TURN TO STONE


heart turned to stone[This is an installment from my memoir-in-progress]

I had always expected to feel a sense of relief from the news that my father had died because it would mean the end of suffering the indignity of knowing that he was out there but we had no relationship with one another. I could hopefully put to bed my guilt, disappointment and anger associated with the man who left me behind.  For years I anguished, imagining what it might be like to have a loving father/daughter relationship and quietly I kept the secret – even from myself – of how desperately I craved that.  When Dan and I were getting married, I saw an opportunity to extend an olive branch to my father and try to create a fresh start.  We had become estranged again after I returned home from college.  The difficulties of trying to construct any kind of relationship with him when I was hundreds of miles away at school overwhelmed me especially since I had escaped there in order to overcome so much of the pain that he had inflicted on me in the first place.  As a result, we really never had a chance to develop a healthy dynamic and I often felt uncomfortable in his presence because he was such a stranger to me.  My mother had pushed me back into his life when he returned from his journey to Hawaii and was looking to re-establish himself in society. My under-ripe adolescent brain could not possibly understand the complexities of his life and the depths to which he had sunk as a result of his alcoholism and, surely, depression.  So, my encounters with him were forced and strained.  I did as I was told and visited him in his apartment located around the corner from our house.  I could see his place from my yard yet I couldn’t make sense that he was there – my father – after having been gone all those years.  When I walked over to visit him, he would invite me into his bare, depressing studio apartment where I would sit on one of his old metal kitchen chairs with the soft cushiony seat and try to come up with things to talk about.  Should I fill him in on all the years he was gone?  Should I tell him all the thoughts racing through my mind about how sad I am?  Could he possibly rescue me from the torture I was enduring in the house with my mother?  I simply sat there, quietly, waiting for him to speak.  It was a standoff.  He was even more uncomfortable than me and I always wondered if he really wanted me there or if he was doing this because my mother badgered him into it.  He would smile at me with his big white teeth and I studied his face trying to understand what was going on behind his eyes.

In the year or so preceding my engagement, my father and I were no longer in communication.  Despite his efforts to be a parent, including buying me a brand new car during my senior year in college, the relationship never gelled.  I was so awkward around him and I started avoiding him because I simply wanted to escape the nightmare of my childhood and leave all the pain behind.  I moved to Brooklyn and got an apartment with friends and tried to start over.  The car he so generously gave me was now a nuisance to me because there was no place to park it and I really did not need it.  My life was about Manhattan and Brooklyn and subways and cabs.  I never drove anywhere and I was becoming a slave to my sporty little car in order to hang on to it.  I finally decided to sell it because I had no use for it any longer and relished in the idea of being freed from the burdens.  My sister’s ex-husband offered to buy it from me and I happily agreed.  When my father learned that I had sold the car without telling him, he recoiled with anger.  He was betrayed.  I had no way of understanding how insulting and offensive my actions would be yet, as a result, I was dead to him.  It was the ultimate offense to him.

To begin with, the gift of the car was unexpected and unfamiliar to me.  Since he had been gone most of my life, I didn’t have many positive experiences with him.  I recognized that the car was a make good for everything he had not done over the years.  It was a way to say “I’m sorry.”  It felt like a bribe.

After my parents first split up, my father stepped in and out of our lives a lot. I never had any clear sense of whether or not he had any interest in me because I was so young and he was so distant. I always felt like the extra kid – coming along so late in life for both him and my mother.  My siblings were so much older and, while i was doted on when I was a baby, as I grew older, the doting quickly faded and I was ignored and forgotten.  There was too much turmoil going on for anyone to turn their attention to me.  My father was never an overly affectionate man to begin with, unless he had a few drinks under his belt, so it was hard to understand what he was feeling.  He was a dark, brooding Italian who had grown up with immigrant parents who worked hard to provide what they could for their children.  My father’s siblings were typical New York Italians – loud and all about the family.  After my father divorced his first wife, who had a very similar background, he became distant from his own family.  They never truly accepted my mother because of the circumstances surrounding their relationship and because she was Jewish.  They tolerated her, at best.  Despite my limited interactions with my father’s family, some of my most cherished memories of childhood revolved around the time we spent with my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  I have a hard time remembering any of them now, though, because the last time we came across each other I was still in grade school.  As a child, I often wondered why they left me behind.  I adored them so much and could not understand why they wouldn’t keep in touch or try to rescue me.  But, as an adult, I came to understand that I was a fruit of the poisonous tree and represented an extension of the embarrassment and disappointment that my father bestowed on his family.  I was just collateral damage.

