Farewell, F-19

Portales Sign

My two girls are students, so our lives are governed, in a way, by the school calendar.  To me, the start of the school year signals new beginnings.  No matter what you did last school year, each September you get to start again with new classes and new teachers, and maybe even a new school.  You get a fresh start. Because of this, I make resolutions in the fall.  Not formal resolutions, but I do decide on general goals for myself.  They include the typical ones like eating better and getting more exercise, keeping in touch with friends, controlling my sometimes hot temper, and the like.  While I do try to keep my goals pretty open, there is one very specific project that I set my mind on tackling each year.  This particular thing has been on my to-do list for a long time, and it had literally been haunting me (I have crazy dreams about all kinds of crap) until I finally attacked it over the weekend.

Last Sunday, my daughters and I finally sorted through and emptied out my (drumroll, please)…self-storage unit.

Okay, you can stop mocking me now!  I admit that this task may not seem worthy of the angst that I have ascribed to it.  And I will also say that once we got started it wasn’t half as hard as I had made it out to be. So what took me so long?  Why did it take years of dropping $41.0o a month (plus late fees), and allowing my possessions to lie dormant in what was essentially a 5×5 walk-in closet, collecting dust (and lots of spiders, eeww) and languishing so long that I basically forgot what was in there?

The easy answer is that I didn’t have room in my apartment for most of that stuff. I’m telling the truth when I say this, because my townhome is over-cluttered and certainly full enough without adding more to the mix.  Easy answers, however, hardly ever cover the reality of my deal.  I’ve come to realize that the storage compartment was a metaphor for something much bigger than the sum of its contents.  It held my life, or more accurately, a past life.

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I grew up in the midwest, and still live in my hometown.  About 16 years ago, however, I decided I wanted to go on an adventure.  It was more than wanting an adventure.  I needed it; I almost felt like I would wither and die if I didn’t do something radical.  You see, before I had my daughter I had already done a little traveling. I was fortunate to have been an exchange student in Finland during the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, and I had also spent a summer in the Basque country of Spain while an undergrad.  I had always had the desire to travel, but between finances and the responsibilities of being a single parent, I had to shelve my wanderlust.  So I lived at home, worked full-time, and was as responsible a person as I could be–until the travel bug returned (and it returned with a vengeance).  At that point I did the most responsible thing I could do for me (though none of my family thought so at the time)– catch a Greyhound bus to Portales, New Mexico with my three-year-old daughter in tow.

We travelled light, as we had very little material possessions (not even furniture). We sent a few boxes ahead with essentials like cooking utensils and bed linens, but that was about it.  The bus ride was an adventure in and of itself!  When I booked the trip I didn’t know the difference between a “local” or an “express” so we ended up stopping in every Podunk town in Oklahoma and Texas.  The bus not only picked up passengers, but all manner of packages and freight, too.  The bus ride was so long that the driver would have to make multiple stops along the way so we could get lunch and dinner.  One time we stopped at a buffet that specialized in the delicacy “calf fries.”  That sounded yummy, but I learned a long time ago that one man’s delicacy is another man’s (or in this case, calf’s) misfortune.  When I approached our waiter, I found out that the name “calf fries” is a euphemism for calf testicles.  We passed on that one!

Once we arrived in New Mexico I enrolled in the graduate reading program at the local university, and concurrently took courses to earn my teaching certificate. While I was in class, my daughter went to pre-school at the wonderful child development center located on campus.

All I can say is that I felt so alive in Portales. There was a bit of a culture shock to be sure, as so many things were different from what we were accustomed to.  But it wasn’t hard to adjust to the food (lots of beans and rice, green chile stew, enchiladas and Frito pie), or topography (flat, dusty, and almost treeless, with prairie dogs and lizards running about) or climate (blindingly bright, hot and dry).  And it wasn’t hard to adjust to the changes in me!  I felt free.  I felt more authentic than I ever had, because I was able to begin anew.  Living in my hometown, while often comforting, was limiting, at least for me.  I felt boxed in and judged based on the mistakes I had made.  Perhaps those were self-imposed limitations, I don’t know.  But it was very real, and something I felt I couldn’t overcome.  But nobody in Portales had any preconceived notions of who I was supposed to be, and nobody in Portales knew anything of my past.   Once I moved to New Mexico, what had become such a burden, no longer existed.  I was able to start fresh.

