Monthly Archives: February 2014

Time for Me to Fly

Howie has been very faithful to me, which is something I like in a husband.  His fidelity has risen to a new height since I started writing this blog: he reads my posts every day.  It’s a touching display of devotion that is not lost on me.  Yet the day has come that I am packing my bags and heading out.  There comes a time when a woman–even one with kids–has to answer a call that lures her away from home.

I am making my second pilgrimage to the mecca for writers known simply as AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs Annual Conference and Bookfair).  The first conference I attended was in Chicago two years ago, and this one is in Seattle.

Tomorrow morning, I will begin my immersion in a multitude of sessions with titles like Four Ways Blogging Benefits a Writer, Preparing for Exuberant Life Beyond the MFA, From Thesis to Book: The Stretch Run, Full Disclosure: How to Spill Your Guts without Making a Mess and The Author’s Children: The Intersection of Art and Ethics in Writing About Your Kids.

For three days, spread across three venues (Washington State Convention Center, Sheraton Seattle, and Western New England MFA Annex) attendees can sample from over 30 sessions presented simultaneously during each of six, back-to-back, hour-and-a-quarter blocks.  In addition, a vast array of publishers will delight the masses sponsoring readings on three separate stages and a book fair that stretches as far as the eye can see and vibrates underneath it all.  Writers from far and wide, at all points on the spectrum in their artistic development and partial to their own genre of creative writing will gorge on the offerings of this literary orgy.

I’m breathless just thinking about it.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Howie and Sophie will be left to fend for themselves.  I should be ashamed.

As I said, my loyal husband has been following my blog, which is very endearing to me.  He doesn’t offer his opinion, unless I ask him what he thought of a particular post, in which case he usually says,

“I liked it.” or “There’s a typo in it.”

He typically doesn’t take issue with any of my topics.  Until my most recent one, the one I wrote about lessons I hope I’ve taught Sophie.

“Do people realize Sophie has two parents?” he asked, with a justifiable edge of irritation.

As I ready myself to depart for Seattle, I have to stop and appreciate Howie for another form of his dedication; he works hard with me to care for our young.

In the animal kingdom, males generally seem most interested in their females–their mates–and not as interested in their offspring.  In traditional marriages, like ours, the male goes out hunting in the world and the female gathers food and tends to the children.  This is not to say Howie doesn’t play his part as father or that I don’t work outside the house.  It’s just a division of labor we’ve set up that happens to pair nicely with our skill sets and affinities.  Some might consider it less-evolved, but it works for us.

If ever I’ve questioned our roles, I’ve been reassured by shows on Animal Planet or the Nature Channel.  Elephant herds, for example, are matriarchal and the strongest bonds are among the females, especially between the cows and their calves.  The bulls wander in and out of the territory mostly for breeding purposes.

The most disturbing televised display of paternal apathy I’ve ever witnessed was a year ago fall, when a cub was born to Mei Xiang, the female Giant Panda at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington.  A week after the cub was born, distress vocalizations–called “chirping”–were heard coming from the mother Panda.  Zookeepers found the newborn unresponsive but there were no signs of trauma, at least for the cub.  An autopsy revealed the cub died from lung and liver damage. Mei Xiang was audibly and visibly grieved over the loss of her cub, continuing to cradle a found object from her den, so ferocious were her maternal instincts.

The father, Tian Tian, was caught on camera on the far side of the habitat munching obliviously on his bamboo.

My leaving town without Howie and/or at least one of our kids in tow is about as rare as the birth of a Giant Panda cub in captivity.  Howie has traveled so much for work that he has earned Platinum status with Delta.  When I fly with Howie, we’re often upgraded to first-class.  When I travel alone, I’m lucky to not have to ride down below with the baggage (and any animals).

In anticipation of the coming school mornings when I won’t be home to kiss Sophie awake and attend to her as she gets ready for school, including but not limited to filling her water bottle, cutting an apple and zipping it into a Ziplock, and pouring coffee with cream into her traveler, I asked Howie,

“What time will you wake her on Thursday and Friday?”  and he said,

I’m not waking her.  She can wake herself.”

What kind of fantasy world do I live in, I ask myself, where a high school senior needs parental involvement to get herself out of the house in the morning?!

But I know my presence in her morning routine will be missed.  Who wouldn’t want someone seeing to their every need?

“Mom; will you throw me down a pair of leggings?”

“Mom; have you seen my glasses?”

“Mom; my wrist really hurts again, can you get me another doctor’s appointment?”

Sophie doesn’t even have to ask me to tend to her car.  I’ve taken this job upon myself, as this winter continues to brutalize us.  I throw Howie’s big overcoat over my nightgown, plunge my feet into my boots and traipse out to the driveway to clear any snow off or warm up her car.  I feel bad if she has to get into a cold car.

I’m embarrassed to reveal the depth of my indulgence of this child.

Monkey mothers allow their young to cling to their fronts or backs while foraging for food and they spend hours grooming and doting on them.  Sophie isn’t furry enough for me to have to pick nits off of her (though she has accused me of being nitpicky), but I succumb to my maternal instincts like any other mammalian mother.

I’ve been talking with her about how different things will be while I’m away and she’s alone with her dad.

