Swiffers or Steam…a lesson perhaps on what is on the surface is not necessarily as important as what is underneath…

On the surface, one might think my parents and I have nothing in common, other than DNA.  We do not watch the same news channels or listen to the same talk radio station. They do not like to try new foods and I will literally try any food, any time, at least once.  They vote red and I vote blue.  On the outside we appear to be completely different, but below the surface we are so much alike…my strong work ethic is because of my parents, my ability to find a missing $0.03 three cents over the course of a year while balancing my checkbooks is because of my parents, sewing on a button when it has fallen off, or doing the chores at hand at home when they need doing, and trying not to put things off, that whole “stitch in time saves nine” way of life, is because of my parents.  When I find myself with any income more than my standard monthly budget,  where some women might go to Nordstrom for a shopping spree, I put it right towards my mortgage principal.  I am certain these sorts of behaviors, the deeper parts of me, are because of my parents. We disagree on MANY, oh so very many things, but it isn’t everything, it is just a portion of the whole…

A Valentine to the world if you will, is this; we must find a way to have common ground with our families, our neighbors, and our acquaintances.  Steam cleaning gets to the ground-in dirt, and swiffers get rid of the dusty top-surface-layer…life is deep, love and friendship is too, and common ground is where things matter…not in the dusty top-surface-layers.  We must try to find those things which join us, and bring us joy together, rather than focus on those things which make us bicker and feel disconnected.  We can absolutely loathe a policy, an administration, and a president, but we should not loathe our families, our neighbors, and our acquaintances because they don’t think as we do about these things.  It has not always been this way, and it won’t always be this way; much like in years or decades of the past when the policies, administration, and president was one we loved and supported or favored, but they didn’t.  It can’t be ‘you are wrong and I am not wrong’ all of the time, always one direction.  I think they are wrong now, and they thought I was wrong then, but now is not forever…this feeling of being on one side or the other does not last… we are, like it or not, all on the same side as occupants of planet earth and members of the human race…we are in this together.

My daughter loves country music.  I do not like it at all.  You know what we both like?  Jewelry and Sangria.  We don’t argue about the fact that she really loves country music and I really hate it, in fact we don’t talk about it at all.  In the big picture, her love of country music and how I loathe it, has nothing to do with our relationship.  My neighbor on the corner has a red MAGA flag on her fence and I have a yard filled with Buddha sculptures of all shapes and sizes, we have almost nothing in common, so it would seem, this lady and I, but come summer time you will see that we both love flowers and tending to our properties, because it’s obvious from how our yards look that we both care, a lot, about where we live…her surface and my surface are not alike, but I try to see that the deeper part of who she is and what matters to her, is more like me than different from me.  From the bottom of my heart, I beg you to care less about what you are seeing and hearing on the surface, and to try to smile on your brother and try to love one another…

I can talk or write about ALL the many things I do not like about the current president, the policies, the things I have heard with my own ears and read with my own eyes, and those who love him and the things he says will simply counter with all that they believe to be true, and they will point out where they think I have been misinformed.  I can show them all the fact-checking data that has been gathered, over these years and show them where they are being terribly misled, and are by choice “believing provably false information.”  I can do all these things, and it will not matter because they like the president they like and they believe what they want to believe.  Period.  JUST LIKE I LIKED the presidents I liked, and the policies that I thought were smart and good, and I too believe what I want to believe.  It goes both ways.  We can’t make people think the way that we want them to think, about anything, because those beliefs and ideologies are like cement; theirs are theirs and mine are mine, and I have learned that most people, when they have come to adulthood, are not easily swayed to “another side” no matter what.  I know I certainly could not be, and they know they could not be.  Period.  I have come to understand that this is, in the simplest terms,  no different than the fact that I think mint chip ice cream is the BEST ICE CREAM, believe me, it is better than all the other flavors, it is the best there is available, it is a perfect flavor.  I know this, and I want them to know this.  BUT…they like vanilla, they don’t believe me that mint chip is better, or the best, or the better choice than the one they are choosing.  It’s okay.  We don’t have to argue about it every day, or every time we are together, or stop talking about other things because they like vanilla and I don’t.  I don’t have to daily share data that clearly demonstrates that vanilla is not in fact the best, that, when compared to other flavors it’s not even mediocre.  The fact that I think it’s awful and have data to support my argument that there are MANY choices that are MUCH better, doesn’t matter because they like what they like and I like what I like, AND I don’t have to make them like what I like in order to like them.

