Roads Not Taken – Yet

2013-09-28 14.28.53Every college campus should have a spot like this. A path to ponder, a place to dream. To walk towards the horizon with nothing but sky ahead. No limits. Anything is possible. The world is yours. All that.

As a college student, I often came to this very hill, a short distance from my dormitory. Decades and a lifetime of adventures later, I visit my freshman daughter here. And this road in the clouds still evokes the questions: Where to? What next?

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We came to look at the cows. R loves cows.

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Tetley remained ambivalent. Not even a bark.

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I know, I just wrote here about my new-found attraction to the city as a place to grow old – but hey, it’s not time for that yet. Back home I searched the real estate sites to look at houses and land in that part of the state. There’s  still relatively inexpensive places to be had. With space for cows.

Widening the Circle of Love

neighborhood“I don’t really know what I feel…” my daughter said the night before leaving for freshman year at college. I understood. Everything was shifting. We were both worried that our center would not hold. It will.

We anticipated dissolving into sobs when the moment came to say goodbye. We didn’t. Our eyes got puffy but barely a tear was shed. I reckon that’s because we each had a friend with us to sweetly cushion the blow of our separation.  (we also let go of each other just in time – both of us sensing that if we hugged a moment longer we’d be in trouble.) Beside Molly was with Halle, her pal since elementary school and now also a freshman at this school. With me, Chris, sweet Chris who woke at the crack of dawn, packed her car with Molly’s stuff and drove me to deliver my kid to college with me.

Chris and I share important history. I ran with Molly to her house to spare my daughter seeing her father in death. Molly calls Chris her ‘second mother’.  She is such a key part of our lives, it felt right she be with us for this momentous event – and she insisted on driving. My loving, good-natured, cheerful friend, lightened the mood throughout the day. By myself I suspect I would have bawled on those country roads home. 

I think of Molly in her room, in her new life. Between the excitement and newness, she is probably missing her routines and the comforts of old friends – the posse of girls from high school. She is lucky to have Halle and others there with her and soon her circle of friends will widen even more. The number of people who ‘get’ her, who love her, who will laugh and cry, share old and new secrets with, friends who will see her through whatever ups and downs come her way – love, heartbreak, love again – will grow. Some, maybe many, of these friends will last and enrich her for a lifetime. Maybe even, one day, they will drive her to drop off her kid at college.

And meanwhile, I’m here with R and Tetley. Her ‘second mother’ Chris and family will be just across the street and all our other pals and loving neighbors too. We’re here. We’re Home.

Why Meditate?

Available Silence Here
Available Silence Here

My learning style is to figure things out by doing rather than follow instructions. As a result, I don’t quite know how to make the most of my GPS nor how to smoothly switch between watching the television and DVDs. So it’s strange that I have felt the desire for instruction in meditation. The other morning during our “Creativity Session” with Fran, I asked him for more direction regarding the ‘sitting’ part of his session. Fran is a regular at a Zen Monastery in Mount Tremper, NY and has been seriously meditating for years now. He said that in Zen, there is very little instruction beyond establishing a comfortable, stable sitting posture and following the breath. As in the Japanese Koan, the answer, the way is found within ourselves.

While living in Kyoto, I was drawn to Buddhist temples, fascinated by the robed monks who sometimes floated by or collected my Yen at the gate. But I never ventured into to any of the many Zazen sessions available to foreigners. Perhaps it was remnants of Catholic-rebellion that prevented me from wanting to adopt any semblance of rote ritual. Besides, the language and ideas felt too oblique for me. I prefer my Buddhism interpreted by the likes of Pema Chodron or  – through her anecdotes and straight talk.

Why this inability to trust myself when it comes to meditating? This irrational sense of not doing it right? Is it feeling that I’m not smart enough to really get it? That I’m missing something? Like what – the point? See? Intellectually, I know that I’m being silly. But still.

When our group discusses our late teacher, Mike Skop‘s soup of philosophy on perception, on being, etc.,  – I recall furiously scribbling notes because I barely made heads or tails of what he was talking about. But inevitably. a sound bite of something he said would resonate, and as I began to work the clay or hammer my chunk of wood or stone, I would understand, it would become part of me.

