Where do I start?

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Part of me said this blog wasn’t a good idea.

I am a mom, currently in midlife. Well, I am not just a mom, but once I had children I realized that I had to develop answers to life questions I used to take for granted. Why must I share my toys? Why do I need to wear a helmet? Can’t I just text you? Now that my children are grown and have left home, my house is not empty as much as it filled with questions about what I want to accomplish with the rest of my life. When one door closes, another door opens. Right?

However, as the over-thinker I am, I began to drift in thought to times that took me away from the present: regrets I may have had in my past, retirement plans that loomed ahead, what traditions and memories I leave behind with my family and friends. While motherhood is not a requirement for a successful life, it continually reminds me that no matter what happens in my life, my motherhood will never change – and it is why I feel the greatest responsibility for ensuring my children’s success. Unfortunately, this overwhelms me with the sense that I am missing out on the present. I am missing out on the moment. Worrying about what I can’t control. Obsessing on how I can balance being the best Mom in Midlife and not lose a sense of myself as an individual trying to leave her mark.

So I am making the commitment to change my perspective on the first step of the rest of my life. Learn to ground myself in where I am by bringing with me the lessons of my mental musings, my maternal worries, and my womanly wanderings through the rest of my journey. Teach myself to maintain moments of mindfulness in an otherwise wandering soul to be better. A better friend, a better mother, a better wife, a better me. Maintaining this blog as a touchstone to my moments.

So, part of me said this wasn’t a good idea. But then again – part of me says I’m willing to take the leap into this moment. Being a better Mom in Midlife. My first act of mindfulness for the new year. Won’t you join me?

The words we live by

When I was young, my father always repeated this saying our family: Words are what we live by. It was one of those sayings that could be used to reinforce a lesson of childhood, explain the good fortune in a negotiation, or win a family argument. Whenever he dusted off that phrase, you knew he was going to a make the final point in whatever conversation that was being held. As though an artifact of the time, I believe he meant to teach my sister and me that despite your circumstances, your word was your bond – and what you said mattered, even when the situation worked against you. The logic we learned was that what you said led to what you did and what you did became who you were.

Once I became a young adult, with the new weight of responsibility as a member of society, I learned that what people said and what they did were often two different things. I learned the subtle nuances between the politics of language and humanity of intent. It became clearer that unless you walked the talk, your words didn’t carry as much weight. Excuses for behavior became more commonplace. So I lived my life understanding the importance of words, but that my actions would do the talking for me. They would exemplify my character, despite my circumstances, in what would grow to be my complex life.

These days, the people in my circles are using words and phrases to talk about the world around them in ways that cause me to rethink the words of my father. The words I use are becoming more important as I talk about issues so much greater than myself and my community. Words like power, equity, color, they/their take on new meaning as I find a way to navigate the lessons I’m learning about how to walk the talk in this new age. People seem to take the words literally, rather than for the idea they represent or for the direction we need to take. Instead of understanding what the lessons of one’s holy book are hoping to teach, there are those who underline the quote to justify pushing away the very people who should be served. To find some reprieve during the violence of racism, there are those who resort to labels and name calling as ways to draw an insular line between “us and them”. When the phrase, “Black Lives Matter” initiates such discourse about the meaning of the words rather than the plea for perspective and tolerance, it becomes clear to me that we are now in an age where words must again be the focus of our attention.

In order to represent the structure of the society we need to become, all of us will need to address why our words matter. While he and she were the pronouns we understood, using “they” means more than just a plural – it represents the desire to include those who fall outside the labels of the past. The reference to people of color is not just the shade of one’s skin, but the acknowledgement that color is in the eyes of the beholder – as well as the power that goes with it. At what point will we realize that leading with our words towards an evolution of change will be critical for us all? In an era of the shrinking attention span and prolific sound bites, we must begin to use this new vocabulary in order to see the change we want to be. While he was not perfect, my father was right in this: we must not fear the words we use, but be brave enough to ensure they are used to understand each other better. These new words must be what we live by so that we can travel this road together and not leave anyone behind.