Before the car, the last gift I could recall my father buying me came right after my parents had split up. My father was riding high financially, living in a swanky bachelor pad in a tony town while my mother lived in our quickly deteriorating house in Queens with me and my brother.  My father had promised us that he would take us to the toy store and buy us anything we wanted which filled me with tremendous anticipation and excitement at the prospect of a shopping spree.  My mother was very tight with the dollar and rarely let us get much more than basic necessities.  Toys were frivolous in her estimation and, completely unnecessary.  I typically played with my brother’s old toys like matchbox cars or war men.  Sometimes I would save up money and buy coloring books or paper dolls which delighted me no end.

My father came to the house to fetch us in his brand-new little blue Mercedes convertible, the car he bought when he left my mother and moved in with his girlfriend.  In the summer, we drove around with the top down, with me squeezed into the tiny backseat and my brother riding shotgun, while he blasted Donna Summer on the radio.  I always felt a little uncomfortable hearing “I love to love you baby” in the tape deck and watching my father sing along passionately.  This was the same car he parked in our driveway one night, in a drunken stupor, and sat on the horn screaming obscenities at my mother at 2am.  That night, I kneeled down in my frilly nightgown, in front of the window in my room, and pushed aside the sheer white curtains.  I watched, filled with fear and shame, as the police entered our house wondering if everyone on the block knew what was happening.  I listened to the muffled voices coming from the living room as the police tried to calm my mother’s hysteria and watched as another officer spoke to my father in the driveway, trying to talk sense into him.  He was never arrested.  He was a former cop and they always look out for their brothers.

So, when I reached out to my father to invite him to my wedding and ask him to walk me down the aisle, I hoped that we could use this as a starting point for a new, adult relationship.  Despite his anger and resentment towards me for selling the car and my pain from his abandonment, perhaps this would be a moment that we could see each other in a new light.  And, even though I had been rejected by my father before, I had high hopes that he would welcome me back into his life now that I was ready to see him through a new lens.  I was ready to be two adults who could find a way to love each other.  I was prepared to become his daughter and let him become my father.  With all this anticipation of a fresh start for us, my heart sank and was crushed into a million little pieces the day I received the invitation back in the mail, marked, in his distinctive handwriting, Return to Sender.

I buffered myself as I had so many times before, reminding myself that he was a sick man – an alcoholic – and I could not expect more from him.  I rationalized that it was all for the best because, now, he would not be afforded the opportunity to cause chaos like he did at my sister’s wedding nearly 20 years earlier.  Cheryl’s paternity was always a looming question as my mother played a shell game with her, moving around the truth about who her biological father was.  My mother had capitalized on her affair and, without the technology that exists today to remove any doubts, she manipulated both men – and my sister – by telling them both that they were her father.  Cheryl spent a portion of her life with the understanding that my father was the one and then, for a larger portion of her adolescent and young adult life believing that my mother’s first husband was actually her father.  It was just months before her wedding that my mother chose to share the truth.  Nick was her father and he should be walking her down the aisle, my mother asserted.  Cheryl was devastated and confused and, while she allowed him to attend the wedding, she maintained her loyalty to the man who had cared for her for the past decade – her fake father. While my sister lived with my mother and father after they were married when Cheryl was 7, she and everyone else was unaware that my mother had been collecting child support for years from her first husband.  She duped him into believing her child had been conceived in their marriage and, always an opportunist, devised a plan to bank some cash for a rainy day.  She was as surprised as anyone on that day, when my sister was 12, that her ex-husband decided it was time to cash in on his investment.  My mother called out to my sister, asking her to pick up the phone in the dining room.  On the other end, a man introduced himself as her father. My sister looked around, confused, staring at the man sitting in the easy chair in the living room and said to the stranger on the line,

“But my father is sitting right here.”