At yoga class, despite listening to music about peace and truth, and being one with one another, and hearing readings by Thich Nhat Hanh and Buddha, I am pretty confident that not every person in class has the same likes and dislikes that I do. I am certain that as strongly as I feel about the right a woman has to choose whether or not to maintain or terminate a pregnancy, there is probably a woman in class who believes just as strongly that I am wrong, and that her ideas about when “life begins” is the only truth that matters, because it matters to her…but get this, when she is breathing next to me, and we are both trying to maintain a difficult pose, her opinion about my thoughts on feminist theory and planned parenthood funding has nothing to do with my thoughts about her anti-choice agenda, our common ground at that moment is that we are both working very hard to not fall over.  In a perfect world we would all think that the same things matter, but the world is not perfect and we humans are not perfect.  THIS is my love letter to all…we don’t have to like the same things to like each other.  We don’t have to believe that the same things are important in order to be friendly to people.  Those ideas that we do share, those activities that we do all enjoy, those situations that make us all laugh, these are the meaningful solid ground, common ground things that matter, not the surface ‘dust’ that can easily be erased by a sweep of a swiffer.

Where it’s at

Where it’s at…Turns out,  it’s on my mat…A few weeks ago one of my yoga teachers was struggling with a difficult decision and she commented that sometimes “life gets lifey,” and for her, reconnecting her brain and body and getting on her mat is where she most feels revived.  I realized that, while I am very new to the practice of yoga, it’s holding true for me too.  I feel most “right” anymore when I am in the yoga studio.  I think to myself, EVERY time I leave a class, “if I could spend hours a day doing this, I would”  THAT is how good it feels to me; my brain and my body equally, and I feel like if I didn’t have to work I would be there every day, and believe me, there are few places I EVER want to be other than in my house!!  We ALL, no matter our gender, wealth, job, or family, have moments when life gets lifey don’t we?? To my ears, and way of thinking, it was one of the best expressions I might have ever heard…it made me think about how important it is to have a place where you feel GOOD when life gets lifey…

Our teachers often read aloud to us at yoga and I love for a class to begin this way because then, if I find my mind wandering during our 75 minutes together, when I go back to my breath, I also go back to the words that were read, and I like thinking about them and what they might mean to me, or for me, or often, how they might alter the way I interact with others. Recently the text was something about “being” where you want to be; living the life you feel proud of, or glad for, or intend to live.  Perhaps it was about authenticity, as I suppose we all read into the readings because we color the words with our own desires or regrets or understanding. We can only comprehend from where we are.  The teacher asked about, and I’m paraphrasing here, “if you were to die today, were you living the life you wanted to be living” and I realized that there is very little that is not what I want it to be…what an amazing thing to think about during the weeks of a new year and after the weeks of thanks, and giving; this time of a year, Thanksgiving and Christmas and then the fresh start of a new calendar page often feels like a jumble of just this, gratitude and generosity.  I have both in abundance.

I have moved into a zone of womanhood that for most of my adult life seemed unattainable or unavailable, and “having it all” sounds so grandiose and I don’t mean it to be…but the reading at yoga made me think really hard about where I am right now, and honestly it’s where there is really very little that needs to change, and what does need changing is totally within my control.  The things I want to be different in my life are things that I have the power to make different.  I am well aware that this makes me unfairly lucky.  I know two very dear friends who right now WANT things to change NOW, in a BIG way, but the circumstances are that these things can’t change, no matter how much they wish otherwise, there is nothing either of them can do to make that happen…it is a feeling of “guilt” that I have sometimes when I speak to both of these women…that they are utterly exhausted from having to deal with difficult circumstances and here I am going to yoga and feeling healed by crystal bowls, taking granddaughters to dance and cheer, coming and going as I please, just flowing through an unfairly easy mid-life at the moment…How marvelous for me, when so many do not have that luxury…too many people are in situations, many through no fault of their own, that they don’t want to be in and can’t fix…how lucky I feel that I am not, at present, one of them.  It makes me deeply empathetic and so grateful…What an extraordinary place to find oneself at mid life.  I am however, WELL aware that at any moment, on any day, this can change…I might feel free at this hour, in this house, but in a split second things could be very different and very uneasy…which I suppose is yet another reason I feel so lucky to enjoy the lovely moments as they come and go through the days of my life.

