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 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?

Garden of the god(dess)

It was in the throws of late spring and now past summer solstice that I find myself shoe deep in the mud of our yard. Clumps of clay and weed and dog paw prints like fossils changing from mud to dried artifact. I am filled with caffeine-fueled hope that I might master the art of gardening in the potential oasis I call my home. Spring does this to me, affects me in ways that stir me to my maternal soul.

There is something fulfilling about providing the care and nurturing that a garden requires. Something about the control of the new growth, claiming responsibility for the beauty, and the shame in a failed result that reminds me of motherhood. Many of us have heard the analogy of our children being the flowers in our family garden – delicate and in need of nurturing in the beginning, exposure to the elements of the world to help them grow into a strong and beautiful creation, and the occasional requirement of extra fertilizer to boost the balance resulting from growing in the wrong place exposed to toxic elements. Tending a garden is not easy, no matter what kind of plants you choose to raise.

While the mornings are still cool and I can successfully prune and weed, I think fondly of a childhood story of The Secret Garden. Discovering the fragrant trail into the abandon of a special place in nature. Developing everlasting bonds of kinship with those whom I can keep my spiritual secret. Establishing oneness with my world and feeling inspired by the nature growing around me permits my imagination to run wild. In my attempts to remain mindful and live in the moment, I can state that the garden is just that – a spot in the midst of the chaos – where I can meditate on the moment.

I have to wonder if my daughters are also become a part of my midlife Garden. My mindful flowers keeping me rooted in the moment to enjoy the meaning of my Saturday mornings. This is where I do not worry about the things I cannot control. I can only respond to what I am shown that moment. I can water, weed, and sit to enjoy the stillness. While I can claim to be the reason why my Garden flourishes or not, I really know that it is up to the ultimate Mother, the Earth. It is up to the sun and the wind and the rush of mystical sense that sweeps me up into a mindful moment of this inspirational wonder. I am but the goddess of my tiny Garden. A temporary caretaker. It is in the bigger field that my flowers will eventually grow and thrive. Each unto their own time to blossom.

In the meantime, I will continue to dig and weed and work around the clay-like soil filled with “paw-ssils”, thwarting the curious canines that serve as my entourage as I trek into the jungle that is my garden. Focusing not just on what I can do for my Garden, but what it does for me. Like I expect most gardeners believe, I would imagine the success of their cultivated and nurtured secret Garden to be like the sunflower – continually growing, always facing the light, standing tall for others to see. I can only hope that mine reseed and continue to bloom where they are planted.

Love in the time of sentiment

It was after I had struggled a while with the thought of going through my accumulation of sentimental items that I encountered a novel idea brought to me by a new friend. While the things I had saved and stored over my lifetime would not allow me to share the happiness I lived, it would enable me to tell the stories of the love from my life. Sharing the story that was prompted by my treasured item would go much further in depicting the love and warmth it brought me than handing down a naked item with no sense of value or purpose in the hands of another. The story, the sharing of a bit of my soul with the important people in my life, would allow me to pass forward the lovely fragrance of my grandparents’ patio orange tree or the tastiness of my mother’s quiche in ways a picture or knickknack could not.

As the oldest sibling of a small family of divorce, my early memories of my childhood contained some emotional nuggets that over time, became polished in the recollection of my sister and me. As we grew into adulthood, the bad times fell away and our favorite experiences took on a new fondness as we tried to share them with our children and other special people in our lives. Once our parents died, the realization that no one else would understand these special memories scared me. I wanted my children to appreciate people they had never met, homes they’d never seen, and wonder they hadn’t experienced. Unrealistic as I was, I became overwhelmed with the guilt that an entire family’s story would go untold, and determined it was up to me to ensure that my parents, my grandparents, and their ancestors before them were not forgotten.

I saw my salvaged, sentimental things as a way to pass this on to my children. Little did I understand that a doll in the hands of a little girl is just a doll. No history. No sentiment. No curiosity. Just a doll. I could not accomplish the feat of having my family story not forgotten unless I told it myself. Unless I found a way to share the love and memories myself in ways my family could appreciate. It may seem silly to those who grew up with their extended family surrounding them. However, for those of us who had no large family gatherings, no family traditions to speak of, or may have survived the break up of family through divorce, we want to hold on to things that give our experience meaning. We keep the little things that accompany us through life because they are ours and serve as witness to our story because there may be no other who can do this.

So now, I am going through my long held knickknacks asking myself, “What story do I need this to tell? How do I use this item to reinforce the fabric of my family quilt?” This will be challenging for me. It will require thought and care, but I am certain that my love in the time of sentiment will make its way into our hearts. Our holidays, our gatherings, and our time together will never be the same.