And so her new version of the truth was formed.  From that day forward, my father rejected her and refused to even call her by her name.  Cheryl became “it” and my father no longer assumed any responsibility for her.  Within two years, he kicked her out of his house and my mother sent her to live with our aunt and uncle in Brooklyn.  My father’s hurt and anger over the deep betrayal from my mother was manifested in an abusive outlash towards an innocent adolescent.  And my mother stood by and let him do it.

On that day, many years later, that I learned that my father’s life was drawing to a close, I really thought I would be relieved to know that I would be able to begin to bury some of the painful memories that were burned into my heart and mind.  It had been nearly a decade since I had last seen him in Florida when I was there for our dear friend and former neighbor, Billy Levin’s funeral.  Billy and his wife Evie were like surrogate parents to me and took a special interest in me after my parents divorced.  Their granddaughter, Staci, was my best friend all throughout childhood and I was a permanent fixture in their family.  They took me in like a stray cat.  I kept showing up on their doorstep looking for company, looking for someone who would listen to all the ideas that were desperately looking for an escape from my brain.  I would come outside into my backyard and look down the block to see if Evie was perched in her regular spot on a lawn chair on her stoop and, if so, I would race over to chat.  I needed someone to talk to.  I needed someone who would take an interest in me.  I needed someone to reassure me that life wasn’t limited to what was going on inside my house.

I walked into the chapel at Billy’s funeral with a very heavy heart as i felt like I was burying my own father on that day.  Staci and I came in together, with her parents following behind us, and I was staring straight ahead looking for other members of their family that I wanted to console.  Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a slight silver-haired man who looked vaguely familiar.  It took me a moment to realize that this frail creature was my father, nearly 80 years old.  He was standing with my brother who I had also not seen in years and was not on very good terms with.  I contemplated continuing walking past them but could not be that person.  I was not going to tarnish this occasion by reducing myself to being rude and disrespectful.  Regardless of whatever had happened in our lives, I knew the right thing to do.  I walked up to them both and gently leaned in to peck them both on their cheeks.  I had to hold back my overwhelming desire to raise my hand and slap my father right across that same cheek when he responded to my outreach by turning his face away from mine as my lips were about to graze his face.  It felt like every ounce of genetic connection was stripped away in a single moment as he rejected my advance.  He refused to acknowledge me and I ceased to exist as his daughter.  In that split second, I realized that this was no longer an illness that he was struggling with.  In that moment, I knew for sure that the kind heart that the very man we were about to bury had raved about, had officially turned to stone.

THE FIRST BIT OF NEWS


memories-1-road-drive[This is an installment from my memoir-in-progress]

Sitting at my desk in my home office is my usual spot after returning from my morning kickboxing workout.  I settle in with a cup of tea and get ready to take on the tasks of the morning.  Scan emails to see if any clients are pissed off at me.  Check.  Read facebook to see if any friends are pissed off at me.  Check.  Surf the web until I feel really guilty that I have not started my real work.  Check.

My charming little purple office was a gift to me from my husband.  After quitting my corporate job and deciding that I wanted to be a consultant, I spent a few years working from our enclosed front porch that I always dreamed would be renovated into a little oasis for me to snuggle up with a good book or simply stare out the window and watch the passing traffic from atop the hill on which our house sits.  (It sounds more majestic than it is but it provides us with enough buffer from the noise of living on a main road.) Alas, the children came and the lovely cushioned wicker chairs with Pottery Barn pillows and throws were quickly replaced with plastic containers filled first with assorted Fisher Price toys – Little People then Rescue Heroes then GeoTrax and then were emptied and refilled with the mountains of Legos that found their way under the Christmas tree each year.  With all the pristine decor gone and my dreams of a cozy retreat dashed, I decided to carve out a section of the long, narrow room, enclosed with windows on three of the walls, to house my modest home office.  I needed a desk for my computer, a small filing cabinet and some storage drawers.  Nothing too overwhelming.  The moment I set up shop, however, both of my kids begged for desks of their own so they could do homework alongside mommy.  They wanted their own little offices too and promised to keep their sections neat and tidy.  So we expanded the desk to include two more components and stretched the “office” space to corrupt half of the room.  And, it all went downhill from there.

