Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Finding Forgiveness & Gratitude

    My mother drives me crazy.  Right now, I would love to sit her down in a chair and lecture her, quite passionately with arms flailing as I pace back and forth in front of her, about how selfish, inconsiderate, and stubborn she is. She has a spell over me, and I know I must break it if I am to have peace in our relationship.
    Just a day or two ago, I offered to buy her a train ticket from New York to either Texas for Thanksgiving or to San Diego for Christmas. I thought she’d jump at the chance to have the train ride to see the country that she’s always desired––particularly since it would mean seeing her great-grandson for the first time. She declined.
    Her excuse is her animals. (I’ve often said in the next lifetime I want to come back as one of her pets––they receive far more attention and care than my siblings or I have had.) But I was prepared. Erin, my sister, had offered to take care of Mom’s animals, but I knew I had to enter the conversation about this cautiously. Mom admitted the dog would be no problem, but her cats are the barrier between her and freedom––or at least her excuse as to why she couldn’t dare venture too far from home. At first, I said we could find someone to feed them, hoping to segue into telling her that Erin was also willing to cart all of her nine or so cats (the number is in continual flux) to the farm. But before I could announce the solution to the problem, I heard the sternness in her voice. She was building a wall. Her final remark––and the final blow to my hope that she would embrace her great-grandmotherhood––was that she feared someone would come onto the property and take something.
    Envision this: My mother is a bag lady with a house. My brother, sister and I have tried numerous times to clean out the junk––mostly with her permission, and sometimes out of shear necessity, like when the freezer in the cellar malfunctioned and neither she nor my father suspected any problem despite a strange odor filtering into their living room that burned one’s eyes.  Bottom line: she does not subscribe to Goethe’s belief that we should not let the little things in life stand in the way of the big things. But she always has been this way.
    During my childhood, mom was often distracted in caring for friends and neighbors––all who seemed to need her far more than we did––than to really be present for us.  As I grew older––and thereby more responsible––she put me in charge of dinners and other household chores so that she could go bowling or volunteer at the hospital as a Pink Lady. I was the one who often cleaned the house as well. My mother wasn’t the mother I wanted her to be. Nor is she being the grandmother or great-grandmother that I want her to be.
    Mom became a great-grandmother on June 11, 2009.  Less than twelve hours after my grandson was born, I sent emails with photos attached and created albums on Facebook for all to see. While my mother is not computer literate, she has at her disposal a handful of friends and relatives all within a 15-minute drive (one a two-minute drive and another a two-minute walk) who have computers and many computer skills. Yet, she never took the opportunity to show any interest in seeing Jude’s pictures, or seeing her grand-daughter’s glow as a new mother.  A herd of wild elephants could not keep me from being by my daughter’s side while she birthed my grandchild.  I just didn’t get it.
    And I still don’t. A month later when my son––the proud uncle––sent 45 pictures to her, having written detailed descriptions on the back of each––when I called to check on their arrival, she quipped that she wouldn’t even have time to look at them if they had arrived because she was busy doing something for the church. I bit my tongue. But in my mind, I was thinking. Why is it so  hard for you to embrace us? Why is it so hard for you to show your love for us?
    By listening to my thoughts, I knew that I hurting not only because  she wasn’t there as a grandmother for my daughter, she wasn’t there for me as a mother. I thought I had come to terms  that she and I would never have the kind of relationship that my daughter and I have. Looking back, I didn’t want my mother at the birth of my daughter. We are just not comfortable with each other. And we certainly don’t have enough to talk about to spend an hour on the phone each and every day. Yet, I’m always leaving the door open for her to be more for us––to be more for me. It just doesn’t seem to happen.
    To her credit, my daughter has informed me that Mom has been toting her grandmother’s brag book around in her purse and showing the clerk at the grocery store and her friends at church the pictures of her great-grandson. But I want her to do more. I want her to move out of her comfort zone and hop on a train and come to us. I want her to consider how much easier and less costly it would be on all of us if she would just for once put us before her animals and her fears. Likely this will never happen. So I have two choices: I can write her a note and tell her how she drives me fucking crazy and how much she has failed me, or I can work on forgiving her. As I write this, I am tearing up because I know that if there is any hope of finding peace in our relationship, it won’t be because she gets on a train and appears on our doorstep. It will because I have done the hard work and made the hard choice of learning to forgive her.
    A friend of mine once told me: Stay in the present, meet people where they are at, and respond appropriately. I cannot take my mother back into history and have her make up for all of the times she just wasn’t there for me––physically or emotionally. I can be with her in this moment and accept that she fears the world beyond her little village in Upstate New York. And I can respond appropriately by choosing to change my response to her. It will take some work, but when I allow myself to let go of my grudges, I feel the spaces in my heart being filled with gratitude that I have had mothering from many wonderful women. And when I am not picking at the wounds of my disappointments, I remember the moments when my mother has been the mother I needed her to be.
     Most of all I have gratitude for the experiences my mother has given me. If she hadn’t made the mistakes she made, I would not be the mother that I am. And without the mistakes that I have made, my daughter would not be the beautifully present mother that she is.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


