I Am Growing Up

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I lay in bed and heard footsteps above me, the pounding of feet belonging to kids who don’t stop to think of people sleeping below them. There were seven kids in the loft, though it sounded more like seventy. I looked at my watch and saw it was early but not unreasonably so and hoped that someone had gotten up before me to make coffee. I make terrible coffee when we are at the cabin. It’s always too strong and I can’t figure out why. I adjust the amount of water and the number of scoops and still it is wrong.

I left our room and headed to the kitchen and the kids were even louder–booming laughter, shrieks of joy, shouts and exclamations–but there was coffee so I thought I could manage the assault on my morning.

But I couldn’t.

I thought about the years that we’ve gone to this cabin, thought about the kids as babies and then toddlers and now, as such a mix of young and getting older. I thought about the years of unruly noise that has filtered down from the loft and the times I have yelled and demanded and begged for quiet and order. There have been times when I have parented these children with grace and times when I most definitely have not. I stared into my coffee cup, considered my options and then decided to control the only thing I can truly control–myself.

I left.

I walked out of the cabin in my pajamas and down to the dock. I sat on the worn wood, damp with dew and stared at the blue of the water and sky, the trees across the lake just turning green. It was quiet and calm and perfect and I realized that the kids aren’t the only ones growing up–I am too. My oldest child is almost 14 and it has taken me a long time to learn that so much of life is beyond my control. It’s taken me a long time to learn how to take care of myself. But I am learning and this place where I find myself–as a parent in middle age–is like still water, a light breeze and new growth.

~~~

I wrote a companion piece to this one for VillageQ:

We all moved in practiced ways, carrying things in from cars, putting food away, and choosing bedrooms–kids in the loft, adults scattered in the remaining spaces. On the first night, the kids sat in the loft, talking and laughing loudly while we sat downstairs, and I was struck by how much our roles have changed over the years. I remembered Pack-N-Plays and bedtime reading and putting small children to bed over and over again, and they learned to be quiet and sleep near their friends. The adults took turns going upstairs to quiet them, to sing, to rub circles on small backs until there was finally silence.

 

The Songs That Made Me

I honestly don’t know what I’d do without music in my life. It comforts me, inspires me and gives me a kick in the ass when I need it. So, when Nancy of Midlife Mixtape asked me to participate in a blog hop and write about the seven songs that made me, I was like, “YESSSSSS!”

So, here are the seven songs that made me…at least this is my list today. Ask me in a month and I might give a different answer.

1. Orange Blossom Special

My dad owned a bar in Kansas City and every night at closing time, he played the Orange Blossom Special on the juke box. I wasn’t always there at closing but often enough to remember it and every time I hear it, it’s like I’m right back there, sitting on a bar stool with a Shirley Temple.

2. Freebird – Lynyrd Skynyrd

Go ahead and laugh but this is one of the first songs I remember learning to play on the guitar and I still love playing it. In high school, my dad once walked in while I was playing it and said, “Play that at my funeral.” And years later, I did. I’m sure the priest really enjoyed that part of the service.

3. Fast Car – Tracy Chapman

Tracy Chapman’s self-titled first album rocked my world. Right after it came out, I was back in Kansas City and I remember driving through the streets with the windows down listening to Fast Car and relishing the fact that I had gotten away. My life was going to be different than my parents’, in part because of the sacrifices they made. “I had a feeling I could be someone.”

4. Cry Like an Angel – Shawn Colvin

I wrote a guest post on Midlife Mixtape about Shawn Colvin’s album, Steady On. It was the soundtrack of my coming out and the title track definitely gave me hope but Cry Like an Angel got me through a tough summer and it’s a song that I love to this day. I may have paid to much attention to the line: “May we all find salvation in professions that heal.” I eventually became a social worker and can now say that you should never take career advice from a song.

5. Give Yourself to Love – Kate Wolf

This is the cheesiest love song in the history of love songs and I can’t help myself–I love it. A friend taught me to play it in 1990 and I played it at her commitment ceremony in 1999. She played at my commitment ceremony in 2000. In 2013, we performed it together at our joint wedding when same-sex marriage was finally legal in Minnesota.

6. Let Me Say I’m Sorry Now – Shawn Colvin

