Baggage Check

Maybe we all go through life a little bit scarred.  Maybe we all carry around some of the baggage from our formative years that we just can’t put down.  Some obviously have a harder time with this than others.  Some may have had little or no trauma in their lives, and some may truly be scarred for life.

Now, in my mid-50’s (yikes, just when did that happen?) I can report honestly that I try not to let my past get in my way.  Sometimes it happens anyway.  Maybe it’s inevitable.

Just this week I have realized, all too pointedly, that some people may never outgrow the evils perpetrated upon them by their parents.  Their darkest moments as children may resurface decades later in some of the most unexpected ways.  Individuals, couples, and families may be struggling with powerful issues they can’t shake off:  insecurity, loneliness, abandonment.

Because I can no longer stop myself from writing, I am now in the midst of capturing some of my own childhood in words.  To put it in counseling speak:  my family of origin certainly did a good job of hiding some of its dysfunctional aspects from the rest of the world.  And now, decades later, these words are literally pouring from my brain through my fingertips and onto the blank pages on my screen.  Pouring from a faucet that is impossible to turn off.

A happier moment in 1967.

A happier moment in 1967.

There are a few people in this world who already know the story – my siblings and a handful of close, long-time friends.  And I acknowledge that this memoir is something I may never show to anyone.  Yet I can’t stop writing.  I am watching the re-runs in my head and trying to capture every scene on paper; the fabulous and the terrible.  It’s a wonderful and horrible obsession.  Maybe in some ways this is therapy.

Growing up is not easy sometimes.  The main reason is that parents are people, too.  Mine were not perfect, but only in this long distance hindsight do I see clearly how many struggles they really had.  It has taken an adult assessment to look honestly and critically and find some perspective.

So I write.  I have not chosen to tackle this very personal look at alcoholism.  It has chosen me.

But here is my greatest wish:  that my husband and I have passed along as few of our own demons as possible to our children.  They deserve better.  I would like nothing better than for them to think back on their growing up years as mainly happy and healthy.  I hope even their worst childhood memories are not too traumatic.

Each of us comes with some flaws.  Having spent a considerable amount of time facing down my own over the years, I will not bore you with those details.  In addition, I refuse to lay any blame for my own troubles at the feet of my parents.  Instead, I very firmly believe that stuff happens; and after that, life is what we make of it.   Sure, our choices may be colored by our past.  But as adults we have to own those choices.

So if I choose less drama it’s because I’ve already had enough to last a lifetime.  Peace is very compelling.  I wonder if someday I can find it within my own head.

Carpe Diem

There are many, many mornings when I don’t care to seize the day.  I would rather seize the alarm clock and throw it across the room, curl up again in the cozy comforter and take an early morning nap, or spend the entire day lost in a book.  These are the moments when I feel strongly that productivity is overrated.

Then, I am inspired.

Most often I am inspired by people I know and respect:  people who are making things happen and making a difference.  They are engaged with others and are focused on making a positive difference in someone else’s life.

This past week has been interesting, to say the least.  It came with a broad range of emotions, from unspeakable sadness to the bright light of renewed optimism.  I have been inspired by many friends this week:  some friends who have faced terrible losses, others who are literally facing battles for their lives due to illness, and still others who may be seeking employment.  In the midst of all of this, we returned our youngest to college leaving us once again with a very low-energy home life.

Plaster ladies, without a care in the world.

Plaster ladies, without a care in the world.

Then, out of the blue, I received an email from someone I don’t know that has proved to be very affirming.  It was sincerely one of those “aha!” moments.  I felt like delivering Sally Field’s now famous line from her 1984 Best Actress Oscar win:  “You like me!”

I don’t know why it is that some of us have bouts with low self-esteem.  I am one of those people.  Make no mistake; there are countless days when I am sincerely on top of my game, confident in my abilities, and assertive in all the right ways.  Then there are other days when the dark gray cloud overhead just won’t seem to lift and it is sucking me in to its all-is-wrong-with-the-world funk.  Everything is subject to second guessing.

So why, then, should a single email from someone I have never met bring me an extraordinary lift from this gray gorge of gloom?  Because it is a reminder that the steps I have taken have been worthwhile to others.  It has allowed me to look at myself through less critical eyes, and to understand that some people see me as strong, capable, and helpful.  I can be all of those things, but I need to work at it.  Daily.

And it is in that moment that I can look at the inspiring lives of my friends and family and say thank you.  Thank you for showing me how you move forward, sometimes in the face of real gloom.  Thanks to my daughters for demonstrating purposefulness at an early age.  Thank you to my friends for showing me that inside my own head is sometimes the worst place to curl up, and it is far better to face the real challenges of the day.  I am inspired by your grace under pressure, your purposeful interaction with others, and your faith.  Thank you for setting wonderful examples for so many people, including me.

