I have a great writer friend who just wrote a particularly good post on reclaiming your own creative space. You should read it because this women’s issue has been around since before Mary Wollstonecraft, and it’s one a lot of women in general (especially me) neglect. And also because it’s really well written and has a picture of a beagle in it.
It seems particularly apropos to me at the moment, as I am sitting in my local McDonald’s doing my daily writing. This writing will last as long as it takes for my 2 large diet Dr. Peppers to do their job and send me home to cleaner facilities.
My daughter judges time in songs, I judge time based on how long my bladder is happy. This is the world I live in.
As I sit here, I wonder why I’m here in this space instead of my own. This space, with its not-up-to-my-standards bathroom and shitty Wi-Fi that blocks my own blog.
No kidding. I cannot log on to my own website from the Wi-Fi at this (maybe all?) McDonald’s because it has been blocked as a courtesy. I’m not sure why blocking my site is courteous, but my deportment lessons were all pre-internet so who knows what I’m missing. Also, what’s up with the distinction between guests and customers? Do you think I could come in here every morning and sit myself at a table without ordering anything and just be a guest instead of a customer?
This idea, disturbingly, intrigues me.
In possibly unrelated, or maybe just vaguely related news, I was able to click through to a Medium page entitled myerotica in this very same McDonald’s, so I’m even more clueless as to why my site is blocked. And no, I don’t know why Medium suggested that page for me. Is it a bug or a feature?
In any event, when I saw my friend’s post pop up, I had to wallow, just a bit, in the irony that I have made this space into enough of my own that I was a little peeved my usual seat wasn’t available when I walked in this morning. Indeed, I was ticked off I couldn’t sit in my usual spot in this very public space. While that certainly doesn’t make it my space, it does make it seem that I believe it is my space.
My clean bathroom requirements aside, right now this space is working for me in a lot of ways that are important, and I’m calling it my space while ignoring the irony. But I’m left wondering what I’m avoiding to be here, while at the same time I’m feeling pretty good with what I am managing to produce in the space.
That leaves me with lots to ponder and think about as I avoid doing the hard work, of both writing and life. And, because I like to be as efficient as possible in this avoiding, I would love to hear about your struggles and insights surrounding creating your own space in the comments below.
Please, help save me from myself!
Also, please feel free to call McDonalds at 1 (800) 244-6227 to request they unblock my website!
In my twenties, mindfulness practice seemed impenetrable. All that sitting, and focusing, and what the hell was I supposed to practice anyway? Seriously, I let the word “practice” get in my way much the same way I let the word “metaphysics” derail my first philosophy class.
Now in my fifties, DBT has come in handy as a good practical introduction to mindfulness. We start off each group with a different mindfulness exercise. Mindful observing, mindful knitting, mindful counting, mindful candy eating.
Folks, you can do it with candy!
I was clearly reading all the wrong books in my twenties. Mindfulness isn’t about clearing your mind of all thoughts, it’s simply recognizing what you are thinking about and not hanging on to it.
This, along with my deep-seated need for survival, has brought me deeper into mindfulness.
At home I sometimes practice mindful dish washing (getting better), and on the road, mindful driving (lost cause). It has really opened up my idea of what mindfulness is and how I can use it. Almost in spite of myself, it has become a real tool.
In my current life-as never-ending-crisis cycle, I find myself reaching for this tool more and more. Recently I have tried to incorporate it into my weekly routine, grasping for even the barest bit of sanity.
3 days a week of mindfulness practice at the beach a week—that’s the goal.
Now before you get too far into imagining me sitting peacefully in lotus position on the beach in some sort of flowy garment smiling the Mona Lisa smile of a true practitioner, I should remind you that I reach for mindfulness to help me function.
If I was together enough to arrange a quiet, pleasant mindfulness on the beach session, I wouldn’t need mindfulness.
No, my mindfulness consists of stopping off at the beach parking lot on my way home from carpool. Sometimes I even manage to change out of my pajamas before I leave the house. And as much as I would enjoy having a quiet moment to myself, usually I’m sharing the lot with a sketchy RV on one side and someone who is blasting hate radio on the other.
