Flying a Kite

After writing last week’s post about my own self-induced slothfulness, youngest daughter and I got dressed and left the house long enough to gather less-than-healthy movie food and came back to watch “Saving Mr. Banks.”

I knew the base premise of the movie, but not much more. I figured if it had Emma Thompson in it, it had to be good. I knew that it had something to do with fathers and daughters and, you know, imperfections. What I didn’t know was how much I needed to watch that movie.

The sixth anniversary of my own father’s death went by not unnoticed, but unregarded. I called my mom a day or two after and apologized, saying that something was niggling me about that date, but that I couldn’t put my finger on it until much later.  She said that none of the four of us had called–for the first time–and she figured it was because we had all moved on.  I can’t answer for my siblings, but for me, it was less about moving on and more about being consumed by other things that seemed more dire and present. More about that in another 6 years or so.

My daughter and I were chin-deep in chocolate-y goodness when the scene came on where the writers sing “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” to “Mrs.” for the first time and about 3/5ths into the scene, I found myself weeping silently into my chocolate. In that moment, I knew I was being taken somewhere else and the movie in my head overtook the one on the screen. In that moment, I saw my dad singing that song and I saw his silliness and his expressiveness that years of being an adult had robbed of me–and of him. I saw him singing that song, I saw him telling stories to my daughters, I saw him playing pirates on our deck with them, I saw him wearing my great-nephews hat with that look that always reminds me of “Dopey” of dwarf-fame. I saw him eating home-made ice cream in his hospital bed in the corner of my mother’s family-room, surrounded by my mother and one of his dearest friends–the one who had brought the ice cream. I saw my dad not in the images I’d held to strongly over the last many, many years–of his judgement, of his disappointment, of his … imperfections.

I got to say goodbye to some images in that moment. I got to say goodbye to my own anger and disappointment in my father’s imperfections. I got to see the way he did try to create fun for those around him, that he had a singular view of the world that brought us all joy–sometimes, I admit, at his expense.

In that moment, I saw my father smiling and I felt myself love him undeniably and I realized that I hadn’t allowed either of those things in many years. So, metaphorically and without my knowing it, in that moment that I wept the chocolate from my chin, I was tying a tail to that kite. It was a tail knotted with disappointment, bitterness, pain, and distance. And I let them all go. At least for that moment.

And this week was better than any week I remember in a long, long time. There was still work; there was still disappointment; there was still moments that could only be answered with chocolate, but I was better prepared to meet those moments because I wasn’t holding on to something invisible and unknown that was dragging me down, and down. And down.

The movie is, I think, probably pretty good on it’s own. For me, though, it was stunning catharsis… much as it appeared to be for “Mrs.” It allowed me to remember my father more fully–not through a lens of missed opportunities, but through a lens of missed understandings. They are different, those two things. And as I remember my father dancing around our living room, leading his merry band of misfits in a round of “Let’s go fly a kite,” I remember him with the love I know he felt in that moment.

Just like the song, that feeling was contagious and infected me fully. At least for this week.

Almost 1:00 on a Saturday

… and I am still in my pajamas. And I am not sick. My stomach is rumbling because I am just that lazy–can’t even bring myself to get up and have a Snicker’s bar with my cold coffee. The one daughter who still lives at home just rolled out of bed her own self on the penultimate day of her Spring break. We have a date planned since I’ve seen very little of her these last two weeks, but it appears mostly what we have planned is a sloth-fest.

Had you told me this day would come 14 years ago, I would not have believed you. I am here to testify to the moms coming up behind me that there will be a day when this is possible–or, better yet, a day when you actually do get dressed and get out and do something wonderful with either a good friend or a daughter (who might be both).

It will happen. You will have time to think a full thought (though you may not remember how to do so). And apparently, your coffee may still grow cold sitting next to you as you catch up on email and social media. I think that is what I did this morning, though I think I was also doing some self-care brain dumping that looked more like a catatonic state.

But now, a shower, and a date with my favorite youngest daughter that may include some pampering and some more sloth-like activity. And a big, fat burger because … yeah, my stomach just growled again and I am slowly moving up the Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs.

I hope you enjoy your day, however it plays out. I know I will.

Being on the Internet (this is not a How-To)

The eldest daughter (can no longer call her child) has already returned to the town where she works and goes to college. This afternoon we take the middlest daughter back, as well. Last night as we were doing the hall dance as she and I both readied for bed at the same time, I pulled her into a bear-hug and asked her if she wouldn’t be happier going to school locally and living at home with me some more. She hugged me back and patted me on the back in a very nurturing way and I knew what her answer was going to be.  “Fine,” I said, or some such. 