    It’s Thursday morning around 11:00. I just made my second cup of chai. I’ve meditated, did ten sun salutations, ate my cereal on the porch outside my apartment, met my neighbor, and slipped over to my friend’s apartment to coordinate our social calendar for later in the day. I feel good, I have a smile on my face, and my brow is not furrowed. Yet, I’m uncomfortably aware of a tinge of guilt following my every move.
    Earlier this year, I made a decision to rent an apartment near campus. It actually takes me just fifteen minutes to walk from my apartment door to my office door, a far cry from the hour and a half commute that I was making three to five days a week for the last few years while finishing my graduate degree and then beginning my teaching career. A majority of the 115,000 miles on my Honda Civic are also on my body. The commute was taking a toll. My body was spreading like butter and aching in places that I did not know existed.  I had no spiritual practice to speak of and no social life.  And I wasn’t writing, which meant that I wasn’t practicing what I was teaching.
    Bilocating became the answer, but it has called for many adjustments. Every Monday morning I pack my car with freshly laundered clothes and a couple of meals that I created over the weekend and packed into Pyrex dishes. I drive to my apartment, drop off my belongings, and walk  to work. On Friday afternoon, I leave work, go to the apartment, and then pack up the dirty laundry and empty Pyrex, and then make the drive back to the Arroyo where my husband and I have lived (and had a fly fishing lodge––another story) for about ten years. The logistical adjustments, however, are minor players. The major player in this new development in my life is renegotiating my role as a wife.
    Like many, I was raised by traditional parents where my mother was expected to tend to the house and her husband. This rule, of course, was set forth by generations of men and women who believed that this is the way marriage should work. Once I became old enough to carry some responsibility, my mother left me in charge of siblings and dinner (and in many cases my father) while she darted off to one volunteer obligation or another. The training for my role as a traditional hearth-keeper was set into place in concrete, and I followed suit in my first marriage.
     However, I thought, having learned some difficult lessons, that new rules would be in place in my second marriage. I truly believed that I had declared my independence and was firmly seated in the belief of interdependence and interrelationship. But something happened and I slipped into being the traditional wife role in marriage number two, and I soon took over the responsibility of  chief coordinator and support staff not only for the fly fishing business we created, but the relationship as well.  And even though husband number two is light years ahead of his predecessor, he was raised by parents subscribing to the male head of household model, so there have been undercurrents of traditional expectations weaving throughout our relationship. And these expectations have been brought to the surface by my validating my own needs. 
    To his credit, husband number two is adjusting. He stays at home most of the time, tending to the dogs, and juggling his multiple responsibilities alone––no longer privy to my Virgo-like attention to detail and multitasking skills. Occasionally, he’ll swing by the apartment for dinner or a sleepover, but for the most part, even though he is on campus a couple of times a week, he opts to make the trip back home where he can work in the comfort of his familiarity, forgoing a few hours of shared space in our apartment. And this is where my discomfort begins.
    Yesterday afternoon, I left work at about 3:30. I came home, did some yoga, ate some dinner, and took a walk. I made a brief visit to my husband in his office and then continued my trek around campus––an hour’s worth of exercise that was not in the realm of possibility had I still been commuting. Then I went back to the apartment and cleaned, not feeling any pressure at all to begin reading for my classes, or even answer emails, or make posts to Blackboard. And that is because I knew I had the whole next day ahead of me. A scheduling change opened up one whole day about every other week, and I opted to stay at the apartment and take advantage of the quiet to tend to my agenda, which included writing and meeting friends for yoga later in the day. But I feel guilty!
    I sense the dominant rule-setters from my childhood and society in my psychic space, admonishing me for not being at home, easing his pressure of tending to the house, the repairmen, the dogs, and cooking dinner while my husband polishes his tenure notebook. I flip-flop between giving credence to these voices and listening to my own wisdom. I deserve to be rested, I deserve to tend to my work, and I deserve friendship. And as I write these words, I smile again. In fact I laugh at myself. I see the absurdity of making some other person the pace-setter of my life.  No definition that I researched in a couple of dictionaries says that relationships are about one person having power over another. So why did I buy into the rule that all of my needs and desires were to be of lesser value than my partner’s (and others as well)?  And why is it so hard to firmly embrace a different belief? Because somewhere somewhere along the way, someone cast a spell so that they would not have to do the work necessary to be in relationship. Whether that person is a parent, a friend, a boss, or a partner, I was expected to do all of the work to keep the peace and keep their lives humming along with ease. And that has left me with a whole lot of responsibility that I just don’t need, nor do I realize that I want.
    My mentor–– who has walked this path of Spellbreaking for many, many years with me––once said, “If you cannot do something with heart, then don’t do it.” So my heart is here, sitting on the bed in my apartment with my laptop, listening to the traffic whiz by the window, where I am writing and finishing my now cold cup of chai. And on Friday afternoon, my dirty laundry and my empty Pyrex dishes, will accompany my heart back to the Arroyo where I will continue to practice interrelating with husband and dogs, and the multitude of  kiscadees, greenjays, and doves that now wonder why they are only fed on the weekends.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

In the beginning

When we are first brought into the world, stories were told about us and stories were told to us. Many of these stories contained the details of our family heritage. Many more stories lay the foundation for the rules that we were expected to follow for the remainder of our lives in order to keep the peace and protect the hierarchal structure of family and community. These are the stories that create the most difficulty for us. These are the stories whose spells must be broken by us so that we may live our own lives––not the lives others expect us to live. So....

Whose story are you living? And if it is not your own, are you ready to write your own story?