The goal is to do 30 min to an hour of mindfulness practice, or writing, or thinking about gratitude.
Yep, you got that right, mindfulness in my car, that’s the best I can do.
It usually turns into 15 minutes of me checking Facebook then another 15 trying to find a meme I really wanted to share with someone, 15 minutes of wondering if I’m doing it right, and maybe 5 minutes of actual mindfulness. The ratio has been changing in the last few months, to the better I might add, but it’s roughly 5 minutes of mindfulness.
But today was different, today I went beyond mindfulness. Today I was full on communing with nature. Today it was dolphins!
Pulling into the parking lot I could see what I thought looked like dolphins moving close to the shore.
Remember, I always want dolphins at the beach, but I don’t always actually see them. And when I do, it’s usually just one or two and I only see a glimpse of their back and maybe some spouting. Maybe only 6 out of every 10 visits do I get full on, whole dolphin sightings.
I know, sometimes I hate me for living here too.
When I reached my parking spot, placed strategically between the industrial trash can and the recycling bin, I confirmed the dolphin sighting. Lots of dolphins. A small pod moving north.
I never even made it to checking my Facebook. Still in my jammies, I jumped out of the car to get a closer look, noticing they were swimming toward a group moving south. Today, I decided, watching dolphins was going to be my mindfulness practice.
Leaning back onto the hood of my car, I focused on them. I focused on the color of them, the slide of them through the water, the arc of their backs as they surfaced. I noticed when one would surface, I absorbed the closing distance as the two groups moved toward each other. I breathed in through my nose then breathed out through my mouth (not required for mindfulness, but I do try to incorporate all the clichés I can). I was so totally rocking this mindfulness shit.
OMG there was a baby!
Not that it takes a lot to distract me, but this was total dolphin pandemonium—a couple of babies and more than a dozen other dolphins. The two groups met up and then all began moving south together, showing off lots of flippers and tail flukes and breaching. Some were running into each other and then chasing each other.
Mindfulness evaporated, my mind was in full flight imagining what they were up to.
It was almost like the adults were going back to look for the teenagers that were lagging behind. Teenagers trying out independence and being awful about it. I saw the eye roll one of the girl dolphins gave her mom when asked why she wasn’t staying closer to the main group. I felt the mom’s relief and simultaneous frustration at finding her daughter safe, then realizing there was no reason to worry to begin with.
I’m sure one of the tween dolphins was bitching about having to look after his baby brother. I imagined teenage dolphins flirting, showing off. I saw the boys daring each other to do totally dangerous things to prove they were “cool”. I imagined a great white shark following them around like the schoolyard bully. An octopus trying to give them her words of wisdom, while trying not to be eaten.
I saw the whole ocean being dwarfed by the energy of the teenage emotions they were desperately learning to manage. And the parents struggling to keep them safe while realizing there is no way to control them or their environment. I could hear their grandparents sigh, those damn kids, where have they gone off to now?
These dolphins were living my life, I swear. And they were doing it better!
I don’t know how I knew they were better, but it could be because they were not at all terrified of open water. Or not.
They were clearly doing it better because they had created a community of strength and support. It takes a pod to raise a dolphin. The mother and father aren’t in it alone, and they’re not afraid to accept help. It was like these dolphins were speaking to me. Directly to me. Reminding me that I don’t only find my strength in independence, I find it in interdependence as well. My community, my tribe, my relationships.
I wondered how dolphin parents would handle cell phones. How do they deal with depressed teenagers? Is it easier to manage teenage sleep when you sleep with half of your brain? Are hypoglycemic dolphins as volatile as my daughter? DBT talks a lot about rational mind, emotional mind, and wise mind. But I don’t remember it talking about metaphor mind. My life works better in metaphor mind.
Realizing I didn’t make it to even 5 minutes of mindful practice, I noticed an adult break free from the crowd and take a moment to ride a wave before returning to the pod. That dolphin gets me, I’m certain of it.
1. No mascara. Unless it’s water proof. Then you’re good to go, but you won’t get to wash your face for about 48 hours so frankly waterproof mascara is really not your friend. I stick with my original advice. No mascara.
