Getting it right

mom and dadI know I have been rather reflective lately. I hope in the New Year, my mind and thoughts will drift to higher ground.  Not less meaningful, but lighter and less laden with the world and the weight it can put on our shoulders at times.

I had a great holiday. It was full of family and fun and laughter and children who “believe.” Oh, that was the best.  The believing. And the wonder. “Go to bed, Santa is coming!”  “Oh, no, not yet. He won’t come if I’m AWAKE!”

Even stood in line for two hours for the best Santa I have ever seen. Gentle and patient; a real beard, a kind smile.

Then in the midst of hanging the boughs and decorating the tree and monkey bread and cheese grit souffle, I came across this photo of my mom and dad.  Oh man.  That set me back. I have been missing my mom especially this year.  It’s my first Christmas without either of them.

I have made it to 40 years of marriage but she made it to 64?  His dimples? I don’t remember he even had them. The suits. The pocket scarf. Their hair. Looking at the sepia image of my parents I realize, not for the first time, my mom did something right that I do not.

My dad thought he was the boss, but we all knew who really was.  Not sure he did, though.  They seldom argued. Except about money. He was quiet. She was chatty. He was a whistler. She loved to laugh. She was scattered, disorganized.  He was solid.  She was always late and dad was at the door jingling his keys.

She was the sun and he was our true north. It worked for them.

I look at the ease with which she touches his arm and think I do little with ease. I am worried or hurried or trying so hard to be “in the moment” that I make it so important, I am not there.

It’s hard to be a spouse.  Especially a good one. We fall in love and the clouds open, the stars shine through and no one or anything has ever seemed as special or amazing as the object of our affection. Days blur and our hearts pound at the sound of their voice. The touch of their hand and we are carried away to a land that we didn’t know existed.

Pure and simple and unadulterated young love.

We slip on our blinders and all we can see is this person, our mate we will choose to spend the rest of our life with.

And then we marry.  And start careers. And have babies. Build households. Build homes. Buy cars. And move. And our feelings of young love get buried in our daily lives, the bills, the ice on the driveway, the crying babies, the leaves in the yard.

We settle into marriage.  That crazy thing that seemed so simple when we said “I do.” Sweet and innocent we were to all that life would, and could, throw at us.

And in retrospect, that is why it works, this marriage thing.  We walk into it hopeful and starry-eyed, ready to conquer the world together.  And then we do.  We do the real “I do.”

We conquer it.  With all the bumps and curve balls and hiccups and doubts and messy stuff.  We do it.  Some of us fall away. Some of us don’t.  But any of us who try it and give it our best, should be proud.  It is not easy.  Not as easy as my mama made it look.  Or June Cleaver. Or Carol Brady.  Or Claire Dunphy.

It’s work.  Every single day.  To be a good spouse. A true partner.

Success or not, I work hard at being a good mother. But the wife thing, I am not always so diligent. Too much myself and not enough the person I’d like to be.

So on this beginning of 2016, I want to be a better spouse.  Not perfect.  Not award winning.  Just better.  In some way.  Go for the love, honor and cherish with a little more gusto.

And maybe, just maybe, I will throw in a little ease.

Even a smidge would be a start.

 

Fall’s fading riot of color

riot 3I recently returned from a two week visit to the South Carolina coast with my brother and sister and bits and pieces of friends and family.  Children, husbands, grandchildren came and went but for the entire fourteen days it was my brother and sister and me.  Just the three that we are, now that mom and dad are gone. That simple fact, and the fact that we had returned to the ocean we had visited many times as kids and later year after year with our own children, was special.

Spending time at the beach brought back memories of our own youth as well as the childhoods of our now grown kids. The smell of the salt air, the warmth of the miles of sandy beach, the sway of the sea oats against startling blue skies, day after day was mesmerizing and restorative with a hint of magic. Our days seemed suspended in time and our worries and realities were blurred by the beauty of each day, each minute.

We were fortunate to arrive post-hurricane; the crispness and calm it left in the air and the sea was rare and fine.

The morning we left was as exquisite as the day before and the day before and the day before that. As we packed up towels and linens, emptied the refrigerator and washed off sandy beach toys, the real world loomed closer and closer. Packing his bags into the car, my brother commented that we were on our way “back to fall with it’s heartbreaking riot of color. A short and poignant season.”

Being an English professor, I asked him who he was quoting.  And he replied, ” Not a quote. I said that.”

