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Leaving home

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?

Old Grain Elevator Upcycled into Coffee House; Crappy Dating Life of Single Mother, Upcycled into Book

Old Grain Elevator Upcycled into Coffee House; Crappy Dating Life of Single Mother, Upcycled into Book

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.

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My daughter leaves tomorrow at 5 am. Driving to California. I am sad beyond anything I expected. This letting go stuff doesn’t seem to get much easier.

I am just finishing up a mixed CD for her road trip and her next adventure in life. And other than that, I am just going to agree to be in this moment, in the sadness of this ending. I am going to practice not fighting the emotions but letting them run through me as they need to, without denial, but also with the absolute knowledge that feelings come and go, emotions rise and fall, and as I said to H. yesterday, “The hard times will come, but then the good times will come again and you’ll get up on your feet and the hard times will come again–like waves in the ocean.” It helps to know that we won’t likely be in any one place too long. Always. Always. There is a time for joy and a time for sorrow; for mourning and for dancing. I don’t think I’d have it any other way because even dancing can wear a person out.

Going to California Playlist

Chris’s California Trip                        Michael Brook

Going to California                                    Led Zeppelin

Wide Open Spaces                                    Dixie Chicks

Ramble On                                                Led Zeppelin

Goin Down The Road Feeling Bad            Grateful Dead

You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome             Bob Dylan

On And On And On                                    Jack White

Omaha                                                Counting Crows

Coming Into Los Angeles                        Arlo Guthrie

Intro                                                            Jackie Greene

Hollywood                                                Jackie Greene

The Bare Necessities                                    Bruce Reitherman (The Jungle Book)

La Vie Boheme                                    Rent Cast

Tiny Dancer                                                Elton John

Freedom At 21                                    Jack White

Can’t always get what you want            Rolling Stones

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough            Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

Oh! Sweet Nuthin’                                    The Velvet Underground

Sunporch Cha-Cha-Cha                        Dave Grusin            (THE GRADUATE )

Los Angeles At Night                                    Michael Brook

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My adventurous, world-travling daughter

At this moment, it looks like 17 teenagers and at least 4 preschoolers live in my house. I assure myself that it is just the five of us. There are the two fortysomethings who would certainly live in a very clean, calm home if they were left by themselves (with the exception of our piles of books around our chairs and desks–those will always be there). There is the one preschooler, who has scattered Legos, blocks, and Playmobile castle stuff across our basement in such a high density that I cannot walk across it. I have chosen, instead, to avoid the basement for the past three weeks. There is also one teenager, who lives quite small and takes up very little space. His room is filled with his art easel, light table, and art supplies and a bed–that’s really all. I hardly know the difference between when he is living here and when he is living in his college dorm room–with the exception of the extra shoes by the door. And now, for five more days, there is a twenty-one year old in our house. The contents of her dorm exploded all over the main level of our house last Sunday when she arrived home after graduating and she (and by she, I really mean “we”) still are sorting through the wreckage as she decides what to bring with her into her next phase of life. Questions she (we) are asking: What will fit in the trunk of her car as she moves to the west coast? What items can she live without going forward? How can she live smaller (when she’s never really lived small before, except perhaps in Japan)? What stuff should she donate? What stuff should she store in the closet of her room, putting off the inevitable decision to pass the items along to others?

I’ve found that these are the same questions that I need to ask myself on a continual basis in my own life. When I put off the questions, I rapidly find myself weighed down by the amount of stuff that I have accumulated. It all requires thought and care. Theoretically, I know that excess stuff detracts from my enjoyment in life. Yet I’ve observed now since my early twenties how I seem to go through periods of expansion and contraction. I have a weakness for accepting other people’s cast-offs, I guess. I’ve always loved garage sales, estates sales and The Goodwill. Anyway, I am nearing the end of an expansion period (I think) and beginning to feel the need to contract once again. In the meantime, however, I have lots of stuff to deal with today because somehow, I unwittingly invited people to my home on Monday for a farewell get together for my daughter. At this moment, there would not be any free place for house guests to sit as every chair is covered with the often mysterious entrails of a now expired college life.

