Saturday, July 28, 2012

Summer Breeze Makes me Feel Fine

Sweet days of summer the Jasmine's in bloom
July is dressed up and playing her tune.

For me, July is a month of dichotomies.  My birthday, my brother's should be birthday.  Busy days during which my Angel Daughters used to be off from school and ready for play.  Quiet days during which I spend time daydreaming about what should come next for me.  I am at a precipice in my life.  Standing between the end of what once was, teetering on the edge of what soon will be.  And the scary thing is I cannot, for the life of me, seem to hear my own voice.  I am not exactly sure where and when I became so good at squelching my own voice.  How far back does this go?  Would I even recognize it now if I did, indeed, hear it?
The end of July used to mark the halfway point between play days and back-to-school supplies.  Fresh crayons and pristine packages of neatly stacked, college-ruled notebook paper.  Thick Crayola markers in colors that outlined the pictures of life throughout my days.  Newly sharpened pencils and new classrooms to explore.  And children.  Lots and lots of children.  My children.
July is quickly coming to an end as the dog days of summer melt hazily into the month of August.  I look at my children through different eyes now and although their colors are still incredibly young and vibrant, I am longing for a reason to purchase the Crayola eight pack of thick markers, a Hello Kitty lunchbox and a back to school outfit or two for each one of my girls.
Angel Daughter Number Four's recent graduation from High School brought with it a newfound longing, a straining, to hear the sound of my own voice.  To receive an epiphany or that booming voice of God or even the tinkling of whisper-soft angel voices.  Hell, even the mechanical female voice from a GPS system would be something at this point.  But I am having trouble deciphering it all, hearing it all, making sense of it all.
Because between Angel Daughter Number One and Angel Daughter Number Four, were also Angel Daughters Number Two and Three and I was a very busy, very fulfilled, very satisfied momma.
Mark and I raised them, but a lot of the raising was up to me because they were the future that I knew would be when I closed my own sleepy child eyes at night.  Every.  Single.  One.  Of.  Them.  And then I went to college, found the perfect man for me within two months of arriving there, graduated, married, moved to California from New York and before we knew it, they came.  One childhood dream after another, after another, after another.  And I suppose that somewhere along the path of raising our girls, I got very, very busy and became very, very immersed in the job of doing what I had always dreamed of growing up to do and other voices became louder than my own.  Until somewhere along the way, I forgot to think about what I would be good at doing not only when I grew up, but also, when they grew up and I somehow lost track of the sound of my own voice.

Around our Ladera home in which we spent the final eleven years of our children's growing years, there was jasmine that we planted along our fence line that bloomed every summer and smelled like heaven.  Recently, we sold that home to another family and we are now in escrow and we are putting that home into boxes because we are living in our ocean home which was never really supposed to be our "primary" home.  Yet with the girls moving up and out and on, Mark and I decided that our Ladera home was much too large for the size of our dwindling household and, well, not on the beach which is where we now feel most at home.  And as we move away from the aroma of summer jasmine down to a place that carries the essence of sea spray and honeysuckle and saltwater, I am experiencing this deep-seated beseeching need to hear my own voice again.  To find my own words.  To discover, for myself, what comes after jasmine.  And even though I know for sure that my children will always be my own, not only is it time for them to find their own way in this world, but it is also time for me to once again, find mine.

And I come home from a hard day's work
And you're waitin' there
Not a care in the world.

See the smile awaitin' in the kitchen
Through cookin' and the plates for two
Feel the arms that reach out to hold me
In the evening when the day's through

Summer breeze makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
Summer breeze makes me feel fine
Blowing through the jasmine in my mind
-Seals and Crofts

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Booming Voices and What Comes Next?

