Monday, March 30, 2009

My Daughter Lila

Lila kind of has my eyes. She seems to really have the shape of my face, parts of my body, a certain swagger that connotes confidence mostly when we're not feeling confident at all. Right now Lila and I have sort of the exact same hair color, but that won't last. She was born in October and thank god, I don't remember much of the labor pains or the screaming or the rush to the hospital or even if we rushed at all. Memory takes that away, thank the benevolent gods. Who said that if we remembered every second of childbirth, humankind would have died out millenia ago? Precisely.
But of course she's not literally my daughter, not in the 'pulled from the womb' kind of way.
Honestly, who made up these archaic rules?
Many of my nearest and dearest have children. Many other of my other nearest and dearest do not (we have instead the furred, domesticated, can't-judge-you-in-therapy kind. And we love them pretty much the same.) When I was ages 11-32 the last thing I wanted - literally, the very last on the list - was any sort of baby growing into any sort of child becoming, eventually, an adult. This may have had something to do with blatant and loud feminism (I like to think so) or my leftist worry about overpopulation (definitely an early bloomer here) or the strange moment when Ronda P. turned to me when we were 13 and told me she was not only pregnant but she was keeping the kid and naming it after me. Honestly, I didn't know we were that close. And I did what any sensible 13 year old would do - tried to talk her out of it, stayed as far away from her as possible, and felt badly when she left Raleigh Hills to 'see if she liked Catholic School.' Right. Precisely.
Later, marrying Rick, that desire changed and I decided yes, a child (or two) would be wonderful. Didn't happen. Didn't kill me. But it was sad to realize I would never have a child (or two) of my own. Sad that we didn't adopt. Sad that I didn't have all that the words 'my child' implies, not the least is which telling other people to shut up, you're going to raise your children any damn way you want.
Sometimes, I ache for those words.
So, Lila. Her mother was the first person to ever look me in the eye and say 'This child is yours, too.' Her mother was the first person to ever put my hand on her ripe and round belly and proclaim 'This child is yours, just as much as she is mine.' With Lila she did that. With Henry. With Ginger. They are our godchildren, but we have other godchildren. There is something about Lila and Henry and Ginger that transcends that rather benign label, something that reaches right into my gut like it does whenever I see any of my nieces and nephews, something that's flesh and blood and bone and marrow. It's DNA. It's inescapable. It doesn't scare me at all.
We bathed them and kissed them and cleaned up after them and read to them. We were there when they started to walk and we're there, now, when they're falling in love and hating wrestling or loving drama or reading about Jack The Ripper or wishing on some crazy falling star. I didn't get the birth pains or the right to declare them to the IRS or the amazing ability to know that forever, always, they will always be mine, regardless of how I raise them or what city they move to. We're not really related after all. They can turn away or turn on a dime. We could have one big fat blow out of a fight with their parents and poof - it will all be gone. Probably not. But it could. It's transient, I guess. Fallible.
But I look at Lila - at Henry - at Ginger - and I feel so insanely, profoundly, shut-up-and-dance blessed.
Look at her.
Who wouldn't?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

And another thing: I'm not going to be saying "I'm sorry" with the same frequency as before. 

One of the beautiful (and irritating) things about life in Italy, is what happens to women when they hit, oh, seventy. They have the most unbelievable sense of authority. If the bakery is crowded, makes no difference. They push to the front. If they have to cross the street, they stop traffic. If there's advice to be handed out, they do it without waiting for permission. In other words, they're not big on being overly concerned about what other people think. They are looking out for Numero Uno. 

That said, if they trip you with their canes, sending your pomodorini flying, they're quick to say "I'm sorry." These women aren't impolite, they've just arrived at a certain point in life. And that's the point of being very, very sure of who they are, what they're about, and what they think. I'm taking notes. 

The world is full of people who are rude, pushy, and immorally egotistical. We're suffering the effects of that now, globally. But there are people like me, who have tried for too long to make up for it in not-quite-the-right way. Quick to apologize, quick to assume that I'm the one who's likely in the wrong, I've been saying "I'm sorry" when it probably wasn't necessary—even when, and here's the clinker—I didn't feel sorry. What was I doing? 

I'm going to stop. I'm going to start blocking the traffic if necessary. (Excuse me, but the crosswalk should be a safe place to cross the street, no?) I'm going to defend my opinions. I'm going to respect my own course of action, and not second guess it because it's inconvenient to someone else—my children, my husband, the other mother in the park, the account guy at work, etc. 

I'm going to say "I'm sorry" when it's warranted, and I will mean it. But when it really isn't appropriate, I will politely decline. Someone else can be sorry.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Last week when I went to see my therapist, we were discussing fine-tuning, next steps, where I'd like to see improvements in my life, etc. And I made a rather lame joke about what I'd do when I grew up. A joke, I'm embarrassed to say, I've made too often lately. Lazy. 

