Tag Archiv: mother

Walking towards grace

Millet__the_Walk_to_Work

The Walk to Work, by Jean-François Millet. 1851

 

The black flies always drive me out of the woods by June. This is usually the end of my quiet walks for a few months. Not expecting much, but missing the walking time, I tried a route along the road this year. It was different than the woods, but to my surprise, I really liked it. On lucky days the litter and the cars are fewer, but regardless, the sky is always bigger.

My mom was a walker. Often by herself, but almost everywhere we lived, I remember places that we walked together. She probably got it from her parents, who walked twice a day, often for a good two miles, well into their eighties. When I picture my mother or grandmother, I picture them drinking tea or taking a walk.

People who meet us together often consider my husband the quiet one. Depending on the situation, he can be happy to let me do the talking. But when it’s just the two of us, I can be lucky to get a word in edgewise. Without intending to this summer, we’ve made a habit of an after dinner walk together. It’s nice on lots of counts, but the biggest is how much easier it is to feel connected to each other.

There is something about walking that is hard to put your finger on. Cars, dogs, and people intersect our time without intruding on our space together. Curiously, the circle of togetherness feels both small and big. Walking with my husband, I feel connected to my mom, my grandparents . . .  and it probably sounds crazy, but people in general. I walk, listening intently of course, to recaps of NPR, ESPN, etc. Meanwhile pictures of people walking amble through my head. Not just my heroes, the pioneers, but escaping people, exploring people, refugees. Mothers with babies on their backs, teenagers holding hands, tired people, laughing people, amazed people. All kinds of people go through my head. I think again of the man beside me. How much he drives me completely out of my mind. What a gift it is to be an us. The mystery of imperfect love. The kindness of slow time. How much simpler, easier it is to listen here on the side of the road.

Humans, I learned, walk about 3 miles an hour. A friend recently walked from Ottawa to Montreal, which took twelve days. Afterwards she was struck by the speed of car rides. She said all she could think sitting there was, “Why would anyone want to go this fast? You can hardly see anything like this.”

She’s right. You see things when you walk. You hear things. Walking alone, there are windows to wholeness and peace that pass my understanding. (Alone walking is where I bring my disordered fragments for realignment.) Walking together, a doorway opens between the separateness of souls. We walk, like breathing, without thinking about it. Unhurried space that is both ordinary and intimate. Gallons of water, misunderstood, assumed, taken for granted, criticized, and frustrated, have gone under the bridge (along with a few cats, some kids, missing tax receipts and a broken lawn mower) by the time we walk each day. It doesn’t all get said but it all gets sorted out. Because baptized in the shared humanity of 3 mph, we hear and see each other as friends.

Letter from The Optimist’s Mother

This year's school photo. Updated photo available upon request.

Hearty rejection of  unneeded (ergo all) advice a key platform

To Board of Directors, Optimist Club International

Dear Directors,

I would like to submit my son’s name for consideration as the next International President. He lacks many of the traits one might expect in a president (ambition, will to succeed, proactive problem solving) but this is in fact what makes him so perfect for the position. I don’t expect he’ll get much done, but I can guarantee that he’ll be able to speak at length about the possibilities of what could be done. And this is my point.

There’s not so much optimism as practicality in the person who works hard, plans ahead, and expects to achieve a goal. Far more exemplary of pure optimism is the person who plans nothing, does as little as possible (preferably at the last minute) and yet remains unalterably carefree, gently nestled in visions of the future’s bright and shining promise. My son is this latter model of a man and then some.

In truth of fact, if you were to pass him up, I am thinking of recommending him for use at a University. Someone somewhere is always doing a study of something. Sooner or later, they’re going to need a person such as my son to run through simulated interrogations, possibly a mock detention camp. While I would estimate his survival time under actual imprisonment to be somewhere around the thirty second mark, in a controlled experiment involving no physical pain, I would place his ability to withstand all manner of death threats in the number of decades. From experience, I can tell you the effect of warnings, ultimatums, and predictions of doom on his psyche is mathematically precisely zero. Explanations of cause and effect, biographical data from similar young men, personal life stories, the uninviting nature of certain outcomes, not to mention hot and smoky eternal quarters, all fail to permeate the most optimistic disposition you could possibly imagine. But will it be the Universities or you who snatch him first?

Recently, my son achieved an extremely high mark on an assignment which he had completed against his wishes. In the same course, he achieved a somewhat distasteful mark on the exam. Unlike the assignment, he was permitted to pursue his preferred style of low impact preparations for the exam.

Comparing your assignment mark, do you think, I asked him, that your lack of preparedness may have negatively impacted your exam results?

No, he said thoughtfully. I’m actually not sure how that happened. I think I did a good job. I really don’t quite understand it.

He went about his business (I think it involved tapping something repeatedly) cheerfully unweighted by past regrets of which there were none.

