From Frodo to Gandalf…

The last 7 or so years of my life have been full of turmoil. The loss of my mother, and subsequently  the demise of my marriage sent me reeling through a storm I never imagined navigating, couldn’t possibly have imagined, having no context for much of what I was going to experience.

And as I’ve finally been coming out of this lengthy storm,  rather than feeling joy and relief, I’ve found myself bottoming out in way I didn’t anticipate. I’m exhausted, I cry A lot.  I have thoughts of wanting to give up, though not of Really giving up. Or somehow just giving in, to what, I don’t even know. But mostly, I’m just not sure how to continue on.  How does one do normal, when normal has left you by the wayside and continued on?

I have had so much support through all of this, therapy, many friends and family members who have shown up repeatedly to help me through this. Love, in it’s many and varied forms, carried me through.  I am not alone. And yet this particular journey has been intensely lonely. I am not unique, but I also haven’t come across a multitude of people who have left a mentally ill spouse, who know what it’s like to become the target of someone’s delusions, and have them fixate on you as the source of all of their problems.  And to keep coming at you with all of their crazy, again, and again. And undermine the hard work you are doing to create stability for your children. So while I’m at the phase in life where many I know have been or are divorcing, not so many can relate to my particular circumstances.

And so I turn back to the lessons, the stories really, from my youth. I am lately more and more aware that my core values came not just from the parenting I received, but also from the literature I was immersed in, all through my growing up.

I was home-schooled and  I spent many a content hour on my own devouring books. The richest of my memories of that time however, were from when my mom would read to my brother and I. I’m pretty sure this happened in all seasons, but what I remember best is cuddling up on chilly (for southern California) mornings, still in pajamas, with my mom and brother, drinking large pots of herbal tea and listening to her read to us. The characters became part of our lives for that time; we laughed with them, sweated with them, rejoiced with them, mourned with them. This exposure instilled in me a deep love of words and language, and an appreciation for their power. And because many of the stories we read were epic, heroic tales, the morals and values I hold as truths came from these.

Mom’s selections were mostly fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien, CS Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Ursula Le Guin were some favorites. I have never been much interested in Science Fiction (Le Guin being a crossover exception), much preferring to be immersed in the classic battles of good vs evil. Harry Potter came along later and my younger siblings got to experience these with her.

In my younger years, though my actual trials were few, I related most to the hero characters, to Frodo, and Harry and the Pevensie children and their counterparts.  The heroes don’t know what they’re getting into. They are generally thrust into something they haven’t chosen, and, because they are heroes, they manage to deal with it, taking their hits, oft-times bemoaning their fates, but rising to the challenges just the same. And being forever altered by the trials they live through. I’m not sure this did much to prepare me for life’s true challenges, but it did give me a deep sense of goodness and of who I wanted to be, in my own tale.

Recently, I have become more fascinated by the sages in these stories. Gandalf, Dallben, Dumbledore, Merriman Lyon. The wise ones, the mentors draw me in. Maybe this relates to my own aging, or my own search for wisdom and grounded-ness. But what I am loving most about these wise men (I wish there were more wise women in these stories), is that they not only rise to the occasion, they know what they are getting into, and they show up any way. They have lived enough to understand that sacrifice and loss are as essential to the fabric of life as love and gain, and they go forth, into the fray, willingly, knowingly.

I did Not enter this recent phase of my life willingly. When my life took the unexpected turn it did, I would have run screaming in the other direction if I could have. I would never have chosen this path, but I have survived it. Like Frodo, I wish this had never come to me. But it has.

As the dust finally begins to settle, I am left with the questions, how does one learn to live normally again, peacefully again, after so much turbulence?  After ending a marriage. After ending contact between children and their father due to unchecked, untreated mental illness. After trying to deflect incessant accusations of every ugly thing imaginable, and some unimaginable. After so much hope followed again and again by heartbreak. How does one begin again to just live?

It feels arrogant or dramatic to liken myself to say, Frodo, who’s journey helped save civilization, or to Taran, who, from humble origins, became high king. My journey was simply about my children and myself, about conjuring strength and stability out of chaos. After all of this heartbreak, I am left to mostly be just mom, and maybe something more.

Going back to these stories (did you know that Tolkien and Alexander used the same Welsh legends for inspiration?), when the adventures end, the heroes are oft times rewarded with a journey to a restful place. To the Summer Country, or Valinor, to peace and immortality.  Frodo and Bilbo, Gandalf and Gwydion, all went off to rest when all was said and done. Taran was given the gift of immortality, but chose to stay. Taran looked around at the beautiful people he knew and loved, and felt called to stay with them and rebuild a life for them all.  And thus took another step toward maturity.