When life got lifey in my teens and twenties I used to write, feverishly so, for hours in my journals if I needed to, until my mind felt “right” again.  In my thirties and forties I used to do aerobics and kick boxing, and sometimes punch and kick that bag with the ferociousness of a crazy person until my mind felt “right” again.  Here I am now, starting the years of my 50’s and discovering yoga makes my mind feel “right” again even on days when it doesn’t feel wrong in any way at all! Thinking and breathing are two things that we HAVE to do to stay alive and I feel pretty strongly that if I can find a way to do both of them better, that’s a good thing!!! I honestly did not expect to like yoga at all when I first joined, and I had no idea that there would be days that I was dripping with so much sweat my feet and hands would slip&slide, or that I would be strengthening my core and biceps just as much as I used to doing high impact cardio, or as a dancer or cheerleader when I was young.  I had no idea that the minutes of meditation and stillness would be as beneficial as the movement and flow.  I had no idea what yoga classes involved, or that it would help create such changes in me. 

Our family motto about “tomorrow you could be run over by a pie wagon” is something of a joke, but it turns out, by joking about it, I live it. If I died today I would feel pretty great about how hard I loved the people I love, and how hard I worked for the people who employ me, and how hard I tried to be a good daughter, good mother, and good nana…those roles that I have taken very seriously, I think I have performed them well, and with good intentions…I no longer really ever wish to be better than anybody but the me I was yesterday.  When the yoga teacher asked if we were living the life we intended to live, I felt really good about answering, “yes.”  I feel good about the life I am living.  If today was my last day I would feel like I didn’t need to apologize to anybody, or ask for forgiveness for anything, or suffer with the fullness of deep regrets.  What freedom.  What a gift. What magic.  What a thing to discover; the life you are living is a good life.  The values you’ve thought were important to build your moral compass make you feel like you have been responsible for the goodness in your life.  Reflecting on that, on my mat, breath in-breath out, is magic.

My home has always been something of a sanctuary where I feel most right and most true; when my house gets disrupted or things are not where I want them, or how I want them, I feel it physically…I get a splitting headache and I get anxious when I start to sense that the disorder around me is growing and I don’t feel “good” until I fix it.  This might sound odd but it is perfectly normal for me, but these last two years it turns out that on my back, on my mat, is another place where I truly feel “good” and find that I am totally comfortable, and it’s where I feel like I belong…this is a big deal, to me.  We live in a world where it’s often all want-want-want me-me-me busy-busy-busy…on to the next thing…go-go-go…on the mat, breathing, it’s about nothing but being on the mat, breathing. One can be consumed with worries about TOO MANY things to count, one can be consumed with upsets about TOO MANY things to count, but when one is listening to the Sat Nam mantra there is nothing…It loosely translates into being your own truth, and finding that you are at peace with the life you have created when your teacher asks, “if you were to die today,” is a most splendid place to find yourself as you’ve recently started another trip around the sun and a year has ended and a new one has begun.  “I can’t believe I am this old and having this much joy” is a frequent thought for me.  That’s magic. That’s good medicine. I’ve often been told that I seem to always look on the bright side, so maybe that is part of the equation that makes life hard to solve for some people…silver lining seeking 101 might be a more necessary study for us all!






Have I told you lately that I love you?

