There’s Always Tomorrow

I had to be the one to break it to my son yesterday…one of his favorite singers committed suicide, at least the second, big-name singer in the span of just a few weeks.  He was heartbroken and rightly so.  What a tragedy, to end your life because you’re beyond hope for your future.  To feel so alone and so incapable of changing those feelings or your circumstances that led you to them.  I know.  I’ve been there.  More than once.

For me, I think it’s always been a cocktail of genetic predisposition and tough times, whether they were caused by me or due to the decisions of another.  It really doesn’t matter because you end up at the same exact place.  I think the first time I felt this way was in high school.  I remember sitting at the top of our stairs, lamenting my life and sobbing uncontrollably, wanting it to all just be over.  The funny thing is, what I can’t remember is WHY.  I just recall the emotion, not the specific reason for it.  I never actually attempted to end my life.  I’m a quitter that way, vision but no follow through.  The one area where it’s a benefit and not a detriment to me.

That time passed, but others followed.  Those times evoke more clarity as to the why.  A myriad of reasons at a myriad of times in my life.  Again, some caused by myself and my own foolish blunders, mistakes, and transgressions, and some caused by others in my life.  Some of those times lasted longer than others, and the most recent of them was just a couple of years ago.  Some days I didn’t want to get out of bed.  Sometimes I just wondered how in the world I ended up at that point.  Other days or times I just wanted to get in my car and drive away from everyone and everything, never to return again. What is common to all of those times and days and periods for me is that the tragedies always pass.  Always.  That’s not to say others won’t creep in to take their place, but I’ve discovered that just as in all other aspects of life, those times and those situations ebb and flow.  They dip and peak.  There’s a mountain and then a valley.  It’s the rhythm of life.  Maybe not for all, but for me.  It’s my rhythm.

What I told my son yesterday and what I wish I could tell everyone facing that hopelessness is that there’s always tomorrow.  Help can be found, whether it’s through medication (which I take) or therapy (which I have gone to on and off for the last two decades of my life) or the sympathetic ear of a loved one, and for me, especially for turning to God and pouring it all out to him.  He wasn’t always part of my solution, but I’ve experienced things I cannot deny because of my faith and my hope.  I’ve been able to be astoundingly appreciative of simple things everyone has access to…the sunrise, the chirping of birds, the contented sigh of a pet, a hug, the ability to walk, the flavor of food, the buzz of a good beer, a conversation with someone I love, the list goes on and on.  When you have seen your darkest, small flickers of light illuminate in ways you never thought possible.  Life is precious.  Life is a gift.  Life is meant to be relished and cherished and lived.

Whatever you’re going through today, there’s always tomorrow.

Vacations

One of the first vacations I went on was to Florida.  Pretty ironic since I would be living there for part of my adulthood (and I vow to make it my home once again!).  Supposedly, we went to Disney World and the beach.  I say supposedly because I remember nothing about this trip.  I was four, and the only proof that I was there is a faded picture of me and my siblings on the sand with the ocean as a backdrop.  Oh yeah, and my sister’s recent revelation to me that we stayed on the shore for exactly enough time to snap a picture before being herded back into the station wagon.  Vacations weren’t a big thing with my family.  My dad was always working, and I can’t ever remember a full week-long trip with my parents anywhere.  Ever.

While we haven’t necessarily given my own two children a consistent calendar of week-long getaways, we have certainly vacationed with them a TON more than my own childhood experiences.  West coast, east coast, north, and south…cruises, lake houses, big city ventures and quiet sandy shores…each time we steal away for some rest and relaxation, it is profoundly restorative to my soul.  I’m a person who likes to sit and think.  To reflect, daydream, listen to nature, and just bask in the stillness of life.  Vacations aren’t all sleep and sunbathing all the time, I know; we have plenty of moments of hustle and jam-packing-in activities, but the point of it all is to get away from the daily grind and ritualistic routine of what is normal life.  And I missed that while I was growing up.  There was no getting away.  There was no indulgent, luxurious rest and play, all together.

