Sunday, January 14, 2018

It is Only Change

My youngest packed up his Prius this morning and drove back for his last semester of college. As I dodged in and out of the bathroom to hide my full-body sobs, I discovered that I’ve become an expert at breaking down one minute and pulling it back together the next.

The last few years have given me a lot of practice that most people would simply call “life.” Our family has not suffered unrecoverable blows to our foundation, just a lot of small paper cuts to the tips of a few too many fingers that simply refuse to heal.

As late afternoon turned into evening, I sat on the far edge of our living room sofa and told my husband that I had spent the entire day feeling sorry for myself. I proceeded to hopscotch from one subject to the next, avoiding my husband’s eyes for fear his confusion would become one more source of self-pity. The tears began to fall again, and I let them dry on my cheeks to await the next round sure to come later.

For someone who does not like change, the last few years have hit me with an onslaught of seasons. A long and cold winter with too much snow, became freshly mowed grass and bright pink zinnias, only to turn to crisp fall leaves and another winter to shovel out from under once again.

Yesterday my husband and I sat at our kitchen table across from yet another real estate agent. While my husband excused himself to retrieve some papers in our secret file cabinet of life, I sat face to face with a woman who smelled sweetly of hard work and high success to my where-has-my-life-gone flannel and stained Ugg slippers. She explained why she was the one to sell our newly-built home and I rolled a hundred reasons through my head as to why she would never be able to find the right buyer for this house.

When we moved from what was essentially our life-long home two years ago, I mourned and moved on as best I could.  Change is a guarantee in life and those who refuse to roll into its sucker punch mostly become bitter people who, like me currently, give into self-pity.

I want to be angry and have someone to blame. It is a familiar place for me. When I launch my grenades full of bitterness that freefall from our log walls to our cold, hard floors, my husband sweeps them up and gently lays them on the counter: “these sorts of things happen to people every day”; “other qualified people are applying for these jobs too”; “we have a lot of things to be thankful for.” Uggghhhh…. such optimism.

“Success is not final. Failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue, that counts.” This is one of my favorite quotes from Winston Churchill that seems to describe our lives right now: our successes certainly were not final; our failure, or, as I prefer to call it, our set-backs, were not fatal. But we always seem to find the courage to continue. In the grand scheme of life, courage and faith and following a line forward, while refusing to curse the past, is really the only choice.

Every year I seek to find some goodness or goal to pursue. Last year in January I didn’t much feel like doing this. So, this year I am picking up my goals once again and hoping I can turn something into goodness. I have found that gratitude, mostly, is a muscle that needs to be worked daily, and fear, something that needs to be fought with a steadily-held sword minute by minute.

This year I hope to fight the fear with warrior precision and fill my empty jar with gratitude and praise to better grow the baggy bicep of my heart. All the better to roll into the changes, sure to come, courageously. It is only change.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Everything is going to be...

Autumn’s early leaves, in crisp dark reds, pale yellows and cinnamon toast browns, began swirling around our driveway weeks ago. When they began drifting into our dog’s fenced-in kennel, my German shepherd would often carry them into the house between his teeth, one leaf at a time, until their numbers increased and they became piles to be ignored, along with fuzzy caterpillars and ladybugs crawling along the cement.

A few days ago, as I watched the sun set over my newly-bloomed asters and pale pink zinnias, I realized I have now touched my first three seasons in 30 years off anti-depressant drugs. And now as I get ready to set my mind on a better winter than last year, I wonder how everything is going to be.

In April I determined, along with my doctor and husband, that I would stop taking the anti-depressant that I thought had kept me going for so long. Just in case, I pulled out an extra roll of bubble wrap and a few down quilts as protective measures against life’s assaults. I don’t mean someone mugging me on a Wausau side street, I mean an iPhone that suddenly goes dead, an Excel spreadsheet that has left me flummoxed, or a dog that thinks “hello” is a paw to my face. On a bad day, anyone of those things can throw me under the bed.

Instead I used the bubble wrap to cushion homemade cookies that I sent to my son in Michigan and the extra quilts are packed in one of my husband’s hand-built dressers in the basement. I have done so well off anti-depressants that mostly I have wondered why I took them at all. When I felt bad and very bad and worse, I was certain that some combination of drugs, and there were many over 30 years, was off-kilter or not strong enough or too strong or just flat-out wrong.

At one time, drugs provided relief for me and so every time I felt depressed, even while on medications, I was sure that another medication would fix it. This mindset allowed me to spend much of my time moving along from the ages of 20-50 blaming a doctor or a counselor or another person who did not understand my depression. Six months after stopping anti-depressant drugs, I am wondering if they were just a convenient tool around which my whipping post wound itself.