She lives next door to me.  I only have to take about 50 steps from my east deck to be at her front door.  I have to go by her house to get out my driveway.  34 years ago this morning she took her first breath of air on this earth and 34 years ago this morning I suddenly cared more about her than anything else…That’s my daughter, the one who made my heart grow in a most delightful way, 34 years ago at 5:04 in the morning. It’s funny to me that we now can go literally for days without seeing each other, or speaking, so close and yet so far…We text often; facts like the little blonde wonder, her youngest, needs to be driven to Tuesday evening tumbling class, and the brilliant brunette, her teenager, needs to be driven to Thursday afternoon dance competition, so we have to communicate information, but that is mostly all it is…She left for work and forgot to close her garage door…will I check her mailbox…She had to leave and the dogs are still out…simple messages of the day-to-day that she sends me, we don’t really have much “big talk” and that’s okay.  It’s part of how life changes over time. She knows I am here to hear her when she needs big talks.  Every time we text or talk about anything I still feel such a rush of love and adoration for her so deep that it’s never been able to be adequately described…

Watching her get married right after high school was one of the saddest experiences of my life, but 13 months later watching her become a mother turned out to be one of the happiest experiences of my life.  Watching her get divorced nine years later broke my heart, but watching her fall in love again to a man who made so many of her dreams come true made my heart for her feel well healed.  Watching her fulfill her dream of becoming a teacher brought back hundreds of happy memories of watching her “play school” for hours and hours of her childhood.  It’s funny, when you love your baby, but your baby is now a 34 year-old mother and wife, you realize that most of your thoughts of her are memories…things that happened once before, as her life is full and busy while she makes her own memories with her daughters, so I become a person on the periphery…still so important I suppose, but on the outside, the outskirts of her life…I became, over these years, more of an observer than a participant in her life, which is normal and part of the cycle.  What makes it perhaps easier for me than it might be for other mothers is that I am next door to her, and with that comes a sense of connection that can’t be denied.  I don’t “miss her” like many other women miss their adult daughters because we are so connected.

Because our lives are busy the action of loving her and her girls has become more significant than the words of loving her and her girls.  I have been thinking a lot this winter about action love and word love.  Like Depeche Mode sings, “words are meaningless and forgettable.”   It becomes more apparent to me as the years go by that the words are seldom, if ever, as important as the actions.  I suppose if it comes down to it, I would do just about anything for my daughter.  I have said ‘no,’ about lots of things lots of times over these 34 years but, “yes” is certainly more of the action love we do around here than not.  I don’t pay as much attention to word ‘love’ like many other people do, perhaps because  I learned over the years that the value of action love is superior to me than the often evidently meaningless “value” of word love.  My actions as a mother and a Nana are love.  My time and attention to their needs is the phrase “I love you” without even saying anything.  When I wake up much earlier than I need to, so that I can take each of her daughters to the bus stop, so that she can get on with her morning uninterrupted, that’s action love.  When I invite her over for game night or sangria, even if I have no information to share, that’s action love.  When I left work early for years to greet little girls off the school bus so that she did not have to leave work early, that was action love.  EVERY thing we do for somebody we love, that we don’t have to do, is showing love in a more profound way than uttering the words of love. The actions of love are far more important and far more meaningful than any words that are ever spoken, at least to me…

When I see her thriving happily I feel like she is everything I have ever done right in my life.  When I see her struggle I feel like I wish I could help more, do more, fix more of what needs adjusting…those feelings are where action love falls short; we can’t always help, do, or fix for those we love, part of growth is having to experience that which makes us uncomfortable and uneasy, AND we all have to suffer those trials and hardships to evolve.  On Christmas afternoon I was nearly brought to tears, just looking around the table and seeing how much love was in the dining room…this small house feels so big when it is filled with laughter and love.  There have been moments over these 34 years, but honestly mostly over these last ten, where I have asked the universe “what’s so special about me that I get THIS life?”  I have felt so lucky, too lucky, that there is so much love in my life when so many have so little.  There is such depth of suffering, and so much untethered sadness all around us, everywhere we look, if we are open to seeing it, and yet my daughter and I get to live next door to each other with an abundance of laughter and love and good feelings that just seems unfair at times, that we get such excess when too many have none.  I have not told her lately that I loved her, BUT perhaps building these two houses on these two lots and helping her with her two children, will turn out to be the greatest action love there ever could have been for me to give, and really, that is beyond all words isn’t it?

