Tuesday, February 26, 2019

If it's not one thing....

A friend of mine used to have the signature line "if it's not one thing, it's your mother".     Her mother has died and my friend no longer uses that line on her emails and letters.

My mother had a huge impact on my life too.  My mother's approval and understanding were things that I wanted and that weighed heavily on my self/ life/ confidence/ self love.

Even towards that end of my mother's life, I was, on some level, afraid of her.  Or maybe more accurately, her words.  "sticks and stones might break my bones, but words will never hurt me".  We used to say that when we were little kids.  All the kids I knew said it.  I guess it was a coping method against bullying.

But the words did hurt, and sting. As much as the physical pain if not more.

Now that my mother is dead (I almost said "gone", but she will always be here- somewhere), I hope that I am able to dissect some of the words and the feelings I caught from them. 

I am almost 65.  That means that I am well past living half of my life.   How much more time I have here on Earth, nobody knows.  That's not the most important thing to me right now.

What is important is my legacy.  I know that I have left good in my path when I reflect on the lives of mothers and babies I have been lucky enough to meet and help.

I know that my legacy with those closest to me is more complicated that just "good" or "bad".   I have not been a perfect person.  I have not been a perfect mother, wife, or friend.  Nor a perfect daughter.

I cannot list all of my imperfections of which there are many.  Believe me, in my head I re-live a lot of shit.  Yelling at the kids.  Spanking and probably scaring them to death.   Yelling at my mother and my husband.   I feel it all.   None of it was justified or called for. 

If I could undo everything I did "wrong" in my life, I might.  Although I don't believe that every mistake turned out wrong.   Any hurt that I inflicted, I would take back in a heartbeat.

Holding on to past hurts and pain is what we do.   I was able to move away from a lot of it with my mother in the last two years of her life.  She went on antidepressants and  for the first time in my memory, she was not so critical or demanding.  She was more relaxed and was able to let go of her own anxiety. 

I have learned to accept my mother's (and father's) treatment of myself and my siblings.   I don't use the word "forgive" here because I am not 100% sure what that even means.

I know that the way my parents acted towards us was a reflection of their experiences and views of who they were.  What they felt.  Their pain was inflicted upon us.   And I share that with the people in my life with whom I shared my deepest feelings of love.

And now, I am just coping.  I am confused.   What is the right thing to do now? 

I have had  such a rich life and Nick and I have shared so much together.  The wonder that we found each other.  The amazement in having these beautiful babies, children, adults.   The sadness of losing two babies.  Losing our grandparents and parents.  Losing my brother..   The total confoundment and confusion of how to parent adults while being an adult.

There are millions of books on pregnancy and parenting.  Only a few on parenting adults.  There are no play dates and coffee groups for moms once the kids grow up.

I am okay knowing that I won't live forever.  It's just too hard.   What I would like though is to live in as much peace as possible. 

My love is deep and true and perfect.  I, on the other hand, am not


Monday, February 18, 2019

Grief

What exactly is grief?      It is many things.  Mostly I have thought of it as the feelings of loss when someone in my life had died.   I grieve for my parents and my brother. I grieve for my in laws. I grieve for dear friends who have died.     So often it is said that they died too young.   What does that even mean?   My mother in law was 99.  It was no surprise when she died.  But we miss her.  We would love more years with her.

Is it more tragic to lose a child.   Yes, in my mind it is.  I have not lost a child and cannot imagine it. 

But grief is also about losing something.  An idea.  An ideal.   A piece of yourself.    For me, it is not something I choose to do or feel.  It's just there. 

When we first got married there were times I grieved for my no longer single life.  I didn't get to be an adult and learn the world alone.    I am sure it was hard for Nick too, but, he had done more exploring the world outside of his parental home.

Grief came when my much loved and wanted first baby died in my womb and I never got to see her?  him?  I'll never know.

Every time we have moved, from one country to another.  Back home and away again.  I have a hard time adjusting at first.  I am homesick.  I miss my familiar surroundings, my family, my friends.  That is grieving too.