Here are my choices today: I can either sit here drinking tea, looking at the clean, organized rooms in the new Pottery Barn catalogue that just arrived in the mail or I can begin the process of picking up into cleaning up. I know that tomorrow everyone in the family will be around to help me and so my tendency is to put it off but if I don’t begin the cleaning process today, I know I’ll feel anxious and unproductive, even while I turn the pages on the perfection that is the PB world. Did you ever notice that PB’s fantastic entry room organizers are never filled with the multiple shoe collections of a five or more person household? I have yet to see a system out there that can handle our family’s many shoes and make it appear neat and tidy. But if you know of a system that works for shoe clutter around the door, please let me know. I’d be forever grateful.

For now, here is a picture of the guest bedroom/my writing space, when it was last clean. I’m kind of inspired.

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My cup of tea is nearly finished and I might make just one more cup. Just one though . . . then, I’ll get busy.

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Dear Hannah,

I was married at your age. You don’t even want to learn to cook dahl. (line from Bendit Like Beckham—just for fun and since you are a film girl and all)

You graduate from college in just three days. I want you to know that I am so proud of you and all that you have accomplished in your almost 22 years. You are an amazing, inspiring, creative, strong, loyal, dedicated and intelligent person. Often now, when we are talking, I am awed by the maturity and wisdom of the words you speak to me. It is hard to believe that you began as that tiny, dark-haired girl with the rosebud ears that came out of me when I had just turned twenty-two. I was still a baby in a sense, and I was continuing to raise myself as I began to raise you. You were the child meant for me at that time in my life—you were the one strong enough to withstand my cutting teeth.

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The two of us–Just after you were born. You can sort of see from this picture that I didn’t know the first thing about babies.

I think you know me well enough now to know that, when faced with transitions, I tend to write. It is no different on this eve of your graduation and imminent move to California. Instead of thinking so much about your accomplishments, which are many indeed, I find myself filled with gratitude for all of the people that helped me along the way in raising you. When you were about four years old, the wise Hilary Clinton made famous the African proverb that states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” At that time, I was practicing law and very reliant on daycare providers, babysitters, and your grandparents to help me raise you. This moment of your graduation will be a mountain top vista for me—a time to look back and embrace the village that helped me raise you.

Because I am not only a lover of the written word but also a devotee of making gratitude lists, what better way to celebrate your graduation from Beloit College and your leap into the world of adulthood than with a gratitude list for all who helped you along the way. I may never get an Academy Award (but maybe you will–do they give Academy Awards to Casting Directors?), but I did manage to raise you and that, my dear, is one of the singular accomplishments of my life. So here goes a list of thank you’s that would send the “exit the stage” music playing long before it was done–here’s to your village:

  1. Your dad, for believing in my ability to be a mom when we found ourselves unexpectedly expecting you during our first year of law school.
  2. My Constitutional Law professor, the late Marcia O’ Kelly, who taught so eloquently about the rights of women but also of the sanctity of family. I didn’t tell anyone I was pregnant that first year of law school because I was embarrassed. I hadn’t ever planned on children—only ever a career. When you were born, in the fall of my second year of law school, Professor O’Kelly gave you a little snake, covered with black and white fabric in geometrical patterns and stuffed with crunchy, sensory-rich filling. It was less about the gift to you, but her acknowledgement that I could be a law student, a career woman, and a mother that was so supportive to me. *You too will find surrogate mothers down the paths you walk in life. Be ever on the look out.*
  3. Law Professor Patti Alleva, who gave me a job as her research assistant after you were born. She was more than flexible and accommodating of my schedule as a law student and new mom. She’s continued on in both of our lives as a friend and support person.
  4. Your Grandma Melinda, who helped out with you during my first semester back at law school.
  5. Your own Grandma Marcia, who retired from teaching early to take care of you during my second-third year of law school and the summer before my second year, so I could write my law review—the summer after, so I could clerk in Fargo, ND.
  6. All of your kind and loving daycare providers through your formative years: Kim, Kari, Cheryl, and Karla.
  7. My dear friends, study partners and fellow UND law graduates, Pat, who baked you beautiful birthday cakes when you were younger and helped us out of many needful childcare dilemmas (like when I had to go to the ER with dehydration from the stomach flu) during our Brainerd years and Shari, who lived across the hall from us in married-student housing when you were born—already a mom and law student—she first taught me how to balance career and motherhood and still being a person; she continues to do so to this day.
  8. Your Aunt Tiffany, who took care of you on short notice so many times when our daycare was closed and was such a loving force in your life.
  9. The warm, caring, nurturing relationship you (and Ethan) have always had with Aunt Tiffany and Uncle Scott’s children, Phoebe, Jake and Nick.
  10. The prayers and guidance of your broader family of Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, and Grand Aunts and Uncles, as well as cousins of all sorts (first, second, first once-removed etc).
  11. Your Godmother and Aunt Sarah for helping out with you at so many junctures (she watched you when I had my wisdom teeth surgically removed when you were just four months old and couldn’t nurse you for a whole day—she struggled with the pre-frozen breast milk and a baby who wanted her mama). She also threw you a confirmation party when I had to be out of town on your confirmation day in 2009.
  12. Your Irish Step Dance teacher, Katie who created such a wonderful dance community, all of whom became sisters that helped to raise you.
  13. Laurie, another dance mom, who sewed you vests and skirts, because I couldn’t sew, and set your Irish Dance curls for you—in your pre-wig days—because I did not have a way with curlers or hair products.
  14. Jean, your youth group leader. You were the one that led us back to church and specifically, to St. John’s Episcopal Church on Kent Street in St. Paul. I think you found your own way to Jean, who nurtured your spirituality. Perhaps Jean was one of your first surrogate mothers.
  15. Your second mom, Cindy, who helped your dad raise you during your visitations with him and who has worked so hard to continue as a supportive friend to you after she and your dad’s engagement ended. Another surrogate mom, to be sure!
  16. Your Grandma Melinda (again) for coming and staying with you guys after your dad and I divorced, to help accommodate my business trips. She was such a huge support to me through the years and I miss her greatly.
  17. Your Grandpa Spencer, who had the foresight, discipline, and generosity to purchase US Savings Bonds from your date of birth until you began college. These funds paid for travels overseas for your Rotary Exchange and your study abroad, paid for housing costs and books while in college, as well as other incidental expenses. What a huge gift he and Melinda gave you.
  18. Your Grandma Marcia (again) and Grandpa Duane, who also both helped out watching you and Ethan while I was away on business trips or wanted to entertain my hobby, concert going.
  19. When you don’t have another parent to discuss your kids with, you really rely on your friends. As a working single parent, I did not have much time for friendships outside of work and so I am ever grateful for all of the many friends I had along the way at work who listened and laughed and worried right along with me as I endlessly shared kid stories, issues, and joys, long before any of them had children of their own. In the order they came into my life, I want to thank: Christy, Kim, the triumvirate power of Louis, Staci, and Alice (oh to the life-saving power of the corporate coffee break), Bonnie (another surrogate mother who gave me the best advice ever and I followed it too!), Trina, and Tessa.