2. Just hang up. During a crisis, you will find yourself answering all phone calls even if you don’t recognize the number. This behavior itself is enough to throw your world totally off kilter. You will be getting calls from doctors, social workers, case managers, treatment centers etc. You won’t recognize any of these numbers so you will end up answering all calls just so you don’t have to continue to play phone tag with the social worker. Therefore, you will eventually pick up a call from a telemarketer.
It will be your first instinct to be polite. You may say something like “my son is in the hospital, and I am waiting for a call from the doctor so I can’t talk right now.” Don’t expect them to go away. They have a script, they make minimum wage, they will just reply, “it will only take a moment”. You may even find yourself saying, “my child is in the hospital because he attempted suicide and I can’t talk right now.” Then they will say something like, “I’m sorry, but we really want to make sure you have all the cable services you want and let you know about some great promotional offers that are available to you.”
If you had followed my advice you would have already hung up. If not you will kind of disassociate and see yourself actually saying, “did you understand that I just told you my son tried to kill himself?” Then you will see yourself react as the telemarketer replies, “my condolences, but this will just take a moment.” Just hang up and save yourself the futile exercise of trying to figure out if your cable company is run by the minions of hell.
3. Don’t answer your door. The same scenario as above will play out, but this time it will be a single mother trying to get back on her feet by selling magazines and you will have to go back to rule number one: no mascara.
4. Don’t post shit on social media. Just don’t. It’s not your friend right now. That being said, watching kitten videos, giraffe births, or panda babies can offer great relief. Otters too, don’t forget the otters.
5. One glass of wine during crisis = 10 normal glasses. Plan accordingly.
6. Ask your other child if they have perhaps agreed to take care of anybody’s pets. It may not help, but you will be prepared when the cats haven’t been fed in 2 days and they call you.
7. Get horizontal. No matter how strong you have been in each crisis leading up to this (and you know there have been a lot), your body may yell “Enough!” You will feel a little dizzy and then you will see a long black tunnel. This is a vagal faint. It’s not a big deal unless you refuse to get horizontal on your own. Because your body will absolutely insist. The floor is a pretty hard landing surface.
8. Apologize when lack of sleep, overwhelming anxiety, and constant nausea lead you release your inner bitch.
9. Listen, and don’t take it personally when lack of sleep, overwhelming anxiety, and constant nausea lead your loved ones to release their inner bitches.
10. Be gentle with yourself and your family. Hug as much as you are able.
My daughter’s away. Off on an east coast adventure with her cousins. Her aunt keeps sending me pictures of her hiking in the woods, swinging on swings, playing with bugs. Doing all sorts of things that my almost grown daughter would never do around home.
I miss her.
I mean, I miss her physical presence, but I know that she will be back in a few weeks.
But what I really miss is the old her.
I miss her uninhibited spirit that is becoming more and more hidden as she grows up. She went from the girl who skipped everywhere to the girl who points out how silly it is that a little girl is skipping on her way to school. She went from the girl who is happy in her own skin to the one worried about what strangers will think.
From the girl who never minded making a ruckus to the one that shushes me.
She shushes me.
I never thought I would be the one getting shushed.
I miss that she is showing a little, tiny bit of that spirit again, and I am not around to see it. To breath it in and capture it in the way I was too careless to do when she was four.
Back then, I told her I was going to write down all of the wonderful words she made up and call it her Fantabulous Fictionary. But I got busy and I knew I would remember them because they were all so wonderful.
We all know what happened.
I only remember a few now. Beesgusting: means even worse than disgusting, Gianormous: a little mixture of giant and enormous for extra emphasis, and Tinky: same as stinky.
Ok, the last one wasn’t really a made up word, she had a speech impediment and couldn’t say the ST sound. She also couldn’t say the TH sound so she pronounced it as S.
And that is how she came up with my favorite noun:
Me: Please don’t blow dandelions all over the lawn, daddy works hard to keep our lawn dandelion free without chemicals.
Her: But mommy, these aren’t dandelions, they are wishing sings.
Wishing sings, wishing things, dandelions. I’ve never looked at a lawn full of them the same way since.
And when I see one now there is always a little girl in it.
