Perspective

“It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

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Not my driveway.

This morning, oh Monday morning, in January, no less. I went outside after breakfast was complete to begin loading the car, and discovered that the lower half of my driveway somewhat resembled an ice rink.

In my quest to love (or not hate) winter and enjoy it with my children, I’m rediscovering a fondness for ice skating. But I like to do it with skates on, preferably on a rink or well groomed pond. My driveway at 7am, on a Monday, in work clothing, not so much.

“Crap,” I said to myself, because I needed to salt the driveway, which I hadn’t factored into my morning schedule. And I came inside to tell the girls to please move toward brushing hair and teeth. I say girls, but really I mean the small one, who needs constant prodding these days to get out the door. “I’ll be outside, salting the driveway so we don’t slip on all the ice,” I stated, only a little grumpily, considering.

“Ice!”  The small one piped up. And proceeded to brush her teeth and hair and pull on boots and coat at record speed. Because, well, ice! Ice isn’t a slightly scary bother to be dealt with when you’re six years old. Ice is cool, cold actually, and fun. It’s slippery and slidy and you only need boots to have fun on it.

Which she did for a few minutes before we got into car.  And due to her get-ready-fast-to-play-in- the-ice mode, we actually arrived at school a few minutes early, on a Monday morning.

So is it ice, (blah)?  Or Ice!? It really is all in your perspective.

Grateful….

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As the holiday weekend winds down, I’m perhaps a bit late in expressing my gratitude for the many blessings in my life. I make a point of counting my blessings regularly, but on this Sunday evening, I’d like to take a few moments to be intentionally grateful for the days that are just passing.

So I’m Grateful.

Grateful for lovely family and lovely friends. Grateful for what felt like many gatherings, large and small, over meals and coffee and tea. Grateful for time to break bread and just sit and be with people I love and respect with time and time to spare in a life that usually feels much too fast. Grateful to be so richly blessed with wonderful people in my life.

Grateful for rest. I’ve slept and slept and slept these past few days. I feel tired a lot, most of the time lately, but I sometimes tell myself it’s in my mind. It’s not. I fell asleep early, slept later than usual, and I dozed off every time I sat or lay for any length of time, which was more often over the past 4 days then in a long time. I’m not sure how to get enough rest in this life, and I could sleep more, but this was a good start.

Grateful for more time than usual with the two girls I love immensely. Grateful for time to talk and hold them. Grateful for the many times over the past few days that they both climbed into my lap. Grateful they both still do. Grateful we had time for a six year old to play pony all day long and to find just the right color snow pants for a thirteen year old, because these things are oh so important when you’re six and thirteen. I’m grateful I still remember a little of what it was like to be both these ages.

Grateful for the many abundances in my life. Grateful for good food, that I have always been able to feed my children in world where not every parent can say this. Grateful we have a roof, and clothing and more. We are so very fortunate.

Grateful to have a little time to remember that I actually like who I am when I’m not so exhausted and strapped for time. I suspect many or most of us would feel like better people with more rest and less fullness. I don’t know the answer to any of this, but I’m grateful for the moments to ponder the question once again.

With gratitude….

Meant for this….

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At the beginning of September, in the middle of a Sunday afternoon, I got the news that a dear, long time friend of my family’s had passed. It was not unexpected, she had been ill, yes, with cancer, for years, and I knew she was in hospice. We live on opposite ends of the country, and I had been in touch not so long ago, but hadn’t seen her in years. I should have been ready for this, but still it hit me, harder than I expected. For a few nights I woke up crying in the wee hours of the morning again in a way I haven’t since losing my own mother.

This evening, as I was pulling into my driveway, I got a text. More, similar news. Cancer taking yet another. More loss, more time nearing an end, more when enough should be enough already, and instead of walking in thinking of dinner, I walked in thinking of this family who will mourn this loved one, and learn to live with the ache.

I have been knocked sideways and off my feet by loss these last 5 or so years, and when the loss of another person happens in my life, I have this almost knee jerk thought of no, not again, this isn’t supposed to happen again.