So while rest sounds infinitely attractive right now, I guess I get to be Taran. To hang on, and stay.  And start to breathe again, and work with what comes next.  I don’t know how to do that really, but just peace and immortality aren’t exactly on the table at the moment, and anyway, seem rather hollow without those I love alongside me. Maybe the goal is really alchemy. Maybe part of maturity is morphing from hero to sage. From the one who says please no, and dances as hard as possible to keep the bad things from happening, into the one who recognizes that sometimes bad things do just happen, despite our best efforts to the contrary.  And still says yes, here I am.

In the middle of a recent round of crazy, I said, shakily to a friend, that I’d like to become impervious to it, to any attacks.  She responded, wisely, that this sounded like enlightenment. And yes, we’re all reaching for that. But the journey along the way is much more the point. So, onward with the journey. Onward with shaking and doing it anyway, onward with accepting that life sometimes really really sucks, onward, knowing more losses are coming, onward amidst so much goodness too. Onward with living and loving bigger anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your Children are Not Your Children

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On Children
 Kahlil Gibran

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

I first read this when I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, and I cried for the sheer beauty of these words. Truthfully, I cry nearly every time I read this. I have more than once thought that this would be a beautiful graduation reading, but I could not be the one to read it – I can’t get through it without my throat closing with tears.

I approached motherhood with a lot of intention – my children were not accidental, I called them forth with everything in me – I wanted them. Foolishly, arrogantly,(and I have since laughed at myself over this with a few good friends), I was sure I was going to get it all right. I was going to learn from my parents’ and others’ mistakes I’d observed, and know what to do and do it, better, just right. I was blindsided by the realities of raising actual real live people. They didn’t respond and behave they way they were supposed to, and I failed. Failed and  was humbled and learned and have to keep learning that life really doesn’t follow the best laid plans (there’s a reason why this is a such a well known saying) most of the time.. And it has been a worthwhile failing and humbling that continues to stretch me well beyond my comfort zone all of the time.

When I first realized, or maybe it’s more accurate to say over the many moments where I began to recognize that I was going to be raising these girls as a solo mother, my focus narrowed. I was slammed hard by some of my personal failings and poor choices, and realized that from that time forward, I was going to do everything in my power to create the strongest, stablest base I could for these girls to leap from.

I think the reason I love these words so much, is that for me they give focus and meaning to this very intense process of raising small humans into someday adults. It is exhausting and trying at times, and sometimes feels incredibly thankless. It is so very easy to get caught in the minutiae of everyday life that I forget what it’s all about. But when I read this, it brings me back to center. I come back to the bigger picture of parenting, which my mom used to say, quoting Haim Ginott, is to raise strong, humane people. So when I read this poem, I remember.

I remember that although we are on this journey together, it isn’t all about me. That although I sometimes I have the urge to cling, parenting is about so much letting go, so they can be who they are meant to be, outside the shadow I cast.

I remember that talk is cheap and actions are everything, and frankly, I talk too much a lot of the time, and they would rather have me just show up and be with them, and show them by example how best to live, whatever that means in the moment. This is a Tall order, because what one person knows all of that? But ultimately it means being present and being as decent and strong and humble and honest as I can be, so they can learn that too.

I remember, in moments, what it was like to be 7 and 14, and I attempt to merge these feelings with some of what I hope is the wisdom of my nearly 5 decades and come up with something that makes sense in how I relate to them. Sometimes this even works.

I remember that there were many things my parents taught me that I pushed against, and some which I left behind, only to come back around to as life experiences and maturity have led me back to the importance of some of their lessons. The really important stuff they gave me stuck, the stuff of how to treat others and how to treat the world around me, and how to eat well, and how to be open minded and open hearted, stuck, it worked. So as they grow and push against me, I remember that some of this is the normal part of becoming one’s own self, and that, hopefully, the important stuff is already in there, and will solidify when it’s time.

I remember what my mother said, what so many have said, about putting your own oxygen mask on first. And sometimes, I remember to do this. But especially lately, I’m getting that doing this for myself is a gift to them both because I’m a fresher, more inspired mom when I care for myself, and, if I do this for myself, they get to learn the importance of doing it for themselves also, before they have children, if they chose to do so. This is a work in process, for sure, but a worthy one.

I remember, on my best days, how rich this journey is, how quickly it goes, and how much I want to savor it. And on my not so best days, well, eventually I remember this again and come back to it.  I look at their fresh faces, smell their hair (when I can still get away with it), and breath it the simple goodness of loving them.

