Ever So Glad

          I attended my 20th high school reunion last weekend.  Gulp.  When I was in high school I couldn’t imagine ever being old enough to have a 20th reunion.  I still can’t actually.  I was describing a woman to a friend recently and said she was “old, like in her 40s,” to which my friend replied with a laugh “Uh, you’re almost 40.”  Oh yeah; I forget that sometimes.  Because I don’t feel that old.  Because 18 seems like yesterday.  Until I take a few moments to really remember myself at that age.  So insecure, so uncomfortable in my own body.  Looking ahead to the next stage when I would go to college, get married, have kids, start my grown-up life.  And here I am fully engulfed in adulthood and a world away from that unsure young woman.
          I can’t think of one thing I miss from being in high school.  Zits?  My mom being sick?  Short-term, immature boyfriends?  Drinking til I puked?  Never having the most popular clothes?  Always feeling dumb compared to my uber-smart friends?  Pegged pant legs?  Nope, nothing.  I kind of came alive in college, as many people do, and even more after I graduated, got married, moved away, had babies and felt the fulfillment of my maternal longings.  That’s what really did it.  Being pregnant, giving birth and raising kids.  It made me feel like a woman instead of a girl.  Made my relationship with my body about more than the way it looked – it could make people, which was amazing.  And empowering.  My child-bearing hips didn’t just make jeans shopping suck.  They were, in fact, made for a purpose.  So, I discovered, they were beautiful.
          I walked into the reunion with the familiar butterflies of 20 years ago, wondering if I would recognize anyone, if they would recognize me, if anyone would care.  I went with my best friend, which helped – two women, nearly 40 but annoyingly submerged in our 18-year-old insecurity, leaning on one another for support.  Soon, though, I saw old friends, people whose very faces brought a smile to mine, people I hadn’t thought of for years but was happy to remember.  There were some I didn’t recognize at all, and many of the people I’d hoped to catch up with were absent.  But I didn’t have any zits, no one made me feel dumb, I had a sweet husband at home with the kids instead of a short-term boyfriend, and I wasn’t anywhere near puking, so all was well.  I quickly left behind my 18 year-old self and welcomed back the current Me, just fine with who I am and what life looks like these days.
          When I was fifteen I got a perm.  Oh yes.  A perm.  I’d had very long hair since I was little, with body but no curls since my two-year-old ringlets, and when I entered high school I decided I needed a change.  I chopped it off and permed it in one fell swoop which, in retrospect, was probably a little drastic.  I cried all the way home, and I never really warmed to my new look.  Not the best way to begin sophomore year.  And from then on it was curly.  A freak chemical reaction with my pubescent hair follicles?  The natural consequence of cutting off so much weight?  I’ll never know, but my hair remained curly from that day on, to my chagrin.  I still straighten it – you always want what you don’t have.  But seeing that perm in photos instantly takes me back to the way I felt when I got it, and every day of my high school career: ill at ease in my own skin.  Oh the blessedness of growing up.
          I left the reunion rejoicing in my life.  Glad for my family and friends, my health, my faith, the experiences I’ve had, the very block I live on.  The whole 38-year-old package.  I much prefer being nearly 40 to being 18.  My knees feel their age at times, and I can’t say I am excited about wrinkles, but I’m happy to have traded my young body for a more secure one.  As most do, I wasted that smooth skin and super stretchy cartilage on unfounded fears and worries.  I cared too much what people (as human as myself) thought of me.  I’m trying to help my kids see what’s great about them, even if no one else notices, but they are human too and will struggle to find their place in the world, just as I did.  As we all do.  I hope they will be able to avoid some of the drama – surround themselves with encouraging voices and ignore the negative ones.  I’m sure all parents hope for this.  I wish I could transport them to the self-assuredness of nearly 40, but I’ll just have to wait and see.  Pray lots, be an encouraging voice myself, and remember what it was like to figure Me out.  And be ever so glad I’m not in high school anymore.
20 Years Later
20 Years Later

 