It’s in this almost physical way that insights would come to me. This is how I learn best – viscerally, through my work, previously artwork and now, writing. But it must come from a silence beyond the day-to-day, a quiet not immediately accessible by simply turning on the computer or taking out a blank pad.

Thanks to daily life and the crazy distractions found with an internet connection, is often hard for me to get to this place these days. This is why I hope to establish a discipline of ‘sitting’. Meditating, sitting with my legs crossed on the floor, feeling the earth beneath, the space above, counting breaths as my inner chatter fades, brings me closer to the zone, delivering me to the door of the intangible where magic can be found.

We Did It

Children fidgeted on the miniature furniture, a few strained against their parents’ grip, trying to make a dash for the door. Many wept on that first day of kindergarten. Not my daughter. Her perky-pigtails pointy straight up like two exclamation marks over her bright eyes, she comforted her new classmates. Unlike these timid ones, she wanted me to leave so she could get on with this new chapter of her life. Without me. Already, she was in command of the situation, sure of how she might fit in, ready to lead the way.

I was the one who wavered, lingering at the door not quite ready to separate. She offered a quick hug and wet kiss and turned back to reassuring the inconsolable blond boy next to her. I walked down the long hallway and out of the school. In my gut, my aching gut, I knew that in some huge way, she was no longer mine. In my car, I put my forehead on my steering wheel and sobbed.

It wasn’t like this separation business was new to us – she was in full time daycare from the age of two. But kindergarten, her first day in mandated school, felt different. She became part of the education machine that would define her, arguably, in as fundamental a way as me. Bereft and with tears still flowing, I drove away from what would become, her beloved elementary school. Her world without me had begun.

Well, not quite. Waking her up, making breakfast, lunches, homework, studying, play-dates, violin lessons, plays, sports games, concerts — the requirements an endless list of juggling and challenges over the years. Still, I was a stage hand, providing the behind-the-scene assistance for the Molly show. And she was a star throughout the years.

Last week she graduated from high school. Her name in the program followed by real stars marking her achievement. I’m terribly proud of her of course, but I also feel a sense of accomplishment of my own that surprises me. While she is pretty self-motivated, I get to take a little credit, too, don’t I? After all, she might have turned out so differently.

She was only in second grade when her Dad and I told her the reason behind his erratic behavior and our terrible battles. Certainly, this was a young age to learn your father is struggling with drug addiction. Then, just a month shy of her 9th birthday, to know it killed him. After his suicide, Molly and I, with our precious dog, Tetley,  forged on with our fierce love, determined to seize joy.

We found that joy and more as our net of love expanded to friends and neighbors who became our family. Then, after a little more than a year, R joined us, bringing support, laughter and more love to our little house. These beloved ones, also get to share credit in steering Molly through this major stage of her life. She gets to move on now, sure of the support, laughter and love of all of us who stand behind her still. We did it — we grew a delightful child into a remarkable adult. And as usual, she is ready for the next stage.

A Room of My Own

The chunk of time and solitude I find necessary to write a blog post never appeared last week. Some mornings I managed to grab a half-hour or so before work to hack away at my memoir (still!) but I need a little more time than that to write something completely new.


Finding the time to write between the demands of my job and home is always challenging, but becomes more so as the weather warms and the garden also needs attention. But lately, it’s the space part I’ve been fantasizing about: having a room to write in at any time of the day or night.

Soon, I will have one: the room off of Molly’s bedroom that used to be closet space. It feels like a treehouse in there – with the big oak right outside the window.

Although you have to walk through Molly’s bedroom room to get to it, for some reason we always called this little alcove ‘the private room’. During particularly bad times in my marriage, I retreated there to sleep. It felt safer than my own bed and I felt soothed by the whisper of Molly’s gentle, slumber-breath only a few feet away. Mornings in summer, the sunlight fills the room and the leaves of the oak tree create mesmerizing waves of shadows and light against the walls.