I was sitting here doing a spiritual practice that I’d forgotten I do (pet a cat who wants to be petted, nay, insists on being petted), and it allowed my mind to wander among many thoughts, but this one theme has been routine throughout my posts of being a parent: last night it was the dance around the bathroom in a very small hall, this afternoon it will be the dance between holding on and letting go. It snuck up on me again, as I petted that cat, and felt his full weight on me–reminding me viscerally of the weight of my children as I rocked each of them to sleep as wee ones–that what I am feeling these days is a form of grief. And I wouldn’t be surprised if my children were feeling it, too, but in a different way.

No, the house isn’t empty. Yes, there is still a child here. But the house is not the same. Our time together–all five of us–is rammed into little capsules, little snapshots that remind us that things have changed.Not unanticipated change. Not unplanned-for change. Nor is it even unwelcome change. We have had rituals and ceremonies to mark the changes, but I wonder if we have taken the time fully to say to each other that this is hard, as well as exciting and wanted.

Image

Another thought I had as I sat petting that silly cat (and here’s a photo of him getting that morning scratch), which may only be tangentially connected to these thoughts of grief, was about this other spiritual practice I have–writing. I have blogged here inconsistently from the get-go, but less so over the last several years. The invitation to join the UU Blogger’s Workshop has stirred up the desire to blog again, but also stirred up in the wake is how to be on the internet. (I just realized that’s about the 87th time I’ve italicized something for emphasis, which reminds me of how difficult this medium is for actually and genuinely communicating a personal thought.)

This thought came after I perused my Facebook feed and there was a comic posted that I thought was rather on point–even though it was making fun of my own way of being in the world. Less vaguely: the comic reminded me how much of my time I spend judging. And I’m tired of it. I need to remember how to think critically, not be a critic. 

My husband and I were watching Melissa Harris-Perry’s show on MSNBC yesterday and I realized why I like this show so much is because she constantly reminds us to be critics but not critical. Think critically; act compassionately. 

The show also reminded me to think in terms of spectrums, not dualities. And this, I think, is what I’m struggling with as I get back to writing here, on this blog. I’m not a crunchy mama; I’m not a paragon of mom-ness; I’m not an expert on being a mom and what I write about my experience as a mom is only meant to be a snapshot of my experience. I know my feelings will change as will my experience of those feelings. I write things down so I can remember them; can remember the human moment of despair and elation or just plain contentedness. I don’t write them here because I think my way is THE way. It is a way. My way. 

The internet sometimes seems to want things to be either Yes or No; Male or Female; Black or White. But the world is full of so much more that falls within and beyond categorization. And so this is my fear, in writing here: that people will read me talking about “grief” in terms of my children leaving the home and think that I am smothering them with my own need for them. Or that they will think that everyone should get a cat to pet. Or that their life will be improved if they get a cat.

You’ve all seen it. I know you have–there’s the woman with three kids and abs of steel who challenged others to get up and be fit, too. And she got skewered on the internet. There are women who dare to be fat and happy on the internet. There’s the whole “parenting done right” and kid-shaming, parent-shaming, person-shaming, shaming-shaming thing going on here that can be a little less than spiritual, if you let it.

Then again, my writing teachers always told me–way back before there were such things as the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the dreaded comments–that you have to stand by what you write because you won’t be able to explain it to people in person. It’s a good rule, even now that there are comments which allow you to clarify what you meant.  Say what you mean and get on with it. People will understand or they won’t. The internet is what it is. There will be bullies and their will be allies and there will also be kindred spirits and, better yet, billions of other people who really haven’t noticed your ripple in the internet.

So, there’s that. Take your photo. Pet your cat. Enjoy your day. And don’t mind my weeping as my middle daughter heads back to her other life–the one we have prepared her for.

 

 

By any means possible

Inspired by the UU Blogger’s Workshop and by Rev. Meg Riley’s latest Quest for Meaning Reflection, I went back to the beginnings of this blog. I just read my New Year’s Eve column from 2006 and my heart broke open again. Not from anything I wrote, but by a comment left there by my other mother, the mother of my childhood (and lifelong) best friend. She passed last year. And I miss her, very much. I was about to write “even though” most of our last interactions were “virtual,” but I stopped. One thing I’ve learned in my years of blogging and posting to Facebook is this: connection is not virtual. The medium may be, but you can love and care for others and send it via electronic means as well as face-to-face and hand-to-hand. Sometimes it has to be heart-to-heart–by any means possible.

