Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Spring Training for the Wild and Crazy Run for Your Life

I’ve signed up for the Warrior Dash, a run to benefit St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. The Warrior Dash is a 5K run that involves an extraordinary obstacle course.   I'm guessing the course was more than likely dreamed up after a few beers at the finish line of some ordinary, plain, old 5K.  Because, as it turns out, even ordinary, plain old 5K’s can sometimes feel as though you are running for your life, hitting walls, being pounded by hills, and thrown into thorny briar patches, as you press on against the odds, desperately hoping it will end soon with you making it to the finish line with an ice cold one waiting for you.  Running is, as they say, a psychological sport and if your psyche is not in it with your feet, and your knees, and in my case, my gravity enhanced well-endowed wide end, you and your defiant little psyche are doomed.   The Warrior Dash has a few obstacles built in, don’t let the names worry you;
  • Warrior Roast
  • Barricade Breakdown
  • Deadweight Drifter 
  • Leader’s Ledge 
  • Mortimer’s Crossing 
  • Hard Rain  
  • Vicious Valley,
  • Petrifying Plunge 
  • Road Rage  
  • Great Warrior Wall ….etc, and so on. 
It sounds like great fun, No?  It sounds, I hate to say, a bit like the divorce process, which is definitely not fun.  And I hate to say this because I’m fairly close to reaching the end of my pre, during and post Divorce Dash, or race, or slow crawl toward being among the living and actually functioning, fully.  I’ve made it to the point where I no longer speak of it, or worry about it, or compare it to a walk through hell with petrifying, vicious, frightening, maddening, raging, tear filled, seething, thoughts or obstacles attached to it, every third minute.  I’m even at the point where I can look back and laugh at one or two moments.  Truly, laugh and smile, and roll my eyes and even groan, but ever so slightly, at how I approached and made it over some of the sadly predictable hurdles, long jumps, sprints and endurance runs that ended with a steeplechase slapstick crash course into a stunned and previously unfathomable jaunt toward freedom and a what’s next outlook on life. I’ve outlined a few of the Divorce Dash events for training purposes only.  Please get advice from your, doctor, lawyer, plumber, best friend, random stunned strangers and anyone else on your path before trying this course on your own.  There is no website, permission slip, or disclaimer to sign.  No matter how prepared you think you are, you won’t be, but people do survive and some even start to feel the joy of running through mud, wearing Viking helmets climbing walls and leaping from cliffs like a wacked out Warrior.

  • Divorce Initiator Starting Relay (Followed by the Tit for Tat Terrain Run)
This is the start. All participants are lined up waiting for the gun-blast or whistle or very last straw. For all sorts of reasons and a few more than that, one person asks for a divorce, states they are leaving, or otherwise communicates it’s kaput.  This part of the race moves quickly.  In spite of what running coaches, life coaches, lawyers, or mediators and a few well-meaning friends suggest, much like a race that involves running, pacing yourself is important.  Except that in this phase, once the running starts it seems impossible to stop or slow down or catch your breath.  This is when a great big pit of tit for tat swallows you whole and you are left wondering why you hadn’t seen all the road barriers, hairpin turns, pits of quicksand, and otherwise unbelievable characteristics of someone you never actually knew but spent a great deal of time with.  The object is to keep passing the baton, even though every time you pass it to the lawyer, the judge, the attorney assigned to your children, and any other ambulance chasers and hanger-on’s, the person you pass it to fumbles, drops it, or takes five steps backwards as their cash registers ring, and beep and fill up with thousands of dollars that would be better spent on college, or rent, or dinner next week.  Keep passing it, eventually someone will grow tired and give up. Someone will be the bigger loser and this part of the race will at least end, so that you may go onto the next part of the course.
  • Miracle Mile and Human Ball Chute
Dr. Thomas Merrill, Ph.D. an expert on divorce comings and goings, offers this bit of wisdom explaining the underlying factors related to the next obstacle on the Divorce Dash Crash Course.   The "Non-Initiator", now stung and fully awakened from the phase of denial or simply being oblivious to his or her spouse's discontent, enters the fray and retaliates in some fashion designed to deflect the pain of rejection, to punish the "Initiator", or derail the decision to divorce, or all of the above. Often the "Initiator", wounded by guilt or outcry from family or friends, loses motivation and reconsiders. If he or she does not reconsider and proceeds with the divorce, then the parties move to the Transition Phase.  

