You are the seed I am contemplating, as if I were soil feeling nourished enough to offer a place for deep roots, as if I were grounded. I am like a traveler, however, passing through; sections of me eroding, year after year.
Well, this past month, my daughter and I had a rough little patch of it. Basically, I was trying to take over in the pilot seat of her newly launched adult life. It was sort of that scene from my all-time top favorite movie, Apollo 13, where the Tom Hanks character (sad that I know my actors’ names better than my astronauts) inadvertently sits in the seat of the Kevin Bacon character, who is now the pilot (and Tom Hanks is the Captain)–he looks at him and says something like, “Sorry, old habits die hard.” (this is a very very loose version of the true quote–I am not going to dig out my DVD at this moment to get the exact quote for you all).
Two weeks into our impasse (with Hannah in CA not speaking to me, and me here knowing I overstepped my bounds: at the same time thinking “but I am right!” Still, as the defensive driving quip goes, “You can be dead right and still be dead.” Right doesn’t always matter), I awoke in the middle of the night knowing I needed to find a journal entry that I had written when I was pregnant with Hannah. I even knew where to look for this archaic document. It was in “the stacks”–one of my many huge Rubbermaid containers containing old journals. Finally, an old journal entry proves its value! Anyway, I was shocked to find that I wrote this entry when I was six months pregnant with Hannah. At seven months pregnant, I turned twenty two. Hannah turns twenty two in just one month. Hence, I wrote this journal entry at the EXACT same age that Hannah is now. I essentially wrote a journal entry to help myself along in the future. Here’s what it says:
June 15, 1992
They say that by the sixth month of pregnancy you, my child, can see, hear, taste, and feel emotion. I wonder how you felt yesterday when you heard me yelling at your grandmother; saw the walls of my abdominal muscles ball up in knots; heard my heartbeat increase; later heard my sobs of frustration while you were bounced up and down by a heaving diaphragm. So fragile still and yet you, like me, are already susceptible to the changing moods of your mother. I look down at my outstretched belly and try to explain the unexplainable: the relationship between mother and daughter.
I might start by describing the subtle rift created when a mother repeatedly tries to get her sole daughter, one who only agrees to wear jeans and corduroy pants, into pink, lace dresses. The battles waged in department store fitting rooms morph into larger battles fought over the dinner table when the daughter comes home to visit. The exact subject matter of these exchanges may change, but personal autonomy is always the undercurrent driving the feud.
How can I explain how scary it is for me now, at age 22, to be standing on the threshold of becoming a mother when I still haven’t learned how to be a daughter? I know you are going to be a girl, even though the ultrasound didn’t confirm it. During the test, you kept your legs firmly crossed in front of your genitalia; only a girl would do such a thing. I know you are a girl, even though I wish for you to be a boy because, with three older brothers, I’ve observed that the bond between mother and son is so much more humane than the one between mother and daughter.
Mothers and daughters spend an entire lifetime trying to shape the other into the ideal mother or the perfect daughter. Worse yet, I’ve observed how only daughters, like myself, feel the burden of this desired perfection more acutely than those with sisters, who will help shoulder the unbearable weight of perfection.
I don’t want to ever ask you to be perfect my dear one and I know already that I will fail to be your ideal mother. I hope that 22 years from now, you are ever so much more the person that you want to be than the one that I want you to be. Know that the 22-year-old me understands, for I’ve walked the road as “daughter” too.
I typed it up and sent it to my daughter and you know what? Forgiveness abounded on both ends. Grace and love brought us back into the circle of each other’s heart.
P.S. It is so true about mothers and sons too. I have two sons, and grace flows easily between the three of us. I will, from now on, work to cultivate that same kind of grace with my daughter. And give up my need to always be right.
I was nominated by my dear (and long-known) friend, Julie, on Facebook to record three things I am grateful for each day for five days. It’s been sort of a wild and crazy past few days, so instead, I’ve decided to record 15 gratitudes all at once. I have many gratitude lists on this blog and so I’ve decided to change things up a bit today with a photo list. Indeed, thanks to the iPhone, I always have a camera at hand these days and tend to take photos in some of my most grateful moments; moments when I can truly let myself into the overflowing joy and abundance that, while always present, often gets choked out by my affinity for worry and mindless clamoring after the ever-elusive sense of control.
One: I am immensely grateful that I live in a place where there is such an abundance of accessible green space, even in the heart of the city.
Two: I am grateful for the depth and variety of cultural experiences available in the Twin Cities area.
Three: I am grateful that on any given day from May to October, I can purchase locally-grown organic produce at countless Farmer’s Markets available throughout the Twin Cities area.
Four: I am grateful for books. They are always waiting for me, no matter how much time has elapsed since we last had time together.
Five: I am grateful that I spent so many years in the cold, frozen tundra of North Dakota. Now Minneapolis winters are (mostly) a breeze (except last winter–that was truly a North Dakota kind of winter).
