the art of being my mother

Centered on the living room wall when I was growing up was a drawing that tore at me. It was of a woman, clearly weary, her head in one hand looking off to her left, a sleeping child draped over the other arm.

Not sure what was going  on here, but it was clearly important.
Not sure what was going on here, but it was clearly important.

While I now see the beauty in this art, as a child I believed my mother identified with it because of her own weariness with her lot in life, namely, me, and I felt a great deal of guilt over what I’d done to her.

We didn’t get along, my mother and me, until after my stepfather died when I was 28. By her own admission, her focus then changed from wife to mother.  It took us years to work through all the barriers. Issues remain today, but they aren’t the structure of our relationship.

I see her getting older and I’m constantly mindful of the fact she’s only a few years away from the age her parents were when they died. She’s on a fixed income and can barely afford her own needs month to month, yet she still jumps at the chance to give to me.

That’s what moms do, I guess, at least it’s what my mom does. I resisted it inside myself until I realized how important it was to her. I turn around and send her money when I can to help her in any small way.

A few years ago I went through terrible times, and it left its mark on me long after that. I was so deep in the pain of it myself I didn’t fully realize what my mom went through each day, wondering what I was undergoing and imagining the worst.

I need to keep to myself what is mine to know.

I hold back on telling her everything because it is too difficult to express. I don’t know that she should know all the details. I need to keep to myself what is mine to know.

Perhaps she did identify with the woman in that drawing, for reasons I’ll never really know. As one of the few pieces of art she’s kept through the years, it seemingly has meant something to her. Just as I don’t fully involve her in my experience, certainly she hasn’t fully involved me in hers.

I told her once, in a moment of reflection, what it had made me feel, and she simply said, “Really? I never knew.” Then smiled a little. “I always loved that picture.”

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Let Your Fear Be Your Guide

At the age of 18, I went canoeing for the first — and last — time.

Don’t get me wrong. It was an extremely successful venture. I was with my church youth group at a river in northern California, known for its great canoeing. It was perfect for beginner and advanced canoeists alike, as the more treacherous areas all had an alternate route (walking).

In particular, there was one rocky streak known as “WipeOut Curve.” No one — I mean no one — made it through WipeOut Curve. I was in a canoe with my friends Debbie and Russ; Debbie was manning the back of the canoe, I had the front, and Russ sat in the middle, sans paddles. Both Debbie and I were novices, and we were advised to walk the path that bordered WipeOut Curve.

We weren’t particularly adventuresome gals, and knew our limits. We’d been doing well, handling the worrisome areas like experts, guided by Russ’s experience and our own common sense. It felt good, but the odds remained against us. For some reason I have long forgotten (quite possibly we were too self-conscious to walk in front of all the picnickers in our bathing suits), we decided to go for it. We headed straight for WipeOut Curve.

We made it.

The crowd of a two dozen or so people were incredulous and cheered us through the treacherous waters. We were focused on the river, so only Russ waved back, but we were thrilled. We had conquered WipeOut Curve. The two of us, who had never canoed before, had done what the most experienced canoeists hadn’t been able to do.

Group of Canoeists on a River Through a ForestWe successfully completed the rest of the route and enjoyed the admiration of the others in our group, particularly the boys, for the rest of the day. It was a high point of my teenage years.

I haven’t been back in a canoe since. The opportunity hasn’t presented itself, and I haven’t sought it out. But that victory has stayed with me.

The truth is, both Debbie and I were scared of wiping out, and that kept us upright as much as any skill we may have had. I don’t remember if it was the embarrassment of looking like drowned rats or the fear of hurting ourselves, and being teenage girls, the former is just as likely as the latter. If I’d had a choice, I may never have stepped in a canoe to begin with.

Except I did have a choice, and I chose to take the risk.

How many times do we succeed because the fear of failure is so strong? Is the victory any less sweet?

Taking a risk doesn’t always pay off. That day, the worst that could have happened is we failed to do what everyone else failed to do, so the risk was nominal. However, something about it motivated us to try the seemingly impossible.

The motivation doesn’t minimize the success. Let your fear take you places you didn’t expect to go. Yes, pay heed to the warning signs, weigh the risks, but be willing to take the curve.

Success is just around the corner.


Photo Credits: (River) © Jason W. Rambo; (River with canoeists) © Steve Boyko. Both stock.adobe.com.

New Magic

A million thoughts — a thousand regrets — a dozen things I’d change today to bring back the magic. Do you ever think of me?

I dreamed of you the other night, and you were kind to me. I suppose I’m healing.

And moving on. I’m dreaming about someone else these days, but scared to let him know, to open the door to heartache.

A dozen ways to bring back the magic. Maybe not with you, no, I know, never with you.

New magic.


