The Gift That Keeps Giving

My oldest daughter Bonnie, gifted me a Storyworth book in the spring of 2021, which is a series of questions picked out by my grown kids that is turned into a book after a year’s worth of weekly questions. This book will be given to myself, and my four kids, and it is a wonderful, thoughtful, gift.

Little did I know how much of my past this exercise would dredge up – both good and bad. And little did she know it would pull out some interesting conversations between us all. But it’s also been a very cool journey…a way of reminding me how far I’ve come, and maybe bringing to mind issues that even now need to be addressed. It’s crazy though, that since I’m a writer, I can’t just jot an answer down and let it go. My daughter asked recently about how many I’d completed, and I had to admit I hadn’t done it every week as the questions came, I kind of picked the ones I thought would be more interesting and worked on those, but also…I have to edit and ponder these answers. Then find pictures to go along with them. Perhaps go back and edit again. It takes me a while, for sure!

My daughter rolled her eyes and laughed. But as I think about this, and that maybe I should be more quick about it, I realize that for many of these questions there IS no short response. These are major life events we’re talking about that happened maybe thirty or forty years ago, and they aren’t simple to remember, or to unpack now. Once this book is published, it’s out for perpetuity, right? In the hands of my kids and passed down for generations. It is definitely a daunting prospect and I don’t want to be cavalier about it, and I DO want to be truthful, which has caused a few raised eyebrows and objections from my kids.

And there it is. Now I have to think about the weighty subject of ‘how much of the truth is really necessary to share’ and ‘where IS the truth and does it really matter?’ and all that. Big sigh. Nope I can’t just jot down a memory and let it go, because all of it had and still has meaning and heft and motivations and consequences. I must turn it over, examine it, and mold it into some kind of life lesson.

Much to my kids’ everlasting despair.

I have to admit, I find the whole process very entertaining.

Periodic Denial Can Be a Good Thing

Inserted between my daughter and her two daughters.

Inserted between my daughter and her two daughters.

It is with delight that I watch my kids move into the best times of their lives, and with consternation that I watch the winding down of mine.

My oldest daughter, who is within spitting distance of 30, had a birthday party for her two-year old this weekend. My husband and I happily attended. She’s lived an un-navigable distance from me for the last decade, so it is with distinct pleasure that I can actually go to things like this since she has recently moved closer to us.

The minute I stepped across her threshold it felt as familiar and comforting as a well-worn pair of slippers.

Arrangement of furniture, check. Framed art scattered liberally on every surface and wall, check. A number of well-used, Dali-esque, scented candles throughout, check. Pictures of smiling family members everywhere, check. Eight-year-old daughter playing with gerbil family, che…oh wait, no, I wasn’t a gerbil person. Scratch that. I had cats. Two-year-old in adorable dress with matching floral headband wandering around happily, check.

Her house, less the gerbils plus a couple of extra kids could have been mine two decades ago.

cat prayingThe realization was jarring. I felt I was in a time warp, watching a younger, hipper, fresher version of myself. With no small degree of angst, I watched as her good friend arrived for the party, five-year old in tow, baby bump under her sweater. The two young women sat on the couch, their conversation shrieking “baby, child-rearing, pre-schools!” It felt strange to cock my head, listening, an outsider to the conversation instead of an active participant. Clueless about the latest toys and technology that accompany child-rearing these days, I kept my mouth shut. I did not want to say something that would make me seem (shudder) out-of-date. Obsolete.

Am I past the sell date? Um, expired?? OMG!

Am I past the sell date? Um, expired?? OMG!

Sigh.

Sometimes I feel like the “sell by” date on my life has passed. Perhaps these feelings are common to most women finding themselves post-menopause and pre-grave. In politically correct terms, I believe this phase is typified as “re-invention.”

Whatever it is, I don’t know what to do with it.

However, in the writing of this article, a possible solution has occurred to me. It involves the lovely group of women I belong to that engages in emotional gut-spilling on a weekly basis. This is very therapeutic actually, and we talk quite a bit about a mental roadblock called “denial.”

Denial typically blindly negates whatever is going on. In order to alleviate the negative effects of denial, one must become aware of actions that precipitate an ongoing cycle within which one may be trapped. Optimistically, at that point one’s eyes will be opened, and one will walk into a brighter, clearer, more unhindered life.

After a bit of  introspection, I’ve come to the conclusion that in certain instances denial can be downright liberating. When one is in the winding down, or “re-invention” phase, for example.

In my case, I plan to pull it out regularly over the next ten or twenty years, and apply as needed. Especially if someone refers to me as a “senior” or declares I should “re-invent.”

Especially then.

How to Develop Patience at Warp Speed

Patience is important.

Without it, people are unable to deal appropriately with stress, anger, heartbreak…and lots of other emotional dilemmas; for instance, running out of coffee.

For me, this valuable character trait is a work in progress. Depending on the situation, sometimes I am victoriously and wisely patient. More often than not, though, I blow it under stress.

I managed a few steps backward this weekend when my 23-year old daughter and her boyfriend came to visit. I should have suspected my patience level would be challenged when a group decision was made to travel downtown in the same car on a Saturday night. Three twenty-somethings (two of which I have birthed) and two fifty-somethings (young adult translation: old fogies) together in a car = lesson in patience.

