Take it to the limit

If you happen to show up at my parent’s house and you have not been there for some time, it’s possible my dad will take you out to his garage and have you listen to Take It To The Limit, loud. You may also get something from The Last Waltz, most likely Who Do You Love, but not necessarily. If he’s in a female sound frame of mind you will definitely get I’d Rather Go Blind and it’ll be far more likely that you’ll get the Davina and the Vagabonds version, rather than Etta James. The stereo set up in my dad’s garage is better than some bars and stages! He likes music and he likes it loud. No old folks shouting to “turn it down” in my dad’s garage. My dad is 80 this week, but you would not know it if you met him, saw him, or talked to him…AND if you worked with him then, or work with him now, you definitely will believe him when he tells you that in his mind he is still a 14 year old boy, and I believe this much is true.

He is either the most content and the happiest person you will ever meet, or he is the most extraordinary actor and faker of our time. I have written it before and said it too many times; I have heard him raise his voice maybe three times, at the most, in my entire life, and I have never, not even once, heard him raise his voice to our mother. It takes a very strong man to not lose his cool in totally uncool circumstances or situations, but it’s no joke, my sister will tell you this much is true, we have never really heard him yell. The other thing about our dad is that he still loves our mother. “She’s the best wife I ever had” he says with a grin more times than we could ever count, and he treats her better than any man I have ever known has treated a woman.

I have absolutely no fear of growing old, or death, or dying because of him…tomorrow you could be run over by a pie wagon and you have to be ready to go every day and make plenty of deposits in your karmic bank are three of the ‘Dad-isms’ that I heard for all of my life and, and while I suppose yes, I sure would be sad to die young, or not see my granddaughters grow into women, or be run over by a pie wagon, I am completely comfortable with the fact that in fact, tomorrow could be the day, or today, or well, any day could be my time. My dad instilled in me a lust for life, and you might think we are boring in that we don’t do much of what other people find exciting or adventuresome, but we are never EVER bored…my desire to always be doing or creating or fixing or modify or cleaning is because of my dad I suppose…never really idle and never doing nothing. He always taught me to embrace work, and I do, and more importantly, to always choose to do the right thing, to tell it like it is…it seems “simple” now, such an easy way to be a human, but the world gets more wonky every day it seems, but my dad is a constant…he is the same person he has always been and to say that I am grateful, to write that my sister and my mom and my daughter and my nephew and the daughters of my daughter are grateful, is an extraordinary understatement. He is the best of men. We are so lucky that he is “ours.” The number of my friends and acquaintances who no longer have both of their parents, or are down to one, is growing every month, so to still have a dad and a mom, and that they still love each other and are in generally extremely good health, is no small thing to me.

He has done every single thing he has wanted to do in his life, and when he retired, shortly after Hurricane Sandy, he said, joked, but was quite serious, that if he never had to leave his driveway again, that would be okay. He still works all day long, every day, but now does it for himself and my mother, and their yard and their home, and with the same attention to detail and pride in the work as when he was building one-off beach homes for the rich, or the famous, or both. He started his career after the storm of 1962 and ended it after the storm of 2012 and Long Beach Island was better for having had him swing a hammer on that strip of barrier sand. He says he was “just a carpenter” but my house, his house, my sister’s house, my daughter’s house, and every other house he built, or helped build, or repaired, remodeled, or reconfigured, and every piece of furniture he ever imagined and then brought from thought to use, or metal sculpture he dreamed of and then welded, will tell you that he was, and still is, a master craftsman, and so very much more than “just” a carpenter.

If you knew me and also knew my family…you might wonder, how on earth can they be so close? You see, I am a very “blue” minded person and my family is all “red” minded all day, if you get my drift, but here’s the thing; red and blue make purple, which is the very best color, and we focus on what we have in common, and let me tell you, sometimes we’ve not got much, at all, to work with…but we try. We try not to dwell on what divides us. Years ago when I started my R*’s common grounds blog, it really was truly about just that…finding common ground, with everyone, and we do, we have, we live it every day in my family, and the secret to our life is this; you don’t have to agree with someone to love them. I have never felt unloved ever, in all of my life, from this family, and even though we can probably count on one hand the number of things we agree upon, we love each other, and there’s no limit on that…

