A Letter to My Daughter

Dear Emilie~
….
I love the book you gave me for my birthday. I wonder what made you choose it? And how you knew how close to home it would be for me. The cover photo could have been taken in my own childhood home. The place-setting, the dress…it’s all so familiar. She was in Massachusetts. I was only a couple of hours away in Connecticut. We’re the same age now, and lived through such a similar story. 

IMG_4444

I get up from reading and I’m shaking, and trying to get the tears out or hold them in. Sometimes I can only read a few pages at a time. It’s too upsetting. I understand how you feel about injustice, and why it makes you cry. I feel the same. And I think on some level I always have. But like many other people, I’ve avoided admitting to or standing up against injustice. Even injustice done to myself.  Like the author, Debby Irving, I grew up with admonitions that kept me from speaking up, or out: ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,’ was a big one in our house, just like it was in hers. That message certainly didn’t encourage authentic communication.
We didn’t know how to voice outrage even when it should have been voiced. I’m still struggling with this very thing. I was very uncomfortable to voice my discomfort about J’s behavior when it first raised red flags early on. I was uncomfortable to confront my feelings toward your Dad when we were first matched. I felt guilty and selfish to feel so unsatisfied, or to want something different. Now, with our building board members, I’m very uncomfortable to speak up about unethical practices when I see them. There’s a deep rooted education at work here that tells me I will not be listened to or taken seriously, or worse – I’ll be ridiculed and ostracized for being a complainer. There’s a shame attached to having needs, or being seen as ‘needy.’
I’ve been one of those good people who do nothing. And it’s only recently that I’ve been seeing the shift in my life from passive and silent majority to being more of an activist.
My CPE experience inadvertently opened my eyes to the similar stories that people of color share with women –  being invisible, unheard, and looked down on by white male authority. That reality was never addressed in our training, and I had no words for what I felt during the residency as the only woman alongside male peers, a male director and a male supervisor. It was only afterwards, in the safety of hindsight, that I began to connect my feelings and experiences with a greater systemic imbalance that gives less power and ‘voice’ to women and people of color.
Working as a tutor at the Mercy Learning Center put me in touch for the first time with refugees and asylum seeking women and I began to hear their stories and realize what a different world they come from, and continue to live in, even once here in the US. Living in the South End, the most crime-ridden part of Bridgeport, has put me face to face on a daily basis with the decrepit streets and run-down homes of people living just one block away from my little apartment on the edge of campus. My spirit sinks as I look across the street from where I live to realize that I live in an alternate reality, and always have.
The situation in my building is also an eye-opener. A few investors are trying to profit on housing that was and still is meant for people who don’t want to or can’t buy anything bigger or more expensive. They are bypassing the rules meant to protect and keep our housing affordable, and concerning themselves only with what will line their pockets, regardless of how it will affect the people who live here.  I’m grateful to have had the cash to buy one of these places, and I love it dearly. At the same time I realize that few people who need or would love a place like this have that opportunity, or the finances, to do the same.
Posting something about my struggle with my whiteness on FB a few months ago drew an unexpected response of unfriendly and surprisingly rude comments from white male church members who profess colorblindness and wondered what my problem is. I can’t respond to them yet. I have too much work to do inside myself. But I understood with a shock the extent of white blindness surrounding the issue of race in our country’s history, just as there is blindness about gender inequality, and that it often comes from the very same people.
I’m so glad to have found ACA, the Adult Children of Alcoholics 12-Step group, as it’s a safe place I go weekly to express my feelings and acknowledge the growing pains, knowing I will be received and embraced regardless of whether my opinion matches those of the other people in the room. I can cry, express weakness or confusion, and generally explore what I’m going through without having to necessarily know the answer, nor does anyone try to give it to me. We all acknowledge that we’re on a journey to rediscover and reclaim ourselves, and that no one can do that work for us. It’s my haven in the storm of life. It’s where I feel most whole, and most like myself.
I’m glad you’ve found someone you can share your joys and sorrows with. And I hope you keep developing friendships and support groups where you can speak your truth and work through your fears and disappointments, as they surely will keep on showing up. People and institutions can only carry us part of the way. “In the end, the only steps that matter are the ones we take all by ourselves.” (The Weepies)
Thanks for thinking of me with a book. A life-changing one is the best kind 🙂
Your Mom

I’m An Adult Child – part 1

Living life from a basis of fear

Comparing myself to others

Never thinking it was safe to play

Surrounded by people who didn’t respect me or treat me well

Afraid of authority figures and tending to isolate myself

Frightened by angry people and any personal criticism

Feeling overly responsible for others as a way to avoid looking at my own faults

Being my own Harsh, Harsher, and Harshest judge and critic

Feeling tremendously guilty when I stand up for myself instead of giving in to others

Addicted to excitement in its myriad forms

Stuffing feelings, and not even able to remember or feel what they are now

Continuing to live with sick people who were never there emotionally for me in order not to be abandoned.

