so cozily in my arms.  Just like every other gushing grandma, I'm in love.

I also notice, my "other" life goes into hiatus on the days my Jewel is here.  We are cocooned, so far, in our own little world.  I haven't ventured out and about with her, still learning her habits and routines.  So, truth be told, I'm feeling a bit ambivalent about that.  The altered state, the Twilight Zone of stay-at-home Mommy-ness is a familiar quandary.  I love that the days spread before us with no real obligations, yet there is a sense of isolation too.  What DID I do in that other life?  Where did my friends go?   I was always meeting someone, doing something, going somewhere, and now, well, not so much.   And even on my "off" days, it's hard to switch gears out of the loving heart space and physical care of being with baby into the skill set needed to organize and facilitate a task or committee or group discussion.

We will find our rhythm, I know, and she will join my friends and me at coffee or maybe at a meeting for one thing or another.  I'll get back out there and able to be more integrated.   But just like when my sons were little, the real priority won't be "out there" so much on Jewel-days,  but "in here" -- in the circle of love and care that I have the privilege to provide for her.

I never expected this.  I am so grateful.  And tonight.....well, I'm tired.

At least, that's the view from here....©


Sunday, May 10, 2015

MOTHERHOOD REIMAGINED


I never longed to have children; I just assumed I would.   So after I was married for a few years and the time time seemed right, I felt “ready.”  I fantasized about those sweet Mothers Days I would soon have with my perfect children.  But try, try, try as we did, nothing happened.  Mothers Day then became a day to dread and grieve, until we came to the realization that what we were ready for, what we wanted to be was parents, with no strong desire to duplicate our genes.

We were fortunate to be able to build our family through adoption, our boys coming to us two years apart.   Mothers Day was mine!  But, during the most exhausting of those years of caring for young children, I often wondered:  Shouldn’t Mothers Day should be a day set aside for not having to be with my children?  Shouldn’t it be a day when Mom gets to go to the spa?  Or read a book?  Or see a matinee alone?   Yet on Mothers Day we hold up the ideal of “mother,” that mythical being who is full of self-sacrifice and unconditional love, not the mom who doesn’t have a clue and gets it wrong most of the time, or just wants her own version of a “time out.” 

Over my 29+ years as a mother, I’ve spent some time reflecting about Mothers Day.  I never took the day all to myself; instead finding, amidst the exhaustion, the simple joy in opening a handmade card and exclaiming over a plate of syrupy pancakes and runny eggs.  

So I know Mothers Day can indeed be a lovely time of celebration, but I am mindful of those for whom it isn’t, because any day set aside to honor a person or event can also be a day that is just tough to get through.  One commemorative holiday does not fit all.  For some of us this day is tinged with grief.  Maybe we have lost a mother, or lost a child; when everyone else is celebrating, we are sad. 

I wish I had realized when I was childless that mother or not, perfect or not, grieving or not, we can  all claim the day with a shift in focus, using the best of the Mother Archetype to make it our own in our own way.  The energy that goes into mothering a child is the energy that also goes into birthing a dream, igniting the spark of creativity, holding a vision of completion. 

  Mothering energy is powerfully present when I love and care for a cat or a dog or a horse or a coop full of chickens; tending, feeding, doctoring, comforting, knowing each in its own way, giving to each just what it needs, enjoying the sweet innocence of give and take between me and this precious creature I love.  

Mothering energy is powerfully present when I plant a tiny seed in fertile soil I have prepared, waiting patiently for it to sprout, then coaxing it to grow by providing nutrients, water, light, and a sturdy stake upon which to lean until it bursts into full flower or provides food for my table, in the fullness of the harvest.

Mothering energy is powerfully present when I stand before the blank canvas, or sit before the blank page, and a germ of an idea -- a color or a word -- sparks its way from my creative source to find expression in my art.  Day by day I add, delete, expand, re-imagine, until, finally there is a painting or a poem gestated in quiet, private moments, ready to be shared with the world.  I may never know how many lives I will touch by sharing this song of the heart.

Just as a mother holds her infant close, letting go bit by bit as her child grows into being himself, independent and ready to take his own place on the planet, so too does a mother of creativity hold close her idea, manifesting bit by bit a vision, growing it to fruition to take its own place in the great fabric of creation.

To be a mother is to find that place of creation within, that place of selfless discipline, that place of overwhelming love, of exhausted frustration followed by heart-driven recommitment to that which we love, to that which we have no choice but to birth, nurture, and then eventually, to let go.

At least, that's the view from here...©


Sunday, May 3, 2015

OLD FRIENDS AT THE BEACH

Well, I'm home from our annual Kauai hula with the palms.  So incredibly relaxing and just what I needed to reset myself back to: "Let's see if we can start over and not get so stressed about life this time."  Worth a try, and feels doable now, in the afterglow of a nearly perfect vacation.

We were super chill this trip.  We stayed at our timeshare Marriott resort on the ocean, which also boasts the largest pool on Kauai and acres of gardens and walking paths.  It's really beautiful.  And we barely left the property, except to take our morning walks along beachfront trails and extended walking paths that meander in a huge loop around the golf course.   I did some of that walking; Hub did it every day -- about 5 miles at each outing (overachiever that he is).   Other than that we claimed our lounge chairs on the lawn under the palms at the beach and camped out there for several hours each day.  Occasionally we strolled to the pool for a refreshing plunge, then back to the beach.  Hub did a lot of Boogie Boarding and I read a lot of books.  Ten.

When I told a friend that I read ten books in twelve days, she was a little surprised.  I had to quickly explain these were not the Great Russian novels.  They were more like a gathering of old friends, a reunion with bright, funny, inspiring, interesting people, both real and fictional.