a picture paints a thousand words

You look at pictures from weddings, honeymoons, new boats, new homes, or new cars, and all you see are beaming smiles and excitement looking back out at you…sometimes you even feel it; the energy, the zip, the rev, it’s all so “up” feeling…and then later, sometimes sooner than you had imagined could be possible, you find out that behind closed doors, in the day-to-days, and over months and months, not in front of a camera, there were few smiles, there were way too many tears, too frequently raised voices or slammed doors, and you come to realize that it was more likely that the negativity sucked the zip and the rev right out of every room these people were in together. Perhaps you come to realize that there was far more anxiety and upset in their real-life than excitement or joy of any sort whatsoever, all from what you assumed from the photographs that you saw. Happiness and contentment implied but not experienced…pictures show us, us on the outside, us the observers, a moment in time, but when we find out what so many moments really were like, for the people in the photographs, there is a jolt, a pang of sadness, a “wish I had known” sort of narrative for us, us on the outside, us the observers. At least that is how it feels for me, when I watch the unraveling of what appeared, on the surface, to be a happy marriage of a couple I once knew…

I believe it is universally acknowledged that half, or more, of all marriages end in divorce; but even KNOWING this, I for one get so excited when people get married. I want to cheer them on, “Yay for you, you are going to take a shot!” knowing, full well, that it might fail, but enthusiastically clap we do!!! Whether it’s months later in the pages of Vanity Fair or on the Today show some future morning, when I hear about famous people splitting up, I do feel a little bit sad…sad that they tried and could not do it; even with all the money and all the good looks ( and all the things we like to think “buys” happiness, but we all full well know they don’t) they still could not keep it together. Famous people in magazines or regular people in the neighborhood, my feelings are the same when a marriage fails, that’s a shame, I wished they could have made it, is pretty much what I think every time, no matter who the couple is.

Sure, when it’s real life people we know, we might get clues over the years that things were not quite as rosy as they often appeared; text messages with mixed messages, overhearing mutterings under breaths at dinner parties or events, and us, us on the outside, us the observers, trying to shrug it off as just bickering, which some couples certainly do…fluctuating estrogen levels married to empty beer cans can lead to bickering, trying to blend multiple children from multiple households can lead to bickering, not having enough money or having too much can lead to bickering…I mean, people try to come together as individuals and make a couple that becomes a unit, and from what I know, see, and hear, there seems to be an exquisite feat of skill sets needed to make that couple unit they’ve joined together, a strong one. Coupling seems simply just so terribly fragile, that it takes some serious efforts to make one that remains stable, or so it seems to us, us on the outside, us the observers.

I read an article earlier in the fall that said, “whether the pandemic caused new problems or amplified old ones, divorce cases have family lawyers and judges busier than ever.” I don’t know if the pandemic had ANYTHING to do with new problems, or old ones, for the people in my neighborhood, but I know that watching what once appeared to be the happiest of couples dissolve into tears and anger and dividing up dressers and tables and frying pans is as sad to watch as any sad movie. My heart hurts when people are hurting, that is simply how I am. I am constantly on a mission to create peace and harmony in my home, and I want the same for the people and the homes around me. It is my opinion that in every circumstance, no matter how you look at it, or whose side you’re on, the husband could always have been a bit of a better husband and the wife could always have been a bit of a better wife. Sure, sometimes one party is a total jerk and is the prime suspect in the dissolving of the marriage, but I think it takes two to make or break a relationship, no matter how new or old it is, which I guess coming from me is quite silly really…me, a woman who is not married, what business have I to comment on any marriage?? But, we all do it…us, us on the outside, us the observers…

What I do know for sure is that I have never once heard my father say an unkind word to my mother, and have never heard him raise his voice to her, not once. I grew up believing that this, more than anything else, has to do with making a marriage work, and us, us on the outside, us the observers, when we see a marriage where there are unkind words and where there are raised voices, well, it just seems like it might be doomed, doesn’t it?? When you know there are better ways to be part of a couple…half of a whole…

We see it on Google news, we see it in People magazine, we see it right in our communities…couples who appear/appeared to have it all, living the good life, traveling to exotic vacation locations, enjoying dinner and having cocktails in upscale eateries, we SEE IT, but we are not living it, and when the reality of what we were seeing becomes known, and the couple parts, we feel a little bit baffled, like “Oh but they seemed so happy!” and whether it’s JLo or your neighbor on the corner, the shock is kind of the same for us, us on the outside, us the observers…bewildering thoughts of “what must have gone wrong” when all we have seen is the photos and the GOOD STUFF…it seems that the pictures painted a thousand words, but few of them were true…