Cash registers continue to beep and ring and overflow with thousands of more dollars as you attempt to hold on for dear life, roll into a tight ball and slide down the Miracle Mile Chute.  This is deemed the Miracle Mile because somehow, even though you are moving through the worst nightmare you have ever endured, exposed your children to, and have absolutely no control over a great big part of, you do slide into the transition phase of the Divorce Dash almost exactly according to the plan with exact and precise timing.  You uncurl yourself from the tight, guarded, stooped ball that you have become, and you stand, straight, tall, thinner than the garcinoba colon cleanse green tea raspberry extract diet of the week could ever make you.  You look……. good?  You aren’t sure how this is possible, but it is, and so, you start to feel better. Alive.  Exhilarated.  Energized and…..horny.  This is important for the next part of the course.
  • 50 Points of Passion Poll Vault
On this stretch of the Race to the End of the Divorce Dash, a reawakening begins.  Sugarplum sex fairies alight your every moment that is not interrupted with court dates, back-stabs and everyday life events such as work, parenting, laundry, dealing with bill collectors….  The Transition Phase, or  "Crazy Time" , according to Dr. Merrill, “is a period of time fraught with the potential for a wide range of "crazy" behavior.   Merrill states, “Men often become "hip, hirsute, and horny". Both men and women may become obsessed with sexual fantasies.”  I was certainly feeling like a member of the 3H club.  (Menopause helped. It brought out the hairy in me. Hair randomly grew from my chin, and nose, and my brows starting filling in….Sssssssssssexy.) Hip and Horny.
Not for nothing, but E.L. James' book, 50 Shades of Grey, came out just as I was entering this phase.  I understand this book is known for it’s gift of pushing the otherwise sexual limits of women and allowing us to fully explore the thrills and pleasures of sexual fantasies, but I had a rough time with it.   The concept around submission was one I couldn't fully embrace.  I was feeling a tad frustrated, sad and angry.  As I faced the reality that I had been living with some fairly submissive constraints, reading this book just wasn’t very appealing. Call me crazy, but relating to a young inexperienced virgin’s delight with being controlled by a powerful male, just didn’t sit well.  At first.  Annnnndddddd even on second glance.  I couldn’t get through it.  I was interested in experiences of my own, perhaps, extremely so, and maybe even a tad bit afraid of where this really could have gone, in my small town surrounds and big city propensity toward the pleasure principle had I decided to road test these feelings, fully.   

Fortunately the whips and chains were on back order, I was able to cancel them before I got myself into a whole bunch of fun, I mean, trouble and I moved out of this phase without too much incidence, or maybe just enough.  But honestly, how many of us even know this is a standard part of the regular course of divorce?  It’s not even a special category, it’s regular routine, standard, normal, everyday fodder.  Wild, obsessions, and thrilling fantastical thoughts…who knew? and hopefully more to come.  Which leads me to the post divorce dating tips….
  •  The TriFecta Tower
During this part of my Race to the End on the Divorce Dash course, I was able to include all three Dating After Divorce  Pitfalls To Avoid, written by Kimberly Pryor of Experts Blog by jumping onto them full force, rubbing my face in them, crawling through the mud of them, and swinging from the rope ladder that would eventually launch me forward on the path.  

These are the post divorce dating pitfalls to avoid:
1.    Thinking all guys are like your ex.  
2.   Getting involved in a rebound relationship.  
3.   Unintentionally holding onto baggage  
And this is how I decided to scale that tower…. 

I might have misread the directions, or missed the cones on the trail telling me which path to take.  I somehow avoided following any of the tips and made all the mistakes.  I didn’t follow any particular order and I combined a few, to be efficient. Quite frankly, I think this is the usual way to go, or there would not be websites, books, and therapists dedicated to creating tips that most of us…. choose to ignore.  It went sort of like this: throw yourself at a non-moving target and watch how fast it will move.  Throw yourself from a different angle.  Wait patiently.  For me, that meant ½ an hour.  30 long, torturous minutes.  It was pure hell.   No, really.  It was like 5 eternities and then some.  I launched again, harder, got some attention, just enough to latch on for dear life while carrying every bit of baggage up the tower and keeping a choke hold on Rebound Man.  This took place over a prolonged period of time, but mostly, and fortunately, from afar.    

