chasing choices

We all make choices every day, every hour, perhaps every minute…what to do, what not to do, who to love, who to dislike, what to eat, what not to eat, where to go, if we should go, who should go…every second of every day is a chance to change direction or to stay on the course we’re on.  I am in need, in want really, of a new direction and deeply desire the strength, or perhaps simply the will,  to make better choices in nearly every area of my life.   A friend recently celebrated his 3rd wedding anniversary, with a woman he had been friends with 30 years ago, and he wrote that he  “finally figured out that we should be together in every sense of the word. Today marks our 3rd year of marriage. I have never made a better move in my life.  [she] is my perfect complement and my cherished companion. Thank God we finally figured it out.”  and when I read that, I cried…both in happiness for my friend who I have known for 20 years and for myself, wondering if my time will EVER come that I finally make choices, repeatedly, that say, or scream, that I’ve finally figured  ‘it’  out…

I find that a constant sensation, or I guess emotion, I feel is frustration…it’s not unhappiness or dissatisfaction or lack of joy in my life; my life is full of lovely and beautiful things and people. I have a full life of love…I love so many different people and I feel loved by many, so there is a fullness, an abundance of good in my world, but, there is also an almost equal supply of frustration.  It diminishes my quality of life.  Frustration sucks the delight out of a life otherwise well lived.  I know that every choice I make, every time I make one, is an opportunity to turn things around in my life towards a direction I want to go or not.  The key to success I guess is to begin, and then not stop, making choices that lead me to a point where I wish to be.  “Pick a path, any path…”  I can’t go backwards and change anything that I have already done.  I can’t un-do mistakes, I can’t un-do bad decisions, I can’t un-do any of the choices I have already made.  I can only move forward, ahead, ‘press on,’ as my Momma says…and make new choices that reflect my goals or desires.

Every bad choice we make can be a learned lesson.  If we don’t learn from our mistakes, well shame on us!  Every bad choice we make can be an opportunity, if nothing else, to force ourselves next time to say or think, “hey, I picked A, now I see B would have been better for me, from now on I simply can know that B won’t work for my goals, so A might not always be the best choice in the future, but I know B is wrong for me regardless.”

I was thinking last night about where I want to be, not in the sense of “place” like home, but in the sense of settled and secure and certain, the quality of life I want to have in this next chapter of adulthood, and how to get myself there…there, this unknown mystical place where I think I should be… I got to thinking about how much I LOVE to cook but how much I abhor grocery shopping.  However, when I have a menu planned for a dinner party, or a week’s worth of meals on my mind and I make a detailed list of what I need, after verifying what I’ve already got in the pantry or the freezer, and I write my list in an orderly fashion that follows the path of the supermarket aisles, and I only buy what is on my list and I don’t get distracted by the promotions or balloons or featured items, but STICK TO MY LIST, I get everything I needed and wanted and stay within my budget and I come home feeling good…and I thought, well, I can look at life like I look at my grocery list before a dinner party…I know what I want to make, and I know the ingredients that I need to accompany what I’ve already got…make a list and stick to it...Ina, and Martha, and Nigella would be proud of me, Voila! success!!

 

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Missing the Boat or Enjoying the Ride?

I’ve written of how I tend to see things as black or white, working or broken, good or bad, messy or tidy…it’s simply how I seem to see things, not a choice, really, I just don’t seem to recognize a lot of gray areas or “sort-ofs.”  Last night I watched my grandchildren run home through the trees of the area of woods that separates their house from mine; one in flip-flops and one barefooted, one round and soft still with all her ‘baby fat,’  with greenish eyes that see everything in such a unique way, with a head of long  blonde curls, and the other tall and lean and lithe, with these fierce chestnut eyes, and every brunette hair on her head determined and confident…I wished them a great last day of school, kindergarten and 3rd grade respectively, and remembered and realized that whether we are ready or not, life just keeps changing…There is nothing we can do but to live, as well as we can…time isn’t stopping or slowing down so we can catch up…