For Your Health

          Laughing is one of my favorite things to do.  More than eating good food, buying a sweet new outfit, making lists (yes, I like that), laughing til your face hurts is medicine to the soul.  And a good ab workout.  The best sounds in the morning are my children’s giggles, even if I am in a sour mood.  Or hearing my two-year-old say hello to her belly-button as she sits in her crib.  Wiping the sleep away with a chuckle is a cure for the worst wrong-side-of-the-bed attitude.  All day long, finding the humor in the mundane or unpleasant makes it less so.  It can even make it fun.
          Singing in opera voices while you make breakfast, poking little buns while they climb the stairs, speaking in a ridiculous French accent as you drive home from preschool – these add levity to the usual doings of the day, and make you smile, which is good exercise.  A study done recently by some fellow Kansans showed that smiling, even faking it, helps boost your mood and those of the people around you.  (See article about the study here: http://www.forbes.com/sites/rogerdooley/2013/02/26/fake-smile/).  And frowns do the opposite.  Bad moods promote more bad moods, like a disease easily spread.  It’s amazing how simple it is to fix the problem, though.  I always feel silly when my yoga instructor tells us to smile in the middle of Pigeon or Warrior One, but it does make me feel better, no matter how dumb I look in the mirror.  I bet the endorphins would really kick in if I let loose and laughed.
          I totaled our blue Oldsmobile when I was sixteen – a hefty bump into the car ahead of me – and when I rattled home with the front smushed and one headlight illuminating the trees above, my sweet dad said “Well…I guess if you’re going to wreck a car, you did a good job!”  He has always been a master of seeing the humor in the mishaps of life.  I had to drive that embarrassing wreck around for a while, which was punishment enough, but his joke about it made the trauma bearable.  I knew he still loved me.  And it taught me that even really bad things are funny sometimes.  Dad put our pizza on the top of the car while we piled in the Olds to drive home.  And as we pulled away, as if putting an exclamation point on the evening, we watched the leftovers from our large pepperoni fly off into the night.  We all laughed at that one.
          When my own family was vacationing in exotic Missouri, we had spent an entire day at Silver Dollar City and were returning to our hotel late at night.  We’d been driving through Branson traffic for an hour (this would be a good form of torture for members of the Taliban), we were all exhausted and sweaty, and Lily (4) was wearing a Mae (6 months)-sized diaper because that’s all we had left, and nothing else.  Let’s just say that the Havener family fit in well in the Ozark mountains that night.  I thought our room was on the fourth floor, Marc thought the eighth, and as we wandered the halls with our bedraggled-looking kids pulling their own suitcases, wondering aloud where the heck our room was, an elderly couple walked by.  You could see the horror on their faces at the fact that we were allowed to be parents.  I cannot be certain the police weren’t notified.  Humiliating, yes.  And absolutely hilarious, even at the time. It will remain a favorite family story for years.
          Because laughter is so important to me I love stand-up comedy.  I think it’s an art and a gift to the world when done well.  We saw Jim Gaffigan live for my birthday a few years back, before my husband knew who he was.  Marc wasn’t sure he would like it, but we laughed from the moment he spoke a word til the last hot pocket joke – until it hurt more than I knew my face muscles could.  I love that kind of pain.  For Valentine’s Day one year Marc downloaded a stand-up show as a present to me.  We sat there watching Mike Berbiglia on the laptop, eating chocolate mousse cake, lowering our stress levels and boosting our immune systems at the same time.  It was the best Valentine’s gift ever.
          Marc’s sense of humor was high on my list of reasons for marrying him.  I knew I needed to laugh every day of my life, and that man is funny.  I grew up with levity as an essential part of existence – provided by my dad – and I couldn’t imagine leaving that behind.  Marc cracks up his kids, and will eventually embarrass them as my dad did me, because he is silly.  I need silly.  I need to feel a little less “grown-up” sometimes.  A little bit more like a ten-year-old.  When a poopy diaper smell takes over the whole house, I need a guy who raps about it.  When all three kids are crying on a road-trip at the same time, I need a friend to laugh with because that’s all that can be done.  I need comic relief when the drama of the day has me down.  He is my comic relief.  I smile a lot more with him in my life, so I guess he’s good for my health.  So is Jim Gaffigan, and Mike Berbiglia, and grinning in yoga, and being around my dad when something bad happens, and hearing my kids giggle.  Thank goodness for funny things.  I don’t think I’d survive without them.

