Friday, October 20, 2017

This Is Fifty

Long ago I blogged at a site I called Slouching Towards Forty. Today I find that title quaint, even precious. But then again I am two weeks shy of fifty, so of course my perspective has changed. What was so hard about forty? I can’t even remember.

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I am post-menopausal now, thankfully. (A hysterectomy at forty meant early menopause for me.) My body is my own again, and that alone is something to celebrate, is it not? I have lost forty pounds. I am healthy and energized. I am taking pleasure in expanding my wardrobe, buying clothes that are marginally edgier and more daring than I have ever owned.

What is this? Is it happiness? Not quite. Instead it is a subset of, or maybe a prequisite for, happiness. It is a newfound confidence in moving through the world, an ease with myself and others that I have long coveted. Little did I know that I myself could be the engineer of change.

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All my life I have waited for things to happen. Until now. What power there is in realizing that change, and growth, is in my own wheelhouse, and always was.

Take that, fifty, take that.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Not Yet

A little over a month until I turn fifty years old, and I find that I am disappearing into myself. Not unwelcome, this development strikes me as nearly essential. I have withdrawn from much of social media. On Facebook I scroll by people's news with the sense that I am only avoiding what it is I am meant to be doing. Checking Facebook has become just another chore.

I am in a long slow process of becoming. Not yet brave enough to take a step forward, I am an incipient sprinter. A photographer has frozen me in time, both my feet still on the starting blocks. Yet contained in the photograph is the moment to come, when I will burst forth. Implied movement is real enough. It can be sensed.

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I am not yet a writer, but in the second act of my life I will be a writer. This is a truth I feel deeply. It informs my every action, even when I would wish it away. But I have to become stronger before I can give myself over to writing. I must acquire the faith that I can do this thing. I need to believe in myself in a way I have never been able to do.

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A few weeks ago a teacher friend of mine taught a wonderful lesson to her second graders. She had them reformulate not's into not yet's. In this way the self-statement "I am not an artist" became "I am not yet an artist." One simple word — yet — changes everything. And as I watched these children write their not yet's (I can't play the drums — yet; I can't tie my shoes — yet), I remembered my own not yet, and I smiled, because I can be patient. Becoming is quiet, slow work that may just require some quiet, slow living.




Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Language Spoken Here

As I move the kettle to the back burner, I cup my hands around it to enjoy its warmth, and with it my husband's presence, solid and sure. This is how I know he loves me: the small but meaningful act of making me coffee every morning, although he is long gone when I make my way downstairs to find it waiting, undisturbed by teenagers and cats.

Somewhere once I heard a line about a woman knowing her marriage was over when her husband stopped making her coffee in the morning. A small act, or inaction, with large ramifications.

I hold my husband's small act close in a houseful of men. On vacation last week I realized that the three males with whom I live interact mostly on the strength of sarcasm and insult. It grew wearying, and once or twice even bordered on hurtful. The younger members of my family are still figuring out the line where acceptable social discourse meets rudeness, which line may well differ between men and women in any event.

"This is the way men talk to each other," my husband explained. Maybe that's true for him, or maybe it is more broadly. I cannot know. I do know that more than once on our recent trip I found myself clenching my jaw and wishing that I might have had a daughter with whom at least some of the time I could camp.

And yet, and yet. My sons and husband know me well enough to anticipate my needs. They advocate for me. They love me, simple as that. It is a love that can feel foreign, which affords it a gratifying element of surprise.

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They know me well enough, I wrote (did you notice?), which leaves room. I hold a core part of myself at a distance from others. I always have. It's a protective stance left over from an emotionally difficult childhood. But it is my fault, not theirs, that they cannot bridge the gap. How can you bridge what you do not even know is available to access?

As I nurse my morning coffee, I realize that I need to place more faith in gestures, in rituals of comfort and care. In that direction love lies, at least in my house.

