abundance

My life is filled with abundance. The world is abundant.

sunflowers

Right now, so many of my friends and loved ones are facing difficult times — and in the way these things go, many of them are having one after another difficult thing piled on top of them in an overflow of trouble. There are health scares for them and their loved ones, and life changes, and work trouble, and interpersonal trouble, and loss of all kinds. Having been through my own periods like that, I empathize so deeply. I’m glad I have experienced all those things myself so I can stand beside them however I can.

For me, right now, I am not in the midst of a rain of trouble. For me, right now, it’s a time of great abundance of every kind. Of great joy, of great peace. And I’m grateful for that too because it gives me resources to spare so I can be there for my loved ones a little more readily. When I was in my own huge storm a few years ago, I remember feeling the dreadful focus of all of it, the power of it, the overwhelm that kept me unable to connect to trouble others were having. My own troubles were so consuming they blocked the view. So now it’s my turn to get to have space and energy to spare, attention to give, concern and love to offer, an ear to listen, a shoulder to bear, a back to help carry. It’s a nice thing about the world that when some of us are in trouble, others of us can help.

And so I recognize the grace and wonder of my particular moment, and appreciate it all the more. And what a moment it is. Among all the rest, my oldest daughter Katie’s birthday is in just a couple of days, a celebration of the day that has melted me for 35 years, now. The anniversary of the day my life changed forever, and forever for the better. The day this wonderful woman was ushered into the world, through me. I love and admire her with all my heart.

there she is with HER beloved child, our darling sweet Oliver
There she is with HER beloved child, our darling sweet Oliver, taken a couple of years ago. I have hundreds of pictures of her taken since then, with Oliver and now also with Lucy, but I’ll stick with this one. She is a wonderful mother.

Katie is without a doubt one of the strongest people I know. She’s hilarious. She’s one you can count on. She loves her family more than anything. She’s solid, and tenderhearted. She knows what matters to her.

And Marnie, also in the vast field of my abundance. Marnie, whose earnest heart feels so familiar to me; Marnie with her adoration of her boy and her husband; Marnie, with her big quiet voice. For 32 years I have watched her flower.

Marnie and Ilan, taken early this year. Again, I have a bunch of other photos of her but this will stand in.

And Heaventree, my glorious Heaventree, the ground of my abundance. And poetry. And music. And beauty. And books. And friends, far-flung for now but no less mine. And my health, which at the moment includes mental health of the shiny, happy kind. And my husband, who will drive up from the city today bearing food and my big camera and his beautiful eagerness to cook for me. And my wisdom, which allows me to know that the wheel shifts and turns, it can do nothing else, and this abundance will shift too. Who knows what the fall and winter will bring, I sure don’t, but I am swimming in great abundance for now so if you need an ear, or space, or an arm, count on me.

* * *

As long as I’m thinking about my daughters, here is a wistful poem about the experience of being a mother.

The Mothers
Jill Bialosky

We loved them.
We got up early
to toast their bagels.
Wrapped them in foil.
We filled their water bottles
and canteens. We washed
and bleached their uniforms,
the mud and dirt
and blood washed clean
of brutality. We marveled
at their bodies,
thighs thick as the trunk
of a spindle pine,
shoulders broad and able,
the way their arms filled out.
The milk they drank.
At the plate we could make out
their particular stance, though each
wore the same uniform as if they were
cadets training for war.
If by chance one looked up at us
and gave us a rise with his chin,
or lifted a hand, we beamed.
We had grown used to their grunts,
mumbles, and refusal to form a full sentence.
We made their beds and rifled through their pockets
and smelled their shirts to see if they were clean.
How else would we know them?
We tried to not ask too many questions
and not to overpraise.
Sometimes they were ashamed of us;
if we laughed too loud,
if one of us talked too long to their friend,
of our faces that had grown coarser.
Can’t you put on lipstick?
We let them roll their eyes,
curse, and grumble at us
after a game if they’d missed a play
or lost. We knew to keep quiet;
the car silent the entire ride home.
What they were to us was inexplicable.
Late at night, after they were home in their beds,
we sat by the window and wondered
when they would leave us
and who they would become
when they left the cocoon of our instruction.
What kind of girl they liked.
We sat in a group and drank our coffee
and prayed that they’d get a hit.
If they fumbled a ball or struck out
we felt sour in the pit of our stomach.
We paced. We couldn’t sit still or talk.
Throughout summer we watched
the trees behind the field grow fuller
and more vibrant and each fall
slowly lose their foliage—
it was as if we wanted to hold on
to every and each leaf.