But I have been chewing on this thought a lot lately, digesting or maybe composting it, trying to turn it into something else. So if I seem to be focusing on death a lot these days, it’s really way my of making sense of it in my own life.

Because it is. It is supposed to happen in our lives, again, and again, and again. It is woven into the very fabric of life that it should also encompass death. That we should think otherwise seems almost ridiculous to me when I stand back from my own deep emotions, and put it in context.

I was thinking a few days ago that my children have known so much more loss in their young years than I did at their ages. Maybe this makes them more resilient, maybe they will have better coping skills, at the very least, they should have a better understanding and acceptance that loss will come to all of us.

No one taught me how to do this, how to accept that life is fragile and uncertain. But I am learning. I am not at all good at this. Truth be told, I have prayed, more than once, since the loss of my mother and since subsequent losses, for a week or weeks off alone. Time to curl into fetal position, and not move from there unless absolutely necessary, and cry until I somehow finally stop. But that hasn’t been my path, and somehow I am still here, and I am surviving losing loved ones, treasured dreams, youth as it fades from me, time as it slips stealthily away.

And as I keep showing up here, in this uncertain place, I am coming to believe that we are meant for this. We are meant for this rich beautiful and sometimes awfully tragic life. We are meant to lose, to mourn, to learn to accept, and then still show up and embrace life with all of it’s uncertainty, all of it’s mystery. To love, to lose, to be crushed by that loss, however it came about, to bleed and heal and love some more, knowing with each subsequent losing that we are choosing to be vulnerable and cracked open again, and that somehow we are even better for this, or at least we can be.

I don’t know how we choose this and still keep our sanity, but we do, I do. I am sitting here, swallowing the lump that has been stuck in my throat since I got that text, and I am choosing. I’m here, I want this, I’m glad I’m here, it hurts like hell these days, but I want to be here.

It is a beautiful, warm breezy night for October and it’s time for me to sit outside for a bit, and maybe hear some of the secrets to the mysteries of life whispered on on the wind.

“Mom, I was an Artist!”

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Years ago, when my oldest daughter was small, she spent a lot of time creating with her grandmother, my mother, and my little sister. They drew, painted, sewed, built and decorated a bird feeder with my dad’s help. This often happened when I was working, but I once had the opportunity to witness an interchange between them regarding a painting gone awry.

My daughter was maybe 5 years old, but already something of a perfectionist (ahem, no idea where that comes from), and was very upset with a mistake in the watercolor painting she was working on. My mom sat with her calmly and explained that artists made mistakes all the time, and that skilled artists would find ways to incorporate their mistakes into their finished pieces.

I don’t recall that this soothed her much at the time, but she’s become quite an artist as she matures, and I’ve seen her do this time and again. I haven’t asked her if she remembers those words, but I expect she does.

I definitely did. In recent years, when my littlest was similarly frustrated, I repeated these words to her, and again, they didn’t seem to impact her much in the moment.

Lately, especially in the evenings, she’s been telling me she’s feeling “crafty, ” meaning she’s enjoying working on arts and crafts projects. Tonight she stated this again. With an eye on honoring this but also keeping us to a reasonable bedtime, I suggested she draw something (I attribute this moment of clarity late in the day to dark chocolate, by the way). She settled on making a book that she could work on bit by bit over the next few evenings as I read to her.

So I read, she drew, and suddenly, she interrupted me piping up with, “Mom, I was an artist!” And she proceeded to show me where she had made a mistake, and incorporated it into the drawing.

I think there’s probably a good life lesson here, something about blending our errors with our intentions and finding beauty there. For the moment though, I’m absorbing that just like that, my mother lives on, in this lovely, tangible way through my beautiful children. That her gifts continue even in her absence, that she’s still gracing us in this way, and probably many more than aren’t as evident, but likely equally as powerful.

5 years later – some reflections on the loss of my mother….

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5 years ago today, in the early morning, my father, brothers, sister and I sat with my mother as she took her final breaths. That was, and remains, the most heartbreaking, moment of my life to date.

I have been reflecting on this, on her life, my life with her, and my life since her passing over the past few weeks. What does one say on such an anniversary? Are words needed or useful?

