I told you why I put From Strength to Strength by Arthur C. Brooks on my list in the first place in my previous post about the book, so I won’t rehash that. It took me longer to read because I did something crazy and DIDN’T read while I was on my three-day-weekend getaway with my mom. I’ll be honest and say it wasn’t on purpose. I just didn’t have time. I slept a lot more than usual and we had plans to start exploring the area early each morning we were there.
This book was depressing at first. It not only made me feel old and therefore useless, it made me feel like my lack of any real success drive even when I was younger signified a wasted life. What have I accomplished in my life so far? What goals achieved? What have I created? Where have I left my mark in the world? What will I be remembered for?
I started to think this book was not written for the likes of me. I was right. It was written for those high achievers out there, the people that are driven to produce and excel and succeed in business. I am not one of those people. My drive has always been relational. I’ve always been more interested in relating to people better than achieving fame or accumulating wealth. Not because I’m better than them, but because it just doesn’t interest me.
I considered not reading the rest of the book, but I’m glad I did because of two lines.
“…a career reset does not have to result in a midlife crisis.”
“I’m crazy if I think it’s too late to reset.”
As I read through the book, I started to realize something, I have had a career and I have been driven to make a success of it, to create something that extends into the future, and to be remembered by people for what I did.
That career has been my children and my family and now I’m entering retirement, but that doesn’t mean I’m useless. I’m only at the beginning of an elder phase, that time of life where I clean up my nest, build more knowledge, start connecting and repurposing those things I’ve learned over the last twenty-five years.
This book has shown me that and some ways to do it more gracefully. I’m happy I finished it.
I first heard about “attachment theory” shortly after my first child was born and it all made so much sense. Children, right from birth, seek attachment and safety. Once that is achieved, they can move on to independence and then interdependence. That’s my short-form explanation.
It changed the way we raised our kids from the moment I understood it. When they cry, we feed and soothe them. When they reach for us, we’re there. Humans will grow to be independent on their own. We don’t need to force them to “grow up.” I fought with my family about this, and I never could understand why they could not understand.
My sons are adults now and, I believe, are establishing healthy relationships with their own partners. Yes, I they still do reach out to their dad and I when they feel they need emotional support. And that is a good thing. We are all securely attached to each other in healthy ways. We are family.
So why read about attachment now when my children are all grown?
Because a few years ago, I discovered that attachment theory applies to adult/romantic relationships as well. Discovering that, and what my current “style” is, has helped me grow closer to my husband of 23 years, something I didn’t know was possible. I wish I had understood some of this as a young adult. It would have probably helped avoid a lot of heartache.
Where did I discover it? Instagram, another reason to love that platform. The self-help and relationship help that I’ve found there has been wonderful. Pages like The Love Therapist and Self Work Co have changed my outlook on life.
This will be another fun book to read, I’m sure. The opening pages describe some of my most bothersome (to me) behaviors through the lens of someone else’s relationship. I’ve always been told these are things I should fix about myself, and I’ve spent my life attempting to not need people and become more independent.
“…we live in a culture that seems to scorn basic needs for intimacy, closeness, and especially dependency, while exalting independence. We tend to accept this attitude as truth – to our detriment.”
Man, that feels good to read. Like suddenly I’m not alone.
“…attachment continues to play a major role throughout our entire lifespan. The difference is that adults are capable of a higher level of abstraction, so our need for the other person’s continuous physical presence can at times be temporarily replaced by the knowledge that the person is available to us psychologically and emotionally. But the bottom line is that the need for intimate connection and reassurance of our partner’s availability continues to play an important role throughout our lives.”
Here’s where the personal stories come in.
I have this strange habit of reaching out to the people I love and need attention from. I text if they aren’t there. I walk into the room and say random things. I reach for them as I pass by. They are what my husband calls “pings.”
That’s what I’m doing. I’m checking the reachability of a loved one. “Yep, they are still there. I’m ok.”
To some people it can be irritating, especially if I’m feeling overly vulnerable and you don’t answer fast enough. I have been known to go off the deep end far too often than I probably should.
But knowing that’s what I’m doing helps me react better and helps my loved ones understand and show support. It’s a need for me and I’m uncomfortable without it. Yes, I’m aware that I should be ok alone and I generally am, but, like that baby that needs to be fed or that toddler that needs reassurance, I need to know my loved ones are there for me.