“He’s going to treat you like a grown-up, which is what you say you want.  You say I treat you like a baby, so you’ll probably like the mornings with Dad in charge.”

“It’s going to be fine.  I don’t know why you keep talking about it.  You’re only going to be gone a couple days.”

But in a couple days, whole worlds can change.

Things I Learned From My Mom

Last Sunday night, Sophie and I laid on my bed with my computer and a credit card, and registered her for a dorm room at KU.  I took a few selfies of us filling out this historic document, which she thought was ridiculous.

“Why are you making such a big deal out of this?” she wanted to know.

The big deal, for me, is that by signing up for a dorm room, I am acquiescing to the inevitable.  I am acknowledging the impending reality that my daughter is leaving home to live somewhere else.  I’m even putting money on it, which is not something I do lightly.

Even though we still haven’t heard from the U of M, the consensus around here is that Sophie needs to go away to school.  By “away” we mean beyond our city limits.  And by “consensus” I mean that she wants to go and I agree that what she wants trumps what I want.

Confirmation emails from the dorm arrived right away and a letter arrived in the mailbox yesterday.  All this activity is causing me to move out of my entrenched residence in denial and think about what needs to be done to prepare Sophie to leave my nest.  And I’m not talking about collecting coupons for Bed, Bath & Beyond.

On the dorm form was a box to check to request a “mini fridge/microwave” for the room.  I said we have both those things in storage from when the boys moved out for college.

Then I started thinking about all the other things–the intangibles–I want to be sure Sophie takes with her when she heads off for her new life this fall.  As the future gets more tangible, our history takes on more significance for me.

Part of my own private history is that twelve years ago this month, I took my first class at The Loft Literary Center.  I was 42.  I met a woman in that class, Helen, who was 70, and has since died.  I happened upon her obituary in the paper years ago which is weird, because I almost never glance at the obituaries.  That’s another inevitable reality of life I prefer to deny.

At 70 years old, Helen was interested in writing her life story, maybe out of nostalgia, but ostensibly out of a desire to leave a written legacy, including documentation of her family history, for her children.

At 42, I wasn’t thinking about legacies.  But I’m starting to, now.

Helen was from a wealthy, high-society family, from the western suburbs of Minneapolis, which is reflected in her writing.  One of her pieces was entitled, “HowTo Do Gin Fizzes”, which included not only the recipe for this summertime cocktail, but also a copy of a sepia-toned photo of her family enjoying a pitcher of them out on the patio of the family’s large, brick home on the shores of Lake Minnetonka.  I can almost hear her father calling her brothers “sport”, like the Great Gatsby, and her mother calling the drinks “splendid”, in appreciation of their housekeeper, Marie’s, mixology.

But it was another of Helen’s pieces that left an indelible impression on me.  I don’t have her permission to reproduce it here, but I credit her and this piece for getting me thinking about the lessons we teach our children, both intentionally and unintentionally.

She titled her piece “Things I Learned From My Mom”, and she presented these lessons in simple words or phrases, arranged in four stanzas of six lines, each (for some reason, this blog won’t let me arrange things in single-spaced stanzas, so please use your imagination when you get to my lists).  All but the last stanza of Helen’s work end with the words, “Eat fruit”. 

Helen’s list is rich in innuendo.  I especially love the line that reads, “a little healthy neglect never hurt a child” and seems to imply the “children should be seen and not heard” attitude of our parents’ and grandparents’ generations; generations who seem to have been so much less child-focused than we are.

I have long wanted to make my own lists, based on Helen’s.  There could be a list of things I learned from my mother, which I’ll think about posting around Mother’s Day.  Then, there’s the list of things I’ve learned from my children, which would include things like how to work any of the electronics around here, how amazing the jam band Phish is live, and what style of jeans the girls are wearing today (and by that I mean today, not yesterday and probably not next month).

But to begin, I will make two lists.  The first one contains some of the things I hope I’ve taught all my children but some I hope I’ve taught Sophie, specifically.  And the second will contain some of the things I suspect I’ve taught her, unwittingly.

Things I Hope Sophie Learned From Me

Show up for people if you expect them to show up for you

Always bring something when you’re invited to someone’s home (be a gracious guest)

Speak your truth, but do it tactfully, if possible

Portion control

It’s often easier to “do” something than to “undo” it; think carefully before you act

Learn to work and take care of yourself, so your relationships are out of love not need

Real beauty shines from the inside out, not the other way around

When someone hurts your feelings, say so, but use your tender feelings as a basis for compassion

Care for your siblings, despite your differences; they are your closest family once your parents are gone

You are bigger than a spider (and bigger than most of the other things that scare you)

Respect yourself and others will respect you

Lifelong learning is the fountain of youth

Every person you meet is just that–a person–no better or worse than you

Take good care of your body; it’s the vehicle in life you will put the most mileage on

See the world, and before you go, learn as much as you can about your destination

Show gratitude for the abundance in your life by giving freely of yourself to others

That’s a list, albeit incomplete, of values I hope to have passed on as a legacy to Sophie.  I hope I have modeled these imperatives for my kids, but I suspect I’ve taught them just as much through my less honorable behavior.