After two years of trying to work in peace while my children were underfoot or were just a room away watching TV and fighting with each other, Dan agreed to bring in some workers and carved out a section of the basement that he had intended for his own home office and enclosed the room with four walls, a ceiling and a door!  The first time I shut it, my heart raced as I enjoyed solitude for the first time in the 10 years since I had become a mother.  No room was sacred in my house.  My children exhibited no shame in walking into the bathroom while I was in there.  They barged into my bedroom and climbed into my bed to arouse me from sleep or distract me from work, reading, watching TV, pretending to sleep, in order to tell me the very most important thing that just happened that could not wait one more second for them to tell me.  Closing that office door and looking around at the furniture I had splurged $1000 of my newly earned consulting income on at Office Depot, I felt liberated.  I had my own room – my own place.  Even though I had lived on my own after college, I had roommates.  Even with my own bedroom with a lock on the door, I never actually felt like I had a space all my own.  After that apartment I moved in with Dan, my soon-to-be-husband, and my solitary life was history.

The irony of building an office for myself in the basement of my home was not lost on me.  The basement of my childhood home held many painful memories and, in fact, I resisted coming down into our basement in this home as long as I could.  Dan finally insisted that I succumb to the family’s needs and start doing laundry or, heaven forbid, put water in the furnace.  I dreaded it and felt the same cold, dank feeling I had in my childhood in this unfinished basement but now I had a pretty purple room with recessed lights in the ceiling – with dimmers! – and all of my precious belongings spread out for me to feel safe and comfortable.  I put up multiple cork boards so I could display years of artwork from my kids, special cards from Dan, photos of all the people I love, reminding me that my life is different from what it was.  I created the sanctuary I never had.  I created a space for myself that would erase the nightmares of the past and let me move forward in a happy and healthy way.

Buried inside the walls, however, behind the purple paint and the recessed lights were the demons.  They seemed to always come out when I was sitting at my desk having contemplative moments.  It was right there at that desk that I realized that everything was starting to crumble apart.

———————————

It was a Wednesday night, the night before my older son Thomas’ field trip to Trenton, NJ.  I had agreed to chaperone his class after much begging on his part.

“You never volunteer, Mommy.”  He was right.  I never did.  I was always too busy.  I was a working mom with no time for such things.  And, I was always guilty.

“Just this once, pleaaaaasssssseeeee.”

I relented.  I could not stand up to that level of torture.  It was his own version of mommy waterboarding.  I needed to get to sleep because we all had to be at school early and it was no easy task to get both kids out the door with me actually showered, dressed and presentable.  The short few years since I had left the daily grind of the commute had turned me into a slacker.  I was lucky if I could pull off a shower before I took the kids to school at 8am and it was an even bigger feat to adorn myself with more than a pair of yoga pants and a sweatshirt.  Thankfully, most of my business meetings were conducted via phone and I could remain incognito.