 

Storytelling

          On our recent family vacation to Florida Marc and I listened to bits of a few audio books, one being The Secret of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler which gives tips on making family life work better, and thus, be more pleasant.  We’ll be implementing many of the morning ritual suggestions when school starts again in the fall. (For now we’re going with the “Get up whenever you feel like it and see what happens” plan for the summer.  We’re executing it perfectly.)  We also liked the idea of having a weekly family meeting to discuss what worked and didn’t work so well in our clan throughout the week.  But I think the biggest thing I took away from the intro and first two chapters was the importance of telling our family story to our kids.  In the book the author tells of a study done by two psychologists about how children deal with stress.  They found that “The more children knew their family’s history the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and more successfully they believed their families functioned.”  After 911 they studied the same families, and found the same thing to be true.  “The children who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.”  Sounds good to me.  This is one child-rearing technique at which I should be able to succeed.
          Lily often asks me to tell her about things I did as a child, and I remember asking the same of my mom.  Even the smallest tale of summertime walks to the fountains on the KU campus, or where my brother and I went sledding as kids, or my childhood family vacations bring joy to her heart.  I loved my own mother’s stories of picking apples in my great-grandmother’s orchard, fighting with her brothers, floating on a raft at the lake on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  I didn’t know then that I was asking her to fill up my family-history tank so I could moderate stress, and neither does Lily.  I just knew I liked it.  Even the stories of mistakes and mess-ups were interesting to me.  In Feiler’s book he also points out that of the three types of family narratives – the ascending narrative (we came from nothing), the descending narrative (we used to have it all) and the oscillating narrative (ups and downs), the last is the most helpful.  The book states that “…children who have the most self-confidence have…a strong ‘intergenerational self.’ They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.”  I want that for my children.
          I have always had a solid sense of my heritage.  We have a hard-bound book on the history of one side of my family, and my grandmother on the other side was, until her nineties, a walking encyclopedia of the other half of my roots. I didn’t always appreciate this wealth of information growing up.  I took it for granted, thinking everyone knew that their great, great grandfather came to America in 1877 escaping religious persecution from the Russians.  That everyone had family reunions with hundreds of people, where the oldest generation sang hymns in German and you could view photos of the family’s first homestead.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, my teenage self thought.  But though I didn’t appreciate it, I felt grounded.  I didn’t know that my family history was a gift – to understand what came before and how it might shape my future.  How it explained me.
          I hope my children have the same sense of heritage.  I want them to know what our family is and was, so that they can decide what it will be.  They can continue the story with confidence and freedom.  Moderate stress, feel part of a larger narrative, know that the ups and downs of life are to be expected. So I’ll be telling and re-telling the stories of my past to my kids.  As much as they want, even when they don’t want, even when I’m tired and I’d rather not, even the parts that aren’t so pretty.  My husband and I will be the story-tellers until they can take over.  Until they see the big picture – the story arc of their ancestry – and begin adding the next chapter.
          Let the storytelling begin.

The Homestead
The Homestead


Mother’s Day Parade

          In writing the card for my mom yesterday, I once again noticed a recurring problem of mine: I take my mother for granted.  Just as my kids do.  Just as every other child does at some point, even after they’ve realized the sad fact.  I know I’ve noticed this fault in myself before, and I’ve made efforts to respect and cherish her more, and express those feelings to her, too.  But I inevitably return to my old ways at some point and rely on her without thinking of the gift she is to me.
*
          Things that are awesome about my mom: she’s kind, patient, ever-listening, never condemning, well-read and knows all words that have ever existed, takes care of my kids all the time, buys them clothes and takes them on dates, keeps on truckin’ when life deals a low blow, listens to good music, loves my dad, and never gives up on people.  Even me.  I used to think she was overly sentimental.  Her cards to my brother and me are packed with gushes of affection that I’ve heard since I was a kid, so sometimes I become immune to their benefits.  But when I stop and actually think for a moment about what that build-up of kind words has done for my self-esteem, my love for others, my outlook on the world, I realize their value.  When I’m reminded that other moms don’t do that, but actually criticize their daughters or worse, I can see my ungrateful heart for what it is.
*
          Things I have taken for granted about my mom since birth (besides all of the things listed above): that she got up to feed me every three hours for months on end, cleaned me up when I puked in my sleep, dealt with my hormone rampages as a teen, went without at times to make sure my brother and I didn’t, made food on every holiday when she would rather have been hanging out like the rest of us, bought groceries and cleaned our house and made supper and fixed us snacks and drove us from ballet to gymnastics to soccer.  All the things my kids don’t appreciate about me, and probably won’t value for a very long time.  I’m still figuring out how to be thankful for my mom.  No wonder my children at eight, five and two don’t have it down. Mothering is a silent parade of selfless acts.  No one pays attention though it’s going right down the street.  Even with floats.  As my dad wrote in my mother’s day card “The love of a mother, I believe, is the most powerful and pure proof of God.”  Wow.  The act of quietly giving yourself for your children because you so love them, because it’s what they need, knowing they mostly won’t thank you for it.  Yep.  I think my dad is right.
          No mother is perfect, including my own, but life without her is hard and painful to imagine.  So I won’t.  Not yet.  But I will try to tell her more than once a year how dear she is to me.  Give her an extra-long hug sometime, or send her a card on a day when nothing special is happening.  And I suppose I should cut my kids some slack.  Maybe even quit threatening to go on strike when they complain about the dinner I’ve made.  Someday chicken curry won’t seem like such an affront to their human rights. And the silent parade that’s been quietly marching down their street will be noticed.  And I’ll throw some candy and smile, knowing it took me just as long to see the spectacle.