Saying goodbye to a [no longer] child at the airport, or as they walk away into their life at college.  Letting go.  Feeling pieces of your heart feel like they are crumbling and have no where to go.  Grief.
 
Letting go of a marriage and saying goodbye to the person with whom you have shared so much.  It shows as anger, hate and disappointment.  Maybe a little shame at allowing things to get so bad,   That's grief.

We did manage to resolve the separation and "save" our marriage.  Our love and commitment is greater than before.  But we both feel bad about the pain we caused each other and the people who love us.  Children, parents, siblings, friends.   Grief. 

Nostalgia is looking back at all the lovely things in our past.  Of course, at least on some level, we know that everything was not all rosy.  But rather than grieve over what was, we remember what feels good and warm and fuzzy.   The past is gone.  We have lost it never to get it back again.

I look at old pictures of myself and my kids and other loved ones.  When I see the pictures of myself I think "wow I was pretty".   Why didn't I know that at the time?    Why do I grieve over what is no more.  Looking at pictures of my children as little kids, pictures of mother as a vibrant young woman. 

And then there's the reality of physical health declining.   More often than not, conversations revolve around our health concerns.  No more rolling our eyes while telling tales of our silly child's pranks "you won't believe what my kid did"!

Brain tumors.  Who welcomes that news.  Twice.  Oh my, I am more less than perfect than I already knew .   I knew I was flawed, but now I am broken.  I am sad and sorry and scared.   I mourn what was and worry about what will be.   Will I ever be the same?  As what?  What is it I am afraid of losing?   Fortunately, I have been able to come through two brain surgeries doing very well thank you very much.  But, oh what grief that caused me and my whole family who feared  losing me.   All of me to death, or parts of me to disability.  Months of my life used up with pre surgical worry and post surgery recuperation.  It is popular to say "well, I'll never get that tine back".  Truth is, that time would have gone by regardless.   I think that the expression means "I am grieving having to lose what could have been wonderful times by having to deal with the reality of the situation".

My closest friend in the world is in a health crisis right now.  She cries.  She is scared.  She doesn't know what will happen.   She wishes that this was a bad dream.   Is she grieving?   Yes, I believe that is a part of her jumbled feelings right now.

I process it differently.  I am afraId too.  But I am also confident that everything will be alright.  Maybe that is my way of avoiding the grief  of this reality.   Maybe it is because I truly believe that everything will be alright.

My brother in law used to say "nothings so bad it isn't good for something".  I cannot always see that truth.

I like John Lennon saying ""Everything will be okay in the end. If it's not okay, it's not the end."

Fingers crossed




Sunday, February 17, 2019

Love hurts sometimes

Love.  Such a small word with so much attached to it. 

Sometimes we do things to "test" love.  As in thinking that if a person doesn't react or do something the way we want, it is interpreted as "they don't love me". 

Maybe the lack of action, or different action than expected is seen as an act of indifference or defiance.   And it is probably just not being able to take action. The lack of reaction or attention might just be a result of not knowing what to do.   Being afraid of reacting "wrong".

A simplified way for me to explain this is:  thinking about when one of my children has hurt themselves.    They are crying.  I am very matter of fact.  "what happened?"  "Let me kiss it and make it better".  In that moment, that hurt, scared child sees Mommy as so very strong and brave.  In very young children, mom and dad take on super hero qualities.   Patch it up, go to the ER, call the doctor.

Parents go to the child's school to advocate for their child.  Most of the time successfully.   Sometimes not.   When the parent is not able to "fix" a situation, that child might empathise  with their parents saying/ thinking "they tried".  Or they can see that parents as a failure.  Failing them.  Faulting their parents with all of their failings and shortcomings.     I know I have done that myself.

The truth is, when that child, or sibling, or dear friend is suffering for any reason,  I find myself remaining calm and sensible.  I cannot allow myself to be weak and let go.  If I do, I feel, it will make the situation harder and more unmanageable.   I rarely break down and cry.   Or I do so in private.

That probably sounds like I am cold and unfeeling.  No, what it means is that I am protecting myself.   It is not a deliberate or even a conscious thing at all.  It's me.  The core of me.  It allows me to gather facts and process whatever is going on.  My DNA. 

