Garden on a Winter’s Day

It is a particularly dreary first day of February, and I can’t help but think that it is divinity that shapes this day. The rain is coming down in torrents (it started out as snow, but living on the coast, Mother Nature changed her plan); and as the water from the heavens hits the water on the cove, I’m struck by the natural and pure seamlessness of their meeting. The cove, the canal, and the ocean are being fed; they are being replenished and cleansed by the tears from countless angels above. That is how I choose to think of it anyway.

There is comfort in the thought that those who have left us are briefly sharing with us the gifts of peace and rest for which we all yearn while here on earth. It is by design that complete and utter serenity eludes us here. Were we to find it in our everyday lives, the joy and hope we cull and collect from seemingly small but impactful moments of our daily lives (a mother’s first attempt at nursing her newborn, a baby’s first word or step, or a grandfather’s delight in playing peekaboo or hide-and-seek with his grandchild) all of those meaningful “tidbits” would not be the cherished milestones they become. None of them would be so deeply etched in the memory.

So, as I often do these days, I revisit and attempt to be present and mindful of all that I (and we) take for granted. I think of all the times I was able to hold an old man’s hand; the chances I have had to greet and embrace a young man when he disembarks the train; and I even reflect on the few-and-far between luxurious moments when I’ve had my feet in the sand and my head in the clouds.

No greater gift than a new day, but without the love of those who help us to create the moments each day, giving thanks would be a futile and empty act. So, while I’m ever so grateful that the heavens are nourishing the earth, both land and sea as well as its inhabitants today, I’m even more appreciative of those in my life who sustain me, refuel me, help me find hope, and restore my faith in myself and the world around me.

And where will I find gratitude? In the memories of smiles, the feelings of warmth, and the comfort and excitement of my dreams, of course. On this gray winter’s day, I’ll think of all the seeds that have been planted deep within me that only seem to blossom on days when Mother Nature decides to unleash dramatically. How lucky am I on such days to reap even a few morsels of what has been sown in the garden of my soul? Very lucky, indeed.

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.” ~Marcel Proust

Gifts of the Season

The transition from Thanksgiving to Christmas (with Hanukkah right in-between this year) should be fairly seamless, incredibly meaningful, and perhaps even bittersweet, especially for those who have become acutely aware of what it means to be blessed and live with intention. The anticipated seamlessness between the holidays has been anything but smooth and unfettered though. The intervening days and weeks have instead been marred with more heartache than ever imagined, as the pandemic and its effects leave some sick, others on death’s door, and still others left in the wake to deal with losses (of life for some, of livelihood for others) of unfathomable proportions, the likes of which can barely be handled in even the sanest and most stable times.

Only through loss, grief, despair, and sorrow though have I learned what it means to experience bounty, joy, and peace. The gifts and acceptance of the latter only come when the three former have been endured with grace. I don’t pretend that I have mastered grace, but I’ve definitely cleared a path to it. The steps toward it offer me mild relief when I stop momentarily to be present and appreciate simple abundance. I have more than my fair share; many of us do.

Gratitude. Forgiveness. Order. Peace. Joy. Purpose. In these last few days, I have asked for both the giving and receiving of each; and in their absence no matter the reason, my plea is for grace.

The gifts of the season? Aren’t they gifts that we should generously offer and graciously accept all year long?

Generosity and grace: the presents in presence.

Predictably Unpredictable

As I jump, well, maybe more of a hop into this week and it’s now Tuesday (so that goes to show how I’ve begun this second week in December, definitely not with a jump or a leap now that I think of it because that would require extra energy and enthusiasm which by any given evening sandwiched between Thanksgiving and New Year’s are nearly tapped out), I am looking in the rearview mirror. I do that sometimes, not because I’m going in reverse but more to retrace a few steps and then gain momentum before I put my life in drive, press the gas pedal to the floor, and gun it. Last week was an unusually long week and this week is turning out to be the same -of stops, starts, planning, dismantling, and rebuilding. Admittedly, in so many ways, the ensuing days since Thanksgiving have left me uncomfortably full. So, needless to say, with the feasts of this next fete or two fast approaching, I am feeling the need to purge and cleanse. Right on cue, Mother Nature provides me with the backdrop I need for reflection. (I can count on her most days to set the tone, and today she didn’t disappoint.) The drops falling from the gray sky this morning were pure, white, and frozen; they were almost welcomed as they forced me to slow down, catch my breath, and recalibrate. Mother Nature today reminds me the world’s innovators and inventors obtain a lot of good material and energy from her. (A day like today must have prompted someone to create the washing machine or refrigerator/freezer as we know them- starting off with a whispered, steady fill or a burst of chilled air respectively, followed by a rapid deluge, and then either quickly or calmly drying out or thawing out depending). For the gift of your time and nourishment of my soul in myriad ways, most importantly that you simply show up to read, listen, and share, I’m grateful. Only one thing has been a constant these last two weeks: unpredictability.

