Tuesday, March 31, 2009

On Nurturing

In “How Starbucks Saved My Life,” the author, Michael Gates Gill, describes his relationship with his toddler son. This son was the product of the affair that prompted the termination of Gill’s long and comfortable marriage. His child only knew him as “Dada” and accepted him as the man who visited a couple of times a week and sat on the floor to play with him.

Gill writes that they mutually nurtured each other. His child accepted him as he was, without knowledge of or concern for who Gill had been in his former life—a powerful advertising executive; an overly-busy, and thus absent, father; a self-absorbed pompous man-of-privilege.

In Gill’s new state in life, his fall from grace, he was enormously gratified and reaffirmed to spend time with this child—to be given the gift of an absence of history, a clean slate.

Hearing this passage in the book reminded me of my good marriage. John and I entered this marriage having spent two years in cohabitation, followed by a separation of five years. On our reentry, we were on a level playing field—we were both heavily damaged by early losses in our lives. I had been through enough therapy—knew myself well enough—that I could accept him as he was and love him through his insecurities. He responded by blossoming in the relationship and loving me through my insecurities. It was truly a nurturing relationship, and became the marriage—his third, my fourth—that we both had always craved.

So that definition of a nurturing relationship, of needing each other, makes me question being able to have a nurturing relationship when neither party has that inherent neediness. When two parties enter a relationship as self-assured, mature individuals, can they develop a mature, nurturing relationship where nurturing is defined more as “wanting the best for my partner,” rather than “caring for and bolstering my partner”?

Maybe the relationships that have endured—the 15- and 25- and 50-year marriages—are the truly nurturing relationships, the ones where each partner always seeks the best for his other. Maybe it began with some degree of neediness. But through the unselfish, giving nature of the partners, each has grown and healed, thus enabling continued growth. The relationship becomes a wonderful, warm security blanket, a soft place to fall.

I choose to believe that’s where John and I would be today, had he lived. We would have continued to heal and grow, and have the kind of relationship that is envied by those who haven’t been so privileged, so blessed.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Zip It!

Have I mentioned that my darlings are all appearing in "The Music Man", which is being staged by Easy Street Productions the second weekend in May? Jaci e-mailed me yesterday and said that costume rental costs are exorbitant. She asked if I could make Ridley's dress and a pair of knickerbockers for Boston.

I did a little bit of research throughout the day today, trying to figure out when the play is set (1912) and what kind of clothing is appropriate to that time period. There are a number of theatre companies that offer rental wardrobe and have numerous pictures on their Web sites.

I want to be authentic, within reason. Did you know that zippers were first used around 1912 or 1913 in children's clothing and men's pants but not in women's dresses? Zippers weren't really used in women's clothing until the 1950s. You want to hazard a guess as to why? Morals! Zippers in women's clothing made it too easy and fast to get clothes off in the heat of passion, according to my research.

There's that old double standard. Forget that the man can get his pants off quickly (and besides, his zipper is only 7" long, where the woman's zipper is 24" or so).

But I digress. If I'm authentic and put buttons on Ridley's dress, it makes for more complicated costume changes. She's got to have someone help her, unless I make a dress that can just slip over her head. I was thinking maybe I could use the pattern from her Hallowe'en costume. The pattern included a "Dorothy" (from the Wizard of Oz) dress and pinafore. But the more I look and read, the more I'm thinking a sort of prairie dress will be more appropriate.

Yesterday I moved my sewing room from the 2nd floor to the basement, where I have more space than I'll know what to do with. I have one sewing machine set up, and just need to buy a good extension cord. And a quick pass through Jo-Ann Fabrics today showed me some suitable fabrics, even if they are polyester.

You've got to place limits on how authentic you can be in the theatre!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

There's a New Man in My Life!

Okay, I'm pulling your leg. Or obfuscating the truth.

