This Ugly and Beautiful World

I remember one particular day long ago. I was sitting on the love seat in our living room with my firstborn baby in my arms. It was the first time I was left alone with him and I suddenly became overwhelmed with sadness and guilt. I looked at the perfect little person in my arms and cried. All I could think was that I had brought him into an imperfect, ugly world. I was responsible for bringing him into a place that would scare him and hurt him, a place that would make him doubt himself and feel sad. The fog of those painful emotions burned off quickly enough and I chalked it up to a bit of postpartum depression, but sometimes I wonder if I had more clarity at that time than I have most days since.

There’s been a black cloud over my head the past few days. The older I get, the more I tend to sometimes think that I have the world figured out. That is, only until something happens to make me realize I still have very naive expectations of the world. I think most of us venture into our adult lives with a somewhat idealized view of the future. Children come along and we picture them being happy, talented, intelligent and competent. And as for all those other people in our circle of family and friends? I don’t expect that life will be perfect every day for each and every one of them. But I do tend to hope that their pitfalls will be manageable. Jobs may be lost, but new ones found. Illnesses can be treated with surgery or medication and then it’s right back on to the normal path of life. Kids may not follow the dreams their parents envisioned for them, but they will still find some measure of success in life anyway. Death is inevitable, but hopefully it comes after a long and well-lived life, one in which the person was able live most of life’s best experiences.

Doubt crosses my mind when I learn things like a cancer diagnosis in a friend. Or when I hear that a coworker’s child is suffering from depression. It comes when I see deep unhappiness where contentment seems rightfully earned. It’s there when I receive news of a random attack that leaves the son of dear friends laying in a hospital with brain injuries, our friends sick with worry for a child’s future.

What an ugly, ugly world this can be.

I finished taming my corner garden this weekend. It was a good outlet; a good distraction. I sat on the deck last night, on a perfectly beautiful summer evening. The air was comfortable, the sky clear. All around was green grass and colorful flowers and the sounds of summer. I sat under the canopy with the Sunday evening sun just beginning to set and stared out at my little garden trying to reconcile the beauty of this world against the ugliness that surfaces day in and day out.

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I had an appointment this morning, a follow-up to the mammogram I had just over a week ago. I got the call last Friday informing me that they wanted to take a closer look. (“And, oh, by the way, try not to spend the weekend worrying.”) One mammogram, one ultrasound, one view of “the spot” and one explanation of the findings in which “non-cancerous” was the last bit of information revealed, I realized I’d been holding my breath. Afterwards, since Mark and I were already at the hospital, we went to find our friends whose son is just beginning to find his way back to normal. We wanted, if nothing more, to offer hugs and love and to let them know they could call us and ask for anything. Tears were shed. There wasn’t much we could do to lift their burden other than provide a shoulder to lean on.

I left the hospital today with a new perspective. This is an ugly world, just as much as it is a beautiful one. And sometimes my expectations are too high. I worry about a child who maybe hasn’t spread his wings as much as I think one of his age should. And so what? If he’s forty years old and still living with me, so be it. (Not that I really think he’d let that happen.) If my kids don’t grow up to be neurosurgeons or billionaires, so what? I hope that they can find what it is that makes them happy in life, in spite of what the world says should make them happy.

Maybe the ugly part of the world serves to remind me that I have it pretty good. My life is comfortable and without a lot of real difficulties. My family is safe, thriving and here with me. There’s no guarantee that tomorrow these things will still hold true. But for today, that’s a lot for which to be grateful.

New Year’s Eve 2011

It’s hard to believe 2011 is closing its doors already. This is a year that made an impact on me, made me contemplate who I am and who I will be in the future.

This was a year I’d anticipated with some trepidation. It ushered in the end of so many things that were an integral part of who I believe myself to be. If you read here regularly, you know where this is going.

2011 brought with it so many lasts. We enjoyed watching one of our kids get all dolled-up for the last high school prom. We watched our daughter embrace all of those high school activities – classes, sports teams, games, volunteering, Relay for Life, hanging out with the high school crowd – for the last time. We celebrated the last high school graduation in our family. We saw her play her last days of fast pitch summer softball. We enjoyed what will probably be the last summer my oldest son comes back from school to live at home.