Rightly Considered

 

Written March 24th, 2013
          We just returned from a week-long trip to San Diego and Los Angeles for spring break and went from 75 degrees and sunshine to 35 degrees and snow.  Our bodies had started to think it truly was spring and relished the welcomed warmth on our skin.  And then, this morning, I scraped ice off the windshield for ten minutes.  Blech.  An hour later I read an essay by G.K. Chesterton about re-thinking inconveniences.  The best quote, which I’ll be writing on a sticky pad and placing on my kitchen window to glance at as I do the dishes, is this: “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.  And inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.”  From a flood in his neighborhood in London to chasing a hat, he turns each annoyance on it’s head and looks at it from the other side.  From the perspective of a child at one point…
                    For instance, we often hear grown-up people complaining of having to hang about a railway
                    station and wait for a train.  Did you ever hear a small boy complain of having to hang about a
                    railway station and wait for a train?  No; for to him to be inside a railway station is to be inside a
                    cavern of wonder and a palace of poetical pleasures.  Because to him the red light and the green
                    light on the signal are like a new sun and a new moon.  Because to him when the wooden arm of
                    the signal falls down suddenly, it is as if a great king had thrown down his staff as a signal and
                    started a shrieking tournament of trains.  I myself am of the little boys’ habit in this matter. (On
                    Running After One’s Hat)

          Marc and I should have read this essay before we left.  We could have used the kids’ perspective in two long days at Legoland, or in our five-hour rush-hour trip from San Diego to Pasadena, or when Mae puked all over herself just before we reached our friends’ house but after we’d eaten at In-N-Out.  Actually, I’m not sure how to make that an adventure.  She was miserable and thrown-up hamburger is just gross.
          Marc and I are pretty good at going with the flow.  We deal well with the inevitable craziness and not-as-we-planned-it ways of a family vacation.  And of life in general.  After three kids, we let most inconveniences roll off our backs, but I can’t say we’ve actually reached the point that we enjoy them.  That we look at what would generally be frustrating events as adventures.  We can get over them quickly, but things like leaving our very expensive train passes on the Shinkansen in Japan, or losing Marc’s wedding ring in central California, or getting lost from one another at an enormous outdoor market in Bangkok (and me trying to plan how I would get home to America without my presumedly dead husband) – these things did not fill us with child-like wonder.  They made us argue.  And freak out.
          I remember driving through a blizzard to my grandparents’ house at Thanksgiving when I was five or six years old.  We got stuck in a snow drift at nightfall, and my dad had to walk to the nearest house (not so near in rural Nebraska) for help.  My brother and I were understandably nervous, snuggled up in a blanket with Mom.  “This is an adventure!” she said with enthusiasm.  “Oh,” I thought.  “I guess it is.”  And then it was.  I don’t remember it as scary.  I remember it as exciting.  I’m sure we got cold, I don’t remember how we got out, and my poor dad probably didn’t think it was thrilling, but it sticks in my mind as a fun experience from childhood.  Because my mom knew to make it that way.
          When we were getting ready to leave L.A. Luke said he wanted to live in California.  Legoland had a great deal to do with it, but also the weather, the excitement of being somewhere new, the ocean, our friends’ kids he met, and seeing the place he was born.  The whole thing was an adventure for him.  Southern California is an inconvenient place – the traffic, the smog, the amount of people, the cost of living, the traffic.  But he didn’t see those things.  Or he did and just looked at them with a kid’s eyes. He and Lily have a game they play in the car imagining they are racing all the others on the road (yep, G.K. Chesterton was right) that they played on our trip, too.  It was just a bigger race track.  A super slow one at times, but that didn’t ruin the experience for them.  If you ask me what I remember most from the trip, it’s the bad cold we all caught, the puking, the traffic, and then the fun stuff.  But if you ask the kids, it’s only the fun.  They had a grand adventure.  I could learn a few things from my children and G.K. Chesterton about rightly considering inconveniences.  Life would be a lot more exciting if I did.