He let not more than a millisecond pass before looking me squarely in the eyes and pronouncing the following: "You are grown up, Charlotte."

There it was. Out in the open. Shockingly true and strangely liberating. I am grown up. Mature. A woman. Whatever I've done so far has been a matter of choice and consequent decision-making. Whatever I will do or not do from here on out, will also be a matter of choice and consequent decision-making. Nothing, at this point, is because I am too young to figure it out yet, too "green," too inexperienced.  

It's time to stop making excuses. It's also time to accept what I'm not going to do—ever—in order to make room for the many things I am going to accomplish, still. 

I think in our youth-obsessed culture, which has largely to do with outward appearances, we confuse the "beauty" of youth with the excuse of immaturity. But you can't really have one without the other. And right now, I'm not interested in either. 

Maturation has been anything but boring. So I'm no longer going to deny the fruits of my own labor—those which have hung heavily, ripely on the tree, and those which will grow in seasons to come. 

And I'm sure as shit not going to my grave waiting for myself to figure this out. It would be such a shame to grow old and die, having bypassed the part where you know who you are. The wrong words tend to wear grooves in our minds, until we believe them. I'm changing the words today.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Spring-Cleaning Outside In

I don't know about you, but this "economic crisis / change of season / time to prepare the taxes / lull in my career" is doing me good. In fact, I'm enjoying it. (I have to immediately interrupt myself with a quick caveat or two, though: First, hunger hasn't set in yet, and hopefully it won't. Second, I have nothing but brotherly concern for the people who are suffering real hurt. I wish I could make things better for them.)

But, for me, it can't be denied. This Spring feels fresher than any I can remember in personal history. The stakes feel higher, but the chances feel greater. We've gotta clean up. And the best place to start is in your own sphere. And as I've got nothing better to do, that's pretty much what makes up my daily To Do list.

It all started with the crisis. No work. OK, so use the time otherwise. That's the point of freelancing, right? (I mean, if you're going to angst your way through workless periods it's not a career path you should choose.)

Then, the season changed. The cloud lifted, the sun decided to shine and shine and shine—all as if to say, "Whatever happens, bigger forces at work, and guess what? Sometimes they're benevolent." But it was also an inevitable reminder of the overriding existence of Cycles. That helped a lot. Things will "come back." They always do. 

Then, tax-time rolled around. Not my favorite time of the year, but somehow very, very cathartic. There's no way to do it without digging out the boxes, confronting the detritus collected over another 365 days. Organizing. Categorizing. Editing. Totaling-up. Fessing up. It feels good. And it leads, like a pebble tossed in the water, to ripples and every larger ripples of Putting Things in Order.

Once the receipts were harvested, the copies made, the signatures illegibly placed on the appropriate lines, we moved to closets. Storage rooms. The garage. Things are neatening. Lifting. The mass of stuff we've accumulated as a family (three generations) in the past years, was all sorted through this week. And most was given to charity. Sifting through it was sobering. "We. Bought. All. This. (?)" Yes, we did. It was not nice to face up to, but it's the first step in realizing that, no, it doesn't all need to be replaced. And, no, you don't have to have "new" stuff. And, wow, somehow it all has more value—real value—when there's much, much less of it. 

And what happens to me when I start yanking out the hidden stuff, organizing the socks, giving to charity—cleaning? Things in my head start moving around too, reordering themselves. With every "thing" that is dealt with, there's a bit of gray matter that gets dealt with too. The Inbox of my e-mail demands a good cleaning out, but so do the drawers of my soul. Fears, interpersonal "messes," bad habits—they all require the same measured "dealing with." And as a result, I start feeling lighter inside, as if so much more were possible. And as the literal clutter is removed, so is the clutter in my head. There's a clearing. And inside this clearing, I feel both safe and sound and strangely content. I also feel something inside me soar, that was too weighted down before. 

So even though there's no work coming in, there're still bills to pay, and the world hangs in the balance, here in my growing clean spot, I feel that I just might be able to dream my way out of this one.  So much more seems possible, because so much more light can get in.


Saturday, March 14, 2009


NOTE: This is just another take on what Janet said. But it bears repeating. 

Here in Italy, it's said countless times a day: "Coraggio!" 

Courage! Buck up! You can do it! But it also a carries a sort of "Get on with it" connotation at times. Like, here's the courage you need, now shit or get off the pot, if you'll pardon my French. 

It's used on every occasion that requires the minimum stiff upper lip. When you decide to spend the summer in Milan instead of joining the mass exodus out of hell. When you have to eat all your vegetables. When you realize you have to undergo open heart surgery performed in the mythic Philippine style.  When you merely have to face another day head-on. It's used for challenges great and small, enormous and insignificant. Once in a lifetime, and run of the mill. 

And, you know what? It actually helps to hear it, to receive an injection.

Why do I say this? you ask. Because I've, wait, my Mom told me...that Life requires boatloads of it. That at every turn, I would be well served if I carried an extra, even illegally sized, stash of courage in my backpack/suitcase/bra. You doubt me? Let's talk. 