The Eagle and The Mouse

Like many people, perhaps I could say most, I have two very different ways of seeing my world…sometimes I am so focused on something so far away that it seems positively comical that I am even “worried” about it, whatever it is.  Other times however I am totally zoning in on the right here-right now, and will not be satisfied until I have an all encompassing handle on the specific situation and have given my full attention to the  immediacy of the issue.  If you want to talk about somebody who is constantly looking for balance, I might very well be your girl…I am sometimes overwhelmed with my thoughts of something so far off, and other times overwhelmed with my thoughts of something that is NOW.  I can’t honestly tell you that I think one is better than the other, or one is healthier for my spirit than the other, but I can tell you that it is true; I flip flop from immediate worries to far off in the future worries and pretty much have the same reaction to both.   Some months ago I was reading Oprah magazine and one of the writers of an article was discussing “…an eagle soaring high can see a mouse miles away, but a mouse can only see what is right in front of him, so when you are scattered, you have to rise into eagle view and look at your whole life and the big picture in order to establish your direction, and then you can drop back to mouse vision and focus on specific tasks at hand that will move you toward your goal…”

My teenage granddaughter struggles with this, mightily.  She gets so hyper focused on “little things” instead of seeing the big picture, however, having been a teenager once, and having also raised one, I know that to her, it is not little things at all, and there is nothing whatsoever I can say to her that will help her understand that things get better as we grow up…to her it’s all huge and challenging and upsetting, there is very little looking ahead for her, it is all the immediacy of the difficulties of hormones, school, dance competition, parents, homework, and being 14.  My daughter too struggles with this at times; so zoomed in on the “little things” and not seeing the long view, and for her with the immediacy of a full time job, two adolescent daughters, two step-sons, two large dogs, a husband, and the complexities of combining two families and two households into one, are all challenges that make her frequently unable to go from mouse vision to eagle vision.  It’s quite clear to me that this is not uncommon, regardless of one’s age or position.

A squirrel works very hard in the summer and fall to save and bury nuts for the winter…I live in the woods and see it every day…they build strong thick nests high in trees and they stock away as much food for the winter as they can…to me they see the big picture and know that if they don’t plan ahead they will perhaps die.  In the summer I am very busy at my job and in the winter I am very slow, and like a squirrel, if I did not plan ahead for February property taxes, car insurance, income tax, & house insurance, all of which are due February 1st every year, I don’t know that I could sleep at night…sure buying new jeans, new shoes, new handbags, new earrings, a facial, highlights, and a massage might be a glorious way to spend a few weekends in September, but if I only had mouse vision when I was busy and making money, come winter, like a careless squirrel who did not use her eagle vision, who played instead of saved, I would be full of worry and regrets and have no nuts!

I can honestly say that at my mid-life age, I am much better at seeing the big picture than I was when I was younger…being grounded and not allowed to go to the movies and not allowed to use the phone on a Saturday would have made me wish I was dead at 15, but at 52, not being able to leave the house and not having any need to use the phone on a Saturday would be such a lovely day!!  My experiences and my difficulties, I hope, have made me better able to understand the worries of others.  My life has gone from unbelievably awful to splendidly lovely and I lived through it all…if you are reading this, yours likely has too.  I am not alone in my memories of a time when life was so much harder, and sadder, and angrier, than my life is now, and like you dear reader, I have survived 100% of my worst days, as one of my yoga teacher often says.