The weight of personal choice

This week has had some of the hottest, most uncomfortable temperatures this year. The humidity and the high temperature are often combined to produce a “comfort index”, so when the weather forecast starts sharing this indicator, you know the day ahead will be a long, hot one. Today was one of my “dedicated” work days in the office, so the heat made the morning rush hour commute even less appealing. Nevertheless, I remain grateful to still have a job and try not to focus on the pandemic chaos around me. In a time where many are still suffering, I have tried to make my midlife simple, streamlined, and supported with moments of self care.

My job has been one of the constants in my life these past 18 months, and in uncertain times, feeling like I have control over something worthwhile each week gives me a fortunate touchstone some have lost. What I find confusing is that while 2020 seemed filled with worry about our very health and safety, 2021 is filled with debate on how to safeguard it. The ongoing, online arguments about personal choice and the feeling of “can’t we all just get along” have divided my family and friends like politics never could. The deep seated resentment against the call to vaccinate brings to the surface perspectives on basic personal truths that have shaped how my loved ones choose to live their lives. I struggle to keep the ugly debate at bay. In 2020, where I went to bed each night hoping for a solution to Covid19, I now slumber in 2021 with the worry that my family will be affected by the myriad of Covid variants. I want to remain grounded and mindful in my midlife, focused on the “now”, but I worry I may survive my children. I fear the potential sickness of my grandchildren and others who are still learning about both personal and social responsibility. But with the silently running undercurrent of dread, my mental health has almost reached DefCon One.

So it is at this stage where I began the day, on my commute to work. As the traffic signs indicated that stand still traffic was ahead, I expected a delay. What I did not plan was this: a frantic, mama dog running along the shoulder of the highway, tongue out and panting heavy. White with an occasional black patch of fur, this dog was attempting run out into multilane, rush hour traffic, trying to get to some place safe. Only focused on her survival, she ignored me and the multiple commuters who were driving at a crawl next to her, trying to keep her from darting into an oncoming car. We all soon stopped on the shoulder, bribing her with treats and opening our car doors to entice her to safety. Our attempts were met with frenzied barking as our group of would be rescuers wondered what more they could do. We’d offered her treats, the authorities were asked to help, and we’d been struggling within our ability to keep her safe. In the end, driven by her fear, she continued running forward – as though with blinders on – hoping to get to some place ahead where she could rest. In the end, I could do no more and drove away, surprisingly filled with anger at the dog for where she’d chosen to run and put her life in danger.

I’d no more turned off my flashers when I started to cry. My anger had turned to anguish, in that I saw what the likely outcome would be but helpless to do anything about it. The weight of my choice to withdraw did not change my feeling of responsibility. The weight of one’s personal choice on others does not lighten the feeling of desperation in times of danger. For many, onset of the pandemic brought families closer together, highlighting the personal choice to value family and safety above all else. Now, the choice to vaccinate is highlighting the personal choice to be an individual, separate from the weight of responsibility that is placed on others. I hope it is soon that we all stop running out of fear and stop to see the others who are carrying the load who might be there to help.

Climbing our family tree

Just recently, I became a grandmother again. The joy of seeing my daughter give birth to what would be the next generation of our clan filled me with pride. As a mother of a blended family, I have learned that the significance of family doesn’t always come with blood, but the love you cultivate in the relationship of family. During this past year, relationships and connection to kin has taken on new significance for me. Even friendships looked different this year, as we retreated to our homes and safe spaces. Our focus was on the tight circles that surrounded our loved ones and our lives. We placed our arms around our little world and unintentionally disengaged from those who fell outside of it, if only by a little. It was a time when I felt more alone than I had in a long time. I longed for my missing family and social connection and the meaning these relationships brought to my life.