Rebirth at birth

Her smile still makes my heart flutter…36 years, and about three hours ago, a kind nurse handed me an enormous, pink, minutes old baby girl and said, ‘I’ll leave you two for a bit‘…and left the room…I was so tired. I still to this day don’t know that I have ever been as tired as I was that cold January morning after the birth of my baby. I was so tired that I was terrified I was going to fall asleep and drop her. She was in the crook of my left arm and I was scared to death that if I fell asleep she would just tumble right down to the floor, and so I did not sleep and I did not rest, I just looked at her, and she smiled. She slept, and I don’t remember that she opened her eyes at all, but she smiled, and it felt like hours that I was alone with her, but it could have been only minutes…her finger nails were perfectly rounded long nails, and I joked for weeks that it was like she had stopped for a manicure on her way out to earth. I did not yet know her and she did not yet know me, but she smiled.

Nine weeks after I became an official adult, I became a mother. That the universe saw me fit for this monumental task, raising a human, is still something that blows my mind…Nothing about my life at that time was good, at all, but she was…She was a perfect baby. She would mew like a kitten if she was hungry, and if my memory serves me rightly she was many days old before I ever even heard her cry. Looking back now with clearer vision, and 36 years of personal growth, I was not all that much more than a child myself…the me, who used to be, was reborn when she was born. I think a person becomes somebody else, like it or not, when she becomes a mother.

The rebirth at birth is not immediate, but what is immediate is that, for me at least, everything that mattered BEFORE mattered less AFTER. Once I heard my sister tearily whisper, “it’s a girl,” everything that I thought was exceptionally important BEFORE was less important AFTER. It seems to me that a woman has her rebirth after the birth because, whether she is ready or not, motherhood is her job, the most important of all the jobs she will ever have, for the next many years. PERIOD. You may think many things about going back to your “old” self, those first weeks, but those thoughts, well, they are mostly wrong because the “yourself” is now that person’s person, and the “self” is no more…the obligation you have chosen is essentially saying to the universe, “I shall put this other human before me, and myself is now second and my old self is now gone.” PERIOD. I would suspect that most women do, get reborn after birth, and they quietly, without complaint, move themselves to the back of the line while they move this tiny human to the front.

What nobody really tells you then, during those first few weeks, is that it never ends. The “it” being mothering, motherhood, this new you. You think it will, that the “job” one day will be over, you will have completed your mission so to speak, your obligation, but it won’t be done, ever. When I was a young mother I didn’t realize this as profoundly as I do now, now that I am older & wiser, hardened, and yet softened, by time…

My mother still puts me and my sister, my daughter and my nephew, and now the daughters of my daughter, in front of herself…and my mother, without ever complaining about it, has moved herself to the back of the line, time and time again for all of the years of my life…Now that my own baby is today nearer to 40 than 30, I see more clearly how my mom and I are rather alike in so many ways, ways that one does not always notice when one is still young…but now I am older, and she is old, and I better understand how we are much more similar than we are different.

I worked hard, over many years, to create the kind of relationship with my daughter that I wanted. I am pretty sure that I annoy her, a lot, this now 36 year-old daughter of mine, because that is the nature of most mother/daughter dynamics, but decades after her arrival to earth I think we would both agree that the mother/daughter gig we’ve developed and cultivated is a lot better than many. I have made profoundly purposeful efforts over these years to do and say things that would make us have the type of connection I wanted, and I’d like to think it was a success. We often laugh together while we drink wine and chat, just like I do with my girlfriends. We have cried together when we are having a rough go of life, just like I do with my girlfriends. We take power walks and vent about those who annoy us, just like I do with my girlfriends. She is my friend but she is first my daughter, and in many ways, whether I succeeded or failed at mothering, or being her mother, it is to me, like the icing on the cake, that these last 12 years I’ve lived next door.

She is my neighbor, friend, and child, and the mother of my granddaughters, which, when I add it all up, is probably the most extraordinary thing of them all…she brought those girls into my life, and kind of made me born again, again, into yet another version, and I like to think a remarkably better version, of me…My rebirth at her birth, made me better woman that I’d otherwise have been. This I know is true. My rebirth at her birth made me awfully less self-centered than I think I’d otherwise have been. This I know is true. My rebirth at her birth made me much more grateful for my own mom than I think I’d otherwise have been. This I know is true. Today is a celebration of the birth of my daughter, whose smile lights up a room and still makes my heart flutter, but in many ways I am celebrating too, the woman I became, because she came to earth.