We lived in Portales for over three years.  It was a simple, beautiful time. I found that I loved small-town life, and we thrived.  After many years of putting off getting my license (and consequently having to take public transportation at home), I even learned to drive while there, and purchased my first vehicle.  I also did exceedingly well in school, which led to work as a graduate assistant teaching remedial reading to freshmen students.  During that time I met some wonderful friends, and we relied on each other like family.  As is the case in most university towns, however, we all eventually moved away, mostly due to out-of-state job opportunities.  In my case, I was unable to secure a teaching job in New Mexico, so I reluctantly took a job teaching kindergarten in Odessa, Texas.  Believe me, I almost left New Mexico kicking and screaming!  I loved it that much.  But if I were going to adequately care for my daughter, I knew I had to move on.

They call the state of New Mexico “The Land of Enchantment,” and it certainly was that for me. My time living there, while brief, informed my life in a profound way.  It was a time of intense self-actualization.  I felt freed to be creative, spontaneous and independent.  For the first time, I recognized the strength I possess.  When I look back at it, it’s hard to believe that I took that risk to move myself and my child to a place pretty much in the middle of nowhere, where I didn’t know one soul.  I had very little money, no car, and no job!  What was I thinking?  I give God the glory.  I listened to my heart, knew this was where I was supposed to be, and also knew that no place was too remote for Him–God would watch over and guide us no matter where we decided to roam.

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After New Mexico came Odessa, Texas.  A new love relationship ensued, then a wedding (which took place in Portales!), relocation, and a beautiful, new baby girl. Then there was disappointment.  Plans changed (not my idea), and life got very complicated.  Stuff threatened to take over, as did depression.  Happier memories competed with the cacophony my life had become.  About the easiest thing to do, the only thing I could do, was put my former life, my beautiful, simpler life, in cardboard boxes and Rubbermaid bins, and place them in a 5×5 walk-in closet for safekeeping.

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This brings us back to last Sunday, the day I summoned the courage to deal with storage unit F-19.  Both daughters came along, offering not only moral support, but also elbow grease, pulling out boxes, wiping them down, and purging them of their contents.  What did I find?  I found that with each box that I opened, the task got easier and easier.  Of course the excitement of my children buoyed me along (M.’s face lit up when she discovered I owned boxes of classic children’s books, and L. looked like she found a long lost friend when she came upon her school work from 1st grade).  When we opened the box that contained a few treasured photos, it was bittersweet, but I handled it.

In the end, I probably only kept about 10 percent of the unit’s contents.  What do I feel about that?  I must say that I am a little embarrassed that I have been storing and paying for things that I have since deemed disposable.  But I now understand why (so I’m going to be oh so gentle with myself).  I was afraid that the juxtaposition of those enchanted times with the messiness of my current life would be too much to bear. But guess what?  It wasn’t.  It wasn’t unbearable at all, as a matter a fact, it gave me more clarity than I’ve had in a long time.

The Bible says “to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).  I realize that my time in New Mexico was a time of planting and building, and of getting strong.  While my life there seemed simpler, there was a lot of internal work going on, work that sustains me to this day.  Had it not been for that time, I wouldn’t be as equipped to handle all of my current roles.

What time is it presently?  I think it is a time of keeping and embracing the sweetness of then and now, and of getting rid of what is no longer serving me.  It’s also a time of loving the person I’ve become, and of embracing my strengths and weaknesses.   Most importantly, however, I believe it’s time for me to recognize that no matter where I am along this journey, and no matter where I live, I’m still free.

Farewell, F-19.

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P.S.  This post wore me out!  It took a long time to write, and it forced me to look at pleasant as well as difficult times in my past.  I’m not sure I was able to fully capture what I felt at the time, or what I am feeling now, but I tried.

I have a wonderful friend that I often bounce ideas off of.  He is wise beyond his years, and offers great counsel.  After giving me advice, he’ll often close with, “I’ll leave the rest for the therapist.”  What he doesn’t know (well, maybe he does), is that the therapist is me, and she never has a day off!  I think I’ll go take a nap now…

Babies.

My children are far beyond baby age– one is 11 and the other is 20.  While it has been some time since I’ve had itty bitties at home, when around friends with little ones, I still recognize their exasperated expressions, and empathize with their dark circles and exhaustion, too.  I sometimes hear myself saying, “I remember those days, and I am so glad I’m past that stage!”

Just so you know, I am SO lying when I say this.  First of all, anyone who knows me will tell you I still have dark circles, and I’m still exhausted.  What they won’t tell you, because they probably don’t know, is that I do miss those baby days, and I would really love to have another.