I have reflected on that thought over and over in the month since we left the beach. I enjoyed fall’s riot of color. I enjoyed it through every state, on every country road and interstate as I drove from South Carolina through West Virginia to Illinois on my way home.  It was breathtaking.

We had our first snow yesterday.  Snow on top of fall’s last hoorah.  Not as much of a mess as one might anticipate but an early storm always brings a bit of that. A messy mix of the hanger-on leaves combined with wet snow that turns quickly to ice. And the riot was over.

Fall is like that.  A wild and beautiful display of nature at its best and then with the first frost or an early snow, it’s vibrant show is suddenly over.  And bleak winter is upon us.  Wet and heavy and bothersome.  Snow boots and down coats and shovels. Ice and frozen windshield wiper blades.

So I didn’t really understand the heartbreaking part of fall’s riot completely until the cold hard facts of winter came looming.

Winter here so soon caused me to pause and ask myself  why time and the days pass so much more quickly as we get older. And the seasons seem to blur. At first, my answer was that as a child our lives are filled with few responsibilities and little to clutter our minds about time. The days are long. Sunrise to sunset seems to take forever. Our proverbial mental video tapes are spare and slim.  Wide open and just starting to turn and accumulate bulk.

But as we age, our minds become full and heavy with memories and moments and thoughts.  Sorrows and pain, happiness and joy.  We acquire so many recorded moments that our minds cannot hold them all at once, and our videos seem to move in fast forward.

But then my husband had another thought.  He said it has less to do with long days and a childlike feeling of forever but more to do with fewer days and limited time.  Our time in this life gets shorter as we get older.  So days and seasons do as well.

I stopped and thought and admitted he was right. And the poignance of the present became all the more precious.

So on this Thanksgiving, I am hoping to do what the holiday implies. Amidst all the menu discussions and centerpiece planning and napkin folding and silverware counting, I hope to actually stop and give thanks.  For all the days I have left on this beautiful, volatile, crazy mixed-up earth. Oh, how I do love it. This earth.

Happy Thanksgiving.

And happy rioting, leaves or no leaves.

Happy 100th!

100

 

This week’s post was my 100th!  Thank you, readers, for your support and encouragement.  You keep me writing and thinking.  I couldn’t do it without you. Stay tuned for 100 more…

Moons and dew-covered mums

new-moon_unknownSo among my friends or acquaintances or family or pretty much anyone who has ever met or seen me longer than a five minute conversation, I am known as a night person. And in the reverse, I am definitely not considered a morning person. I mean never.  Not even Christmas morning, Easter egg hunting and including the child who has the nerve to deliver a grandchild before dawn.

And then I might not appear until mom and babe are nestled safely in their assigned room.  At least until after seven a.m.

I am a firm believer that we are inherently night or morning people.  My mom was a night person.  My dad a morning kind of guy.  My husband definitely nods off after nine p.m. while I am up long past midnight.

But lately, my world has taken a sudden and irreversible shift. It all started with a conversation my brother and I had about mums as we pulled into a farmer’s market last month.

A hot day in late August, the stands were chock full of partially opened mounds of mums of all colors and sizes. We turned to one another and both admitted we did not like them. We agreed we don’t like the smell of a mum, the meaning of a mum–that summer is over and fall is upon us.  We also mused they represented that school would soon start, both of us former teachers, a potted symbol that the lazy days of summer are ending.

Beyond that though, those mums took on a broader meaning for me.  They bloom fast and die young , often with the first frost. So all around they are loser flowers for me.

Especially this year. That same brother, my only brother, was given a pretty tough cancer diagnosis not long before our farmer’s market visit and blooming fast and dying young just doesn’t  appeal to me in the sexy James Dean sort of way it might have at eighteen.

Similarly, my thoughts have changed about moons.  I used to love nothing better than a full moon and we have had some pretty fancy ones lately. Blue moons, red moons, harvest moons. Even tonight’s super blood moon being eclipsed not to be seen again until 2033.

But now the sliver of a new moon looks just like a slice of heaven to me.  All fresh and slender and hopeful. Peeking out from behind the earth with a silver white thumbnail of hope and future. Time and growth.

Watching someone you love fight a life threatening illness does that to a person, I think. It stops you in your tracks and each day looks a little different.  Feels a little off. Lacks a little luster. Or conversely, everything appears in technicolor as though you will never see this day, this time, this moment again.  The thought of the next moment minus an integral part of your being, your blood, your nuclear brood is disarming. And sad. And makes time and the present all the more precious.