On Display

          My son was “Hawk of the Day” at school last week, which meant he got to put all his favorite things in the display case in the front of the building, so that everyone who walked by could see them.  Luke spent two days designing his personal exhibit.   He had the typical 8-year-old-boy things: lego game, knight and dragon, alien police station with enormous robot.  But he also had things that show his heart: the photo of his baby sister that he pointed out to people with pride, the silly-face photo of his daddy and him that shows where he got his big personality, his chipmunk and puppy dog stuffed animals.  I love that these made the cut.  That my boy is still a boy and young enough to fill up his side of the glass case with pride, with selectivity based on what he likes best.  Each year it’s fun to see which things he’ll choose to represent himself to his friends and the world.  And it makes me think, if there were an adult version, what would be in my display?
          Photos of my family, of course.  Those are really my most treasured “things.”  In going through the 42,280 photos we have on the computer (that is not a typo.  Being married to a video guy means LOTS of pictures), to make the annual calendars for Christmas gifts, it struck me how much I’ve forgotten about what was just a few years ago.  Photos of Lily and Luke when they were babies brought back memories that were tucked away in the files of my brain, forgotten if not for the pictures that sparked remembrance.  Marc with long hair, me with a pregnant belly, Marc and I on a walk with our dog before kids.  Pictures tell the story of life when words can’t – they would definitely be in my lineup .
          For his book the other night, Luke chose his Mommy Journal, the book in which I not-so-faithfully recorded the happenings of his first few years of life.  I read the story of his birth, the anecdotes of his first outing, his first words, his first plane flight during which he yelled the entire way.  One entry described Marc’s first Father’s Day when we lived in L.A. – how we went to Zankou Chicken for lunch, then got bobas and sat in the park listening to live jazz with our new baby boy.  I remember that now, but I’d forgotten until I read about it.  These books are a treasure to me; they tell the story of my kids, and my past, with my own words.  Though they might not be interesting to look at, I would put my Mommy Journals in there.
          If I could have a multi-media set-up I’d loop videos of favorite movie clips, stopping intermittently to play a soundtrack of songs I love.  The “O Captain My Captain” scene from  Dead Poet’s Society, the dinner party from Chocolat, any part of Out of Africa – they represent me just as Luke’s legos represent him.  My favorite songs  explain me in ways an hour’s worth of verbal description couldn’t.  Throw in a few of my favorite books, a printed out poem or two, and my new orange slippers and my display would be complete.  Me, summarized in a glass case.  I like the simplicity of it.  The this-is-all-the-space-you-get-so-you’ve-got-to-edit-yourself factor.  It’s a good exercise to do from time to time.
          Maybe when Luke is “Hawk of the Day” again next year I’ll do another mental edit of myself, picking and choosing what I would include in the “this is me” showcase.  I’m sure many things would stay the same, but some might change.  I know most of Luke’s will, since the difference between almost-eight and almost-nine is like a decade in grown-up years.  Hopefully, though, he’ll still let the world see his sweet heart.  Chipmunk and Woof-Woof may be absent, but maybe his family will still be included.  No matter, it will be fun, yet again, to see what my son chooses to show the world about who he is.  And to do a little self-evaluation along with him.
Hawk of the Day
Hawk of the Day

Speaking Of…

A list of things for which I’m thankful:

 

The Usual (but no less important):
My family and my friends.

 

The Every Day (but not for everyone):
my bed, heat in winter/air conditioning in summer, warm socks, running water, a refrigerator.

 

Food:
boba, pickles, Indian food, lemongrass, pancakes, GARLIC, quinoa, cereal, home-made doughnuts at 715 restaurant.

 

Things I would be thankful for if they didn’t suck:
gluten-free bread

 

Miscellaneous:
free babysitting by grandparents, my fake Frye boots that look awesome but were only $20, poetry, my grandparents, E.B. White, Josh Ritter, people who adopt, my mini-van, the fact that I’ll never be in junior high again.