A friend of Tyler's has been having trouble finding a decent place to live while he waits for the months to fly off the calendar so he can requalify for a VA mortgage. He has joint custody of a darling daughter who is friends with my grands, so he needs a nice place where she can feel at home whenever she's with her dad.

I have way too much space, and a few extra bills while I get settled in the new house. And I was the beneficiary of enormous kindness and hospitality from Tyler and Jaci for the past year. I strongly believe in paying forward the gifts of others.

Brad is enabling me to pay forward T&J's kindness. I am enabling him to save some money while he prepares to buy a house, and to have a lovely home environment to bring his sweet M to. He's also enabling me to be less lonely when I ramble around this space by myself.

Sounds like a win-win situation to me!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fantasy vs. Reality

I'm listening to "How Starbucks Saved My Life," thanks to a recommendation from my dear friend, The Professor.

This is a true story, and I'm enjoying it very much. I'm just through the set-up portion of the story, and one episode started a train of thought:

Michael Gates Gill is detailing how he got into an affair that produced his fifth child. He writes that, ultimately, neither of the parties in the affair were who the other thought—on first meeting—the he or she was. He met the woman at the gym. He was lying on the floor in the yoga room and she assumed he liked yoga. She liked men who liked yoga. And she portrayed some characteristics that he assumed were who he was.

TJ is visiting us this weekend. Friday night at dinner he asked incredulously, regarding EEFFH, "Mom, what were you thinking?" I was thinking, first, that to reject EEFFH based on his morbid obesity would have been very shallow on my part. But I was also thinking, sad and lonely a year-and-a-half after my favorite husband's death, that this man who was courting me voraciously would spend as much time with me in person as he was spending on the phone with me during our courtship. Assume he was a phoneaholic? Never! He spent hours on the phone with me because he was madly and passionately in love with me. Of course!

I didn't like my first father-in-law. I didn't like him intensely. He always spoke the line "ass out of 'u' and ass out of 'me'" anytime someone used the word "assume" in his presence. I always wanted to punch him in the mouth when he said it; he was such a smug a.h. (My opinion. Solely my opinion. If you knew him, you can think what you want of the man.)

But in the case of EEFFH, I gave four very good years of my life to a man whom I assumed needed me. Needed me to help him achieve the lifestyle he wanted—a lifestyle of culture and loveliness. I was so wrong. I couldn't have been wronger! He merely wanted me to pick up after his sloppiness and slovenliness.

My fantasy was a man who loved me. My reality was a man who loved using me.

Never assume. It makes an ass out of you and an ass out of me.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Out of the Desert and Into the Sun

I'm so pleased to have discovered the Pandora application for iPhone. We're not allowed to stream any Web content at work, so it's been a long time since I utilized Pandora's Music Genome Project application. If you love all sorts of music, and you've never tried Pandora, I highly recommend it.

I have written previously about my love for the Ben Folds song "The Luckiest." This afternoon I thought I'd create a Pandora station for that song, to see what other similar songs might be played. One of the first songs that came up was "On Your Porch", from the album "Interventions & Lullabies" by The Format. One of the lines in the song is "But now it's time to get out of the desert and into the sun."

Having lived in the desert for eight years, and knowing intimately the 350 days per year of sun that's touted there, I found the concept of "out of the desert and into the sun" to be interesting.

Really, that's what I did when I moved from Tucson to Youngstown. I came out of the loneliness of my life there, with lots of friends and activities but no family, to the sun of Youngstown. There may be 350 days a year of gray and cold and snow and rain and fog, but my family is here. And there's an incredible energy around working, all the activitists together, to bring the Valley back to its former vitality—a vitality with an air of newness that will take it into the 22nd Century and beyond.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Things We Say/Things We Keep to Ourselves

I'm reading "An American Wife." It's not great literature, but it's enjoyable. It passes the miles. I was under the oh-so-mistaken impression that it was inspired by the life of Hillary Clinton. As I listened to more and more chapters, I couldn't see Hillary in the book at all. Finally I looked up the description again and realized it was inspired by the life of Laura Bush. Big difference!!

