Mothering is a prolonged goodbye. For many it lasts 18 years. Others have an abrupt ending at 5 years or 23.
My grandma called me a child when I was maybe 22. I defensively retorted I was not a baby. Grandma, in her wisdom, shared what I would learn to be true—7 or 72, I would always be her child.
I have a grand selection of fine friends who forgive me my dislike of this day. They forgive my bland vanilla wishes. My mother grieves along with me.
And a little girl who believes mommies are the gift, brings a rose to me for reasons she can’t yet grasp. A mama’s thin smile is all the conversation needed, one that is whispered above the child’s head.
This is my third attempt to fulfill a request to tell a story. Usually I can give it a day to breathe; ruminate a bit. Come at the theme sideways, talking low in an attempt not to startle my memory or the subject matter.
Not this time.
I cannot tell a lie, especially not today. Today is not the day to disappoint my mother. So I can’t tell you what it is like to be a mother in extreme poverty. My heart won’t let me walk that road.
Fifteen years ago, I put a tiny baby back in her bassinet and walked out the door of the Missionaries of Charity in Chennai. I called my mother from the deck of the Universe Explorer and I cried. She told me I couldn’t leave the ship and fly home with a baby. She was right.
On that day, I was no more ready to raise a child alone in the US than I would have been to stay in India to serve at the orphanage. Though I wanted both.
I’d share with you the photo of me and baby M., but the snapshot, like most of my life is buried in a storage unit across town. First world problem.
I can’t paint a picture of life as a mother in Uganda or Guatemala, and I can’t tell you what Mother’s Day means to me. I’ll have to believe that my own mother will forgive my failing an assignment and these three will forgive me for not understanding their world.
I’m humming it but I don’t want to write it.
The truth is, there is a lot that can happen, that needs to happen, between the edge of the pool and Dory’s mesmerizing ditty.
What I hear this morning above the swirl of lyrics is you can’t swim away, or walk away while still holding onto the railing.
I see the child in the pool screaming. Holding onto my neck, or the railing by the steps. Refusing to let go because he knows letting go means going under. Unknown. It requires effort opposite to all of the life he has known.
Before today, before a lesson in swimming or life, breathing wasn’t a thought. Now it is something to consider, to control. You don’t have to say to the child that inhaling under water causes death. He knows.
Now, on the edge of the pool, you have been asked to stop what you know keeps you alive. This is a lot to ask of a child, regardless of age.
I love being in the water.
I am not good at holding my breath. Which probably says a lot about me.
Holding your breath is one part control, one part letting go. It is knowing that you can’t live holding onto the railing. It is suspending one belief for a deeper knowing.
Today I want to find a way to be in the water. To believe that letting go of the railing will mean I get to do one of my favorite things–be held by strong arms that spin me around like a 4 year old princess.
Because you can’t laugh and feel fear at the same time.
I was staying in Seattle and while I was there I planned my birthday trip. I spent time writing and said yes to several book reviews. I clicked yes and realized the disconnect of requesting a hard copy book be mailed to me when, at the time, I had no mailing address. I failed then to see the overlapping of stories.
The print copy made a rather circuitous route before resting on my bedside table. It did however arrive at the right time, as is the lesson on repeat for my life right now.
There was a journey over the jagged edge of loss. Despite the maps I had carefully marked and folded and stored in plastic cases, it was a trip into uncharted territory.
My need to know the answer, to get through something pushed me to read the book in 2 sittings. Grief does not find its end so quickly. Not for me. Not for Polson, as she relates in her memoir; North of Hope: A Daughter’s Arctic Journey. It could be said that I devoured the book, hoping to assimilate it in some cellular way which might bypass my mind.
I appreciated her transparent stutterings toward grasping the experience which is so intensely personal and absolutely universal at the same time. I read sentence after sentence that struggled to explain, and felt like I was watching a replay of an accident on the news. You can’t look away. They try to frame the incident differently. Get closer. Interview someone else. All framing the same moment, each a part and each a whole. The speech is not a mumbling, or even a stuttering but a fuller examination of critical aspects of her journey.
They were memories. They were casings. They were shrouds. They were straightjackets. They were vestments. They were relics. They were the certitude of each day of my life before June 25. They had housed expectations for my life. They were embraces.
My experiences read nothing like those of Polson’s. Good writing, honest storytelling transcends the details that we use to separate ourselves. North of Hope is a story, and a tool. It is a link in a chain to help others move past the details of their grief and into the process of grieving.
My advice. Read carefully and remember the choice Polson presents…
It occurred to me then that I had a choice about what I’d been given: to grit my teeth and try to muscle through, or to try to train my wounded spirit to the possibility of wonder.
**This was another review for the lovely folks at Zondervan and Handlebar Marketing. No deposits to a Swiss bank account happened here. No cash passed under the table in an Italian restaurant. Just me, and my unending opinions, and affiliate links.**
You know how it is. You have a plan. A list. The square on the calendar and it is full. There are scribbles on paper and buzzers on your phone.
You have things to do.
I have blog posts to edit, to hit publish.
