Tag Archives: relationships

Motherhood and The Silver Star

This is either the perfect book or the worst book to read when you’re dealing with an impossible mother-daughter situation.  You’ve been warned.

Are you familiar with Jeannette Walls?  Her first book, The Glass Castle related the story of her own childhood and was on the NYT’s bestseller list for 6 years.  It was a powerful story, but her tale complete with two dysfunctional parents and an extended family,  was certainly not one to which I really related.  I did admire, however, Jeannette’s survival instinct and her ability to propel herself forward through sheer determination and the desire for stability.  I understood that.

Her second work, Half Broke Horses, delved even deeper into her treasure chest of family history, merging reminiscences and imagination into a tale which brought her maternal grandmother’s colorful life to readers.  This book was clearly an artful blending of fiction and nonfiction, and Wall’s grandmother, Lily, an almost mythical character.  Her resourcefulness and tough as nails attitude make her an unforgettable narrator and woman.

This new book, though?  Well, it kicked my emotional ass.  Here’s how the blurb from the library catalog begins: “Two motherless sisters, Bean and Liz…” Mentally replacing “sisters” with “brother and sister,”  I immediately checked the book out.  Last weekend I tore through the novel’s 269 pages, stopping to catch my breath after this passage -

“Mom’s account of my dad had always left me hankering for more details, but she said she didn’t want to talk about him and we were both better off if we put him behind us.  Mom didn’t have a picture of him, and she wouldn’t tell me his name,  I’d always wondered what my dad had looked like.  I didn’t look like my mom.  Did I look like my dad?  Was he handsome?  Funny?  Smart?”

Oh my God.  How did Walls know exactly what that conversation sounded like?  Even more painfully, how did she know precisely what having that conversation felt like?  Jesus.

The passage though, that nearly broke (or maybe Half Broke me) was this -

“I think Mom believes it, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.  Maybe she just needed someone to blame for the way everything turned out.”

Never before have I read anything which so clearly expressed my own experience with my mother.  Never, I said.  That was my own mother perfectly summed up in two sentences.  Mercy.

I guess maybe I don’t have to write that book now after all.

Screw the silver star.  Walls gets a gold one for this book.

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Filed under Books, family, moms, Recommendations, relationships

Giving up

You may not know this, but both of my parents came from large Catholic families.  Is that redundant?  I actually have an aunt and two deceased great aunts, who became nuns, for real.  I grew up hearing about how my mother’s family went to morning mass every day, staying for a marathon mass on Sundays.  It was kind of our family’s version of “I walked to school, uphill and in the snow…”  You get it.

Believe it or not, my mother somehow managed to have her two illegitimate children baptized in the mid-60s.  I can’t imagine that was an easy task.  Growing up, my brother and I made Holy Communion, but did not, other than on Christmas Eve, attend mass with our mother.  She was done.  I remember the challenge of being still and quiet for an hour, while outside the stained glass window summer’s blue sky beckoned.  It was harder than those wooden pews.  As I grew older, I developed more of an appreciation for the ritual – the readings, the up, down, kneel, the music and faces which grew familiar over the years.  And the sooty smoke wafting from those brass orbs dangling from the altar boys’ hands?  I loved it

Eventually, though, I really started listening to gospel, to the word, and some of what I heard I didn’t like.  I was in disagreement about gays and euthanasia and punishment for mistakes made.  I pictured a more benevolent god, sort of a cross between George Burns and John Denver.  I met with a priest at the Cathedral downtown and we talked and I explained my inability to own only part of my religion.  If I couldn’t believe in the whole thing, how could I practice?  Wasn’t it wrong to turn a blind eye to the tenets I found it impossible to embrace?  He echoed what I had been previously told by my Uncle Eamon, “Take what you believe in and leave off the rest.”  I walked away, sad, but committed to no longer feeling partially invested.  I left all of it.

On days, though, like today, I miss it.  The crossed ashes on my forehead, the quiet of the altar and the echo of feet on the stone floors, the honor of sacrifice… I think I’m going to mark Lent this year by exploring churches, be they literal or figurative.  A cathedral, a ski slope, a path through the woods, can’t they all be considered churches?  I’m hoping to hit each of those places within the next 40 days.  If you see me at any of those places, be sure to say hello.  Just don’t ask me join you for Burger Night at the Capital City Gastropub.  I gave up meat.

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Broken fragments and glue

“I was never one to patiently pick up broken fragments and glue them together again and tell myself that the mended whole was as good as new. What is broken is broken, and I’d rather remember it as it was at its best than mend it and see the broken pieces as long as I lived.”  Margaret Mitchell

 

If you’re lucky, and like me, you’ve been in love more than once in your lifetime. Which means, of course, that you’ve probably had your heartbroken.  Maybe more than once. Perhaps even multiple times by the same person, but obviously, I’m projecting my own history here.  It’s my blog.

