July 23, 2015

The Moments That Are Given

Mom! It’s graffiti! It’s art...on a shoe! I have to try it on. Please...can I?

It was my 12 year old’s first foray into heels. A big moment in our little lives. Working full-time when she was an infant had stolen other big-little moments from my camera’s eye -- the first time she rolled over, the first time she sat up unassisted...the first firsts.

Newly, gladly and willfully unemployed for the first time in 15 years, I took a picture.

The picture wasn’t as much of an attempt to catch up on lost firsts, but rather a net to capture a butterfly’s moment of the moment; because if history skips a generation and the math holds out, there are more years behind me than ahead.

My mom died at 63. Her mom died at 47.

I’m 46.

I’ve checked all over my person for a stamped expiration date, from the flabby inside parts of my arms, to the backs of my knees and other parts of my anatomy that shall remain nameless here. 

There is no such date.

Yet, there is a possibility of exiting in one or even seventeen years. It is a specter that reveals itself in the wee hours when sleep eludes me. Sometimes it’s in the peripheral view of everyday moments, like when my daughter slips on her first pair of heels. That’s when I capture the moment, then fan off the specter and tell it to go do something obscene to itself.

That’s just one of the things that happens because I know my history and its math.

Other things happen too. Beautiful things.

I pray differently.
Thirteen years ago, I prayed the baby I was carrying would be healthy. I prayed our marriage would stay stable and intact. I prayed for financial stability. Those requests were gracefully granted. As I edge up to the half-century mark, I pray my daughter will hear my voice when she navigates the crossroads of the teen years; and that my example will help her be a good friend and encourager of others. I pray these requests will be fulfilled whether I witness them from here or from a heavenly view.

I hear differently.
My husband’s workplace saga, the detailed picture he paints with words -- who said what, how they said it, bills of lading, procedures for shipping and receiving don’t sound like a boring account of the goings-on of a warehouse job. It sounds like We’re in this together. I trust you with everything I am and do -- even the minutiae.

I feel differently.
We were infrequent fliers on our way home from a family trip. My daughter still isn’t sold on the gathering speed and thrust of takeoff. Her breathing quickened, her jaws clenched and her heart pounded with enough force to make her delicate neck throb visibly.

I tried to intervene in her anxiety:

Honey, tell me about your happy place. What does it look like? What about it makes you happy? What does your happy feel like? 

As she told me, we approached cruising altitude. She let her tray table down and rested her arm on it. I slid my arm into hers the way a mom who is well past 47 years old or 63 years old would with her adult daughter.

I held that feeling of skin on skin, its weight and warmth in my heart. I thought about the years ahead of me -- of us.

And I captured the moment.

May 28, 2015

Jumping In

Jump in, honey! I’m right here.

Jamie’s voice echoed above the splashes in the indoor public pool where 3 year-old Georgia was taking swimming lessons. Pigtails on either side of her head created alien like bulges through her orange swim cap. She stood at the pool’s edge, stooped over...thinking, weighing the options...and not jumping.

Can’t say I blame her. Ground is solid, secure; while water, no matter who’s standing in it waiting to catch you, isn’t.

But solid isn’t truly solid if you think about it. Earthquakes happen and whole buildings tumble. Floods sweep villages away; and tornadoes and avalanches even use what’s solid to ground themselves and wreak havoc.

Clinging to what’s solid can be a dangerous proposition - in nature and in your career.

I imagine my daughter, stooped, overthinking, weighing her options, missing out on the fun she could’ve had, had she just jumped into her daddy’s waiting arms. The scene was my mirror.

What I saw was myself clinging onto a solid, toes with a deathgrip curl on the edge even as water tickled at them...even as I knew a couple of things about living:

that tomorrow isn’t promised -- and neither is my good health.
that I’ve got more years of living behind me than I do ahead.
that the solid a job provides isn’t really solid. Human disasters - like natural ones - are always a threat.
that’s life’s just too bleeping short to only watch while hanging onto an illusion of security.

So I handed in my notice after fifteen years on the job.

I’ve been asked What’s next? What are you going to do?

For now, I think I’ll just jump in, enjoy a swim and worry about what’s next when the time comes.

May 10, 2015

You'll Come to A Place - Mother's Day Musings

It was the day before Mother’s Day and I found myself at the store to pick up a few forgotten items. I didn't bother trying to be presentable and ended up at the store wearing a baseball cap, sweats and sans make-up. Pretty.