This summer has been an anomaly for us.  We are fortunate enough to usually vacation at least one week a year, the four of us, but this summer we are experiencing a little extra.  One of the aspects I appreciate most of all about these trips is that the busyness of life subsides.  The scheduled hours aren’t so rigid.  We don’t live and die by the hours and the alarms.  We feel freedom and flexibility and guided by our desires rather than our responsibilities.  So often, part of the daily struggle is that the busier we are, the more jam-packed our schedules are, the more we are responsible for, the more important we feel.  “I would love to, but I just don’t have the time….I wish I could but I’m already booked up….I’m just in a busy season of life right now….”  I know; I have been there more than I care to remember.  The years when I was constantly hauling around a stack of essays to grade, all the weekends chock-filled with chores I couldn’t squeeze into the week because I didn’t have the time, all the evenings spent preparing and planning for the next day instead of being fully there with my family.  That’s just normal life, right?  Down time is too indulgent.  Let me prove to you that I’m busier than you are.  Woe is me.  Frankly, I have become beyond fed up with my own mentality of believing that unless I am hustling and being productive, I’m being lazy.  Rest is necessary.  A step back, a step away from life isn’t selfish, it’s supportive of a life that is fully aware and appreciative of what is available to us.

As I get ready to prepare and pack for a week with family on the lapping lake waters of Tennessee, I remind myself that life is more than the sum total of our roles and responsibilities.  Busyness doesn’t cause us to win at life.  Rest replenishes us.  Vacations are vital.  Don’t fill up your days so much that you miss out on your life.

The Bittersweet Bargain

Anyone who knows me knows my go-to chocolate is bittersweet.  I guess I’m just an oxymoronic kind of person…you know, the yin and the yang, the action and the opposite reaction, the black and the white…a life full of inexplicable opposites.  I’ve also had enough changes in the last decade to last me a lifetime.  Four across-states moves, ten different houses, buying/leasing/and buying some more cars, obtaining and leaving teaching and accounting (say, what?!) jobs, two pet deaths and two new puppies (only one stuck, though), and a myriad of other life events have left me drained and depleted.  I’m ready for some stability and sameness, but I guess that’s not on my agenda just yet.

I did get one year of partial reprieve recently in which I didn’t work but instead watched and waited as my son completed his high school journey while my daughter began hers.  I rested.  I recovered.  I restored some of my sanity.  But that’s over now.  Rebecca’s moving on to tenth grade, driving lessons, and increasingly upward independence.  Ian just ventured into full time college life four states away.  I’m starting a new job (albeit low stress and not full time) in conjunction with the new school year, and we are scheduled to have another puppy join our family in seven weeks.  And although it will soon be time to purchase yet another vehicle for Rebecca, I swear I am going to drive my current one into the ground so I don’t have to get used to anything else that’s new.  At least we’re still in the same house.  For now.

The biggest and most bittersweet change, however, began over 18 years ago when John and I began the bargain of a lifetime.  We decided to have kids.  We’re planners by nature, and so it really wasn’t a big surprise when we got pregnant six weeks into trying.  Of course, we had picked out Ian’s name before we even knew we would have him, and of course, things just started to roll right along.  But anyone who’s had kids knows that not everything can be planned.  Or else, you can plan it, it just probably won’t work out that way.  I never planned on admitting Ian back into the hospital a week into his life for 10 days worth of IVs in his tiny arms, legs, and head.  I never planned on having to physically peel him from my body every day I dropped him off at school until the end of first grade.  I never planned on both boys and girls saying and doing mean and hurtful things to him while he was in middle school (the worst time of anyone’s life, I daresay, and part of why I quit teaching).  I never planned on dragging him away from friends he had made in three different states to start all over somewhere else.  And I certainly never planned on loving him as much as I do or on missing him as desperately as I have just in the first week of his college career.  I’ve had  8 million people tell me how it gets better and easier, how I’ve done my job as a mother and he is happy and ready for this, how I will cherish the time I get to spend with our daughter alone.  I get all that.  My head knows it.  I understand.  My heart Just. Still. Hurts.  The bargain I thought I was entering when I had a child included a lifetime of unconditional love for my offspring.  It included quality and quantity of time spent together.  It included play dates and reading books and chaperoning field trips and hosting sleepovers and having conversations.  It didn’t include saying goodbye and watching him develop his life without me.  I know that’s the order of life, I just don’t like it right now.  I know I’ll get used to it eventually, but for now, I’m kind of wallowing in some self-pity, and I’m okay with that.  The bittersweet bargain of watching your child grow up and flourish and mature and soar includes the point at which he no longer actually lives with you; he’s just back for a visit.  It’s seems a lot more bitter than sweet, but a deal’s a deal, so I guess that’s the bittersweet bargain I have to deal with in this season of my life.