  20. My boss (and your boss, after you started babysitting her kids!) Pam, who was really so gracious and understanding when it came to the challenges I faced raising you and Ethan as a single mom. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive manager during the near seven years that I balanced being both a single mom and a woman with a demanding–but fulfilling–career.
  21. Suzanne, who started out as my author and became my friend. She also became your friend and was so supportive always of us both. She continues to believe in you and for this, I am grateful. She is another one of my surrogate mothers and, in such a way, has become your surrogate grandmother (a very beautiful, young-looking grandmother).
  22. Chris, your second dad, who came into your life just about a year before you left for Japan. I am so grateful for the loving relationship you guys share. I am grateful that he brought you on all those college visits and got you through the bed bug experience in Pittsburgh. I am grateful for the solid, loving, supportive presence he’s been in your life throughout the past five or so years. As you know, he loves you so very much.
  23. Your two brothers. Siblings are a blessing. From Ethan, you’ve learned how to be in relation with people who are very different from yourself and I’ve watched proudly as I see the two of you closing in on a more mature, adult-sized relationship. And Josh–well, we all know that Josh is sort of like pure light and love. What could be better than a daily dose of Josh. Hopefully he’ll get better at conveying that light and love via Skype.
  24. Your Japanese Tutor, Kate, who did such a great job preparing you for your year in Japan with such a small window to work with (February through July, 2009).
  25. Your three sets of host parents (the moms in particular) for looking after you so well during your year in Japan. Sending a sixteen year old off to a strange country for a year is perhaps one of the more daunting things a parent can do. I still remember my last glimpse of your long brown hair as you went through security at the Minneapolis International Airport around 5:30 am on August 13, 2009 (I didn’t even have to look up that date—that’s how well it is burned into my head)—it was all I could do to let you go. So grateful that you had good host families and I know that your second host mom most especially became another surrogate mom and I am glad you’ve been able to see her twice now since your year in Japan. I hope you can continue to keep in touch with her in the future.
  26. Your Rotary Liaisons, John and Tom, who helped smooth out all of the many issues with your exchange on this end and many a time, helped smooth out your anxious mom who had a difficult time letting go of her baby.
  27. All of the people who prayed for you while in Japan—especially your step Grandmother, Helen, who has now passed on. Once, early on in your time in Japan, she wrote me a message that said, “Just want you to know…a silly little thing I do…do you remember when you were young and wished on a star?…well, each early morning and evening when I am outside with Sadie, I look for the brightest star, and do not ‘wish’, but pray for Hannah to find her place of joy there in Japan.” I like to think that both Grandma Melinda and Grandmother Helen are out there somewhere, looking out for you–still praying for you to find your place of joy.
  28. Ellie Roscher-your senior year English teacher at Cretin Derham Hall. She too had re-entered after a time abroad and I think it was just so helpful for you to know that at least one other soul understood what you were going through when you returned to an American high school after your life-changing year abroad. I thank God that this exceptional teacher was placed in your path the year you attended Cretin Derham (and that someone in the CDH office had recommended that you take Spectrum). She is the teacher everyone hopes their child will have someday.
  29. Three key best friends along the path of your life so far:
    1. Julia—Oh we love Julia so much. We’d adopt her into our family if we could. But I love how she stepped into your life when you transferred to St. Joe’s and I pretty quickly saw what a quality friend she was and I hoped she’d be a friend for life. It appears that is certainly the case. I think you already realize how blessed you are to have Julia in your life.
    2. Hikaru—Dear Hikaru who befriended you in your school in Nagasaki and made your time in Japan better in every way—introducing you to other friends, eating lunch with you and inviting you to social gatherings. I think it is neat that you were able to do your study abroad at a college so close to her college last year. It was fun to watch you guys (via FB on my end) reconnect.
    3. Sydney—Not everyone leaves college with a close friend like Sydney. I think you were friends with her from nearly the first day of freshman orientation—the day Chris, Josh, and I left you crying in the parking lot outside your dorm room. Knowing how she was placed across the hall from you, perhaps you can trust how all things truly do work out for our good, in the end. Sometimes our best of girl friends can also, at times, be surrogate moms to us. This is certainly true of my friend Shari’s role in my life. Embrace Sydney always, as a friend, a kindred spirit, and a mother in your time of need (P.S. I just realized that you have her listed as your mom on Facebook—kind of apropos).
  30. Debbie. I am not sure how you managed to find your career mentor last summer or how she found you, but I am so grateful that you two intersected and she has given you such a great internship experience this year and continues to mentor you in your chosen career field.