Image Credit: (Girl) Sophie Anderson (public domain); (Background, Light Rays and Light Dust) © Roman Dekan — Fotolia

The Letter (sigh)

Heart drawn on rainy-streaked window

When I was 36, I moved from Minneapolis to Nashville for a relationship. I distinguish “moving for a relationship” from “moving for a man.”

It was a decision I made because it was what I wanted to do, and not because I was one of those women who would sacrifice anything for the man in her life. I’d made big moves before, so I knew what I was getting into. In fact, I was looking forward to the change and opportunities.

But overall I wasn’t content in Nashville. I broke up with that boyfriend a year after my move, and made only one true friend in the three years I was there.

Still, something special did happen, a seemingly small event, but one that lifted my spirits for years. I wish I could go back in time for this simple reason: to save that letter.

It was January,

Sad love heart symbol background

a few months before Mark and I split up, and I knew our relationship was coming to an end. Still, I wasn’t going to go out with anybody else until it was officially over, no matter how appealing he might be.

No matter how appealing he might be.

The apartments I lived in at the time were nice, but they didn’t have a washer & dryer hookup in the units. Instead, there were a handful of washers and dryers in the mail room. To avoid the crowd, I did my laundry early Saturday mornings. I didn’t dress up by any means — sweats, no makeup, my hair looking like a bird’s nest. I think I even wore slippers. I did take a shower and brush my teeth (my concession to public sensibilities), and likely wore my contacts out of habit. But it was not a moment to capture in either mind or photo.

A man started showing up at the same time, somewhat older than me, and very kind. We’d talk, but I’m not a morning person, and generally I was there to throw my laundry in and haul back to my apartment. I barely noticed him.

Then one day I got a letter,

in an ordinary office envelope, written on plain yellow ruled paper. The return address was the apartment in the building next to mine. I was curious, and a little nervous. Who on earth?

adobestock_125247617-convertedIt was the gentleman who’d been doing his laundry at the same time I was. Turns out it was no coincidence he showed up every Saturday morning for weeks on end. Despite my scarecrow appearance and nominal conversation, he wanted to get to know me.

It was the warmest, most heartfelt letter I’ve ever gotten, ending with an invitation to dinner.  It made me feel treasured. I kept that letter for years, and today I have no idea what happened to it.

I spoke to him the following Saturday and told him while I truly valued his letter, I wouldn’t be comfortable going out with him since I was still dating Mark. He suggested coffee, but I knew how Mark would feel about even that casual of a meeting (despite the growing distance between us), and I knew how I would feel about it, too. I told this gracious man if I ever broke up with my boyfriend, I’d look him up.

By the time Mark and I did split, the man had moved away.

I don’t regret not going out with him. I believe in honoring the relationship you’re in, even if it’s rocky. Tempting yourself isn’t wise.

If I could go back in time, I’d travel to the moment I decided to throw away that letter (if indeed I did, perhaps it was tossed accidentally) and save it instead as the rare gift it was.


Image Credits: (car) © James Group Studios Inc — Adobe Stock; (window) © robsonphoto — Adobe Stock; (letter)  © vladwel — Adobe Stock

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life — Worth the Wait

So I finally know the last two words Amy Sherman-Palladino planned to use in the finale of Gilmore Girls. Don’t worry, no spoilers here. But Gilmore Girls fans, if you were hesitant to watch the sequel for any reason, wait no longer. Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life is true to the original, but it’s not the same. The characters have grown, yet Stars Hollow is as quirky as ever. You can go home again.

emily-richard
Kelly Bishop and Edward Hermann in the original series

Virtually all of the key characters from the show’s original seven-year run show up in at least one of the four episodes airing now on Netflix, save, of course, Richard Gilmore, as Edward Hermann died December 31, 2014. His passing is honored, and so is Richard’s.

Look for the same Emily, yet a definitively changed one. Kelly Bishop is a fantastically talented actress who always kept Emily from being unsympathetic. On occasion she broke out a wickedly fun side, and she does so again in these latest episodes.

Both Lorelai and Rory have hit a crossroads, one common to women in their late 40s and mid 30s, respectively. How they work through their struggles is so true to the series as created by Amy Sherman-Palladino that you know she and her husband Daniel Palladino had to be steering the whole production, and thankfully, they were doing just that.

gilmore-girls-winter
Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledsel

Alexis Bledsel has grown as an actress, and while I always enjoyed her in the series, I found her performance to be more mature and natural as the grown-up Rory. Lauren Graham could hardly get any better, and she’s returned to the character of Lorelai with ease and the same sense of fun and wonder.

A character you didn’t see in the original Gilmore Girls is that of Violet, leading lady of the Stars Hollow musical, played by Sutton Foster. For those of you don’t know, this current star of the TVLand series Younger starred in the short-lived show Bunheads, also created by Ms. Sherman-Palladino. She’s well-cast as the hard-edged Violet, who gives a great performance in the world’s worst musical ever.