 

Speaking of…
          Junior high was awful in most ways.  After feeling totally confident in elementary school, I entered seventh grade magically void of any self-assurance.  Any time I began to feel comfortable in my own skin, something embarrassing or unnerving would happen  – I would fall forward up the stairs, forget my cheerleading bloomers, see a fight in the hallway, not wear the most popular jeans, be asked a sexually explicit question of which I didn’t know the meaning and could never answer, be unable to get my bangs exactly right, get a new zit, grow freakishly tall over the summer, never know if anything I did was lame or great.  Throw in hormones, and by the time I got to high school I wasn’t sure about myself at all.
Enter Mrs. Bailey.  She taught Social Studies, one of my favorite subjects, and she rocked it.  She was smart, sassy, and didn’t take any of the high school boys’ crap; she demanded respect and got it.  She loved us, that was clear, but wasn’t going to let us run the show.  For that very reason.
          I was a little scared of her at first – her no-nonsense manner, her expectations, her steely stare when someone got out of line.  But I soon found in her a role model; this was a woman I wanted to emulate.  To have so much confidence you didn’t care what the kids thought of you seemed like something I could only imagine in my nerve-wracked adolescent mind.  I observed her quietly all semester, working her magic on the class, making even the jocks want to learn about the three branches of government.  I watched and I learned, and I leeched spunk from her by osmosis.
          It may have lain dormant for years, but eventually my self-assurance emerged when I, myself, started teaching.  I knew from Mrs. Bailey that my 35 sixth-graders per hour weren’t all going to love me, and that was okay.  Even good.  I had to put their needs above making them love me.  But I’ve used it even more in parenting.  When I ask my kids why I’m making them eat their broccoli or go to bed on time, they roll their eyes and say with exasperation “Because you love me.”  That’s right.  I could let them eat candy all day long and stay up ‘til they passed out and they’d think I was really cool.  But I’m a mom – I’m not supposed to be cool.  I’m supposed to keep them alive and well as best I can.  So it’s vegetables and 8:00PM and all kinds of things they’ll be thankful for someday.
          Therefore I will add Mrs. Bailey to my thankful list.  And I’ll mention her to my kids on Thursday, telling them she’s the one to blame.

Reunion

          My mom’s best friend was in town last week from Connecticut, for the first time in sixteen years, and for them it was as if no time had passed.  They didn’t need to get reacquainted.  Nothing, though everything, had changed.
          Mom and Jude didn’t click when they first met: Mom was quiet and serious, Jude was outgoing and funny.  Mom loved poetry, Jude loved a party.  But when they started dating roommates they saw each other a lot, and as often happens, opposites attracted.    Though they were different on the surface, they recognized in one another a similar soul.  It just took some time to uncover.  They soon became deep friends, and roommates.  When Mom married after her sophomore year, Jude was her maid of honor.  When Mom’s young husband died just six months later, Jude moved in to take care of her.
          It was the kind of friendship you wait for your whole life, and then hang on to for the rest of it.
Then they both married, Jude moved far away, and life happened.  Kids, jobs and a thousand miles made visits wait.  Now Jude has retired, and last week was their 40th college reunion, so a visit was finally planned.  It was wonderful to see them together, instantly picking up where they left off all those years ago.  The same women, but older, wiser; talking about grandchildren instead of boyfriends, telling different jokes but laughing with the same voices as before, with a shared history that makes even laughing more fun.
          It’s beautiful when someone is given to you as a gift, allowing you to know and be known, deeply.  Someone who has your back no matter how far away, who you can call at any hour, blubbering with tears or squealing with joy, who knows by the tone of your voice, in two seconds, that something is up.
          Julie showed up my sophomore year of high school, fresh from California and therefore cooler than anyone else.  She wore black babydoll dresses, listened to Jane’s Addiction and had been to Haight-Ashbury.  Whoa.  She was a novelty, but I soon realized she was also a real person.  We had met as little kids, in ballet, but as we remember it we didn’t like each other then.  Now as sixteen-year-olds, the older versions of us found a similar soul, too.  It didn’t take long to be inseparable – getting ourselves into trouble, getting ourselves out of trouble, making each other laugh ‘til we peed, holding each other up when the drama of adolescence brought us down.  We were roommates in college, too.  She married our junior year and I was her maid of honor.  And when my now husband told me he didn’t “want to pursue a relationship” with me and I was a wreck, he dropped me off at Julie’s because he knew I needed her.
          Now, after each getting married, having babies, living twenty years more life (gasp), she is still an essential element of my sanity, of lifting me up, of making me laugh.  She knows me better than anyone other than my husband – even better in some ways, as a woman.  She’s got my back, I can call her in joy or pain, she knows by my voice when I’m having a bad day.  She is a gift, as much as any other I’ve received.  I know my Mom would say the same of Jude.
          What would life look like without a bestest best friend?  I don’t want to know, actually.  I’m hoping Julie and I get to our 40th college reunion, post-kid-raising, with a bit of time on our hands to spend together, and realize that the years haven’t changed what made us friends in the first place.  That having someone who’s in it for the long haul is a gift indeed.