Maybe I figured I was on this course anyway, and the weight training helps build stamina, and muscle, so I brought all my baggage.  It can also occasionally weigh you down and bury you.  Or you can use the baggage to protect, and even launch occasionally, just to be certain you get the most out of your obstacles and hurdles.  I like to go in full, make the most of my time, y’know?  When I decide to do something, I’m all in, and expecting the same from others.   I seriously don’t think all guys are like my ex2.  I don’t think any other guys are, as a matter of fact. I did veer off the path here and thought several things that were said had some type of deeper, weightier, meaning to them, that may have been triggered by something associated with someone else.   It turned out I was reacting to anything and everything from the point of PTSD.  I misinterpreted.  Maybe, just about everything. I was recovering from some incredibly intense provocations that had metastasized and I was in the process of amputating, sealing off and putting to rest.  If Rebound Man shared that he liked that I was free and adventurous, I would somehow associate that with being out of control.  Black became white.  Up became down.  And instead of moving up or around the tower, I got all twisted up trying to be 100% certain I was protected and hyper-prepared at all times, ready to pounce.  I fought every bit of adventure until I was anything but, and slowly made it step over step over the tower, down trodden and temporarily defeated and alone.  I did, however, let go of a great deal of baggage during this part of the course. 

The funniest thing is, while trying to rebound with one eye crossed, a single digit jean size, and my snarly disposition I actually thought I was ready to try this all out.  We engaged in some form of God only knows what at this point, maybe just two-sided crazy.  (He was also rebounding.)   I gave him an invitation to a duel so he could prove he was different, better, maybe everything I recognized in him but couldn't handle, nonetheless.  Anyone could see from miles away, he was different- physically, emotionally, and cognitively.  Big, strong, smart, and all sorts of sexy.  I went after this like a member of Lance Armstrong’s fleet: determined, steadfast and doped up out of my mind.  Only without any doping.  I made sure I was nothing like myself, or maybe just me times 100, to throw things off course a bit, and prove myself, right? Wrong? Crazy? Not yet over a divorce?  I succeeded and in the end learned a few profound lessons.  This week I sat with a friend and Rebound Man came up in the conversation. We laughed at how absolutely over the top I went about trying to catch and date and scale the Trifecta Tower.  For far too long I had such a hard time letting go of the idea that if only, if just, Rebound Man could see who I really was….    I was everything all at once and then some.  He came.  He saw.  He considered.  He saw again.  He ran.  I chased, screaming, “Come Back! Wait. I’m not really crazy!  Which, it turns out, is not the way to convince someone of you’re sanity.

My friend assured me, this was all part of the course.  “The first one is supposed to go this way, down in a spiraling flame of insanity.”  He reminded.  He’s watched from the start, he warned me long ago. "I would hate to be the first one, but the second one....he's going to be a very lucky man."  He said this a long while ago, as I mooned and salivated and googly-eyed stared at and tripped all over Rebound Man.  I have really good friends it turns out.   "Arghhhh….I wouldn’t have wished that phase of me on anyone" I grimace.  We were discussing a new potential date, and the reality that I didn't have to work at it.  Not even lift a finger, or bat an eye.  I’ve had a few sweet and happy moments of late, invitations, possibilities to consider.  Flirtations of the very best kind.  Light, enjoyable, at ease.  It’s really nice to not be in any rush to get to some starting point, or finish line, just to find out that I left behind a limb, or sprained something, or knocked someone out or broke a big part of that old organ that beats and keeps pace and gets to be all filled up again, and again, and maybe even another time after that. 
I recently came across a site that provides support and help during the divorce process.  There is even a course you can attend for a week.  It is actually called “The Rebuilding Your Life After Divorce Mountain Retreat”.  I’m going to pass on that for now, I don’t think they go for runners with Viking hats tearing through the place, chasing after hip, hirsute, horny guys while swinging through the trees.

On second thought, maybe I haven’t made it all the way through…..or maybe I am just that wild and crazy.

Friday, April 19, 2013

ELA Testing at the We Are All Going to be A OK Corral

It’s ELA test week on the ranch. Or across the state to be exact. Perhaps across several states… I imagine this might be the equivalent of tax week for accountants, flu season for doctors, or the way first responders feel as they arrive at the scene of a large scale crisis with too many victims and not enough responders.  You get the picture.  Dread.  Grueling episodic fits of dread and the insurmountable knowledge that this will not end well.  Or start well.  Or feel much better than taking a sip from the well that has been poisoned by ill-informed, zealous data collectors, bean counters, and other back-slapping corporate type “suits”with little experience in a classroom, or playground, or any recent, direct contact with the small, fragile, developing psyches of children.  

am a teacher.  I work with students with learning disabilities.  The very students that districts spend gads of money on determining their individual needs and providing customized individualized services to support those needs.  Price-tags follow these students around and the staff supporting them.  An entourage for some; Speech Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, Social Workers, Psychologists, Teachers of the Visually Impaired, the Hearing Impaired, and the Academic Variety abound.  Neon colored flashing cash dollar signs.  Tests and observations and data collections fill file cabinets and flash drives and national networks with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).  