In all my years of motherhood, I never realized how hard it was going to be for me to say goodbye to those things. I never knew how much I was embracing my own role as a mom until I felt the panic of a future that didn’t hold all of those things I held so dear to my heart.

2011 made me contemplate me. A lot. And eventually, I began to let go of the panic. I began to open my eyes to what lies ahead. I began to understand that as much as I wanted to hold tight to that phase of my life, the future holds promise too.

I realize that it’s impossible to stop time and our lives have to move forward. My kids are living good lives, as evidenced by their successes. They are focused, dedicated to their educations and their jobs. They have good friends who enjoy coming around our house; friends I can see holding places in my kids’ lives for years to come. They’ve nurtured relationships with people we’ve come to love as much as our own children. I am so very proud of who my kids have become. And if anything, that should make me happy, not sad.

Letting go of my kids’ childhoods means letting them grow up. And they have grown up to be wonderful people. Letting them spread their wings means making room in my heart for everything they’ve become and all that they’ve yet to discover about themselves. Letting them take flight means letting myself come back to me. I will always want to take care of them, but it’s okay if they don’t need me to do that as much as I used to. I can get back to learning and growing again without feeling guilty that I am taking something away from them by doing so.

In many ways, this  was a difficult year for me, but one that I can see was very necessary. With each passing day, my angst eased a little bit. 2012 is on the door step and I’m welcoming it with open arms.

Happy New Year, everyone – family and friends, online and otherwise. May the next year bring you peace and happiness. And in case I haven’t told you so lately, I love you guys!

What next?

I don’t typically make New Year’s resolutions. It’s not that I’m indifferent to the prospect of self-improvement. It’s just that the beginning of a new year doesn’t tend to serve as a big motivator for me.

Not surprisingly, I don’t typically do spring cleaning in the spring either.

Regardless, I occasionally feel the pull to change something for the better. And when I do, I act on it, no matter what the time of year.  Remember that time when it wasn’t the beginning of the year and I decided to be a runner? Ha! Well, I had good intentions anyway. Someone once remarked to me that I have a classic runner’s body. My body apparently doesn’t know that.

So what about New Year’s resolutions?

Well…? Why not? I spent the better part of last year wondering what my new direction should be once my youngest child left for college. There was a slight mourning period that makes a reappearance now and then, especially after the kids come home to visit and then leave again. But more often these days, I’m remembering there is possibility in the days ahead. There’s time for me now. Why not make the most of it?

There are things I could do. I’m probably more likely to do them if I actually admit I’d like to do them.  Maybe there’s something to this whole resolution thing.

Yeah. There are things I could do. Like cooking. I feel kind of bad that I’ve always considered it such a chore and that I didn’t have more fun with it for the kids’ sake when they were around every day to enjoy it.  Now that I have more time on my hands and less pressure to be other places, I’ve discovered I sort of enjoy cooking. And I do a pretty decent job of it too. Granted, I’ll never come close to doing what de-I does, but I’ll bet I can do some pretty cool things in the kitchen. Besides, I have some new cookware and cookbooks. Best put them to use!

And there is some work-related stuff I could stand to work on as well. For most of the almost seven years that I’ve been with my employer, I haven’t really had to fight to advance. I just did my thing and it all came very easily. Someone noticed my work and said, “Hey, we’d like to move you up!” Then some changes occurred in the last year. I’ve come to realize that no one is going to just notice my work and pat me on the back for it. I’ve realized that I need to find a little bit of fight within myself. I could definitely stand to work on that.

And there’s something else I’ve contemplated a lot over the last few months. Writing. I love to write. I didn’t really realize that until I started blogging almost five years ago now. Over the last half-year or so, it just hasn’t seemed as easy to write as it once did. And when it doesn’t come easy, it’s all too easy to just not write. More often than ever, several days would pass between writings; sometimes almost a week. The less I wrote, the harder it was to just sit and write. Then Abby clued me in to this NaBloPoMo thing where bloggers commit to posting every day in a given month. I had heard of NaBloPoMo, but thought it only happened in November. Turns out it happens every month. So I took the leap and signed up in December. (So far, so good! Only two more days to go to meet the challenge!)

Writing daily has been challenging at times, but it has really helped me find my find my muse again. I wrote some pretty good posts in December and it felt good! So I think I’ll do it again in January.