This book is going to be another great help to me. Relationships take energy, work, and self-awareness to thrive. Hopefully, the information here will bring more insight and peace to my current relationships. I’ll be sharing what I find as I go, but it won’t be a summary of what’s inside by a long shot. Hopefully what I do share will help you decide if reading it yourself and gleaning your own insight will be worth your time!
The chapter, Parenting as Practice, that I read from Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn this morning made me cry. It was far too beautiful and rang a reminder bell in my heart. And the concept does not only apply to parents, but grandparents, and even non-parents as well.
“You could look at each baby as a little Buddha or Zen master, your own private mindfulness teacher, parachuted into your life, whose presence and actions were guaranteed to push every button and challenge every belief and limit you had, giving you continual opportunities to see where you were attached to something and to let it go.”
If you have been a parent, you know this is true. If you’ve ever told our teenage or young adult children, “Just wait till you have kids!” you know it. Children are not burdens to bear, they are tiny teachers from the universe, if you allow them to be.
Not only children can be seen as a teacher, but everyone that comes into your life, albeit on a less constant stress inducing way. What if we treated people we met in the world as if they were sent to teach us something important? That talkative grocery store worker, the fast-food cashier that can’t get your order right, the slow driver on the freeway, the co-worker that won’t leave you alone to read on your breaks, are all there to impart some lesson.
Each interaction puts up a mirror to us. How would I want to be treated in this situation? What’s my part in creating a better world?
“The deep and constantly changing needs of children are all perfect opportunities for parents to be fully present rather than to operate in the automatic pilot mode, to relate consciously rather than mechanically, to sense the being in each child and let his or her vibrancy, vitality, and purity call forth their own.”
When they are babies, one thing soothes them quickly and then suddenly doesn’t. They happily eat one food then hate it. They are growing so fast, and their tastes, needs, and wants change with them. You have to stay aware if you want to keep up. No autopilot allowed, not even cruise-control for a bit of a stretch.
When my oldest son was very young, he did not appreciate loud, sudden noises. For some strange reason he didn’t mind his own noise, just the noise of others. I learned to warn him if were going to start the vacuum near by him. One day, when he was around eight or nine years old, I brought the vacuum into the living room while he was playing a video game.
“Hey, kiddo! I’m vacuuming.”
“Yeah, I know. I can see.”
“I didn’t want to startle you.”
“Mom, I’m not two anymore. Sheesh!”
I wanted to say, “And last week you were?!” but I held my tongue. Best to meet exasperation with kindness. Instead, I replied, “You’re growing up so fast, sometimes I miss it.” He smiled in return, “Don’t blink, Mom!”
I tried not to, but the next thing I knew they were all gone out of the house and didn’t need me anymore. It’s a fascinating (and terrifying) process, if you ask me. I wasn’t always on my toes, aware of the moment, making the kinder choice. I lost my shit many times. I’ve found the trick is expressing remorse and asking for a bit more love when I failed. They have returned the favor many times.
“Parenting is a mirror that forces you to look at yourself. If you can learn from what you observe, you just may have a chance to keep growing yourself.”
Parenting in any capacity, as a parent, stepparent, grandparent, etc., teaches you something about yourself that you cannot learn anywhere else. Children are miracles, little resource sucking miracles that bring smiles and tears, joy and pain, with every waking minute.
Seeing parenting as practice is something I believe I was doing, unconsciously back then, but now I see it everywhere. In every interaction, I wonder, “How can I meet this person in a better way?”
“We knew exactly what our mother was doing, because we did it ourselves. The children would be gone for months, doing who knows what, and we wouldn’t worry a bit. The minute they were within proximity we started fretting. Motherhood is forever.”
From We Are Our Mothers’ Daughters by Cokie Roberts
I smiled and chuckled to myself this morning when I read this. I’ve done this myself.
My sons are 19 and 21 years old while I’m writing this. One has traveled Europe alone; the other has been at university out of state. While they were gone, I got a text or a phone call usually once a day. They had stories to tell, things they had seen, people they had met, pictures to share. But I rarely worried while they were gone.
While they travelled there was a different story. I don’t sleep much when I know they are on the road, always on alert for any messages about their progress. But once they arrive, they drop off my radar. I’m sure they are fine. Once they get back and tell me all the stories…hmm…maybe I should have worried.
Honestly though, what can we do if they are thousands of miles away? It’s like our brains know that. The protective mom radar shuts into low mode, saving energy for other projects.