I started thinking about this topic the other day when I was holding the 6 month old son of my co-worker.  He was a beautiful boy, and seemed to take to me right away.  He cooed, he drooled, he smiled and he laughed.  When I blew raspberries on his cheek, he squealed with delight.  I lifted him high, and with that high-pitched, syrupy voice only suitable for babies, told him how gorgeous and sweet he was (“You’re such a handsome boy, yes you are, yes you are!”).  I was simply in heaven, until a comment was made that swiftly smacked me back to earth.  Another of my co-workers, after seeing me in the zone with cute little baby boy, flashed a big toothy grin and asked me if I were ready for…GRANDCHILDREN.

What the freak?!?!?   Toothy co-worker didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, but she was unwittingly referring to something that I wasn’t prepared to deal with.  I AM old enough to have grandchildren.  I’m not ready to have them, but it certainly is possible.  At the same time, however, I am still capable of having babies (thank you very much).  For a number of reasons it may not be advisable, but it certainly is possible.

I generally don’t have a problem with getting older, ’cause you know what they say:  it’s better than the alternative.  You do have to come to terms with certain things as you age, however, and that’s what’s difficult.  Women know that their childbearing window is a relatively short one.  While many men can father children well past middle-age, a woman’s fertility is greatly decreased by the time she has reached her forties.  The idea of this is perfectly fine for many of us.  (After all, a lot of other stuff comes with the gift of fertility, stuff that I’ve been ready to leave behind for years– PMS, anyone?).  And I thought it was okay for me, until I got all gushy and sentimental while holding that baby.

I’m not sure what else to say about this topic other than I’m pretty sure it’s universal.  I will say that none of my close friends have admitted to these feelings, but I do remember an old “Waltons” episode when Olivia was pining for another baby (and she already had seven!),  as did Clair Huxtable on “The Cosby Show”.  Some like-minded person had to write those storylines, right?   More seriously, the  poignant lyrics of the Bonnie Raitt song, “Nick of Time,” speak to this:

A friend of mind she cries at night, and she calls me on the phone…Sees babies everywhere she goes and she wants one of her own…She’s waited long enough she says and still she can’t decide…Pretty soon she’ll have to choose, and it tears her up inside.  She is scared, scared she’ll run out of time.

I thought that perhaps I shouldn’t write about this, because it seemed a little too personal.  But maybe the theme here is not having one more baby, but of running out of time to do the things that matter.  And there are so many things in life that matter, and many of them concern the people that are already in our lives.

I’m going to keep thinking about this.  Feel free to comment if you have any thoughts on this topic.

And then you get a popsicle.

Not pretzel logic, but popsicle logic.

Not pretzel logic, but popsicle logic.

In 1974 the group Steely Dan put out an album called “Pretzel Logic”.  Of course I was only a little girl then, but just a few years later I made it to junior high, where I became a huge fan of the group.  The term pretzel logic has always held a fascination for me.  It’s both funny sounding and intriguing.  It’s also something that some of us engage in from time to time:  convoluted thinking, complicated, strange or twisted logic.  The kind of reasoning that leads you to a bad place.

Popsicle logic is a term I coined based on the experiences of my daughter, M. It’s much sweeter than pretzel logic.  It’s when something not so nice ends up working out in the end.  Here’s how it all came about.

M. is what doctor’s call “hypermobile.”  In layman’s terms, she’s double-jointed.  While this ability has become a fascination and M.’s calling card of sorts (double-jointed kids really know how to show off at a party– even her eyes can move independently!), it can be very painful because joints have a tendency to pop out of place (ouch!).

When M. was younger, her hypermobility combined with her natural defiance gave her a predisposition to Nursemaid’s elbow.  Nursemaid’s elbow is a dislocation of the elbow joint, usually caused by a sudden pull on the extended forearm.  A certain type of child seems to be more prone to Nursemaid’s elbow. You know them, you’ve seen them, the ones that say “no” to everything their parents say, the ones that pull away every time an adult takes their hand.  Well, M. was one of those children.  And it wasn’t pretty!  Sometimes I wonder how I survived that time…Anyway, our family spent many hours at the emergency room (her elbow dislocated 4 times from the age of 2 to 5) because of Nursemaid’s elbow.  M. would be in pain, whiny, but not particularly teary until the attending physician would abruptly put her elbow back in place– YIKES!!  Can you imagine?  Then the tears would fall, and I would forget all the drama that preceded this trauma.  I would attempt to console, and so would said attending physician, who, much to M.’s delight, would whip out a….POPSICLE! 