Scientific data is collected to specifically isolate and target the strengths and needs of these students.  We know their reading levels.  Their cognitive abilities.  Their individualized abilities to memorize, and their processing speeds.   We know how to support and strengthen some of their skills, we know what we will not be able to alter or fix or remediate.  We know, without a doubt or perhaps within one or two standard deviation points, the vast majority cannot take grade-leveled tests.  We rally and cheer on those that can.   

Generally speaking, here we sit, or pace, or rock in the back corner of our classrooms because it’s ELA testing week on the ranch and this week we get to heat up our branding irons and scorch their very tender hides with the brand we already know they have.  0, 1, or a few random 2’s.  These are the scores they will achieve. We could add catchy ranch names to make us feel a little more light-hearted, or a lot less transparent; Hidden Valley Low Score. Circle R LetdownWild Bull-bleep Plateau. Of course, a little shout out to the Big 4, as in test producing corporations never hurt no one, y’all come back, y’hear!  Or just go, mighty thanks and bushels full of cow patties!  Pearson’s Overflowing Abundance Ranch. Harcourt Capacity and Cattle Hoarding Farm, McGraw-Hill of Beans and Bounty Hacienda, Riverside Rancho.  Reading, Writing, Rollin'….Rollin'....Raw Hide....

During testing week, we get to be the mother, or father, at the pediatrician’s office holding down a toddler in need of shots.  Right about the time the toddler becomes aware that it will hurt and they look to us for help, and register, momentarily, betrayal.  Only these tests don’t have curative qualities or provide preventative protective measures of any kind.  We hold them against their will as they get this unnecessary shot in the arm. We attempt to comfort and encourage and go deep into the fetal position in our minds, knowing we are simultaneously powerless AND harmful to those very fragile and developing students as we dole out their tests that they cannot read, or understand, or make any sense of.  We are not permitted to help them read or understand or provide individualized supports.  

Some students have long ago given up and refuse to even try.  At 8, and 9, and 10 years old.  The older students are more generally angry and recalcitrant and appear defiant, but they too are hurt.  Some cry and break down and bang their heads on tables as they are reminded that they are not smart enough, or good enough, or fast enough to keep up with others.  Some break pencils, and turn over their desks and curse out the teachers that are handing out the tests that harm the students they are otherwise committed to helping, teaching, supporting and encouraging.  

What are we doing to these students?  And why?  This week I worked with a student with dogged determination and the propensity to burst blood vessels and invoke a tornado with his boiling over frustration.  He would not give up, but he also knew he would not “succeed”.  Not by the measurements decided by highly trained scorers, but by his own measurements of not being quite skilled enough.  I want to rescue him from this trap I have helped set for him.  I want him to stop feeling defeated and incapable.  I want him to know as clearly and surely as I do that he is not “the dumbest kid in the school” as he believes and shares when he cannot find the answer to the question he is being asked to respond to.  This question, and all of the others that are not provided at his reading level, the reading level that he has been slowly, doggedly, improving across the past several months.  Each day after the test he approaches me, to apologize for a behavior that he feels bad about, in response to a test he cannot master, or feel good about.  Each day I remind him, with eyes swelling with moisture that he is the most incredible student I have ever met.  Dogged.  Determined. Gifted and talented beyond a test that will not ever measure a hill of beans or add any value to his life.  

I want to say a great deal of things or break some pencils and curse the moon or the powers that be.  I want the varied stakeholders to understand that this is not a meaningful measure of growth for some students, most students.  For the students I work with, it feels frankly, abusive, sadistic, developmentally brutal and insensitiveDetrimental to their well-being.  It does not encourage them or motivate them or make them feel valued.  

In turn, this test does not measure my value or worth or ability to teach these incredible students.  The students that come in each day knowing they will face their biggest challenges and be expected to work at them in one way or another.  Imagine that? Imagine what it takes day after day to come to a place that measures you against all the things you are weakest at? I cannot teach students that read on a first, or second, or third grade level how to read on a sixth,or seventh, or eight grade level, no matter how spectacular I may be, or how many trainings I attend.  

