Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dinner Conversation

Dinner tonight, the boys and I were having a lovely time chatting. Okay, the truth is, Ben and Jake were going at it. I said, STOP.  Jake kept up.

Jake! You are halfway across the bridge...

What bridge?

I pause. I'm not appreciating the sassy tone. He's giving me those puppy eyes.

It's a long grassy bridge, Jake. And you're carrying a torch, and you're about to drop it. Then the bridge will go up in smoke, poof, and you'll be falling into the deep chasm below.

He stares at me, I stare at him. He smiles.

But Mom... what bridge would be grassy?

Yup, still love him.

Unconditional Love

The definition of motherhood has no absolutes; perfection, except in freshly baked cinnamon rolls, is not meant to be. What, then, does it mean to love someone unconditionally? Does it mean you are perfect in that love? How can you be perfect in love?

Clearly, mid-divorce, I am not. In fact, I've been told recently I pretty much suck at it. I'm afraid it's true. I am not ready to love deeply again. The wounds are too fresh, and old voices tug at my ear, whispering their fears to me.

I do, however, love my children, and I believe I love them unconditionally. I know from the moment they were all born, my heart filled with not only the emotion of love, but the instinct, too. A parent's love can be fierce if anything comes close to endangering their kids.

I still yell at them. And it stings. The other day, Ben reminded me of a time when I made him cry. He was about five years old, and he had gone over to a cup on the table and taken a drink. It was diet coke and I yelled at him to put it down. (Indeed, I was one of those hysterical parents who never let anything non-organic pass their lips). I made him cry. Yes, I overreacted, and was wrong to do that. When he reminded me of the event, I apologized. I'm sure in ten years, I will be reminded again. And I will apologize again.

Mind you, I made him cry when I yelled at him for trying to poke at the soft part of infant Zachary's head, too. He doesn't remember that.

I love him, all my kids, unconditionally. I know, regardless of what they do, or what they say, I will love them. It is without hesitation, even when they make me cry. I would, will and have done anything for them. Anything from making fried egg sandwiches to stepping in front of a bus to save them. It has never been hard, or difficult to love them. Ever.

Romantic love, however, is a totally different thing. To love without conditions. For a long time, I thought it meant loving without pain. I grew up hugging bared wire, thinking love simply hurt. Often. There was no love between my parents to witness, ever. My mother never dated, or had any kind of deep, singular personal attachment. Later in her life, she admitted that her Grandfather was the love of her life. He was the only person, she would say, that truly loved her. Long dead before I arrived, I never witnessed her filled with love for another adult.

Stepping into adulthood, I tried to be the person I imagined I should be in relationships. Honest, loyal, kind, respectful. I'd stay in relationships too long thinking, if I just did this better... it would all be okay. When I met my soon to be ex-wife? I had no idea what a healthy relationship was, let alone how to have one.

I did believe love was like a jigsaw puzzles endless possibilities but only one perfect fit. I found my perfect fit.

 I loved her. There was a time when it was unconditional. At least I think it was. The perfect fit did end up creating a whole picture, with kids, friends, family. The memory is in a far away room inside me, locked up, with two guards at the door; Self-Preservation and Fear. I cannot let myself remember loving someone who is causing me so much pain. I must keep my eyes wide open for the next blast. Some day, when this whole nightmare is over, I hope to be able to go visit that place and smile.

Eventually, too many conditions piled up in the doorway. Rules, restrictions, demands, all creating a brick wall between us. There we both stood, on opposite sides of the wall, barking orders at each other. Any love left bounced off the bricks and slapped me in the face, to the hissed chorus of "I told you so" and "Don't be so stupid." What happened to the love? Where did it go?

I can hound my children to pick up their dirty socks every single day, over and over again, and it does not draw down on the level of love I feel at all. We have arguments, hurt feelings and tears. Never, ever, does it diminish my love for them. Why did it disappear in my marriage? That core, hardwired feeling of love, and being loved; it was there once.

I know I will never be perfect in love. I am a strange collection of neediness and strength, anxiety and charm. There is no perfect in love. Unconditional does not mean without struggle. Instead, what I hold is knowing I am capable of love on deep levels. I see that every day in how I feel about my kids. There was a time when I felt that with my ex-wife. Some day, when the rage has passed, I'll be able to see why it left. Until I know the answer, the guards can't take leave. Like motherhood, there are no absolutes in relationships. I must learn how to keep walls from being built without intent, and then decorated as if they belong.

I have, without question, a great deal left to learn.

Monday, April 09, 2012

More to Life

An opinion piece today in the New York Times, The Taint of 'Social Darwinism', discussed Obama's recent description of the Republican's budget proposals as an elitist attempt at culling the least productive, in their minds, from society as such.

It seems the Republicans doubt the need for all those silly social programs to help people. If they were worthy of procreating, they would be able to take care of themselves. They're trying to take women's rights back to Mary Wollstonecraft's time. Why not embrace eugenics?

The concept of "the survival of the fittest" came from Herbert Spencer, not Darwin, and included the evolution of society, too. The best and the brightest would succeed and society as a whole would benefit.

That was in 1864, which ironically, was towards the end of the Civil War. Considering the number of dead on both sides of the conflict, you have to wonder who was left to procreate and make that "better" society. Toddlers and the elderly?

