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!

 

3 Things I got Right (and 7 I didn’t) in Motherhood

My Dad used to say with a great deal of disdain, “Anybody can procreate.”  The underlying meaning, of course, was that very few could raise children correctly.  All I really ever wanted to be was a Mother.  More than an archeologist, disc jockey, journalist, lawyer, nursing home administrator, speech therapist, French teacher, occupational therapist, florist or anything else – I have always “just” yearned to be a Mom – a really good one.

I always knew one absolute truth about Motherhood:  If I was going to model my maternal style on my own Mother’s legacy, I had big shoes to fill.   She managed to keep a clean house and serve three delicious squares every single day for 7 children (we won’t talk about emotional upheaval in between!).

Instead of absolute “perfection,” I have always aimed for a more realistic goal in my Mothering:  meeting my child where she or he was and lifting the goodness where I saw it.

In other words, I have been more of a “let love and joy lead”kind of Mom (similar to my vision of the Divine – never harsh or judgmental, always searching for the Light).

Now in their teens, I see my 2 teenagers’ experience of my Motherhood a little more objectively, and the 3 strengths and 7 flaws are glaringly obvious.  Here are the 7 things “good Moms” excel at that I really bombed:

  • Time Management Although we lived right across the street from the Library, my kids were always late to Story Time.
  • Potty Training  Instead of motivational charts, I employed begging and pleading, which never worked. My daughter begged me to make her a chore chart when she was about 6 and, out of frustration, she ended up making her own!
  • Volunteering  I was my daughter’s Daisy Troop leader and those poor little girls never earned badges, it was just too much; I volunteered in my son’s kindergarten class and total mayhem ensued and I had to be rescued by the School Social Worker.
  • Animals and Kids I thought the kids should have a puppy after my husband’s faithful and well trained Labrador passed away; Tango, the Boxer, made our lives wilder and more unpredictable than ever – if we weren’t searching for her with slices of cheese to encourage a timely and safe return home, I was scolding her for ruining a new rug or bringing home cow skulls.
  • Singing No, not ever did my kids enjoy singing with Mommy.  Instead, they covered their ears and pleaded, “No!!!!!!,” but when Daddy started singing, they quickly became calm and content.
  • Nursing When my kids were sick, they wanted their Dad, the calm and steady soul.
  • Cooking One time, a culinary flop was so embarrassing, my 10-year-old daughter got up from the table and started making omelets for our guests.  When I burned the bat-shaped cookies my son wanted to take to school for Halloween, he hugged me and said “Mom, I don’t know anybody who could have done better.”

In spite of these 7 maternal failings, I think my kids learned alot from their experiences!  Fortunately, I managed to get 3 things right, and I think that is going to be enough to seal their future adult lives as positive and productive:

  • Compassion   I am literally beaming with pride even today. When I visit their High School, I am almost always approached by a special needs student who proudly introduces him or herself as my son or daughter’s “FRIEND.”  Somehow, I got this right!  To be kind to the vulnerable and marginalized is not always second nature, and I guess, through living with me, my kids learned to practice (without knowing it) compassion.  THIS and only THIS was my main goal as a Mom, and this job is complete.  Thank you, God!
  • Acceptance/Inclusion There were times my kids were invited to do “yucky” things but instead of avoiding them, both my son and daughter would usually go and then come home and innocently share something amazing with me.  Like the time my son was the only child who attended an unpopular boy’s birthday party and he came home and said, “Mom, did you know you can be 7 years old and STILL in kindergarten?!”.  Or many times I observed my daughter sweetly ask a newcomer something about themselves, with genuine interest and warmth.
  • Celebrate I may have missed a few “learning opportunities” in the positive discipline arena while my children were growing up, but what they did experience alot of was celebrations of all kinds:  the dog’s birthday; the first day the Christmas lights were on in our local park; the joint 5th and 50th birthday party of my husband and our son with the bouncy house; picnics and craft parties with Big Brothers Big Sisters; going to the movies with their cousins; giving Grandma and Grandpa gifts they bought at a truck stop on Interstate 70; taking the first rose that bloomed in our garden to a teacher; sitting on the front porch with our friend with Down Syndrome and eating a Sonic corn dog.  Building moments to celebrate love, life and joy have been regular parts of my 2 kids’ upbringing, and I already see my daughter cultivating that kind of funloving, life-embracing attitude with her friends.  