We are losing this Race to the Top.  We have allowed others to “fix” the game.  “Suits” with interests in corporate investments in testing companies, and political backings that want to break up unions, as opposed to determining how and if unions may be accountable for a small part of the issue that has become The Great American Education System in a nation that has been outsourcing jobs and blaming teachers for the mess that has become The Great American Decline.  Ill-informed tax payers that can no longer carry a load that is impossible to sustain, are angry. Unemployed laborers, technicians, service workers, administrators, engineers and everyone in between, even unemployed teachers are frustrated. Testing students in this way is simply making test companies richer and school districts poorer and students less skilled and tax payers ill-informed and teachers less motivated and it is making the students I work with defeated and sometimes angry.

Why aren’t we giving these students tests on their ability level?  Why not meet them where they are and work from there?   Why spend the gads of money that deplete the coffers and create a sense of resentment at the loss of funds for other students if we aren’t going to support students with the findings?  In the end the scores that my students achieve through dogged determination and at times apathetic disinterest impede the overall scores of the school.  Which leads to more testing.  More training.  More time away from students.  Less funding for materials that could benefit and support and provide applicable skills, individualized and appropriate for all students.

Today, finished with testing, I take my students out to the track.  We walk around it. Happy for the air, for the break.  For the knowledge that we all can go on this course and make it to the end.  Some of us run, fast and furious.  Others jump hurdles, or attempt, and fall and get up and continue on to the next one.  Carefully sizing it up and encouraging themselves to leap over it this time, and clear it, and land running forward.  One or two walk slowly, ambling about without complaint, they too will make it, eventually on their own terms and just as happy as anyone else that made it around.  A few of us will continue and decide we can go much further than we ever thought possible.  My dogged student walks back toward the school with me and says, “Why can’t they test us on what we are good at?”  I think for a moment and smile.  Proud at his ability to reflect and be thoughtful.  I answer,  “Well, for one thing, they would need too many tests for you.”   He stops and looks up at me, smiling.   I say this sincerely, he knows I value his creative abilities.  He has crafted puppets and rockets and a ship with working electronic components.  He can sing, and laugh and invoke smiles on the faces of his peers.  Gifts few of us use, enough, but all of us benefit from.  His reading level has improved and his pride in this, when he stops to reflect about it could fill up several test pages, flash drives, and file cabinets.  

I don’t have the heart to remind him to get ready for next weekit will be Math Testing Week at the “In the End We Are All Going To Be A OK Corral”.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Parenting: Making Life Everything It Was Never Meant To Be

Monday night my son and I returned home from Maine, seven plus hours of driving.  Stopped in Albany for a brief visit with my daughter, adding another hour plus, bringing us closer to 9 hours in the car. The purpose of this trip was to visit a college and attend an Accepted Student Event to help firm up and finalize a decision about college, the future, the start of my youngest son’s life,  independent of me. A few things occurred throughout the weekend that left me pondering about big, consequential moments and minor, but meaningful happenings of my life, and the lives of my children, the past and present, a changing society, the importance of families and friends and support systems. You know regular old ordinary stuff, just another day in paradise, as it were.

When we got to the University, I was thrilled to see balloons.  Thrilled.   I don’t even like balloons, typically.  They are generally a nuisance.  They pop.  Loudly.  Unexpectedly.  Jarring my nerves in response to the explosive sound they create, usually.  They move about and block my view when shoved in a car full of children that have great difficult holding tight and being still. Or they did at one time, long ago.  They come free from the children before getting into the car.   Who cry.
At the loss.  
The great, sad, wailing, devastating loss.

Balloons may cause the first tangible experience of loss in a child. This loss is deep and profound, as though something of great importance, that brings them joy, can be lost.  Forever.  Quickly.  Most parents have seen this first hand, it leaves an impression.  A child that leaves go of the tiny fragile string connecting them to JOY is not easily consoled.  I know, it might seem a wee melodramatic, but next time, watch closely, as a small child loses that balloon, at the fair, or a party, or some such festive event.  They cannot believe they caused this and they cannot fix it.  Nor can you, the adult, the one that creates and fixes and holds everything together…with string and glue and kisses and spur of the moment whatever it takes.