As many likely did, my family explored the boundaries of our ancestry to research our origins. We wanted to know more about from where we came, and learn about the distant relatives mentioned by our aging parents each holiday and family reunion. Surprisingly, as we began to climb our family tree, we discovered branches we had never seen. As leaves on our tree, each photograph and census report hinted at stories and a history we had yet to uncover. Not only did we match our genetic leaves with others in our past, but we learned about our ethnic heritage and those ancestors who had a knack for business. We became detectives and uncovered the hidden stories about those who suffered loss and married again. School photographs shared confirmation of an education, and the births, deaths, and marriages told stories of hardship and the baby who didn’t survive. Most of all, we climbed our tree high enough to reach a branch we’d never seen before, living family we could meet and with whom we could share the love that would eventually deepen our roots and strengthen our family tree. We found new family who, with a phone call or an email, became our daughter, our sister, our grandmother, and aunt.

Discovering new family was scary, but exciting in a way we had not expected. In my midlife, I have often looked back at how much my tiny family before motherhood has grown from the sapling of my childhood to a craggy oak tree of motherhood and beyond. Whether by blood or by bond, this seasoned oak continues to be enriched by each family member who sprouted roots in this fertile ground. I hope that as we grow the shade we provide continues as well.

One step forward, two steps…

In a time where movement is restricted and crowds are the new social evil, these days are filled with work and family. I keep busy and tend to the here and now but once the day is done I try to find quiet time that calms my mind. Being at home this much is not normal for me, and I’ve become restless. I’ve become sedentary and still and I don’t like it.

As I approached my midlife, I developed a new found appreciation of household freedom. Things were more in order. I didn’t feel obligated to maintain the same meal schedule as when my kids were home. I enthusiastically dispelled the sense of responsibility I overcultivated as a young mother and enjoyed the ability to stay up late, see friends on a whim, and not cook to please everyone in the house. These BP times (Before Pandemic) supported a more “free to be me” exploration. But not any more. As we have shut our doors, wear our masks and stay close to home, everyone has had to make changes. I now have family who have returned to the nest, as the struggle continues to adapt to our new normal.

I admit, this opportunity to focus on the present and remain healthy and happy has been a blessing. I am working to be more attentive to my relationships. I attend to my self care. I try (but not as successfully) to be more active. The fact that I now assess the quality of my day by the readout of my sleep and steps has shifted me into a new paradigm. For most of us, this pandemic has introduced too many plates to juggle. The perspective I hold on my daily living is now rooted from my home base and how I must pivot to adjust to each new challenge. Pivot has become the new word for me. The discovery of my ability to pivot has strengthened me. It is not just the steps forward I take each day but how I respond to the daily events of the world.

Strangely enough, I find a renewed sense of purpose in this perspective on life. Maybe I’ve been too focused on moving forward, moving fast, moving ahead and beyond this craziness. It’s not sufficient to keep up. Maybe my athletic prowess needs work, as I “dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge”. In fact, demonstrating the best possible pivot might better be served from my preteen fashion modeling class. Each step forward gets you the end of the runway, but your pivot is what shows you off to the most people in the room. So as 2020 has brought me to the edge of my personal runway, here’s to the pivot showing off my best possible self to 2021.

Cracks in the ceiling

During this time of COVID-19 and the importance of limiting exposure to the outside world, I believe we have all spent a little more time focused on home. More of my friends and family put up holiday decorations earlier than normal. Wanting that feeling of coziness and safety among dear ones was key to supporting one’s emotional health. I was sent plenty of images showing Hallmark movie holiday décor and families in festive attire. Social media blurred its lens to display pictures that others in our community wanted us to see – that they were making it. They were surviving. That they were ok and looking ahead to healthier and happier times. But this season, not all families wore matching Christmas pajamas.

In many families, like mine, there is discord at home. Fractures in our faith in what is right and what is wrong have made me uncomfortable with those who tell me my mask makes me someone who doesn’t value freedom. I am afraid of the growing violence and hate disguised as support for our leadership. And most of all, I am concerned that friendships are being torn apart. At a time when my world is small, and restricted, my relationships with family and friends are what I have left to connect me with the outside. While my midlife self is decluttering my home of memories and emotional baggage from the past in order to live in the present, it means that I am more closely examining the four walls of my world. And right now, my world is my home. My door keeps sickness out and lets family in. My friendships help me sort out what to keep and what to throw away. However, in these desperate times, I am not feeling as safe in my community. The overly attentive mother is examining her midlife with scrutinizing detail, and what she is finding is not pretty.