When I say or write that I crave balance at his age, I think it is something like what this therapist asserts; mouse vision is needed at times but eagle vision will get you where you want to be.  I get to go on one vacation a year but I have to save up to pay for it.  I get to take unlimited yoga classes for a year but have to save up to pay for it. I have to look ahead to live the life that feels best to me.  I lived a scary and hard life for a few years that taught me a lot of lessons, all of which continue to shape me, decades later.  This week, back in 1986, was one of the worst weeks of my entire life…I won’t go into details again about how awful it was but I remember too clearly, still, how it felt to sob on the telephone to the electric company that it was cold, the house I rented was poorly insulated and I was twelve days from my due date and pleaded with them not to turn off my electricity because the house had electric baseboard heat, and how it felt to go to my piggy bank, that was the shape of a harlequin, and find that the $40 I had hidden for emergency food had been taken by the man I was married to, for, I can only assume, emergency drugs or beer…it was a terrible January and I had only mouse vision at that time.  I did not see a big picture, I only saw the anxiety of the right that minute…minute after minute…I had no food in the house and was on the edge of having no heat, was stuck with no car and no money, and thinking every hour, what if I went into labor here??  I could not have gathered the strength to have eagle vision of any kind whatsoever those weeks…scary men banging on my door looking for money or drugs or the man I was married to made me constantly on edge…The life I live NOW was unimaginable to the 18 year old me of then…she just wanted to not die, she just wanted to be okay, she just hoped things would be better tomorrow…if only she knew then what she knows now…I suppose that is what the therapist might have meant…a mouse is jumpy and anxious  and an eagle soars with confidence…

Magic Moon

The number of terrible decisions I’ve made is far greater than the number of fingers and toes I have on which to count them.  It is irrefutable, if that’s the right word choice, that I have made dreadful choices that I now regret deeply, or if I think about them, simply indeed wish otherwise…BUT that brings nothing but suffering.  Dwelling on what never happened and ruing what once did is just like sitting in a mud puddle of negative thoughts …the doom and gloom of thinking of all the woulda-coulda-shoulda is cold, wet, and dirty, and no place to linger.  THE BEST THING about being a silver lining seeker, such as I call myself, is that there is ALWAYS something to look forward to…always a way to think about a bad situation differently, always a way to examine a seemingly awful thought from a more optimistic perspective.  Does it ALWAYS work to turn a frown upside down?  No.  Does it ALWAYS help to think positively instead of negatively, no matter the circumstance?  Yes.  Yes it does.

I love thinking about wishing on the full moon tonight; I love thinking about this last full moon of the month, of the year, of the decade, and how it is as much the “right” time to start anew as New Year’s Eve is.  What could be more powerful than The Long Night’s Moon, as this one is called, as it ends one cycle and starts a new one…just like that. It made me think of this quote, how it’s never too late to start over.  Every day is a chance to do something differently.  Buddha asserted that what we do today is what matters most, that each morning we are born again.  To think about your own self differently, or to think of others in a better light.  So many people make New Year’s resolutions and so many people break them before Valentine’s Day.  I certainly have over the years.  How exciting to start early on December 12th?  Why wait til the 31st??!!

I have tried in my adult life to find the good in people in general, and when it becomes obvious to me that in a particular situation, there is no good to be found, I am quite cable of severing the infected limb so to speak, and move on. I also have been well aware, for all of these years of my life, and recognize, that while I have made so many questionable decisions, I have also been very lucky.  Things have had a way of working out, sometimes taking longer than I would wish, and I have not had as much suffering, of any sort, as many.  For this I am exceptionally grateful, and perhaps that recognition is what keeps me positive.  I try to share that “upbeatness” with others; shine a light when it’s dark in a way.

The moon will be magic tonight.  If you know somebody who is too sad or mad or busy to notice it, go outside tonight and notice it for them…take the cold moon of December and let the light of the full moon fill you up, fill you so you overflow, and can spread it around…if you have an abundance of light, when others have none, or lack the strength to find it, what else can you do but spread it??  …a lot of people right now are hurting, and many people are going through difficult circumstances…I know some personally, and I know of others, both physically and mentally, deeply in pain, and if I can use my silver lining seeking powers, and honest belief that “things will be better tomorrow,” to help ease the suffering of anybody, then that seems as good a way as any to use the magic of the moon end a decade and start a new year…

Gotta Have FRIENDS

I am a little embarrassed to write, but it is true, that I got a bit teary eyed several mornings in a row, and a few evenings last month when the Today show and Nightly News both did some stories about the 25th anniversary of the first episode of FRIENDS. That was a show that I did not know I needed until I was in love and hooked…