So not wanting to set myself up for failure, I think I’ll just stick with the three resolutions.

  1. Find my inner culinary artist
  2. Workplace assertiveness
  3. WRITE!

That’s definitely a do-able list. And trust me. If sometime mid-year I decide to work on my sense of adventure and take up skydiving or some such thing, I’ll feel free to add that to the list of resolutions. I’ll let you know how it goes.


A Good Walk

Morning came today and I opened my eyes. Eight o’clock already. I slept too long.

The pace at work lately has been intense and it’s draining me. I came home last night and finished the last few pages of The Kite Runner, took a drive with Mark to pick up some Mexican fast food, came home, ate and promptly fell asleep somewhere around eight o’clock. Mark woke me long enough to tell me I didn’t want to spend the night in the recliner and that I should go to bed. When I woke up this morning, I thought, “I should clean, or do laundry or bake something with all that fresh zucchini from the garden.” Instead, I went for a walk.

Summer is racing by, just like I knew it would. It’s half gone and this morning is the first time I’ve gone for a walk outside since late spring. Our neighborhood is great for walking and biking. There are signs along some of the streets that read Bicycle Friendly Community. That means we have asphalt paths that circumnavigate the city. I’ve made good use of them over the years.

My walk takes me uphill, south along Helmo Road, winding through residential neighborhoods. At 8:30 on a Saturday morning, it’s still relatively quiet. I’m struck by how much color there is right now. The grass is so green and colorful flowers border gardens and trees. Yards are manicured and there are signs of life all around. Everything feels so warm and comfortable in the summer. I miss that feeling when winter rolls around.

Some yards are strewn with children’s toys and kiddie pools. It brings back memories of the days when my back yard was full of young children – my kids and their friends – wearing bathing suits and smelling like sunscreen, splashing and jumping in a pool full of cool water on a hot day, beach towels adorned with Disney characters draped over the deck railing and Popsicle sticks littering the grass. The yard is more tidy these days, and the grass is healthier, but it’s awfully quiet back there now.

It’s warmer than I thought it would be when I set out on my walk. My sunglasses keep slipping down my nose. An older couple rides past me on a tandem bike. He rides in front, wearing jeans, a button down shirt with the sleeves rolled to his elbows, a baseball cap on his head. She is behind in a pair of athletic capri pants, a baggy t-shirt and her messy morning hair blowing wild in the breeze as they roll by me. There is just a little thought in my head as they pass. “Sweet.”

A few other early birds cross paths with me as I walk. There’s Franz, walking the neighbor’s Golden Retriever, traveling in the opposite direction as me. Franz is a mentally challenged man who everyone around here seems to know. He spends a lot of time at the home of our neighbors, though he has a place of his own somewhere. I call out a good morning to him, and he cheerfully replies, asking how I am.

“Good! How are you?”

“Just fine,” he says. And then it is quiet again.

Later, I come upon a woman jogging slowly. Again, good mornings are exchanged as she continues in the direction from where I came, and I continue toward where she came from. Only after she has passed me do I realize it’s a woman I used to know from church. I haven’t been to our church in a long time, so I haven’t seen her lately. I wonder if she recognized me too. If she did, she gave no indication. That’s okay. I wasn’t in the mood for stopping and talking anyway.

All this quiet and calm makes me introspective and I’m thinking about my state of mind lately. I seem to always be anxious, slightly sad, and maybe a little bit dark inside. I look at my kids, how big they’ve become, and lament the fact of how little time, quality time, we actually spend together. They’re growing up.

Brad has worked full-time all summer long. He does hard work – cement testing. He works outdoors most days, and it’s been a long summer for him considering the abnormally hot and humid days that have settled over us. He’s spent his free time lately taking apart a boat trailer so that he could re-wire the lights that were malfunctioning. While he had it apart, he decided to strip the paint and refinish it. He worked for weeks on that trailer and it looked great when he was done. The lights still don’t work right. He found that out when he and his buddy, Joe took the boat out to Bald Eagle Lake last week and went fishing.