Mistaken Identity

I have been thinking about my identity a lot lately.  As I age, as my children do, as I go through various seasons of life, I wonder who I am, really.  It used to be so clear to me when I was little.  I always wanted to be a writer.  I always wanted to be a teacher.  I always wanted to be a wife and a mother and a friend.

I’ve done all those things and more, but I often wonder how successful I am at any of them.  Writing has been my most non-relational passion in life.  I’m at least okay at it, and I love it and need it, much like I love and need air and water and sleep.  I have a rhythm in my life that would be off if that essential aspect wasn’t present.  Yet I’ve never earned money at it, and I can’t say I have even earnestly attempted to.  Teaching has been a tumultuous bedfellow for me.  The instant I began having classroom experience in college, I changed majors, it terrified me so.  When I stumbled into the opportunity to pursue it mid-way through life, I immediately fell hard for it and then quickly burned out and became deeply disillusioned with my place in the field.  I largely felt like a failure even though I know I positively influenced at least some and brought my energetic, creative, compassionate pieces to the years of my tenure.  I will never, however, go back.  That chapter of my life is permanently over.  It doesn’t suit me, and I don’t suit it.

I have been a wife and mother for 20 and 18 years respectively.  Those two roles are the most fulfilling ones of my life.  High mountain peaks and deep treacherous valleys have been navigated along both routes, but my heart is always bursting with intense love for what these three people have added to my life.  Words, although beautiful, numerous, and descriptive, cannot begin to capture the depth of my feelings for these blessings of a husband, son, and daughter.  And yet, I have felt and still sometimes feel like an utter failure in my attempts at these relationships, too.  Many mistakes and regrets are carefully cataloged and cleverly hidden away in my memory, like secrets too shameful to ever be divulged to anyone except myself.

As a friend, I frequently feel selfish.  What’s in it for me?  Is it convenient?  How much time am I willing to invest?  Do I have the strength to help when I need to?  What should I say?  I’ve always been one to need people, but not a lot of them.  Give me a few friends who I can be real with, who can witness my ugly and not shun me, who are willing to forgive my missteps and malfunctions, and I’ll be set.  I had a few of those people in my life.  I have let some slip away, through circumstance, distance, or laziness.  I wish I hadn’t.  I miss them.  I am fortunate enough to still have others who feel like those friends for me, but I constantly worry I don’t do enough.  Don’t say enough.  Don’t share enough.  Don’t spend enough time.

When I marry all of these various roles into one coherent identity, the common thread I feel is never enough.  I don’t earn enough money; I don’t have enough ambition; I don’t accomplish enough; I don’t influence enough; I don’t change or grow enough.  Here I am at almost 45 years old, and most days I still wonder what my purpose in life is supposed to be.  I know it’s about relationships, and I know it’s about my willingness to experiment and try, but I sometimes feel so disconnected to what my identity is by worrying about what it should be.  I want to peel off this mistaken mask of identity, but I’m not sure what I’ll find underneath it.  I will, however, continue my search for the real me.  The one who is enough.

Myself-ie

As the last child of five having both parents who were not especially keen on picture taking, I would constantly complain in childhood (and who am I kidding, even into adulthood) how few pictures they had of me.  I mean, there may exist in the world a total of two before I hit one year old, and subsequently thereafter possibly a baker’s dozen for my remaining youth.  Just like my mom wasn’t into party decorations or arranging artwork on walls, she rarely thought to capture moments indelibly in time, which is why I have ZERO pictures of me at my high school graduation, even though I gave a speech and was the salutatorian (ok…so my class size was 40ish, but who’s counting?).  I remember that evening pretty clearly even though my memories are not typically the most vivid or accurate, but it was a milestone, and no image exists except that in my own mind.  I vowed I would do better when I was a mom.

Ian was born in 1999, before Facebook was around.  We had a digital camera, and we took plenty of snapshots of him throughout the baby and toddler stages.  I meticulously and patiently scrapbooked them all, proudly showcasing them to all who would oblige.  It was the same when Rebecca rolled around three years later.  She has her own photo albums, and all the markers of her childhood are right there, staring back at me under the cellophane.

As the years and their childhoods wore on, however, I became less adept at remembering to take the time to scrapbook my pictures with all the whimsical stickers, labels, and attachments.  Part of me was a little rebellious while we vacationed or were in the midst of significant events.  I didn’t want to spoil every moment by pausing and posing everyone until we wore matching smiles and had each eye opened and looking at the same spot.  We still took pictures, though, and I saved them in photo boxes, where we still took time to sift through our previous experiences and relive them with fondness.