And then they return and the game changes. Suddenly, the machinery kicks in, the senses all hit hyper-alert, and I’m telling them to text me when they leave and when they arrive, let me know where they will be staying if they aren’t at the apartment, and checking to make sure they have enough food, offering groceries from the house before they leave, just in case.
What is that all about? Will it ever end? I doubt it. I’ll be harassing their partners and their children for years to come!
Inspired by my son’s latest attempt at broadening his philosophical horizons, I’m picking up Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.” I’ll admit, I have tried to read him before but failed. My last foray was “Beyond Good and Evil” back in September of 2019, which I gave up on only a few pages in. I’m not sure if it was the book or my mood, but I was struggling to understand every paragraph and got frustrated.
Earlier this week, my youngest son began “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” and was explaining some of the first pages while we drove to Costco and reading paragraphs to me while I sorted books on my new shelves. His excitement made me want to try again. I put my own bookmark in it today and I’ll start reading it in the morning.
Yes, I know I haven’t finished the last two books I’ve posted about, so now I’ll have three books open at the same time, but it will work out. Asimov’s book, “A Roving Mind,” is a collection of essays and reading them one after another for an hour isn’t working. I’m losing track of what I’m reading because I’m not pausing and thinking between essays. “When the Sleeper Wakes” is not an easy read because it’s older, but it is a novel and I can read that for an hour straight without a problem, a couple hours would be fine too.
My son told me that “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” is a collection of speeches, and they are a bit rough to read for him, so he’s reading one a day, writing down his favorite quotes and then writing a short summary of what he thinks it says. Then he’s reading something else. I’m sure he told me that because he thinks if I’m reading it, I’ll zoom thru and get ahead of him. I told him I’ll do the same and we can compare notes.
Taking a moment to wallow around in the glory of a grown child wanting to read and talk about books.
Wish me luck. Nietzsche is not easy but I have enjoyed explanations of his philosophy and do want to read his words for myself. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this book if you’ve read it. If you haven’t, run over to Thriftbooks and read along with us!
When I was a kid, the movie magic and the theater were the domain of my dad. He’d frequently pick us up, go to Thrifty’s for two candies each, and head to the theater for the latest movie. There’s an anecdote about my active imagination that my dad loves to tell. I’ll try to recreate it but remember that it’s far better when he tells the story.
There was a day we were at the movies and, as was our custom, before the movie started, my brother and I would run down the front of the house to explore that big space in front of the screen but before the seats. “Back in my day” you had to show up to the theater early to get a good seat, so we had plenty of time to kill before the previews started.
This time I came running back with my serious face and sat beside my dad leaving my little brother to explore on his own. My dad asked me what was wrong, and I replied that I was afraid of the monsters. My dad scoffed and reminded me that monsters were only in the movies. I turned my six-year-old face to my dad, wide-eyed and dismayed, “Dad! This IS the movies!”
You can’t argue with that. Movie magic comes with movie monsters!
As I grew up, movies with my dad became more and more rare. Teenagers don’t go to movies with their old parents! But I did keep going with my friends until well into my 20’s. As an adult, they fell out of favor. I’m not sure why. It may have simply been the expense of taking the whole family.
Over the past five years, I began to rediscover movie going and was reminded of how much I love the experience…only to have it whisked away by the “pandemic” but theaters are open again and this past weekend a friend asked if I wanted to go.
At first, I jumped at the chance, then I looked at the offerings and wasn’t impressed. There weren’t many movies to choose from and they all seemed lame. But it has been blazing hot this summer and sitting inside a cool, dark theater sounded so nice. We picked a comedy and decided to go on Saturday.
Then I started thinking. Would it be crowded early on a Saturday afternoon? I don’t want to be surrounded by people during normal times, and even more so now. Would there we weird ass restrictions that make me uncomfortable? I’d rather just stay home than jump through hoops so that everyone FEELS safe and really isn’t. Human behavior can make me crazy sometimes.
I decided I was being ridiculous, and it would be better to go out and experience the world, take notes, and make observations in person, than to stay at home and speculate.
I’m glad I did, because people are so damn weird and movie magic is real.
We purchased our tickets online about an hour before the movie started. It’s the kind of theater where you pick your specific seats when you purchase the ticket. I thought that was pretty cool BCB but now it’s even cooler. They can separate people before they get in the theater, put empty seats between groups, because we’re all too collectively dumb to do so for ourselves (insert eyeroll).