This weekend, Brad has gone with Heather to her grandparents’ lake home, as they have done many, many weekends. They miss each other while they’re apart and they find ways to reconnect as much as possible. Next weekend, Brad goes back to Fargo and to Heather and school. He plans to stay in Fargo through next summer, taking classes and will hopefully graduate not long afterwards. I don’t really know if he’ll come back home after that.

Jake is working – almost full-time, but not quite. He is mostly gone by the time I come home from work and he doesn’t usually get home until after midnight. I still try to get him to think about going back to school, but school is not his thing. I don’t know if he ever will go back. Like me and his dad, he’s going to do things the hard way. I feel a little bit sorry about that, but I know it can be done. I just wish it could be easier for him.

Jake spends a lot of time with Melissa these days. She’s good for his spirit and I like her. She’s quiet, but friendly. When they’re here, they spend their time watching movies, all wrapped around each other. Mark had a talk with Jake about not feeling comfortable in his own house and they’ve put a little more distance between themselves while they’re here. I’m thinking Jake and Melissa are similar creatures. I like that she gets him out to do fun things now and then, like go to the drive-in with a group of friends, or see movies. I came home one day to find him and a buddy dancing along with a video game in the living room, while Melissa and her friend laughed hysterically and cheered them on.  Jake would never have played a dancing video game before Melissa came along. He would all too easily be content to be a homebody otherwise.

Kacey got her wisdom teeth pulled this week, so she’s been hanging around the house more than usual. Connor was a trooper and spent two entire days keeping her company while she began to heal. They got seriously bored, but he stuck with her. That’s one of the many reasons I love that kid!

Kacey’s also been busy, ordering books for her classes, and making lists of things we need to buy for her dorm room. She’s so excited to go to school! I’m really happy with her choice of schools. She’ll be close enough to home to make the trip as often as she likes. Several kids from her graduating class will go there as well, so I have comfort that she won’t be all alone in a strange place … not that I really think it would take her long to make friends. She’s pretty outgoing! She’s already on an intramural soccer team. (Soccer!)

“I haven’t played soccer since 8th grade,” she tells me.

“That’s okay. It will be fun, and I don’t think it really matters whether or not you’re a star athlete on an intramural team. I think it’s just supposed to be fun,” I tell her. “And it’s a great way to meet new people.”

I have a feeling Kacey won’t be making the trip home as often as I’d like. In less than one month, she moves out.

My kids are growing up. They all have significant others. They’re all in various stages of embarking on lives of their own.

Sometimes I think that I think too much. Maybe I hang on too tight to things that are not meant to be held on to. It seems like I’ve been dreading these very days for the past couple of years now, not wanting to let go of my kids’ childhoods. Most of the time, there seems to be a wall that I can’t see beyond and so I think of the future with sadness and gloom because all I see is a future without my kids in my daily life.

But my walk did me some good today. It seemed like I was beginning to see over that wall. I started to see my kids exploring a life of their own. I thought about how even now, at my age, I am still learning and discovering things about myself, still growing, and how much I love it when I get out of a rut and discover something new and exciting. I want my kids to have those kinds of experiences and to love them too. They have to grow up and move on in order for that to be possible. Sometimes I just wonder why I can’t look back on our memories and more often feel like smiling at the realization of how lucky I am to have those memories instead of feeling like crying because they’re gone. Need to work on that.

As I walk north along Hadley Avenue, getting close to the end of my walk, I start to think about the things I might like about an empty nest; weekends with nothing to do but what I choose to do. Maybe I’ll enjoy cooking more because I’ll have time to get creative with it. Maybe I’ll find more time to spend with my sister or with friends and I can be more relaxed about it because there are no tournaments for which we all have to be awake at the crack of dawn. The house will stay cleaner and if it doesn’t there will be no one to blame but myself (or more likely, Mark. :-))

… less laundry…

… more time to read…

… road trips for the sake of taking road trips…

… meaningful conversations with my kids; ones that involve more than me trying to be the wise parent spewing words of wisdom to a child who knows so little…

… grandchildren :-)

As I traverse the final few blocks of my route down Stillwater Boulevard, I realize that there are probably quite a few years in which I can look forward to kids moving back in and out again. I know from my own experiences at their ages that I can plan on them showing up at home quite often in the hopes of a home cooked meal or just a shoulder to lean on. Those lazy, quiet days are still a ways off.

That was a good walk. I should do that more often.