Sunday, May 12, 2013

Maternal Musings

This was my childhood, and perhaps the reason why my mother drove in the distracted, clutch burning way I (and all my friends) recall. I have no two-legged children of my own - I've always been mother to the four-legged, furry variety - but that hasn't kept me from exercising innate maternal instincts to serve, protect, and discipline my own students, niece and nephew, and other young children in my charge, as well as function as surrogate seatbelt as the need presented itself.

In the days and weeks leading to this Mother's Day 2013, I've had the opportunity to reflect on mothers and motherhood in a variety of ways. Age and circumstance does have a way of providing perspective, and Mother's Day is about more than just buying the token gift of appreciation. So, in no particular order, I offer the following musings of a non-mother, middle-aged woman.

Musing 1:  I'm at the age where I and most of my friends are learning to adapt to aging mothers - and sometimes experiencing a bit of role reversal. Once discussion of who is taking Lipitor and acid reflux meds and how much, concludes, the topic often turns to the enormous difficulty of maintaining respect for one's parents while feeling the need to take on a parental role with them. It often feels like a delicate balance between respect and neglect.

Musing 2: Several of my closest friends have lost their mothers recently (from as early as 6 weeks to 2 years ago). We all lost our fathers earlier. And I am faced with the very real prospect of joining them as a member of the middle-aged orphan's club in the not too distant future. It is sad to ponder, but for all of us, we have great memories, and our mothers lived (and in my case, continue to live) full and fulfilling lives. They miss their mothers, and I will miss mine, but our mothers were there for us through the tougher parts of life, and we are all better people for it. I saw a comment on Facebook this morning from an old college friend to another close friend that I found particular poignant - "In general I don't like Mother's Day. It is an unnecessary holiday if we love and value the relationship. But once our mom is gone it is a reminder to recollect and celebrate times past, much like observing saints days. Happy Doris and Daphne day to you." I really like this - thanks, Cheryl.

Musing 3: And then there are those who lose their moms way too soon. I see this with some of my students. Some fare better than others, with great step-moms or surrogate moms. Some find themselves toughing it out in foster care, or with relatives who aren't as supportive as one might hope. I don't always know the details of their stories, but everyday I see the results. I also see the detritus of kids with great, though imperfect, moms - who love them passionately, even if imperfectly at times. I worry about them, because they get angry with their mom's imperfections and lose precious and special moments with their moms during those angry times that they shut them out. Someday, when they are 52 and their mom is gone or aging to the point they aren't quite "the same," they will regret those lost moments and memories. Or worse, the unexpected will happen, and they will lose their mom way too soon, and they will find out too late that they can never get those lost minutes back. I was reminded of that when I read the Facebook posting of one of my strong, smart students on Wednesday: "I want my mom. I want her to come see me sing tomorrow night, and I want to give her flowers on Sunday, and I want her to see me pass junior year. I just want those simple moments. Nothing fancy, just the little things." She gets it. And I'm sad for the kids whose moms are still around who don't.

Musing 4:  My mom and I have never had one of those "warm, fuzzy" touchy-feely relationships. I suppose there have been times in my life where I wish we had.  But, we have always been close, and we have always had the ability to communicate - good or bad, happy or sad. There has never been any doubt in my mind that she loves, and has loved, me to the very best of her ability to love. We are both imperfect humans, and we have both disappointed each other at times, but I don't think either of us has ever doubted that we were there for one another. That's the love part, friends. Happy Nancy Day.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Looking Back, Living Forward - Part 2 (or Days of Wine and Sticker Roses)

As my previous post explained, the Frau and I made a move recently, and I have been "treasure hunting" as part of the downsizing process. I have been amazed at some of what I have uncovered - my old locker combination from high school - really? whatever for? Straight to the trash can. Then again, I have been lucky to uncover some real finds.

When I first moved back to the Kansas City area twelve years ago, I joined an Episcopal church. It was a bitter pill for my Baptist minister father to swallow, but he handled it with a great deal of grace. In the throes of becoming acquainted with my new religious affiliation, and persuaded by some of the women in the church choir, I did something that goes against everything I have ever believed.  Something that would shock anyone who knows me.  I look back on it now and still can't believe I did it.

I went to a weekend Women's Retreat.

There.  I said it. 

But after all, they were Episcopalian, so there was wine. And episodes of the Vicar of Dibley.  And I'd have my own room.  So . . . How bad could it be?  

It was actually not bad at all. I credit the wine and single room with much of that.

One of the activities we participated in was to reflect on a woman who had influenced our life - our spiritual life - in a most significant way.  Everyone got a colored index card with a cute little floral sticker shaped like a heart (the sticker almost ruined it for me) with instructions to write down their reflection and plan to share it later. We had some time to ourselves between writing and sharing, and I went back to my single room and started thinking through the women who had influenced me.  