From the time I was about 15 years-old I made a series of unfortunate decisions, over and over and over made really bad choices, and by September of 1994 was fully engaged in living with the consequences.  My “plan,” well not a plan really at all, a dream perhaps, a longing for something other than what was, when I was a teenager was to get out of the conservative south Jersey county where I lived and where my family had lived since the mid 1800’s and get myself to the city, a city, any city where I would be a writer…maybe where I would work in advertising, or some kind of fabulous high end retailer to pay bills, but where I would write something grand and live my best life; surrounded by interesting food, interesting buildings, interesting sounds, smells, sights…interesting people who read thick books while they rode on stinky subway cars, people who took a walk at 1 o’clock in the morning because they got in the mood for a slice of pizza, people who took a tap class on Saturday nights or went to lectures at museums on Sunday mornings…THAT was the life I imagined I was going to create for myself…I dreamed to be an interesting person in an interesting place…

THAT was not the life I created for myself. THAT was what I dreamed of…25 years ago I was trying my best to be a good mother to my smart and imaginative 8 year old daughter, and I really liked my job (working in a fabulous high end retailer I might add) and I really loved being in college, I loved my professors and loved how hard I had to work to do all three things at once: work, school, mother, but despite my love of my life at that time, or perhaps I should write that I loved my abilities in making the best of the life I was living, it was not at all, in any way whatsoever, like the life I had imagined for myself.

25 years ago I would make dinner after work and get my daughter her shower and then read her a book and have her in bed by 8 pm so I could watch “must see t.v.” and have my few hours a week where I forgot about life for a while. I remember being excited that I did not have any college classes after work on Thursdays that semester and remember my sister and I feeling excited for a new show. When I write that I could forget about life for a while it is not a joke, I watched FRIENDS with an enthusiasm that was as if they were MY friends. Perhaps not the first episode and perhaps not the first few airings but I kid you not, within a couple of episodes, I was there for them, every Thursday, and if ever I was NOT I had a blank tape in the vcr and programed to record. I needed the laughter and the wit and it is not an exaggeration to write that MANY many times my phone would ring while I was wiping tears of laughter from my eyes during a particularly funny episode, and it would be my sister on the other end of the line, just laughing so hard, saying no words, laughing with me from her house, literally sharing a laugh…we are very different in many ways but have always found the same things hilarious.  Our sense of humor is probably the thing we most have in common and FRIENDS hit the spot.

Off the top of my head PIVOT, comes to mind, as do the Leather Pants and Tanning Booth episodes, the one where Phoebe tries to teach Joey to speak French, the one where Rachel got the recipe wrong for the trifle, and oh, my heart, the one where Ross comes in to Monica’s apartment and says “there’s my sweater!” You would think it is silly perhaps for a grown woman to find so much comfort and joy and laughter with television characters, but I did. I HAD friends. I still have friends, however, at that time in my life, I had almost nothing in common with ANYbody I knew…I did not know one other woman who was working full time, raising a little girl, and taking a full credit load in college…there was no peer group for me. There was no social media to find like minded women dealing with the same challenges I was dealing with. I NEEDED the “relationships” that that show provided me…they were living a life so different from mine and I loved that escape from my life into theirs for a half hour a week. A half hour was enough to escape into some other place and I was faithful to that show. 

When it ended in the spring of 2004 I really needed that show…that show had carried me through college graduation, moving to Maryland for a job, moving back to NJ, buying my first house, setting up my home office, quitting that stressful corporate job and starting my own small business, raising a teenager, that teenager falling in love on spring break in Myrtle Beach in her senior year of high school and then insisting on marrying that boy that summer…the spring of 2004 was incredibly sad and stressful for me, a lot was happening and that half hour of FRIENDS was exactly what I needed and that final episode was hard for me because it was really like an ending, and you might think it goofy or weird for a grown up to be “attached” to the characters in a show, but I was. 