Six: I am grateful for the preservation of wild places; places where people can hear their soul speak.
Seven: I am grateful that “my past” is now being preserved as history. The Minnesota History Center’s Exhibit on toys from the 50s, 60s, and 70s is extremely well curated and so worth seeing. I hail the efforts of all historic preservationists everywhere.
Eight: I am grateful that beauty erupts of its own accord. Life is celebrated daily by all of creation. Sometimes, finding this beauty is just a matter of changing one’s point of view. In this photo, if I turned the other way, I’d see a broken old highway.
Nine: I am grateful that we have been given the tools to help cultivate beauty in this world, if we so choose.
Ten: I am grateful for the thrill of the hunt. Wooded trail or estate sale? Tough decision. Either place, I touch down into the soft, unexposed underside where my dreams, hopes, and greatest love resides.
Eleven: I am grateful for this little yellow cottage; a place where my voice has found it’s way to paper this past year.
Twelve: I am grateful for this little brown cabin that my Grandpa Roy built; a place that contains most of my very best memories (because, like Neil Young, “in my mind I still need a place to go”–from Helpless).
Thirteen: I am grateful for the deep love I’ve had in my life, as well as the joy found in letting go, repeatedly, of that which I love.
Fourteen: I am grateful that Minnesota mandated newborn hearing screening by the time Josh was born; I am grateful for early intervention so that now I can hear my four-year old tell me that he “might get carried away and decide to be Darth Vader” this year for Halloween. I am so grateful I get to hear all of the funny little things Josh has to say everyday.
Fifteen: We risked a good deal for this love; in return, it gave us everything. Gratitude.
A friend (okay, well a person who was a good friend before he became a boyfriend and then became the worst of the ex-boyfriends) gave me Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird many moons ago. I am finally reading it while reading Operating Instructions, a memoir of Lamott’s that jumped off the bottom shelf of the Goodwill’s cramped bookshelf the other day. When I picked up the book in my hands, I knew, beyond a doubt, that God wanted me to take that book home and read it immediately. While reading it, I’ve thought, my God, this is the nearly identical experience to my daughter’s first year of life–it just happened three years after her son’s first year. The two were even born in the same season so the whole book resonates with me in every sense of every word. Why didn’t i have this little instruction book when I was muddling through my first year of parenthood? (I don’t think it had published yet in ’92)
I could quote the entire book to you–it’s all quotable–but you may as well read the book yourself, especially if you have a new baby at home or one on the way. Anyway, here is a passage from Operating Instructions that I can so completely relate to that I thought I’d share it:
Little by little I think I’m letting go of believing that I’m in charge, that I’m God’s assistant football coach. It’s so incredibly hard to let go of one’s passion for control, It seems like if you stop managing and controlling, everything will spin off into total pandemonium and it will be all your fault.
Yep Ms. Lamott. I feel exactly that way. I finally was packing off all of the junk my daughter left stacked in our dining room when she came home after graduating college and took off for California one week later. It sat in our leaving room (sometimes, I read my typos later and just shake my head–I meant dining room here but have to leave the leaving room because everyone needs a leaving room in their house, I think) for three weeks and one morning this past week, I thought, I’ve got to get this stuff out of my house. She’ll never be able to advance in this new life she’s chosen unless I stop clinging. At least, I think I am clinging. And when I was finally packing up all of that stuff for the Goodwill, I came across a little chalk board that she’d had in her dorm room and on it she’d written two words, “Let Go.” I knew then that I was on the right track with hauling all of her discarded goods off to the Goodwill (where I was, in exchange, given Lamott’s book). I’d had my sign.
It’s hard though–this letting go. I remember when Hannah was born and I was just kicked in the gut with this awful sense of responsibility. I had to grieve for months the loss of just living for myself because I knew then and there, that everything in my life was that much more cling-worthy. Before Hannah was born, I didn’t worry about death–mine or another’s. I’ve never doubted God folks. Even if at times, I don’t act like it. But now, I feared my own death, because it would take me from this precious creature who needed me so much AND I feared even more so about every conceivable possible bad thing that might ever befall her. And already, at age 22, I was smart enough to realize that this fear would likely be my constant companion until the day I died. So she’s off now in California and somehow, across the distance, she managed to tell me that I need to Let Go.
More than anything else, this blog seems to always come back to this theme of letting go. Motherhood. Open yourself as wide as possible, push a baby out, open your heart as wide as possible, let this little one into the heart’s deepest crevice while doing the best you can to protect this little life and, at the same time, let go, a bit more everyday, so that you both can live.