With a halo of blonde curls. In a pink seersucker dress and grey eyes busy, busy, busy taking in her world.
This vision is as clear as a photograph. Seared in my mind along with the words of the conversation. Because it was one of those events that hurled me right into the moment. Like a cable was hooked to me and I was physically dragged to another place.
The right place.
I can’t imagine what my state of mind was when I told my 4 year old not to blow a dandelion. But I know that after that moment I looked at the things she did through a different lens.
It was one of those clear moments of parenting when you realize what you are doing and what you should be doing.
But I’m a slow learner it seems and I wasn’t always able to recognize those moments when they came.
Yet, now I see this girl in the middle of a field of flowers and I know it will be gone soon as well. I want more dandelion moments, but it’s too late.
She is only 15, but she has flown away. I have to focus on the moments now, knowing they are what I have.
It’s Mother’s Day this weekend and instead of getting all maudlin and melancholy because it’s kinda the last “our little family” one, I decided to think about the things I love about mother’s day. Mom is just one of the hats I wear, but the one I have worn the most in the last almost 18 years so I guess it’s ok to sit back occasionally and see how it feels.
I usually get taken to a wonderful garden for mother’s day. I remember plenty of them at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania and a few at the Huntington in Pasadena. But sometimes it has been kite flying at the park, or sandwiches on the beach.
Small or elaborate, my perfect Mother’s day needs to include just a few things: I don’t cook, I don’t clean, and all four of us spend some time together.
I believe my first mother’s day I asked for a card, maybe flowers, but frankly that was kind of a high bar for a husband that spent most of his days in the lab finishing his Ph.D. I have been perfectly content with the no-cook/no-clean version for a while. I was never one for presents, not on mother’s day at least, but I have always been excessively fond of tokens of affection.
Handprint flower bouquets the kids brought home from school have always been my favorite. If both of the kids got together and made one with their now adult hands, I would keep it beside the one I got from my daughter when she was 5. I still have them all, the handmade cards, the decorated poems, the handprint hearts.
They are some of the things I can’t get rid of no matter how much I try to declutter.
One of my favorites is the little jar of sunshine the boy made for me in second grade. I have a sneaking suspicion that his teacher knew that when things got a little rocky in the teenage years, it would be lovely to have this little jar to look back on and remember the simpler times. She was pretty awesome that way.
It’s so simple. A clear jar, the lid covered in a cute floral print fabric and tied with a ribbon (now lost to the ages) and filled with a bunch of rolled up pieces of paper where he wrote things he liked about me, thank you notes, and other random things to make my heart smile. I’m pretty sure I laughed and cried the first time I read them.
He could barely read and write in second grade so some of them took a while to figure out. What I really noticed at the time, however, was how hard he must have worked on them. Phonetic spelling aside, spaces between words and motor organization were things that he struggled so hard with in elementary school, the fact that they were as clear as they were indicated an intense amount of effort on his part. That he was willing to put in that kind of effort has always been the best part of this gift.
Later, though, I realized that it was a coded message. Road signs to point me onto the path of being the right parent for him. I still look at them sometimes when I need some perspective, or reassurance, or even a laugh. I don’t cry as much anymore, but they can still get me teary eyed. I don’t like to be pensive about them so I usually come up with light translations that keep me grounded. And so I will share them with you in that spirit. Happy Mother’s day to all who are mothers or have mothers.
Special things about my mom and thank you notes written by my son in second grade age 7:
You like foods I like: Meaning probably I usually cook things that he will eat, this made things easy for him and easy for me.
You are good at remembering: I guess I used to remind him to bring his jacket so he could go out at recess. This one is actually pretty funny because about 20 minutes ago as we were on our way to an AP test, I stopped the car just past our driveway and asked if he remembered to bring his ID to get into the test. We had to turn around and go back to get it! I guess I’m still good at remembering things.
You are nice: I probably had coffee that morning so I didn’t yell as I was rushing him to the school bus.
You support me in school: This is when I still reminded him to bring his homework to school.
You are a queen: Obviously, but not the Snow White queen or any Disney queen for that matter. Hmm, not much in the way of literary good queen’s either, definitely not Gertrude from Hamlet. Maybe I should just skip this one.