In the “Do as I say, not as I do” category, they may have learned:

A shot of tequila provides a helpful buffer before all large family gatherings

“Gossip” is really a productive way of relaying critical social information

Vacuuming is not just a way of removing cat hair from carpeting; it’s a less confrontational way of maintaining domestic peace

Exercising daily is more important than cooking and relieves stress better than excess alcohol consumption (that’ll be a good one to remember at college)

Caffeine is medicine, and so is chocolate, and as such should be consumed daily

It’s helpful–and just plain fun–to make friends wherever you go

Everything is enhanced by playing music, preferably loudly

When you enter a retail establishment, head directly for the sale rack

Charm works like a charm

The rules apply, but some apply more than others

Color is the new black

Leave everyone you encounter with a smile on their face

Hold the door for everyone, especially mothers carrying carseats, and people Grandma’s age

Don’t take yourself too seriously

Know that even if your mother is small and a pacifist, she would tear someone limb-from-limb if they harmed you

Rest absolutely assured that your mother’s selfishness, possessiveness and worry about you is NOT an indication of her lack of faith, trust, or pride in you; it’s a direct result of those things.

I’m taking away something from Helen’s list, for myself, by way of consolation.  And that is that even at 70 years old, Helen was holding on to things she learned from her mom.  I guess a mom’s legacy, for better or worse, can be carried anywhere and treasured more than gold.

 

Expectant Mother

Yesterday, I met my thesis-mates, Tracy and Molly, for lunch.  Then I learned some things about waiting.

As always, Tracy was the first to arrive.  We commended each other for venturing out amidst another 6-inches of snow that was still falling, perhaps explaining why Molly wasn’t there yet.

While Tracy had me alone, she blurted out,

“Gail; I got an audition.  For Listen to Your Mother.  I just had to tell you.”

The room blurred around Tracy as I fixed on her and took in this news.  Tracy faithfully reads my blog, so she is well aware how much an audition for this show means to me.  She’s also aware that I’m the one who told her about the show and suggested she submit something, since she writes so beautifully about mothering her biological son and adopted daughter.  Tracy’s enjoyed more publishing successes than I have as a result of not only her talent but also her diligence in sending out her work.  Most of all, she is an unfailingly supportive friend, so I knew she was anxious having to share this development with me.

When Molly arrived, moments later, I had to explain how I’d been knocked off my chair, on my ass, at Tracy’s feet.  Not really.  But that’s how it felt.  My kindhearted mates set about trying to keep me from circling the drain in that downward spiral of self-doubt familiar to “emerging writers” as we are called.

Wouldn’t this just be perfect; she gets in and I don’t, hissed my darkest, most negative self.  I’m afraid I actually hissed it out loud.

After I wrote last week’s confessional post about how much I wanted to make the cut for the show, and included the fact that I hadn’t heard if they had received my piece or not, it was Tracy who forwarded me the confirmation email she received after she sent in her piece.  In that confirmation, Tracy learned they’d be offering auditions to a select group on Monday, February 17.

That day was yesterday.

We managed to have a lovely lunch and when we hugged each other ‘goodbye’, Tracy insisted, once again, that something must have gone awry.  She suggested I check my junk mailbox when I got home.  Which I did.  Even before I took my coat off.

Still, nothing.

I was able to locate the phone number of one of the women on the production team and left her a voicemail.  Then I composed as sane an email as I could muster, given my state of agitation.

Then I waited some more.

Sophie came home to find me at my computer, trying to distract myself as I awaited an answer to my voicemail and email messages.  I said,

“Soph; my friend Tracy heard from Listen to Your Mother that she got an audition, and I haven’t heard anything from them yet.”

“That sucks.” was all she could muster.  She went on to share with me something that happened in class, that I am not at liberty to share.

Then she went downstairs to her living quarters.  Sophie has taken to living in the bowels of this house.  It seems she is so over living out in the open with us old folks.

The mom in me thought,

I’m the mother and she’s the child.  It’s not her job to take care of me.  It’s my job to listen to and take care of her.

But the seperate human being in me thought,

Yeah, but haven’t I raised her to be a compassionate soul?  Shouldn’t she be mature enough at this point to realize that relationships, even parent/children relationships, should be a 2-way street?  Isn’t she old enough to show some genuine concern for me if I tell her I’m suffering?

So I decided to be honest about my feelings.

“Soph, I feel bad that you don’t seem to care that I’m frustrated about this show thing.”

“Mom.  I’m sure you’ll hear from them.  You have to learn to be patient.” but she was just getting started,

“Now you know how it feels to be waiting to hear from colleges.  We work hard, we fill out applications, we write essays, and I still haven’t heard from the U of M…and (her dear friend, who will remain nameless) got rejected by (the college that was her first choice)…do you know how bad that feels?

So I made dinner.  And I didn’t drink.  What if the show’s producer did call back?

This morning, in thinking about how things went down yesterday, I started thinking about the difference between “waiting” and “expecting”.  This is not a distinction I was wondering about yesterday, because yesterday I was so stuck in the waiting.

The difference between waiting and expecting may seem like a matter of semantics, but the difference is powerful.

Waiting is passive.  Expecting is active.

