Wavelength

There comes a time when you see your mother as a being separate from yourself.  It’s not as an infant when you realize you exist outside her body.  It’s not when, as a toddler, you assert your independence.  The tumultuous teenaged years don’t do it.  Even becoming a full-fledged adult doesn’t do it.

She will always be your number one fan, miracle-worker, therapist, and helpmate.  She will always allow you to be self-centered when you come calling because you are her world.  She is your MOM.  (No Pressure 😉 )

But there are moments when she does something on an even more amazing level of awesome – perhaps even sublime – in which you see in crystalline form what a perfectly human and beautiful individual she is.

The first time this happened was when I was an early teen.  My parents, consummate do-it-yourself-ers, were in the middle of some household project that necessitated the transit of a long ladder through our tiny kitchen.  One inadvertent swing of the ladder swept the decorative items off one of the display shelves surrounding the window.  A crystal-clear unicorn, whose knobs and nodules captured and refracted the sun’s rays into rainbows, shattered against the stainless steel of the sink below.  I heard my mother scream like I never had before: a desperate, anguished wail.  She cried as she gathered the pieces.  This was another thing I rarely – if ever – had experienced with my mother.  These were not the welled-tears of sentimentality; these were big fat gobs of grief.

Being a young person, with no framework within which to place this, I asked my mother what was wrong.  She explained that the unicorn had been a gift from her sister when she had lost a baby.  Four years prior to my birth, my mother had delivered my would-be sister, stillborn.  This was my first encounter with this information, with this grief.  While I now had a framework, it was shaky.  I knew it was tragic.  I knew my mother hurt.  But I had no idea to what extent.

Years later, as a mother myself, now accustomed to grief, but still not of that magnitude, I sat with my mother in the parking lot of a botanical garden.  We stared out the windshield at the glass squares of the greenhouse.  ‘A woman in my writers’ group has written a memoir about her family, Ma,’ I said.  ‘About her journey through love and loss.  She had a stillborn, too.  Much the same circumstances as yours.’  There were some eerily similar details in their stories, though my mother never got the legal vindication that this woman did.  ‘Would you read it?’

I didn’t know if I was overstepping my bounds, if I was being too forward, pushy.  Was I dredging up feelings that my mother had gladly put to rest years ago?

‘I suppose it might be good for me,’ she said.  ‘Therapeutic.’

Months later, I took my mother to the launch party for that book: Breathe: A Memoir of Motherhood, Grief, and Family Conflict by Kelly Kittel.  The day before Mother’s Day, we spent the afternoon of the launch together.  Ironically, though we were celebrating the ubiquitous holiday, I saw my mother as ‘other than mother’.  Hearing her speak to Kelly and share her story, I saw the profoundly deep wellspring of strength my mother’s been drawing from all these years.  I saw her as a woman, fighting a soul-crushing battle and winning.  I saw her as someone – like myself – who has been curled up on the floor crying, but she got up!  She went on.  And gave me the best, most important parts of herself.  All while, unbeknownst to me, she was suffering a tremendous loss.

It was hard for me to not insert comments or explanations as she spoke.  I felt the intermediary between these two women and wanted to help forge the link.  But the link between these two women had nothing to do with me.  It was in their tragedies and victories, their similar experiences with death and inextinguishable life.

I saw my mother as a distinct individual, a woman with her own suitcase of memories and maladies, a human being with a suit of armor and the soft underbelly of a mother.

Image

Photo by John Butler

It’s a $%#@ vacation

“There were constant battles . . . between those who had chosen to have children and those who had chosen not to – all ostensibly for the sake of our publication, but more accurately as a way to work out personal differences under the cloak of business discussions.  Our boss was happily childless (“When I see children, I just want to put them in cement,” she once admitted), and she was unimpressed with the fact that mothers needed to return to their families earlier rather than later each evening.  Her right-hand woman also had no children.  They didn’t like to do extra work to make up for the women who went on maternity leave, and they didn’t appreciate having sacrificed portions of their personal lives to the office when others hadn’t.

“Well, what does the woman who chooses not to have kids do?  asked the boss.  “She should take a maternity leave to fulfill herself.”

A new mother grunted from her position at the table, her breasts sore from pumping milk into bottles, her eyes swollen from nights awake.  “Right,” she said, “it’s a fucking vacation.”

— from Marcus of Umbria: What an Italian Dog Taught an American Girl about Love by Justine van der Leun

 

The Zen of Shuffleboard

Hanging out in a 55+ community can teach you a lot about life.

It’s never too early for happy hour.
It’s never too early to paint a driveway.
It’s never a good idea to force the disc in a game of shuffleboard.