Anyway, I hurried past the card aisle, anxious to get the stuff I needed and get out.

Glancing up the aisle clogged with people searching for last minute Hallmark well wishes, something strange happened.

Or didn't happen.

For the first time in nearly thirty years since my mom’s been gone, my internal GPS didn't point me to that aisle. The divining rod in my head didn't lead me to search for a card for my mom. There was no back-to-reality jerk. No surprisingly/unsurprisingly painful reminder realization that, no -- there’s no need to buy her a card because she’s not here anymore.

This is a good thing, I think, but I can’t tell you how I got to this place.

There still isn't a day that passes without me thinking of mom, wondering what advice she’d give me about my job, marriage or how she’d be over the moon about the grandchild and son-in-law she never had the pleasure of meeting.

Yet my feet continued on. Past the Hallmark calls to Honor that Special Mom. Past the endcaps' floral pop-ups. Past the impulse-buy Mother’s Day specially marked candy at the checkout lane.


I miss mom on this Mother’s Day and every day. I always will. But the ever present grief over her absence lessens a little each day, each year. Sure, I might get a little misty later on if I think on it, find the tears and allow them to come.

But yesterday and right now, I’m in this place of grief-twinged acceptance.

When your mom isn't here, I think you come to that place after awhile, even if it takes a lifetime to happen. You may not even know how you came to it, but you will.

Trust me. You will.

Mother's Day medals from the people who made me a mom.

May 2, 2015

Purpose: The Real Question and Answer

So what is your life’s purpose?

It was a question posed in a moderated discussion thrown out to a small group of three. Up until that point, we had been responding to questions in ways we thought would make us stand out as individuals.

Or at least I had been, truthfully.

The question clogged my thinking and stopped me in my tracks. As long as I could remember, I heard the perpetual question from my parents, well-meaning friends of my parents, teachers and guidance counselors: What do you want to be when you grow up?

Then when I became an adult (seriously, am I really an adult?), my own voice grated in my mind even when it appeared like I had it altogether: What don’t I want to do?

What I wanted to be as an adult had everything to do with career, money. What I didn’t want to do was a bar I’d set for making money in a said career.

Neither had anything to do with purpose.

But yet, there I was almost clocking in at the half-century mark with more years behind me than ahead, realizing I never had been asked, nor had I ever considered my life’s purpose.

Purpose is what people say about you when you’re gone.

What would people say about me, I thought. She was nice? That she paid her bills mostly on time? That she sent her kid to the best school she could? That she made sure a protein, a vegetable and a starch were in every dinner she prepared?

Really? That’s my purpose? Because that’s what I’ve aiming for in the past fifteen years.

Strange as it seems, all of that stirred in my thoughts in a split second. But then, in the next second, I knew. I knew my purpose, and I know I knew because the answer tumbled out naturally, almost as if I had forgotten my birthday for a blink of an eye and then remembered it.

I left the meeting twenty pounds lighter, refocused, redirected. The sky seemed bluer and the bursting little pods on the ends of springtime’s budding trees seemed sharper.

*  *  *  *

I’m a newbie co-producer of Milwaukee’s 2015 Listen to Your Mother Show, a nationwide production that gives people the chance to tell stories that reflect on motherhood through their eyes. The cast’s stories touched on motherhood’s sorrow, hilarity, confusion, longing, and some with raw honesty that made you shift uncomfortably.

They were there to tell their stories. It was their purpose for that day.

As a co-producer, I watched these people stride up to a mic, spotlight on them and them alone, gather their resolve and bravely tell their stories. I knew the audience not only received their words, but understood each person’s purpose because I could hear it in the silence, the laughter and the sniffles.

I thought about each person’s bravery and resolve in revealing themselves through their words -- all because their purpose was clear.

And I was inspired.
*  *  *  *

It’s relatively safe to choose what you want to do when you grow up. It’s just as safe to know what you don’t want to do once you’re doing whatever it is when you’re a grown-up.

Coming to understand your purpose on this earth and letting that purpose guide you is scary, almost like walking up to a microphone with nothing but you, the spotlight and your story reverberating into the darkness.

But the reverberations reach minds and touch hearts.

And I think that’s what your purpose does...once you know what it is.

Photo credit, Margaret Andrews of  Nanny Goats in Panties
from Sacramento's Listen to Your Mother Show 2014