Without hesitation, I admit that not having a daily plan or at least an anchor in my schedule often makes me feel like I’m wandering aimlessly. Then, the most refreshing thing happens and I become grounded again – not in a stalled or motionless manner but rather in a calming and re-focused way. I realize that I have an anchor. All of you. My friends. My connections and reconnections. You are where I begin.

So, on this cold December eve, I sit fireside and vow to start again with you to help me navigate life’s unpredictability and accept it as a good thing. Each new day holds possibility – to make a small change, to start anew or to take a step back. To build, to re-build or to sustain. To ignite, to extinguish or to rekindle. Each day is a series of starts and stops and this week has proven to be just that. The important thing is to get up and start again. And with the help and encouragement of old friends, new friends, faraway friends and friends oh-so-near-and-dear, I’ve concluded that starting can be a goal in and of itself. Simply realizing that yesterday had no end and today’s start means carrying on can be satisfying on a soulful level.

Alas, I’m going out on a limb and asserting that the acceptance of and even welcoming of unpredictability can be an achievement. (It’s my tree that I’m swinging from in my own yard- you go out and find yours or I invite you to swing unpredictably with me.) I’m getting up, stirring it up, and firing myself up because the only thing I know for sure is that yesterday is done, and I- no, WE- made it through.

A week of beginnings. Behind us. In front of us. After all, we can’t stop if we’ve never started. Sharing with you my “days in review” and wishing you well, always in all ways.

The only prediction she’s willing to make

All the Thoughts She Never Had

Erma: Well, here it is another new year. You know what that means, Sylvia, right? Everyone and her mother will ask you about your resolutions. So, what’s going to be your stock response?

Sylvia: My reply? I can tell you what my answer won’t be. I’m not going to vow to lose weight. This is the year I learn to accept that pounds may or may not come off, but that the number on the scale won’t define me. And you know why I’m certain of that, Erma? Because after resolving to lose weight the last two years in order to become the size four that I haven’t been since 1992, I finally lost those pesky ten pounds. I threw out the damn scale!

Erma: Okay, so that’s one non-answer. Anything else you are committing to do or to change?

Sylvia: I’m determined to accept my plight or rather my future as a never-thinker.

Erma: Your what? You mean an over-thinker. Yes, that’s a good goal. Stop that.

Sylvia: No, not over-thinking, Erma. I said I’m going to embrace my never-thinking.

Erma: Okay Sylvia, hold on for a second. I’m grabbing a fresh mug for this. It’s bound to be good.

Have you ever thought about all the things you have never really thought about and then realized that those are the issues, the woes, and maybe even the little slices of joy that you’ve been hiding away or hiding from? Sylvia’s been doing just that this last week, perhaps even the last month, as she reflects on the last year- life, love, and loss of all kinds. And, of course, glimpses into the last year have done exactly what she never imagined they would do; they have led her to recognize that it is not her overthinking that burdens her mind, body, and spirit. It is all of the thoughts and events that she never fathomed would hit her, happen to her, and become a part of her being that are bringing her–hell, maybe even catapulting her-fiercely into the new year. Highlighting the past year for Erma pulls Sylvia to places in life she never thought she’d visit!

Still perplexed? “I never thought that would happen [to me].” You know that expression most certainly. Everyone says it at some point, at many times, in his or her life. The truth is though that as we all try mightily, knowingly or subconsciously, to convince ourselves of what will never happen, all of it almost always happens. So, on this new day and the first day of this brand-spanking-new year, Sylvia reminds me to think about all that I have survived, big and small, heartwarming and heartbreaking, all that I never thought about until I had to think about it.

She never thought she’d be able to live without her best friend, her mother, another year, yet here she is. Nine Christmases later and she’s doing it. She’s getting up each day and learning to laugh and hope again.

She never thought he’d be here another year. It’s a mixed blessing and one that torments her every single day. He’s leaving her and this world slowly, but she’s accepting it, albeit just as slowly, that it is out of her control.

She never thought she’d be able to find joy or a bit of a silver lining to his illness, but she is. She’s trying. The light in his eyes, the smile that still remains that only he can give to this world- those are the silver.

She never thought that she would be at a crossroads at this time in her life. After all, women over fifty should be settled, comfortable in their own skin, and feel accomplished, if not professionally then most certainly personally. And yet she’s none of those and all of those, and she’s surviving it. In fact, there are even days when she appreciates her ability to change her mind and risk throwing others’ lives out-of-whack for a change. (Yes, she never thought she’d relish breaking a few rules, unwritten and self- imposed ones, but she’s doing it and accepting that sometimes self- preservation is most important.)

She never thought that she’d be a part of a dysfunctional family and be okay with it. She’s learned that we are all born into families, but we don’t have to choose to stay. We owe it to ourselves and to the world to be the very best versions of ourselves. When people make us dislike who we are simply by being in their presence, it’s time to change surroundings, live our truth, and find a tribe that loves and supports us– no matter what!