Eat, pray and love me by taking a second helping

It was after an eventful vacation to the Mediterranean last month that I started thinking about our next trip. My husband and I had decided to take this trip of a lifetime, which represented our quest for adventure as free spirits from our work-a-day obligations. Our 12 days away from home and into the restaurants of Italy, Greece, Croatia and our cruise ship introduced us to flavors we were uncertain of – some blessed us with Buddha smiles and full bellies, while others made us wonder how the recipes we thought we knew could be so different than to what we were accustomed. In the end, each meal was an adventure spent with friends.

We returned from our trip, anxious to embark on a new trip to parts unknown. We loved the possibility of what we could learn, but better yet – we loved the meal times we spent with those close to us. During dinner on the ship, we were regularly sat next to a family of what could only have been a family of adults and their children. Each evening, they spent an evening in food, wine and conversation. Reminiscing about my international experience, my weekend self spent an afternoon watching the movie, “Eat, Pray, Love”. I soon came to the realization that I too loved the opportunity to eat and share with friends. More particularly, I enjoy the adventure of eating something tasty and filling and the conversation that resulted.

It seemed that not that long ago I was worrying about whether we had enough food to accommodate the friends my children had invited over just minutes before. Meals were stressful, often served on the fly, and often not quite meeting the four basic food groups. But as a recent empty nester, my children were no longer home requiring that I be there every mealtime. Casual entertaining with food and friends and people who were a pleasure to be around provided a satisfaction like nothing else.

I’ve spent much time considering what is making me happy in my midlife. Clearing out our drawers and shelves that have been stuffed with the “I might need that someday” items has cleared the way for what might follow a life of raising children. The smiles on the faces of my friends and family, the adventure of going places I’ve not gone before, and the warm feeling of company sharing their time. What I have learned is that the breaking of bread, the sharing of the meal, can be a catalyst for all of this. A moment of one of my favorite movies, “Under the Tuscan Sun”, taught me that life is rarely how you expect it to be. However, if you keep your heart open, it will be fulfilled in ways that may even exceed your expectations. These days, my heart remains open and in addition – my dining table is ready and can always be set for one more.

Guilt: the equal opportunity burden

It wasn’t supposed to go like this. I was supposed to be an equal partner in all things with my significant other in life and in family. Share the responsibility, share the joy from accomplishments in our lives, share common goals so that we were always reassured of the journey we took to bring ourselves to new levels of challenge and reward. Raise our family with strong values, love, and lead by example with exemplifying respect for all things. And then came real life. Discovery of repeating the cycles of past trauma and dysfunction, crises in real time, and then the guilt. The guilt that only comes from hind sight.

I used to believe that my life was to reflect my values and priorities. My perspective was that if you talked the talk, you walked the walk. Little did I realize that life was less about leading by example by what you have and more about reacting to what you didn’t. It was more about juggling the plates and not breaking the important ones. It was less about how nice your table looked with these plates and more about how comfortable your guests were. I felt guilty because I wasn’t leading the mom life I wanted, and in the process, led the mom life that impacted my kids in ways I worry about now.

As an empty nester, I look back at my choices of how they affected my children. Being a step-parent was like a trial run for “real” parenthood. First, there were the years of being just a stepmother. Then there were the years of being mainly just a mom. Finally, there were years of both, when I had to develop answers to questions I wasn’t ready for. I had to be ready to make these decisions whether I was alone, or on the same page with my partner. I had to be ready not only to live the life I felt I should live, but figure how to be the mom I wanted to be, to my stepchildren and my children, amidst all the unhealthy parts of real life that never really went away.

It was difficult. While this blog was never meant to call out the specifics of my life, it does allow me to realize that I spend an awful amount of my life wishing things could have been different. Don’t get me wrong – I made the best decisions I could given the circumstances. However, I have spent lots of my time worrying about what I felt I could have done differently. I often find myself anchored to the past with this worry. Now, I have grandchildren and I see that all of my adult children are creating their own lives. They are making their own choices, creating their own memories. I have to wonder – Could I have done more? Are their challenges in life my fault? Will they ever know I tried? Will they see all that I’d hoped for them but never felt I shared with them?

I know I shouldn’t be worrying about things beyond my control. In my head, I realize that my life never needed to be perfect. But in my heart…that’s a different story. Despite my best attempts to live my life in mindfulness, I continue to be brought back to the thoughts of “what if” I had lived my life differently? Made different choices? Guilt seems like the equal opportunity burden that all mothers face at some point in their lives.

So, inspired as I am for this new year, and for my belief that it is never too late, I make a personal commitment to take each day a time with a simple goal: reach out to my loved ones to let them know they matter. Instead of worrying that I have failed them in some way, I will let them know they are ever present in my thoughts. I accept that I cannot change the past and I cannot accept responsibilities for others’ lives. I can only move forward with purposeful love one day at a time. Loving myself enough to take this step each day allows me to cherish what I have in my life and those who have me in theirs.

This is my journey. One day at a time. One step at a time. Where is your life journey taking you?