I used to be a voracious reader.  I don't know precisely when that fell away, but sometime around peri-menopause and a full time job and corralling teenagers and caring for my ailing mother, I lost my ability to focus long enough to stick with a novel.  I was in a bookclub but after a while I realized I was going for the socializing and the great desserts, rarely even finishing the assigned book.  I was not a very lively contributor to the conversation -- about the book anyway.  Occasionally another woman and I would digress into People magazine reporting and trash TV updates, which was great fun and quite lively.  But that just demonstrates where my brain was at that time.

For the trip I took two paperbacks with me, but didn't want to pack any more than that, so I went on  the public library website to load ebooks onto my Kindle.  I love memoir and essay collections (go figure!) and given how stressed I've been I wanted to find some humor too.  And I'm always up for inspiring "self-help" books.  So here's my list:

NONFICTION
Ageless Body/Timeless Mind -- Deepak Chopra   A classic that's now 20 years old has been on my shelf, unread, for years.  But since I now would like to achieve both of these things, I decided to see what he had to say.  I love the sound of Deepak's voice -- deep and resonant with that lovely accent.  I do the daily meditations that he and Oprah post on online occasionally and I could almost "hear" him talking as I read.  The book is a bit dated, but still I found it inspiring and it helped me shift my perspective and find the peace I was seeking early in the trip.  And it fit with lots of the thinking I've been doing lately about healthy, natural aging.

Orange is the New Black -- Piper Kerman  This is the memoir upon which the hit Netflix show is based.  It's the tale of Piper's youthful flirtation with the drug world and how ten years later (after completely going legit and having a normal, happy, productive life) she is sent to prison for her earlier (relatively minor) involvement in a drug ring.  I watched the show for about half the first season and for some reason it didn't resonate with me then.  But the book is great!  Honest, insightful, sympathetic, terrifying, and quite the indictment of our prison system and over-zealous sentencing laws.  I came away with a new perspective and the urge to lobby for reform.   I'm also going to give the show another try.

Believer: My Forty Years in Politics -- David Alexrod  I'm sort of a political campaign junkie -- all the more so when the candidate is someone I so admire.  That would be Barack Obama.  Or "Almost God" as I like to call him.  David Alexrod was his Communications Director for the campaigns and also for a time in the White House.  Inside stories around public events in recent history are irresistible!  I relived my time growing up near Chicago too.  Alexrod also lived and worked there naming all the "big time" politicians of the day he worked with before he hooked up with Obama and his life took surrealistic spin into national politics.  Fascinating read, even if a little self-serving at times, but hey -- ya gotta have a little bit of ego to do his job.

Small Victories -- Anne Lamott  Oh, Anne, I love you so.  Her essays are so funny, so smart, so true, so inspiring.  I could read her forever and I actually have.  All of her books are on my home bookshelf and I get her regular Facebook post essays too.  Plus, she is my favorite Christian and she could also be my best friend.  We all feel that way.

Dad is Fat -- Jim Gaffigan  I LOVE to laugh out loud.  This book had me in tears of laughter.  I kept apologizing to Hub, next to me on his lounge chair trying to concentrate on the NYT crossword, but he said he loved the sound of my laughter.  Good thing.  This is a funny book by a well-known stand-up comedian about his NYC family life with five young children.  I kept thinking of Son One and his stories of life with his kids.  Son One is really funny too.  I'm getting this book for him for Father's Day.

Live Right and Find Happiness -- Dave Barry  Gaffigan only whetted my appetite for more humor.  I was reminded how much I used to enjoy reading Dave Barry's collections of columns from when he wrote for the Miami Herald.  But he quit that job and I sort of lost track of him.  Rediscovering him in this book, I realized he is remarried with a daughter now 14, and his son (who last I heard was nine years old!) is now grown, married, and has a son.  Oh, Dave, so great to read you again and to find you are still laugh-out-loud funny with your dead-on irony, school-boy silliness, and great big heart.

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake -- Anna Quindlen  Another favorite from many years ago, Anna Quindlen wrote the story of my life about the "mom years", raising young children, as well as social and political commentary in her NYT column and later in a regular column in Newsweek.  Every word rang true then...and still does in this look at turning 60, her three children now grown, as she looks ahead to the eldering years of her life.  She and Anne Lamott -- my writing and age-mate heroes; wish I could say it as well -- maybe I'll change my name to AnnSomething.

Survival Lessons -- Alice Hoffman  I love, love, love, Alice Hoffman's fiction.  But again, I'd lost track of her when I basically stopped reading fiction and I got caught up with this very slim nonfiction work written shortly after her battle with breast cancer.  It's a series of reminders to appreciate all of life's simple blessings.

FICTION:
The Museum of Extraordinary Things -- Alice Hoffman  Since Alice was on my mind, I found this recent novel and was hooked again on all things Alice.  I love her evocative, slightly weird, a little skewed characters and settings.  This one was full of melancholy and hope -- as most of her books are -- and chock full of magical realism which is a favorite genre.  Loved it.

The Ice Queen -- Alice Hoffman  A strange one; not my favorite, but still interesting with the same bent to the unusual and magical in the lives of everyday folks.   Part prose, part poetry in form with an interesting premise, but characters uncharacteristically underdeveloped, I thought.

I think part of the wonderfulness of this trip was setting aside any real responsibilities, ditching schedules, appointments, meetings, and deadlines.  It was indulging my Introvert with days and days of sweet interaction with only my Hub and no one else other than a passing "hello".  I meditated, walked, read, lounged, ate lots of local fish and fruit, and got re-acquainted with old friends between the pages of books.  Yep, pretty near perfection.

At least, that's the view from here....©