When we bought the tickets, we were the first to do so. That was weird. I assumed more people would be buying tickets just before the movie and the theater would be fairly full. I mean, it’s Saturday and over 100 degrees outside…again. I messed up my timing (again) and got to the theater five minutes before showtime to find the theater empty but for one other family, who had bought tickets for seats directly in front of us.
Think about that for a moment. Those people looked at the seat chart, saw that only two other seats in the whole theater were already taken, and selected the seats directly in front of those. Really?!
With the way they build theaters now, sightlines are not a problem. And maybe you’re not that worried about strangers breathing and eating and talking less than three feet above and behind you because you’re vaccinated. But what about personal space and privacy? I get it if the theater is full and those are the only seats available, but the whole theater was empty. Why would you CHOOSE to be that close to other people?
Humans are so strange. I sat down in those seats because I those are the assigned seats I bought, but within a couple minutes the previews started, no one else was coming, so we moved up a couple rows. I laughed in my head the whole time thinking about my Dad and how he always complains that people choose the seat directly in front of you no matter how empty the theater is. I couldn’t wait to tell him.
As a side note, Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard is hilarious. I chose that movie purely by the title and the genre. I assumed it would be as stupid as the title, but it was inside and air-conditioned, so what the hell! I was pleasantly surprised, laughed the whole time, and loved every minute of it.
There was something else interesting that was thinking about while I was at the movies and for several hours after. Things are changing…duh…but not necessarily in a bad way.
I had stopped going to the movies mostly because the hassle of going, the cost, being among a large group of people that (from the story above) seem to have no sense of manners when it comes to movie etiquette. Screaming kids watching clearly inappropriate movies, sick people over my shoulder, talking people, etc. Why spend that much on a movie when I can sit a home and watch them on my big screen with a beer and chips? The ability to pause when I have to go to the bathroom? Yes, please!
Moving my watching time to earlier in the day, before 2pm, helped a tremendous amount. Why is it that no one goes to the movies at 11am or 1pm? We had been going on Christmas day for the latest release of Star Wars and walking into an empty theater for years. Walking out, we’d see a long line of people waiting for the late afternoon showings. Crazy.
I was bored with the selection of movies at one point. It seemed there were only action movies and coarse and crude comedies. I was so completely disappointed with first Hobbit movie, that I never went back to see the next one. There’s no dialog, no depth of meaning or character, just chase, chase, explode, and kill. It’s exhausting. And loud.
We chose to stay home to watch movies instead and I love the new streaming movies. There are so many new limited series shows based on books, history, etc. It’s awesome. Traditional movies have to be made to fit a niche: a time frame people can sit through in one stint and that a large swath of people will watch. A two-to-three-hour movie has to leave a lot of details out to get the story told. And it has to be made so that as many people as possible will watch to be profitable, so it’s catered the lowest common denominator.
It’s expensive for a theater to show a movie, so they need as many people there as possible. Streaming movies are cheaper to distribute, so they can be made for a smaller market. Limited series shows based on books or history, can be as long as they want. And now we have movies that cater to a very specific audience. It’s awesome.
But something is missing for me. Where’s the movie magic?
When The Force Awakens came out, something strange happened to me. This was the first movie I’d seen in a theater in years. When those yellow words started scrolling up the screen and the music began, I got a chill. I could feel the energy around me. And when the whole theater gasped in excitement to relive old memories and see the continuation of a story that we had all grown up with…it was movie magic. A collective memory, we were all connected emotionally. It felt…primal. I’m tearing up just writing about it.
The best part of that movie was the fact that we were all sitting there watching it together. Like watching your favorite band perform live or a live performance of a play, we are experiencing something together and for a moment we had a bond with our fellow humans. It was weird.
Right now, I’m reading “The Righteous Mind” and he’s talking about humans and how their evolved edge over all the other animals is their ability to work together, to trust each other (as in The Rational Optimist), and to bond into large groups of non-family. This is what has made us thrive and spread out over the world, to master our environment, and create technology that makes us fatter and happier than any other species. Call me crazy, but I think the movie magic is an extension of that.
I remember huge movie houses when I was a kid, packed full, shoulder to shoulder with little leg room, to watch a giant screen. The last movie I saw like that was Jurassic Park at the Cinedome in Anaheim. This movie was HUGE and was touted as having huge sound that had to be “experienced,” so we went there. It was amazing. You could feel those dinosaurs walking and hear them coming up behind you.