At one point early in her marriage, the protagonist talks about how little we know of each other as people, how little we talk about the things in our lives to people not intimately connected with our lives.

That made me think about the Internet and blogging and how much of ourselves several thousand people place on the Internet on a daily basis.

I've said things on this blog that I would probably never say in a face-to-face conversation. Part of that is that we are all so rushed, we never just sit down and verbally share our lives. We have meetings. We talk about logistics. But would you ever ask me whether I still miss John? (The answer is yes—daily.) Would I ever ask you what part of your life you would change if you could? No, it's too personal. We are taught, I believe, that to respect someone means to keep him or her at arms' length.

I have a best friend. She's been my best friend since second grade. She was my maid of honor at my first wedding. But we hardly know each other any more. When she was going through the rending of her third marriage, she withdrew farther and farther inside herself as a way to survive, and our friendship suffered. Of course, she probably has her own explanation for what happened, but I'll never know what that explanation is. I don't feel I can ask.

My other best friend, whom I've known ten fewer years than my first best friend, has grown to be much more connected with me over the years. She was my maid of honor at my second wedding. She played for my first wedding; I think I played for several of her weddings. We plan an annual trip, and we communicate frequently as we gear up for that trip. Those travel communications encourage us to share the other things that are going on in our lives. She knows how lonely I get. She knows how I long for someone to hold hands with as I fall asleep. She knows that I don't like to cook. She knows that I'm ambivalent about my relationship with my mother. She knows that I hate my crepey neck and décolleté. I know that she's worried about the economy and the fact that she still, at our age, has two more kids to put through college. I listen while she talks. She listens while I talk.

There's nothing we won't ask or say to each other. Isn't that the true definition of friend?

What would the world be like if we were all as open, face-to-face, as we are in writing to the unnamed masses in cyberspace? Or as PianoLady and I are with each other?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Food From Your Childhood

Jaci's venture into cooking breakfast made me start thinking about breakfast (always my favorite meal) when I was growing up.

I grew up in a medical family. The interest in health was also fueled by Mother's following of the health tenets of the Seventh-day Adventist church. There were no mixes or prepared foods in our house. Vegetables were fresh or frozen, almost never canned. The food was not spicy, but was tasty, never bland.

Breakfast was hot most every day. If it consisted of cold cereal and milk, the cereal was never sweetened. There were Corn Flakes and Rice Krispies, but never Frosted Flakes. A Pop Tart? Even if they had been invented by that time, they would never have entered my mother's grocery cart.

Pancakes or waffles were made from scratch—the flour sifted, the eggs broken. Bread for toast had always been kneaded by my mother's hands and baked a day or two earlier. It was always wheat, never white. And the milk was always white, never flavored or sweetened. I guess you'd say we were purists.

A favorite breakfast was bananas in orange sauce over toast. Mother would pour some orange juice in a pan, add a little cornstarch dissolved in water, and heat, stirring while it thickened. Then she'd slice bananas once lengthwise and once crosswise and drop them in the thickened orange juice just long enough for them to heat through. She'd toast some bread, pour a tiny bit of warm milk over the toast to soften it a little, then spoon the bananas and orange sauce over it. Yum!

PianoLady wrote the other day to remind me of a breakfast of Mother's that I fixed for her when we were in college and I had my sweet little house behind Daddy's office. I would grease a small oval baking dish with butter, then break several eggs into the dish. Add a little milk or cream and swirl it around, being careful not to break the yolks. Then sprinkle some Corn Flakes over the top and bake until the yolks were hard, maybe 20 minutes. Sounds simple; tastes wonderful.

Those are my memories.

What did your mother fix for your breakfast before school?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Early Memories

Yesterday, while brushing his teeth, Boston asked me where the "stone glass" was that we had used to drink from in my bathroom in Tucson. It took me about 12 hours to remember what he was talking about.

Keep in mind that the last time he used that glass was over two years ago. Twenty-six months, to be precise. One-third to one-quarter of his life ago. He was five. How can he remember that glass?

