Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Happy, Happy Birthday!! (MB)

Dear Abby:

Happy, Happy Birthday to YOU!  We thought we might be celebrating together this year, here in Madison, but alas, it did not come together.  When I woke up this morning I thought of you and our original plans but I actually thought it might be okay we didn't get together because I don't think I could have sustained hosting or preparing for a party today!

I just came off a whirlwind couple of weeks after my grandma's funeral.  The kids got out of school, which as you know changes everything, we were on the road for Father's Day and partying it up in La Crosse with a bunch of cousins and relatives for high school graduations and Father's Day festivities, and then my sweetest ever 20-year-old cousin came to stay most of last week because she had to have oral surgery (and recover) here in Madison.  By Saturday night she was ready for salsa dancing so I had my first out-til-3 a.m. night in as long as I can remember this past weekend.  Sunday and Monday after, my sister Anna and her little girls were here.  So today, I'm celebrating in a way that works in the context of all that's been going on.  Ran this morning, had an abbreviated but otherwise normal work day -- with added awesome treats of flowers and cards and gifts from colleagues (so sweet!) -- now grabbing a little "me" time to catch up on emails and random work stuff at a coffee shop before a quick swim and a cookout with the beau and kids.

What are you doing today?  I hope it's good to you, whatever it is.  I fear that Frank's work schedule will not let up too much, but I hope you either get some Abby time or family time or date night time or whatever trips your trigger.

Someone reminded me today that I am now old enough to be the President.  That's a little scary.  Does this magical age really mean I'm that mature?  (Then again, looking around at elected officials, perhaps any assumption of maturity is misled; but at a minimum our founders thought 35 was a relevant benchmark).

I do feel as if 35 is an age you kind of can't deny is up there enough that any mistakes excused by youthfulness are no longer possible (for other reasons, sure, but. . . .).  On the up side, I think I've got a pretty good vantage point on drama and distraction and I'm ready to be pretty real with myself about what matters, being present, focusing on the task at hand, etc. -- a la recent posts.  Do you feel that way?

I guess there are still a lot of question marks and mysteries about the world around us and ourselves; thank goodness, otherwise life would be pretty boring.  But, the core stuff seems pretty settled.  And therefore tolerance for BS pretty low, which can be a good and bad thing.  I guess as long as you couple that with a healthy dose of compassion it's okay.

This morning Peter and I were up together getting him ready to go to a golf tournament, and I said in my pre-coffee haze: "Yep, I guess I'm gettin' pretty old, Peter."  And he says, "Aw Mom; I think you're just looking at it all wrong.  What you should be thinking is you're 35 and you have a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old, and a whole life ahead of you."  Deep, sweet thoughts from my teenager.  I cherish that one.

I miss ya, Ab.  Would've been fun to party for the birthdays.  But have a drink for me and spend some time this birthday week thinking about our next little reunion and what that should look like.  Miss you madly, actually, and your boys.  Would be cool to be around the long kitchen table with y'all tonight.  We need to make that happen. 

You're gorgeous, smart as hell, and full of adventure.  I hope you feel all of that today and are getting some good feedback from those around you.  Love!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Being Present (MB)

It means a lot, a real lot, to me that you read my amazing grandma's obituary and cried, and you captured something important in your reflections.  What she did with what she had -- be fully, without abandon, in the life she led -- is really, really what it is all about.

I have had a chance to write about her at some length in these last weeks, and maybe I will send you, privately, the essay that I sent for a family collection of stories and reflections that my aunt was putting together for her for her birthday in July.  My grandma didn't get to see the final collection but the stories were already coming in when she was getting more and more worn down, so they just started reading them to her instead, mine included.

My hesitation to post that essay here goes along with one of my planned blog posts: "Dignity and Decorum in the Post-Digital Age."  I've been thinking about how we manage this blog and stay authentic and interesting while not turning into hated assholes who only have each other by the end of it all because everybody's so appalled by all we wrote.  Anyway, I think we'll figure it out. 

For now, I have nothing too philosophical or composed to say. 

But your timing on saying something about "Being Present" was impeccable.  Madeline was just yelling at me in the grocery store parking lot for losing my phone in my purse and then proceeding to take a work call and send a text and -- well, you get it.

I have also failed Peter miserably this week by not "Being Present" with him as he works his way through Round 2 High School Finals.  I am so thinking about the things he forgot or didn't quite put the effort in on and so thinking about the end game that I am just acting like a huge psychobitch narrating and nagging in my own little sphere as he, young man, truly approaches a new task and tries to figure it out.  I haven't been present for that process.  Enough, anyway.

Tonight is different.  We are here and Mads is playing her lovely piano recital song.  Peter and his friends were here working on a group project and I had some nice moments with everybody.  Now he's just walked in with a new haircut I sent him off for on his own.  He looks all tall and grown up.  We've got a little Brewers Cubs in the background and soon Recall Election results.  Say what you will about your exhaustion with the politics of Madison, but there is so much energy surrounding that today you almost can't NOT be present in the moment of it and the kids and I are all captivated along with the rest of Wisconsin (and some of the world).

Another sweetness tonight -- a work colleague stopped by with gorgeous salad, homemade mac n cheese, bread, and amazing brownies -- her condolences.  That just made me bubble over with appreciation.  People who care and food to match.  Meanwhile my family home in La Crosse is overflowing with that -- and my sisters are there already with their babies.  I am still here Being Present with the kids and the last week of school.  We'll be headed for services and the weekend in La Crosse on Friday.  I'm going without plan or agenda and will absorb and be still.