The complexity and challenge of remaining healthy and compassionate when the world around you is crumbling can be overwhelming. The discourse of the day about vaccines, masks, and even safe holidays at home put me at odds with what normally makes me healthy and happy this holiday season. While I should have been decking the halls and making merry, I was fortifying my structure and engaging in debate that weakened my faith in my community. This new year, I have found cracks in my ceiling. I just hope that my roof, and the roof over us all, doesn’t come tumbling down.

The power of letting go

It was receiving some unexpected news from one of my children that tore me from my comfy spot in midlife to shove me into the real world of motherhood again. Apparently, I had become too complacent; or rather, I’d become too comfortable in my unchallenged life. I was planning, I was achieving, I was thriving in the mindfulness of the mundane. I had found a moment of peace as all my family seemed to be working their plans and coming to family Christmas. I was happy. I could deal with the extra few pounds from the quarantined routine. I could cope with the change of wearing a mask and the new grocery store layout. But every once and again, like now, something reminds me that I am no longer a mother managing her matriarchy. I am, for moments like these, a supportive sideliner of the family tree.

Times like this are becoming more frequent. Fearing for what might happen to those I love. Somehow, if they had just listened to me the world would be right. If I had just said the right thing, moved the right way, spoke in the quiet voice that screamed the answer, life would be different. The outcome would have been for the best. The world would have been perfect. It is so hard to be rooted in the moment, yet respectful of my children’s lives to leave the past where it belonged, and walk along side them rather than lead. My heart cries mama tears when I land in this spot. How can I be strong for the both of us? How can I fix this? How can I love you enough to make this go away?

This may sound foolish to some who have not lived this motherhood. My children are wonderful and unique and at times perfect and sometimes broken and I know this. What I am learning is that with my midlife I carry a new kind of strength. I love a new kind of love – one that is tough and resilient in ways I never knew. I no longer carry my babies in my arms, or shelter them in my shadow. I now have to watch them as the walk ahead of me, breathing life into their own world. Trembling in my heart, my mama tears soon cease as I find the strength to release my fear. I am finding the power to let go and it terrifies me. I will not be the same, but different. And my children will be better because I did so.

The right to be grateful

For several years, my renewed path to mindfulness included my focus on gratitude. As I became a parent, it became even clearer that the comfortable life in which I was raised was what I wanted for my children. I wanted them to not be spoiled, but free from worry about being in a safe neighborhood, free from concern about whether we would be able to pay the utility bill, or have enough money for the basic meals AND snacks. While today’s teens assume a cell phone and computer is a basic right, I wanted my family to be able to go to the doctor whenever there was a need. Being fully insured, fully fed, and fully entertained was our goal. Being fully educated was the underlying theme at every family discussion. At least it was for me. Having all these things meant my family was on their way to success, and I was grateful to be able to provide this for them as it was provided for me. So there was little doubt that when I became an empty nester, my attention should be directed in showing gratitude and being thankful for the grace I’d received.

Many of my enlightened friends were also at this point in their lives. We considered it a test of our faith or moral character. Acknowledging the ability to live free from most worries allowed us to be humble. To celebrate our personal freedom of no longer being the maniacal mother of teenage tyrants, but now living the life of respectful humility. We’d made it. If our children were still around to tell the tale and visit us on an occasional weekend, it was all good. However, my meditation on the benefits of being grateful took me down a thoughtful turn I had not expected. Was being grateful enough?