When I became a mother, I wanted to be the best mother the world had ever seen and I naively thought that meant that I would be a perfect mother. Silly, silly, me. I quickly realized that I was going to make mistakes–some small, some big. So, each night as my children drifted off to sleep, I would sing Shawn Colvin’s I’ll Say I’m Sorry Now, “For everything I do that will tear at you, let me say I’m sorry now.”

7. Steer – Missy Higgins

How could a song released in 2007 have made me? Well, maybe it hasn’t made me but is making me. Even at 46, sometimes I need to remember that my life is what I make it and when I need that kick in the ass I mentioned, I turn to this song. And if that doesn’t work, I turn to Eve’s Let Me Blow Ya Mind. But Steer usually works.

Now, go check out all these fabulous bloggers to see the songs that made them. You’re bound to get some good stories and some new music!

When Did I Get Like This?

I Miss You When I Blink

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

Butterfly Confessions

Good Day, Regular People

Smacksy

Arnebya

The Flying Chalupa

Elizabeth McGuire

Elleroy Was Here

Midlife Mixtape

She Would Have Been 80

mom1After my mother died, I was talking to one of my aunts and she said, “I knew what went on in your house and I did nothing.” What went on in my house? My mother drank too much, had too little patience and left me to care for myself much of the time. I wanted to tell her that it wasn’t that bad but I’ve come to understand that I’m not the best judge of that anymore as time and compassion have blurred my memories. I looked at my aunt, the guilt visible on her face and shrugged, “There was nothing you could have done.” I believe that but believe more strongly that there is no point in dwelling on the past. We can’t change it. We can only make peace with it. My aunt then said, “I’ll never understand how, after everything she did, you loved her so fiercely.” I gave the only answer I had at the time, “I forgave her.”

I’ve spent years trying to understand why I loved her so much, why I still consider her to be one of my heroes. People have asked me how I forgave her for the pain she caused and I could never articulate the why or the how of that forgiveness.

Until now.

When I went to Milwaukee a couple of weeks ago, Galit and I had hours and hours in the car and nothing to do but talk. We talked about parenting and family, past and present, compassion and forgiveness. And as the hours went by and the conversation wandered, I realized that I separated my mother from the woman she was. She may not have been a great mother but she was an incredible woman.

She grew up poor and what little her family was able to accumulate was washed away in a flood in 1952. She knew a level of economic hardship that, fortunately, I have never known. Her father was sadistically abusive and she survived by fighting back. She was smart and practical and left home and made her own life. She prided herself on her independence and raised us without much assistance from our fathers. She couldn’t go to college but worked harder than anyone I have known and retired at 50. She was pro-choice and a feminist and an old school labor Democrat. She raised me to value education and to focus on my studies rather than worrying about boys. And yes, we laughed about that bit about boys years later when she said I might have taken her too literally. Beyond all that, she was one of the most charming people I’ve ever met. She could draw you in with a story and leave your ribs hurting from laughter. You would have loved her. I know I did.

So this is an important part of the puzzle of my past and the peace I made with my mother. She was not just my mother. She was so much more. Somehow, I knew that.

My mother has been gone 8 years now and this would have been her 80th birthday. Today, I’m telling stories and I hope to throw my head back in laughter at least once in her honor. And I will parent and live and love like the strong woman she raised me to be. And maybe the lasting lesson from all of this is that we are not just mothers, we are more. So much more.

NY2

In My Defense: A Story About A Hotel

Exhbit A: I don’t like to make a fuss.

Exhibity B: I am a Midwesterner who believes that you have to make the most of bad situations.

Exhibit C: I am my mother’s daughter and my mother’s favorite phrase when we faced something unpleasant was, “Suck it up.”

Exhibit D: As a writer, my consolation in less than desirable situations is that I will at least come out of them with a story.

And the defense rests.

On Sunday, I went to Milwaukee with my friend Galit to see the Listen To Your Mother show. Luisa booked us a hotel the night before and we got up before the sun and drove without stopping so we’d have time to relax before the afternoon show.

When we arrived at the hotel, the first thing I noticed was the hotel restaurant’s sign advertising “Fri cey perch.” Then, I saw that the blue paint was peeling from the roof, exposing orange paint beneath–our hotel was molting. It looked nothing like the picture on the website but I squared my shoulders, tilted my chin to the sky and said, “I’m sure it’s going to be fine!” (See Exhibit B)