Standing in front of the railroad tracks that are down at the beach near my home, I often take the moment or two in which I am forced to stop in my own tracks to feel the absolute force of the passing train and then I think about God or my children or my husband and sometimes rarely, about myself, and I pray. I do not usually use any formal version of prayer but more of a conversational tone with God asking Him to watch over, to guide, to consider, and most importantly, to protect.  I never ask for anything tangible.  No cars or cash prizes or anything that my husband and I do not earn.  No, to me there are much, much more important reasons to talk to God and I would never want to waste His time with stuff.  That is what Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy or our Fairy Godmothers are for, cash prizes, shiny new cars and stuff.  I do not often get any answers but there are times when I walk away feeling heard, even acknowledged and yet, how would I even know whether or not I was actually acknowledged.  It isn't as if God really speaks out loud in a booming voice.(At least to me, He doesn't.  Now Moses might have been a very different story.)

A decade ago on July 9, I turned 40 years old which means that I am now 50.(Glad that I did the math for you?)  So many things have happened over the past decade since that wonderful surprise party that Mark threw for me for my fortieth birthday.  We have had four daughters graduate from High School and so far, one from college with honors.  We celebrated with great joy as each of our youngest three daughters became Bat Mitzvahs and young women in the eyes of our congregation.  My beloved grandmother passed away on my birthday at the strong age of ninety one years old and I lost my younger brother, my only sibling, at the far too young age of forty one years young, to sudden heart failure and heart ache.  I(temporarily) lost my beautiful nieces to a woman who is supposed to care for them based upon their best interests.  We made our way through the terrible maze of the family court system with my sister-in-law and we found out just how many rights that I do not have as the only living sibling of a dead brother/father.  We found a loop-hole in the law that saved us from salt in a gaping wound and left my SIL wondering whether or not it was honestly worth over $100,000 to hold a grudge against people who she supposedly cared for at some point in time.  I watched as my parents mourned the death of their only son in very different ways.  We made a drastic life-altering change in homes, moving down to the beach where my soul can really breathe.  We hunted for sea glass as I hunted for peace.  I faced the reality that this illness may never again, head back into remission and I came to terms with that.  My family struggled as they came to terms with the same illness.  I watched as my daughters acted in commercials and danced, created photographic brilliance for magazines and created beautiful pieces of clothing from almost nothing.  I sat back and whispered prayers for my daughters as they experienced break-ups, heart ache and independence.  We traveled and stayed put.  I lost some friends on purpose and gently let some go when our friendships no longer served either one of us.  I made some wonderful connections with the most unlikely of individuals.  I kept myself sane with the assistance of my therapist who is really just a friend that I pay to listen to me while I work out my own stuff.  I helped two babies leave the nest while almost dreading the day when the next two must take off too.  I clung tightly to my oldest friend and shared in the joy of her amazing grandbabies!  My marriage became an even more valuable entity in my life and my husband, an even better best friend.  So much has happened during the decade between my fortieth and fiftieth years and truthfully I cannot say that this has been the best ten years of my life.  I readily admit that the last decade has been hard, very, very hard.  I mean, raising four teenage daughters at one time was a feat in itself, but now I know and I recognize the "stages" as they do surely come and the blows are definitely much softer.  I have experienced some of the worst that there is(and some of the best) and I have come out stronger on the other side.  I also know what I now must do as I enter into the next decade of my life.  No more hiding behind my jobs as a wife and a mother, although those are the two most important jobs that I could ever hold in any lifetime and they will always be my jobs.  But there is some clarity and freedom in knowing that I have accomplished the job of being a good mother which is something that I wanted to do, craved doing, since the day that I could first push my first baby doll around in a toy stroller.  And although the past decade of that job has been the toughest, there is no place else that I would rather have been because I got to do it with the most incredible husband and the most wonderful children.  Maybe these fantastic people are the biggest answers to my conversations with God.  Maybe they are living, breathing, booming voice examples as to how God feels about me and maybe, just maybe, the language that God uses with me is just a different language than what I might expect.
Birthdays are a contemplative time for me and this one certainly more so than 99.9% of the forty nine others that I have been lucky enough to celebrate.  For some reason though, 50 feels like an achievement to me.  I feel like having lived for a half of a century gives me some credibility that I was not as secure in before and now, I can own it all.  From the wonderful to the not so wonderful, there is a strength of will that has developed in me throughout the course of my years and I feel very centered in that strength.  I am not at all sure where the next ten years of my life will lead, but I do know this.  It is time for me to learn more about who I am as a woman, as an individual and as a student of life.  I am not used to being in the forefront of my own life so the vantage point from here is a little bit scary, but I do know that it is time.  It is time for me to face the possibilities with strength and fortitude.  Maybe the difficulties which seemed to come one after the other after the other over the course of my forties were meant to set me up with a new kind of steadiness for the decade to come.  I do know that we are never immune from the painful or the difficult or the formidable but maybe now, things won't take the same toll on me as they once did.  I am looking forward to this next phase of my life.  And maybe the next time that the train speeds past me down at the beach, I will converse with God a little bit more about myself. I will ask Him, "What next?"  And maybe, being more familiar with the language that He has shared with me for most of my life, it will be easier to hear the answers and I will feel confident in what  will come next.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