Marriage. (What could be scarier?) Childbirth (ditto). Failing. Succeeding. Losing your job. Not finding a new one. Bush et al. Knowing that somewhere out there, there really is a Camorra. Flying (why does that plane stay airborn anyway?). Climate change (or any other headline you'd like to focus on). 

And that's just the obvious stuff. What about our internal workings? Our deep fears? Our persistent flaws? The demons—oh let's just be honest and call them "our choices in life"—that continue to haunt us? The long term effects we are having on our children? The hurt we dole out without realizing it, until it's too late? The losses? The chances that never come back? The people we love that never come back? The people we lose? There is nothing to keep us going at times other than courage. Nothing.  


Let's get back to climate change for a minute. If you're a woman, you have your own internal variety to contend with, the one that will strike sooner or later, requiring you to spend all of the winter months in cruise wear. 

Which leads me to my theory that a middle aged woman came up with this rallying cry. (Coraggio!) Can we talk about shocking? Can we talk about unpredictable? Can we talk about paranoia? Can we talk about not knowing what's around the corner, not even tomorrow morning? That's what happens...and it happens for a long time...and it starts without warning...and it goes on and on...even though the prevailing signs and symbols say that you are "fine." I know, I know. Many of my friends sailed through this change in their life without a ripple, a hiccup or a lost hair. I, on the other hand, have days where I feel like I'm not a day older than 25, followed by days where I feel like someone who couldn't possibly be me. Things are "off." Things are out of whack. I'm out of whack. And then it goes. And then it comes back. And then...

In every phase of my life, I've been behind in my ability to "get it." Just when I realize where I am, I've scooted on to the next point. Right when I'm getting used to myself, my body has decided to take me on another blindfolded tour of yet-another amusement park (with even scarier and more thrilling rides). Just when I think I know something, really know it, I realize I don't. 

But this time, I think I do know something. I know it in my cells, in my weird-feeling head. I know it with my heart. I know that my Mom was right. It--Life--does take courage. And Janet was right. You have to get through it. 

You just have to. And you can. Coraggio.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Going Through It

There’s something in the air lately. Some of it's the optimism, and relief, that comes from finally having a President worth believing in. A President who not only understands the depth and frailty of our economy, our safety, our future, our planet, but a leader who believes in our ability to make it through times such as these and come out stronger on the other side.

But the other emotion traveling through our atmosphere is realism. The realistic expectations of the grownups we're being forced to become instead of the children we've been for almost a decade now. We're finally being told to be adults, instead of greedy, spoiled, careless brats. Or to be fearless, instead of being full of fear. Not fearless enough to spend money we don't even make, but fearless in the way we attack our real lives. Fearless in the way we look at reality and deal with it, make the most of it, adore it. We’re supposed to learn what matters, what counts, what lasts. We’re supposed to take stock of our lives when we go through something like this, when our friends are losing jobs and money isn’t just tight it’s squeaking.

Right now, some of our friends are taking leaps they weren't before. Quitting and starting over. Leaving for a new city. Being brave instead of refusing to move. Several friends are getting divorced. Others have considered it, dropped it, picked it up again and set it down in some dark corner hoping it will stop making noise. In every case, money or lack thereof has absolutely nothing to do with it. Most have been married a long time, some more than 20 years, others ten or eleven or twelve. In almost every case the wife or the husband – or both – have been thinking about it, tossing the idea of it around, for years. And then shoving it under the rug. Until the rug is so high they have to walk around it when entering the house.

For some of us, the rug covers a multitude of things we refuse to look at. Whatever we’re ashamed of, afraid of, loathe to admit. The way we eat too much, care about ourselves too little. The phone calls we never make, the list of to do's that gets longer and longer, the life we let slip away, the lies we mumble to ourselves and others, the way we act like we'll live forever and a day. And we walk around The Rug until we’ve created a groove in the floor, then a gutter. And we look up from the gutter at the shadow that mountain makes and we feel buried beneath it. And our necks ache so, constantly turning away from the shadow it casts.

One of the best things I learned during therapy was this: Whatever it is, you have to go through it. Not around it, through it. Grief, fear, loss, addiction, anger, hatred, self-loathing, we’re so afraid to go through the darkness of the woods. Like a child we keep pretending if we don't acknowledge it, it will cease to exist. Close our eyes, whisper the words, poof! it will disappear, like some lovely fairy tale.
But it doesn't.
And it won't.
And it's ourselves we bury in that darkness, not just those Things We Shall Not Name.

And so to my friend who keeps shoving things under the rug:
Get out the vacuum.
You can get through this.
God it will be messy and painful and there will be times you can’t stand another second and you'll cry and you'll wish you'd never started and you will feel awfully alone and utterly overwhelmed. But then you'll see something through the trees: a light.
And you will be brave.
Because sometimes brave is the only thing to be.

- Janet