I don’t know that I am particularly wise regarding this topic, but at least I speak from some experience now, unwonted though it may be.

My thoughts….

It still sucks. The shock, the intensity, the bitterness of it has lessened, but I still really miss her, and it still really really sucks. I still want her back, want my children to have their grandmother. I have a level of acceptance of this reality now that I could never have imagined 5 years ago, or even 2 years ago, and I still wish it were otherwise. I watch my younger siblings grow into more mature adulthood, I imagine some of the big life moments that may be ahead for them, and I want her here for that, for them. They have their own thoughts and perspective on this, but in my mind for them, this really really sucks. I’m probably going to use that word a lot in this post, bear with me please.

I don’t feel her, wherever she is. I’d like to, to have this deep connection that reaches to the other side, beyond the veil, to a place where I could still feel her, believe the connection still exists. Maybe I’m just not that person, or maybe I haven’t figured it out yet, but I don’t like it when people say things like “she’ll always be with you. ” I believe that, in the more symbolic way. I see her in my children, in my siblings, in myself, in some of my actions and beliefs. But I want this to be true in a much more tangible way, and I don’t feel that, and that, yes, that sucks. In the moments surrounding her death, I felt that place, that thinning of the veil, if you will. To me, it felt very much the same as the feeling or energy that surrounds birth. I have, to date, been present for 7 births and 2 deaths, and I believe from these experiences that we return to the place we came from, and that it is good. I don’t know anymore than that, or really need to. But I’d like to feel my mother’s presence. I did once, and once only, in a dream, during a particularly rough patch in my life, where she stroked my cheek and told me all would be okay. In this instance, she wasn’t a character in the mental house-cleaning stream of consciousness type of dreams I typically have. It was different. My cousin told me I would feel the difference, and I did. I woke from this with my cheek still warm from her touch, from sleep? If this was what I want it to be, I’d like more examples please.

Life continues on. There is a rightness to this that I didn’t want to admit or embrace just after she passed, that I can accept and even revel in now. In the moments and days just following her death, I thought, please don’t leave me here without you. And then I looked at my beautiful daughters, and continued on. My baby, not yet 1, is about to be 6, and my beautiful then nearly 8 year old, is about to be a teenager. My awesome siblings are growing and changing into these amazing adults I knew they would become, but couldn’t quite picture in advance. I have the gift of a deepened relationship with my father, this beautiful, compassionate man who I’ve always known, but didn’t know as well until now. I have been able to witness, as I said to my cousin recently, time and life soften him until what exists in him now is rich and lovely, and I’m grateful, so very grateful to have more time with him. Life and time are making their mark on me as well, more noticeably lately, and I doing my best to move forward into this with some grace. All of this doesn’t suck, so there’s that.

The passage of time, of 5 years, has given me time to mourn, to move through the stages of grief, more than once, and to mature myself. I’m glad to have been as grownup as I was when she left, for even then, I was moving into this place of seeing her as more than mom, as well meaning and flawed as myself, as deeply human. It’s an interesting and humbling thing to reflect on both my childhood and my parenting, to see and acknowledge the flaws in both, and then to extend compassion to both parties, to my mother and myself. It’s easy to want to latch on extremes, to the black and white of people. To hold onto only the good, or only the bad, depending on the nature of the relationship. More challenging to learn to hold and accept both. In my teens I remember listening to my grandmother describe my grandfather as this nearly saintly person after his death, while remembering that I learned some of my more colorful swearing vocabulary from the words they called each other when angry. The irony was not lost on me even then, and now, I understand a little. This too, does not suck.

I have one silly thing I do, that I continue to hold onto. My mother was a nature lover, the Lorax in real life. There are moments when I see just a few leaves fluttering merrily at me. Not the whole tree, or all of the trees nearby, just a few leaves. And I imagine she’s waving to me, saying hello. I’m sure there is a scientific, physics based, unmagical answer to this phenomenon, but for now I’ll hold onto the wave. Until we meet again mom.

By the Water

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We are away for a few days this week, by the water, not far from home, but far enough to feel away, which is really really good.