We parked and went inside to check in and there was a smell that I knew well from my days as a social worker–cigarette smoke and Febreeze. The woman behind the counter was very friendly and chatted with us about her favorite reality shows while processing my credit card. She then handed us our keys. You know how hotels put keys in those cute little branded sleeves? Well, these were placed in the end of a business envelope that had been cut to size and taped. She gave us directions to our room, “Take two rights and then a left and go through a portal to an alternate dimension in which it is not becoming clear to you that you are staying in a hotel that usually charges by the hour.”

On the way to our room, we encountered many other patrons of the hotel, a surprising number of which were only half-clothed and wrapped in animal print blankets. They looked like extras from the Walking Dead. I could sense that Galit was becoming uneasy so I began to overcompensate primarily through the use of Exhibits B and D. We finally found our room and quickly ducked inside. It was quiet and did not smell so I figured things were looking up. I placed my suitcase on a hard surface and told Galit to do the same and said, “Now, I’m going to check for bedbugs.”

I stripped the corners of both beds looking for the signs and found none. This was good! Galit noticed some non-bedbug things on the mattresses like grape juice and dirt and some unidentifiable substances but that’s why there are sheets! To cover the mattresses! I did wish the box springs had been covered because I couldn’t help wondering if that one stain across the side was blood spatter.

The sheets appeared to be clean…because we didn’t actually look at them. To raise our spirits, I went to the window and said, “Let’s check out the view!” I whipped the curtains to the side and found this:

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I burst out laughing, “This is like a scene from a road trip comedy!” I turned to find Galit pondering the wallpaper peeling from the wall. On the upside, some of it had been stapled back to the wall in an uneven seam.

I quickly shut the curtains and we decided to grab lunch. We exited through the unlocked side door right into the parking lot but there was no reason to  worry about that because there was a sign on the door that said no one could bring weapons into the hotel. We sat in the car looking for restaurants when a lovely woman without teeth passed by and hocked a big loogie into the bushes. Things started to feel a little bleak but I hoped lunch would cure that.

And lunch did make us feel better. We went to a nice little Mexican place and everyone there was wearing clothes and no one appeared to be part of a prostitution ring. As we drove back, however, Galit started to build a case for switching hotels while I remained resistant (See Exhibits B, C and D). “We only need a bed. A place to sleep.”

We got back and went to our room so that we could rest and change for the show only to find that our keys no longer worked. We marched back to the front desk and no one was there. Great chicken tinga and fresh salsa will only carry you so far and my patience evaporated on the spot. I turned to Galit, “If we drove all this way and miss the show because of this stupid* hotel, I will be so mad!” Fortunately for all involved, the front desk person came back and I explained that our keys didn’t work. She said, “Oh my! You’ve only been here an hour!” All I could think was, “Has it only been an hour?” It was becoming clear we were living dog years.

We got back to the room and pulled back the bedspreads and they were stained. We pulled the bedspreads off and shoved them in a corner. Galit turned down her bed and then lay perfectly still…like she was in a coffin. I wanted to switch hotels but I was afraid to tell the woman at the front desk (See Exhibit A) so I flipped my pillow to fluff it and there was some black stuff on it. I quickly flipped it back over and was like, “That’s it! We’re leaving!” I called the hotel we’d passed, made a reservation and then changed my clothes We had 45 minutes to check out of the Hotel of Horror, check into the new hotel and get to the venue. We returned to the front desk with all our stuff and the woman said, “What can I do for you ladies now?” I was so nervous and stressed that I was shaking. I leaned against the counter, slid the keys to her and said, “We can’t stay here…because the beds are filthy.” This news did not seem to surprise or offend her. She nodded, “Ok.”

We did manage to check into the new hotel and make it to the show on time and when it was over, we returned to this:

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Though I was sad that I did not have the opportunity to try heroin and have some Fri cey perch with my friends at the first hotel, I was thrilled that there was no black stuff on my pillow. I said to Galit, “Maybe we wouldn’t appreciate this hotel as much if we hadn’t had the experience at the first hotel.” She said, “I don’t need that to appreciate cleanliness and comfort.”

We slept in comfortable, clean beds and enjoyed the complimentary breakfast bar the next morning and we got a story after all. (See Exhibit D)

 

*I may have said “fucking.” The rage has made my memory fuzzy.