I’d never played shuffleboard before. I had images of straw-topped gentlemen sipping gin and tonics smoothly gliding the disc as if across a sheet of ice. Tropical printed shirts in a calmly boisterous competition. Just the lines of the court themselves, all crisp and geometric, spoke to me of an art deco paradise.

And then I picked up a cue.

While my husband attempted to reign in our three spastic shuffleboarders, akin to three ninjas on speed on their first day of weapons training, I quietly sneaked to the adjacent court. I pulled the cue behind me with the gusto of an archer and swung my arm forward toward the disc, visualizing a tremendous skim to the far end of the court. Instead, the disc flipped back onto the golden shaft of the cue before smacking the ground with a clang like a dinner plate on the kitchen floor. This scenario repeated itself, with ever more epic flips, flops, and failed forward motion. I figured the more oomph I put behind it, the better the outcome.

Until I actually paid attention to the lessons my husband was trying to impart to our tiny samurais.

“Don’t push it.”
“Hold the grip lightly with one hand.”
“Rest the guide against the disc and slide it forward.”
“Take a few steps toward the disc and move your arm in one fluid motion.”

When I worried less about sending the disc into kingdom come, it went farther. When I forced it less, I got more. When I thought of the cue, the disc, as one long extension of my arm, my effort spun itself to the far end of the court.

When I got all amped up, when I tried to muscle things to my desired outcome, it flopped. All that pent-up energy, all that roiling muscle mass did nothing. It actually hurt my efforts. When I put in what my wound-up self would consider a failed attempt – no gusto – I had more success.

On the hollowed court of the silver-haired, I learned that nothing good comes of forcing an outcome. One must work in concert with the circumstances placed on the playing field. For the force to be strong, one must focus intentionally and let go of force.

Who would’ve thought a retiring past time would hold such potent lessons?

Framing the Scene

I always thought of the shadowed lines drawn by the slats of blinds to be something out of film noir. They always brought my mind back to the darkened auditorium of college, watching Double Indemnity and looking for clues of deception and danger within the frame.

This morning they make angles askew, geometric light patterns. Faint shadows paled by bright sunlight. Dull, flat gray; luminous white back lit by soft yellow.

How ironic that time of day,
quality of light,
the way your eyes flip the image, the brain perceives soft or sinister,
can totally change the mood, your mood.
The way you’ll approach the situation, the day.

It’s really all in the lens we choose to peer through.

Image from James Woodward

Image from James Woodward

Psychosomatic

Sitting in the driver’s seat of the idling car, waiting for the bus to return my children, I stared at the barren landscape and felt a piercing pull at the point when my left sinus emptied into my throat. It’s just a twinge, I thought. It doesn’t mean I will get sick. If I neti-pot the hell out of it and force fluids, I won’t get sick.

But the pierce persists and I know that as soon as I noticed it, I was done for. Because despite my best preventative measures, my psyche had already talked my body into succumbing to the germs, urging them to multiply and prosper.

When my husband returns from work, we greet by way of hug and I linger there. He kneads (some of) the tension from the inner corners of the upper quadrants of my back. The next morning, the sore throat is worse. Throughout the day, my nose starts running and the body aches begin. I blame him for releasing the toxins into my system, but let him squeeze more out.

Cranky and congested, I don’t go to bed early, thinking, what’s the point. I can’t breathe when I lie down anyway. My husband really knows something is wrong when I arise after the first ring of the alarm – for the same reason I didn’t retire early.

I feel better when I’m forced to socialize at the bus stop and preschool drop-off, but seem even worse when I’m back to my miserable cocoon in the car, sneezing and snorking and cringing. Did I feel better because interacting took my mind off my ailments or off its nefarious plans to infect me further?

My mother has told me repeatedly I’m my own worst enemy – in the most loving, instructive way possible. Apparently, I have not learned the lesson.

How does one shut off the tap of postnasal drip and negative thoughts?

And the song running through my head since that first moment at the bus stop? “Breathe” by The Prodigy. No, the irony does not escape me.

(Warning – video may be more disturbing than the description of my mucus malady)

 

No Longer Negative Space

 

The way light shows through the gaps in a loose stone wall.

 

Unless you approach at a certain angle, you miss the open spaces – circles, angles, different shapes brilliantly back-lit. Looking down, it’s a solid mass. Standing even with it, a barrier of boulders. If you get down on your belly, study it head-on, the passageways are there. Light spills through the windows of opportunity, possibility. Against the bright backdrop, even the cold, dense masses of each individual stone etch beautiful silhouettes.

 

But you only see the relief if you look from a certain perspective.

On the level.

With a discerning eye.

Bringing the bright background into crystalline focus, letting the dark foreground fade into a fuzzy blur.

 

photo from an article by Joe Silvia

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