Those huge movie theaters are gone, I know, and that’s ok because their replacement is so much more intimate and comfortable. Smaller theaters, with comfortable recliners, tiered up so no one’s view is obstructed. Seats far enough apart that you don’t get kicked in the back by the long-legged dude or coughed on by the squirmy kids behind you. It’s fantastic.
But ticket sales had started to fall BCB, and I hope after being closed for over a year, they don’t continue that trend and theaters close forever.
There’s just something about the collective experience that I had forgotten was so special. The arrival, the popcorn, the finding of your seat. The lights dimming, the previews we watch and then look at each other for a thumbs up or down. The movie itself with the collective laughs, gasps, and painful silences. And then the end: the applause, the standing and stretching, walking from the theater laughing or crying, the looking to other patrons with the “Did you feel that?” look. It’s movie magic.
You know that thing that you wish you could make time in your day for? What if you did? What would it be? What if making time for it was a decision you could consciously make?
Learn to meditate, read that book, start a journal, finish that craft. There are loads of things we tell ourselves that we would love to do them if we only had the time. But really…how much time we need to start?
What do you do when you first wake up in the morning? If you’re like me, you stumble into the kitchen for coffee and hope there is some still left! I used to plop myself down on the couch and turn on the tv to vegetate awhile. It was a habit I created when I was younger. I was tired and grumpy and needed an hour or so to sip my coffee, watch the news mindlessly, and give myself some time to wake up. I needed that time and felt violated if anyone interrupted my morning routine.
And then I had kids and my morning routine was shot to hell. I couldn’t get up before the kids, they usually woke me up at the crack of dawn. The morning routine became about them, taking care of their needs. It was fun most days.
As they got older and we considered homeschooling, I began to be aware that I needed time for myself, time to read, reflect, and relax a bit. I ended up creating an evening routine for that, reading to my kids before bed, and then sitting in their room reading and journaling while they went to sleep. It wasn’t always relaxing but it worked well most nights.
Once they were “school age” and began sleeping past the earliest rays of sunlight, I started being able to get up before the chaos and when I did, I returned right back to my old way of coffee and tv news, with the added time-suck of social media. Habits do not die easily! My morning hour turned into two, while I listened to the news and scrolled through Facebook chatting with friends.
I’m not sure how it came to my attention or why I suddenly thought of it, but I do remember I was growing frustrated with how little time I had to read. My evening routine was great, but I was tired and could only read for about half an hour before I became sleepy and went to bed. The boys didn’t need me to sit there until they went to sleep anymore. I needed to find more time in my day, when I was more alert, if I were going to get any serious reading done.
That’s when it dawned on me…first thing in the morning. I’m conscious enough to scroll through my social media feeds and read articles while I drink my coffee. Why not use that time to read my book? So that’s what I did. I promised myself that I’d get my coffee, sit on the couch, and read for fifteen minutes before I did anything else.
Fifteen minutes after a week or so, turned into thirty and that year I finished 15 books. Over the years, I’ve increased my reading time little by little. In the past I was never able to focus on books for more than a few minutes at a time, but it turns out that it just takes practice to increase that focus. I still only read for an hour at a time, an hour and a half if the book is fun and exciting, thirty minutes if it’s complicated. Then I need to get up and move around, change positions, or change books every hour or so, but I’m up to three hours of reading a day now. And most of that is early in the morning, before I do anything else. I have a new habit. I reach for my book and my coffee now, automatically. This past year I read 64 books.
So, what if you could do that thing you wanted to make more time for? What if you had it ready and waiting for you in the morning, like the coffee maker prefilled and put on a timer? All you’d have to do was pour your cup, pick up your thing, and head to the couch to start. Write your first thoughts before any new input. Listen to that podcast or audiobook while you craft. Read that book for fifteen minutes. Meditate on the steam from your coffee. Whatever it is, make time for it first thing in the day and the rest of the day will already be won because you already did something awesome.
In stark contrast to my own children’s early lives, when I was growing up, curse words were not allowed. It didn’t matter how old you were, if your parent or grandparent was around, you’d get smacked for it. If your parent wasn’t around, it was open season. My grandma would smack my mom for bad words as quick as my mom would smack me, but it didn’t stop any of us from using them. The truth is, colorful expletives are useful, right? They express passion. Life just isn’t the same without either. Like I used to my tell my sons, you just have to know your audience to avoid being smacked.