My daughter moved to North Carolina that summer and I sold my house and for years I lived in a small room that I rented from a friend, no television, no FRIENDS.  A few years later the complete series came out on dvd and my sister bought it and I would borrow a disc or two at a time from her, and the laughter was still there, and even though I knew everything that was eventually going to happen, I still laughed.  I moved a few years later and got cable television and was more than pleased one night, when I could not sleep, to discover that FRIENDS reruns were on multiple cable channels and while I seldom have sleepless nights anymore, I like knowing that if ever I do, they’ll be there for me, like I was for them, because really, isn’t that what friends are for?

Give Us This Day

I know more motherless daughters than I ever expected I would at my young age of 51. I know three mothers who have buried three adult children over the last three years. I know three daughters who are not mothers, yet now are mothering their aging mothers.  I know several women, and one is too many, whose mothers did not fiercely protect them as children from grown men and their unforgivable behavior.  I know a mother who has not talked to her daughter in decades.  I know a daughter who has neither seen nor spoken to her mother in months.  I know a few women whose mothers made terrible choices in the realms of finance and romance, for which these daughters now “pay the price” having made similar decisions themselves…failure by osmosis… I am none of those women.

My mothering story is different; my relationship with my daughter is its own experiment in what to do, and what not to do, what worked well and what did not work at all…my relationship with my mother, from the time I was a child, was the catalyst if you will, and Thursday night, as my daughter wandered over to chat as she often does, I realized what a funny thing it is to have things have all worked out so splendidly as they have, during a lifetime of things feeling like they are not likely to work out in any way I would wish at all…When you are a wife, a mother, and then a divorced single mother all before your 21st birthday, you have a lot of thoughts on your plate, bewilderment really, wondering how on earth this is all going to play out…I spent agonizing days, weeks, months, and years wishing for the peace and contentment, and love and family in which I grew up, for my own child…and realize now, all these decades later that I did in essence give that to her, simply by remaining close, both in heart and proximity, to my own family. Looking back, I’ve no regrets.

Despite what often felt like a lifetime of conflict, and oil & water efforts to mix, my mother and I have since found a nice rhythm and we get along very well. We have found a pattern of love and respect and a realization of HOW MUCH ALIKE WE ARE IN SO MANY WAYS, that it makes all of our differences, AND OH MY GOD THERE ARE DIFFERENCES, sort of blur in the background of the days of our lives. We still disagree on just about every political or societal topic there could be, so we make a choice to not speak about that which divides us.  Instead we choose to talk about those things that bring us together; my dad, my daughter, her daughters, plants and flowers and our love of our yards, our love of home, my sister and her son, my boyfriend, my job…We have plenty to chat about and interestingly to me, although we spent decades not getting along as well as I wished, we now talk or text almost daily and seem to like each other very much. Maybe we are both better actresses than we think, but I like to think we have melded in a nice way now that I am middle aged and she is growing old.  We have found our mother/daughter balance that I so hoped for.  In all honesty I am grateful for my mother every day and she has never let me down.  I know so many women who have been let down, time and time again by their mothers, but I am none of those women.

My daughter and I, although indeed had some rough patches over the years, have navigated our relationship to a point that I am grateful every day for her presence in my life.  Every mother and daughter relationship has its good and bad times; I don’t know of one woman who does not have at least one story of a “bad time” or an event that defines that bad time.  It is, so it seems, the natural order of things.  I feel like every mother/daughter relationship has an opportunity to wither or to flourish and we each, mother or daughter, gets the opportunity to decide how to act and how to move forward or not. I often think about some of the women I have known or known of, who have made the choice to end their relationships with either their mothers or their daughters and for me, it is inconceivable; a life without my mother or my daughter.  I am well aware that things can change in an instant: one of us could be without the others in a moment, yet another reason to give us this day to be grateful.

While my daughter’s daughters have become less and less attached to me over these years, I am more and more certain that building these houses right next door to each other was the best decision I ever could have made.  My choice to be present for all of them during the years that they needed me is something that has changed my life for the better in ways I can’t even name.  My mother was a tremendous help to me with my daughter and I have been a help to my daughter with hers…and now my mother and I, the crones, slowly retreat into the background while the mother and the maidens soar, grow, and experience their own evolution.  Maidens, mothers, and crones; the circle of womanhood, all celebrated in one day of thanks to mothers, and those who perform the act of mothering…