So this night owl, has been inspired to get up earlier a few mornings. Seize the day. Carpe Diem and what not. I have a new friend “dew.”  Before, it was just something that was evaporating as I sat on my chair on my patio or had left a few sparkles on the hood of my car as the sun was approaching a midday sky. But now I leave footprints in the soft dew-soaked grass as I walk to get the morning paper. It feels good. Morning-like. And a symbol of beginnings.

Grocery stores are a brave new world in the morning.  Full of employees stocking shelves, chatting amongst themselves, smiling and looking unhurried. Aisles are wide open, mopped clean and quiet. Not mobbed by mothers with hungry, dirt-smudged children dashing through at five, grabbing food and looking frazzled.

I have been walking more on these crisp early fall days.  Sunny with a hint of coolness in the air. I pass house after house of young families; dads mowing lawns, children playing hopscotch on the sidewalk, moms standing chatting, nonchalantly bouncing babies in carriages or chasing toddlers headed for the street.

And my thoughts drift to the passage of time.  And how fast my life has moved from theirs–full of hope, long days and plans for the future.  They seem completely unaware of all that life can throw at them, unexpectedly, out of the blue.

Come at you as suddenly as an eighteen wheeler turning sharply into your lane.

My brother and I talked about that, too.  We wondered if any of us stop and appreciate the simple sweet moments of our youth. The unadorned ones that looking back can rip your heart out in their precious simplicity. Kids building sandcastles by the shore. A child reaching up to take your hand for reassurance. An unexpected hug just for no reason but love.

We admitted we both had stopped a time or two, but not often enough.  We were too busy living it.  And maybe that is good. Knowing how quickly it all passes means nothing when you are just out of the gate, the finish line a distant blur of unknowns and barely visible.

So this fall I’m thinking about beginnings and endings, life and death; the harsh reality that it is all temporal, our time here.

And I am trying to relish the moments. Lean into the good and forgive the bad, especially the old grudges I refuse to let go.

Because none of us knows when the grim reaper will appear. But I can assure you for me, he will be carrying a smelly pot of brown-tinged mums.

 

 

Travelling as a tribe

whale taleMy children gave me a gift.  They agreed to join my husband and me on a ten day journey to the westernmost islands of Vancouver Island in Vernon Bay, BC and on to a family reunion in Tulelake, CA near Oregon’s border.  That in itself was exhausting just to type.  So you can imagine the months of planning and logistics and the sacrifice it took for them to share their company and undivided attention in Canada with no cell service and spotty WiFi.

Between them and their spouses, they had five jobs to work ahead for and leave to coworkers. Two sleep-deprived but still angelic (mostly) children under five to maneuver through airports, on two float planes, aboard five cross-country jets and two long car rides to and from locations.

That said, I think it was a dream vacation for all of us. As much as it took to get us to O’Hare on time and prepared for our adventure, we moved as a clan, a family, a tribe because in most situations, it was  us and the elements. Which, as beautiful as they were, presented some challenges. Well, at least for me.

The rainforest hike described as sloping, but in reality involved ropes and ladders and repelling-like maneuvers on slippery moss, was a surprise. As was the rain downpour. And, lest I forget, the necessity of carrying a “bear bell.” At one point I stopped and said, “OK.  Where are the hidden cameras? Should I strip down? I am definitely feeling Naked and Afraid. ”

We sea kayaked on a day long trip that was billed as gentle rowing through uninhabited islands but involved some definite white caps and one tipped kayak.  And yes, it was mine. Lucky for me, my copilot was my strapping young son so the only negative outcome was wet clothes and a bruised ego (mine, of course, not his.)

As we navigated our way through our new daily routines in unfamiliar surroundings, I was impressed with how well we joined forces to help each other out of toppled watercraft and fog and through busy airports and delays and surprises and piles of laundry and “grab his hand” or “watch him for a second” and “I forgot a coat” or “do you have any sunscreen?”

We had one striped tee that became the “sisterhood of the travelling top” and other gear was traded and worn and shared.

We were a team and as little privacy as anyone had, or alone moments to take a breath, we made it through without a major hiccup.  No sulking, underlying angers, jealousy, sibling rivalry, hurt feelings emerged to cloud our sunny days and adventuresome spirits.  We rolled with it, rain or shine.  And relished the treasure of our shared time together.