One thing I know for sure, when we did things at our house, we did them with GUSTO, and for that, I am proud.  I hope my 7 shortcomings are forgiven and that my teenagers continue to move forward in life with open hearts and loving attitudes!  We can’t all be champion chart makers…..

 

 

 

 

 

Notes from the Mom Whose Kids Always “Had Her Number”

Today, I am home with my teenagers who have been throwing up.  This causes me to fondly reflect upon previous such “special family times,” one which especially stands out in my memory from Spring 2007, the day my kids had to stay home and take care of their parents because they were both throwing up!  My Isa, 7 years old at the time, divided her time that day between devotedly bringing her Dad and me our favorite popsicles then dancing outside in front of the house.  This beautiful memory has led me to reflect upon the entire history of our family and my approach to parenting.  I love being a Mom.  In fact, it is all I have ever wanted to be.  I used to ride my bicycle up and down my driveway as a little girl playing “carpool.”  What I wouldn’t give to have a recording of those imaginary conversations!

Since my daughter is just a year away from graduating from High School, her Senior year of “lasts” looms largely in my mind.  Anticipating each last.  Hoping I will savor and enjoy them to their maximum.  One of the images that I have discovered in my meditation practice this past year (as a recovering alcoholic with 10 months of sobriety) is a moving stream:  if I feel emotionally depleted, I imagine myself dipping a beautiful vessel into a cool, clear stream and nourishing myself with Nature’s goodness.  This type of imagery not only helps me sustain myself without relying on numbing substances, it is also a great way for me to re-frame the present moment.  Instead of dreading new beginnings or fearing endings, I think of life and love as a continuous stream, a continuum that has no beginning or end.  There for me to enjoy, participate in and freely use to sustain those around me (especially my teenagers).  I am going to try to continue thinking about my daughter’s Senior year as a beautiful transition that is part of the stream.

Yet, my thoughts did manage to navigate toward a gnawing, very human question:  if I had it to do over, would I change anything about the way I parented my young children?  I have only five “regrets,” (a word I try to use sparingly, since it is dangerously close to resentment, which a recovering alcoholic cannot afford).  Surprisingly, nothing on my “List of Five” has anything to do with taking away bad things – rather, it is more about wishing I had done MORE of the good things:

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  1.  I wish I had not been so anxious to put my children into all-day kindergarten.  After working with 6-year-olds these past four months, I know for sure how tired they are after a full day of school.  I was a stay-at-home Mom and could have easily managed having a busy 6-year-old at home with me all day.  But I decided to convince myself it would be “good for their social skills” to put the kids in all-day kindergarten.  Ten years later, with so many working families, there are probably few choices other than full-day kindergarten. I wish I had savored my 6-year-olds a bit more.  But what’s done is done.
  2. I wish I had insisted on learning a musical instrument.  We did our best as parents to expose our kids to live music of all sorts whenever possible.  Our kids love music.  But mastering a musical instrument is one of those life skills that is best undertaken in childhood, like learning another language.  It was hard enough for me to get my kids to sports practices and school, so learning a musical instrument did not make it into our “MUST accomplish” top tier of parenting goals.  I do regret this.
  3. Spirituality practice – we went to church here and there and my children were “dedicated” into a church family before we moved 200 miles away – but I wish I had done more to teach them that celebrating and worshiping God with others is a beautiful part of a healthy inner life.  My kids know that within them dwells a Source of love and goodness, and I believe they know how to tap into that and also live a life devoted to making the world better, not worse.  It was so important to me not to force an “ideology” upon them, I may neglected to help guide and nourish the part of spirituality that includes others.  My children are natural Seekers and very resourceful individuals, so I feel good about their ability to move in that direction later in life, if they choose.
  4. More family meals.  We average 1 sit-down family meal together per week.  Better than nothing!  I would get the job done more often now if my teenagers would participate – as I hear, many do!  (I know it is part of many families’ teenagers regular responsibilities to help prepare and serve meals, which is so nice – I haven’t tried that).  Like many moms in recovery, asking for help (or any kind of delegating), is not a natural part of my personality.  I am thankful to still have time with both children at home to approach family meals more like something the entire family should help create.
  5. MOST importantly, in the earlier days, I wish I had cared less about other Moms’ opinions!  I remember hearing the phrase, “She’s got your number!” way too often and feeling hurt or irritated (or rejected by the “elite moms” who were doing it all perfectly).  To this, I can only go back to a very lovely memory I have when, as a new Mom, I was holding my baby girl on one of her first airplane rides and the older woman sitting next to me very gently and kindly remarked, “Ah!  What a beautiful, content baby!  She has EVERYTHING she needs, Mom!”.  We need to do more to encourage and support one another as parents.  For me, that starts with being open and honest with one another.  Being willing to admit that we aren’t perfect parents and we aren’t raising perfect children.  As a Mom of teenagers, I do get more of this from my social interactions with other parents – much more so than in the early, competitive “toddler war” days.