Me without this thing to blame, is something that I am hoping is a little better. A little better because maybe I have found a better way to deal with life’s uncertainties; better because maybe I have stopped blaming things that have no blame; better because maybe I have learned to “just notice” instead of attack; better because maybe I have learned that my chronic worry is chronic lack of faith; and better because maybe I can do what my husband often points out to me: “You can’t always change what happens to you, but you can change how you interact with it.”

I don’t know if I will stay off anti-depressants. But I know I won’t have depression in the same way ever again. I hope I have not dishonored or disrespected those who do have depression in my journey of discovery because I may be a person with depression yet again. But never again will I be a person who blames depression. Instead I will be a person who has depression.

I am a very slow learner. Blessedly I am loved by a patient God. Instead of pounding myself and hating myself, I would like to choose a different path. This morning it involved rolling out my yoga mat and listening to my instructor calmly take me from downward facing dog to upward facing dog to warrior one and deep breath in and deep breath out. Right now, this is my passage of time. Next spring it may be different. In this peaceful slow-down, bad things still happen and life is still hard, but mostly, everything is going to be….


Sunday, May 14, 2017

Dear Mom...

Dear Mom,

Here we are, 50 Mother’s Days later. Yes, your baby is 50 - one year older than your own mom was when she died. I have infrequently heard you talk about your mom, though maybe it’s because you live in the present while I am often in the past or fearing the future.

 Regret for things we cannot change during a life we can, is senseless. So here we go…

 I don’t know how you celebrated Mother’s Day when you were growing up, but when I was growing up, it was no big deal. You always used to say that our dad was not your dad so it wasn’t his job to make it a celebration. 

Each year you accepted what your four children gave you, but I don’t think it was ever much. You have never been a “bring on the fanfare” type of mom. Most years you seemed to just want to be left alone. Most years when my children were young, I think I wanted that too.

Now that my boys are grown and your children are grown, times two, it seems like all we want is for our children to spend time with us.

One year into a new home in a new city I remember the many times our own family moved while I was growing up – so many houses and schools and boxes to be packed and unpacked again. I never heard you give voice to your fears or regrets, if you had them. 

You portrayed a sense of adventure in every move to every new place we called home, even when those homes included kitchens without a place to sit down and saloon-style shutters, to bathrooms with red velvet wallpaper. Truly every home we lived in was a wonderful adventure because of whatever unfinished and poorly- decorated shape it was in.

When we moved the last time, your children were 15, 13, 12, and I was 10.

Until I turned 10 you were, to my knowledge, a “stay-at-home” mom; at that time, most moms were. I was no wiser as to whether you were or were not home before I was 10 since mostly we were all independent kids and you raised us that way on purpose. A child does not know what his or her mom does all day because children are selfish beings and they do not think about nor care that a parent must make money, plan, create, cook, do laundry, carry out rules and all the hundreds of other minutiae of days spent with one, two, four or 10 children. This is the way it should be when you are a child.

There have been many, many years that I have thought, during my growing up years, that if I don't remember you fawning over me or talking to me or cooking me meals or shopping for clothes with me or driving me to and fro or hither and nigh, or if you were not interceding on behalf of disputes I had with teachers over grades or wondering why this or that or the other thing, that somehow it was not enough, even though there was plenty.

There have been many, many years that I have thought, during my growing up years, that I should have had something different and that my years of depression as an adult were in direct proportion to unhappiness during childhood, even if the greater part of my childhood was filled with happiness.

Seventeen years ago, we watched in utter despair as dad died. As your 33-year-old child, I watched you closely and you suffered. But you did not give up when you become a single parent to four grown children and a single grandparent to ultimately nine grandchildren - I didn’t expect that you would. Your husband died, you broke your leg, you sold the house that together, you and dad loved. And then you went on and brought each grandchild on multiple vacations, you brought each of your kids on vacations and still, 50 years in, you are a present and active mom to me.

Some people talk and talk and talk about their difficulties, while enduring, and some people are quieter in their endurance. We are miraculously created, born to be molded, and shaped by every tiny experience. And if I poured out every experience from my life over 18, 32 or 50 years, I would have more happy than sad and more good than bad.

When I have called, you have come, when I have pushed you away, you have stayed back just enough.

I hope when I grow up, I can be like you. That if I should suffer even half of the adversity or double the adversity as you, that I can still keep moving and quietly endure, or be so loved by my adult children, as you are, that I can talk and talk when needed.

 And I hope that for the ways in which I have not been the best mom to my own boys that they would forget those parts much earlier than I have forgotten them, or at least not form the whole of their lives on the memories that I want them to forget because I was not the best me I could have been when they were young.

Most of all, I want to thank you now, on this Mother’s Day, so that I don’t live another moment with regret for what wasn’t, and will never be, or with fear that I will wait too long to say the words I have been unable to say until now.