I think my kids, and we, are all old enough to know time is precious.  And moments as a family can be fleeting. And that all we are assured of is the present.

And that is where we tried to stay.

In both locations, we were surrounded by extraordinary natural surroundings. We witnessed animals in nature doing what they do best, existing in their natural habitat– undisturbed and working together for survival. And I thought how our family was trying to do the same. I also wondered what all the groups of animals called their crowd or clans.

This is what I discovered.

In Canada, we saw convocations of soaring bald eagles swooping down from six foot wide nests atop 40 foot pine trees. Sieges of herons dodged float plane take offs. We kayaked by blooms of jellyfish, made wishes on swarms of butterflies, watched the boys play with armies of frogs, swatted scourges of mosquitoes and boated beside romps of sea otters.

Luckily we didn’t encounter any shivers of sharks or sleuths of black bears. But the highlight for me, and the rest of the crew I think, was a rogue humpback whale apart from her herd or pod, performing in the sea as though she knew we were clapping. Pulling that mammoth body completely out of the water, nimble as a minnow, and doing a full twist (breach) before disappearing  into the misty ocean with a finale wave from her wide mustache of a tail.

Wondrous stuff in a magical location.

My daughter and her husband play a game with their children before bedtime each night called “Roses and Thorns.”  They ask their three and five year old sons what the “rose” was of their day and what was the “thorn.” And mom and dad share theirs.

For this trip, I am hard pressed to decide on a rose.  It would have to be a bouquet of inside jokes and laughter and shared meals and held hands and hugs and awe and accommodating and encouragement and love.

And the thorn?  That’s easy. It all had to come to an end.

 

 

 

 

 

Rainy days and Mondays…

oh-crap-was-that-todayIt has been raining in Chicago for at least forty days and forty nights. Rainiest May, and I’m sure soon to be June, in Chicago’s recorded history. I have thought often of the Bible verse in Genesis I remember from my childhood, ” I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made I will destroy from off the face of the earth.”

And there have been days I have believed this will happen. Dark and dreary days that bring on dark and dreary thoughts.  Too much time to think and not do.  Too much time to dwell on the inside and not the outside. Of me and the world.

So if Noah does come, which looking out my once more rain-speckled window I believe he can, I will stand on my street corner and wait to be picked up as he floats by. Assuming I will be one of the chosen two to make it on the ark. Which is a pipe dream that a crumbling old broad as myself would be chosen over some young thing full of possibilities, ready to make new generations.

But why not hope?  It’s either that or buy a new umbrella to replace the seven that have turned inside out over the last month, full of broken spines and drenched spirit.

Which brings me to something my brother recently said about my blog.  He noticed, and I give you the CliffsNotes version of his comment, that sometimes my blog is a reflection of a more optimistic me than the one I project in my daily life.

That stopped me for a moment. I pondered. I gave him that. This blog is at times  a version of me, and the world, as I’d like them both to be.

But then again, why not?

If I slosh in the back door, one more time soaked in rain water to my very core, mud sliding under my flip flops I insist on wearing because it is summer, for God’s sake, and I shake myself off and think a little sunshine in my head. Well, so be it. Because behind the false bravado of tough and grown up and realistic and accepting, that is who I am.

Hopeful. That’s in my heart, whatever words or thoughts or judgments I present to the world day to day, person to person, at the gas station, in the grocery store. I am always looking to be something more than I was yesterday; a bit better tomorrow.

I think we all want to be the best versions of ourselves in this life.  And that is a good thing.  Because it would be the very messy place if we all walked around being our unguarded, least pleasing selves.

No, that unpleasant person, I save for my family, my husband and my kids.  And I thank them.

For accepting me on the muddled, cloudy days as well as the ones full of sunshine.

Although I’m not sure I would let Noah interview them before he stops.

 

 

 

“There you are, Mama.”

hands 3My mother died on April 2.  To gather all the grandchildren for her funeral, we held it a month later on May 2. Having ample time, versus our family’s tradition of three days, to plan a service honoring this incredible woman was interesting to say the least. Between my brother and sister and me, we could discuss and consider and reconsider everything, from the most minute to what was absolutely paramount in remembering our mom.

First, she was cremated and we are traditional casket people.  That in itself was an oddity. It had never occurred to us where she would be in the time between her death and the funeral.  That had always been a given.  The funeral home.