When I look at these daughters of my daughter, my delight in their existence is sometimes combined with a presentiment of loss…they will soon not want to smooch and cuddle and hug me wildly, they will soon not share every detail about their day with me, they will soon find I am just a driver and a cook and a maid for them…but perhaps, because I am not their mother, they will maintain a relationship with me different from that with my daughter.  My mother and I butted heads, a lot and often, but I never seemed to ever tire of time spent with my Mimom or my Nana…I could shoot daggers out of my eyes towards my mother when she annoyed me, but I think I always looked with love at my grandmothers.

I worry sometimes, that because I don’t have a “traditional” relationship with my granddaughters, that our connection won’t maintain the special-ness that it now has…by this I guess I mean that because I do help to raise them, and they are here with me much more than most children are with a grandparent, that the magic bits will be lost in time…Grandparents are usually, I guess usually, the ones where time spent with them is play, joy, laughter, treats…not having to be disciplined or do homework or clean their rooms, but because I am helping my daughter to raise her girls, I am forced to be a “mom” a lot, and I hope that does not diminish the magic of my NaNa-ness.

I have written before that I was married, a mother, and divorced all by the time I was 20, so I spent much of my adult life feeling like I missed the boat…I went to college while working full-time and raising my daughter when friends were traveling, partying, going on dates, DOING FUN STUFF when I was not…my Aunt, who was then and is now again my neighbor, has told me often that many nights if she wasn’t sleeping she’d look out her east windows and see my dining room light on at late hours knowing I was up doing homework long after I had tucked my child into bed, and some of those nights, working on my Smith Corona at the table I would think to myself, “this will all be worth it, someday”  But, that someday never did really come around…despite graduating college with straight A’s, only 12 of us in the entire class of 1800 did so, and despite my volunteering at the jail and the probation department every Tuesday, my only day off, for well over a year, and writing countless letters and sending in too many resume’s to count, I never did get the job I always wanted with the Prosecutor’s Office or any of the departments to which I applied…and with every letter I sent out I would wonder, “how could they not want me?!”  I didn’t know another girl who worked as hard as I did or cared as much as I did about anything…but it never came to be and I had to accept that I somehow missed the boat, the  S.S. R*’s Career…

So here I now am, 22 years later back to the same street where I lived while I raised my child and went to college and dreamed big dreams, in a different house, but sharing the same woods and field with my Aunt, in the same 5 acre radius…where my grandchildren now can run to my Aunt’s back yard through the same field as their mother did…what was once the woods in my Aunt’s back acres, is now my house and my daughter’s house…I have come full circle so to speak…Now I look out my east window some late nights, to see that my daughter is doing homework long after she has tucked her girls into bed…

Very little of  my day-to-day life is anything at all like I had hoped it would be…most of my “dreams” for the life I wanted to live have been dashed by reality…I never did find a love and got the chance to have a husband and more children, I never did find the great job in the criminal justice system as I had intended, I never did get to see much of the world let alone my own country, I never did get much of what I wanted, or thought I wanted, I missed the boat of love, career, family, & travel…none of those journeys none of those life experiences none of those dreams came to be…but last night, having those two little girls wander over to my house, to chat, use my computer for a bit, and say goodnight, unexpected and uninvited, but always welcomed with open arms and a smile, made me think that I might not have ever gotten much, if anything, of what I wanted, but maybe I got what I needed and that’s not a bad ride at all…Time is like a FLASH!  These two little girls, whose first gulps of air on this planet inexplicably changed my life for the better, are having their last days of kindergarten and 3rd grade today, I cradled them in my arms during their first 48 hours of life and now they are having their own full lives, dreaming already of boats they don’t want to miss…Life is a love, a job, a group of people, a journey and it just keeps on flowing & moving whether we are ready for the inevitable changes or not.  Time cares not for our ability to handle what is happening.  I’ve read a quote before that goes something like, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be”  and I think that is how best to start seeing  my  life, at this stage of my life, probably now more than half lived, perhaps I did not miss the boat, maybe I was supposed to take some other journey…not good not bad, not black not white, somewhere in between…