 

 

 

 

 

Cocooning

 

nature macro butterfly larva

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Not long ago, I was on a wintery walk with my beautiful friend S – S is the kind of friend I can have deep conversations with, without effort. They just happen with us, I think because we resonate mutually at this level. I love this about our friendship.

We were discussing our teenagers, and specifically the apparent need for them to spend a lot of time holed up in their rooms, away from family members. S, I think, referred to this as spending time in a cocoon. Which, when I thought more on this, makes so much sense. Teenagers, are working on pulling away from their families, of differentiating and developing their own sense of selves, more and more independent from those of us who gave them life. We see them through our own lenses, but they need to develop a vision of self that is their own. They emerge, eventually, as something, someone different. Hopefully, ready to fly, but, at least in my case, I want my butterflies to know they have a  place with me to come back and touch down and rest now and then, if needed.

I made the comment, at one point during the conversation, that I wish I’d been less sheltered, and had the opportunity to explore life a bit more, while still in the warm cocoon of my parent’s home.  I’m honestly not sure whether this would have changed much for me, but it was an interesting thought. And as a parent, I’m doing my best to walk the line between giving her the cocoon space (she’s in her room on her own as I write this), and pulling her back out a bit to engage in our family and in the life we still largely share, and throw in my two cents here and there, hopefully in a way she can hear, but sometimes not.

All of this made me think more about the concept of the cocoon, or cocooning, if you will, and that there have been a number of times in my life when I could have really used this, the ability to pull in completely for a bit in times of intense transition, and with any luck, emerge transformed and more whole.

Early motherhood comes to mind – I can think of few times more raw and tender for me than this. This time when my body was completely altered, and exhausted from bringing forth life. And then trying to know what to do with this person I created, some of it coming as pure instinct, and some of it feeling completely foreign and unknown. There is this perception, still I think, that we’re just supposed to know what to do as parents, we just become them. But wow, did I Not feel that way after my first was born. I had a lot of support with this early on, and didn’t work right after she was born, which I’m really grateful for. But so many don’t have this option.

After a loss  – I think we need this so much after a loss, or maybe just after any major transition. After my mother died, and again, when my marriage disintegrated, I wanted so much to be able to stay home alone for a week or so and curl into myself, and weep for all that was no more, and all I had to become, like it or not.

Nests – I think when my “nest”empties, I will want this again. I feel it already a little, this shifting in my very being, with this first girl of mine, who is stretching and spreading and needing me so much less – we talk frankly about this lately – I will need to become something new when my intense work of mothering is done. I have some inkling of who I may become, but it’s really more of a soft lump of clay right now, and when a little definition begins to emerge, the wind shifts and smooths it back over. Not time yet.

Given that the opportunity to completely withdraw for a bit hasn’t manifested in my life, I’m thinking now that following my teenagers example might actually be smarter and more realistic. So today, instead of jumping into that endless to do list, I dozed on the sofa with our Ginger (kitty) and listened to the kids in the background and felt some things unwind and reform, into what I’m not yet sure, but I am sure it was right.

Back of the House

red and brown floral stair carpet

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

If you’ve ever worked in the hospitality industry, the term Back of the House means something to you. To those not in the know, Back of the House refers to the behind the scenes areas where all of the magic happens. The kitchens and prep areas where beautiful food is prepared, where dishes are washed, where serving items and decor are stored and made ready to use, to create the magic of an event or dining experience.

When I was in my late 20s and early 30s, I worked as a banquet server. I started off at a very middle of the road conference hotel, and later was encouraged by co-workers to apply at some better places. One holiday season, I was hired by the Hotel Del Coronado, a lovely seaside Victorian resort hotel, famed as the location of several well known Marilyn Monroe movies, and which hosted many elegant events.

The hotel was under restoration at the time (during our orientation, it was stressed that we were to phrase this accurately to guests as a restoration rather than renovation, the distinction being significant, apparently, to the marketing of the hotel).

The hotel boasted some very lovely event spaces and ballrooms – the Crown Room is known for having hosted prominent political dignitaries. All of the areas guest could access were lovely and elegant, some being, as it were, restored to previous splendor.

The back of the house….not so much. I was initially shocked at how shabby the back of the house areas were. Old, faded, chipped paint, cracked tiles. None of the facade we shared with our guests translated to the behind the scenes work spaces. Functional, for the most part, they were. Attractive, they were not.  If you’ve ever lived or spent time in an older house, you’ll know what I mean when I say that even layers of fresh paint in some areas couldn’t cover up years of grime and wear and bumps and scars. The true history of the space was readily apparent in those walls and corners.