Soooo where was I?  Oh balloons, at the college visit.  Yes.  I have been to approximately 20 college visits, give or take, across the past nine or ten years with three children.  When you do something 20 or more times, you start to notice things.  Like balloons.  And banners.  And welcome signs.  The things that make you feel you are offering your child to the world, and the world is going to try to make sure there is a little joy and happiness and bright bold exploding unexpected nuisances waiting for them.  Or well, maybe just the happy, bright, welcomes that you haven’t quite mustered for a few years, because well, your children don’t respond well to happy and bright consistently or typically when you are traveling three days and hours and hours of miles away from home with loads of other children and parents buzzing with the knowledge that we only have moments left to make this everything it was never meant to be.  Perfect, without tension.  Interjected with joy, full of symbiotic bits of support and appreciation, smiles and hugs.  Balloons.  Joy and tension.

The balloons at least distract and keep order, and guide you through the main campus to the admissions building and the crowds of frightened, or sullen, or eager, ready-or-not teens awaiting their great escape from you into themselves.  You start to look for balloons at college visits as though the ranking by the College Board, Kiplings, and US News and World report mean nothing. The price tag?  Meh.  You’ll figure something out.  But put up balloons!  Where do I sign? 

I have actually muttered from several parking lots at my son’s chagrin and teen spirited ill-tolerance of me,  “A balloon wouldn’t hurt them! Now I’m going to be left to die wandering about some apocalyptic campus for days because I have no clue where the admissions building is for the visiting student day.  And look?  Have you even seen a sign of life?  Why do these campuses look like some post-cold war Zombie movie set?  A balloon! Is that really too much to ask? ?!2#*!!!….”  My son has learned to set his teeth on edge.  He’s about had it with me, rightly so, and developmentally he is exactly where he needs to be.   It’s on the chart next to head circumference and height and weight…Above Average- check.  Height, weight, head size, ready to launch and break free from mother-love!  Check. That’s my boy!!  (There’s a reason smother is spelled that way…. ) Which somehow brings me to my original thoughts and reflections about our weekend and the world at large.

When we first got to the college and checked in, the kind and hearty Maine hello-ing woman asked us if there were only two of us.  “Only two?” she implored.   Sort of the equivalent to “Dinner for One?” in a romantic restaurant filled with couples on maybe, Valentines Day.  She was asking as a courtesy.  She needed to give us the right amount of lunch tickets.   I suddenly felt exposed, incomplete, lacking.  My other children experienced visits with any combination of family members.  One parent.  The other participating parent.  A sibling or two.  Maybe two parents, a sibling or the whole shebang.  Now, we are two.  One parent, one child.  No other options.  Me. Him. No one else.  Mostly that’s fine.  Better than that even, mostly.  Easier.  Predictable.  And fairly easy to organize.    Today it felt suddenly sad.  Or I felt sad  for the way things turned out.  For the sadness and loss of another participating parent.  The one that let go of the fragile string that connects to the joy that is my son. 

Of course these are my sadnesses.   The loss is not yet felt, fully.  Or I imagine not.  It is covered with disdain and wrapped in “who cares?” when it is discussed at all. I wonder if the fragile string was barely felt at times, and at other times it was wrapped way too tightly.  The release might have been freeing.  Those bright colors and the tension felt just before too many erratic explosions was stressful and demanding, much more harmful than I had been able to recognize. Destructive.  Gone.  Up, up and away.  Pop. Smack. Pow.

Two tickets for lunch, please and thank you, hearty hello, smile brightly, follow the tethered bright balloons, this way, and “you are here” keep me on course, for a specified time in a specific place.  We finish the tour, we use up our lunch tickets, $7.50 each at the MarketPlace Café, where they have sushi.  More selling points, for college visiting days.  Sushi, we can take or leave, enjoy sometimes, prefer something else just as easily, or maybe even more often.  I get the roasted veggie and goat cheese flat bread-it beats the bushels of white rice and butter I consumed as a vegetarian during my own college days when food and balloons did not sell a school and vegetarians were not so common place.  He orders a quesadilla and smoothie.  We decide to head out after lunch, and begin our 8 plus hour journey homeward. 

We drive a-ways.  Stop at the outlet discount hodge-podge shopping mecca that my older son recommended between recent bouts of coming to terms with me.   The new me.  The old me. The who the hell is this person that he thought could hold tight to balloons and bright colored joy?  The reality that I am quite a bit more imperfect than seemed possible and gaining speed in this category daily is difficult at best.  The reality that my children are coming to terms with this reality in spits and starts and raging gasps of WTFs?  Somehow, occasionally, and between swollen, tear filled eyes, and questioning myself, or tormenting –more accurately, I find some solace in the discovery that we are more normal, typical, and like all other humans, than I ever believed possible.  