It was already close to midnight and I was struggling to fade off to sleep.  All the stuff I was pushing off to join Thomas’ field trip was weighing heavy on my mind.  Realizing that I was probably not going to see shut-eye anytime soon, I decided to grab my iPad and check out Facebook.  There should have been ominous music playing like in a movie when the protagonist is about to open a closet door to find a hanging victim or some other gruesome discovery.  Like the late night phone calls that never yield good news, late night Facebook surfing is never a good strategy if you really want to fall asleep.  I opened up my app and immediately saw the icon indicating that I have a message waiting for me.  Then I saw that it was from Terry – my father’s daughter from his first marriage.  As could only happen in our modern technologically connected world, I never knew Terry until she friended me on Facebook several years ago.  I knew who she was but I had never met her and didn’t know much about her except that she had a daughter who was a year older than me.  As a child, I was fascinated with the idea that, technically, I had a niece who was a year older than me.  Through the magic of Facebook, not only did I learn about her life but I could see images of all these distant “relatives” in her various online photo albums.  I always felt a little like an uninvited guest peering through the window as I browsed through her photos trying to find connection points.  I would look into Terry’s eyes to try to see our shared DNA.  I could certainly see the resemblance and yet I knew how fundamentally different we were.  We shared a father but absolutely nothing else.  It seemed that I should feel more sentimental about this fact but it was always so surreal to me that I had a hard time making it concrete in my mind.  Terry had sent me messages here and there, trying to piece together her own puzzle.  After all, my father had abandoned her and her brother and their mother after he and my mother’s torrid 1950s affair resulted in a pregnancy.  My mother, resolute on getting her man, walked up to the front door of my father’s marital home and brazenly announced to his wife that she was pregnant with her husband’s baby.  Meanwhile, my mother simultaneously assured her husband at the time that they were about to experience the most wonderful miracle as they started their family together.  I never considered the disruption to Terry’s family and the struggles that she endured as she had to make sense, in her young mind, of how her father could disappear from their lives and create a whole new family elsewhere.

This night, Terry’s message to me was not wrapped around questions or pleasantries.  Instead, it was a contrite missive.

“Nick is dying.  Not sure if he will make it through the night.”

Our father, just shy of turning 89, was about to see his final demise.

I sat silently, staring at the words for what felt like hours.  My brain was trying to find ways to connect the dots for me to understand this impossibly complicated situation.  I peered over at Dan, snoring happily next to me, and contemplated waking him thinking that if I spoke the words they might make more sense.  I just sat there and pondered.  And, slowly, I began to feel my insides start to shred.  Surprisingly, shockingly, amazingly, I was overtaken with grief.  This was so confusing to me since I had not seen or spoken to my father since shortly after I graduated from college.  He and I had been estranged for most of my childhood after he left my mother and abandoned another set of children but we had tried to find some type of “relationship” while I was away at school.  He tried to help me out a little bit financially but he did not have much money after drinking and gambling away his fortunes accrued from years of owning a fleet of NYC taxis.  At his high point, he was worth millions and at his low, he was walking the beach in Hawaii, drunk and homeless.  He left my mother with nothing and, despite her efforts to sue him for child support, there was nothing to give.  He had lost everything.  When he appeared back in my life while I was in high school, he was a virtual stranger to me.  He looked familiar, for sure.  For years, friends and family told me how much I looked like him.  I could see my features in his face – our nose, our jaw line, our pronounced overbite.  We were one in the same.  I had my mother’s freckles and her straight, baby fine hair but, other than that, I was a miniature, female version of him.

Everyone also told me how wonderful he was before the drinking.  “He’d give you the shirt off his back,” I’d heard countless times.  Unfortunately, he had given away his last shirt and there was none left for me.  I was abandoned and alone at the ripe old age of 8.  He and my mother had already been fighting for years at that point.  I was familiar with the 111th precinct police station and the local motel across the street from the police station where my mother camped out with me and my brother the night she was certain my father would kill her.  Their fights were epic and I watched as he beat her viciously after downing a bottle of J&B or Tanqueray.  Gin and tonics were his thing.  That much I can remember.  And there was no shortage of it in our house.  The green bottle was constantly replenished and carefully nestled next to his favorite crystal high ball glasses.

The complexity of my emotions overwhelmed me.  I ran laps around starting with disgust, then sadness, then guilt, then fear and all the way around again.  Surprisingly, I never settled in on the one I most expected – relief.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY


motheranddaughter“The woman who bore me is no longer alive, but I seem to be her daughter in increasingly profound ways.” – Unknown

Today would have been my mother’s 83rd birthday.  And, Friday marked one year since she passed away.  As I have shared in this blog before, her passing was an event that did not hold much significance to me at the time because I felt I had said goodbye to her many years before.  Despite that, this past year has left me with the need to do a lot of reflection to help me come to terms with my feelings about this complicated relationship in order to begin a healing process resulting in forgiveness and transcendence from decades of trying to love someone who was fundamentally incapable of experiencing or giving authentic love.