Life doesn’t always agree. The kids get sick without warning, or request. Meetings get cancelled. Days get scrambled. (And sometimes our minds and our emotions too!)
Today was supposed to be about this lovely book:North of Hope: A Daughter’s Arctic Journey
Last night, the great and mighty interwebs did not agree with my agenda.
Then this comes in my email this morning.
The girlfriends are skooching over on the couch for you. There might still be a corner brownie too. Rearrange your next five minutes because it will be good.
Shauna says Mel is always early.
We know differently.
They can’t imagine life without a table between them after only 3 years.
We count starting at a decade mark and move forward. There is rarely an actual table between us. Kitchen islands, yes. Coffee tables, sure.
What matters is that one of the ways we grow up is by declaring what we love.
There was a table once. The final goodbye at a first home was spent around a table with pizza boxes piled in the middle. We sat, booster seats moved to the floor, in the middle of four cherished walls. I think I have one or two photos from that night. I can’t find them now in the disorganization of my digital life (which, as you may guess can be a clear reflection of my in real life life.) The images are silly little snapshots that could easily be deleted–bad lighting, someone with their mouth open, a kid photo bombing before anyone knew what photo bombing was and we knew it as a kid being a kid.
It is appropriate that this book, Bread and Wine, arrived in the mailbox of a girlfriend before I made it into town. The stories about life around a table came when I was returning to live life in the place where I have practiced life around the table the most.
The table is where we return to stitch our hearts back together after the breaking.
The group has evolved from always brownies and episodes of Friends and ER to a tribe of littles and a schedule that has to be more flexible. As Bread and Wine recounts, whether there are tears or candles, life continues around the table.
These girls obliged me and my slight alterations of Shauna’s Dark Chocolate Salted Toffee, even on a night they usually devote to portion control and braving the bathroom scale. These images are my real life expression of the book Bread and Wine. I suggest you put your hands on a copy soon, but call the ones you love first and get a date on the calendar for a meal together because that will be your drive once you open the cover.
Learn, little by little, meal by meal, to feed yourself and the people you love, because food is one of the ways we love each other and the table is one of the most sacred places we gather.
**As always the photos and words are mine. Indented and italicized text are quotes from the book. The publisher sent me a book to read and this post is what happened. If, however, any of you want to claim some of the calories consumed on this night, email me and I’ll arrange to have some thigh dimples shipped to your door. Links to the book are affiliate links.**
When I started blogging, I had hoped to push myself to put up photos. A way to keep myself on track. Another tool to see my work–because sometimes you have to look at the work in different ways for it to make sense, or for it to tell you what it needs next.
Life happened. Words squeezed in between the photos. Then they just leaked all over the place. Words came with fewer technological obstacles. I split the blog back into one for images and a new one for words. Until threats came and technology seemed the least of my worries.
While I hacked apart the two blogs, I realized the best thing to do was just relaunch as one place. The remains seemed to only amount to one part anyway–a literal symbol of my life at the time.
Since I wasn’t done with this pattern, words crept back in filling more space than images here at the blog that speaks of capturing an image. I put up a blog to announce a group show of which I was a part. This spurred the nagging little person in my head to say, “What about your own portfolio? What about the photographs? The real ones?”
Ta-da, created for the ease of making a link, a portfolio blog, which has never actually shown an image from any of my portfolios.
Over at the portfolio site, today it has gathered its wits and will show a selection of images from The Grotto, to honor a dear friend and self-proclaimed Aunt on her birthday. I took the photos for her–a gift back for the gift she gave me before I embarked on this no destination journey.
I thought I would wield the poet’s pen.
What I am finding is that healing your life doesn’t usually have one step, or 7, no matter what the books say. Sometimes things domino and healing your thoughts heals your body. I lead with my mind, and find my footing by scrawling on paper.
Thirty seven days and I haven’t written out my answer. Not even after nearly 30 days of not being able to write. Nearly 60 days of blank pages.
This time around, I haven’t exactly figured out what my last completed portfolio truly says but it is done. It hung on a wall and now lives in a box in a storage unit in a town I don’t live in anymore. How’s that for removing myself from the situation?
Healing has been shoveling snow. Unpacking the past. Recycling love (letters). Even editing negative files has been necessary. No worries. I don’t entertain the notion of being Vivian Maier, and know enough about the art to edit with a trash can as needed. (Stumbling upon her work at Blue Sky on a recent trip was a superb detour!)
When your dropbox account looks like a teenage boy’s closet, the chaos isn’t just a reflection of a busy schedule. At least mine wasn’t. It was evidence of a mind that didn’t know where to put anything–from excel files to the stories of my life. I didn’t know that a folder labeled “the past” could be just that, a system for housing what has happened, not a label for who you are.
The cleaning, physical cleaning is done. The mental cleaning, that type of healing love isn’t over. Which is why I keep writing. I’m ok with the writing through layers. It is the lack of living through anything else right now that leaves me feeling stuck. Feeling as though my year of love has gone the way of most people’s New Year’s Diet Plan.
I should save the recap of the year for a December post and leave with saying, for now, the most pronounced love is for the friends I have, the family who made me and cookies. There will always be love for cookies.