Then we had hundreds of pictures to choose between for the obituary–young, old, in-between, mom-like, Grammy-like, casual, dressy, smiling, demure. Even a few femme fatale that my brother was more in favor of.

Luckily we had a list of hymns and scriptures my mom had picked years ago when dying was not even vaguely on her radar.  A list we had compiled one snowy evening by the fire after a much older friend of hers had died. This I highly recommend for those of you who have not had to plan a parent’s funeral. Knowing her preferences not only made the service selections easier but a purer reflection of her.

The extra time and preoccupation with decision making and logistics, would make one think we had grieved a bit and were better prepared to handle the actual day with grace and dignity. As probably most 60 to 70 year-old children would when saying goodbye to their 91-year-old mother.

But oh no, not us.

We had days to prepare an altar (thanks pretty much completely to my sister) that was sort of a “shadow box” of everything our mother–a pile of her well-worn bird books tied sweetly in slim checked ribbon, pictures of her at 20 something and 80 something, an actual window box filled with her favorite fresh flowers, a nosegay of tiny pink roses, her antique quilt that was across her lap when she died.

Hearing her favorite scriptures, her beloved Methodist hymns we all remembered her sitting at the piano to play, seeing our children stand proudly and speak affectionately of the grandmother and role model they loved. Listening to and seeing all of this surrounding her urn, which was actually a walnut box, made mother come to life rather than seem gone.

And that turned at least me and my brother (my sister not only spoke eloquently but sat with a better measure of elegance and composure) into front row wailers who are actually paid to do so in many traditions. A generation ago they were frequently heard in Ireland. Wailers are common in African tribal ceremonies. They also followed the Greek and Romans to their tombs, crying and beating their breasts for suitable remuneration.

Well, we had no such need as our mother’s love reached so far and wide there were many mourners and we provided the tears. Honest, open and flowing as only a child can. From a place deep in our hearts that only a mother can touch.

The grandchildren, in their 20’s to early 40’s, were pall bearers of sorts, carrying the urn instead of the casket and even lowering it into the gravesite. As a final farewell, spontaneously following a more Jewish tradition, we placed flowers around her box and one by one, we shoveled the dirt to bury her.

It was a perfect day reflecting the life and love of an incredibly special, unique and treasured mother, wife, daughter, sister, grandmother, friend.  She was buried beside my father, her husband of 64 years, who died eleven years ago.

As we walked away from the gravesite, the bagpiper playing The Mist Covered Mountains on a hilltop above the Kanawha Valley in West Virginia, I saw and heard this. And I know I did.

My dad reached out and took mom’s hand between the two of them where they lay. And I heard him say, “Well, there you are, Mama.”

And there they are.

 

Dipper and the Bucket Theory

your-shoesI think all of us can be a bit myopic in our world view. We all see things through our own lens and often with our ego in the way of the viewfinder. I used to think my “taking the world personally” was a youngest child thing. Just suspecting this due to some unsolicited family comments over the years that alluded to, but didn’t come right out and say, I could have been a little spoiled or overindulged attention-wise as the family “baby.”

That said, I think many of us think that negative encounters with others in our daily life most often have something to do with us or something we did.

For instance, I was checking into a doctor’s office the other day and the woman at the desk seemed immediately exasperated at my answers to her questions. Our interaction involved much back and forth exchange of information which we all know can drive you crazy when dealing with health insurance period much less group numbers, insurer’s middle name, birthdate, etc.  Well actually, the birthdate I kind of liked that she didn’t hear me on that one. I think I might have whispered it.

Anyway, as I turned to leave the check-in desk, she swiveled in her chair and facing her co-worker, burst into tears.  Needless to say, I was horrified.  Was I unkind?  Was there tension in my voice? Did I slide the health card across the counter too fast? The co-worker whisked her to the backroom and I sat in my waiting room chair feeling like a terrible person, sure that I had done something to upset her.  I later found out that her husband was very ill but until then, it was all me.  All bad.

I used to do this regularly.  If the check out person at the drug store was curt, I took it as an affront.  If the waiter was impatient, I was too demanding. If a driver turned into my right of way and did that middle finger thing while honking, I somehow knew I had not seen the correct stop sign.

But slowly, call it perhaps maturity, it dawned on me that 99.9% of the time, these things people say or do have nothing to do with me. And for years of my life I thought everything had something to do with me. Ok, maybe I was a little spoiled.