Ready to go to college in September, my daughter seems to already have one foot out the door and not much interest in her home space, so the room is a mess. (I won’t post a picture of it now.) Mentally, I’ve begun to claim it as mine. I will paint the walls a more serene color and barely furnish it – only the sweet desk I found on the street. That can go by the window and maybe in one corner, a comfy little couch to curl up on. At least while my daughter is off at school, it will be a space for me to work in. A private room.

Don’t get me wrong — I am glad to still have Molly here with me and don’t mind waking early to claim my solitude, but I really can’t wait to have a room of my own.

Paying Attention for What’s Next

What next? I’ve been batting this question around quite a bit, especially inspired by seasonal changes. Back-to-school activity, Monarchs frenetically flying around in migration prep, evening and morning temperature drops, these shifts into autumn prompt my own search for another gear.

‘What next?’ has recently been a question I particularly ponder about my writing. I’m ready to let go and get my memoir out into the world. While there are certainly still rewrites ahead on that, the question is, what to write about? I needed to write about my husband, our time in Bosnia, my daughter’s premature birth in Italy, struggling with his addiction, navigating Molly and myself out of the shadow of his suicide. The compulsion to tell that story got me up on the coldest of mornings, 7 days a week.

And the discipline stuck. For the past few years I religiously rose before dawn, before setting off to my day-job, rewrote, rewrote, rewrote. Now, it’s time to move on. I need to find a new story-itch and I think if I pay attention to the clamoring voices inside of me, I will. Perhaps that’s one of my best insights from years of living with insanity. Paying attention leads me to a feeling of serenity. Focused, present in a thoughtful way – that’s the state I aspire to be in as much as possible.

Writing helps me get there, especially if I do so with the expectation/hope of being read. So in a kind of letting-go exercise, I’m setting myself the challenge to come to this space each day rather than revisit old pages. If even briefly, to write — as a kind of meditation, or perchance to find my next story. It’s a start.

Back-to-School Finale

The angle of light is changing. The scent and temperature of the morning breeze is cooler, even as mid-day is still summer-sweltering. The shift of seasons has begun.

Nature’s markers will always remain my signposts to autumn. But this is my  last year of back-to-school rituals. Molly is a senior in high school. Of course next year we will launch into new ‘back-to’ routine for her college years, but this year is the last of 18 years of participation. And now, it every task feels poignant.

Molly plays sports, is in the play, in the orchestra, in the choral group. She’s busy and that means, I am too. What food, what supplies, what rides does she need? What game, show, concert is scheduled? What money must she raise? (meaning: what check do I need to write) I confess, I have never felt like I was very good at this stuff. It’s hard to be when working a full-time job and single-parenting. In years past, I sometimes have been grumpy about what was required of me. Often I have felt like a failure compared to other parents who are (bless them) gung-ho volunteers.

Molly is a different kid than I was. She’s at the liveliest table at the cafeteria, Honor Society — all that. I am proud of her and am grateful she’s not the kid sneaking out to smoke behind the bleachers. I was a good-enough student. I worked on the literary magazine and back-stage on a play or two. But I was more inclined to sit by myself with a book at lunch, maybe hang around the art room and wouldn’t be caught dead wearing the school colors. I never, ever went to a school football game. And funny enough, I still feel a little bit this way as a parent — sometimes like an alien amongst the gossiping moms on the field-hockey sideline.

Yet I will miss it all.  This way of measuring time, the schedule of a school year will no longer be mine to participate in. Not as much. I will miss being part of it, there to cheer her as she runs her heart out at a game, will miss hosting the mob of teammates for the requisite pasta party at our too-small house. I will even miss the desperate, last-minute rushing to buy the right shirt she needs for a concert or shoes for some dance or other.  I will miss packing her brown bag lunch. The day-to-day stuff.

The morning I dropped Molly off at her first day of kindergarten she practically waved me out of the classroom so she could get on with comforting the less-happy classmates howling for their parents. Driving away from her elementary school that day, I was the one who wept. It felt then, that she was somehow less mine. In fact, she was. That first day of school, she blissfully launched into becoming herself.  And her bliss and joy at school, continues. I vow that in this last year, I will be better at my part in it all. It’s time to really savor the moments I get to share.



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