I was probably about ten years old the first time I used a curse word in front of my mother, and I’ll never forget it.
My mom and I loved to make chocolate chip cookies, and I can still see that kitchen in my mind. The windows, crisscrossed with wooden trim painted white, yellow kitchen curtains over the sink. And that lovely yellow and brown linoleum floor, the avocado green fridge and oven. What year is it? I know you know.
That oven was something special to me. There were two of them stacked one on top of the other in the corner of the kitchen. Next to it was an island with an electric stovetop to match. All in avocado green and chrome. I don’t think I’ve ever had two ovens like that again. Although sometimes I could have really used it!
Making cookies with my mom on a Saturday afternoon sounds so cliché, doesn’t it? It’s like a scene right out of a Hallmark Channel movie. Young, pretty mom with her long brown hair and big glasses, polyester slacks, and blue eye shadow. Honestly, I always thought my mom was the prettiest mom around. She was funny and boisterous, always had lots of friends. I watched her closely and envied a personality that could so easily greet people and make friends.
Most weekends my mom and stepdad had parties with their friends, playing cards and talking well into the night. You’d think I’d look back on it as a bad time, my parents were distracted partying with their friends and not taking care of us, but it didn’t feel like that to me. I was always enamored with them. I wondered what they were talking and laughing so loud about and would sneak out of my room, long after I was supposed to be asleep, creep down the hall toward the living room and listen. It sounded like fun, grown up fun that I wanted to be a part of.
Sometimes my mom would let me help mix and serve drinks before I went to bed. I felt so grown up. But after bedtime, I wasn’t supposed to come out of my room. I was too old to need my mom in the middle of the night. If got caught in the hall, I just said I was going to the bathroom or feign sleepwalking and my mom would just turn me toward my room and tell me to go back to bed.
I’d reluctantly return, feeling left out of all the fun. I climbed back in my twin bed, dressed in my long, little girl nightgown and lay there wondering what could possibly be so funny. I hear my stepdad singing silly songs, my mom groaning about putting down the wrong card, her friends picking teams for the next round of spades. It seemed like a grown-up mystery.
But Saturday mornings were for fun and I looked forward to it every week. We’d bake sweet bread and cookies mostly. Chocolate chip cookies were my personal favorite, not only because I loved them, but everyone else did too and we’d race to see who could eat the most. With four people living in the house and friends coming for cards in the evening, we had to make a lot of cookies to keep up with demand.
My job was to read the recipe and get out all the things we would need. I’d get the recipe card out of the metal paisley covered recipe box and lay it down on the counter. My grandma wrote this one out (off of a Nestle chocolate chip package I later learned). Her perfectly feminine cursive always impressed me. The delicate, evenly formed, precise loops. The gentle pressure of the pen. The clear lettering with no flourishes. It was serious and concise writing. Getting work done writing. Just like my grandma. Gentle yet serious. Hard but very loving. She didn’t need to get angry about anything. She didn’t need to scold, much. We all just felt compelled by her strength of character to behave.
I can recognize her handwriting the moment I see it and still have a few of those cards tucked away in that same metal box.
Setting the plastic wrapped card on the counter, I started to read it aloud: eggs, sugar, vanilla, salt, flour. I’d get everything out and place it on the counter next to the recipe. I’d get the bowls, the big one and small one. The measuring spoons and cups. And place them on the counter too. Then I’d watch my mom go into action.
While she got the mixer out and plugged it in, she’d ask me to help by measuring the flour, salt, and baking powder into the small bowl. She’d put the butter and vanilla in the big bowl and start whipping it with the mixer. As she softened the butter, I would ask questions like, “Can I taste it now?” and hear, “Not yet.” At least a dozen times.
I’d pour in the sugars as she kept whipping the butter, and then the eggs, one at a time. When it was soft and fluffy, the beaters stopped, I got a chance to stick my finger in the mixture and taste it as she cleaned off the beaters. She would turn to see me licking my finger and scowl at me. “Not yet silly!” and I’d laugh.
My Mom would take the big bowl into her arms and I would slowly add the flour mixture to it as she stirred, one scoop at a time until the cookie dough was good and thick. Setting the bowl down to get the chocolate chips, I’d reach in a grab a pinch of dough. “There won’t be any left to bake if you keep doing that.” She’d admonish me, laughing at my antics. “Tastes like cookies!” I’d squeal.