This is a journey I did not enter into willingly.  In fact, I had my mind all made up when I learned that her life was nearing its end that I was relieved and ready to move on to the next phase of my life – a life without having to look over my shoulder and wonder when the next onslaught would occur.  I welcomed the freedom that came from knowing that the hurt, the humiliation, the constant anxiety about when she would next strike out would finally come to an end.  When I got the word that she had died, I texted my best friend to let him know and he immediately called me in bewilderment, wondering if he should console me or plan to take me out for a celebratory toast.  He gently prodded, fascinated by this highly unusual circumstance of someone losing their parent and not immediately  kicking into the rituals of mourning, honoring, etc., and asked “How do you feel?”  Of course, he knew that the feelings would be complicated.  He implicitly knew that I would be struggling to find words to make sense of the emotions, even in my own mind.  At the time I was quite laissez faire about the whole situation, resolved that I was ready to start anew.  I had prayed for an escape from the grip she had on me and suddenly my wish was granted and now I had the time and space to react and redirect myself.

In the year since my mother’s passing, I have had a metamorphosis of sorts.  In my own way, I have undergone a process of grieving and realigning myself without the force of my mother’s mental illness driving an undercurrent in my life.  Despite the fact that I had terminated my relationship with her nearly 7 years before her death, I was still struggling on a daily basis, balancing my indignation and my guilt while continuing to fear her wrath, her scorn, her outbursts intended to try to regain a connection with me.  She patented the art of attempting to have bad behavior rewarded with attention.  It took great resolve and discipline to not take the bait.  As an adult child, I still yearned the love of my mother and wanted nothing more than to wake up from a seemingly bad dream and find myself in a fairy tale, basking in the glow of love showered upon me by my mommy.  I never lost the wish, the unwavering desire to curl up and be loved and nurtured in a way that I understood was a gift meant for other little girls, simply not me.

As I worked through the process – one that I intentionally pushed to the background to be a backdrop to everything else that was going on in my life – I began to see answers and understanding emerge around me like giant thought bubbles bursting over my head.  I knew when I began the journey of healing that I would never truly understand my mother.  I acknowledged, albeit reluctantly, that her actions and behavior would never make sense to me.  I did not have all the puzzle pieces.  I was missing huge chunks of her history that informed who she became as an adult.  I did not understand the demons that she confronted as a young child and had no way of understanding the role they played in the destruction of her life.  I never had a clear sense of the roots of her mental illness.  All of that, however, was intellectual masturbation because none of it mattered in how I felt.  And, frankly, for the better part of my adult life, I spent my time trying to understand, trying to solve the equation.  How I felt was always secondary.  I knew I was a victim of her illness and I knew that our relationship was ultimately detrimental to both of us.  I woke up one day and realized with crystal clear certainty that we were better off without each other than with.  And I walked away.  As my therapist has explained to me so many times, I nearly erased myself from existence by abandoning the most primal and pivotal relationship in my life.  I annihilated myself by rejecting my mother.  And, at the same time, I gave myself life.

I have struggled over the past year to find my way with this.  Life has presented me with seemingly unending complications to derail my focus and challenge my own mental stability.  I have struggled with my own purpose, my intentions and my truth.  Losing my mother without ever closing all the loose ends left me with a complicated web of questions and emotions that I knew I had to tackle when I was ready and in my own unique style.  No one – absolutely no one – could help me make sense of it.  I was living an experience that not a single person I know has ever experienced.  I was alone on an island left to sort out a big giant tangle of ropes in hopes that, when untwisted, I would be able to toss them out to pull in my raft and return the land of others.  I had hoped that by whacking through this mess I would suddenly feel differently, look like everyone else and be able to return to life feeling more complete and more connected.

It’s been one year and two days.  367 days of quiet contemplation.  8,808 hours of attempting to locate a lost piece of myself in order to better fit into my world and begin to blend in with everyone else.

Guess what?

I failed.