Water soothes my soul, my being, especially big water, vast water. Water so big that you can’t see the other shore. Water so big that it both pummels and massages you, until the rough edges of life are, for a time, worn off, and there is only smooth peace left behind.

Vacationing with children, like most of life, is a completely different animal than vacationing without them. I remember my first real vacation as a mother, when my oldest was about 20 months old. I was, foolishly now it seems, shocked at how un-vacation-like it felt. Unless you have someone else assigned as first responder to your children, especially when small, vacationing with children is really just moving your every day life to another location. You’re still on deck all the time. And so it goes.

But I wasn’t working full time back then, so now, though I’m still on deck (and fortunately, and gratefully, I’m sharing this with a friend, also here with children), it’s a big mental break from the hussle of everyday life. Still cooking, still making sure we all have what we need, still navigating sibling rivalry when it crops up. But there is no schedule to keep, no cleaning to manage except the very basic stuff of everyday life, a lot more time to play, and, magically, a little time to reflect. Not hours of rest, of reading on the big, beautiful porches that come with this gorgeous, antique house I’m fortunate to have use of this week. But time for my mind and heart to settle, to rest in that peace.

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Many thoughts tumble through my mind as I unwind, mostly questions. Water, water, I love the water. I want a life where I can engage big water like this regularly, like a close friend and companion. How much is that house for sale down the block, could I make a go of an airbnb from this distance? Did I respond to that email? Am I doing the right things in my divorce, will I feel some relief when it’s said and done? Am I holding my girls enough? This week, yes, but regularly? Do I listen enough, do I really hear them, could I be missing something big? Can I carry some of this ease I feel here back with me, or is it inevitable that I get sucked back into the hustle of life as I know it now?

Most of these questions don’t have answers, at least not yet, (my California friends would fall over if I told them how little that house down the block is actually selling for), but just the time sit with the questions is a gift.

So for now, for these next moments, you’ll find me by the water, near the water, as close and as often as I can be.

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Seize the Summer Day

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I look forward to summer, to long days, to the heat, wow do I love the heat. I was never a fan of heat as a child growing up in southern California. I remember panting in the back seat of an unairconditioned car, longing to be cool, listening to my parent’s reply to my complaints, which was to open the window. And then getting blasted with hot air.

Now, with 14 (is it really 14?!) New York winters under my belt, I revel in the summers and especially the heat. I can’t wait until it’s warm enough to really cook my bones, until the heat permeates and after months of shivering, I no longer feel the chill.

Yet I’m wistful as a working parent in summer. Summer is actually more hectic for me than the school year. Two kids, usually in 2 separate camps with different drop off and pickup times, an invitation almost every weekend, always something we could be doing at any moment, and me, as usual, but even more so, keeping it all straight. It’s a whole nother layer of busy, and I find myself longing for simpler times, for the back seat of that hot hot car, when summer was down time for me.

This Saturday was full, but Sunday we didn’t have plans. The rain had finally stopped for a bit, and it was warm, dry and beautiful. We had some back to school prep (already, wow!) to do, but I wanted to get us outside and into the fresh air and sunlight.

We did our errand quickly, and there was a whole lot of cranky going on, the type that had me sitting in the aisle of the store, comforting a distraught child. We forged on, me momentarily questioning my sanity at bringing us out when we could be resting in preparation for the week to come.

Ice cream from one of our favorite local stops helped some. The hike I planned seemed doomed to fall by the wayside, but a brief dip at the base of a 60 degree waterfall revived us. They were ready for it, and we did it. A short hike under the deep, shady, canopy of trees, they spied chipmunks, millipedes and many (scary to someone almost 6) daddy long-legs. One was tired, the other committed to finding a place where we could dip our feet in the water once more, because “why did I wear these hiking sandals anyway!” We found it, the water refreshed us once more time, and we turned toward home, the setting sun beginning to peak through the layers of branches.

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My to do list is long, downtime short and I often feel torn between doing something fun, and doing less, and I’m always aware of what needs to be done. I’m coming to believe there is no one right answer to the question of “how do we spend this day, ” and maybe the best answer is just to show up as best we can in any moment, whatever the moment brings. But I’m grateful for the sweet afternoon on that warm summer day.