You can do anything: Anything that he asks, at only 7 he didn’t ask much yet and didn’t understand the limits to my mommy super powers. Cuter still because he made “anything” 2 awesome words—in ething.
You are the best mom ever: Self evident. I belong to him, therefore I must be the best.
You are funny: I laugh at his jokes, sometimes I even make funny ones myself. Q: where do cows go on Saturday nights? A: to the mooooooovies.
You are good at cooking: I guess he likes my food.
I love you mom: I start crying here.
You are happy: I am actually, no joke about this one. He apparently likes to be around happy people. If this was all there was to motherhood, I would be golden.
I hope you like it: Just a little validation goes a long way. Now I cry at this one, I wish I had paid more attention to it.
You are a great cook: Again with the food. Either he was running out of things to write or his obsession with food was foreshadowing some problems down the road. I’m thinking the former.
Thank you for taking me to dinner: Perhaps I’m not as good a cook as he thought?
Thank you for helping me with problems: This is the time, before he becomes a teenager, when he thinks that my insights and opinions have some value. Either that or I brought him homework he left on the floor of his room.
You get me things when I need them: I take him to Michaels at 8 pm to get poster board that he just that moment remembered he needed for a book report due tomorrow that he hasn’t started. This is still pretty much standard practice around here, although less so with school work and more so with everything else.
You read me stories: Still my favorite part of being mom.
You are helpful: No matter how often I deny it, I was his Sherpa and apparently he liked it. I have fixed this problem to a great extent, but sometimes he pretends he’s seven and asks me to do stuff. A lot of times I do.
You read a lot: The reason for number 17 above.
You cook good: Funny that he continues to go back to the one thing about “mothering” that I truly loathe. Is it validation when you are approved of most for the thing you like the least?
You like things I do: I show interest in his interests. It’s that simple and it’s that hard.
You help me when I cry: Compassion. My greatest strength and my biggest weakness. I hope this is always true.
You are cool: Proof positive that at one time I was cool.
I am currently drinking wine out of a coffee mug. It’s a fairly plain white mug with the chemical structure of caffeine printed in black on it. I remember purchasing this for my husband when he was in graduate school. It was prior to amazon.com so I had to take the long train ride to Redding terminal market where I had seen it a few weeks before but neglected to purchase it because the panic of Christmas shopping was not yet upon me. I used cash, and it was the only thing I purchased, except maybe some yummy Amish baked goods that I can’t exactly remember but I’m sure I couldn’t resist.
Those were easy, simple days when a 15-dollar mug that spoke to where we were at that moment in time was a perfectly acceptable gift. I kind of miss those days. But as lovely as those memories are, they somehow don’t distract me from the fact that I’m pissed I am drinking a fairly decent Malbec from this same mug 20 years later.
Why, you might ask? Why am I pissed off or why am I drinking wine out of a coffee mug? The answer is the same to both questions. If my son had bothered to do the dishes (it’s a consequence for something he did that I can’t quite remember) on any one of the last 5 days, I would be using a wine glass instead and not be pissed off.
Or if I had decided to do the dishes myself because sometimes you need to pick your battles, I might be sipping it out of one of my regular glasses, the cute French ones with the bees on them.
Perhaps if I had really thought through giving him dish duty as a consequence I wouldn’t be so angry, because I would have never shot myself in the foot by giving him something that is important to me. Or maybe I’m just pissed he still has to have consequences at all.
Or that I’m the one doling them out.
I used to think I wanted a dish fairy who would come and magically clean the kitchen while I slept or read a book or did anything else but the dishes. To me they are a chore much like the laundry, never ending with no sense of accomplishment upon completion.
But the dishes and I have come to a sort of détente, I do them mindfully, and I don’t freak out about how they are a symbol of the lack of respect and gratitude that my entire family feels for me.
So maybe I haven’t come to détente with my dishes, but I have come to realize in the grand scheme of things dishes are not a ditch I want to die in. I just do them and they stop irritating me.