Expecting is activated by an element that is missing from waiting, alone, and that added element is belief.  Belief gives empowered expecting an edge over wimpy waiting.

And that belief is not a belief that things will turn out the way we want them to, but a belief that no matter what happens, we will be O.K.

Expecting might seem overly bold.  It might imply an edge of entitlement or, at the least, overconfidence.  But there’s another aspect of waiting that makes it even more insidious.  And that is that often, when we’re waiting for something we want in the moment, we lose touch with all that we already have.

I am anxiously awaiting the day I have to let my daughter go, to release her into the world and off to college.  I’m waiting for this day, but expecting that by then, I may be ready.  But, in this moment, I have to remember that I wouldn’t be facing letting her go if I DIDN’T HAVE HER IN THE FIRST PLACE!  And once I let her go, I’ll still have her.  She’ll be my daughter forever (as so many have tried to remind me).

Not to mention, living in a state of waiting for things just beyond our grasp is pretty darn uncomfortable.

So I let it all go and sat down to dinner with my family, after which I checked my email, once again, and found this:

Hi Gail!

I’m forwarding you this message from this morning in the hopes that it gets to you this time!

Will you please let us know that you received it?

Followed by the aforementioned forwarded email,

Hello Gail!

Thank you so much for your submission, “Humble Warrior” to Listen To Your Mother Twin Cities. We have been humbled by the many submissions that were courageously shared with us.

 We’re beyond excited to offer you an audition slot to read your piece live to us!

And attached to that was the even earlier email, dated February, 3rd (the submission deadline); another communication that had failed to get to me the first time around,

Thanks Gail! We will be choosing pieces for auditions as soon as we close submissions and will let people know by 2/17/14.

Thank you for sharing your story with us!

So they’d been sending me messages all along.  I can’t explain where they went, or why I never received them in the first place.  Unless it was all part of a carefully constructed plan by the Universe to teach me some lessons.  Ever wonder if the Universe is messing with you that way?

Sophie happened to be in the dining room when I received this long-awaited email trail, and we burst into spontaneous dancing; the kind with our noses up in the air that we learned from the Peanuts gang from all those Charlie Brown cartoons we watched together over the years.

I scheduled my audition for Saturday, March 15.  I’m going to practice reading my piece a thousand times between now and then.

And I’m going to practice expecting that things will turn out O.K.

YOLO

I confess; there’s something I’ve been wanting.  For myself.  Real bad.  I have admitted it to those closest to me but have been afraid to put my desire in writing–here–for fear of not getting it and having to deal with my disappointment not only personally but also publicly.  Then suddenly, two-time Olympic gold medalist snowboarder, Shaun White, made me do a 180º.

I confess that what I want is to be chosen to perform in the Listen to Your Mother Twin Cities show this May.  I also confess that I’ve been captivated by Shaun White, formerly known as The Flying Tomato, ever since he stole the show–and his first gold medal–in Turin at the age of 19, and his second, in Vancouver, four years later.

What do my performance-aspirations and this red-headed hucker (find that in the snowboarding dictionary) have to do with each other?

Hold your halfpipe and I’ll explain.

Listen to Your Mother: Giving Mother’s Day a Microphone is the brainchild of mother-actress-humorist-blogger Ann Imig.  Imig was blogging about motherhood (and we know how hilarious that is) and missed the connection with a live audience that she enjoyed as an actress in her previous life.  Through her blog, she shared her own mothering stories online and thus began hearing stories from other moms, which inspired her to assemble the first LTYM show in her hometown of Madison, Wisconsin.

Since that first show in 2010, LTYM has become a nationwide movement, growing yearly to 5, 10, 24, and this year, 32 shows.  On May 8th of this year, the Riverview Theater in Minneapolis will host the second-annual Listen to Your Mother Twin Cities show.

The LTYM website describes the show’s mission as follows (http://listentoyourmothershow.com):

“The mission of each LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER production is to take the audience on a well-crafted journey that celebrates and validates mothering through giving voice to motherhood–in all of its complexity, diversity, and humor–in the form of original readings performed live on-stage by their authors.”

The submission deadline was 10 days ago, so I crafted a new piece and sent it off by the February 3rd deadline.  I attached it to a cover-email, asking the local team of three producers to please confirm that they received my work.

I’ve heard nothing.  I’ve been listening closely to this deafening silence for the past 10 days.  I keep trying to tell myself that the show’s producers must be inundated with submissions and can’t possibly acknowledge each one individually.   In the meantime, my mind has been playing tricks on me.  Not the Shaun White kind of tricks, but just as dizzying;

They didn’t get it.  I just sent my work into cyberspace and it’s orbiting, lost in space, with all the other discarded space junk.  I’m holding my breath to find out if I’ve been accepted and my work was never even received.

Followed by,

Who do I think I am, hoping to make it into this show with the likes of Lorna Landvik, best-selling author of nine novels, and Colleen Kruse, stand-up comedian and radio personality?  I’m not funny!  My piece is not funny!  I’m not even a “real” writer!  I’ll become a laughing stock of the entire LTYM staff…those are the only laughs I’ll get.