I share this little anecdote to underscore that in the spirit of the hopeless romantic, if you are looking for a true blue, dyed in the wool, flag waving (unless there is a watching option) optimist, I’ve got your man.

Sincerely,

The Optimist’s Mother

Forgiveness Project Last Chapter

I’ve tried to write what comes for the Forgiveness Project. I considered something on liars.  I wondered about failed friends. I am both these things, but neither piece seemed like it needed that much attention. The most compelling reason for writing them was so that I didn’t have to write today’s post.

With admonishments to myself to suck it up and be a real man, I proceed.

What I would really like for Christmas is to be perfect. In thought, word, and deed. (Not to mention appearances, impressions, and memory.) I am far from these things. For this reason, I am running madly through the house tearing apart the cushions, looking under couches, beds, and in the closets, trying to find any last pieces of bravery I can muster to forgive myself. I do not want the harsh emptiness that comes with refusing to accept forgiveness. This isn’t about not saying sorry. All of me is sorry. This is about accepting freely offered forgiveness. I don’t want to smile, then quietly spit the gift back out, insisting it is ill advised and undeserved. The burden of my failings is heavy. It’s time to let go.

For not being the person I dream of becoming, I forgive myself. For not loving as gently as I picture myself doing someday, I forgive myself. For being a nasty, finger pointing, flaw finding person, I forgive myself.

Sometimes I take other people so personally that it short circuits my insides and I can hardly function. It doesn’t matter if the slight came from someone insignificant, if it hits just right, it can shake me for days. I dream big, talk big, then let the little stick girl living inside the inflatable body of me, go hide in the corner because she’s just so tiny and she’ll be lucky if she can figure out how to brush her teeth properly, much less be a truly decent mother, or make it as a writer.

I don’t like to write about my husband. In my head, I picture us as two oxen hooked to a plow, pulling side by side. Not the usual description of love. I know. The other ox doesn’t feel like something outside of me. He’s at work, he’s at home. It doesn’t matter, he’s pulling with me, loving me and cheering me on. The days I do that for him too, feel good. The days I change from dearest friend to behaviour modification specialist with charts for subpar oxen performance . . . well I hate that self. When I’m not being her, I want to take those damn charts and shove them down her throat. Anything to convince her to be human again.

I am not who I wish I was, but I am forgiven and I am trying.

I accept the beautiful gift of forgiveness offered to me. And I forgive myself.

A thousand pounds gone.

Music. Dancing. It’s almost Christmas.

Decisions on Hair

Long narrow face with long hair

Long narrow face with long hair

The kids haven’t had a haircut since before school started. It’s been two months since my last hair cut. It’s not a movement. I’ve been feeling cheap, and they’ve been wanting shaggy. Hair is not something I have a lot of opinions about. In fact, very few of my hopes and dreams have involved hair. Only one really. I wanted to grow my hair quite badly once in order to be a real Indian brave. My mother pointed out that I was only qualified to be a squaw. The fact that I am a girl has at times proved troublesome to me, but I ignored her narrow vision of my possibilities. In my dreams, I was already running barefoot in my long hair and loin cloth, bow and arrows in hand.

I have a grade four picture to prove that by the times I was nine, my hair had grown at least a little bit below my shoulders. When I was ten, my mother met a woman who had once been a model. I have since realized that this kind of person can be dangerous. My mother saw stars and a woman with qualifications.

Fifty-Something former model declared that my hair was all wrong for my face. There was a formula. My face was long and narrow. I needed short hair. My grade five school picture notes the change. Sometimes I would look and the mirror and try to see my face the way she saw it. This thing now bearing a description seemed deserving of inspection.

The next summer my face spoke to Fifty Something again. Straight hair did not suit. She could hear my long and narrow face saying, “permanent.”  All school pictures from there on are identical give or take an inch. I did not change my hair again until I was in my thirties, at which point I finally stopped getting permanents.

My girls admire extremely long hair. The only strong opinion I have about hair is that it shouldn’t be in your food when you are eating. I have therefore kept them in bangs against their wishes, until now. My boys have grown tired of the tidy cuts I like. So yes, my children’s hair desires landed in lock step with my budget cut backs this fall. We are all looking a little shaggy.

“I’m taking everybody in this week for a cut,” I finally say.

“Mom, please, no . . .please, please, please . . .”

“It’s cheaper this way,” whispers my wallet.

Their hair has been bugging me for weeks now. Friday, I finally snapped, but not the snapped where we finally get our hair cut.

We’re not going to the hair dresser. Any of us. The guy with a job can see his barber. The rest of us are growing our hair.

I expect mine in particular will look fairly awful, but I would rather have tried it than not. Before I cut it short again, maybe I’ll stuff a few marshmellows in my cheeks and see if it makes any difference.