 

About a boy… or Father’s Day part II

I never expected to date a man with kids.  It was never part of my life plan, and yet here I now am, a middle-aged woman, in love with a man with a  child who is only 5 months older than the eldest of my daughter’s two girls!  We joke that I became a parent way too early and he became one way too late, but the serendipitous silver lining is that these three little girls play together and love each other as if they’ve always been in each others lives…they bicker as sisters do, but they hug and laugh and share like best friends do, and when I got engaged on Christmas morning, they enjoyed very much the laughter that ensued when they discussed the change in their relationship status, that this 9-year-old in their life would become their “aunt and Mommy’s sister!”

There are times when his daughter is here that I have to bite my tongue, or simply and more easily I might add, go into another room, because I don’t want to overstep a line…he and his ex are very dissimilar to me in many ways in how they parent; their rules, their level of strictness, what they expect or don’t, and so I try not to insert too much of my parenting style into their parenting, but it’s hard…she’s in my house…There are other times when his daughter is here that I watch how he looks at her, how he teaches her things, how she looks to him and at him, how he helps her and guides her, and to watch him love his child warms my heart.  He is very affectionate and nurturing  to my granddaughters too…I’ve watched him teach them how to keep time behind a drum kit, how to bait a fishing hook, how to stand up on a boogie board, and most recently he taught the littlest one how to tie her shoes…and yet I sometimes feel something like a sadness, a profound sense of loss…the realization that if only he and I had met when we were young…I think how awesome it would have been to make a family with him, how wonderful it would have felt to be the woman who made him a father…

This man I love has no father, his father died when he was only 17, which would be tragic enough in itself but for the fact that he also lost his mother when he was only 15…when I think about how many times a week I need my parents, or talk to my dad, or ask him a question, or think of how he would have done something, or seek him out for advice or to confirm whether or not I am doing something right…I think about this man I love, who does not have that luxury.  He had to grow into his role as “man” with no role to model.  He has two brothers-in-law who are old enough to be his father, and has talked to me about how much they both have meant to him over the years, and helped him and guided him when he was so young and suddenly without parents, but I imagine it is not at all the same…not even close…I often want to ask him about his dad, but I know it makes him sad; what he liked about his father and what he didn’t, what he learned from him, and what he wished he had…I often wonder what his dad would think of this man I love, the man he grew up to be…would he be proud, would he have been a good grandpa to this other little girl now in my life, would he like me, would he think I was a good woman to his son?

I tried to buy a father’s day card for this man I love.  I went to four different stores during this month, I read dozens of cards and not one “said” anything at all like I would want to say to him…the ones that had great designs were ridiculously expensive and the ones that were cheap were ugly and written for a buffoon…Nothing expressed at all how I sometimes think about what it would have been like, to have loved him when we were young, to find out I was pregnant and to be excited, to plan a future and to create a human being out of nothing because two people fell in love, to wonder what he or she would look like, would its eyes be more my green than his blue, knowing both of us had eyes that change color with the seasons…what it would have been like to watch him comfort a crying infant, what it would have been like to watch him watch how the eyes dart around behind the lids while the baby deeply sleeps…all those thoughts I thought by myself when I was pregnant, and how beautiful it would have been to think those thoughts with somebody who loved me and I loved and who was anxiously awaiting this human whose very first breath would take us from Couple to Family…falling in love late in life has its perks, but this, above all else, is the drawback…we missed sharing a lot of beautiful dreams…I refer to him often as “the boy” not to be condescending, but because we are sometimes so in love that we do really feel like teenagers…but he is man who is a father and who does his very best to be a good one, and there is nothing boyish about that…

 

 