Lori who?

Friday evening a friend (who is some kind of distant family connection) messaged me on Facebook because my mother had contacted her completely out of the blue. My friend is the genealogist of our family, and so many wonderful things I’ve learned from her, photos I’ve seen from her, such a gift! She had written an article about some parts of her family tree and my mother saw it and wrote her for more information. When my friend asked how she was related to me, my mother said, “Lori who?”

her real estate photo — lots of bad plastic surgery since i saw her last.

In one way this wasn’t surprising; at some point in the 1990s, a different friend happened across my mother’s real estate website and told me that my mother said she had two children (she has three….the missing one was me, of course), so my mother has long been in the habit of not claiming me. And while I don’t see or speak to her, or ever want to see or speak to her, and while I feel like it would’ve been much less traumatic to have been raised by a wild badger, I do claim that she is my mother. I was given birth to by her.

It’s very complicated trying to understand how it made me feel to see that “Lori who?” in writing. On one hand, I was grateful that she didn’t put my friend into some kind of uncomfortable spot by trying to turn her against me, which has been another of my mother’s life-long strategies. I was grateful she said that and then moved right on to the questions she had about family. And I don’t want her to try to learn anything about me. But I guess the formulation of that question — Lori who, as if she never even heard the name — still hurt. And I wish it didn’t. Maybe it stung more than it hurt.

I immediately lost my appetite when I got the message, and started shaking a little. It felt like I had been walking around in this Edenic paradise, and then suddenly heard the rattles of a snake nearby, and I hadn’t realized there might be snakes in the garden. The way she can pop in out of the blue in the most random ways . . . and she wasn’t trying to find me or anything, it was just this unexpected appearance . . . unsettles me. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this since I got the message Friday evening. I will, it will fade, but for now I am ‘Lori who?’ Negated by the one who gave birth to me.

I mean, it’s OK. I’m 58, a mother and grandmother, surrounded by so many people who love me, and I have collected an assortment of chosen family members over the years, fathers and brothers and sisters, and I know who I am. This will be our relationship to the end of her life, and I don’t want anything else from her. I’m OK. It’s just …. something.

three things: 12/19/16

a gorgeous scene from the movie Moonlight, one that made me cry

1)  For someone who really loves movies, I don’t get to see too many. My taste in movies is extremely different from Marc’s (I like foreign/subtitled, subtle, slow doesn’t bother me, etc., and since he is profoundly dyslexic he can’t do subtitled, and he likes a movie that “holds his attention” which means not slow or subtle), so in NYC I never go see movies. When I’m in Austin, I’ll occasionally see a movie, but I’m so busy trying to fit in time with my people that my rare spare time is spent with friends and family. Still, I did see Moonlight and absolutely loved it, and I’ll see La La Land one way or another, ditto Hell or High Water and Manchester By the Sea.  Here are some lists — have you seen any of these?

  • NYTimes — and Moonlight is on all the reviewers’ lists, here.
  • Esquire — but hmm, they ranked The Lobster first, and boy did I hate that movie.
  • AV Club — good ones on this list
  • Washington Post — again, Moonlight makes it to #1. It’s SO GOOD, y’all.