Ian recently graduated from high school himself, and although he wasn’t the salutatorian of his class (come on, there were over 750 students!), I wanted to make certain we planned for pictures of the occasion.  We really had no excuse anymore.  Everyone carries a camera with them at all times on their phone, so it’s almost an extension of your hand.  In ironic but not altogether unexpected form, (Ian HATES getting his picture taken), we wound up with ZERO pictures of him at his graduation.  Now it’s not that I didn’t think about it, like my parents when they didn’t even bother to bring a camera to my ceremony, but circumstances seemed to be fighting against us.  He had to drive separately and arrive early.  The crowd size was in the thousands.  It was raining torrentially, causing further crowding and discomfort.  The bottom line is we don’t have any pictures of it, and it breaks my heart.  Ian’s, not so much.

The final kicker came when Rebecca volunteered to piece together the memory board of pictures, chronicling Ian from birth through the end of his senior year.  I sorted and separated tons on the top of our pool table, awaiting her clever and artistic touch to meld them all together into one giant collage of a memory.  The trouble was, we both noticed that not very many pictures existed after he ended elementary school, which coincides with the arrival of smart phones that snap shots of every second of your life, but none of which I ever bother to print off and display anywhere.  Add to that the unpleasantry of cajoling Ian to allow me to aim and press, and it’s indicative of the current relationship I have with family photos.

Oh sure, my kids take hundreds a day of themselves daily and splash them all over their social media outlets, but I rarely have the privilege of seeing, let alone saving any of those.  And so I am left with myself and my selfies.  I take them after workouts sometimes, I take them of what I bake or eat and drink, I take them while I am in the carpool line waiting for my daughter to get out of her last class, and I take them lounging around in various places.  Much like this blog, very few end up seeing them, but they capture a moment in time, a moment in life.  Sometimes those moments are significant, and sometimes those moments are simple or silly.  I’m not all about portraying my every waking moment on film, but, you know, it still would be nice to have that graduation photo.  Instead, all I can offer is me drinking wine and eating a cookie.  At least I was in Denmark!

My Motherhood

I’ve had a mother my entire life, and I’ve been a mother now for over 18 years, so since Mother’s Day is officially coming around again in a couple of days, I was reflecting on my motherhood experiences.

When I was young, my mother was the woman who read poetry to me, took me for walks, and shared her love of musicals with me.  She hugged me, told me she loved me, spent time shopping with me and taking me out to lunch, and was never too tired to have long conversations with me.  She helped me overcome my fear of the dark, enabled me to beat the habit of sucking my thumb, and gave me advice only when I asked her for it.  She was always willing to share her convictions and opinions with me, yet she never made decisions for me.  In my early adulthood, when I didn’t live nearby and was going through a divorce, I heard her heart breaking for me through our phone calls.  She begged me to allow her to help me and be there for me more than I took her up on it.  Later on, when I got remarried and had my own two kids, she always helped me out without being pushy or taking over.  She gave us our space to be our own family, but she was always close by when I needed a helping hand or a listening ear.  Later still, when we moved across the country from her and could only visit once or twice a year, I could still rely on her to cheer me on and lend support from across state lines.  Now that I live within a few miles from her again, our relationship has taken a new turn as two adult women, neither of whom have young children anymore but still desire to be the best mothers we can be, regardless of our ages or theirs.

Primarily, though, when I ponder Mothers Day, I view it from the perspective of myself as a mother.  Not on what I want or where to celebrate it or how much I have done or not done for Ian and Rebecca, but I whisk and sift through all the moments of the last 18 years with the two of them.  There were times when I cried out of frustration and desperation at my inexperience of dealing with issues, whether it be how to cajole my son to finally sleep through the night or eat his broccoli, or whether it be how to fasten a proper ballet bun in Rebecca’s hair without both of us screaming at each other.  There were plenty of times when I wanted to jump in the car and drive until I was so completely isolated from the problems I perceived I was dealing with, times when I locked the bathroom door to read a chapter or two of a novel while I heard yelling and pounding on the door, times when my blood nearly boiled at how harshly words flew between my son and daughter, times I felt like I was a complete failure at this journey called motherhood.

But there have also been plenty of other types of times.  Times when my eyes welled up with tears at the struggles they endured one way or another…sometimes with school, sometimes with friends, and sometimes with themselves.  There have been times of immense, overflowing pride at accomplishments they have mastered that I never could or did.  The courage and compassion they have shown in situations that couldn’t have been easy for them astounds me when I consider it.  Their willingness to accept my slathering kisses and colossal hugs, the corny jokes and ill-timed teasing is eternally appreciated.  Plus, they make me laugh in the best ways!  They entertain me, indulge me, spend time with me, talk with me, and share with me in ways that produce such immense joy.