So we toodle downtown like sardines in our small SUV, and traffic becomes tricky as we get closer to our destination, which is right on the waterfront in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor area. Parking, as usual, is non-existent and we miraculously spy a huge spot recently vacated in which to parallel park, but my husband drives right by it even though as one, we are shrieking, “Park here! Park here! It’s huge! Why did you pass it? WHY?” as our heads swivel longingly toward the space.

My husband, ever-unflappable (well, sometimes he is flappable) drives steadily on murmuring something that sounds like “not big enough,” but whatever, the stress level in the car has risen several notches. It doesn’t help that we are bumping along over miles of historic cobblestone. Quaint, but troublesome when driving in a car full of frustrated young adults that are becoming more and more upset that they did not have the foresight to take a separate vehicle, thereby distancing themselves from the old fogies that do not know how to drive, nor apparently, how to park.

Suddenly, another spot looms into view, and we begin afresh our chorus. “Park here!! Right. Here. It’s right…there…what are you dooooooo-innng…?” losing heart as yet another parking space slips away. My husband, by this time, has lapsed into silence and concentrates on avoiding other cars enmeshed in similar parking quests.

My mother-heart zips into peacemaker mode, and I attempt to appease young adults while simultaneously supporting my husband, which is an exercise in futility. I typically lapse into over-the-top-controller mode when under stress, so, true to form, I rather loudly try to subdue the situation.

Which successfully added an entirely different layer of stress, and was no help at all.

I finally managed to whack the controller part of me into submission, and joined my husband in patient silence as we bumped around the block another time, narrowly missing various pedestrians. The complaining and frustration from the back seat continued. Finally my husband says, “Look, I will let you guys out to go and check out the restaurant and your mom and I will drive around and find a parking spot. Join you in front of the restaurant, okay?” Some or all made snorting noises which I translated as “WHY THE HECK DIDN”T WE TAKE OUR OWN CAR?” and they raced toward the restaurant the minute they untangled themselves from the back seat.

At just that moment, a parking space opened up in front of the restaurant. My husband yipped in delight, and I castigated myself internally for yelling at him along with the kids. He is much better at this patience thing than I am. I slipped a little lower in the seat, which I felt was appropriate, shame-based body language.

Lesson Number One in developing patience at warp speed: Keep your mouth shut when you are impatient or frustrated. You never know how things are going to turn out, and nagging, cajoling, insisting, yelling, insulting, or hurling things does no good.

Because we have inserted our car into a premium parking space, my mood is vastly improved, and I resist lecturing the young adults, because, after all, I was stressing out right along with them. So I was quiet, but tentatively hopeful the evening would be salvaged.

The young adults, who have barely noticed that we now have a premium parking spot, fight their way through hordes of people on the sidewalk to tell us the restaurant we chose is completely booked by a private party and not available even though we called ahead to check.

This starts a brand-new round of young adult frustration that entails different verbiage but is equally as annoying. My husband and I glance at each other, the unspoken question hanging in the air between us: “Do these kids not realize we are paying for their dinner and they need to…maybe…be appreciative instead of complaining?” We disguise this mutual thought with laughter, ha ha ha, and clasp hands and navigate the cobblestone on foot to check out the other 162 restaurants in the area.

By this time, one of the young adults is so upset, I hear her say that she must drop back behind the group as she cannot stand the chaos anymore and needs some distance from the stress.

I am heartily in agreement with her decision, as the old fogies could use some distance as well. We trudge merrily on, ignoring the young adults, because we had been young adults at one time too and knew their moods would brighten. Eventually. But still, my husband and I were wondering things like: would the five of us survive the evening, relationships intact? Would we find a decent restaurant that had seating? Would the kids like the food? If not, would there be more frustration and complaining and shrieking? Would the kids disappear into the night with the street musicians rather than ride home with old fogies? Could they possibly be content, and perhaps even…pleasant… during dinner? And exactly what was our original motivation for this activity again…?

Oh yes. I remember. Family bonding.

Lesson Number Two in developing patience at warp speed: Keep the goal in mind instead of the frustrating and sometimes ridiculous circumstances involved in getting there. Utilize these words while under stress: it will be worth it. It will be worth it. It will be worth it. Try to unclench your teeth.

After a briskly cold walk around the area in search of appropriate restaurants, my husband darts into a narrow door, chats quietly with the bartender and returns with information about a different place, and waves his arm in the general direction. The young adults cross their arms over their chests, throw a ‘this is ridiculous’ look at each other, and reluctantly follow. I am smiling to myself, because I know my husband is the ultimate problem-solver, and if anyone can find a great restaurant in the midst of a raucous crowd, he can.

And he does. Not only did this place have great food and atmosphere, there was an incredible view of the Harbor. A few smiles appear on the kids’ faces. Murmuring dwindles into nothingness.

Lesson Number Three in developing patience at warp speed: If you don’t keep your mouth shut when frustrated you will probably say things you regret, which will be embarrassing and you may have to apologize to a bunch of people afterward.

So I guess the moral of the story is this: to develop patience at warp speed, pack a small car with several of your grown children and head to the tourist district in an incredibly busy city; then drive frantically over cobblestone streets and pass up several perfectly good parking spots before arrival at a restaurant where seating is unavailable. To add to the learning curve, you might circle the block several times, nearly mowing down pedestrians at each corner.

Or not.

I think in the future I will allow my patience to develop a little more slowly.