No, Deb, We’re Actually Not Playing in the Same Sandbox

I’ve written about the long period of time when my kids were young when a few businesses my husband was involved with simultaneously combusted – leaving our lives scattered in pieces to salvage the best we could.  So I won’t bore you with the story again except to reference an odd phrase one of my husband’s employees repeatedly used in conversation with me to convey – I am not sure what – “We’re all playing in the same sandbox!” she would exclaim every time she saw me.  Um….was it solidarity?  Compassion?  Manipulation?  Honestly, it annoyed me because we were SO NOT in the same “sandbox,” figuratively or literally.  There were disastrous and long-term financial and professional consequences from the partnerships and businesses that fell apart that affected many people – just not so much “Deb.”  The memory of this strange interaction tumults my consciousness back to a feeling of deep isolation.  And that’s when the addictive thinking began.

I mention this because I want to talk about trust and friendship and understanding.  These are the best contexts for me to share with you that recently I chose to have a couple of glasses of wine.  Relapse.  That’s what my Therapist calls it.  I think that is a brutal word, especially since some of the recovery literature and support groups make it sound so hauntingly awful – and shameful.  I am not ashamed that I wanted 2 glasses of wine ….. twice lately …. and that I gave in to my desire.  My Therapist wants to make sure I understand that the “relapse happens in the thinking a long time before the behavior” – and I do.  I will be honest, both times I drank I felt utterly terrible physically for 2 days after.  Nor did I get the “fun buzzed” feeling I recollected and longed for.  Just swallowing a sugary drink in hopes of recapturing a feeling of escape.  But the feeling never came and the after effects were awful.  So I don’t think I will be doing it again.  Yet my Therapist and I both want to know why I did it.

Isolation and not feeling connected are the roots of my addiction.  When I look around at the true friendships, real connections, and budding feelings of purpose I have at this perfectly awkward midlife time of life, what I have is good.  REALLY good.  I just don’t seem to want to accept it, if that makes sense.  My friend Shelley, a dear old friend with whom I have recently reconnected, helped me see something about myself glaringly obvious to her:  my addiction must have somehow also been driven by the desire to escape from the natural physical changes women experience in midlife. Yes, Shelley, yes! You are right!  Her compassion, insightfulness and kindness led to tears streaming down my face when she said:  “You are probably just now, in your sobriety, learning to accept your body and wrinkles for what they are while other women your age have had more time to adapt.”  Bingo.  I’ve written about taking dexedrine (pure speed prescribed by a doctor) for (I can’t even remember the bs diagnosis – something like “unresponsive depression”).  I was super skinny then.  Now I am hungry all the time.  But if you compare my overall health today to what it was during my skinny and addicted years – I am far healthier, though more plump, today.  Shelley is helping me understand “you are not supposed to look like you did 25 years ago.”  My body today is not a “mistake.”

I think comparison is the reason why I relapsed.  “Everyone else” is having so much fun drinking and having fabulous bodies.  I hope you are laughing because I am!  Our addictions will tell us lies about ourselves and others all day long if we let them.

What will I do now?  I will work harder to accept and love myself.  I have learned so many things from this journey but it takes time and effort to put it all into daily practice. Drinking is and always will be a problem for me.  When I drink, I am not my authentic self and it is difficult for me to get back to that.  Some of today’s “spiritual junkies” tout that “Calm is my superpower.”  And that sounds attractive.  I want it.  Like sobriety, I will do anything to get it and keep it.  Now back to work.

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The Dog Days of Missing Boo

In 18 days, she’s coming back home for the summer!!!  It is a triumph to have survived the most dreaded event of my life.  I could not help but project onto my daughter my personal feelings about being away from home for the first time, so I caused myself infinitely more suffering this year than she ever came close to experiencing.  It’s what I do.

During her time away, my daughter has fully embraced her new experiences.  She’s in a great sorority, she participated in variety shows and charity events, she travelled to other college campuses, she has made wonderful friends, and she has her own separate identity that is hers and hers alone.  Her Dad and I are extremely humbled and proud.  And somehow, through all of it, my heart got BIGGER, not smaller, and we got closer, not more distant.

When my college Freshman daughter was in kindergarten, we BOTH hated it so much I had a countdown calendar in the kitchen that we eagerly scratched off the days leading up to the long-awaited summer break.  I think I hated kindergarten more, come to think of it, because my Isa spent the following summer writing letters to her teacher who was helping her husband heal from cancer.  That’s my girl, she stays connected to the people she cares about.  I should have known the “break” for college would not be an actual break, as my heart feared.

This is my message to all the Moms who are now in my shoes, anticipating (perhaps dreading) their child’s first year of college and what lies ahead:

  • Whatever groundwork has been laid before college holds the parent/child bond together;
  • In spite of whatever fears you may have from your past, your child is eager to move into the future and will do so regardless of how you feel, and it will be okay;
  • Your child needs to experience the world without you and vice versa – families change in many ways over time, but love makes more than enough room for the new stuff and people that will come into your life;
  • Instead of thinking as the transition to college as a personal loss, remind yourself each day that it is a victory – you created and raised a child who wants to engage in this crazy world with the tools you helped nurture;
  • If you are married or have a partner, be extremely proud that you did this together –  and if you are still together, even more so, for staying married and releasing a young adult into the world are both enormous accomplishments.