How we Cope

Most of the time I prefer paper when I read.  There is something very grounding about the feel of a page, the scent of newsprint as the page turns, the sound of a book softly landing upon a hard surface when I am ready to head back out into the world after a few delicious hours away of being lost in someone else's words.  Someone else's world.  And yet, I gave in and purchased a Kindle...and then a Nook.  I blame this on the fact that I am addicted to the written word and that I had to give up reading for most of the years that I was raising my four Angel Daughters.  Sure I read books that were relevant to parenting and the developmental stages of childhood, but reading for the sheer pleasure of it was something that I just no longer had the time to do.(That, and keeping my eyes open to get to the end of a page was virtually impossible.)  Once I realized that I was free to read at my own leisure again, I could not stop myself from filling my mind with all of the knowledge that I had been starved of for so many years.  It began with reading blogs online which were easy to digest in small snippets of time(You are all such wonderful writers) and then it became books.  And more books, mostly in hardcover.   Heavy and impractical for someone whose purse is filled to the brim with other accoutrements, I needed to find another way to bring my friends with me.   I travel heavy.  You never know what you might need.  So when the Kindle first appeared on the market,  I gave in to the medium of the electronic page.  It has taken me awhile to become used to reading books on something electronic but there are some things that I love about it.  First off, having the backlight means that I can read at any time of the day or night without disturbing Mark with a book light.  Second, and almost more importantly in the scheme of my life, electronic readers mean that I can easily read a book with a cat nestled contently upon my lap.  With one finger, I can turn a page without disturbing my furry feline and anyone who owns a cat understands how important this really is.  This morning as I was reading, Angel Daughter Number Two's cat Louis, who has taken up temporary residency(I have heard this one before from this particular child) in our house crawled up on to my chest as I was lying in bed reading.  Louis is staying with us while AD2 finds a new place to live and since she is unsure about location, job, country, etc., we all think that it is best for him to remain in a stable* environment.(*Stable meaning unchanging or possibly that we already have four cats, two dogs and two birds.  Either one works in this instance.)  Louis spent the first two years of his life in an animal shelter which could not have been easy on him.  He has developed some nervous habits over the past couple of months which I believe might have been caused by AD2's breakup with her longtime boyfriend.  Louis began systematically pulling his own fur out while cleaning himself five or six times a day.  My heart truly broke when I realized what he was doing to himself.  Animals are quite sensitive and many are also empathic meaning that if their owners are in distress, so are they.  I do not think that I have ever witnessed such a strong example of how empathetic animals can be until I saw all of the bare spots on Louis' body.  He looked a bit like a cat with a mohawk down the center of his back.  It hurt my heart to consider the confusion that he must have been experiencing while AD2 and her boyfriend hashed and rehashed the same issues that they have been dealing with for the past eight-plus years culminating in complete instability for a cat who has only known such.  I mean, it is one thing for the stupid humans to be exposing themselves to the same nastiness for year, after year, after year, but to do so to someone who has no choice as to environment is not only insensitive but also, unfair.  And yes, I love and adore my daughter more than anything in this world but I am growing quite weary of the stupid human tricks.