After scouring my brain, and looking into the kitchen cabinet that holds all the glasses, I noticed a hand-blown glass that I had picked up at Philobaum in Tucson about nine years ago. I had a pair of these glasses, and one had gone through the dishwasher several times so that its colors were muted and it looked rather like stone. It broke shortly before I left Tucson.

The remaining glass is still brilliantly colored in purples and mauves and blues. I will silently move it to the bathroom and see if he notices it the next time he's here. (Of course he'll notice it! He's got that kind of brain.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Slaving Over a Hot Stove

I have uttered thousands of times that I would rather slave over a hot computer or a hot sewing machine than a hot stove. But my DDIL has decided to go back to basics and foods where she knows all the ingredients. She posted recently that she's cooking more and enjoying it more.

But there's a downside for me. The babes expect me to scramble eggs for breakfast, now that their mom has gotten them accustomed to hot breakfasts from the stove, not the microwave.

I had them with me last night. We went to Bob Evans for dinner, where Jaci joined us for 15 minutes of chatting on her way home from the store. (Hint: forget your phone for an evening and people will seek you out!) After Bob Evans, the babes and I went to Giant Eagle, where I got the breakfast fixings and Boston picked out his favorite glazed donut holes for breakfast.

But this morning, after an apple and two scrambled eggs and two or three donuts holes (technically - Pop 'Ems), Ridley asked me where the bacon was. Good grief. Who do you think I am, Martha Freaking Stewart?

Really, though, I have long wondered how much nutrition Boston is getting with his daily Pop Tarts. It was a pleasure to see him relish his eggs this morning.

I've got a house. I've got a 40- or 50-year-old stove. I guess I need to relearn how to cook.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Words for Driving

My long daily commute requires some sort of intervention to keep me awake and focused on the road. I use podcasts and audio books to stay on task.

Currently I'm listening to "One Fifth Avenue" by Candace Bushnell, who also wrote "Sex and the City". Chick lit. Beach book. Trash novel. This book has no redeeming social value, but it has one great bit of commuter value: I can't wait to get in the car and turn it on again to see what comes next.

I may be reading a trashy novel this week, but I'm awake and arriving alive.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Parental Permission

You know that children are not allowed to buy things on the Internet without parental permission. After my visit to Mother, I have decided that there should be an age at which telephone operators will no longer accept a person's order from a catalog.

When I got to Mother's, I noticed a doll lying on the end table in the living room. It's a collectible doll, but collectible, to me, usually means something that will grow in value and that someone else will want to buy from you in 20 years. I'm not so sure that would apply to these dolls.

While I was there, she showed me several times the doll she had ordered that would be there in a few days. It's a boy doll, looking like a newborn and—yes, folks—anatomically correct. Did you click over to the photo? Yes, he costs $150. She has plenty of money, so it's not the $150 I'm worried about. It's the $150 on a doll.

The bottom line is "whatever makes Mother happy." But I feel concern that she will spend like that on something so [pick a word: useless; frivolous; ridiculous; _____]. And I feel sadness that this is what her life has come to. She eats, sleeps, and shops for dolls with hard rubber faces.

I think maybe catalog shoppers should have to show their driver licenses to make a purchse. Anyone over 85 would have to have a child's permission to make the purchase.

(Oh, and speaking of driver licenses, Mother showed me that she now has to carry her Social Security Card as identification as she no longer has a driver license. I quickly told her she had to get that out of her wallet. Molly will take her to the DMV to get an ID card on the next visit.)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Having a Heart

I heard a snippet on Morning Edition or some such show recently while driving. The host was talking about grandmothers and how more and more grandmothers are refusing to be involved in their grandkids' lives.

It made me remember when I told my parents I was pregnant with Scott. (Note that I had been married almost two years—it's not like I was popping a surprise on them.) My mother's immediate reaction: "I raised you. I'm not going to raise yours."