I see you, grown and growing men. I hear your words, and today I recognize them as posturing. What matters most is the hand (strikingly large; I don't know when that happened) you placed on my shoulder as we hiked down a mountain a few days ago. You were steadying yourself but also steadying me. That hand spoke love as clearly as the coffee pot, each and every morning.






Tuesday, July 4, 2017

All the Colors, All the Stripes

We were in an Uber. A hard, persistent rain had forced us to abandon our plan of wandering around Kensington Market for the afternoon. We'd arrived in Toronto a day earlier in the midst of a gay pride parade, the end (or beginning?) of which was only a block or so away from our hotel. There were rainbows everywhere: painted on people's faces, waving at us from flags carried by people young and old. So many people. So much happiness.

The Uber driver began a conversation. Aimless chatter about the differences between Canada and the United States narrowed as we compared the costs of attending college in the two countries, which discussion evolved inevitably into talk about politics.

Feeling sure of the driver's political persuasion given his religion (Muslim) and nationality (Canadian), I ventured into Trump territory. In retrospect, a mistake, although my comment was relatively mild and nonspecific.

"Oh, I support Trump!" exclaimed the driver. My husband and I eyed one another. Was this sarcasm?

No. "He tells it like it is," he continued. "I love that about him." He continued on praising Trump for some time, oblivious to the uncomfortable silence of his passengers.

Now, as we closed in on our hotel, our driver gestured dismissively. "This is known as the gayborhood," he offered, his emphasis on the first syllable leaving no room for doubt as to his feelings about the neighborhood and its occupants.

I emerged from the car into misty rain, sunlight straining to break through. "Look!" pointed my fifteen-year-old. "There's a rainbow going straight down into the park where the gay pride parade was!"

And so there was. I nodded, preoccupied, thinking about the Uber driver who had so discouraged and confused me. Who, then, voted for Trump? Who supports him? If even someone Canadian, if even someone Muslim...

Against my dark thoughts the rainbow strengthened and clarified.

"If only this rainbow had appeared during the parade," my son mused. "What a statement that would have been. It would have made the news for sure."

Monday, May 29, 2017

Locating Happiness

Lately it's the little things.

The iced coffee at Wegmans is strong enough. (Iced coffee is never strong enough.)

My muscles relax in a hot bath. As steam rises I imagine my body offering whispers of thanks to the air.

With my husband I explore a park new to me. The path rises as it curves to the right. I can't see what's ahead, and I quicken my pace in anticipation. I am rewarded when the vista positively opens up around me: rolling hills with mountains beyond, and yes, even a red barn. On one side the park is fenced, bordering a farm, and as I walk along that side I hear, before seeing, five horses grazing close to the fence. They are blowing and snorting as they eat. They are so large, so majestic. I am delighted.

What is it about middle age? I do not seek out happiness as a goal or object and yet it comes to me in innumerable small ways, as long as my eyes are open and my heart is pliable.

And this, too: I am most likely to find happiness when I am outside, or at least out of the house. It's not as if my house is an unhappy place, but in it I am reminded of chores to do and things that need to be repaired or replaced. If being older has taught me anything it is to focus on people, not things.

Oh, there are plenty of times when I am annoyed, drained, or moody. I have not discovered some secret tunnel into joy. But if I can count a handful of happy moments throughout the course of a day, I am satisfied.

Twice in recent weeks I have been moved to tears by small gestures of kindness. "Mrs. Piazza, you're crying a little," observed a second grader, accidental witness to one such kindness. "Yes, but these are happy tears," I reassured him. He looked puzzled. I didn't try to explain. He will understand, but only after he has done a lot more living.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Day By Any Other Name

Late last Thursday afternoon I drove to campus to help my son pack up his room, which proved dusty and hot work that took longer than we'd expected. It was seven o'clock before we remembered dinner. We decided to eat at a dining commons, his favorite. I detected a note of institutional pride in his step as we walked to the building, and once we'd arrived he gave me a tour of the varied culinary offerings, so many more than were available when I was in college thirty years ago. We sat and ate, and he reviewed his freshman year for me. It was a good year, full of social and emotional growth obvious even in the way he interacted with me over dinner.