Now

          I was reading an article in National Geographic about disappearing languages throughout the world and it made me think about the value of the past.  Of course, we all learn from history – the mistakes and triumphs of those who lived before we came along.  That’s a given.  We tend to repeat many of the mistakes others have made in the past – we as humans don’t seem to learn our lessons very well unless they are actually our very own – but if we pay attention and make some good choices, the past can point us toward wisdom.  There’s also a point at which being too concerned with it can be damaging.  Dwelling on your past mistakes, for example, only keeps you stuck in a loop of guilt and hopelessness.  Or as I have done before, looking back too fondly at days gone by can distract you from today and tomorrow and the loveliness of them.  
          I tend to see my young childhood through rose-colored glasses.  This clearly means I was provided a safe, fun environment in which to live, and is good.  I’m certainly glad I don’t see it otherwise.  But it’s a memory – appropriately soft edged and slightly blurry – simply to be enjoyed in the lobe of my brain that handles that sort of thing.  Not longed for as a lost golden age.
          Then there are the hard years of life I’ve lived.  When my mom was sick, or when marriage was rough, or when I moved to L.A. and was overwhelmed at the change, and so on.  I could relive again and again those difficult times, too.  But thankfully, over the last decade, I have begun to learn to let the past go.  It’s there to see from afar – to remember fondly and to learn from.  But I’ve released some of it’s grip on me, able to move on without the baggage of before.  Free to look ahead.
          I’ve mentioned before that I have what the Gallup Organization’s Strengthfinder test calls the “Past Theme.”  In contrast, my husband fits the description of the “Futuristic Theme”…
                    ▪ You love to look ahead and think wistfully, “Wouldn’t it be great if …?”
                    ▪ You are fascinated by the future and create detailed pictures to pull you forward.
                    ▪ You are sometimes called “a dreamer,” other times a “visionary.”
                    ▪ You serve as a source of hope for others when you speak vividly.
(http://letstalkpersonality.com/strengthsfinder/reflecting-themes/strengthsfinder-futuristic/)
Yes, that is my husband.  I, by nature, am exactly the opposite.  I am not a dreamer.  In fact, I often squash my poor husband’s lofty ideas before they have a chance to live at all – something on which I am working.  But Marc’s forward-looking tendencies have impacted me.  In him, and in others, I’ve seen the freedom of putting the past behind and looking ahead.  I’ve certainly not morphed into a futurist – I still see the past as a useful tool, or a fun thing to watch from the window of your mind from time to time, but I’m learning to leave it back there.  It informs what I do now; It doesn’t cast a shadow.
          It occurs to me, though, that it doesn’t have to be one or the other.  Even better than looking back or looking ahead is sitting still long enough to see right now.  My sweet little toddler, with pink cheeks, one dimple and a toothy grin, wobbled in to the kitchen today and smiled.  Something about that moment, which was nothing out of the ordinary, made me stop and pay attention.  I hadn’t gotten much done in the morning, and I had a lot to do before I picked up my son from school, but right then I knew it didn’t matter one bit.  We needed to connect.  We needed to dance.  I turned on some Mat Kearney and we twirled, we swayed, we nuzzled noses, we did some non-descript partner hip hop, and then we sat on the floor and giggled, her warm cheek against mine.  We looked at each other and I ached with knowing she would grow up very soon.  But then I let that go, too, and enjoyed my ten minutes with Mae before life-in-fast-forward resumed, and it was enough.
          Something in the middle seems like the best way of viewing the world.  Paying attention to right now.  In-between past and future, making today count, no matter what has happened or will happen.
          In Tuva, one of the languages the National Geographic article mentions,
                    …the past is always spoken of as ahead of one and the future is behind one’s back. ‘We could
                    never say, I’m looking forward to doing something,’ a Tuvan told me.  Indeed, he might say, ‘I’m
                    looking forward to the day before yesterday.’  It makes total sense if you think of it in a Tuvan sort
                    of way: If the future were ahead of you, wouldn’t it be in plain view?
                                           (Rymer, R. Vanishing Voices (2012, July). National Geographic, Vol. 222 No. 1,  77)
It’s a different way of looking at things.  Probably opposite from a futurist’s perspective, and maybe the Tuvans mean it differently than I’m taking it, but it sounds like a nice balance to me.  I like the idea of moving away from the past even as you watch it go, facing it but leaving it behind.  You can see what’s happened before, but it’s not stopping you.  You don’t know what will happen next, and that’s ok.  I’m thankful for this new perspective; I’ll probably trip one day trying it for real.  But no matter how I view the past or the future, I want to live in the day I’m living (unless I have the flu – sorry, I’m not that mature) and let it be. To see the dimpled baby face in front of me for what it is: now.