This makes me think of the facade many of us present to the world, and how imperfect our personal back of the house areas can be. But in many ways, this is where all the work happens and where the real magic comes from, where the real gold is mined.

Somehow,  in my growing up, I made the determination that my flaws were bigger, or worse, than those of the average person. Why else did everyone else seem to have it so together, while I felt so awkward, inelegant and clueless about the things so many seemed to know about? I was and am an intense overthinker – how could I possibly stack up and have something worthy to offer, compared to so many people who just act and move forward with ease?

Not long ago, someone I had recently met remarked upon what they considered my poise. I laughed aloud (still laughing at this,really). Can I really have outgrown that utterly awkward ugly-duckling self I have identified with for so long? And then someone I consider accomplished, elegant, and inspiring, let me have a peep into their “back of the house” and whoa! Come to find out, in many ways, so similar to mine. At this point, at the ripe old age of my current ripe old age, that shouldn’t be surprising to me, but it was, and it made me think about my perception of myself, and think that maybe it’s time to rethink it once again. Maybe we all should.

More than anything, what I’ve started to recognize how important it is to show up and just live, warts and all. There’s so much to do – we have so much to give, and so little time, really. Self-acceptance is an interesting journey – I myself have made some massively foolish life choices, with my head in the sand and guided more by my heart than said head. But here I am “poised” and ready for the next chapter. Join me?

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PS –  A scene from my current, actual house. Ahem.

6+ Years….

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Monday was the 6th anniversary of my mother’s passing. There is a surrealness for me still,  to writing these words.

I did not forget what day it was, but it passed swiftly as all of my days do lately, in a flurry of taking care of business – these days, of wrapping up summer and getting ready to send two not-quite-so-little-anymore girls off to school once more. It passed in wrapping up other long over due details of my life, in a tired haze, but the day was not lost on me. I would like to have had some moments to sit quietly and reflect on all of this, but instead, in my usual multi-tasking way, I ruminated on where I am with this, while trying to do so many other things, all without much focus.

I reflected last year (read it here) on how tough this still is for me, how much is still sucks. And truth be told, it still does, it still sucks. I still miss her, speaking of her loss still chokes me up, and I still wish it were different.

But a few months after writing that piece last year, I decided I needed to get a little more intentional about healing from this loss, and come to some deeper acceptance that this is the turn her life, and subsequently mine, and all of those who loved her, has taken. It was time for the deep mourning to soften. Time to embrace life for what it is, at least as much as mourn what it isn’t.

The biggest piece I’ve come to accept is that the missing doesn’t really get any easier, and maybe it shouldn’t. I will always miss her, she gave me life, and she loved me fiercely in the best way she knew how. In her own beautiful, messy, flawed, uniquely Stephanie way, she loved me, and who wouldn’t miss that?

She gave me many gifts, as well as some significant challenges, and in some ways even those are gifts, for they’ve forced me to stretch beyond what I knew, what I was raised with, and question what I wish to carry forth, and what would be best left behind. This is, like so much of life, and ongoing process, but that is also as it should be.

The greatest gift she gave me was her fierce love, which I hope I am doing an adequate job of translating to my own children. I love them with everything in me, and I try not to be too overbearing with this, and definitely fail sometimes at this, but I hope when and if they reflect back on their childhoods with me, they’ll remember and feel the strength of that love.

She gave me a deep sense of responsibility toward others, I can remember vividly, her telling me when I was quite small, that I should think about how others felt too – I think this was mostly in the context of her trying to navigate the sibling issues between myself and my little brother, but it left a deep impression on me, and I still think that way all of the time.

She was never one to accept the status quo as necessarily right, and from that I learned to examine and question everything around me, including my own motives. In a nutshell, she taught me critical thinking. This both keeps me up at night and probably makes me a better person.

She always strove for self-improvement, and I also took this very much to heart. These days, I’m striving to not think so much of improvement, and more of just resting where I’m at for a few moments. If I could speak to her today, I’d love to tell her that I can see how far she came, and that it was enough.

She taught me also a sense of responsibility toward the world around me, and especially the natural world. I don’t have the same level zeal she had for doing right by this planet we live on, but it all really matters to me, and informs my actions and choices still.

But most of all, as I already mentioned, she taught me love. My little one says snuggling is my superpower, so I think mom and I both got something right there.

Stagnation

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(photo note: this is not a great example of stagnation, but I killed my phone with ocean water early on in this trip, so this is the best I could do).