Though creative nonfiction has not yet been recognized for the Olympic sport that it is, my eyes have been glued to the scoreboard (a.k.a. the LTYM.TC Facebook page) as I await the decision of the panel of judges (via email, I presume).

To distract myself, I’ve been tuning in to the Olympic coverage from Sochi in the evenings.

Tuesday night, Howie called me to the T.V. in our room, saying,

“Shaun White’s about to be up.”

Howie’s a good sport.  He knows about my fondness for the two-time Olympic champion, who’s just three years older than our oldest son.

I’m not a sports fan by any means.  But I’ve become a fan of White’s exuberant, seemingly fearless personality.  His daredevil persona on the slopes runs in complete contrast to my own, overly-cautious, first-born personality in a way that thrills me, vicariously.

And he’s not so brave because he’s so much hardier than the rest of us; White was born with a congenital heart defect that required two open-heart surgeries when he was a young child, making him a member of the Zipper Club.  His chest has been surgically opened more than once.

So Tuesday night, the stakes–and the pressure–were at an all-time high for White.  I could feel my own heart racing for him.

What happened next is now history.

Shaun White falls to the “I-Pod” in Olympic snowboard stunner,” was the headline on the CBS news site.

The “I-Pod” referenced here is Iouri Podladtchikov, the 25-year-old, Russian-born snowboarder representing Switzerland in this year’s games.  His trick, dubbed the Yolo (“you only live once”), was one of the factor’s that spelled White’s demise.

Though only two years younger than White, Podladtchikov is considered part of a new and even bolder generation of snowboarders.  His signature Yolo is an example of a trick that “…four years ago would have been unthinkable — one that includes two head-over-heels flips and two 360-degree turns.” (Shaun White Falls, Iouri Podladtchikov Takes Gold In Olympic Snowboard Halfpipe Stunner – weather.com)

I was pulling for White, as he was pulling his star-spangled bandana bandit-style up over his chin and cheeks, especially at the top of his second and final run.  After a second botched run lasting only a couple minutes in duration, four years of preparation came crashing down.  The outcome was undoubtedly crushing for White, who nonetheless good-naturedly embraced his competitor, the victorious I-Pod, even affectionately tousling his hair.

I fixed on White with rapt interest immediately following the event, and then the next morning as he was interviewed on the Today Show by (my other favorite T.V. personality) Matt Lauer.  White’s disappointment was palpable, but I was impressed by his grace and his ability to face the onslaught of media attention in the grips of what had to have been a brutally frustrating and downhearted moment.

In researching White for today’s post, I came across an article from yesterday’s Washington Post, “Shaun White, Olympic moments, and mettle without a color”.  I know I’m a sap, but this article brought me to tears, so I’m including the link, here (Shaun White, Olympic moments, and mettle without a color – The Washington Post).  If you like Shaun White–but especially if you don’t–read this moving story of his interaction with a young cancer patient right after his own, devastating defeat at Sochi just days ago.

Toward the end of the article, I found the inspiration I will hold onto as I wait to hear from the team at the Listen to Your Mother Twin Cities headquarters about my own acceptance or rejection.

Here are words uttered by White, himself,

“For me to be remembered in this sport, I don’t know if tonight makes or breaks my place in the sport. I would like to be remembered as more than a snowboarder. This is one big part of who I am, but it’s not all who I am. So yeah.”

Here’s my final confession for the day: making it into the LTYM show feels like a qualifying competition to me probably because of my need to feel legitimized as a writer and, even closer to my heart, a writer who writes about motherhood.  But like Shaun White, I need to remember that though this is one big part of who I am–or who I’m trying to become–it’s not all who I am.  So yeah.

Shaun White didn’t win his third consecutive gold medal, which would have made him only the 7th person in Olympic history to do so, but he held his head up, ruffled the hair of his rival in a gesture of laudable sportsmanship and seems to be keeping it all in perspective.

It feels safe to assume that Shaun White wanted that gold medal at least as bad as I want to be included in this year’s LTYM lineup.  He’s worked for the past four years, sustaining injuries but sticking with his sport, and not only did he not capture the gold but he did not even make it onto the medal stand that he’s dominated the past two winter games.

My fate with the LTYM show is currently unknown but I, too, will live to enter another contest.  For White, he may go for the gold once again in South Korea in 2018.  For me, there’s always next Mother’s Day in Minneapolis.

Re-Production

I woke up today and something inside me felt different.  It used to be if I said this type of thing others might ask, Are you pregnant?  Yesterday, at yet another in a series of doctor appointments, my ob-gyn looked me in the eyes and said that pregnancy, for me, is a near biological impossibility.  O.K., he said it was a total impossibility.  I heard “near” to soften the blow.  I’ve been consulting with my doctor in the aftermath of those hot flashes I mentioned a couple months ago.  Now, he and I are conducting the ongoing chemistry experiment that is my peri-menopausal body.

But when I woke up this morning, I was feeling a new urge to be productive.  Since I’ve felt this urge before, I’m calling my new desire to produce my re-productive urge.  The prefix “re-” just means to do something again, often in a new way.

In writing, we use the word “revision”, which Merriam-Webster defines as “a change or a set of changes that corrects or improves something”.  Somewhere along the line in my creative writing education, I learned that re-vision simply means a re-seeing of something we’ve created.  Where once I participated in the creation of new lives, now I’m feeling the urge to re-create my own.