Last week I went to the dentist for my twice-yearly cleaning.  Nothing life-altering or particularly significant in the typical life.  We have been going to the same dentist for well over twenty years and in some ways, he and his wife feel like family now.  We have been through babies and children and graduations together.  He takes care of my entire family and has done so since before some of my girls were even born.  That being said, when he looked at my teeth, he sighed and looked at me with so much empathy in his eyes that it almost made me cry.  "So, Debra, what has been causing you so much stress in your life lately?"  I may or may not have looked at him, at this point, as if he had just glanced deep down into the seat of my soul, into a very private place that I am pretty good at keeping from the light of day.  A very vulnerably naked feeling.  I hemmed and hawed a bit until I realized that he was not buying what I had to say and admitted that the past six or so months since I had last been in to see him, had not been particularly easy for me.  And he showed me what I have been doing to my teeth.  My own teeth.  I have always been a "grinder" meaning that I grind my teeth throughout most of the day, but I always swore that I have never ground my teeth at night.(Denial?)  He called me on that.  What I managed to do over the course of the past six months since I was last in to his office is grind my teeth so viscously and so aggressively that I now have two lose teeth in my mouth.  Strong, rooted, healthy teeth that will eventually fall out if I do not put a stop to this.  He explained to me that during the day if we grind, we can only put about sixty pounds of pressure on our teeth because we would stop ourselves from biting any harder at that point.  At night, when we are in and out of very deep sleep cycles, studies have shown that we can actually put nine hundred pounds of pressure on our teeth without even knowing that we are doing it.  And the more times that someone wakes up and falls back to sleep again, the more times that that person will go in to the very deepest cycle of sleep which is when the hardest grinding will take place.  I am a terrible sleeper.  There are times when I just cannot get my mind to stop chattering at me.  My dentist told me that I would need to get a hard night guard(most people have soft ones) because he believes that I would continue to bite through a night guard until I bit through it anyway.  If the night guard does not work(I used to hide my retainer from myself in the middle of the night as a teenager), there are other much more drastic measures that we could take in order to preserve my teeth, none of them fun or particularly appealing.  And here is the thing, I want very badly to stop grinding my teeth, but I can't.  It is a physical compulsion that I have used to somehow relieve stress for as long as I can remember, but never to the point that I was doing any real damage to myself.  Even though it hurts and it is harmful to my teeth, I am still compelled to
grind.  I think that this is something that you might only understand if you, too, are a teeth-grinder but there is something about causing myself temporary pain that helps to relieve the psychic pain that is sometimes driving me batty mentally.  It is not that I want to hurt myself, it's just that the stress that can sometimes be overwhelming, needs a place to go.  I cannot ship my mother off to some far-away desert island.  I cannot control how other people perceive situations and how they should best be handled.  I cannot change anyone and so, like Louis, I have devised a way to keep myself from combusting from stress.  Obviously I have some very healthy outlets for excess stress too, like reading and enjoying my family and gazing out at the ocean, etc., but apparently not enough.
Louis is doing much better now.  His fur is growing back in quite nicely and he rolls around on his back and lets me pet his chubby belly with a smile on his face.  In some ways, his bald patches serve as a visual reminder that I too might need to allow people to scratch my proverbial belly.  That maybe, just maybe, it is time for me to open myself up to new relationships that not only serve someone else, but also fulfill a need in my own soul.  I've never been very good at that which is why I probably grind the hell out of my own teeth but as Louis's fur grows back in, it might just be time for me to explore some
healthy outlets and relationships of my own.  There is nothing like having your dentist look through you like an x-ray while telling you that you are physically damaging your own body to serve as a wake-up call for what will hopefully be only the second half of your life.  On Monday, I will be turning 50 years old.  50.  It is definitely time for me to enter the next half of my life with more self-care and less stress.  I would say that it is quite possibly time for me to begin traveling lighter in oh so many more ways than one.

*Lots and lots happening in the Four Angel's world which I hope to write about soon.  I fried the hard-drive on my laptop and I am waiting for all of my photos to restore so until then, most of the photos on my blog will be from my cellphone.(like the ones above)  AD4 graduated from High School and AD1 celebrated her 25th birthday!  Happy Birthday, baby girl!!!  Life is good and quite busy.

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