Now I have a new perspective in stranger interactions. I’ve realized most often a short-or-rude-for-no-reason person has no problem with me, it’s them.  If someone shoves my cart out of the way and cuts line in Target, it’s because their kids are starving or they left their car or the dog running in the parking lot. If the lady in the post office sighs deeply and folds the stamp sample book firmly on my fingers, it’s not because I am a slow decision maker but because her horrible husband beats her or they cut her hours that week. Maybe just maybe, I could have chosen songbirds more quickly. But stay with me here.

These thoughts brought back something I used to teach high school students in Communication 101. It’s called The Dipper and the Bucket Theory.

Theory goes that each of us has an invisible bucket. It is constantly emptied or filled, depending on what others say or do to us. When our bucket is full, we feel great. When it’s empty, we feel awful.

Likewise, we all have an invisible dipper. When we use that dipper to fill other people’s buckets, by saying or doing things to make them feel better, we not only help them but also fill our own bucket. But when we use that dipper to dip from others’ buckets, by saying or doing things that make them feel smaller, it’s because we are feeling low.

A full bucket gives us a positive outlook and renewed energy. But an empty bucket clouds our outlook, saps our energy and allows our dipper hand to go wild in other people’s buckets.

So if someone you don’t know from Adam comes dipping, it most often has nothing to do with you. He or she is just running on empty and you seemed like a good place to fill up.

Up, Up and Away

airplanes 2So I am on a flight from Chicago to LAX to visit my youngest and I am biding my time tapping away in a relaxed fashion pretending I like to fly. Let me make it perfectly clear. I don’t dislike flying, I loathe it. The whole process is against every cell of my being. I’m not sure if it is a congenital defect. My father was more of a flying loather than I.  So much so that, well, he didn’t fly. Period.

I, on the other hand, do not have that option as I live in a different generation and world than he did. Trains and Greyhounds and the family car are not as popular a mode of travel as they once were and more to the point, the rest of my family flies so my options are fly or stay home alone. Unless our destination is within a ten-hour driving range and then, at all costs, I have fabulous excuses that I should drive and meet them. I’ll bring all the baby paraphernalia; I’ll bootleg the wine across state borders. I have to do my daughterly duty at the old folks home on the way and on and on. Some decent enough excuses but they are just that.

Mostly excuses.

I’ve given lots of thought to the basis of my fear of dangling at 34,000 feet in a tube of metal that I have absolutely no control over. It’s not really claustrophobia, as I do not adore elevators either, but more the whole gig.

First you are in an incubator of germs that is cycled and recycled throughout the flight. If you think there is a fresh air vent someplace, think again. And duly note that NEVER, I mean NEVER, flush the toilet with the lid up. That suction sound has a back wind you don’t want to know the contents of.

But germophobe aside, planes are cramped, too hot or too frigid, often feel like roller coasters off the track and then there are the seats. Can we talk about the seats? Woe the traveler who gets to sit in a seat after a newborn was changed there 10 times or a 400 pound man who should have bought three across has squished into it.

The real thing about me and flying is simply it encapsulates, literally, my raw fear of death. And not just death, but death by fireball accompanied by much rolling and plunging. Throw in some screaming, praying and crying (and that’s only the pilots) and that pretty much wraps up my thoughts on take off, leveling off and landing.

The weirdest, or maybe predictable, aspect of this flying phobia is I counteract my fears by learning everything I can about the sights, sounds, machinery, seating arrangements and people involved with flying. So much so that I am often mistaken for a flight attendant. Perhaps it’s because, unlike many passengers these days, I don’t wear pajama bottoms and a torn tank top and actually put a brush through my hair before boarding. Maybe it is because I travel in black and usually a scarf. Could be because I’m up and down the aisle often for nervous bathroom vists.

Once a man actually asked me for coffee as I passed his seat so I told the flight attendant 32C needed a beverage before I slipped into the “aft” bathroom. She laughed and said she, too, had wondered if I flew for the friendly skies.

On today’s flight though, we have hardly seen the flight attendants’ faces. United’s new trick, to cover the useless safety information they pretend can save you in an emergency, is a fantasy video rather than a uniformed person standing in the aisle draped in a yellow life vest while snapping seat belt buckles. What made it particularly amusing was the whole spiel was shown in peaceful serene settings. Airplane seats were lined up on a beach with girls in bikinis strapping on seatbelts and tucking trays of coconuts under the seat in front of them. My favorite part was someone relaxing in a hot tub hugging a seat cushion as a floatation device.