I had completely forgotten about this until we started packing and moving. But I found my little blue index card, sticker still intact in the top left corner, in a drawer somewhere and reading it again twelve years later, I was glad that I went to the retreat, and that I saved the card. 

When I think of the women who have influenced my life in the most significant way, I am prompted to realize that God not only shapes us by our contact with spiritual giants, but also by our encounters with searching souls. One of the most influential women in my life was a high school English teacher. She was a fascinating and eclectic enigma - German born, she spoke beautiful English with a British accent, was well read, an avid tennis player, and loved music - from Debussy to Hindu chants to Neil Diamond. She introduced me to a world of books I had not hitherto encountered - from Norwegian esoterics to Egyptian and Sumerian mythology to classic science fiction, and everything in the gaps. She explained to me the concept of the Renaissance man, and modeled the Renaissance woman. The greatest gift she gave to me, however, was the opportunity to discuss my faith in true intellectual dialogue. She was searching - and we had many discussions about the dichotomy between my view of a loving, forgiving God - which she admired - as opposed to her perspective of a vengeful, wrathful God, which was the only one she had every known and couldn't quite release. She allowed this 16/17 year old to meet her on an equal plane in these dialogues - and sometimes trade roles and become the teacher. And being able to wrestle with WHY I felt the way I did about God so that I could dialogue with a mentor whose intellect I so respected, was truly one of the greatest spiritual growth experiences of my life.

Looking Back, Living Forward

In the time my blog has been idle since late February, you could say I've been busy. March and April are always busy months for a high school choir director - preparing and performing in various festivals/competitions/assessments and getting ready for end of year concerts and commencement. It's enough to keep any sane person's plate full. I, however, decided to turn March and April into a freaking buffet.  

March 8, the Frau and I picked up our periodic discussion of downsizing, the headaches of home maintenance - we own an older home with "character" and the character is starting to cost us - and the amount of drive time I have to work (about 45-50 minutes). Usually, the discussion drifts to exploring where we want to ultimately retire, with me looking for employment in those areas, and us making one final move to a warm climate and a maintenance free and downsized home. Different stars were in alignment on March 8, though, and we went into search mode.  The morning of March 9 we sat down in our respective recliners with our Mac Books and started searching for town homes and luxury apartments closer to my school.  We visited some of these that afternoon and the following day, and on the evening of March 10, signed a lease on a luxury apartment 15 minutes from my school.  We put the house on the market on March 11, took possession of the apartment on March 18 and spent my spring break moving, sold the house two weeks later, and close the sale a week from tomorrow. Throw in a garage sale and numerous car trips full of the dregs that just seem to grow when one is moving out, and you could say we had multiple "full plates" over the past few weeks.

Yes, things have been crazy, but we are about to finally settle into some sort of normalcy, love our new place, and both of us are looking forward to more time together, more time writing, and less windshield time for me. Which leads me to the focus of this, and possibly the next few postings. Moving and downsizing resulted in me looking back at lots of "treasures" - not all of which needed to be saved, but which certainly brought back many fond people memories - and lots of "I told you so" moments.

"I told you so" #1: I have always been a photo hound, and in the days of print film I spent hundreds of dollars on hundreds of pictures everywhere I traveled. My mother would always comment, "there are no people in this picture!" I scoffed at her and marveled at the artistry of my photos of major landmarks all over Europe. As I went through tubs of loose pictures and unopened photo albums, I discovered that the majority of the pictures I wanted to save had (yes, Mom, you were right again) people in them. Its the people that made those memories and landmarks special for me.

"I told you so" #2: The Frau has been telling me for years that I need to go through and sort all my old photos and I might find some of the ones I've been searching for through the years.  Two years ago, when my oldest friend, Robert, and I both turned 50, I wanted to put together a Shutterfly book of the experiences we have shared since we were in 4th grade, into junior high and high school, college, and a few European travel trips.  Our parents were good friends, as well, and I had no doubt I would come up with plenty of fodder for the book.  Robert's birthday came and went with no such book, because I simply couldn't find but  4-5 pictures of us. I could recall specific pictures, but I couldn't locate them. During the whirlwind that has been the past two months, Robert lost his mom. Only days before the funeral I had finally found the missing pictures (and more that I had forgotten I had) in the process of packing and moving. I was able to put the book together - two years late, but probably at a much more appreciated time. The book, you see, was framed by a picture of the birthday card we had been sending back and forth, with extra notes stapled inside, since 1974. We got the idea from his mom who had done something similar with a close friend of hers for many, many years. 

Regardless the chaos and frenetic nature of the past few weeks, the journey through forgotten photos has been a welcome calm of reflection, even while the rest of my life is moving forward in an exciting new direction.