Years ago, when I was living with my mom, we would watch Gilmore Girls together every week. It was our thing. The only way today’s marathon could have been better for me would have been to have shared it with her, and next time I travel to Minneapolis, we’re settling in for a few hours with Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life.

And I’m bringing some kleenex for the final scenes. We Gilmore Girls fans finally got the ending we deserved all along.

All Who Are Weary, Eat

This Thanksgiving I’ll be with four other people who find themselves in much the same position I’m in: living in a city without family nearby to spend the holidays with. I have some cousins, second cousins, actually, living 20 or 30 minutes away, but seeing them would be much like seeing strangers.

I’ve had three invitations from local friends to join their family, and there’s a part of me that would like to have accepted their generosity. But truthfully, there’s a bigger part of me that looks forward to the time after the meal, when I come home and spend the time with my cats, knitting and watching classic movies.

I’ll enjoy my holiday, I have no doubt about it, both the time with friends and the time alone. I know two of the four people who will be sharing a meal with me; I believe I’ve met the other two but have barely spoken to them. Still, the two I do know are fun, and one of them in particular “gets” me. I’m free to be myself, quiet or goofy, whichever side comes out.

Growing up, I don’t really remember much about how we celebrated Thanksgiving. I believe we included friends who, like me today, have no family nearby with whom they can share the traditions and turkey, but I don’t remember any of them in particular.

me-mom-and-beth-thanksgiving-c-1997
Me, my mom and sister at Thanksgiving nearly 20 years ago, when I was living in Nashville, with no family nearby — they both flew out to see me. I still have that sweater…

I do remember, in my twenties, my mom and stepdad included a Russian couple and their grown daughter, and, for that matter, her fiancé (both were medical students, as I recall). Lisa, Misha and Olga were Russian Jews who had faced persecution under the Soviet Union, and they emigrated to the United States sometime while Olga was still fairly young. Misha, who had an advanced degree, was forced to take a job delivering pizza. Lisa was also highly educated, and she learned how to do nails to make a living. She did my mom’s nails; that was how they met.

It was appropriate to have immigrants at our Thanksgiving table. The tale we’re told of the first Thanksgiving is similar, with a group of European immigrants breaking bread with the Native Americans.

So as we celebrate with our family, friends, or by ourselves, let our thoughts include all those who face adversity in seeking a better, safer life. We cannot become complacent in the lives we lead. We must remember the sacrifices others made for us to give us what we have today, and be willing to open our doors to others who seek the same for the generations of their family to come.

God bless us, everyone.

 

Collecting Memories

It all started with my new job.

We were responsible for the marketing for a wine festival, then the fourth largest in the country. I started that job only days before the event and barely knew what was expected of me, let alone what was the protocol at a wine tasting. One of the agency’s account executives taught me about sipping the wine, swirling it around in my mouth and spitting it back. That’s the proper thing to do at a wine tasting. It’s also a little unseemly.

Each of the guests, and the publicity team members were all guests, was given a hand-painted pewter winestopper and a small bottle of Pinot Grigios. What happened to the wine I’ve long forgotten, but that stopper started my bottlestopper collection, and what a collection it is.

bottlestoppers
The first winestopper I ever got is the one in the front row on the far right — the latest is also in the front row, but on the far left.

There are only ten, but each is a work of art. Or not — a few are very commercial. But the rest are made of finest crystal, hand-spun glass or, like the first, pewter. They are beautiful.

The second stopper I added to my collection was another hand-painted pewter piece my mom had received as a gift from a man she briefly dated. It’s the only one that’s been used. After that, I went to craft fairs, specialty shops and most recently, Pier One, to find the latest addition.

There’s the Map of the World, bought with a friend visiting me from overseas. The two made of Murano blown glass, given by different friends in the same year. The leaf I bought with my friend Karen.

The Versaci Medusa Head crystal stopper is the showpiece of my collection. My mom gave it to me years ago, and I treasure it. She also gave me the Arkansas Razorbacks souvenir bottle stopper for the other end of the class spectrum (it has none).

For years I searched for a way to display them, and finally my mom found a bottlestopper display rack, which she gave me a few Christmases ago. Or for my birthday. I forget exactly. It took awhile to find the space to set the whole thing up, but finally, I have it.

It reminds me of better times, of lost and lasting friendships, of challenges that seemed overwhelming yet were inevitably overcome. People who might otherwise be forgotten are brought to mind, and I smile at the memory.

The irony, although it will help preserve these pieces, is I rarely, if ever, drink wine, or any other alcohol, for that matter. But I love the stoppers.

Collections tell stories. They are worth more than their pieces. They are our history.