The other 364 days… or Father’s Day part I

Today is Father’s Day, but in my world, every day is.  I am one of those blessed women who has one of those Dads…The kind who knows how to do anything, is smart, thoughtful, generous, does everything without ever complaining, and often without having to be asked.  When my mom got a full time job when I was in 4th grade or so, he would do the vacuuming, laundry, make dinner, and anything else that would HELP the family in addition to all the other things he did around the yard or the house, plus he still worked full time too…I remember some friends at various times commenting that their dads never helped with anything, and even then at a young age, I knew that my father was special, different, better….he is all the things I suppose a man should be, wrapped up into a tall skinny handsome package who loves my mother…The kind of man to whom every man is compared.  My Mom will tell me and my sister that Daddy is not as perfect as we think, but those words fall on deaf ears…

If you grow up with a lazy, deadbeat, uninspired, unemployed, unkind, alcoholic or drunk or jerk of a father, then a man who actually has any sort of job, actually helps a bit around the house or yard, and does not kick your dog, turns out to be “good enough.”  But when you grow up with a father like I have, nothing seems to ever be good enough, and that’s hard…it’s hard to hear at one time or another from every man you ever cared about, “I’m not like your Dad” when all you really wanted was to find someone with qualities very much like your dad…There are things about my father that would annoy me if someone exactly like him was my husband, to be clear, VERY MUCH annoy me & drive me crazy mad, but I have never looked for a man to be just like my dad, I just had always wanted to find someone much like him…I have found that when a man does something that is in a way or manner or style as my Dad would have, or says something similar to something my Dad might say, I am joyful and almost giddy…but to be clear, when a man does something, or really in most cases, DOES NOT do something,  I feel emotion rather like anger…and a voice in my head says, Daddy wouldn’t have done that

I think sometimes what I will do when he is gone…he has taught me SO much…will I remember everything I learned?  When we built this house, my dream house, this space where I feel I most belong, where I feel like I truly am at home, he came here almost every single night after we both worked all day, to work with me…he came here every single weekend to work with me…he taught me HOW to DO SOMETHING almost every single day it seemed…and suddenly after 365 days, literally, from the morning we broke ground to the afternoon I got my C.O., I realized that although I hired sub-contractors for many of the tasks that go into building a house, WE built a house!!!  My house!!!  …but it’s not just that, it’s everything…he has taught me how to do so many things and yet I still ask him to do things for me, or help me do things, and I wonder, when he is not on this earth, will I know how?  Will I remember what he has taught me?  It makes my heart ache when I think about it.  I can no more conceive of a world without my father in it, than I can imagine living without my limbs…

I know some women who had and have really terrible fathers, I am sure they would read these words and think, “oh poor you, your perfect father, boo-hoo, oh poor you can never find a perfect boyfriend like your mother got, oh woe is you…” and think about the times their Dad was drunk, or mean, or yelled, or got fired, or the family had no money, or he got arrested, or cheated, or-or-or…NOPE, none of that in my world…My dad has never been unkind, he has never been out of work, we never wanted for anything, I can count on one hand the number of times I have ever heard him raise his voice, he never missed work EVER, we always had enough money (or it seemed so,) he never got in ‘trouble’ with anyone in any way, and he ALWAYS has loved and been true to my mother.

The way that my father talks about how he loves my mother, and the way he looks at her when she does not know he is looking, is the stuff that great sonnets and poems and love songs are written about…my father truly loves my mother…and I suppose, if I were to break down all of the components of my life, what it means to be a daughter, what my father means to me, and the knowledge of having had the good luck to be born to people who dearly care for one another, and who had the same dreams as a young in love couple for the same simple and good life, perhaps that above all, is why my father is such a good Dad, because he truly is and was in love with the woman who is our mom…