Yes, Yes, Yes, and Yes. I recognize myself when I read the Laundry List –  14 Traits of an Adult Child. And when I introduce myself at an ACA meeting, ‘Hi, I’m Robin, an adult child,” I’m embracing a reality I have always lived and struggled to hide and accept.

The Red Book has 648 pages, so it can’t be summed up in a paragraph here. What I’d like to do is offer a few bits and pieces as I work through them. Right now I’m working on reparenting myself: learning to be sensitive to my needs and my background experience. For me, I need a lot of validation – that my feelings make sense given my family history.

I encourage myself in many ways. For example, I remind myself when I start to slip into that spiral of self-doubt and condemnation that I’m actually doing a pretty good job; that I am not a bad person; that I have something valuable to share with the world. I repeat Lady Gaga’s words to my hurting hating Self, “You’re on the right track, baby! God makes no mistakes.”

I also tell myself that growth doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye. Patience, my dear! I sing songs with empowering messages, take time at the water’s edge, and share my experiences with trusted friends both in and out of the program.

And like Joe Walsh, I’m taking it One Day at a Time.

IMG_3029

 

 

The Girls with the Grandmother Faces

I found this book in a box in Belgium when I went home to sort through the things I’d left behind three years ago. I don’t remember where I got it, but I hadn’t read it yet, and the cover looked intriguing and right up my current alley, so I took it with me on the plane back to the US. I’d like to introduce it to my over 55 friends, men included. Although it’s written especially for women, any one of us older folks can benefit from the ideas Frances Weaver writes about.

 

Right off the bat, I’d like to say something that has seriously stuck with me ever since reading it last week: We older women are no longer the center of our grown children’s lives! That was a bombshell. What? How could that be?? Frances tells the story of how after her husband died, she sold the big house and moved closer to her children, expecting them to gravitate around granny for all the holidays and vacation times. Wrong.  She waited and waited, and when all she got was excuses, she decided that it was time for her to live her own life, not theirs.

I have to admit this was a shocking and revelatory idea for me. A few days later I was visiting my daughter for the weekend and happened to spy her diary on the floor half under the bed. Against the chiding of my conscience, I picked it up and leafed through it, searching for any mentions of my name. Yes, I wanted to prove to myself how important I am to my daughter. I was expecting to read things like: My mom said this, and I was so inspired; My mom did this, and I was so inspired; My mom my mom, my mom…..you get the picture. I couldn’t find one mention of my frequent presence in her life, and realized that Frances was right. Thinking back to my own journals, how often was I quoting my mother or waxing poetic about her? Unless it was something extremely negative, she wasn’t in there very often. I had other things to write about. I was living my life, not hers.

They say we have to let our children go, spread their wings, fly the coop. I am reminded of Kahlil Gibran’s poem, On Children:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

The best thing I can do for Emilie at this stage in both of our lives is to be that stable bow, and to encourage her to fly while I do the same! Having come to that realization, I understand her response to my recent FB post about being 66 and feeling so happy about my life. She said, “Mom! I want to be like you when I’m 66!” No sweeter words necessary!

Back to The Girls with the Grandmother Faces, A Celebration of Life’s Potential for Those Over 55: A second big takeaway is that when we are older and find ourselves with more time on our hands, we need to “get back out there among ’em, drop the safety net, and move on our own steam.” Here are a few more quotes along those lines:

“Our world has more for us to do than we have imagined. Until now, we hadn’t the time, but now that’s pretty much all we have….With our eyes and ears open, we can find new and marvelous things to do, then pass the magic along to other women like us.” She’s talking about going back to school, getting involved in community activities, travel during off-seasons, and taking advantage of all the many senior advantages available. One of the things Frances took up (at the age of 55) was kite flying. It became an obsession, and she found others who enjoyed it too, and has a collection of kites and kite-flying friends from all over the world. Who would have thought of that?

She’s speaking directly to where I am at these days- wondering what to do with my time? I’m getting the idea from her that before I go out looking for a ‘regular’ job, I should try my hand at something creative that I’m already doing and loving. The author’s story is just such an example. After she became widowed, she booked a thirty-day cruise. Never having traveled by herself, she felt the need to find out if she could. She had so much fun, and felt so good, that she began helping a travel-agent friend sell group tours in return for an agent’s rate, and created a temporary job for herself as tour director. Then she went back to community college, which included a move clear across the country, and took Creative Writing, Poetry, and Spanish. Finding that she liked to write, and against the admonitions of her less adventurous friends, she self-published the “Grandmother Faces” book. Shortly after putting copies in her local Colorado bookstore, she was invited by a Denver publisher to write a travel book for older single women (like myself), which she did. It’s called, This Year I Plan to Go Elsewhere. It’s on my reading list!