When we're old ladies we'll be making sure we both stay healthy and enjoy being sassy with an excuse.  We'll have the occasional howling laugh around the dining room table but if we have to stay in touch by late-night blog so our days can be spent rocking babies and going to grandkids' school concerts and teaching our kids and their spouses recipes from our past, so be it.

Peace and Presence be with you, Ab.  Let's do this thing, this one thing it's really all about.

Monday, June 4, 2012


Sorry to hear about your grandma.  She was awe inspiring.

My fetish for a particular grandma ideal is alive and well.  I still sometimes poke through thrift stores searching for the remnants of an age gone by.  Aprons.  Lace.  Quilts.  Cookie cutters.  Canning jars.  I know it's all bullshit but I can't help myself.

In sunny San Diego the thrifting is not as good.  Most of the grandma transplants inhabit second life mobile homes and prefer yoga and beach walking to caring for grandbabies.  They don't bake and might even be vegans!  Do they visit their grandchildren on the holidays or host them here for a visit to the beach?  Where would the children sleep in the mobile trailers?  The image confuses me -- the lack of coziness painful.

My own grandmothers are nothing like the story book version in my head.  My Grandma Helen cooks with Campbells soup and reads bad romance novels.  She doesn't like to sew and is luke warm on nurturing in general.  I love her fiercely but would never ask her for a favor.  My Grandma Lorraine lives in an Arizona trailer park that allows two weekends a year for children to visit the premises.  She likes shuffle board and gambling.  We never visit.  Going back a generation I remember my Great Grandma Mildred smoking long brown Moore cigarettes and drinking luke warm coffee well into her hundreds.  She could garden and can with the best of 'em but failed to take an interest in anything I ever did.  It stings a bit.  The gap between what I wanted and what I got.

The complete indifference my parents display for my own children slips the ideal further afield.  Somehow I know they feel it, their total failure to connect with what is right in front of them, the distance much further than a life across the country.  My parents (and in laws) continuously check in on  facebook or cspan for meaning while spending time together.  (And that generation says we are addicted to social media.)  They don't twitter but somehow they are staring at a screen while grandchildren take their first steps or try to show them a drawing.  They are absent even when present.  I want to shake them but somehow together we find solace in taking photos of memories for facebook.

Their visits feel like poking at a wound.  The vague memory of a mother and a giant 1980s mobile phone and an empty fridge.  Something about that. 

Right now I am teaching Charlie about eye contact.  Really I am trying to teach him about being present, about paying attention to who is there at the moment.  It occurs to me that my own behavior needs tweaking.  I turn off my phone.  I watch myself.

 Almost nothing else is possible if you really want to be present for your kids.  Not really.  None of us can multitask.  I am particularly bad at it.

You sure as hell can't quilt or bake or make jelly or any of those storybook grandma things I find appealing. It doesn't matter if it's facebook or lace making.  Not really.  We all want desperately to escape.  I struggle.  I have stopped thrifting.  I try to only write at night or do yoga before the kids awake.

And in regards to your last post...  maybe I am an entrepreneur or maybe an artist or maybe a fill in the blank.  It doesn't matter to me really.  Yes money needs to come in the house to survive, but beyond that I don't care much.  My path is to try and be an attentive mom.  That's all.  I want to be the kind of parent (and grandparent) who is around and useful and can make eye contact.  This may sound easy and simplistic, and god love the people who find this so, but for me it means unlearning generations of failure and neglect.  It means giving up on storybook idealism.   I want to undo the cycle.  I just do.  And it's crazy hard.

I cried when I read your grandmother's obituary.  I was going to put a link here on the blog but I thought maybe you should decide if that's appropriate.  I cried particularly here,

Marilyn loved babies. Nothing delighted her as much as rocking, reading to, and caring
for the babies in her family. She never forgot a grandchild’s birthday and attended many of their
performances, school and sporting events. 
Now that's a good thing to have written about you at the end of the day.  That's the best.

I will report that attentiveness has gotten easier since moving to San Diego.  I find it much simpler to focus in on family without all the distractions of an extended community.  Maybe this has more to say about my own introverted qualities, but I definitely find more delight in parenting outside of the hubbub of Madison and other adult friendships.  I was interested in your Grandma Marilyn's experience being so very different from my own.  She found community and nurturing synonymous.  How lucky.  Perhaps this is where some of your own instincts arise MB?

I have found myself at many parks with Charlie over the past year.  The mom groups seated together on the grass always interest me because they resemble the old me, the Madison me.  The moms sort of ignore their kids, talking fast with their girlfriends (sometimes about their own kids who are present), desperate it seems to communicate all the minutia of their lives.  Their general repose is the opposite of what I want.  It is delightful to be at a park with your child.  It is delightful to talk with friends.  It is really hard to do both things at once delightfully.  The distraction of friendships is the same as looking away at your phone.  It is trying to be absent and present at the same time.  It seems impossible even though I did it through ten years of parenting.  I am happy that I have had this last year with Charlie to show him my best self.  I believe I will be working on all this for a lifetime.

Please slap me if when I am an old grandma I have moved away from my children to an ashram or some such bullshit.