So far, this journey of parenting two individuals with different temperaments, needs, likes, dislikes and aptitudes has been so beautiful.  Looking back, I would like to have been able to relax more and enjoy the small moments.  Looking forward, I am grateful to be living a healthy, clean and sober life, so the future with these incredible people God shared with me will be as vibrant as I feel.11218179_10206971262472700_5085219549381530292_n

5 Gifts of Living Sober

This past Sunday, I logged into AA Grapevine and entered my Sobriety Date to check the number of days I have been sober.  It’s just way of measuring success, I guess, like weighing oneself on a scale to stay motivated during a diet.  I am an alcoholic, so my “diet” will never end.  I have been sober for 7.7 Months.  If I did not have the “Sobriety Calculator” or any other means of measuring the number of days I have been sober, I, the Stubborn Doubter, have lots of empirical evidence that each hour sober is 100 times better than any vino fino tinto.  Here is my list of 5 Gifts of Living Sober:

  1. Stop Wanting And Start Living For years, I have had a restless spirit, longing to be and have things that were within sight but mysteriously unattainable.  Then, about 5 years before I got sober, I decided to approach life with more of an open heart.  “Perhaps if I pray to God to have an open heart, He can lead me in the right direction,” was my thinking.  I wasn’t ready to admit that I was avoiding doing things (e.g., the hard work of living sober) by preoccupying myself with having things.  I never believed I would have what it took to make that leap.  I do now! Each morning that I wake up sober, I thank God for leading me to pursue worthwhile things and also giving me the strength and courage to keep at it.
  2. Stop Gambling With My Health And Start Cherishing The Body God Gave Me  Of course, drinking is not a gamble to the non-alcoholic because they can stop.  Since I couldn’t, yet continued daily drinking for several years, I was literally treating my body like a garbage dump.  In my newly-negotiated relationship with Spirit (e.g., “Higher Power”), I truly believe harmful, self-destructive behavior that could potentially lead to death (like addiction to alcohol) is a beautiful opportunity to love oneself in disguise.  Does a person who really understands the importance of being healthy, physically, emotionally, and mentally, gamble with those gifts by sinking further into addiction?  I hear people in AA meetings say all the time, “I thank God for my alcoholism, it has given me the gift of (fill in the blank with anything valuable)”.  Again, if you’re not an addict or alcoholic, this “gift” may not make sense.
  3. Cherish The Company Of Other Alcoholics  I know I avoided going to my first AA meeting because I was sure it would be full of “depressing people” that I would not be able to “relate to.”  It’s the opposite!  It is home.  Alcoholics are the most compassionate, funny, friendly, dependable, humble and noble people I have ever met.  The “Hi, Joanie!” greeting you hear (often joked about, even) in meetings is warm, sincere, safe and accepting.  SAFETY is a major trigger word for alcoholics, the lack of which (whether it be emotional, financial or physical), because our disease plays with our minds and tells us that we must remain fearful and on guard at all times because no person or situation is safe.  I had a Counselor in my twenties (who was unaware of my binge drinking but completely pegged one of my alcoholic behaviors) described my emotional state like this:  “Joan, you seem to be in ‘fight or flight’ mode 24/7 – always prepared for the danger that lurks around the corner, feeling hunted.”  Precisely.  I was deeply unsettled but had no idea why.  My Alcoholic pals understand and I am so glad for each and every one of them.
  4. Accepting Endings And New Beginnings And The Process In Between3562ced271566a90f3770d5caa4487b8  Like “The Little Prince,” my favorite time of day has always been the sunset – and during my drinking days, especially so.  Watching the sun drifting into the horizon meant I had survived the challenges of the day (e.g., sick kids, frustrating work problem, hangover, overdrawn checking account, whatever) and that it would soon be time to open my bottle of serenity.  I avoided admitting I was an alcoholic for years because I knew it was a permanent commitment.  However, nowadays, my very grateful sober self sees something quite different in the concept of “forever.”  In her new book, “Bottled,” Dana Bowman describes the paradox:

“The toughest part was realizing that recovery would never be “over” – not if I was going to take it seriously.  When you’re a part of my club, taking out a lease on recovery is not an option.  When I really thought about the lack of alcohol forevermore, it felt like I’d been told to clean the Grand Canyon with a toothbrush, while blindfolded.  But every once in awhile, tiny moments of peace and joy descended upon me and were so defined and real, they lifted me out of my canyon.  I would focus on the higher horizon then, and just kept walking.

5.  “Ay, marry, now my soul hath elbow-room” (William Shakespeare, “King John.”)

I saved the best gift for last:  Living a Sober Life means spending your time the way you want to, free from the chains of an addiction that leads to darkness.  There is so much LIGHT in my life because of the new freedom I have discovered that it is okay to feel and express emotions and spend a day doing as I please instead of constantly weighing and measuring myself against impossible standards.  Reading poetry has always been one of my favorite hobbies, but I gave it up to lead a more “serious” life of career and family.  Now it is back in my life and I feel rejuvenated.  Here is a new favorite poet and her artful examination of leading one’s own life:

Poetry
By
Mary Oliver
The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice–
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do–
determined to save
the only life you could save.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Teapots and Birkenstocks Mean After 120 Days Sober

In less than 6 months, I will be turning 50.  For the first time in 30 years, I will celebrate sober.  A little over halfway through the journey, sometimes I feel regret that I waited so long to discover inner peace but also many days I feel upset that I can’t party like a rock star anymore!  Maybe that feeling will fade as 120 days rolls into 200, 365 and more.  More time of living in the present and fully engaged.

In many ways, my newfound sobriety has brought me back full circle to the things I have always loved, especially COMFORT.  I am a homebody (though this is surprising to many) who loves my couch, family, warmth of the sun or a roaring fire, homemade meals and simple pleasures.

I think the bare-boned honesty it takes to admit one is powerless over a person, place or thing brings with it comfort and liberation – so really, I have just come “home.”

I choose comfort over cuteness
I choose comfort over cuteness
I want my tea, not my Malbec
I want my tea, not my Malbec

I realized I had accepted my “lot” as a “recovering alcoholic” when I found myself daydreaming about having a pair of Birkenstocks and a good tea kettle.  Chuckle and snort, though I may about this, the darned truth of the matter is:  I AM HAPPY WITH MYSELF!  

There are messes our family must deal with left behind from my years of selfish self-medicating, at the top of which, of course, is my habit of overspending.  But, my God!  4 months ago I could not have stayed clear-headed long enough to even research where our money was going much less devise a plan to resolve it.

A good friend is helping me re-vamp my resume, too.  THIS would never have happened when I was drinking.  She cannot believe I don’t have any “professional” self-esteem.  I can’t believe there is someone out there that sees something I can’t see, but I am willing to dig further, to consider some truths about myself and put myself in the ring of competition for whatever rewarding career awaits me next.  I must do this, not only for myself and my family, but because things are going too well to just sit on my couch (as much as I love it!) for the rest of my life.

Push Push Push.  I think I can until I know I can – the Little Engine that Could.  This is me at 49, a little war-torn and rough but loving the journey and thanking God every day I wake up sober.

120 days sober looks like this when you are 49
120 days sober looks like this when you are 49