The basis of gratitude implies that you exist within a world that provides. That you are seen. That your voice is heard. And that you have succeeded. However, after much thought, I have concluded that the richness of one’s comfort is not earned by hard work. It seems, in part, that the privilege of being grateful is due to being born into circumstances that grant you the right to have. For all of my life, I have looked to my parents as they worked and struggled and then as my spouse and I worked and struggled to provide for our family. Little had I realized that my privilege did not just come from my hard work, but that my ancestors were able to own their home. That my parents shopped freely without fear and provided me things many others did not have. When my children had scrapes with the law, I could rescue them without further recourse as I was not second guessed as a bad mother or worse, judged as less than human. Gratitude had become my evidence of privilege.

I cannot begin to share with you how this troubles me. Being grateful, recognizing that I could have lived without but did not, was part of my midlife commitment to peace. Learning that this peace came at a price that I did not pay is overwhelming to me. How do I reconcile the future I want to provide my children, with addressing these inequities so that all mothers can be grateful and provide for theirs?

I do not have the answers to this, but like a pebble in my shoe, each step I take on this journey is a painful lesson that peace often comes at a cost. How expensive it is will be determined by how we share our ability to be grateful with others.

The fragrance of yesterday’s flowers

This spring and all the rain has made our community extremely green. In the cool mornings working from home, I have made breathing in the scent from my herbs and flowers I have planted a part of my ritual of mindful meditation. While we have all read or heard about how smell can evoke memories that have been associated with particular scents, I find that my mornings often transport me to places unexplored. Unexplored, yet ready for me to uncover the promise of tomorrow. Somehow, the growing life that fills my garden not only takes me back but holds me in a space that is quiet and new and purposeful. I have found a connection between the past, present, and the future in these gifts from my garden.

My maternal family has always loved roses. I’ve learned that our body chemistry and our ability to smell differs from person to person. However, despite the color or fragrance, the scent of roses evokes my past in a way that is more powerful than I could have imagined. I am reminded of the football-sized roses of all colors that lined my grandmother’s drive in the country where dirt roads were commonplace. I think back to my childhood where we knew we were close to my Grammy and Granddad because we saw the drive and even smelled the richness of the blooms as the tires from our car crunched over the gravel and dirt circular path. My mother continued this appreciation as her driveway in the city was also lined with roses, carrying on the sensory tradition of the anticipation of being home. While my roses do not yet grow in abundance, the fragrance of my Mr. Lincolns takes me back to a past that was simple and filled with home.

This spring, in particular, has been wonderfully fresh and I have planted mint and rosemary (ah! that rosemary!) and catered to my few growing flowers. Working the soil in the morning sun, I converse with myself about the need to wear a hat. At times, I must spend time recovering from my worshipful seat on the ground. I will occasionally stop and listen to the birds. Sometimes, I will smell the earth and my trusty canine companions and the evidence of a day at play. These moments, these scents, spur my imagination of the world to come. Retirement is too far away, but the peaceful repose of my midlife gives me hope for growth. Just like my herbs. Just like my roses. While my garden keeps me grounded in the moment, the fragrance of yesterday’s flowers allows me the gratitude of what was and excitement of what is to come.

Every breath I take…

I just lost someone dear to me. It was lung cancer that had spread its pervasive toxin throughout his body to the point where every motion, every breath, was a challenge. It was raw, and fast, and devastating. At a time in my life where each breath is a path to remaining centered and whole, here was a clear reminder of the gift that a simple breath represents. Mindful existence.

It was difficult to see how something so simple represented such a significant struggle between life and death. Good air in. Bad air out. Each moment was an effort to focus on the daily act of living. I soon realized how much of a privilege it was to be able to remain mindful and focused during a time that became so overwhelming for us all. Love could not fix this. Hindsight could not take me to a place where I could right the wrong and make things whole again. In the days that followed, that focus became blurred as we all served as witness to his passing.

Where is it written that the gift of life and breath is only for a few? How can it be that some continually live in fear of never fully exploring their breath and the gift of life we all share? Living in the privilege of a breath without fear connects us all with love. It is the fear that creeps into our ability to remain equal. To love equally. To live equally. Breathing is nothing, yet everything. Are we all equally breathing, equally mindful? Never fearing that each moment is a gift that should not stolen from another. During my time of grief, my attention to my loss was directed to another who also had his breath stolen from him. His loss is also my loss. His fear and what it represents becomes my fear as well.