Two scoops of chocolate chips went in next, minus the ones I stole when my mom wasn’t looking. I’d beg to be let to help stir them in only to give up seconds later and let her finish.
The big cookie sheet came out next, discolored and warped with age. Set out on the counter, it was my job to fill them with cookie dough balls! After having my own children “help” me in the kitchen, I have a better picture of what my work looked like to my Mom. Irregular shaped ball of dough in various sizes, scattered across the cookie sheet!
And she’d open the oven, slide the sheet of deliciousness in and set the timer. Then we’d clean up a bit, putting away the ingredients and washing off the utensils.
It felt like forever had passed and I was a least a year older when the timer bell rang from the kitchen windowsill. Yes! Cookie time!
My mom had her hands in the sink, up to her elbows in soapy water. “Can you use the hot pad and get those out yourself?”
She couldn’t be talking to me. I looked at her incredulously. “You’re big enough. Be careful though. Don’t burn yourself.”
To a kid, being entrusted with any responsibility, any task usually relegated to adults, was a huge step up in life. The moment an adult talked to you as if you were their helper and not someone in the way, you felt taller and more noble. Someone had opened the door and said “Welcome!”
I tentatively picked up the hot pad glove and put it on. “Hurry up, sweetheart. They’ll burn. Careful. The edge is hot too.”
I opened the oven, reached toward the pan of deliciously brown cookies, caught hold of the edge and began to pull them out oh so carefully. As I did, my arm brushed against the side of the oven and I instinctively jerked my arm back, dropping the cookie sheet onto to the open oven door, yelping, “Shit!”
I stopped dead in my tracks and looked at my Mom. I had startled her, and she came running over to help.
“Are you ok?” pulling my arm out to see the damage.
“Yes.” I said, with tears and not a little bit of fear.
She pulled my face up to look at her, “Don’t worry. Shit is exactly right. I would have said a lot worse.” Kissing me on my forehead, “Go put some cold water on it.”
The relationship between my Mom and I changed that day, all because of the use of curse words. She was no longer just my Mom, the dinner maker, keeper of the rules, and laundry washer. She was my friend. My mom was a person, just like me.
We finished baking several sheets of cookies without further burns. Many pinches of dough were stolen between sets. And once they were all done baking, we got a big glass of milk and set to making ourselves sick eating what was left with the help of my little brother and stepdad.
Every parent experiences the empty nest at some point, I know this. But what if we didn’t have to tuck it all down and experience it alone? Vulnerability in the midst of struggle is not my specialty, but sometimes I feel that my saying something might be just what someone else needs.
“And this, he decides, is what a good-by should be. Not a period, but an ellipsis, a statement trailing off, until someone is there to pick it up.”
The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab
Goodbyes are so hard. The end of a chapter, the turning of the page. I loved this ellipsis analogy. I often use those, and my son tries to tell me I’m doing it wrong. “It’s not a pause, Mom!” I know but…I like it that way! Think about it.
“That time always ends a second before you’re ready. That life is the minutes you want minus one.”
The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab
Yes, it does. I’m going through a big one of these right now. My youngest child has gone off to University in another state. I’m officially retired from everyday Mom-ing.
I have an empty nest.
Everyone knows that once you’re a mom, you’re always a mom. We have an amazingly close relationship. I never experienced that “teenage” stuff, where they shut themselves off from me. I know they’ll always be texting, sending me pictures, and coming back to visit as often as they can.
But… (I did it again)
I’m alone here all day now. And when my husband is done working, we’re alone all evening and all night. And when I get up in the morning, there’s no reason to keep quiet. I can do what I want at any time of day. The TV isn’t on unless I’m watching it. No one is playing music in the middle of the night. No one interrupts what I’m doing. It’s so damn boring.
I’ll admit that I was excited to retire. We have three kids. When the first one left, we relaxed. There was a bit more space in the house. When the second one left, we were happy. There he goes! Two down, one to go! We looked forward to the youngest taking off. If all three of our kids were out in the world taking care of themselves, we were off the hook. We did it. Done! Children are a huge, long-term commitment. It’s incredibly stressful.
But… (he he he)
It’s so quiet. And then…I’m choking up again as I write…can’t we have one more day? One more drive into the city? One more dinner? One more, “Guys! WTF? Can you not?!”
I wasn’t ready. I seriously underestimated how hard an empty nest would be.