Instead of a dish fairy, now though, I want a consequence fairy. A fairy who will magically swoop in and issue the perfect consequence for whatever infraction has been brought to my attention. A consequence that will be a punishment that fits the crime sort of thing, something that will be meaningful and not punitive. Something that will be a learning opportunity and bring greater meaning and respect into all of our lives.
Or, fuck that, just something that he will do and if he doesn’t only he will suffer any negative impact. Just not the dishes, it drives me crazy having a sinful waiting to be done.
Ha-ha. Did you see that? I accidentally typed sinful instead of sink full. Maybe this is a sign I have a subconscious belief that dishes are my punishment for some horrible sin I committed.
Maybe I feel unworthy of love and the dishes have just become a projection of this deeply held, unacknowledged belief.
Maybe I’m not upset about the boy child’s refusal to do his job, but instead feel I need to be punished because, perhaps, I am a bit too jealous that my husband is in New Orleans eating his way through the best culinary city on the planet while I am at home with a sink full of dishes and drinking wine out of a coffee mug because our almost 18-year old son has decided to assert his autonomy.
If I indulged in another mug of wine, I could probably come up with all sorts of Freudian issues that this anger is indicative of. I could use my now better than average knowledge of psychological wellbeing to institute a treatment plan to help me recognize and overcome these issues and start building skills to make them manageable.
I probably don’t even need another mug of wine to realize that this nest leaving behavior is the same pain-in-the-ass behavior from when he was two and asserting independence.
Enough, enough! I’m fine with independence. I can deal with change and distance and autonomy. It has been my goal as much as it has been yours. There is no need to challenge my authority, goodness knows I haven’t asserted it very much anyway. I know you are capable of independence. I know that you are ready. I know I can’t control you or anything else.
There are a lot of people in my life. I like it that way, I like the connection. Some people like less, but I like having a wide net to increase the diversity of opinions crossing my path. To help keep me from stagnating. That being said, my close circle is relatively small. When my son got sick it got smaller. Not only because instead of having time for coffee I was usually taking someone to a doctor or therapist appointment, but also because I didn’t have the emotional strength to answer the question “how are you” over and over and over. Living in the tumult was so exhausting, I needed just a few of my closest friends. The ones who could listen non-judgmentally, and with compassion, and with humor, and with just the right amount of knowing when I needed a hug versus when I needed to escape, and could put up with my incessant whining, and who could tell me nicely when to stop without hurting my raw feelings, and who didn’t need to talk about themselves unless I needed distraction, and, above all else, the ones who did not tell me what to do or how I should feel or how I should process this. That’s kinda a big ask so it’s not surprising that my close circle, the circle that knows all the gory details, is rather small. It’s a miracle, frankly, that it isn’t non-existent.
I didn’t really know that was what I needed until I looked back on it and tried to articulate what kept me sane for the first six months and continues to be a touchstone almost two years into the journey. I also didn’t think about it much until I began sort of picking my life back up and returning to the social engagements that had fallen off the calendar for a couple of years because I just didn’t have the band width to deal. I mean, how can all of these people just be sitting here having fun while my child is so sick? I guess that’s one of the differences between being in crisis and being in recovery. I like recovery better. Crisis sucks.
Now I am reaching out to people I lost along the way and finding myself in the company of those people in the not quite inner circle. You know the ones, the close acquaintances who you truly like and enjoy, but you couldn’t quite keep up with during the crisis, the ones who care, but don’t need the play by play. And when I run into one of them, the first question is always some variation of how are you and how is the boy. This happened last night, it happens almost daily, certainly weekly if I happen to go to church (which frankly is why my church attendance has decreased instead of increased). I’m not talking about the busy bodies and gossips who are just dying to get the inside scoop to share at their next book club, I mean the real honest to God friends and family who weren’t with you daily for the crisis, but want everything to be okay, ’cause, you know, they love you.
For me, how are you is the hardest question to answer. Being raised in the south, I know deep down in my soul that there is only one correct answer, “Oh, just lovely, thank you. How about you?” After I moved out of the south I decided to give authenticity a try, but I still know it’s never appropriate to say, “Oh, just horrible, my son is in a treatment center for anorexia.” Social conventions are important, although it’s okay to be flexible as long as you know that you are doing so and accept the consequences of your actions. Finding the middle ground is hard, and it’s important, because these people care about you and want to support you, and you care about them and don’t want to burden, bore, or shock them.