2)  I love my bed — do you love yours? My bed in Austin is the best bed I’ve ever had. I chose every detail of it, concerned only with what I wanted, for the first time in my life (and I had enough money that I didn’t have to make-do with the cheapest thing I could possibly find, as I’d had to do my whole life). The mattress is exactly what I want. The bedding, soft white sheets, the pillows exactly the soft/firm I wanted. A beautiful piece of furniture with a big headboard and a low footboard. And since I sleep all alone in Austin, I can sleep exactly as I wish, too. In New York, Marc sleeps tucked right up against my back so I only really sleep on my right side and don’t have much option to move around. In Austin, though, I have pillows on both sides, so I can roll around and always have a pillow for between my knees, and cozy covers, and always always my kindle in bed with me. I read all night long, every single time I wake up.

my kindle is in an orange cover so I can spot it easily

Beds are so personal, so intimate, such a quiet space where so much happens even when we sleep alone, as I do. We cry there, feel lonely there, we think there, we dream there, we make plans, we rest, we are sick, we read and watch television and movies, we luxuriate there. I adore my bed, it’s my favorite place in my house and the place I can’t wait to get back to, every time I return to Austin. I make my bed every single morning after I finish my coffee, just because I want the pleasure of pulling back the covers at night, to rearranging my bed for the night.

In New York, our bed doesn’t have a sheet, just a comforter, and I don’t like that at all—it’s Marc’s preference. When he sleeps in Austin with me, he pulls the top sheet out from the bottom so it’s not tucked in, and moves it all over towards me — such an important detail to him, and to me, the presence of a top sheet. In Austin I always wear my nightgown (which is really just a long t-shirt) because I feel most comfortable that way, but in New York he sleeps naked and wants me to, too, so I do. It’s not my favorite. People have such definite opinions about how they sleep, which is fascinating if you think about it.

3)  Being a mother to my grown daughters, who are mothers themselves, is very important to me. Since I didn’t have a mother, and often longed to have one especially after I had my kids, I want to give that to my kids. If you’ve read this blog for long, you know this, I write about it a lot. But the girls don’t seem to have the same thoughts or feelings about it and I struggle with this. I’d hoped they would ask me for advice, ask me questions, be glad that I was there for them, and it doesn’t really go like that. They ask everyone but me. They trust everyone else’s thoughts, even strangers in Facebook groups. They acknowledge help from everyone else but me, in private and in public. It’s hard, it hurts, it makes me sad. Sometimes I think maybe I just need to pull back and not knock myself out, since it doesn’t matter to them — and in fact this is my deal, not theirs!

I’ve heard other grandmothers say the same thing, so I know it’s not just me. Maybe this is something about this generation of young mothers, maybe with all the resources they have available to them, online groups and all the information they could ever want at their fingertips, maybe they just don’t need the kind of help we used to need. Or maybe I did a good job and raised daughters who are self-sufficient and know how to take care of things, who know how to manage themselves and their lives. And anyway, what is it I’m wanting? Thanks? (well, yes….sometimes) Acknowledgement? (well, yes….sometimes) This is a painful thing for me and I’m trying to find my way through it. It’s bigger than this, it’s also about disentangling my identity and self as Lori from my identity as mother, and maybe few of us ever really get that done to our satisfaction.

on being a mother

My mother, age 17, right before she ran away with my father and got pregnant with me.
My mother, age 17, right before she ran away with my father and got pregnant with me. From her I learned what not to do.

Being a mother is the hardest, hardest thing I have ever done. From the moment I learned I was pregnant with Katie, I’ve had no idea how to be a mother, none at all, just plenty of understanding of what not to do. And so, for better and for worse, it’s been intense. I was controlling; in fairness to me and who I was, I was just trying to keep everyone safe and alive, that was my intent, but nevertheless, I clutched tightly and was controlling as a mother while I was raising my kids.