My mother had a friend long ago who became a widow when her child was very young, around 18 months old.  Any time her child cried, that mom went into an almost hysterical frenzy.  In fact, one time, when her son was around 3, he was tossing a beach ball around with another adult.  Somehow the three year old got a bloody nose.  I thought the mom was going to call the police and the fire department.  She yelled at the adult "are you trying to kill my baby?"     I don't know ultimately what kind of man that little boy grew into.  Most likely just fine.  But that poor mom.  And child.  He made his mom go crazy.   She went crazy under duress.  I don't think she could help it.  Just like I cannot help seeming detached I guess.  But, in fact, he didn't do anything.  She reacted.

I know that my children love me.   I also know that as adults, they need to figure out what boundaries they need to set to be adults.  And I should be aware of this.  I really do not want to alienate any of my children.   But, I also don't really feel that I need to be their "friend".    I have to treat them as peers- equals as adults and people.  And I have to remember that my words and actions mean a lot to them.

My wishes, thoughts, wishes for their happiness, are great, deep, to my core feelings.  Like when the little one falls and I tell them to brush it off, or I offer sympathy. 

I feel so much pride and joy when any of my kids does something they feel good about.  Whether it is creating a song, playing an instrument, writing a good story, or even noticing the glory in a hawk casting it's shadow.   They have my DNA in them.   They are me.  No, not really.  Not even an extension of me.  But I feel that they are.   Every scraped knee or broken bone I was so calm about- if I could have taken the pain for them I would have.

But here's the thing.  Annoying as it is, pain really is a piece of life.    Pain can knock you down or can be a building block.   And sometimes the down is so low that it is hard to imagine it ever being better.   But then the sun shines, or a stranger smiles.  You open the door for someone less able bodied.   And you feel that there is good too.

In 1998,when I went over the handlebars of a bick, it happened so fast I didn't even comprehend it.  There was no reflexive guarding myself with outstretched hands.  I flew.  I crashed.   My face hit the pavement.  My hands were bloody, my nose was bloody and I was stunned and trying to understand what had happened.   Then I felt it.  The terrible pain in my scraped up knees.   Oh it hurt so much.  But I was happy.  Pain meant that I was not dead.   Pain meant that I had not severed my spine and I become a paraplegic.    Ultimately I came to realize what had happened.  I took off my rings before my broken hand started to swell.  I asked for a granola bar as I was about to go into shock.   I lived.

And so, I know a bit about pain. I am an alive person.   I feel sadness.  And physical pain.  I feel psychic pain when I see suffering in the world.

And I hold onto the pain that I cannot solve when the people in my life who I love the most are in pain.   I wish I could take it away. 

I guess when they say "love hurts", this is what it means.


Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Generations

Today, after a visit to the doctor, I sat waiting for my car.   Valet parking.

There were people coming and going. Most of the people there had someone along.  Parents were bringing their children to the doctor and then taking them home.

But, more than young parents and children, there were older folks.  The gray haired parents in wheelchairs or using canes and walkers while their children took care of their parents.

There was one woman in a wheelchair whos daughter was bending down saying "yes Mom they are bringing the car".   "Mom" had gray hair.  She looked old (older than me), in her 80s I would guess.  She looked so fragile and a little bit confused.   The daughter was probably in her 40s, wearing jeans.   Daughter looked more competent and capable then Mom. 

I was witnessing that "flip", when the parent becomes the one who needs help and the adult child offers it.  It made me think of my own mother.  I remember pusing her in her wheelchair when we went shopping or to doctors visits.  And, even though my own mother was vulnerable and had some sort of mothering power over me, she was dependant and helpless.

I identified myself as the old lady in the wheelchair and her daughter as one of my children.  I mainly see it as my daughter, but who knows.

It is strange to feel like I am looking into the future.  I cannot identify with the 80 something gray haired "old" ladies.  And yet, here I am almost 65 and definitely gray haired.  Walking with a cane much of the time.

None of it really makes sense to me.  Life surprises me.  Aging surprises me.   And yet, here I am.