Now let’s go seize that day, together.

Mirror Mirror

We look for the mirror to reflect back our best.  That is true physically, emotionally, and psychologically.  We also expect the mirror to show us our flaws, in the hope that we can make them better.

That is the true nature of friendship:  show us the reality of who we are, and at the same time lead us to improvement.  Those are the real friends – the people who reflect our best and are willing to see our worst.  They not only accept the reality, they share in our joys and sorrows.  They help us to grow and become better people.

Friends

Friends

In our home, when our daughters are here their friends are here too.  There is a special kind of energy in the house when they are here together.  It is connectedness on a different level, not just for our kids but for our whole family.

We have always felt fortunate that our daughters have excellent friends.  They chose to connect with kids who, like them, were involved:  in music, academics, sports, church, volunteering, and life.  Their friends were more than just playmates.  They were sounding boards and competitors.  They shared open dialogue and sometimes arguments.  They lifted each other up and helped each other through the awkward years.

Our kids always knew that their friends were welcome in our home.  They had their alone time together.  They had sleepovers and parties.  We also shared family time with them.  We ate together, played games together, and went places together.  At a concert or a sporting event, we applauded and cheered just as loudly for their friends as we did for our own kids. I would sometimes come home from work and find the kitchen a mess after their baking sessions.  That still happens.

Having watched these people grow up, we now get to see their next steps and it’s exciting.  We stand in awe as they move into young adulthood.  They are continuing their educations, or working, or both.  They are gracious and caring.  They have purpose in their lives.  They are committed to things they believe in.  They are headed across continents into career paths they may not have fully discovered yet.  They are smart and savvy.

We don’t know their new friends very well.  We may have been introduced in a dorm or apartment at one time or another.  We may have shared an occasional meal during a visit to one of their colleges.  We hear their names.  But some we have never met, and it is hard to put an unknown face to a name.  Never the less, we are certain that our daughters have made great choices in their new friendships.  We know that, because the groundwork was laid a long time ago with some extraordinary people.

Now, after their holidays, our daughters and their friends are heading back to their own lives in far flung places.

A mirror is not truly a reflection of who we are.  It gives us a glimpse of who we want to be, and sometimes who we didn’t know we were.  I hope you always have one by your side, in the form of a real and honest friend.

Human Again

I must be feeling better because I have this acute sense that I’ve been robbed.  Having had a lousy cold (is there such a thing as a good cold?) and fever for the past few days, I missed the entire New Year’s holiday.  Of course it happened even without me, but I didn’t get to enjoy it.  Robbed, I tell you.

You know that feeling you have when you’ve been sick for a while and then start to feel better?  The fever is lifting and you can sit upright again without swooning.  It’s refreshing to take a full breath without coughing.

Then you take a shower.  It’s one of the best feelings in the world after you have spent two full days in a robe and pajamas smelling like Vicks VapoRub and feeling like your head weighs 400 pounds.  The steam in the shower helps open your sinuses and you inhale the aroma of soap that is supposed to smell like a rainforest but really has a crisp, almost herbal, scent.  Of course, I have never been to the rainforest and maybe that is what it smells like.  Even so, smelling anything at all is delightful.

I stand there in the hot water, wondering who invented the shower.  Whoever it was must have been a genius.  Then I realize this train of thought is a little strange, as though my head isn’t fully clear yet.  But at least I can stand up, and feel clean.

Then I put clothes on.  Actual clothes.  Not just pajamas.  For me, a pair of jeans and a turtleneck do the trick.  And my watch.  That’s the real clincher.  When I put on my watch I know that I’m ready to face the rest of the day.  Even if I don’t look at it, I know it is there and I feel dressed.

Snow piling up on the rhododendron outside the window.

Snow piling up on the rhododendron outside the window.

I’m not good at being sick.  It’s not that I’m nasty to people, it’s just that I want to be left alone.  I know lots of people who like to be coddled when they’re sick.  That’s not me.  So for the past few days I have gone from bed to sofa, trading one set of pillows for another, reading material in hand and tissues close by, watching the snow fall outside and grunting, more than speaking, to my family.  Bless them.

So after alternately reading and napping for a couple of days I have completed one book and am most of the way through another.  I love reading and usually find it therapeutic.  It’s just not how I expected or wanted to spend the holiday.  It’s not that we make a huge deal out of New Year’s here, but we sometimes spend the evening with friends or go out to dinner, or sometimes I make something special at home.  Not this year.  Robbed.

Anyway, after such an inauspicious start to 2014 I’m fairly certain there is nothing but improvement ahead.  The year has got to get better, right?  Especially since it’s now January second and I am finally starting to feel human.  Again.