Wait a minute. I didn't ask you to raise mine. I didn't ask you anything. I merely shared my joy and excitement with you, and that's your first response?!

My mother was involved with the boys and did babysit when I needed her, including keeping the infant Scott for ten days while FOMC and I and his parents went on a trip to Spain that he had won through work.

Once FOMC and I divorced and he got custody of the boys, her involvement lessened greatly. She said she was afraid FOMC would answer the phone if she called them, so she never called. You think I'm non-confrontational? I would categorize her behavior as non-confrontational to the max!

In the past probably-15 years, she is haphazard about birthdays and anniversaries. Sometimes she'll send a card, sometimes she'll send a card and a check. Two years ago she totally forgot my birthday. I called her that day so she could wish me a happy birthday, and she said nothing.

I actually feel sorry for her. These grandbabies of mine are the most precious children who have ever been born. (Okay, I'm prejudiced. Your grands are as precious to you as mine are to me.) How much richer her life would be if she would exert the effort to know my children and my grandchildren better.

But then I have to remember that her words and actions toward me when I was a child were what pushed me into therapy in my 30s. (Should have been earlier. I would have been in a much better position if my therapy had started when I was a teenager. But then, that was a different age. I asked FOMC to go into marriage counseling with me after we had been married a couple of months and I knew we were in deep trouble. He said, "We don't talk about our problems outside the family. Alrighty, then.) At age 36 or so, I was in group therapy with a group of seven or eight women. We referred to ourselves as "the daughters of narcissistic mothers."

Life is what it is. You can't change anyone else's behavior. You can't change anyone's priorities. You accept what you've been given and move on. You accept people as you find them.

I cannot, however, understand how a grandmother could not want to be closely involved in her grandchildren's lives. I'm younger, I believe, because I get to view life through my kids' and grandbabes' eyes—on a regular basis.

My life revolves around my grandchildren, then around my kids. I'm very lucky.

Who wouldn't want to feel that lucky?

<Sidenote on>
And a big thank you to T&J for allowing me to be involved in their lives and for the gift of the past year of cohabitation. I am forever grateful.
<Sidenote off>

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Then and Now

Mother and I spent an hour or so going through old pictures when I was with her last weekend. There were photos I had never seen, including a picture of Mother in her high school glee club, and of her sister, my Aunt Helen, holding her flute. Who knew Aunt Helen played the flute?! Who knew Mother sang in the glee club?

There was a picture of Daddy holding me at about six months, and another of Mother holding me, taken at the same time. I had seen the one of Mother, but not the one of Daddy.

This was taken in the house on Manor Road in Maitland around 1955. I think I was five when this was taken. Mother would have been around 42. The couch was green. The draperies were red and green on white, as I recall. Something very Southern, like hibiscus or some other tropical plant or flower.

And to compare and contrast, this was taken last Monday morning before I left.

My, how time flies.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Divergent Memories

A number of my high school friends have joined Facebook in the past couple of week. Suddenly, I'm hearing from people I haven't thought of in years.

I got a note from the guy, we'll call him P, who was first flute to my first oboe. He's currently living and teaching English in Beijing. He was two years older than I, and I thought we had something going on.

I remember, with a bit of embarrassment, a band tour we went on where several parents drove cars filled with students. My mother was one of those drivers; P and I were two of the passengers. I remember necking with him for half an hour or so of the trip. (In retrospect, I cannot believe my mother never said anything to me about proper behavior. But then, this is the woman who said, "When you were 14, I didn't know what to do with you, so I just washed my hands of you.")

P remembers the trip also, it turns out. When I mentioned in my return e-mail that I was going to visit my mother, he said, "I remember a band trip we took where I rode with your mother. She explained to me the difference between "skim" and "scan" in reading."

Wait. Were we on the same tour? In the same car?

I guess we didn't have something going on, after all.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Air of Invisibility

I’m just back from three days with my 95yo mother in Hendersonville, NC. As you can imagine, a trip such as this had my mind running a hundred miles an hour. The next few posts will be fueled by that activity.