I wish we got here under better conditions.  It’s been hard to watch and speak to the broken, fragile, connections that were promised to be protective and supportive and gold-plaited in unconditional promises of forevers and kisses good night and cheering on and I love you bigger than the moon’s.  It’s been hard to take in their grief, and anger, and sadness.  It’s been hard to see some of my own Technicolor failings and tries-too-hard-at-better-but-not-quite-making-it through their eyes.  It’s been hard to listen because sometimes it sounds like a deafening scream of Why did you let us down?  Even when it’s not at all what’s being said.

And we drive on.  And I watch the road signs and bends in the roads.  I recall the journeys, here, before.  The visits to Boston.  To New Hampshire. To Providence. To Cape Cod, Truro, Wellfleet, Provincetown.  Portland, Booth Bay Harbor and Bath.  I smell the ocean and I’m flooded by faint recollections growing strong, of fruit-loops and ice cream and chocolate milk and Portuguese donuts and can almost feel the sweet sugary fingers of small hands holding tight or breaking loose, but not too free yet. 

We continue driving and the news interrupts the program we are listening to.  NPR.  One of my son's charms is this enjoyment, an appreciation of NPR developed through years of long car rides and intent listening followed by family discussions, between syndicated episodes of "Delilah" featuring the romantic pinings of callers and dedicated love songs and giggles and comments across miles and state-lines and radio stations that fade and pitch with static.  The Breaking News.  From Boston.  Explosions. Terrorism. Marathon. Finish line.

We were about an hour from Boston when the bombs went off.  We are startled and silenced by the news as we drive along the Massachusetts Turnpike toward Albany.  Stopping for a bathroom break, I check the internet for more information.  At my disposal, all this news, up to the minute, details and pictures and images of horror and disbelief.    A helpless sense of being small and powerless and unable to protect and provide and sustain this idea that I was once of the belief that I could do anything to shield and protect and keep my children safe.  A child, lost, killed, at the finish line.  Jarring.  Tense. Fractured, this new world where everything is different and still the same.  Tense and bright and filled with joy and hope and devastation. We watch as the military vehicles make their way towards Boston.  We notice the helicopters, military sanctioned, heading east as we continue west.  This world, changed forever, but still foreign to us.  We talk and speculate and grow somber.   We make it to Albany, to see my daughter, and kiss her, and hug her, and leave her with gifts and smiles.  Faint bits of sadness and sorrow, soften, and we travel on.  Homeward.

The world seems broken.  My family as well.   Myself, healing and growing stronger and brighter and making room for joy while knowing sadness will come unbidden.  My children have been forced to come to terms, quickly, with loss and the raw honest truth that parents are human and fallible and sometimes weak and even hurtful.  This truth that I cannot change or hide or shield them from, causes me to let go just enough to allow them to take flight, and soar away, bright and bold, joy-filled and pumped with the possibility that they might soar higher, do better, not be quite as normal and human and mortal and fallible.  But not enough to lose them forever.  I wish them everything, anything, all that is available and then some. I wish them safety.  I wish them a world that is less broken and the promise that family and friends and many more will help them and love them and be better off for knowing them.  I wish them balloons, but only if they enjoy them. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Turning 50: The Rousing Benefits of Self-Fulfillment

There’s something rousing about heading into my 50thyear while the last of my three children is firming up plans to head off to college in the fall.  Rousing in that way getting the wind knocked out of you in say, dodgeball is maybe rousing, or stupefying, or just leaves you gasping for a breath while your last breath is forced out.  Rousing. 

What better way to end or mark 1/2 a century then to start anewThe finalization of a divorce and the paperwork that has trickled through slowly and incongruently has forced a great deal of processing, and questioning and coming to terms with some pretty heady issues.   This has kept me somewhat stuck, but also perhaps glued, as opposed to entirely being forced to come undone.  I have been stuck the way someone in fear of drowning may take the doggie-paddle to exhaustive measures to stay afloat but not make much progress, or cover much distance.   

The aftermath of loudly flailing about in an effort to stay afloat and stuck in the process has brought on some unpleasant speculation that has been shared by a couple brave enough to go there.  It relates to a sense that perhaps, I have been, maybe slightly, or even a great deal, calling attention self-ward.  It may have seemed self-involved.  Or self-directed.    And, even before it was stated out loud, by one and then another, I had certainly self-reflected about this very sense of self-interest, which really hasn’t been self-absorption, as much as it has been self-concern in an effort for self-preservation, and self-survival in order to not lose all sense of self. 