I think that the reason this question is particularly hard for me is because I never know how things are. I would like to say it’s because of my extensive mindfulness practice and my highly developed DBT skills of looking at things non-judgmentally and being in this moment, but really it’s that I just don’t know. For example, one may go on an exhausting 4 day journey with one’s child, come home changed and write a glowing blog post about it, only to wake up the next day with someone who doesn’t remotely resemble the child one wrote about with such genuineness less than 24 hours before. I hit publish anyway, because that was the truth at the time. Currently the truth is closer to: did my 17 year old really just say you’re not the boss of me-land. And in 24 hours it will be somewhere else again. Because that’s what it’s like to have a 17 year old. Adding in our particular issues just muddies the waters a bit more.
Currently the polite conversation amongst my peers revolves around our child’s accomplishments, where he applied for college, where she was accepted, where they are still waiting to hear and where they are planning to go. And I’m not going to tell you what my son’s recent accomplishments have been. I’m not going to tell you what colleges he is applying to—he didn’t decide until September that he was going to apply anywhere, are you interested in the 30 minute discussion of how far he came to be able to apply and be accepted in those 4 months? I’m not going to tell you any of these things because they have nothing to do with the reality of “how are you” at the moment. They are window dressing made to pretty up the reality, ease the anxiety, dull the ache. Even if I told you everything and it was true, it would be so very far from the truth. I’m certainly not going to tell you about scholarships he may or may not have received, because, who even does that? But I digress.
The reason Facebook has a relationship status “it’s complicated” is because sometimes things are complicated and can’t be answered in one sentence social niceties outside the sushi bar as you are going in and I’m coming out. Sometimes things are so good I can’t help but smile, sometimes things are so bad, I want to believe they can’t get worse (don’t fool yourself, they can always get worse), but most of the time, I just don’t know. I have two teenagers in my house, one of them with serious health issues, it’s pretty much a roller coaster around here, and one without the safety restraints at that. I try to hang on, but sometimes I can’t and I have to pick myself back up and get back on the ride. Other times though, I’m killing it, and am amazed by my awesome parenting Kung-Fu (yeah, so those time are pretty rare). Sometimes recovery is going well, sometimes we hit bumps, sometimes we don’t even think about it at all. I like those times, the times we don’t even think about it at all. Sometimes it’s the girl child who needs some help, other times she is owning the dance floor and learning from mistakes. I just don’t know.
I know it doesn’t make sense that we can still be happy even though we are struggling so hard. I know it doesn’t make sense for me to expect you to share my joy without acknowledging the pain, but that is how it is right now. I don’t think you want to hear the latest report from the dietician, my current worry, or most pressing struggle. I’m fairly certain you don’t want the details on the latest fight I had with my insurance company. It’s complicated, and I don’t know. But I’m calling it good. I’m using all those horrible southern California cliches: It’s all good, It is what it is, No worries. I can’t stand them, but they are how I am right now. So when you see me, know that things are the way they are, and we are dealing with them the way we are dealing with them, which is all anyone can do.
From looking at my Facebook feed, I see there was some sort of big holiday last weekend. I saw lots of pictures of friends with their spouses, their children, their parents, other friends, even their dogs. Sadly no cat pictures, I guess cats are not cuddly enough for Valentine’s Day. I was pleased to see that the day is becoming more inclusive, and that we can now interpret it more broadly than lover, partner, or spouse. It’s nice to no longer be left out of a holiday because you’re single, or because your partner feels that it’s a made up holiday/corporate plot. But this year I missed it altogether. No chocolates for the kids, no cards, certainly no presents. I did send my husband a perfunctory text, but it was hardly more than a begrudging acknowledgement. I’m not sure why it passed this year with so little thought on my part. It would be easy to say that it was because I was on the last day of a grueling 4 day road trip that included over 26 hours of driving, or maybe because we were so far out in the middle of nowhere that my internet coverage was too sketchy to post the cute picture with my particular valentine. But neither of those were the reason. I think the real reason I didn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day was because I was too busy falling in love. With my teenager.