I went to church with Mother on Sabbath morning. When I was growing up, we went to Kress Memorial Seventh-day Adventist Church in Winter Park, FL. Mother was a pillar in the life of that church. She was a deaconess for many years, and head deaconess for another many years. When there was work to be done, she was there. She made the communion bread each quarter; she washed and ironed the linen tablecloth for the communion table. When someone died, she organized all the food to be taken to sustain the deceased’s family. When the church was redecorated, she sat on the committee that made the decisions. She was known and loved by all.

We walked into the Fletcher church on Saturday, and not one person greeted her by name. She has lived in Hendersonville since 1996 or ’97, but she is, really, as alone after ten years in Fletcher as I am after only ayear in Youngstown. She eats dinner each noon with the same group of women, but they hardly speak. She can’t hear much at all anymore, so socializing really does nothing for her. She sits in a room of people, alone with her thoughts. Sometimes she’ll think of something to contribute, but because of her hearing loss, she unknowingly interrupts conversation after conversation in her effort to be part of the group.

I salute her for continuing to go out and get out. I think, if I had hearing loss that severe, I’d become a hermit. Already, at 58, I hate going to noisy restaurants, as I cannot hear the conversations around me. I’ve been known to retreat inside my own head in a crowded, noisy restaurant. What must it be like to have severe hearing loss and feel so excluded from the world around you?

And what must it be like, after a lifetime of mattering to people, to feel like you don’t matter much of all any more? This is why I call her every morning. Just to check in. Just to let her feel she matters.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Jan Needs

Darling Daughter-in-law Jaci challenged her readers to a needy meme. On yet another brrrrr-cold winter day, I just had to play along.

Instructions: Go to Google.com and do a search. Type in quotations your first name and the word needs after it. Example: "Dan needs". Then copy the top ten things Google says you "need".

  1. Jan needs a man. (Seriously! That's what it says. I did not make that up!)

  2. Jan needs to talk to Lance & see if he can give him a few hints. (Okay, so "Jan" is one of those male/female names.)

  3. Jan needs help urgently.

  4. Jan needs help convincing her parents not to sell the family ice cream shop.

  5. Jan needs your help. (Do we see a theme here?)

  6. Jan needs our prayers for travel mercies.

  7. Jan needs prayer.

  8. Jan needs Jan needs to get her wide behind down to the basement and on the treadmill. (Seriously? Could you be a little less harsh?)

  9. Jan needs a new man. (Another theme?)

  10. Jan needs spelling lessons & reality testing.

Well, there you go. My life in a nutshell: a man, help, prayer, spelling lessons, and reality testing. Oh, yeah, and the wide behind to the treadmill.

Go on. Do it. You know you want to.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Pot Luck of Life

When I was pregnant with Scott, I joked about not having any idea what was going to come out. Adoptees who are denied a knowledge of their ancestry live in an eternal state of mystery. My offspring had a totally unknown set of genes just waiting to manifest themselves. I'm thankful nothing untoward happened. Scott is in great physical health. Tyler got my eyes and my migraines, plus a few surprises from his dad, who knows his ancestry several generations back, so I can take neither credit nor blame for that.

Likewise (but less serious and far-reaching), the new homeowner who buys in the winter has no idea what's under the soil. I absolutely adore the spring flowers that pop up from bulbs. I grew up in Florida. We don't have tulips or daffodils or snowdrops or crocuses or any of those wonders—unless you purchase them in Publix. The entire 16 years I lived in D.C., I planted 50 or so bulbs every fall, and couldn't wait for them to peep out of the ground. The best were the snowdrops, which popped up on February 13 almost every year. Once I saw that bit of green, I knew I could make it through the rest of the winter.

I was absolutely thrilled this sunny afternoon to realize I've got some green sprouts sticking their noses up for air. Now if I can wait for the pot luck to be served, I'll know what glories await me in my new yard.