This urge may have been born of a realization I had when I wrote out my list of fears regarding the end of my active mothering duties.  I was surprised, upon reviewing my list, that nowhere on that list was the Fear of missing my children.  What this pointed out, to me, is that what I am missing most is who I have been as my childrens’ mother.  My list of fears illuminated for me ways I felt as a mother that I’m afraid I won’t be able to reproduce outside of motherhood.

But this result is a false negative.

I have always been pro-choice and I have a choice to make at this point in my life.  I can choose rebirth for myself or I can choose to stay fearful and stuck.  I choose life.

Motherhood allows us to develop not only a real skill set but also ways of being in the world.  The other day when I was driving with Sophie, and we had to stop suddenly, I instinctively thrust my right arm out in front of her making like a gate at a railroad crossing.

“That’s such a mom-thing to do.” she commented.

The instinct to protect and defend is one that is honed through mothering.  The world certainly needs whatever protecting and defending it can get right now, in a myriad of areas.  One such area that has been troubling me since my boys were teens is what I’ve come to believe is a crisis in our culture where boys are concerned.  I’ve been toying with the idea of using my newfound writing passion to help boys find their voices to help them express themselves through this growing, in my estimation, crisis.  So there’s some fertile ground for me to cultivate.

I didn’t start this blog  in order to throw myself a lavish, self-indulgent, spare-no-expenses pity-party.  I honestly didn’t know, back when I started to stare this transition in the face, how I was going to get through it.  But somehow, like the spring that I know lies buried beneath all this snow, something in me is preparing for regeneration.

We still haven’t heard from the U of M, one of Sophie’s choices for school for next year, but Sophie has chosen to start chatting, online, with possible roommates from one of her other choices of colleges for next year.  She’s bravely moving forward, embracing one possible outcome for her near future.  And I’m finding myself more and more able to be excited with and for her.  This is progress.

My daughter-from-another-mother, my Sophstitute Sarah, the young friend I’ve mentioned from my MFA program read a piece of mine (one I submitted elsewhere) and took issue with the claim that mothers are selfless.  I might have implied this notion by writing something about how taking care of our offspring stretches us to the outer limits of ourselves or brings out our most selfless selves.

Sarah’s argument is one that is in alignment with my own views of motherhood, which is why I asked permission to quote her, here:

“I’ve heard people say that motherhood makes you selfless, and I don’t disagree, but you’re not acting on behalf of the world or all children, or even a large (nonfamilial) group of children. You’re acting for the benefit of your children, your genes, your offspring, which (I’d argue) is a little bit selfish. And I have yet to hear an unselfish reason to have children. You had children because you wanted children. The world doesn’t need more people, so this “selfless” argument wears a little thin for me…I’m not saying I won’t have children or that having children is a bad thing. I just feel like there’s a lot of glorification of a fairly selfish act.”

As reproducers, we can’t argue that the world needs our children.  That old ensuring the survival of the species argument doesn’t really hold water any more in our well-populated, if not over-populated, world does it?  We all have reasons for wanting to reproduce ourselves, including the Biblical imperative to be fruitful and multiply.  But having children now, which is no longer a way of giving birth to our own farm hands (I don’t even know anyone, personally, who owns a farm), is motivated largely out of selfish impulses.

My genetic contribution to the world would not have been missed like, say, that of Socrates or Ghandi or Alexander Flemming (penicillin inventor) or even Mark Zuckerberg (will he reproduce, other than just the billions of FB connections he’s given rise to?)  And billions of people live highly productive and deeply meaningful lives without reproducing.  Look at Jesus (though didn’t The DaVinci Code throw that assumption into question?)

I see that I am setting myself a-top a slope more slippery than Sochi’s Rosa Khutor, the Alpine venue in the Mountain Cluster.

So I guess, as the 60’s saying goes, today feels like the first day of the rest of my life.  Not because my nest has been emptied yet and not because I have figured out what my life is about as I consider my own reinvention, but because I am receptive, which is the condition necessary for implantation of new life.

There is no morning sickness for me and no way to explain why quietly, mysteriously, something deep inside me has changed today; why this particular spark? why here, in the dead of winter?  why now, in this moment?  But the thought of contributing something new to the world is exciting.  I’m ready to expand to meet the challenge of a new life.

Mine.

         

Late Night Lamentations

Late-night television offered us a front-row seat to witness another changing of the guard this past week.  The youngster, Jimmy Fallon, is moving forward in his career by moving backward in his time slot.  The oldster, Jay Leno, is moving on by moving out.  I watched the final Tonight Show with Jay Leno with casual interest.  It was not until Leno got choked up that he really got my attention.

“This has been the greatest 22 years of my life.”  Leno said, setting his chin (itself, the butt of jokes) a-trembling,  “I got to meet presidents, astronauts, movie stars…it’s just been incredible.”

As I prepare to move on in my role as hostess of not just the Tonight, but the 24/7/365 Show in this house, I would echo Leno’s sentiments,

“This has been the greatest 24 years of my life.  I got to meet pediatricians, school principals, probation officers (not really, but there but for the grace of God…)…it’s been incredible.”