One consequence of that intensity is that “mother” was (and still is) almost entirely my inner identity. My mission in my life was to be not-my-mother and not-my-father. I thought about it constantly. Even when I was doing other things, pursuing my PhD, studying and working my ass off 7 days a week, probably 99% of my identity was “mother.” If I had to pick only one thing that my life has been about, that’s it. Being a mother. Being a good mother (didn’t know what that looked like, so it was an impossibly vague goal). Being sure my kids at least didn’t have to deal with the things I did. When I started out, my goal was that they would come out of their childhoods with absolutely nothing bad as a consequence of me, which of course is an impossible goal, seeing as how I’m painfully human. I gave them plenty of things to grapple with as a consequence of my raising them. Plenty. Just not what I had, and that’s a lot. I am proud of that.

I have enfolded her, and psychologically and emotionally I've never let go.
I enfolded her, and psychologically and emotionally I’ve never let go.

And now they’re grown, and with families of their own. Kids of their own. Husbands, homes, lives. I haven’t struggled too much with how to be a mother of grown kids out on their own, but once the grandchildren started arriving I was thrown back to the beginning, to feeling no ground under my feet, no idea how to do this, and that has surprised me. I returned to my fantasy, being determined to be the mother for my daughters that I wished I’d had. When Katie was an infant and it was so hard, my father had just committed suicide and Katie suffered terribly with colic and I was 23 and completely lost, so many times I wished I had a mother who would help me in some way. Practical help, maybe, coming over and holding the baby so I could shower, so I could sleep; bringing food when I was stretched so thin, things like that. A mother I could share my struggles with, I could ask questions of, just a mother. Throughout, I just never had that at all, and that longing is still so potent that my chest is aching and tears are running down my cheeks as I write this. I wish I’d had a mother, it hurts, and that hurt feels like a tiny little child hurt, still, and I am 57.

As my daughters started having babies, being ‘mother’ started roaring in me — and again, I have no idea what it looks like, being the mother I longed for when I had babies. I only know the longing. This situation has consumed me and made me feel anchored in place, unable to do anything. Not that we would ever actually do this, but when Marc and I play with the fantasy of moving to Hanoi, for instance, I say (or he will remark) that I can’t. I need to be near and available to my kids at all times, as the grandmother of their kids, as the mother I always wanted. I work so hard on keeping my hands open, not intruding, not giving advice unless they ask (they never do), not controlling, not making the mistakes I made when they were little.

But it occurred to me that I’m trying to be the mother I wanted, and I don’t know if they want what I did. Maybe they aren’t in as much need as I was. They certainly have better partners than I did. Maybe it’s not a longing the way it was for me, because although imperfect, they grew up with a mother who loved them. Maybe they just want me to be a grandmother who plays with and loves their children. I think that’s it, I think that’s all they want from me. And perhaps that is a success, I just don’t know.

I have been struggling with this mother identity at this stage of my life. Of course it’s not about not being their mother anymore, but I think I need to be a little more free, a little more focused on myself and my own life, which is still my one precious life. When I meet women with grandchildren who move to the other side of the world for months, or who seem to be easier about the whole thing, making fantastic choices for their own lives, something in me blanches and I do not want that feeling. I want to be like them. They love their children and grandchildren, but their hands are wide open and their eyes are turned to their own roads.

motherThe tattoo that’s right in the middle of the whole column on my back is mother. I love that symbol because you can see why it represents mother — baby inside, a pair of breasts, space enclosing children, I’ve read a lot of explanations. This is the one tattoo I chose instinctively, I knew it had to be in the list, but I couldn’t say why. “Mother because I am one,” I’d say almost with a wave of my hand. But it’s actually much more complicated than that. “Mother” really is the big middle of my life: the utter incomprehensibility of mine and the effect she has had on my life; the emptiness of not having one; and being one.

Maybe others of you who are mothers just sail through this and it’s not been a problem, you just know how to be a grandmother and still be you with your eyes looking at your own road. Maybe it’s just me. But if you’ve navigated this strait, I’d sure appreciate hearing how you got through.