I have not been writing. Or rather, I have been trying, starting a lot of topics, and stopping and not finishing. I love to write. I feel it is my “thing”, my creative outlet, and yet I feel unable to do it lately. I have ideas, but I can’t get them to form into something cohesive that I want to complete and present.

Is this writer’s block? I don’t consider myself a writer so much as someone who enjoys writing, so I haven’t ever really thought of writer’s block as something that would apply to me. But I have been wanting to write and failing at it recently, when most times the words pour out of me, so perhaps this is writer’s block.

And if something is blocking me, it begs the question of what is the block?

Which brings me to the title of this post – Stagnation.

stag·na·tion
staɡˈnāSH(ə)n/
noun
the state of not flowing or moving.
“blocked drains resulting in water stagnation”
  • lack of activity, growth, or development.
    “a period of economic stagnation”

I have definitely felt stagnant lately, waiting for a big change, and now, suddenly, it’s here.

I am divorced. This is big. This is not something I’d ever have thought I’d want. But it was time, and I have been ready for awhile, and now it’s a fact. And I can move forward in ways I have been unable to for a long time, despite the fact that the partnership ended years ago.

But I still feel stagnate. I thought I would feel this large weight lifted, and movement  would become suddenly easy. In some ways, I do feel lighter. But if I use the analogy of blocked water here, it’s as if a large boulder was removed, but there is still a lot of debris in the stream, so it’s not flowing freely, there are barriers still to remove, and therefore lots of murky areas that will need to be flushed out before it all runs clear.

Which brings me to today, coming home from vacationing in beautiful Maine, having left, for the most part, my large anti-stagnation to-do list behind for a week, I find myself really resistant to picking it all back up again. There is so much necessary to be done, and I will do it. But I really don’t wanna – there’s a whole lot of don’t wanna coming home with me. I don’t know how one gets past this much don’t wanna, except to push on through, which I used to be good at, but feel I am losing my aptitude for.  I don’t wanna push. I want to stop, smell the flowers and the summer air, and my daughter’s sweet heads and sit with family and friends and not do all of the many things on my list.

So there you have it. My stagnation. Maybe just putting it out there will help – I don’t know. Maybe making a goal oriented list will give me a stronger feeling that what’s on the other side of this is worth pushing for and pushing through. Maybe, more than anything, I’m just really tired of pushing through. Maybe there’s another way that I haven’t found. Maybe through this process I will find that mythical other way.

I didn’t really want to write this, I’d much rather write of cheerful things, but this was easy to write, so I imagine there’s something to it for me. Something about authenticity and moving through the murk to get to what’s on the other side. I’d just really rather be on the side, thank you very much.

Reaching for the light…

When my oldest daughter was about 4, she began, in the winter, to come and find me, and pull me into the beams of light that came through the windows. These could be rare, we can go weeks without much direct sunlight in winter here, and she knew that I missed sun, and so appreciated it when it peaked through. I was, and still am, immensely touched by the sweetness in this gesture.

I still feel this way – I long for the light on darker days, and it soothes me when the light finally breaks through. Today was such a day – mostly cloudy, rainy.  I got outside and into the garden anyway, and enjoyed it.

But at the end of day, while washing dishes, I chanced to glance through the window, and caught this beam of light – just a patch, but so brilliant, as the sun was readying to set, that it felt like a bit of fire, and warmth.

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I have been reflecting this weekend on the light and darkness in my life, and the feeling that I have been caught up in darkness for too long, lately. For years now, in truth. The loss of my mother, and then my marriage, and the intense, gut-wrenching, many-layered fallout associated with that, which is ongoing. And I have descended, and come back and descended once again. And I have learned so much. I am older, I am wiser, I am stronger, I am more capable, I am more compassionate, I am a heck of a lot more tired. I am truly better in many ways, I see this. This is real, this is life. And I’d like to be more joyful.

It has been necessary for me to look at all of this loss, and much of what led up to it, to own it, to accept it, to live it. Dark and light exist in opposition to each other because this is necessary for balance. Because we can’t know one without the other.

But through all of this there have been rays of light in so many forms. I have seen them, been grateful for them, but maybe haven’t been able to fully absorb them, wandering as I have been in the dark. So many precious sunlit moments- faces of my children, my family, my friends, who have been here with me through all of this. Who have stood there with me, steadfast through this storm, who have reached out to me in some of the sweetest ways. Some chance encounters with beautiful strangers – who have touched me, us, in small ways that feel like sunbeams.

I have been looking long enough at the darkness for now. It will still be there, and I will still see it, but in the background for a time. Now is the time to reach for the light, and see where that takes me next.