Are we ever ready? I don’t think so. We just have to dive in and keep flailing around until we notice we’re swimming.
I’ve hesitated to write about this for several reasons. It’s so fresh. I’m still working through it. I don’t need other people’s crap right now. But it keeps coming back up. A scratch in the record that needs to be dealt with, not ignored. You’ll only keep hearing it every time you get to that part of the music.
The first is, as usual, I don’t want to make my kids feel bad. They are doing nothing wrong by growing up and going out into the world. Pursuing our own path is what we all do. That’s normal and good. While I’d certainly have no problem with them living here forever, I want them to chase their own dreams without worrying that the mother they love so much is having a nervous breakdown. It would defeat the purpose of raising children into adults if they were so afraid to hurt my feelings that they never left home.
The second is that I’m not good at being this vulnerable. While I’m good at telling others what I’ve already been through and worked on, I cringe at the thought of asking for sympathy and help as I need it. I’ve recently come to notice that my culture fosters independence over just about anything else and I’m not sure it’s all that healthy. Stand on your own two feet. Buck up. Don’t be such a baby about it. From childhood and adolescence, into adulthood, marriage, children, and on until we die, we’re encouraged to keep our feelings to ourselves, to deal with our own shit alone.
I’m starting to question the wisdom in that. The times that I have reached out to talk to someone about something I’m going through, I’ve always found that I’m not alone. Life’s stages are common. We all move through them. Amazingly enough, no matter what you’re going through, there are others that have been there, felt that. The key is finding those people, and they’re usually very close by, remaining silent, believing they are alone in the world too.
And the third reason is people’s reaction. I don’t find support when I express my pain, I generally find platitudes, dismissal, or worse…help or sympathy. We’re not trained in supporting others through something difficult. Have you ever felt something so strongly, a feeling you just don’t want to feel and can’t get away from? Have you ever told someone about it and they said, “That’s just life. It’ll be better tomorrow.” Yeah…not helpful. Or worse, “Everyone feels that. You’re being ridiculous.” And “I told you this was coming.”
What do I want? To be completely honest, I’m not sure. Maybe I simply want to be heard and to get a hug. I’d like to hear an affirmation. “This must suck.” Or “I feel that from you.” Maybe even questions like, “What are you going to do?” I also really enjoy hearing other people’s painful stories. “There was a time I felt that way.” Or “I remember when…” I hear that and I think, “Yes. I’m not alone. I’m just one of the humans here. Life does go on.” And then I consider what’s next or cry some more. It depends on my mood. Sometimes I want to wallow in my sadness awhile.
Ultimately, the story continues no matter what happens to any of us. It isn’t a period, end of line, close the book. It’s just…what’s next?
I blogged about “The Invisible Life of Addie Larue” when I started reading it back in January. It certainly didn’t take me long to read it all. I couldn’t put it down! Have you read it? You can find it on Thriftbooks.com if you don’t have it. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments when you read it!
“A tree with strong roots can withstand the most violent storm, but the tree can’t grow strong roots just as the storm appears on the horizon.”
The Art of Happiness by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.
How do get those strong roots? By building healthy habits every day. We prepare for the coming storms, because we know they are coming even when the sky is clear and the air is warm. Suffering is inevitable: an illness will find you, someone will die, a relationship will end, you’ll lose a job, a natural disaster will hit where you live. The list goes on and on forever.
What can we do?
Grow deep and healthy roots.
We read and study, exercise, eat healthy to prepare for the coming storms. We work, budget, and save money for the future. We do preventative maintenance on our homes and vehicles so that they continue to work well for us. We learn to communicate and bond with others in new ways so that our relationships can last longer.
We should always be growing and learning, creating more intricate and developed support systems.
Healthy and communicative relationships help you prepare for the future. Each time we successfully navigate a new relationship, build on a current one, or transition from one kind to another, we learn about ourselves and become stronger for the next stage of our lives.
Parenting is another way we prepare for the future. Building a strong and stable family that loves and supports children as they grow their own roots is the best way to contribute to a happier future generation. Your children are born growing. They instinctively know what they need. Follow their lead.
Giving your children the home and safety that you wanted as a child, helps you re-parent yourself and grow those roots you feel you were lacking. In this way, each generation can build on the last.
Strong roots are built by healthy habits.
Strong healthy roots are developed intentionally over long periods of time. The deeper and more intricate they are, the more likely we are to weather the storms of life and create happiness for ourselves and those around us.