It happened so slowly I almost missed it. My son and I were on a long road trip to visit a college he is considering. It was a 13 hour drive each way, with some additional time added on for looking around and visiting museums and bookstores. I’m usually game for a road trip but this was long even by my standards, and spending that much time alone with your teenager, wow. Since I have gotten into the habit of only seeing him at meals and occasional drives to this appointment or that, because our routine has become only glancing conversations unless a therapist was present it felt even more daunting. What do you talk about for that long? Recovery was off the table, we are all so run down by recovery. It’s always there like the elephant in the room, we decided to banish it for the weekend. That left us with a pretty big void. At home we are so often adversaries struggling for power or trying to fix things, trying not to let someone else in, trying to avoid being hurt, trying not to hurt while still being honest. Was that what our drive was going to be like? It felt like we would be walking through a 13 hour minefield. And at the start that’s what it was. It was first date awkward, trying to come up with a subject that would be compelling to both parties but not touchy. We started out with music taking tentative steps around a safe subject then let the rest just take off from there.
I was surprised that just letting the conversation rise and lull at its own rhythm was easier than I thought. It seemed since we had such a large space to fill, nothing felt rushed or urgent. Nothing was too trivial, nothing was too important to let lie there for a while and come back to it. My first steps to falling in love again centered on the recognition of what an easy traveling companion he is. We don’t always agree on everything, but he was willing to go out of his comfort zone a bit to make things easier for me. He put up with my music requests without complaint, didn’t requests stops or breaks, and he seemed comfortable. This was the way we used to be, how he was as a baby and toddler; a challenge but delightful all the same. He joked about the last minute-subpar accommodations. He decided I may be the one person in my family that doesn’t plan everything out and will just let stuff flow. He told me sometimes he likes it and sometimes it’s annoying. I thought for a moment things were going back to the way they were, but I stopped myself. Nothing will ever be the same because everything is always changing. Good, bad, who am I to judge? I decided to let myself be swept away in the now.
Let me tell you, the now was pretty incredible. Small talk out of the way during those initial 13 hours, our first dinner out was a gab fest. I discovered an almost-adult who had thought about the problems of the world with more depth and imagination than most of the already-adults I know. I found in him a self-awareness that I wish I could manage, and an honesty tinged with enough humor to pull us through to dessert. I’m pretty sure our individual theories on social mobility and the best way to initiate social interactions in groups vs one on one were not interesting to the couple in the booth behind us eating their blackberry cobbler, but to us they were fascinating. His description of his decision making process for how he will decide where he goes next fall left me longing for those skills in the decisions I’m making right now. At 50! From the looks on our fellow diners’ faces as we left the restaurant it was clear that our discussion was out of the ordinary, we were both amused by the confusion and the odd looks, even wondered briefly if we had cobbler or ice cream on our face.
This falling in love process continued, everything seemed to add to it and it became larger than life. When he said he would rather go to the bookstore instead of Chinatown, when we both headed to the poetry section independently, when I looked over and he was skipping the postcards to read an esoteric book on poetry and the end of print culture. That’s when I knew. He was letting me in on this part of his journey. I know I can’t be in on the whole thing, like I was when he was two, but I was in on this part. It felt like a warm breeze in the early evening. Comfortable and right.
In our early years my husband and I talked about the difference between loving someone and being in love. I remember long earnest conversations about it. I remember having conversations in the last few years with my son about how you know that you are in love and what it means. I’ve had conversations about how you fall out of love. I hope to have conversations with my daughter on these same things in due time. I wish I had a magic answer for all the questions I have, a viable argument as to how you know, a perfect quote to explain it all. I know this new love I began to feel was different from the mothering love I feel for him, different from the nurturing and care and worry and responsibility. It’s different from the romantic love that I feel for my husband and the partnership and journey we are walking together. Maybe love is the wrong word for it, maybe it’s just a deeper knowing illuminated by listening without judgment and feeling without thought of the consequences. But it feels like love, it felt like falling in love, and it’s exciting to imagine where it will take us.