Next, she was interviewed on a nationwide cable channel, and somehow or another, the department of tourism in Malta invited her to spend a week in Malta, all expenses paid! She was subsequently hired by a cruise ship line to be a guest lecturer, and for the next 10 years traveled all over the world. Reading her story has been electrifying. It sounds like the perfect scenario: travel, creativity, writing and speaking, and meeting all sorts of people.

I’m not divorced or widowed, but I’m living alone per an arrangement that is working well for both me and my husband of 35 years. Both of us are having to rethink and recreate our lives, and learn to live what we have left of our lives in a satisfactory and inspiring way. We are each learning to make and trust our own decisions. Having no one else to blame helps. Creative living requires an amount of risk-taking, but what’s to lose? “One risk often leads to greater discoveries of our own capabilities,” Frances writes. That’s been my experience, for sure. I’m thinking of a recent risky behavior I embarked on when I responded to an add on Craig’s List looking for a backup vocalist for a local musician. Thrilled and terrified at the same time, I picked up the phone and made the call. We agreed to meet at the open mic a few miles down the road, and both signed up to perform separately so we could appraise each other’s musical talents before deciding to work together. I had no idea what he would look like, nor did he have a clue that I was 65. That in itself was one of my biggest fears – that he would reject me immediately because of my age. It turned out that his music was deplorable, and his personality not much better, and he left the bar without saying anything, which was a relief. On the other hand, I had a good set, and realized I can do this performance thing still, even at my ripening age, and I met a fantastic bass player in the process.

“Recycling ourselves means getting rid of whatever serves no useful purpose, whatever our lives no longer depend on. Recycling also means discovering the unused, still-new interests, options, and opportunities that did not fit the younger version of ourselves.” Yes! My parents are both gone, and I was lucky I didn’t end up being saddled with their long-term care as many boomers are finding themselves. My daughter is a grown woman, and has left the nest. She’s making decisions for herself, and I have been learning to trust that she can take care of herself now and doesn’t need me sticking my nose into everything. I’ve got my health, and I’m basically free at this stage of my life. I don’t want to waste the precious time!

I’d like to suggest this book to anyone who has recently found themselves facing a new phase in life, wants to make a new start and needs some direction, or is feeling old and tired and knows there’s more if they could just figure out what.  A final quote that sums it all up for me comes from Jane O’Reilly, New York Times, July, 1986: “The most important mission of a woman’s life is not to hold onto her looks. Our mission is the same as a man’s….to grow up.” Yes. And no one else can do that for us!fullsizeoutput_3938

 

Feelin’ My Way Through the Darkness

Writing 101 ~ Day 3: Write about your favorite song

“Feeling my way through the darkness
Guided by a beatin’ heart
I can’t say where the journey will end
But I know where it starts.”

I love this song by Avicii. So do 448 million other people. It’s called WAKE ME UP. I remember when I first heard it. We were biking with Gerard through part of Flanders, and had stopped exhausted to refuel ourselves at a little tavern. The music was what revived me. That was 8 months ago. Several months later I was in Venice and stopped to talk to a group of young people waiting for the same bus. When I asked them, ‘What’s your favorite English music?’ they answered, ‘AVICII!!’
‘Who? What song do they sing?’
‘Hey Brother! Wake Me Up.’
It wasn’t til I got home that I found out who it was, and why those kids were so excited.
IMG_0012

“So wake me up when it’s all over
When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I’ve been finding myself
and I didn’t know I was lost.”

When I don’t like the words of a song, I always feel at liberty to change them to suit my situation. I agreed with my daughter when she said she doesn’t like the refrain, “Wake me up when it’s all over.” I don’t like the idea of sleeping through a storm. I mean, how will one get wiser if one isn’t even awake to experience going through the difficulty? However, I can think about it differently: sometimes we need a breather, an escape valve, a little distance.

I did change the words to the next part:

“Don’t tell me I’m too young or old to understand
Or to be caught up in a dream
Life will pass us by if we don’t open up our eyes
and now it’s time to see!”

Part of waking up is SEEING. This summer I thought I was at Barrytown College for a media workshop. It turns out that was only the bait to get me there. Guided by a beating heart, I kept passing the chaplain in the hallway, and every time I saw him he was smiling at me, and saying, “Come see me!” I finally did. I’d been feeling my way through the darkness, and he held the light to show me my next step.
IMG_0956

“So wake me up BEFORE it’s over!
When I’m wiser and I’m older
All this time I’ve been finding myself
and I didn’t know I was lost!”

Thank you, Kone!
IMG_1400