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.

Who will tell my story?

Just recently was the anniversary of my mother’s death. It’s been six years since she passed away in my home town. We had lived apart, almost 2,000 miles apart, and while technology made it seem closer, it was not close enough. She had become unable to travel and I was still in full-time parent mode. However, as she had more time to visit with me in her retirement years, I was able get to know more about her time as a mother of girls and even a little as a young girl herself. Between the stories of aches and pains of senior life and drama she lived with distant family and her residential facility friends, she occasionally shared a recollection of a time I knew little or nothing about – her youth.

After her death, my sister and I took time to study the few remaining pieces of her life she’d left behind with us. Since moving to an assisted living facility and having to sell her home, it was clear that she had to let go of the identity she had once created for herself as wife, teacher, mother, homeowner, and grandmother. In this new setting and for the years that followed, my mother evolved – or maybe devolved – into the life she led until her death. Now, in a few boxes, what remained of her was given to us to discover.

What we found in these boxes was a woman we barely knew. Instead of the conservative woman who shied away from risk, we found an adventurer. Someone who was a leader, a success within any community she engaged. Someone who, as a young girl from a tiny farming community, fished and camped in the Redwoods. As a teacher fresh out of college, she went to the Far East to travel and teach to young children with military families. We discovered lapel pins and class photos and evidence of her travels to exotic places. We felt sad that the woman we had come to know in death was not the woman we knew in life.

Those of you who follow this journey of mine into midlife have heard my stories of decluttering my life and focusing on the present. Instead of what had become a routine of schedules and sacrifice, I am focusing more on enjoying my life as it unfolds and living an authentic life built not only on the past but the present. As I read between the lines of my mother’s belongings, I was saddened to conclude that we, as a family, had been unsuccessful in helping her tell her story. Instead of celebrating who she was with us, she had put it in the past and lived a life she felt she should – a life of obligation. Where was this carefree girl fishing in the river? Exploring her world? Leading the charge of those around her? Why were we left with a feeling that we didn’t genuinely know the wonderful person she was? How different would our lives have been had this woman had been more a part of our lives?

My father, who had become estranged from our family after the divorce, led a very troubled and lonely life. In death a couple years later, he left no one behind to share his story. My decluttering of my parents belongings and other collected items allowed me to reminisce through the artifacts of my personal history. This gave me pause to think about my life and how I want to be remembered when I am no longer here to tell MY story. Some will ask, why does it matter? You will be gone and it will no longer affect you. After much reflection, I have concluded it matters to me because I want to be remembered. I want my story to be woven into the fabric of my “people” and their collective hearts. Being remembered gives your love and the life you lead purpose.

Nowadays, with social media, people who really don’t know you well may only know what you share via your streams of posts and tweets. The duality of crafting your public story versus living your private one has become the reality of today’s generation. I wholeheartedly believe that we owe it to ourselves to tell our own story. I derive my strength and inspiration from the string of events that are mine and mine alone. All the good and the bad moments have made me who I am and I want my people to know every bit of it. What about you? What of your life gives you purpose? How will others tell your story?

A wrinkle in my twinkle

My life has not always been easy. Ups and downs and things that scared me to my core took me to places that forever affected me. Now, I laugh more. I smile more. Less bothers me because I know that it wastes precious energy to sweat the small stuff. However, it has recently come to my attention that in my efforts to remain youthful in both spirit and smile, I am starting to wrinkle. Not in the cute creases of my twinkling eyes, but in the sag of my sagacity.

As a mom of former teenagers, I’ve often taken a discerning view of what life puts in my path. I trust, but am not always trusting. I am happy, but not always joy-filled. The direction I’ve taken in my life comes with qualification – with details, and with explanation. I’ve learned to take the good with the not-so-great. While I believe that life is what you make it, it is never perfect. Lessons one learns often come with a price. If you’re lucky, the wisdom that comes with experience shapes you in ways you’re proud of. Every crease, every fold, every dip into the unknown takes you to a new place. Being mindful of my steps, I focus on where I’m going. I measure my effort. I breathe in the gratitude of knowing that while each day is a gift, I am making the most out of my walks through this life. I couldn’t always say this but I appreciate that I can now.

Looking in the mirror, I see my life shaping my face, my physique, and my joy. I feel I must look past the wrinkle in my twinkle and relish the passion that has put it there. I must work hard to continue my walk down the path of mindfulness. Remaining in the present and not trying to plan my way out of midlife has been difficult. I don’t want to be stuck, but the mirror reminds me that there is balance to every choice I make.

I’m enjoying my midlife journey, and trying not to focus to hard on the lines and turns that shape my midlife. As long as I am guided to a clear path, and sunshine lights my way, a little wrinkle in my twinkle reminds me this trip has been worth it.

The fabric of friendship

When I was a child, making friends was as simple as telling the other your favorite color, food, and favorite television show. If you had things in common, you became friends. There was no complexity to the genuine nature of being a child. You were guaranteed a friend to play with a recess and someone who would come to your birthday party. No drama or politics to consider. You would share the latest events that took place over the weekend with your family. For me, it was stories like the one from a second grade friend about obtaining strawberry flavored lipstick, and the subsequent heartache when another friend tried to eat it. I have often wondered how life could be if adult friendships could be just as simple. We could have pre-printed business cards with our favorite food, favorite color, and a picture of us in our favorite outfit on a good hair day. No fuss, no frills and a friendship could be made.

Of course, life goes on and friendships become more complicated. Making time for important people is more difficult as work demands our time and children demand our attention. As adults, we engage in screening the people in our lives to ensure they match our values and our schedules. It is not surprising that quality friendships became difficult to develop and keep. At times when my nerves were frayed and my life unraveling, I often didn’t have the network of supportive friends I had also hoped to have a young professional and mother. As an introvert, it was lonely. Weaving the intricacies of a fulfilling and authentic life seemed to be more difficult without connection of kinship.

Considering this point caused me to step back and really think about what this blog was going to be about. It was difficult to focus on the point in writing this piece. Close and lasting friendships were difficult in my younger life and the lessons from that chapter in my life gave me lots to consider. What was it that I was trying to say? What did I really need to learn from this process? Nowadays with social media, many define friendships by connections – perhaps an electronic version of what we knew as children. I had plenty of those, connections I had made over the years. But how many of them would reach out regularly? Who would be there if you needed them? I have family and friends who are really looking at their networks, only to discover that it is still possible to be lonely in the midst of hundreds of “friends”.

It was only in my later life that I was able to appreciate how my life had become stronger with friendships that have lasted me for years. Not the casual acquaintances that are good for a chat at a local bar every once in a while, but true and deep friendships. Friends who wanted to add me to their lives and play a part in mine. Some friends developed into and remained friends, other wonderful people came and went. Some I had to let go of because I was hanging onto them for the wrong reasons. Good people come and go in every life, but a good friendship requires more that can’t be forced. Aspects like genuine interest, respect, timing of one’s life journey. My friends’ lives didn’t always match mine. Some were married and some were not. Some had children and some did not. Even now, I understand that that weaving these friendships in to my life was a difficult but worthwhile effort. The color they brought into an ordinary life made me an even better person that I could have been alone. As my midlife unfolds and I continue my focus on the moment, I can only look forward to weaving more threads into my fabric of friendship.

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.