The State of My Union

Uh oh. Is that yellow snow I see?

This one’s personal, not political. I got to thinking earlier this week about the benefits of reviewing “the messes I get myself into,” otherwise known as my path. I believe it is prudent to be accountable every so often, to see whether life as I know it still works. For me and everyone else.

The Castle. Also called the Hair Palace. We’re down to a cat and a dog as our four-legged companions. (For the well-meaning — no, we do not want any more roommates right now, thank you.) With all my spare time and lovely empty space, you’d think the place would be spotless. Fail. I blame it on excessive shedding: mine, pets, and squirrels. Unfortunately, daily schedules don’t work for me. Only complete vacuum anarchy imposed by my spouse.

Mother Nature. Where others see only unemployment and stagnation, I’m digging the chance to stay home and watch the cold beauty of winter from my (relatively) warm kitchen. As long as I overlook all the yellow snow in the backyard. From the dog. (Why am I still hearing Zappa in my head?)

Art. Okay, those who know me, please don’t tell my mother. Yet. My mom and I have had a lifelong struggle over the making of art, to create or not to create. To keep or not to keep. She was an oil painter, I was a jack-of-all-trades, and guess what, my daughter lives and breathes art, starting from the moment she could hold a crayon. These days, I can only “do” art when it pleases me. And as long as I don’t become the pack mule of art supplies that I used to be, I’m happy to give it room on my plate. It may or may not appear on this blog in the future.

Hobbies. Dare I say it? A simpler life is opening the door to old pastimes. The new twist is that I can commit and be held accountable to online communities who encourage delicious projects in knitting, photography, writing and journaling. Maybe even cooking, but I could be pushing my luck there. Again, as long as I don’t rush out and buy the latest crafty gadget or gizmo, I can still be a minimalist and a hobbyist, mostly with what I already own. More on these in upcoming posts.

Facebook. It seems there’s been a lot of deleting and deactivating going on in the blogosphere. I’m keeping my account because a) it is private and b) less than 100 friends. And I know all of them, from one part of my life or another. I don’t chat. I don’t play games. (Sound like a lot of fun, don’t I?) I keep my wall posts down to one or less a day. And I’ve shut off most email notifications to control my clicking addiction.

Facebook (Again). For me, this social scene is worth every annoying privacy breach blocked, if only for the connections I’ve made with old friends who have been missing in action over the years. In some cases, we’ve reunited right before a major event in our lives, when we need each other the most. There will be follow-ups through phone calls, greeting cards and visits, but I can’t ignore the online synchronicities.

Astrology. I know, everybody’s been asking. If this is some astronomer’s idea of a joke, then I think they better revisit the whole Pluto debacle, too. My answer is that the shift in the constellations has been known since the first century and the old zodiac won’t work with 13 signs. I’m just amazed at how many folks who don’t believe in this stuff get all riled up when they aren’t Scorpios or other signs anymore. Maybe if Ophiuchus was the “football-bearer” instead of messing about with snakes, he would be better received.

That’s probably enough from my state of mind. If you’ve hung on this long, I thank you and promise fermented libations when you next see me. For those lost along the way, I can only hope they gleaned something useful and took it back to their own lives and communities.

Just remember: we’re all in this together.

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Migration of the Collegian

Letting Go #14

Every fall, the young of our fair species stuff various modes of transportation with unnecessary materials that are deemed essential by teenage standards and begin the long trek to the halls of higher education, social advancement, community living and cafeteria food. There, said youth unpack what was carefully packed and strew their belongings on the front lawns of the chosen dorms, awaiting their turns to haul cartloads of the same unnecessary materials up many floors, only to repeat the process of cramming the stuff into a very small dorm room the size of most suburban bathrooms.

For years, we’ve watched this ritual performed by friends and neighbors from afar, and thanked our lucky stars it wasn’t us.

Well, this year . . . it was us.

It’s not like I didn’t try to prepare myself. As part of my “Nine” year of Letting Go, this was the BIG ONE in the overall forecast. But somehow, it just didn’t seem real until I was standing in my daughter’s non-air-conditioned dorm room with sweat streaming down my back after performing the migration ritual of pushing her entire world into about six cubic feet of space. At that point, I was struggling with my emotions. Part of me was proud that she hadn’t brought her entire bedroom for the year–she is not a very materialistic person and she takes care of her belongings. Part of me was excited for her–I couldn’t wait to plunge into the college social scene after living an isolated life on the farm during my high school years. And part of me just didn’t want to let go of the little girl.

I won’t know whether it gets easier as each child leaves home, because I don’t have that luxury of experience. This is our only one, and my husband and I get one shot at each milestone. There are no do-overs, in a sense. Now, I know that each child is different, and that if we’d had more children, the circumstances would vary as much as every cloud in the sky. Maybe the pain of letting go is just as bad during the next launch from the nest, but at least you know what that pain feels like from the last time. You know how you will behave. You will become familiar with it, like the attack of an unpleasant in-law or second cousin you have to endure occasionally at family reunions. It’s a necessary evil.