Realizing, so late in the game, I have not been alone ever has not made me feel particularly pleased with myself.  I have had a weekend here or there maybe 5 over the past 50 years,  in which I have been separate from siblings, parents, spouse and/or children, which isn’t quite the same as being alone.  So reaching this phase of my life with the big bright reality that I will be by my very self indefinitely, came as a bit of a rushed, thrill, of epic proportions that might have caused me to loudly convince myself and anyone within a screeching sound wave that I WAS GOING TO BE JUST GREAT AND FINE AND SUPER DUPER SWELL!  SEE?  LOOK.  EVERYONE.  ANYONE.  SOMEONE.  Rousing.

Another reality I have been faced with is tackling the actuality that I have not exactly been spending a great deal of time on myself in a way that feels comfortable, or natural or slightly ordinary.  And certainly not healthy. The screaming, spinning, attention making noises and flashing lights that have been coming from me over the past year or two have been similar to someone starting tuba lessons at 50.  Someone like myself, tone deaf and incapable of carrying a tune in a bucket or a wagon or an 18 wheeler semi tractor trailer with acoustic engineering built into the cavernous articulated lorry.  (Rousing....the dead.)

I'm not big on self-involvement.  Or selfishness.  In spite of my loud, obnoxious status reports to convince my way through a day, a week, or maybe a rough month.  I don't really like a great deal of attention.  It causes me to break into hives, and turn bright red.  And although these signs can easily be attributed to the hot flashing sweats of being a few seconds away from turning 50,  I have suffered these symptoms throughout my pre-and peri-menopausal years.   Throw into the mix my cultural heritage.  The Irish Catholic are not particularly known for self-care.  You don’t run into a great deal of Irish spas, or meditation centers, or Irish fashion houses or shopping plazas.  Irish woolen jumpers and rompers are generally made to withstand sea salt erosion, windy tempests, peat fires, nuclear meltdowns and great bouts of self-despair.  Those cream colored, hand-knit Aran sweaters will look the same as the day they were made, and smell like the sheep they were shirred from for eternity.   

Self-indulgent, high-maintenance, primping and prettifying measures?  Well, there's my Irish skin, with rough dry patches of red and raw that does not take well to those very high maintenance habits of the self-indulgent.  Fragrant lotions, wrinkle reducing remedies, facials can not be had for fear of my skin reacting in bad temper and deep defense.  Redder and more raw,  causing people to stare and attend, not worth the angry skinned outcomes.  I was made to be humble, and somewhat self-less, lest I seek the attentions of a God that will shame me and suffer my offspring's offspring, or some such Blarney attributed to my kind.   We, Irish do however, have the crystal, the bright sparkly bling for the whiskey, to dull those self-despairing senses.  I have personally added a few pieces of the lower-rate Waterford collection to my kitchen if that might be counted toward self-care and selfishness, so be it.  My offspring will not suffer quite so much from this cheap, or economically sound transgression.  I felt a little self-indulgent in the purchasing of it just the same. 

Approaching 50 and deciding to start throwing out that I am an artist has thrown things off course a bit.   My art, and my process in embracing myself as an artist has been healing and life saving.  It has given me an outlet.  A blank space to fill with anything, everything, nothing.  It has forced me to speak and given me a voice. It has depersonalized some of my experience enough to allow it to become universal and communal and a part of something so much larger than me.  Which comforts me a great deal.  It makes me less alone.  It connects me to the shared experiences of others and it quiets my screams and fears and feelings of uncertainty.  Sometimes, it even celebrates the fears and uncertainties.   My art has anchored me to a place and people, for now.  It has also pushed me to take risks, safely out of my comfort zone.  It has provided me with a purpose in seeking out attention comfortably, for venues and shows.  It has been a grounding force, or maybe more of a calming benefit of me, this newly discovered organic self.

As I watch my children grow and strengthen and become more of themselves, and less of their perceived obligations and expectations of others, (such as myself) I’m self-satisfied.  Self-fulfilled.  As they go off and live their lives as they were meant to, I'm learning to balance, or limit self-sacrifice and avoid self-depletion.  I am content with being alone, now, finally.  I’m quieted enough to realize I am filled up with love.  Hopeful and proud.  What better way to preserve a sense of self than to have committed to being your best self so that another, or more, can shine and sparkle and gain attention?  Rousing, isn't it?