In my mind I am still the energetic woman in my  30s, 40s and on.  I imagine myself being full of energy again once I have my knee surgery, and recover.  And, losing eight will help.

But, I will never actually be young again. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

I cannot seem to stop being a mom more than anything else

Every day and every evening I tell myself "I have to write".  And then I don't.  I watch TV.  Play Facebook.   Read the paper or whatever is lying around.  I almost treat my blog as if it's homework!

Of course I am also often reflecting on life.  Mainly on parenting.

I know that it is hard becoming a practicing adult.  I am still trying to figure it out myself.    I know that Nick and I have tried as hard as we can to be "good" parents, and I know that we are.  What I have not really thought about is this; what is it like to have us as parents.

Many years ago I went to visit my dad and step mom in Arizona. My sister traveled with me and my five kids.   The kids ranged from a toddler to a 14 year old.   My father said he would take care of us.  I asked him to be specific, like, was he offering to pay for us to stay in a hotel.  He said yes, he was.

My sister stayed with in my dad's house and the kids and I stayed in a hotel.  My sister and I had hoped that we would be staying together, but that wasn't what happened.

It was a rough trip.   My kids were being "normal' stubborn kids. They argued with each other.  They refused to do some of the chores I asked them to help with.  They played with my step mother's stuffed Disney character toys which made her blow up demanding to know why they couldn't leave her things alone and play with their own toys. 

At one point my dad took me aside and said that I needed to learn to make the kids afraid of me so that they would obey.  Right- because that's what works?

The killer though was, when checking out of the hotel, there were a few long distance phone calls on the hotel bill.  I had called home a few times to let Nick know what we were up to.     When my dad got the receipt for the hotel, he told me that I owed him for the phone calls.  I thought he was kidding, but he was not.  So I paid him.  It was probably under twenty dollars.  But that's not the point.  I just felt somehow cheated and betrayed.

After getting home I wrote my father a long letter about the times he had let me down- like not paying my college tuition and  I am sure a load of other garbage that I had been carrying around.

The next time I saw my father and step mother was when they were visiting in Virginia.  My father referred to what he called "the revenge letter".  He asked "isn't there a point at which you stop blaming your parents?".  My stepmother piped up and said "no, never".

I did have a lot of pain and hurt that I carried over from my childhood.  I am sure I still do.   And, in writing that, I was expressing myself as a hurt child.    I don't think I realized that I could have hurt my father while doing it.

Fast forward to now.  As a mother I have always questioned myself and doubted myself a lot. I know that I was really good in many ways.  But I also know that I had and have many human failings.

And so now I am on the receiving end of the complaints about how I didn't do this or that.  I "should have" made this one work harder and that one didn't think that there would be any student debt.   And they blame me (and Nick).  It hurts.  But, even though all of my children are adults now, they are still my "children" and I think that the feelings an adult "child" has toward a parent can be confusing and confounding.

It is hard, when you can see, as an adult, the things that your parents did wrong.  And it is easy and convenient to lay blame.  I know.  I have done enough of it myself.

But, I found myself doing something I never thought I would do.  Instead of acknowledging the hurt and confusion I came back with "oh yeah, let me tell you how hard my life was".   Not helpful.  no way to grow in a relationship with youngish adults who still need you to hold the back of the bike sometimes so they don't fall off.

I want to be strong and reasonable and supportive.  I want to treat my children like the adults they are.   Instead I did my own version of "well, I had to walk 10 miles in the snow to and from school".  That's exactly what I did.

There are so many books and so much advice on how to give birth.  How to parent.  How to discipline (though I disagree with most of them).

But how to parent your adult offspring?   Not sure.  If there are books, I probably wouldn't agree with much of what they say anyway.

We have always tried to be attachment parents when the kids were babies and kids at home.  We often did not do what other people thought we should do.  I tried to be the :"tough love" parents a few times and it always backfired and ended up with too much confusion and hurt feelings on all sides.

I miss my kids.  I love them so much.  But I am fine with the empty nest too.  Nick and I are happy to be able to sit and watch TV or waste time however we want.  But, we are still fallible, sometimes just plain dumb, people.

Yes, we are.  I am.