There was resolve in Jay’s voice this time.  Even though he considered his job “the best job in show business” he said,

“It’s fun to kind of be the old guy and sit back here and see where the next generation takes this great institution…But it really is time to go and hand it off to the next guy, it really is.”

I think my interest in Leno was always casual because, though he was good at what he did, there was nothing particularly exceptional about him, in my opinion.  He replaced the legendary Johnny Carson, considered by many to have been the best in the business, after Carson’s epic 30-year run.  And Leno is being replaced by the more impish and, dare I say, more talented or at least more adorable Jimmy Fallon.

In a piece from the NewYorkTimes Television section, I found the following

Mr. Leno’s emotional last bow was poignant not because he is a legendary figure who can never be replaced, but because he is the nice guy who worked really hard, did a great job and will barely be missed come Monday morning.

Oh my God, there it is.  An echo of one of my own biggest fears; Fear of not having performed well enough at the one job that mattered most to me in this world.  And here’s another, from the next paragraph of the same article,

Mr. Leno, 63, is such a familiar fixture of network television that his last hurrah became a dreaded rite of passage, an acting out of people’s deepest fears about their own obsolescence.

In my last post, Fear Stew, I touched on these types of fears; fear of being unremarkable, despite my best efforts, and fear of being easily forgotten.

Obsolescence has to do with something old being replaced by something newer.  Leno is being replaced by Fallon.  I am being replaced in my childrens’ lives by their own, newly-emerging independence and self-sufficiency.  It’s all good, right?

Certainly, it’s good for them.  But for me, here are a couple more fears I forgot to mention:

What if “mother” was the role I was born to play and now, my full-time show is being cancelled?  Leno was pushed out twice; this is the third and final time I am saying goodbye to my duties as hostess of this talk show.  I’m staying put, and my kids are the ones who are moving on by moving out.  They will continue to give me bit parts, or ask me to make cameo appearances, but my starring role in their lives is in its final season.

And worse yet, what if being a mother was the job I was most highly-qualified for, but I wasn’t even that good at it?  Who could have been the more spunky Jimmy Fallon to my workaday Jay Leno?  I’m glad my kids couldn’t fire me and hire a manager with more moxie.

I could have pushed them harder in school, shuttled them around to more extracurricular lessons and activities, made sure they were fluent in at least one other language and fed them nothing but organic, non-GMO foods.

But I didn’t.

I allowed them to play violent video games.  I didn’t make them clean their rooms regularly, and when I did, I didn’t stop them when they bribed the neighbor kid to come over and do it for them.  I didn’t chaperone even one week-long trip to Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, though I was given three chances to do so.  I didn’t make them drop a quarter in a jar every time they dropped the f-bomb.  I didn’t spend weekends driving them to hockey tournaments in places like Owatonna and Rochester.  In fact, I didn’t even allow them to play hockey; I said it was too violent.

Now that I’ve gotten myself started, I’m finding it hard to stop.

I’m with Jay, here, about it being time to go and to hand my kids lives over to them and their generation.  And the main reason I’m so resigned is not that I feel so obsolete, it’s that I feel awfully tired.

Sophie and I went to yoga over the weekend at Lifetime.  In the locker room, a flock of little wet bodies in bathing suits stood shivering as their beleaguered mothers stripped off their suits, hustled them into the showers, took combs to their chlorine-snarled hair, and fed the little chickens string cheese and juice boxes.

Meanwhile, Sophie found a locker across the room from mine, changed her own clothes, checked her phone messages, and informed me she was going to the cafe to feed herself.  I told her I’d meet her there and I swear, if I didn’t have the car keys, she might have left without me.

Sophie has been working so hard and so consistently to replace me in her life with her own self-management, that I am getting used to the feeling of not being very essential to her as she conducts the business of her everyday life.

And, To Tell the Truth (another obsolete television reference), I’m starting to get used to the feeling of being less needed by her.  Like Leno, I’m starting to consider what comes next for me.

There’s speculation about what the reportedly workaholic Leno will do in his next chapter.  He’s a highly-qualified stand-up comedian, and there are rumors of other shows (an interview show on CNN? a late-night show on Fox?) he could host.  I bet he’s got ideas of his own.

I have ideas of my own, too, for when I’m handed my walking papers for the final time.  When the kids were little, I remember thinking I should make a list of all the things that would pop into my head that I wished I had time to do but couldn’t, because mothering young children was so all-consuming.  I never kept such a list, other than in my head, because I never had the time to sit down and write it.

Now, I have lots of time to sit and write.  This is actually something I hope to continue doing and getting better at, because though being a mom was the job I’ve loved the most so far, there are many things I could apply myself to, now.  I can even continue getting better at mothering, since I have the rest of my life to fine tune my skills, by remote.

Which is good, because running the show around here was, for me, the best job in show business.

Fear Stew

Howie and I were out to dinner with our closest couple friends the other night, and the husband asked me how my writing is going.  It’s coming along, I said.  Then he said,

“You’re going to have to come up with another topic.”