The day that I take off with warm sand between my toes and land in a hot tub for an emergency water landing, I’m all in.

In addition to being the only person on the plane actually watching the safety information, I do other things to increase my comfort level. I use www.seatguru.com, a great resource for the pros and cons of every single seat on every type of plane for every destination and every airline. It tells which ones don’t have windows, where to get the best legroom without added fees. I pretend seat numbers make a difference. Choosing right or left side can, of course, save your life. You will never catch me in row thirteen obviously.

I won’t even start on packing for weight and size limits. The trunk of my car has no such rules. I toss and go and have everything I might possibly forget, want or need when I arrive.

I just heard the thud of wheels down for our approach into my LA. I love that sound for many reasons, the least of which is the only belly landing I can possibly imagine is a botched dive into a swimming pool.

But I’m hell on wheels on a road trip. I have the false sense of security that I am in control and my own pilot. No highway hazard statistics can convince me otherwise.

And as my dad would say, “If God had intended us to fly he would have given us wings.”

 

 

meditation and fish tanks

fish tankI asked my yoga friend if I could try meditation. We chose to do it at my house. I have attempted it before but after my last post, you can just imagine getting this brain to slow down much less go blank. Even blank-ish is daunting.

Anyway, we got on our yoga mats, beside the fish tank in our basement which is a whole other story.  It was my son’s starting from ninth grade through college so its eco-system is coming up on eighteen years.  Sort of amazing to think about really. After he moved out, and back in and out again and back in and now out, I feel pretty sure totally out now that he is married, it has become mine.

At first I whined and complained about its upkeep but as the years passed, his fish tank has become sort of a fixture in our house.  All fifty-five gallons of it.  Mainly because it would be such a pain to dismantle but more, at this point, it would be sort of like putting the dog to sleep simply because he’s old.  We have had the tank so long it’s part of the fabric here, with or without it’s original master.  It has seen many fish come and go and for months at a time it has sat nearly empty of aquatic life at all,  just a water interest as decorators like to say. Nothing living in it but only the gentle whirr of the motor and the slow movements of the water plants swaying in the background of my life. No, with or without fish, I will never “put it down.”  It’s family now. And it has new admirers in my grandsons.

But I digress.

So maybe because of the hum of the tank or maybe because yogis love the peace of water, or maybe because I am a Pisces, she asked me to close my eyes and picture myself by water. Any water.  Anywhere.

At first I tried to control my thoughts, imagine that, and think of all the familiar and peaceful water places I love. A mountaintop lake in West Virginia. Lake Michigan. The Atlantic Ocean.  I could smell the salty sea breezes. Imagined sea oats silhouetted against a cloudless blue sky.

And then an odd thing happened. My mind drifted away from the big picture to the backyard of the house I grew up in.  She guided me to imagine where I was laying and feel the sun on my face.

Well, the fact is, growing up on a north-facing hillside in West Virginia, there was very little sun in my backyard. And we had as much moss as grass.  Lots of tree canopy stood over ground cover such as mayapple and fall leaves that never seemed to totally disappear.

And there was a creek.

Not a rushing water mountain creek but more a trickling of ground water creek my mom had surrounded with ivy and nurtured and loved and  convinced herself, and the family, that we had an actual creek flowing through our backyard.

So I “lay” there on the moss and leaves and I could hear the creek’s water and I could smell the damp earth beneath the moss. I remembered homemade ice cream cooling at the base of that creek, cranked and packed, often with fresh peaches.

Children’s voices floated in. Laughter and screams of delight from the community playground that was above our house in a clearing in the woods. I thought of waxed paper rides down the slicky slide and the rise and fall of the teeter totter. I felt the unchecked joy of trying to reach the sky with your toes in the slow arc of the long chain swings. I could feel the dirt under my bare feet in the dent from stopping under those swings.

I thought of my childhood bed.  The complete morning stillness of a deep snow.  No school and snowmen. Sledding and bonfires. Hot chocolate made with powdered cocoa and sugar.

I embraced the warmth and love of those memories.  Bittersweet.  Forgotten and welcomed back. And I thanked them. All of them.  My memories, my parents, my brother and sister.

It was sort of magical, my childhood. Simple and innocent. Isolated and safe. And I’m grateful I found that little girl again, by the creek, on the swings, standing on the front stoop.

Her spirit, like my old fish tank, is something I want to keep alive in my life.