On the bright side, I am beginning to forgive my mother.  I am finding ways to have compassion for her and understanding that hers was the road less traveled – and not in a good way.  No one would ever sign up for the cruise that she took in her 82 years. No one would willingly leave the earth with a scant few by their side, having more regrets than joy.  Four marriages, three children, four grandchildren and her passing was barely noticed.  I feel sad for her.  I grieve for a life that was lost to an illness left untreated and an unwillingness to relent and accept that perhaps the darkness that she lived with was not simply the way it was meant to be.  I take no comfort in my righteousness that she deserved what she ultimately received.  I wish, I truly wish, I could have made a difference for her.  I wish I could have saved her and brought her to my island.  I tried so many times to heal her with my love, thereby, hopefully, healing myself.  However, it was always short-lived.  She thrived on chaos and manipulation.  She needed to break things down and then attempt to put them back together in order to feel like a savior.  She needed to be a victim and find blame in everyone else.  She did not know what it meant to forgive.  She only knew how to hold a grudge and suffer as she exhausted limitless mental energy feeling anger and resentment, ironically usually targeted towards those she most frequently hurt.

For me, today, I am learning to get beyond all that and am starting to understand the impact of her life and her behavior on me.  I am not a victim of my mother.  I am a product of my life experience and it is my choice to continue down the pathway she led me or to take a detour and find my own lane.  She is not a compass for me – a fact that pains me greatly because I believe so deeply in the power of motherhood and the role we play in guiding our children to their own paths while standing by to guide them to another and another as they need us to.  Nonetheless, my mother is all around me.  She shows up in my life in the form of other people that create struggles for me – the narcissists that invariably make their way to me; the angry, damaged and pained individuals that sniff me out falsely seeing me as a safe harbor.  I am simply not that port and I am learning to accept that about myself.  My job is not to rescue anyone but to provide an atlas built from my own painful journey.  I am not a walking support group and I have come to accept and, in fact, insist, that I am not here to be pitied or protected or, quite frankly, understood by anyone because we can never truly understand the complexities that make each of us unique.  Instead, I am here to give love, receive love and hope to leave a legacy that includes inspiring and empowering others to live a more meaningful life.  And, for that, I thank my mother.  Without her, I am not sure that these lessons would have made their way to me.  I am not sure that I would have the courage to look at life the way I do.  I have no certainty that, without my mother, I would have broken down and been rebuilt in a way that provides me with my own brand of power.  I am not perfect and I struggle to make sense of things every day but I feel grateful to have the opportunity to tackle life and connect the dots in the way that I do. As with many things in my life, I would never go back and change history.  It all informed my place today.  The road could have been easier and my choices could have been better but it is all about the journey.

This morning I talked to my best friend again and shared with him a piece of my truth that has crystalized for me.  I have spent so much of my lifetime trying to adapt myself to fit into the world in a way that would enable people to understand me better.  I have twisted myself up so painfully trying to blend in and make sense in other people’s worlds.  However, today, my own gift to myself on my mother’s birthday, I committed to allowing myself to be me.  367 days after my mother left the earth I am finally becoming the person I am meant to be.  And, after 45 1/2 years of life, I know I am just getting started.

Happy Birthday Mom.  I wish you could have gotten to know me.

LEAP FORWARD


This morning I thought I would be clever and use the Leap Day as a metaphor for a post about moving forward in our lives.  Somehow, I thought I was the only one who would have such a remarkable idea and, before I could even formulate the opening words in my head, I stumbled across a plethora of posts using the same concept.  My favorite, without a doubt, belongs to an old friend (and great blogger) who summed up perfectly, in my mind, how to embrace this extra day of the year.

I am not about to let my lack of originality hold me back because I still believe there are important messages to be shared today.  I mean, how can we not recognize something that comes around only once every 4 years?  What I love about Leap Year is that this extra day is intended to help the universe catch up.  It is the extra day that allows us to balance out the calendar and ensure that we do not get too far ahead of ourselves.  I am also choosing to use Leap Year as a course correction day for myself and honoring it as such.  Like most of us, my life has its highs and lows and I try to be conscious of when I am experiencing each.  I try to appreciate the highs and ride them like beautiful and strong white caps and I try to ease into the lows, nurturing and comforting myself as the tide pulls back and I am sitting quietly on the sand.  My goal, always, is to keep some type of balance and appreciate that with every high there will be a low and vice versa.