I am 46 years and seven months and nine days on this earth, and I have felt loved for every single one of them.  I have disappointed my parents several times in my life, and as much as I love my mom, those feelings of upsetting her, are not nearly as hard to bear as when I feel I have upset and disappointed my father…I have a constant “need” I guess, to want him to be pleased with me…I guess most women with a dad like mine, do, and I admit that is difficult, all the time, to feel that perpetual urge to “measure up,” and with every poor choice and bad decision I make, feel that I am again disappointing him, but the fact of the matter is that I know both my parents love me without condition, and so on this Father’s Day I want to say thank you to my Dad, for loving my mother, for loving me and my sister, and our children, and the daughters of my daughter, and for accepting all of us, even when we disappoint him, and loving us and being good to us, 365 days a year…year after year…

 

 

Voices Carry

I have never heard my father, not even once, raise his voice to, or speak in a mean manner to, my mother.  He has with an exasperated tone and something akin to a sigh said, “Dear…” If he has ever yelled at her or said an unkind thing to her it was never ever in my presence or within the walls of a space I lived and frankly, I do not think, even all these years I have been out on my own, that it has ever happened.  I moved out of my parents house when I was 17 years old into a life that was unkind and filled with yelling and mean manners.  Many nights when I either cried myself to sleep or stayed awake all night long so as not to be caught off guard by a hand or a knife, I would wonder how I could have ever ended up where I was, with parents like I had…

Today is my parents anniversary.  My parents have been dearly and deeply in love for 48 years…and 8 weeks I suppose, since they were friends for years but only “dated” for eight weeks before their wedding.  I have wished, for all of my life, since puberty I would imagine, to be loved like my father loves my mother.  To have a man care for me and everything about me, my person, me, my financial stability, me, my feelings and beliefs, me, my place on this earth by his side…It’s always perplexed me, being the daughter of such a great romance, why I did not find that kind of love and that kind of man to make a life with…a man who took pride in his relationship with me, the home he built for us, the children we made together, the work he did to provide us with such a wonderful life…my parents love gifted me with the guide-book and owner’s manual, but I failed to follow the maps or read the instructions…

Years ago a customer of my Dad’s started dating only a month or so after the loss of his wife.  My Dad looked at me one day and said, “I can’t believe it.  If I lost your mother my very soul would hurt” and I knew he meant it.  My mother has on occasion said, “I don’t know what I would do without your father” and I know she means it.  I don’t know what I will do without either of them, and can’t really think about it…their love for each other is a constant in my life, when all of my failings & screw ups & bad choices & terrible decisions lead me to a state of boo-hoo-hoo-ing, their unconditional love for me and their deep love for each other gives me strength, makes me feel like I will be able to fix things, anything…

My mother did not have dreams for a fabulous occupation or great wealth, she dreamed of having a loving husband and children and a family…my Dad never really talked about his “dreams” only that he wanted to be a carpenter and one semester at Villanova confirmed it for him, they lived on a small barrier island at a time when people knew each other up and down all 18 miles of it, at a time when options for men and women were few as far as a “career,” at a time when it was “normal” to get married and start a family at 23 & 26, so that is what they did.  They borrowed money from my Dad’s boss to put a down-payment on a house off the island and they started their “grown up” life.  If when I was little they had hard times, I didn’t know about it, and if when I was a teenager they had hard times, they did not let it be known…perhaps they did not always love each other, perhaps they did say mean things to each other behind closed doors, but their voices did not carry.

I have spent my entire adult life knowing deep down what kind of love I deserve yet being unable to attain that level of security and certainty…they showed me what I should want in a relationship, and yet for some reason I kept making choices that seemed to indicate it’s not what I wanted.  I had their guidance but made decisions, over and over, that seemed to say I paid no attention to the example they set.  They provided me with a guide to life, a guide to love, a “This is How You Do It” that I foolishly perpetually failed to follow, and so, now near middle age myself, I still flounder around in dark rooms looking for the light switch, had I paid more attention to how my parents made their life work, the light bulb would have always been right above my head…