As we finished up eating I half-closed my eyes and imagined myself a student at his university. I wonder sometimes whether I am alone in doing this. I am always inserting myself into strangers' lives, trying them on for size, not because I am dissatisfied with my own, although of course there are small dissatisfactions, but because I am so curious about the lived experiences of other people.

My son is much more able to be alone than I was at his age, much more comfortable in his own skin. In college I was not settled unless I was surrounded by people, who must have been acting for me as some sort of validation of my social worth. I was reminded of this as I looked around the dining hall and saw quite a few students alone, seemingly content to be so. I voiced this observation to my son, who told me that sure, he dined alone now and then, if he could not find a friend to join him. "Do you bring a book, or your phone, when that happens?" I asked. He looked puzzled. "No," he replied. "Why would I?" Indeed.

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How did we get here? How am I old enough to have a child turning twenty years old in October? How will I be fifty years old one month later?

(We got here in the usual way, one foot, then the other. So many single moments, most forgettable, make up a life.)

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Do you know what about my older son makes me the most proud? It is that he is political. He spies moral wrongs—so many just now that it makes one's head spin. He articulates them, and he believes in fighting them.

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Reintegrating a college student into his old household poses certain challenges. I don't want to treat him like a child. But neither is he yet an adult, not quite, although he believes himself one. It is far too easy to fall into old, familiar patterns, and when he and his brother interact, I will not lie, they might as well be ten years old and six years old, as if the intervening decade had never passed. They are not at their best when they are with each other.

Despite the brotherly sniping, I am grateful to have our family, all four of us, under one roof. It will not last, I know, and that is precisely why it feels so sweet, on this day before Mother's Day.

Mother's Day: a holiday I nearly hate, between my ambivalence about my own mother (whose inability to mother is explainable and tragic but still felt by me as a loss, or more properly a hole), her now eight-year absence from my life and from life in general, and my belief that forced gratitude for a thing not only is not real but also actively pushes away what is real.

Still, I happen to be a mother writing about her children on the day before Mother's Day, a mother grateful to have her family, all four, under one roof, which I suppose makes today as much my own Mother's Day as the officially sanctioned one may be. If nothing else, the best lawn mower in our family has arrived home to take over that chore, gift enough, gift enough.

If Mother's Day is meaningful to you, I wish you a wonderful, chore-free day with the people you love. And if it isn't, know that I understand.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Giraffe

1.

The giraffe moves languidly. She is never in a hurry. Life is reduced to little more than its essentials: procuring food, eating it, drinking water, sleeping. This is not a bad thing, to those of us whose to-do lists look ridiculous when scrutinized. (But who besides the giraffe has room in the day for scrutiny?)

2.

There is time to find a patch of sunlight and find bliss in the warmth it generates. If there isn't, make time.

3.

There may be a calf — all evidence suggests it — but it will arrive in due course. Nature has a way of working itself out.

4.

Every now and then, why not break into a run? Kick up the dust a bit?

5.

Eating is pleasurable indeed. Chewing the cud is only slightly less pleasurable.

6.

When times are difficult, watching giraffes is mesmerizing precisely because they neither know nor care about the state of the union. They persist. Children managed to be born in concentration camps, despite everything.

7.

Giraffes never look bored because they are never bored.

8.

There is a sameness to physical and emotional intimacy across species that is both reassuring and liberating.

9.

Giraffe calves stand within an hour of their birth and run within a day. This is an inspiring timetable.

10.

Mothers instinctively know how to mother. Mothering well may consist of shedding all of the layers that bury instinct.

11.

Nursing on demand is a no-no in the giraffe world.

12.

Humans could touch noses with greater regularity and be happier for it.

13.

This (all of it) was never only about giraffes, but then you knew that.