How’s It Gonna Be???

The song starts out, “I’m only pretty sure I can’t take anymore” and this blog will begin similarly…or like in Hangover II, I want to stomp around in the street wildly asking “WHAT the F**k is going on??!!” but what is going on, at least to my mind, is that this year is starting off totally crap for too many and I for one am going to do a bit of a reboot today, thus pretending that tonight is New Year’s Eve and smudging the heck out of my house and myself and doing a 2022 restart!!!

These last two weeks have been brutal for too many people I actually know, and for too many people I know of, or have heard and read about…there have been falls, bone breaks, break-ups, heart failures, heart breaks, financial losses, job losses, friend losses, and vacation cancellations, marriage cancellations, and coughs, colds, and covid-covid-covid. It is a rare morning that there is not bad news in a text message on my phone, on the television, a program on NPR, or some miserable story or statistic on google, and I feel like THIS IS NOT HOW 2022 is GONNA BE!!!! Is it????

Now, to be clear, from March of 2020 through today, some people have had their lives totally ruined or upended, or well, ended, as in they are no longer of this earth…I am one of the people who has, thus far, gotten off with barely a scratch…VERY LITTLE that is bad has happened to me at all, but because I am such a deeply “feeling” person, I am constantly feeling all the feels of ache and angst that others are suffering, and I for one am exhausted. Oh to be a doctor or nurse right now…I can’t imagine. AND I do have a friend who is a doctor, she is exhausted. AND teachers!! Good grief how exhausted they are!! What a “first world problem” I know, for me, to say that the bad news is exhausting and I don’t mean to minimize the suffering of others, but I am thankful that for whatever reason, my life has not nearly been as hard as the lives of too many…there are literally women my age with minor children who have lost their jobs, their rentals, their cars, and are couch surfing trying to keep their families together, and there are men who have committed suicide over the financial messes they got in since they lost their jobs or businesses because of a global pandemic that some took very seriously and some still think is no big deal…but it is only “no big deal” I suppose if you have not yourself suffered or feel the suffering of others though a deeply compassionate heart.

Then there are others, of course there always are, who have THRIVED…people who worked for a friend for cash, but “cashed in” on the months of unemployment bonuses intended to help people not become homeless or hungry, or the “skilled” business people who know how to work the system, oh yes let me get a PPP loan, and apply to have it forgiven, and because I know how to do the tax trickery, let me also buy a sports car, or buy a vacation home, or hide lots of money away for my retirement even though that was not AT ALL what the government intended with this loan that I miraculously now don’t have to pay back…Yes, some people who could do for others out of deeply empathetic emotions, instead do for themselves, only and always, and some people who know what they are doing is wrong but, because they will likely not get caught, do it anyway…there is always one…or more…

It’s been nearly two years of wiping down shopping carts, unless you are my daughter who literally has been sanitizing her hands and wiping down shopping carts for her entire adult life. It’s been nearly two years of backing away from people who cough and sneeze and while I suppose we always did this in line at a store, or waiting for a table in a restaurant, it’s different now…I suppose this is how it’s gonna be for a long time in many ways.

There are couples who used to make their relationships work just fine because they had a rhythm of their home life, tasks and obligations and habits that helped them to live together in harmony…AND THEN OUT OF THE BLUE, or so it seemed to many, the man who wore the Bespoke suits and accumulated thousands of air miles is wearing the same sweat pants for four days in a row and accumulating high scores on Free Cell…and the woman who organized her household and chores and children with the efficiency of a Swiss train schedule is now positively overwhelmed as a teacher/nurse/babysitter/chef/maid/laundress…AND now their relationships are suffering because their roles have gone wonky and they don’t know how it’s gonna be…

My advice, or at least what I’m going to do, is RE-DO 2022. I am literally going to “pretend” that tonight is the start of a new year…I am going to make some wishes and write them on pieces of paper and light them on fire in my prayer bowl, I am going to light some sage and smudge my own self with an eagle feather and I am going to start at my front door and walk and “pray” smudge the perimeter of this house, I am going to make my deals with the universe at bed time, I am going to make wishes and pray for those suffering, and I am going to do my best to answer the question, How’s It Gonna Be??, with the only acceptable answer I can think of…BETTER.