I heard someone say recently that reflection is one of the most powerful tools of change.  If we can allow ourselves to spend some time in healthy reflection, holding the mirror close enough to see things clearly but not too close that we lose perspective, we can ensure ongoing learning, change, and growth.  I am choosing this  bonus day – as my friend has referred to it – to reflect and, hopefully leap forward.

We are already 60 days into 2012 and it feels as if the year just began.  I am still getting adjusted to writing 2012 on checks and I can almost still smell the pine needles from the Christmas tree.  Yet, at the same time, these 60 days have propelled me forward and provided a sense of peace and calm that I had not expected.  During this short 60 day timespan, my mother passed away.  It is a very matter-of-fact statement because, sadly, there was no heartbreak in the loss itself.  My mother and I had been estranged for many years due to a lifetime of conflict and abuse.  When I made a decision so many years ago to separate myself from her in order to begin my healing process, I began a journey of mourning for the mother I never had rather than the loss of a loving mother.  Several weeks ago when I learned of my mother’s death, I reached deep within my soul to search for pain and loss that simply did not exist.  I challenged myself.  I judged myself because I did not understand – despite having processed these feelings for so many years – how I could be so calm and unemotional about what would otherwise be a tragic loss.  There were and continue to be no clear answers because of the complexities that surround my relationship with my mother.  Regardless, I needed to conduct the exercise to test my feelings and endure whatever came my way.

I try to look at every situation in my life as a learning opportunity.  I cannot always appreciate when I am in the midst of a crisis or in pain but, usually, upon reflection, I am able to capture aspects of the situation that have pushed me forward in my journey.  While I certainly can be accused of over-analyzing stuff in my life, I am confident that my analysis generally leads to knowledge and growth.  In the weeks leading up to my mother’s death, I feared that I was not being truthful with myself about my feelings and that I would be unpredictably emotional when she finally died.  I explored and processed these fears, continually challenging my thinking and ultimately realizing that I had to trust myself and that only time would reveal my true feelings because there was simply no way to rehearse such an event.  Despite the overall sadness about the loss of a life and the additional sadness about a life wasted courtesy of mental illness and severe narcissism, I was uplifted by my own fortitude and the fact that I actually had clarity about my feelings.  For the first time – perhaps ever – I had complete confidence in my ability to know myself and trust myself.  That was an extraordinary outcome and a silver lining to an otherwise unpleasant and tragic occurrence.

Since there was no mourning period after my mother’s death and because it was difficult to share with others this complicated passing, I decided to take some solitary time to reflect and gain strength.  While I would never have chosen to have the mother I did or the relationship I did, I accept that this was my destiny in this lifetime and, if I did not learn and grow from it, it would be a wasted opportunity.  I have often said that I would actually not change anything in my life because it has helped me to be the person I am.  It is the same philosophy I use when thinking about my husband.  I love him deeply but anytime we are facing hard times and I question or doubt our relationship, I think about my children and recognize that, without him, they would not be who they are and I would not want to choose another option.  This is the life I am meant to have, those are the children I am meant to have so I need to accept everything that goes along with that.

Today, as I reflect on the last 60 days and try to leap forward, I must focus on what will catapult me ahead.  It is the people who share the journey that propel me.  Some I have chosen and some have chosen me.  Family has a different meaning to me than most and I find love and comfort in those around me who can appreciate my unconventional circumstances.  I enjoy the process of understanding how people come into your life and exploring why some are such perfect fits and others are jammed in because you want to squeeze them in.  And, of course, there are others that simply take up space that you could really use to free up.  As I often do, I want to honor those who are along for the ride.  Despite the fact that I might have always been a motherless daughter, I am not alone in the world and I am grateful to those who give me the strength and courage to grow and test my limits.  I only hope I am and continue to successfully pay it forward.