Another thing I’ve learned: death doesn’t defeat love; it just changes the medium of communication, yet again. With love to all who touch my life by any means possible …

Accordion Home

Fall has finally fallen; I know this because I sleep with a blanket of cats these days.  The last several days I have awoken not just with a cat at my feet, but with one on my abdomen or my arm (depending on if I’m lying on my back or my side). This is the cat who never slept with me because she had a human of her own. Alas, we have been betrayed, this calico harpee and I. That human has left us and left us both wandering the house, at times, yowling.

Then another cat’s human left us, and now I have two that follow me around with eyes and mouths wide. And this cat weighs about the same as a small car, so when she walks up my body to stare into my eyes, whiskers tickling my eyebrows and nose, I feel it as one would feel, I imagine, those giant walking robots in one of those Star-titled movies–with all the weight distributed on one pointy paw and then another.

I’m counting the days until those humans return to us, if only for a few precious hours. I’m counting the hours, too, trying to determine how best to spend them. They want to be home, with their kittens, on a couch they know intimately, eating food that has been prepared for them.

It is the hard irony that I who love to cook no longer find the impetus to do so.  I’m drinking coffee right now, dreaming of a brunch I won’t fix not only because I have a bedroom to finish painting but because we no longer keep food in this house. Or so it seems.

The one child left in the house is hardly ever here, thanks to her involvement in extra-curricular things. And all she ever asks for is money with which to purchase food. There are apples rotting in a bowl that I meant to make into sauce–and they appear to be doing it themselves, but not in a good way.

I’m complaining, aren’t I? I don’t mean to be. I mean just to be noting, because I find for myself that if I can name something it then makes sense to me and I’m on the way to making it right–or adjusting.

I’m naming the experience we are having right now of being a family in transition. Of being a home that billows and withers as required. We are an accordion home now. That’s it.

While three of us live her all the time, two come and go. The year before it was only one and I realize that we have reached the tipping point with the second one gone. Before we still planned meals depending on who would be home when. Last year, we bought a calendar because schedules were so crazy so we could circle the nights when everyone would be home and meals could be savored, together, at the table.

Now it seems we eat things that can easily be consumed wherever we all wish to be. Of course, there are still nights when forks and knives are required, and so we sit together, the three of us, at a table meant for more. Early in the year I took the leaves out of that table, so it wouldn’t seem so empty. But then we had company. And those cats’ humans came home, and now the table is filled with my husband’s office, so when we do huddle around it, it is at the end reserved for eating.

But that’s why I’m painting a bedroom. So we can move the remaining child into another bedroom and move his office into the small room. And build a sleeping chamber for the ones who come home to visit.

I was thinking, yesterday, as I put yet another coat of paint on this particular bedroom, about this accordion home. How I never thought I’d stay in the Midwest as long as I have, let alone this particular home. We purchased this home when one child was 2 and another was not yet 1.

The room we are painting this weekend has belonged, in turns, to: the eldest, alone; the eldest and middle (after the third one was born), shared; the middle and youngest, shared; and the middle one, alone. And now the youngest moves into it, alone. It has been many different colors, I think, though I’ve lost count of how many.  The colors I know it was are the two that I just painted over (because the last time I painted I didn’t do a very good job and strips of electric aqua scream out from between the white baseboards and the very dark purple walls.

My husband asked me why I did such a bad job on this last. The purple dripped down the walls and onto the baseboards (which I will tackle this morning) and I sighed and tried to come up with a reason. Maybe it was because the kids were old enough this time that I thought they could help and when they did, bad things happened? Probably, I told him, because I was tired and stretched and needed to paint because I said I would. And so I did, but not well.

But this time he is here to help and the taping and cutting in has been done properly–or at least we will find out when I pull up the tape in a few minutes.

I read a really nice piece in the Huffington Post this morning about parenting little, little children and unsolicited advice, and it reminded me of where we all have been, this accordion band of misfit toys (and pets). And through most of it, this house has stood and kept us bound to each other with its four small, yet brightly-colored walls. And it has billowed and withered as needed.

It has been the place of blanket forts and lava-floor; of sleepovers that sometimes only consisted of the three who sleep here anyway; of shared spaces, of singular spaces, of good food and crap food and sometimes even “nothing to eat” food. It has been open to friends and to relatives and to Halloween Candy and Christmas Eve fudge. We have patched holes in walls and cracks in hearts in this house that magically expands and contracts.

I remember my first glimpse of the house from the street when we were looking for a home 17 years ago. “Oh, it’ll never do,” I said. “Too small!”  And when we came in through the back door (which we consider the front door), and I saw the large open (though weirdly configured) space and thought, “it might do.” I see now that it was a magical house, an accordion house, that looks small from the outside, but holds –and has held–so very much within.