What I do know is this: after I helped carry armloads of her worldly possessions, set up the all-important bed, fan and TV, hauled back a box of her new textbooks from the bookstore, ate one final meal with her at an off-campus restaurant and stood in front of her dorm building to say goodbye, I did not sob and clutch her to my chest, or harass her with a string of warnings and dire predictions, or even insist on going back up to her room until she threw me out. In other words, to my great relief, I did not embarrass her (I think) or create a scene.

I gave her a kiss and told her to have fun. She has earned it. And then my husband and I took that long walk back to our car and drove home to an empty nest, because as parents of the collegian, we have earned it–whether we like it or not.

What They Don’t Tell You About College Orientation

Letting Go #11:

When the opportunity to participate in our daughter’s college orientation came up we thought, “Oh, wouldn’t it be fun to go back and relive our wild youth. Stay in the dorm overnight sharing a twin bed. Sneak out and drink beer. Break curfew. Play our stereos too loud (make that ipods). Hang out in dorm rooms with people we don’t know. Skip breakfast. Share the communal bathrooms. Arrive late to class (make that programs). Do something vaguely illegal. Ah, the college good ol’ days.”

What we got instead, was more of the same stress of preparing the offspring for THE OUTSIDE WORLD. Too many kids, too many nervous and pushy parents, too many rules, too many meetings, too many forms to fill out, too much money–not enough fun. It seems to be a recurring theme in the Y generation’s life experience.

When did the ritual of growing up become such a job? I have to say that the program was well-coordinated and the food was great. The air-conditioned dorm we stayed in was far better than anything my husband and I lived in even during grad school. I tried to have fun, I really did. But it was still a lot of work–even for the slacker parents that we are.

I came home exhausted. Maybe those college memories are way too rose-colored. Maybe my body was better prepared for that environment–back when my thyroid was functioning. Maybe I’ve blotted out all the paperwork and formalities of entering college in 1978. But darn it, I just don’t recall it being this complicated. All I remember is paying the bursar and making up my twin bed (regular size, not “extra long”), and doing my best to avoid the “Kool-aid” at the freshman mixer thoughtfully hosted by the richest frat on campus.

All I know is that this little trip down college memory lane sure wasn’t the wild overnighter that I pictured in my 49-year-old head. Gotta let go of this one in a big way. Let’s face it–nobody wants to see a middle-aged girl gone wild.

Jon and Kate (Too Late)

Letting Go #10:

Okay, I admit it. I used to watch a certain “reality” show on TLC because I’m a closet family voyeur. I’m fascinated by the logistics of running a household with a lot of kids. I wanted to understand how you could raise eight kids in a reasonably healthy, secure manner without forgetting one of them at the mall, or favoring the youngest or oldest because you were the youngest or oldest. This was all illusion on my part, but I kidded myself and watched the show faithfully, calling it social research. I grew up with only one brother and not much exposure to other juvenile relatives. And having and wanting only one child makes you a bit of an oddity in the parenting world. Consequences can be dire: you either find yourself with a houseful of other people’s children because they figure you have too much time on your hands, or your lone offspring is subjected to the pity of being that poor, isolated child who doesn’t know how to play and can only relate to adults. (I can’t help but add that I know plenty of adults who act like children.)

Ahem. Which brings me back to Jon and Kate. Don’t get me wrong—I have no issues with the size of their family or their fertility choices. I have an issue with that damned camera. I know that it takes a huge amount of coin for diapers and formula, and play clothes and birthday gifts, and high school activity fees and college tuition. But the minute that first one-hour special turned into a season, and that season turned into a mega-corporation complete with book signings and paparazzi, the Gosselins’ future was sealed. I personally don’t have a great deal of video of my kid, because as soon as the camera was rolling, she turned into this little Keystone Cop/ Buster Keaton character who wanted to throw herself on the furniture and catapult herself over various ledges. It just wasn’t HER anymore. What truly matters are the intimate moments when there isn’t a lens hovering, or background lights sizzling, or production people prompting. I bet I’ll still remember those moments even if they come in the form of déjà vu.

I seem to recall Kate explaining the purpose of the show mainly as a way of recording her kids as they grew, a keepsake, if you will, of their formative years. What they have recorded and imprinted for all time is the slow unraveling of a family. By the end of the last season, I couldn’t take the misery in Jon’s face, the shrillness in Kate’s voice and the awkwardness of the couple on the sofa during their interviews. I decided to turn off the show and refuse to participate in the exploitation, intentionally or otherwise, of the American family. And I’m taking a closer look at my secret little vice of watching “reality” TV. Is it keeping me from living my real life? Life seen through the eyes of a lens is closely controlled by the one who points it (and manipulates the light setting)—Is anything truly REAL or is it (to quote the Moody Blues) an illusion?