The musician Sting once sang, “Every breath you take, I’ll be watching you”. My family, my friends, my world: I am watching you. Every breath you take. Every move you make during a time when we all must equally breathe. Together, we must breathe as one or we do not truly breathe at all. While we cannot fix the past with love, we can look forward and measure the moments in our life with how equally we regard each other. These acts that take our breath away for just a moment should remind us of how precious we all are.

Now that your attention is focused, where will your next breath take you?

My cup runneth over…

It was on my weekend getaway a few months ago, traveling by myself, that I took the time to understand the value of a moment. You may be thinking, “What’s a moment in the big scheme of things? Why is just a minute so important?” These days, in the time of sheltering in place, I find myself revisiting the value of time spent alone with little to do.

It had been clear that my life was taking a turn down the path of “living like I was dying”. Packing every moment with items on my bucket list: enjoying my favorite foods, seeing my favorite people more regularly, and even searching for adventures in the great unknown. As I approached midlife, I struggled with feelings that I wanted my life to count – and that I wanted to live with no regrets. It had become easy to get caught up in the planning instead of the actual living my life in these moments. It was when I finally had my “Aha” moment just recently that I took a step back from this breakneck pace and TYPE A goals (as the planner I am) to understand how my living in the moment was the perfect example of quantity over quality. My goal of paying attention had evolved into make each moment count. Little did I realize that the lesson I had to learn was that making each moment count was about finding the little joys in the moment, not making the moment “explode” with life. Somehow, I had lost the ability to see and appreciate the little things, not for what they were in connection to the big picture of my crazy days, but appreciate them for the bits of undiscovered joy they were. Reminding myself that my midlife goal was to incorporate mindfulness into all that I do, I reexamined my routine and in the process, made some improvements to my tiny world.

As a holiday gift, I received a subscription to a monthly box with samples of tea. The purpose: to provide a taste of something you might consider for future purchase. This is not a new concept – but as my mood for tea varies greatly, I took the plunge, completed the enrollment and waited for my first box. It was unclear what kind of tea I’d be receiving – white, green, black, oolong, matcha, or other flavorful combinations. I had answered questions about how I drank my tea, how I normally prepared my tea, when I drank my tea, and I even provided details about my preference on flavors. This monthly box was soon to become a pleasant surprise in an otherwise busy schedule. But what arrived at my doorstep was much more than just a box. It was truly an adventure in mindfulness.

I opened my first box to find colorful packets with foreign names and flavors. There was a description card for the teas, as well as instructions for how to make the best cup. Making a good cup of tea required attention; something I had not ever made time for in the past. The phrase, “a watched pot never boils” took on new meaning for me as I adapted my busy life to the art of making tea. By the arrival of the second box, I had carved out time for my tea. It became an adventure as I unwrapped the packets and packages of loose leaves. I became an explorer as I discovered new tastes of what I had transformed from a dry packet of leaves to a hot, sweet beverage to savor. I was taking time to enjoy the quiet moments with a full cup.

It was upon receiving my third monthly box that I realized how I had been brought to the peak of mindfulness as I had filled the kettle with water and waited for it to boil. Standing at the stove, I focused on preparing my cup and laying ready my spoon, honey, and my teacozy. Hearing the burbling sounds of the kettle, I’d taken hold of the handle as the water was boiling away, feeling the rumbling energy of the water as it was brought to the perfect temperature. As I poured the water into the teapot, I savored the wafting scent of my creation. My cup of tea had mindfully brought me to a place I had long since forgotten.

Since this time, I have learned that I must work at being mindful. I’ve decided that for me, clarity and peace of mind comes with the goal of looking for something and finding nothing. Not a task for my list, not a project to be completed, but being open to the joy of drinking a full cup of tea and what it took for me to find it.