Do you remember that first heartbreak?  I’ll never forget being certain that I was going to die.  It just didn’t seem possible that I could survive the fierce assault to my heart and soul.  I couldn’t eat.  Or sleep.  I replayed all the moments leading up to the big brush off, trying to place my finger on the precise instant when things went wrong.  I thought that if I could identify what happened, I would be able to prevent myself from experiencing this emotional and physical anguish ever again.  Yeah, right.

Since that time, more than 25 years ago, I’ve learned a few things.  Important lessons about hearts and love and the ability of a heart to love again.  I now understand that there are people who enter our lives (and hearts) as temporary residents.  Not everything is supposed to last forever.  Pieces get taken.  And given.

I’ve realized that the people who have broken my heart have given me far more than they ever took.  I learned that the capacity to love is something to be treasured, a gift beyond any other.  I believe that the heart is one of the few things which can be rebuilt from pieces and be stronger than ever.

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The evolution of the girlfriend getaway

DSC_0036It started with a couple of stolen hours.  We’d pick a date that worked for all of us, crossing our fingers for no last-minute work emergencies, sick children or childcare cop outs.  Our rendezvous destination was generally somewhere in the middle – north for them, south for me.

On the given day, as I put miles between myself and the responsibilities and demands of home, I recall becoming aware of my breath. It was almost as if I had been holding my breath, neither inhaling or exhaling with any depth, for what seemed like days.  Those couple of hours shared with my girlfriends reset my heart, my lungs and my mind.

As our lives have progressed, our opportunities to get together have also grown.  A quick shared meal evolved into an occasional overnight in NYC, complete with dinner and drinks. On one occasion, as I packed to leave Albany for 2 nights in the city, I realized that I was borderline sick and in desperate need of a nap.  I also knew that my chances of actually getting a nap (and being taken care of) were better in the city with the girls than at home with the guys.  I went.

We’ve explored new neighborhoods as we allowed Hotwire and Priceline to determine where we stayed, economizing on accommodations to allow for some shopping as we attempted to bring some of our peace of mind home.  We’ve got restaurants and cocktail bars which we consider to be “ours” and have had some wonderful trips making memories to last a lifetime.

We’ve just returned from our most ambitious girls’ trip ever – 5 nights in New Orleans.  I can’t tell you how many times I said “Can you believe how fortunate we are that we are able to do this?” during the trip.  The fact that we have come to a place where we have the resources and time to pull off a get away like this impresses me to no end.  I don’t know when we got to be such grown up women, but I like it.  A lot.

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Filed under aging, drinking, Eating, Events, friends, NYC, Observations, relationships, travel, vacation

Explorations and discoveries

image; s1.cdn.happinessxing.com

In the last few years, my perspective has changed dramatically.  Once upon a time, I believed that all my decisions had been made and the future held only more stagnation.  It was like I was a participant in some organized game with the only object being to “land” on particular spaces in a mostly consistent order. You know, college – travel – meet – marry – have beautiful babies – focus all attention and assets on the growing children – feel alone in the chaos – stay quiet and still.

Once that game ended, I could have easily been cast adrift, but I’m not really a rudderless kind of woman.  Instead, I’ve been discovering parts of myself I didn’t know existed.  Life has changed so much!  I’ve been challenging myself physically and have felt myself being pushed creatively and professionally like never before.  I feel alive every day.

The comforts of yesterday have been knocked off my personal map by new waves of inspiration and excitement and I no longer wake up and wonder what’s on the other side of the ocean. Instead, I look around and see the sky, the sun, the moon, the light, the clouds…all sorts of things which compel me to want to look closer and explore.

I can’t speak for Columbus, but, for me, it is definitely about the journey.

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A little autumnal inspiration…

DSC_0025From Louise Erdich:

“Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.”

- The Painted Drum

Go eat some apples – now.

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Declaring independence

image: loc.gov

For many, Independence Day has come and gone in an orgy of fireworks, sunscreen and  barbecue.  My holiday was decidedly different this year and it has me thinking hard about independence and what it means in my own life and the lives of my friends.  I suspect I’ll be pondering this long after the fuse on the last of the bottle rockets gets lit.

I spent the 4th with some of my oldest friends in the world – people who have been in my life through graduations, weddings, births and, now,  separations and divorces.  We’ve been witnesses and participants in each others lives for so long that it is sometimes difficult to see the individuals as independent entities. We’re connected so deeply through history and shared experiences that when I’m reminded of the fragility of the relationships we have created, it can take my breath away.

When one is lucky enough to have friends such as these, there’s a certain comfort level that is achieved allowing one to, hopefully, truly be themselves. Sometimes, though, the history of us, and who we have been, can distract from who we are becoming as we grow and stretch in new directions. It can be uncomfortable or disconcerting to acknowledge and accept the changes which must come with sustainable long-term relationships, but when the essential goodness of our friends remains intact, their personal declarations of independence do not detract from the friendship we all share.

Our nation is built upon a foundation of basic beliefs including the timeless assertion that we have certain unalienable rights.  Despite the metaphorical fireworks that explode each time a marriage falters or fails, or a friendship buckles from the complications of couples parting or pairing, I will accept nothing less than life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for myself. And, as far as my friends are concerned, I want the very same for each of them.

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