Cold hearted orb that rules the night,
Removes the colours from our sight,
Red is gray and yellow white,
But we decide which is right.
And which is an illusion?

The Easter Hunt (Maybe)

Letting Go #7:


Once upon a time we had a little girl who loved to look for jelly beans that her father hid in all sorts of ingenious places in our house the night before Easter. My husband, who loves eggs and candy in all forms, could give the Easter Bunny a run for his money. Year after year, the hunt for the magic beans would take place all over the house on Easter morning, the level of difficulty rising as the child became more skilled at the task. This was no small feat because we have somehow produced a child with an eagle eye and acute attention to detail. (Case in point: At six years old she came home after carpeting was installed, and within five minutes noticed that all the floor heating vents had been covered up and two doors re-hung in the wrong doorways—details that had been overlooked by her mother when she signed off on the job.)


So, it’s safe to say that very few beans were missed—but there were always a couple every year that were up too high for my daughter to see, or camouflaged so well that a chameleon would have been jealous. These orphans came out of hiding many months or years later during a move, or a paint job, or at the end of a trail of ants. Despite the potential for insect invasions, the little mummified discoveries always brought smiles to our faces because they called up fond memories of dyed eggs, fake grass and candy overload.


All was well in the kingdom of candy-induced cavities, until the day when my daughter decided that she was too old for the Easter hunt. She warned us that she would no longer participate in this event, and if the candy was hidden, the beans would just lie there until they (and her parents) became ancient relics. Her old man, however, thought she was just bluffing, and disappeared into the bowels of the house late Saturday night. The next day, when she noticed that the empty Easter basket was ready to go, our no-longer-little girl stomped back into her room and shut the door.


Oops. . . . Her father quickly and quietly gathered all the offending orbs from their clever and artistic hiding places and tucked them safely away in the cupboard. I don’t believe we even had a basket out that year. Dad and I both learned the hard way that we needed to respect our daughter’s right to grow up. She had given us plenty of hints about this particular development, and it was our fault that we didn’t listen, that we insisted on holding tight to her childhood like it was ours.


That was two years ago. My husband, who can’t give up his first childhood, suggested an Easter candy hunt FOR ME. I scoffed it off (I should know better). Sure enough, on my way through the living room last Sunday morning, I thought I saw a glowing pink orb out of the corner of my eye—the Easter Bunny had struck again! And he failed to hide the little smile on his face as I half-heartedly muttered my protests. For the sake of pest control (I proclaimed), I began to look for the hidden beans. Most were easy, but then the quest got challenging. As I explained earlier, I am not the most observant person in the world. (Did I mention that I’m extremely near-sighted, too?) As I bumbled around searching for strays, lo and behold the grown-up daughter appeared and started giving me hints about locating the ones I missed. “You’re getting warmer,” she’d coax when I became discouraged. As I found them, I placed my prizes in the large communal basket in our dining room centerpiece—a good compromise between easy access candy and a nod to the holiday.


What goes around, comes around. I suspect our daughter’s practicing for the Easter hunt she’ll help us with in assisted living, while we grow into our second childhoods.

Our daughter and the Easter Bunny (in earlier days)
Our daughter and the Easter Bunny (in earlier days)

Trying to Get EVERYONE to Like Me

Letting Go #4:


First of all, I want to thank everyone who likes me—for liking me. “Like” is not to be confused with the elementary school (heck, maybe it’s preschool by now) criteria for becoming a boyfriend or girlfriend. (Example: Subject #1 sends a BFF messenger to Subject #2 to say that he or she “likes” him or her, and wants to go out—providing their moms can drive them to the play date). No. What I’m talking about is general affection and friendship which can include love in all its forms.


Second, I would like to apologize to all the people who like me—for ignoring them while I spend all my waking hours trying to get unapproachable or messed up people to give me the hint of a sign that they might acknowledge and/or accept my presence in the room. It’s like I’ve signed up for the Marathon of Hopeless Causes in Friendship and I’m determined to come in first. But no matter what happens—I always leave a loser. Maybe I’m ambitious—I want the gold medal in connecting well with people. Maybe I want to be popular (although that became a hopeless cause in puberty). Maybe it’s a way for me to pretend that everyone will always respond in a friendly manner to me when I give them a kind smile and a little encouragement. Unfortunately, in today’s stressed-out, crazy world, this is often an invitation for people to dump all their bad moods, hang ups, prejudices, jealousies, karma and just plain sadism onto me. Often hit and run. And then I spend an inordinate amount of time analyzing and reanalyzing WHAT WENT WRONG.