This was ALWAYS the routine.  Elbow would dislocate, I’d drive to E.R., we’d wait for a few hours, doctor would reposition elbow (Sometimes we wouldn’t even get an exam room…he/she would fix the elbow in the hallway!  Room or not, it would still be a $300.00 visit.), M. would get a popsicle.  So there was definitely a silver lining to this craziness.  At least for M. So for all the grinding and gnashing of teeth, before and after the dislocation, M. would get her popsicle.   

When M. got a little older she would tell stories of her E.R. escapades and would always end it with, “and then you get a popsicle!”  Her stories amused all she told because even though each ordeal was pretty traumatic,  her main memory of the event was the sugary treat she was gifted at the end.  When I think back to that time I remember crying, my child helplessly holding her forearm, and much mommy-guilt that I may have pulled her little arm just a little too hard (when in fact she was the one pulling away from me…really!).  M. just remembers the popsicle.  It was almost a positive experience for the child!  In her mind, everything ended as it should, it all worked out okay, because she got a popsicle in the end.

So you know, the doctors weren’t just being nice when they handed my kiddo that frozen treat on a stick.  They were making sure that her elbow was actually back in place.  They didn’t place the popsicle in her hand, they held it out and made her retrieve it.  Once M. reached for the popsicle , they knew her arm was again fully functional and that she could be sent home– mission accomplished.

So popsicle logic is my name for M.’s ability to put a positive spin on a negative situation.  She has, she uses, she revels in her popsicle logic.  I’ve seen her use it time and time again, and I try to use it, too.  It’s not being Pollyannaish, in other words, unrealistically optimistic,  but it is looking at the glass as half-full, instead of half-empty.  We can almost always do that.

Things do have a way of working out in the end.  And sometimes you end up with a popsicle in your hand.

Cooked in the Squat.

I’ve been toying around with starting a blog for quite a while now.  I resisted until about a year ago.  So a year ago I set up my account.  I then posted my first entry, which unfortunately turned out to be my last entry!  Time and time again I found myself wanting to go back to the blog.  Frequently I would even log on to my account and…nothing.  I just couldn’ t commit to getting my thoughts on paper (you know what I mean).

When I was in high school I had a very astute math teacher who, to her credit, realized she lost the attention of her students during the final five minutes of class.  She understood that  her students’ minds had already moved on to the next thing, like lunch, and figured that trying to force advanced math to a bunch of inattentive (and hungry) 10th graders would be a waste of her time, and ours.  So, she decided to do something that might ultimately prove more valuable. My teacher started reading from a book called “See You At The Top” by motivational guru, Zig Ziglar.  Everyday we were presented with one of Zig’s gems, often corny, but rife with meaning. 

What I remember most about that book is the story Ziglar told about “getting cooked in the squat.”  In the book he recounted the story of some biscuits that were baked by Maude, the cook of his next door neighbors.  When Zig saw the biscuits, he was struck by how flat they were.  When he asked Maude what happened, she laughed and said, “Well, those biscuits squatted to rise, but they just got cooked in the squat.” 

Am I the only one who has planned, plotted, reviewed my plans, thought about, made lists, put it on my calendar, set my alarm, bought all the materials and supplies necessary to accomplish my goal, in other words, squatted to rise, but then went no further?  My first foray into blogging mirrored a lot of things that I have tried to do in my life.  While I have been successful in some areas, in many areas I have suffered from a lack of follow-through.  (There are many reasons for this;  I’m quite sure I will touch on those in the coming months.) In 10th grade I could relate to getting cooked in the squat; unfortunately, I can still relate today, almost 30 years later. 

I have many goals in life, but one of them is to become a published author.  I can’t tell you how many books and magazines I have about how to write, what to write, how to pitch your writing, etc.  And I cannot tell you how many beautiful pens, notebooks and journals I have purchased as aesthetic encouragement for my endeavor.  Five years ago I even purchased a MacBook as my dedicated writing computer.  It was my “Happy Birthday to Me, You’re 40 and Fabulous!” present.  Okay, so now I’m 45 and all I’ve composed on that computer are emails. (There are reasons for this!  I plan to touch on those in the coming months!)

I recognize that I’ve been getting cooked in the squat…a lot.  Damn near burnt.  This time I’m going to do something about it!  The only way to become a writer is to write, right?  So right now, today, I commit to write something every day.  Well, almost everyday (no need to set myself up for failure–if you have not learned that by 45, you are a failure!).  If I can share something of myself in this blog at least half of the week , I’ll be so happy.  Some entries will be long and others will be short.  And eventually I’ll add photos, too.  I’ll write about my life, my dreams, my family and my loves.  It won’t be perfect, but it will be me. 

I’m really looking forward to this.