The older I get and the more I am a mother, the more I enjoy it.  I never would have guessed that I would turn into the kind of woman who could get lost for hours watching her children sleep when they were young, the kind of woman who relished making lunches and leaving little notes in them to brighten up their afternoons at school, the kind of woman who would rather go without so they didn’t have to, or stay up later than I typically could to try and help them in some way or another.  The older my children get, the more precious each of those moments becomes to me.  I don’t feel like a taxi cab or a referee or a short order cook or a doormat.  I don’t feel unappreciated or unloved, and I think it’s because a gradual shift slowly occurred over time that cause me to realize that motherhood may be eternal, but my time with my kids under my roof is startlingly short.  I won’t always have the privilege of picking my daughter up from school or folding my son’s laundry.  One day, very soon, they won’t need me in these and many other ways, both big and small.  In fact, they will probably discover that they are liberated from them and from so much time with me.  It’s bittersweet.  I know we are supposed to raise them well so they will learn and become independent, but I can never forget the moments when they spoke their first words or reached their arms up for me to hold them.  I see them as teenagers, and I will soon see them as adults, but I will also always see them as my babies.  Motherhood was and is the greatest gift I have ever been given.  I may have squandered some of it on foolish or fleeting whims and activities, some of which were selfish and some of which were just inconsequential or unnecessary, but I see every moment’s value now, and I am forever thankful of all my experiences with motherhood.

I Wonder If He Knows

The countdown has officially begun, at least in my mind.  It’s less than three weeks until Ian graduates from high school.  He already brought home his cap and gown, his honors cord and sash, his academic congratulatory letter.  I no longer am in denial that I have a soon-to-be-graduate that will be leaving me to attend college out of state.  Far out of state.  A plane ride away out of state.  He is so anxious to begin his next chapter of life, and he is so excited to be an adult, living away from the constant supervision of his mom and dad (although we are anything but helicopter parents!).  He loves us, but he also loves his independence.  And I, of course, want the best for him.  I want him to get what he wants.

But I wonder if he knows that while he was just the whisper of an experimental thought in our minds, we already had chosen his name and purchased his crib.  We were over-the-moon ecstatic to be receiving him into our family.  I wonder if he knows that during the nine months I carried him, I thought about him every hour of every day.  I read books to him before he ever took a breath.  I talked to him and told him I loved him before I ever even knew him.  But I already knew him.

I wonder if he knows that we read every book about parenting we could get our hands on because we wanted to be the perfect parents to him.  We wanted to bathe and feed him the right way.  We wanted him to sleep the right way.  We wanted him to get the perfect amount of socialization and stimulation.  We wanted him to grow exactly like he was supposed to, and we captured every milestone.  It’s imprinted in our memories and preserved in our scrapbooks.

I wonder if he knows that I walked him around our neighborhood in a little red wagon, pointing out everyone’s address so he could learn his numbers.  I wonder if he knows that I sat patiently on the floor of his nursery and taught him his alphabet and phonics so he could have the best possible start in his formal education.  I wonder if he knows we spent hours singing and playing in the basement…with cars, in plastic cabins, on slides.  I wonder if he knows how many walks we took, how many parks we played at, how many trips to the zoo and all the various museums we frequented because I wanted to expose him to as much as possible.

I wonder if he knows how much I ached for the pain he felt every time we moved and he had to switch schools.  I wonder if he knows that every time he cried, every time he felt stressed out by school, every time he faced a difficult situation with a friend, I felt all of those tears, that stress, those difficulties he endured.  I wonder if he knows that each time he felt proud of himself or an achievement he accomplished, I felt just as proud of him, too.

I wonder if he knows that when he triumphantly embarks on his new adventure, I will be so happy for him while simultaneously feel so much grief at the prospect of not seeing his face every morning at breakfast, of missing his laughter while passing his bedroom, of hugging him goodnight before I go to bed.

I wonder if he knows that I would do anything for him, give up anything, go anywhere.  I wonder if he knows that my heart and my soul and my mind are bursting with love for him.  Pure, unadulterated, unconditional love.  I wonder if he knows any or all of these things, but I think that he does, and I will remind him if he forgets.  He has always been and will always be my one and only son.  My oldest, my Ian.