Seems to me, you’ve already learned a thing or two about finding surrogate mothers. But always remember, sometimes, as much support as you find around you, you still have to reach deep inside and mother yourself. I ask that in your life ahead, you be kind, compassionate, and forgiving of yourself. Please, treat yourself with as much loving care as you are able—it is more than okay to care for yourself in this world; it is a necessity.

And to all that I forgot on this list, and I am sure there were many, thank you. Thank you so much to all of the diverse members of the village that helped to raise my only daughter, my first born, my beautiful, smart, strong-willed girl with the teeth marks. We did it!

I love you to the moon and back into the atmosphere and deep down into the smallest fiber of my being.

With Love,

Your mom

 

 

10% of the world's fresh water in the distance

Pussy willows

 

Bear track?

Bear track?

 

Unexpected miracles abound

Unexpected miracles abound

Life changes us and sometimes all there is to do is adapt

Life changes us and sometimes all there is to do is adapt

Selfie to document myself before the bear got me (if that were to have happened, which it didn't)

Selfie to document myself before the bear got me (if that were to have happened, which it didn’t)

The creek filled with snow melt, rushing  passed my window at night

The creek filled with snow melt, rushing passed my window at night

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  1. For the Good from Wicked (song honors you and Sydney)
  2. Which Way Your Heart Will Go from Mason Jennings (song honors process of change and not second-guessing your choices)
  3. I Will Remember You from Sarah McLachlan (song honors you and your Beloit memories—that you will one day cherish)
  4. Don’t You (Forget About Me) from Simple Minds (song honors you and all of your true Beloiter friends—Syd, Timon, Sophia, Hannah x 2 or 3, Erin, Sarah, Max, Anthony, JVT, Haley as well as many others—I’ll let you fill in the blanks)
  5. Breathe Me from Sia (this one is for the day you drive your car away from that place because this song enables one’s tears)
  6. Destiny from Zero 7 (honors the new groove heading your way)
  7. A Change Would Do You Good from Sheryl Crow (kind of self-explanatory)
  8. Good Friday from Cowboy Junkies (honors the beauty found in leaving)
  9. So Leave from Polica (honors your time with Syd at Austin City Limits and just because it’s a cool song)
  10. Leaving Las Vegas from Sheryl Crow (Honors the “muddy line between the things you want, and the things you have to do”)
  11. Ramble On from Led Zeppelin (Because you have a hippy mom, who loves Tolkien, and you went to a hippy school—“the leaves are falling all around/ It’s time I was on my way/ But still I’m much obliged/ Such a pleasant stay”) EMBRACE THE JOURNEY!
  12. Blow Out from Radiohead (Blow out of Beloit Girl!)
  13. Midnight on the Interstate from Trampled by Turtles (honors your future career that may well have you traveling the interstates, hopefully not at midnight)
  14. Driving from Po’ Girl (“that’s the trait of him that I love the most, I don’t see him now that I’m on the west coast”—honors parental love and the vagabond life that I see you befriending)
  15. Rise from Eddie Vedder (honors the ability to turn mistakes into gold—I bestow upon you parental permission to make all the mistakes you need to. It is better to try and fail than to never try at all. I admire your courage and willingness to try new things!)
  16. I Need $ from Polica (because you do need $ and it’s very danceable)
  17. Heaven When We’re Home from Wailin Jennies (honors the home you’ll always have with me and all the new homes you’ll make for yourself—“It’s a long and rugged road and we don’t know where it’s heading but we know it’s going to get us where we’re going”)
  18. Going to California from Led Zeppelin (because I’m preparing myself for your coastal or bi-coastal future)

Update: I watch the searches that lead folks to my site and I see numerous folks looking for a gradation song to share with their child. If you don’t already know about the Sunscreen Song, it is a good graduation song–lots of good advice here.

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This Tiny Blue House

Frugal lifestyle & Parenting Blog

Helen Jones

lives in Uppsala

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