I could have taken this to mean:

  1. Sophie’s departure for college is now about 6-7 months away.  My story of “emptying the nest” will reach its natural conclusion once she leaves.  (Or will it?!)
  2. (as Dieter, Mike Myers’ black-clad German character from the SNL skit, Sprockets, used to say) “Your story has become tiresome.”

I was afraid to ask my friend what he meant by what he said.  Fortunately, our sweet, young server, Courtney, returned just in time with our drinks, providing an interruption (and an alcoholic beverage) in our conversation.

I was afraid to ask what he was trying to tell me.  This fear of criticism is an example, on a long list of examples, of a fear-based ingredient that makes up the savory stew of fears simmering in the crockpot of my soul.

I am afraid my story is getting tiresome.  I’m afraid the people I love are getting impatient and bored with me.  I’m starting to get impatient and bored with myself.  Why am I stuck here?  Why does it seem every other parent facing the emptying of their nest is able to do so with so much more grace and acceptance than I am?  WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?!

I found a clue to my mash-up of fears in, of all places, the Lifetime Fitness magazine, Experience Life.  I pulled an article, called Fear of Moving Forward, out of the July/August 2013 issue, and just got around to reading it.  The subtitle is:  Is the prospect of changing your life for the better freaking you out?  Here’s how to handle the anxieties that could keep you stuck where you are.

Among the basic fear ingredients discussed in this article are: anxiety about the unknown, fear of failure, fear of success, fear of others’–or even our own–expectations and judgments.  But the Mother of All Fears, the one I believe is lurking behind my smorgasbord of fears, is

Fear of death.

I get complaints (especially from my thesis advisor, who draws huge X’s through my work) when I quote from outside sources, so I’ll condense what I read in this article to the blurb that served as my aha-moment on the issue of fears.

The “Expert Source” for this article, clinical psychologist Joseph Burgo, PhD, had this to say about the fear of death that may underlie the fear of moving forward,

“they (big changes) tend to make us aware of the passage of time in ways that are kind of unpleasant–they bring up ideas about finality and death.  When we’re stuck in a familiar routine, we lose track of the passage of time, but the big markers in our lives really bring into consciousness the fact that our lives are moving toward their end.  That’s uncomfortable.”

Uncomfortable? Really, Dr. Burgo, REALLY??

Actually, now that I think about it, I’m less afraid of the finality of dying than I am the slow, steady decline of old age.  And though I’m a mere 54 years old and in perfect health, if a bit worn, I think the fading into old age is the most frightening aspect, for me, of being an empty-nester.

Women my age first complain of having wrinkles and sagging body parts, and then complain about feeling “invisible”.  My favorite quote (as long as I’m breaking all the quoting rules, today) comes from my friend, Susan, who said,

“If I’m invisible, why do I feel so fat?”

It’s another “uncomfortable” spot in which to be stuck.

As relentless and exhausting as mothering children is, it is also exhilirating.  Having so many dependents–people whose lives are so delectably laced in with ours–is empowering.

I’m going to make the politically awkward claim that as women we derive a sense of power from different things than those that empower men.  And those things have to do with our ability to draw people to us, to create oh, let’s say, little things like life, families, homes, and communities, among other social organizations, and to hold people and lives together; to set all the plates in motion, then to keep them spinning.

So what happens when our children start spinning away from us, out of our nests?  Sure we’re still important to them, and if we’ve done a good job, they can get along very nicely without us, thank you.

This morning, as I was struggling to facilitate Sophie’s departure from the house on (what is it today?) our 42nd subzero morning of this hellish (has hell actually frozen over?) winter, I said,

“I shouldn’t have to be in charge of getting you out of the house in the morning”

To which she responded, with the relief of someone who’s finally bashed through the brick wall of mothering she’s been banging her head against for too long,

“You’re not!  You shouldn’t be and you’re not in charge of me!”

And of course, as easily as this appears to release me–and her–from the contract of our almost 18-year partnership, I can’t completely let go.  She says it, but she doesn’t really mean it, I reassure myself.

Earlier, I mentioned the Fear Stew I’ve concocted in the slow-cooker of my soul.  The recipe is in my head, and I’m not even sure of all the ingredients, but here is a list of those I can name;

a pinch of each of the following:

Fear of becoming irrelevant.

Fear of the void that will be left when the clamoring of children in the house ceases.

Fear that Howie and I will get bored with each other, once the entertaining children take the last of their shows on the road.

Fear of not being necessary or important (especially to those most important to me).

Fear of impotence (not only men my age worry about this).

Fear of fading away.

Fear of not being remembered.

Fear of not being taken seriously (forget that one; I gave up on that years ago).

Fear of not having performed well enough at the one job that mattered most to me in this world.

Fear of losing my creative vitality.

Fear of becoming unmoored, lost at sea, once the structure of kids’ schedules pulls up anchor.

Fear that my contribution hasn’t been significant.

Fear of being put out to pasture.

Fear of being as visible as a friendly ghost.

Fear that I sound like a big fat whiner and no one will want to have dinner with me.

I guess I’m not all that worried that no one will have dinner with me.  I made a delicious tuna noodle casserole last night, and sure enough, my 24-year-old son returned to the nest for this better-than-the-school-cafeteria-used-to-make-it comfort food.

If you want that recipe, let me know.