Here’s the other reason I am so in love with Anne Lamott right now. I am, after three long years, finally nearing the completion of my manuscript about my first few post-divorce, single-parenting years. The manuscript is much too long right now and kind of unwieldy and half of it is pure crap. Ethan told me last week that F. Scott Fitzgerald edited his books by saving only the best sentences. So soon I will be birthing this fourth baby of mine and then I will be starting the process of letting go, a little every day. To that end, I am embracing these words of Lamott from Bird by Bird: Some Instruction on Writing and Life:
Write an incredibly shitty, self-indulgent, whiny, mewling first draft. Then take out as many of the excesses as you can.
Okay. I’ve got the incredibly shitty, self-indulgent, mewling part nearly done. Now to cut out the excess and just like with our perfectly good Britax carseats that we’ve just replaced with two booster seats, there is no Goodwill that will take that excess. I guess some things just have to go in the trash.
How did I get to be so human? How did I finally start to feel okay about this humanness just today?
The above picture was taken this morning at coffee with my al-anon friends who had to listen to all of my bad ex-boyfriend stories today (I was in a mood). Like the Best Buy executive who demanded that I write him a check to cover the super high-end coffee pot he’d just given me a few days before I broke up with him. I’m like, “Dude, you make about 5 times the salary I do and I didn’t want this expensive, snooty coffee machine.” Nonetheless, I wrote him a check for $212.00 (that would buy my kids one month of groceries) because I wanted him out of my life. He was a real winner.
After all that groveling in the muck (my post-divorce, pre-second marriage dating life was like a journey towards Mordor without Tom Bombadil’s house and Rivendell), I’m grateful life that Chris was at the end of the journey instead of a bubbling pit of fire.
. . . in my life right now.
- Evening out with Ethan on Thursday. We attended an Edward Hopper exhibit that showed many of the drawings that Hopper used to work up his oil paintings. About 5-6 paintings were also included in the exhibit. It was really interesting to see the first sketches for Nighthawks (one of my top ten favorite art works of all time) and to learn of it’s relation to the Flatiron building (one of my top ten architectural works). It helped me as I contemplate my own creative process.
- Ethan picked up Jack White’s Lazaretto on vinyl on Thursday night as well. Used his download to burn me a copy. Oh yeah. I could keep track 5 on continuous repeat.
- Reading Thomas Merton’s The Silent Life, which inspired #4.
- Deactivated my Facebook account for at least a month Face-cation. Ahhh. Peace. (bye-bye thirst for recognition)
It is the need to have everyone else bow to our judgment and accept our declarations as law. It is the insatiable thirst for recognition of the excellence which we so desperately need to find in ourselves to avoid despair. This claim to omnipotence, our deepest secret and our inmost shame, is in fact the source of all our sorrows, all our unhappiness, all our dissatisfactions, all our mistakes and deceptions. It is a radical falsity which rots our moral life at its very roots because it makes everything we do more or less a lie. Only the thoughts and actions which are free from the contamination of this secret claim have any truth or nobility or value in them.
Thomas Merton, The Silent Life
today, my heart is
it is on an airport
it is in a high school
driving to Macalester
slipping down a frozen
standing in the center of
stacking primary colored
waiting for chirping in a
wearing headphones on a
napping in the middle of a
My heart is the center of
the wheel, standing
practically still and
watching as these spokes
speed in light years
around me, always
though, holding on.
Slowly, I am capturing poems off my Wednesday Poet blog–at least some of the more (perhaps) worthy ones, since I am no longer curating that site. Although this poem is about my role as mother, it is appropriate for dads too on this day meant for celebrating fathers this June, 2014.
Two photos of my two boys, taken twelve years apart (June 2002, June 2014). Interesting how the 12 year old picture has much better quality. My dad took the photo of Ethan with his digital camera. Ethan, who is now 19, took over my digital camera last year and I am left hobbling along on a three year old iPhone. I recently captured this photo of Ethan from my dad’s computer. I hadn’t known it existed and what a find.
I love looking at this photo of Ethan because it was taken in the town home that Han, E, and I lived in my first year post-divorce. In spite of the divorce, I have such happy memories of that year. The three of us truly became a tightly bonded family unit in that year spent in that town home. I remember how the kids would turn their head to watch themselves eating at that awful wall-sized mirror-all (mural). I didn’t even own a vacuum cleaner that year but had to get down on my hands and knees to dust bust the crumbs left under the table after a meal. Fun times.
The interesting thing is that, if I were to take a picture of this same farmhouse table today (now in my basement) you would see that it is still covered with baskets of art supplies, construction paper, coloring books, and finished pictures. The surface of the table, which was made from recycled pub walls in England, was still relatively “new” in the photo below (while the bottom of the table top showed a deep patina of years). This surface now has its own nice patina of wayward marker lines, paint blotches, and deep grooves where little hands couldn’t resist digging the point of a scissor into the soft wood of the table top. And there is no way that I’d ever part with this table (willingly). It helps to tell the story of my life.