 

I Am a Rock

          I just read Winter’s Bone with my book club.  I watched the movie maybe two years ago and loved it.  It was depressing, bleak and made me never want to find myself in the Ozarks after dark, but it was so well-made that I didn’t mind.  And as usual, the book was even better.  From the first page I was fully engaged, wrapped up in the sad, dark world of backwoods poverty and danger that the book describes in such creative detail.  It made me want to write a great novel.  Maybe someday.  It also made me realize some things about my own life – things I hadn’t thought of in a long time.
          I went to hear the author, Daniel Woodrell, speak about his life and his writing.  During the interview he mentioned that he had been surprised at what a large part of the book’s audience turned out to be sixteen-year-old girls.  They clearly had identified with the main character, Ree Dolly, and the tough choices she faced with such bravery in the book.  As a 37-year-old woman I hadn’t noticed myself particularly identifying with Ree, but as the (awesome) ladies in my book club talked over wine and cocktails, I realized I clearly had.  In a significant way.  A friend posed a question to the group about one of the characters, and I caught my breath, realizing I’d missed a major connection between Ree Dolly and myself as an adolescent.
In the book Ree must take care of her brothers in the absence of her father, who is missing, and her mother, who is present but mentally gone.  My father certainly was never presumed to be killed by meth-cookers, and my mother is alive and well and mentally present in my life, so my connections with the text were not literal.  But there was a time when my mom was very sick, and to deal with the effects of that my dad was at work a lot.  I also had a little brother to “take care of” in certain ways.  Comparing my situation to Ree’s feels silly in light of the danger she faced, and that real girls in the hills of the Ozarks really do face daily.  But it hits a nerve in my soul.  One I didn’t know was still sore.
          When I was in ninth grade my mother was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  She knew something was wrong, having had fevers off and on for years, among a million other symptoms that doctors couldn’t decipher.  But by the time she was diagnosed, the sickness had come on in full force.  She slept most of the time, as I remember it, so was absent for a good deal of my high school years.  This fact hurts her immensely now, as she certainly didn’t want to miss that time, but it’s part of my story, and part of Ree’s, too.  Her mother was escaping the sadness and pain of her life, either by choice or because of her body’s physical reaction to it, by losing her mind.  She was in the house, had to be taken care of, but wasn’t there to mother her daughter.  My mom’s body was escaping it’s own pain, too, by sleeping.  The illness and medicine made her confused; she just wasn’t the same mom I had known as a child.  In Ree’s case, and in mine, the roles switched.  Mother cared for daughter, and missed being cared for herself.
          As a high-schooler I didn’t know how to deal with my mom’s sickness, so I decided to push it down, shut it up, make it go away in my heart.  I would drive around singing Simon and Garfunkel’s I Am A Rock to myself and the air.  “And a rock feels no pain.  And an island never cries.”  I was determined to be strong, not to feel, not to fall apart as my mom had.  But there was more strength inside her sleeping body than I knew.  Unlike the mom in Winter’s Bone, my mom wasn’t gone forever.  Just lying dormant for a time.  After a while, in her own Spring, she would emerge from the cave of her illness and begin living again.
          In the book, Ree takes her mother for a walk and tries to elicit her help in making some decisions that will impact the family and everything they have left, but her mom doesn’t come back to her.  She stays tucked inside the safety of her warped mind, away from decisions and heartache and responsibility.  Whether by choice or circumstance, she is gone.  My mom is not.  It took several years, which surely felt like decades to my mother, for her to come out of the fog and fatigue of her illness, but she did.  And she has slowly gotten better ever since.  Unlike Ree, I got my mother back.  It was rough time for both of us, but the happy ending is that I still have a mother, alive and active in my life, who I talk to nearly daily and who watches my kids for me all the time.  She is their favorite person in the universe.  It’s hard to believe she was ever “absent” at all.
          The other good news is that I don’t try to push down my feelings anymore.  I am not a rock.  Or an island.  I’m a mushy human being who is glad my mom came back to me.  Though it would have been a too-sweet ending to Winter’s Bone,  I wish Ree could say the same.