Now, though, it is time to tackle that wood trim in a room made smaller by coats of paint for each set of inhabitants, while cats curl up in blankets on beds throughout the house, oblivious now, it seems, to those who are missing but soon will appear.

Lost and Found

A common theme for my dreams is lost things. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who spends her nights searching for lost items and sometimes lost people. Last night was one of those nights, when I was searching and searching for something (I can’t remember what, now), and suddenly my dad was there. He drove up in a pristine classic car (wish I could tell you what kind it was, I want to say Impala, but I’ve had a day to reflect and so I see him in his old El Camino). He pulled up beside me and said, “come on,” which was not, as you might think, an invitation to get in the car with him, but an invitation to follow.  And so I did.  On foot. I raced after him and he led me into a parking garage under a shopping mall, and then sped off, leaving me standing there, panting, yelling “Dad?” in a real “WTF?” tone. It was only after he was out of sight that I remembered he is dead.

And then I woke up.

And the dad-feeling I had in that dream spirited away like a birthday balloon in a Santa Ana wind.

You go ahead and analyze the dream for me because I’m done trying.

But I will say that the dream has come back to me in strange moments today and as much as I yearn for restful sleep, I’m grateful for the opportunity to have glimpsed my dad again–even if it was in the bleary-eyed recesses of my brain.

I can explain this, maybe. I’m listening to Gilead by Marilynne Robinson as I drive to and from work these days. It is the story of an older father who is dying who writes a letter to his 7 year old son. It is the story of three generations of ministers and it is quite beautiful. I’ll listen to the end of the book tomorrow, but as the government shutdown has lingered on, it has been a real comfort to be able to settle into this story of hard times and strong faith and …. love. Love of family, love of community, but mostly love of God. Yes, it has been strange comfort. In fact, tonight I heard a line that made me stop the CD and just roll it over in my brain for a while. The narrator was talking about his father and grandfather who had a history of difference, anger, and distance, but he describes them sitting on the porch shelling black walnuts (that his mother said tasted like furniture) and remarks that they enjoyed each other’s company best of all–when they were silent. I’m not doing it justice. It’s a beautiful line that paints a picture of love beyond reason, of the familiarity that is usually strained, of the need to sometimes just be with people, shelling walnuts. It sketched silence as a gentle buffer that actually envelopes and connects.

The dream of my dad came back to me in that moment. My dad liked to talk about ideas and theory and sometimes his thoughts weren’t in league with mine. But there were times when he would be watching tennis or football and I’d go in the room regardless of my interest in the sport. I’d go in the room just to sit. I’d read the paper or a book or pretend to watch the television. In listening to Gilead tonight, it became clear to me what my motive actually was.  Just to be with my dad, to be in his presence, especially when we weren’t talking to each other.

That last makes it seem like my dad and I were at odds. We weren’t. But sometimes you need to have that person in your life who will sit quietly with you and not ask your motives, your desires, or even if you want a snack. Someone who provides that buffer of silent comfort.

Tonight, as I lay me down to sleep, I’ll pray my father comes again. And maybe he’ll have a basket of black walnuts and take a seat on the porch instead of speeding off in his El Camino.

And then maybe I’ll sleep deeply and well, as he watches.

Stealth

Sleep patterns disrupted. Went to bed with heartburn last night and was certain I was dying. I’ve never had pain like that before, so close to my heart. Not physical pain, anyhow. Plenty of the kind of pain that starts in anguish and for which there is no physical wound or ailment.

Funny how the brain is, yeah? It works on us in our sleep and tell us the unreal is real and we feel it as if it is so. And, sometimes, it works on us as we wake. Wave upon wave of heartburn and anxiety over that which isn’t. A balm, I think, sometimes. A balm to cover the actual atrocities–the ones we can’t fix because they are so large, so woven into the fabric of who we are and where we’ve been. The ones we feel so powerless to change.

Or maybe not so much a balm as a distraction. This is where the story is, your head tells your heart. This is where the grievance starts and this is how it is perpetuated. And it sends currents and waves of pain over and through the body in strange abstractions of the lived reality, twisting and turning over slights and miscommunications with loved ones and strangers alike, until the pain … is just there. A constant companion.

But this is also how it works, that brain, that stealth bomber of distraction. It can feed and fester on the slights, or it can find its place at the banquet table overflowing with the foodstuffs that grow our joy, compassion, and possibility. Mercy. Grace. Love.

What a wondrous vessel this is, the body that houses such ferocious wildness and trots it about in slacks and sensible shoes.