Why don’t they like me? (Me thinks I have too much time on my hands so I play this game in my head.) I seem to spend most of my obsessing on complete strangers. I worry over many little nuggets of rejection: Why did that person honk at me? Why wouldn’t the cashier talk to me? Why won’t the neighbors’ abused and dysfunctional Great Danes stop viciously lunging at me? (Yep, I’m afraid to say that my liking issues include unfriendly animals, too.) I’ve had many unfriendly incidents with public servants at the post office, bureau of motor vehicles and library. Well, now that I’m a public servant myself, and have friends who are public servants, I’m beginning to see that trying to get people to like me can have dire consequences in the public sector. Using my farm background as an analogy, you don’t want to be waving ANYTHING (regardless of whether it’s red or not) in front of an angry dairy bull. Even if it’s a friendly wave with a kind smile. In other words, there may be a very good reason why individuals are giving off the “don’t come near me and don’t you even try to be all friendly” vibes. They are warning you to stay away for your own mental health and personal safety. And, there are times when one kind word will win you a friend for life with someone who is very unstable (which may shorten your life immediately).


These days I mumble the following phrase like a mantra: Don’t take it personally! This is rapidly becoming my favorite slogan as I try to control those frisky hormones during my “second puberty” menopausal honeymoon. Right now I take everything personally. But luckily, it’s more like “how dare you—you *******!” when I’m cut off in traffic, rather than the “oh gosh, that’s okay—maybe this happened for a reason” attitude from the old perimenopausal days. While my big dramas were always with a boyfriend’s rejection when I was young, now it’s the rejection from other women that cuts me the deepest. I suppose it’s because I didn’t grow up with sisters. Men are easier to understand for me, but women—a whole other story. Whoever it is, I’m learning to come to terms with the knowledge that not everyone wants to be my friend, or even wants to be friendly. And that’s okay.


So, the next time my Facebook invitation is ignored, I will graciously mutter my mantra under my breath—and go Twitter someone who really likes me.

Needing to Be Needed

Letting Go #2:


How many times have I leaped into the role of nurse-therapist-cheerleader-savior-martyr-clergy-psychic-servant, only to find myself left behind like some beaten-down doormat still waiting at the threshold after the owner has just pulled away in the moving van? Not even a nice, recycled rubber doormat, just one of those pathetic misshapen coir rugs where all the fiber has worn off in the middle and the underside is rotting. When you pick it up, it sheds and disintegrates because it has been over-used. Temporary. Replaceable. And you’d think I’d learn. But I line up again for my next doormat duty. Why? Because it’s my drug of choice.


Or it used to be. I’m slowly weaning myself off this insidious addiction. To not volunteer for every dysfunctional role that crosses my path. To smile and empathize, to be kind and listen–and then walk away before the other person and I engage in the co-dependent waltz. The timing is critical. There has to be equal sharing, unilateral status and unconditional friendship—with absolutely no strings attached. Earlier in my life, there were plenty of strings. I could have built the universe’s largest ball of string. I’m proud to say that now, once the little alarm goes off inside my gut that tells me that I have entered the land of dysfunction, that things have gotten out of serious whack, I have the tools to cut those strings.


How did I get here? I was born with a job. Very simply, my job was to make my mother feel better. She needed me–until my brother came along. But even though I felt the demotion, I kept on trying to do my job long after that position was already filled. I was like the employee who keeps showing up months after the pink slip. Pathetic doormat, huh? And sometimes, that door would open, and I’d get to make my mother and others feel better. I’d entertain and charm and fall over myself trying to please everyone. And it would last for a few hours or even a day, and then they’d be miserable again because they were waiting for someone else to make them happy other than themselves. And I’d feel horrible because it wasn’t me.


As the years passed, the most needy person and I would find each other in a crowded room like star-crossed lovers. We’d have a whirlwind romance, full of the usual wonder/awe and the whole “kindred spirit” kismet. There was never any small talk with me—right to the drama and struggle straight out of a Russian novel. Truth be told, I never felt “alive” unless I was rushing to save someone. And I completely dismissed the dear people in my life who were trying to help me. Because I was too busy embodying a life preserver. I just didn’t know how to exist without BEING NEEDED.


Now it’s baby steps. It’s no accident I work at a job where people need me—for about five minutes. As a librarian, I help people find a book, locate a website, set up an email, distract an antsy child, or spell a word for their resume. I’ve helped a woman send money to a grandson in prison, and cleaned up questionable substances in the picture book area. And I get plenty in return—a smile, a hug, sometimes cookies, once even flowers. And then we go on with our lives, and maybe even pay it forward. No strings attached. Nobody is keeping count. It’s simply pure giving and receiving. And I am slowly learning that it goes both ways—that it’s okay for me to need help. Most of all, it’s okay to just BE.