Yes, my heart aches because the time with my daughter as a budding adult is gone.  I am learning to put those feelings aside to wholeheartedly enjoy the friendship and journey we are on together.  She’s not going to leave me behind, she has proven that.  I can keep counting days until I see her again if I want to, but this year has shown me that our bond of togetherness is stronger than physical presence.  She lives in my heart.

This summer, she has promised to take some walks with me and our dog, Pudgey.  Over the winter, Pudgey and I got sort of lazy and may have put on a few pounds wallowing in self-pity.  Thank goodness the Commander is on her way back home to whip us into shape!

 

Grandma’s One Question

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Helping Grandma Rhetta blow out her birthday candles!

Last week my family crammed into my husband’s Prius for the 4-hour drive on Interstate I-70 to St. Louis to visit my Mom, “Grandma Rhetta.”  My kids are 16 and 18 and they insisted we make the trip because it might be the last opportunity for my daughter to see Grandma Rhetta before she leaves home for the first time to start college.  Although we have made this trip more than 100 times, my heart was full of pride and wistfulness over this visit, especially because the kids are nearly grown and Mom is very frail at this time of her life.  She is confined to her bed with only her imagination, visits from friends and family and the television to comfort and occupy her.  Sometimes a short visit with Grandma Rhetta is best, even though the grueling drive on the highway suggests a longer stay.

When people love one another, they willingly take time from their “journey” to be together.  As Mom’s health declines and my teenagers approach adulthood, their journeys are polar opposite.  Yet my kids keep wanting to go back and love their Grandma.  Even though it was a conscious effort by me to foster a bond between my children and their Grandparents, discovering that at the busiest and most self-centered part of their journey they choose to spend time with their Grandma Rhetta overwhelms me with joy and sadness (because I am perimenopausal now!).

We enter Mom’s world – her room – and she lights up with love and reaches from her bed for Isa and Mario.  Before each visit, she tells me many times to inform them she is expecting many warm hugs – and she gets them!  The kids adore Grandma Rhetta’s Southern accent and the warmth and charm it exudes.  Imitating her characteristic sayings has always been funny to them (in a loving way):  “My Stars!” and “Iced tay with lots of lemons!” are among their favorites.  Grandma Rhetta “southernizes” the pronunciation of Isa’s name (pronounced “Eesa”) so it sounds like “Eaze-a-Bella!”.

All those mornings at Grandma Rhetta’s kitchen table being lavished with her love and her special buttermilk pancakes mean something to Isa and Mario, and nothing thrills me more.  I’ll never forget the first time Mom visited Kansas City after Isa was born.  She rushed in the house after her long drive and, without putting her purse or keys down, walked straight to Baby Isa and cooed, “Are we gonna be friends?”.  Indeed they are.

Girlfriends are like Quilts

Oh, Girlfriends!  How would a woman survive life without them?  They come to our aid before we even know we need to be rescued.  They understand our innermost feelings and needs in the deepest way.  They refrain from judgment.  Like Momma Bear protecting her cub, a great girlfriend will work wonders in your life and expect nothing in return.

I reach for my Mom’s handmade quilts every single day of my life for comfort.  Tattered and ragged, sometimes I drag my favorite one like Linus, as if the quilt could make me invincible.  Magical powers sewn into every square, crafted and pieced together by my Mother’s hands with abundant love and the greatest of hopes for a life well lived.  I literally can cover myself in her protection any time I want.  The girlfriends who have sustained me through life’s toughest challenges are exactly like my favorite quilts.

In this picture, I am in the most miserable physical pain you could imagine.  I had been laboring for over 2 days with my first child and was waiting the last few hours before heading to the hospital to begin the terrifying birthing process.  I am sitting on a heating pad because I have lovely back labor.  And draped across my knees is the “Cotton Boll” quilt my Mom made for me more than twenty years ago.  “Don’t machine wash this,” she cautioned.  “It will fall apart.”  Nope.  This thing might as well be made of kryptonite.  Virtually indestructible.  Just like my ties to my girlfriends, one in particular, my Pammy.

Pam took this picture of me when she delivered a beautiful Wendy’s lunch of french fries and a Frosty.  She had had her daughter the year before, I had been her “birth coach.”  I did not even know I needed her to check on me that day, my mind was swirling with nesting details and anxiety about the future.  I am sure we laughed about the indignity of the last day pregnant – I was hobbling around, grunting and moaning in my hugeness.  Pam’s presence was comforting, though, and nothing really needed to be said.  There was history between us (at the time we had been friends over 10 years, thinking we knew everything about life, love, family and careers!).

We both moved away from Kansas City for many years and hardly stayed in touch, but fate reunited us a few years ago, and we have both returned HOME:  to Kansas City and our friendship.  I can look at her and imagine what she is thinking and we both erupt in raucous laughter!  We have the comfort of each other’s company and support and a very long history of experience together to sustain us.  Friendship is, indeed, a joyous thing.  As a woman grows older, the comfort of a close girlfriend is one of the greatest treasures she can have.  Nobody knows us better or would go farther to show us who we are when we are lost.  And midlife, I am discovering, is a bit of a “curious wonderland” where one can get very lost, indeed.  I am finishing the intensive Mom phase and looking ahead to the second act (actually, it has begun, I am just in denial).  Pam helps me laugh away the embarrassment of my arthritic hips and knees when I try to get up gracefully from a restaurant chair.  She will be there with me, locked arm in arm, for the second act, and there will be laughter, joy and comfort.  And I am one grateful woman of a certain age!