I'm not going to argue, though, about Spencer's interesting myopia nor the Republican's utter blindness. Instead, the article made me think about something that was said to me yesterday.

I thought there was more. More to fucking life.

My answer was, there is more. And there isn't.

Let's face it. We get up in the morning, we get ready for work, we work, we come home, and we rest until it is time for work again. We eat, drink, laugh, cry, make love, snore loudly. We buy things, choose clothes to wear, go to concerts, read books, and clean our homes. Every day we consume resources that make our lives easier. Transportation, health care, economic systems, political structures, agriculture. In purchasing a single piece of paper, we touch so many lives it is almost beyond comprehension; from the tree, to the labor, to the transportation, to the marketing- the list goes on and on.

When I read about social darwinism, about political and economic games played that tug on the strings we are attached to, I wonder... why? Have we really advanced as a society?

Isn't there more to life than pretty shoes and two weeks vacation? What is the purpose of life? To run on treadmills, eat low fat muffins and be promoted? If it's about family and friends, why do we spend so little time with them?

Is the goal the betterment of society? Is a better society one where everyone has an iPhone? Or have we lost perspective in the massive rush for more, losing the core of our humanity- the need for other people.

Personally, I would put love and belonging before anything else. Family, friends and intimacy. I think we've all bought into the idea that there are winners and losers in life, and that balance is necessary, if not innate. We have evolved as a species based on economic and political distributions of power and access.

Is that what we want? Humans have always looked up, whether to the alpha male, God, King, or President. We work hard to get a better life for ourselves, for our children. Maybe it's time to look around. Maybe have and have not is a concept we've allowed ourselves to believe.

Maybe it has only kept us in an endless cycle of dependency on the very few in power.

There is more to life. More to who we are as human beings than one big competition over resources. We are no longer animals in the wild. We should stop behaving as such.

And there isn't. Life really is as simple as loving and enjoying ever day we are here. Celebrating and sharing all we can be with one another.

Obama is right. The Republicans are playing yet another game of hide and go seek. A game with very real impact. It's not moving our society forward. It only continues the cycle of looking up.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Racing Uphill

I had a dream last night that I was diagnosed with cancer and only had a couple months to live. I had been reading about the Gail Caldwell's book, Let's take the Long Way Home. I was devastated. In the dream, a good friend of mine came along and challenged me to a race uphill in wheelchairs.

She beat me. My arm was killing me (I was sleeping on it funny), and she challenged me again. I wanted to cry because I didn't understand why she wasn't being nice to me.

I realized she was. She was pushing me to fight.

What would I do if I only had a couple months to live? When I was looking at the book, a story about Caldwell's friendship with Caroline Knapp and Knapp's diagnosis of lung cancer, I was struck by the dates. Knapp was diagnosed in April. dead by June. Fast. Really fast. All my moaning about wanting to go to sleep and not wake up, I realize is just a selfish rant.

It isn't true. I raced that damn wheelchair up the hill. It hurt, and I knew I was dying and I didn't give up.

Why then, in my real life, have I given up?

I have allowed myself to become frozen. absolutely frozen. People keep asking me when I'm going to write again in the blog. Write again about anything. Please write.

Frozen with grief and fear, I've stopped growing. I've stopped everything. I've lost my home, my family, my sister, the whole world I created over twenty years. I have to start again? I'm old, fat and ugly. I can't.

I let myself think some wild thoughts about simply walking away. Get a house with some land and build a shed. Learn how to build, have Donald teach me. Walk away from all the stuff. Live simply and show my kids what I truly value. Have them see me... happy.

And write. Every day. Be a cantankerous old woman, you know, just like my mother.

Except I've done her version of life. I played the graceful philanthropist. I'm done with that. It's not who I am. It's what was expected of me. I did it. Did it very well, thank you. I know she would have been proud of me.

No more.

I remember when I was young, and would work on the Christmas tree plantation a few acres behind my house. It was dirty, hard work. I loved it. Oh, I whined about it, too. When I turned 14, I could finally be paid in money, not a handful of candy. Big excitement. I did for a little while until my mother made me stop. It wasn't the kind of work I should be doing. I wasn't to be a farm hand.

But I loved the land. I loved being on the tractor. Or the horses. I loved being outdoors. I spent most of my childhood outdoors. My friends and I would literally stay out for days at a time, at a campsite we had made. Catching fish, collecting berries, to cook over an open fire. We had a fresh water spring, bubbling out of the ground, and dug a small basin to collect it. How amazing it was to find water.

I used to ride horses. Take care of them, groom them, clean their stalls. The smell of leather and manure, the weight of the barn door that slid on cast iron rollers, the hayloft with bees half asleep hidden in the bails, teaching me that I am, in fact, allergic to their sting. I was free there.

I realize now, I don't want to become someone new. I want to be the best of who I was, before the rules crushed me. To feel the peace and safety of tall trees, to go back, far back, so I can grow again, from the place that was cut off.

I don't want to fight. I don't want to be the most beautiful person in the room (you know, the one with money). I don't want the stuff. I want to live like I'm going to die in two months. I want to stop being afraid.

I want to race uphill.