She never thought that she’d see home as a feeling rather than a place. She has old and new friends who “follow” her, check in with her, and who welcome her with loving, nonjudgmental arms and minds. When she is in their company- physically, mentally, and spiritually- she is home.

She never thought she’d look forward to time by herself, to herself, where she’d be happy with her own company and nothing more. It’s a process, but it’s happening.

And she never thought, not in a million years, that she could love another human being more each day. That’s just plain crazy! She has learned though that the feeling of a growing love comes from watching those she loves live their truth, and it comes from within when we learn to live our own truth. Her truth is: she is flawed and fabulous. She makes mistakes and is learning to forgive herself. “Life in full bloom” she sees in her own child and hears in his voice as he finds his place in the world. She never thought that he would be her teacher and that the greatest lesson he would impart would be that she too deserved happiness and unconditional love.

She never thought she’d make it through this past year, but she did!

Erma: Wow. I’m exhausted by all of that thinking.

Sylvia: Oh, it’s not all that bad. It’s only tiring when you overthink it.

Keep going, friends. 2019 is sure to be a year of unexpected and unforeseen happenings and feelings. Let’s just call it life.

With wishes for love, peace, laughter and hope,

Sylvia & Erma

CHECK OUT THIS LINK WITH THE AUDIO UPDATE OF THIS POST ( January 1, 2021):

The Best and Worst of Firsts

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Out on the deck and under the umbrella, before the real heat of this August day, Sylvia wondered. Would it be more of the same? Coffee, household chores, lists. Or would she experience something new today? Perhaps a first of the best kind? As she gazed out into the woods behind the house, her curiosity wasn’t piqued by the panoramic view of the landscape that had recently changed in her life. From the quiet, seamless lines of blue where sky meets water on the cove to the lush drapes of greenery that fortressed her now, the change marked a beginning and an end. Or an end and a beginning. And that is where she stopped. The order of things had her baffled momentarily, yet with the very next sip from the sweaty tumbler of iced water, she was struck by a concept that she had never really thought about until that very second. Beginnings and endings are always, always, always firsts.

Sylvia: Firsts are daunting, anxiety-ridden, and paralyzing, Erma.

Erma: Firsts are exciting, hopeful, and motivating, my friend. Just think. When something unpleasant ends, it’s the last of it. That leaves you open and eager for the next step, a new lease, a new beginning.

Sylvia: I get that, but it also signifies the end of an era, a final point in the history of a relationship or process. That’s sad, wouldn’t you agree?

Erma: Sylvia, stop. Not every morsel of life needs to be qualified as happy or sad. It’s not that simple–or in your case, that complicated. Some times, most times in fact, firsts and lasts just happen. It’s not until you look back and you are in the thick or thin of another life experience that you can even begin to really define the impact of a beginning or an end.

Sylvia: Okay, for once I’m going to sit back with my mouth shut and let you explain. At this very second, every first of my life is flashing before my eyes and as I see each of them again, I’m becoming more and more distraught. Trapped somewhere between nostalgia and progress.

Erma: Jesus, Sylvia, it’s now afternoon, and we’re just beginning. No pun intended. I’m going to grab something out of your wine fridge. So, clear your mind, and don’t think until I get back. Seriously. Do not think at all. Do not deliberate, contemplate, and above all, do not ruminate. I’m going to share with you the best and worst of firsts over a nicely chilled Pinot Gris today. You’ll see. You can’t catalog the moments of your life as happy or sad, or as beginnings or endings for that matter. You can only define each moment as a first, for better or worse.

Firsts are when and where life takes place. All of it. Every moment. Some actions and events seem repetitive, and indeed they are! That does not mean that they aren’t different though. Two moments in time are never identical. Erma learned this powerful tidbit over the last seven-plus decades, and that fact alone imparted credibility to her words, even as she explained how brushing her teeth each morning had become firsts for her. She illustrated how she had gone from grinning ear-to-ear as she brushed her pearly whites each day of her teens and twenties to watching a reflection of a waning smile as she lost enamel and gained wine and coffee stains in her forties and fifties. And now, as she thought about those decades of brushing, Erma introduced more examples of firsts. Caps, crowns, root canals, veneers, and partials. “See, Sylvia. There are no instant replays or do-overs. Each brushing is and was a first. Each day is a first.” All of this seemed obvious and a bit comical as Erma so often tried to weave a lesson with just a dash of whimsy. It should have been clear, but it wasn’t to Sylvia. Until she and Erma mulled it over and hashed it out, Sylvia hadn’t considered that firsts represent both the best and worst of life.

Through smiles and intermingled tears of joy and sorrow (none of which either woman could attribute to the rich, sweet, golden elixir or to the fact that they had consumed the entire bottle of it as they indulged in one of their ordinary chats), Sylvia sat looking out on the verdant scenery she now called home. She reflected on those singular firsts which transported her from joyful and full of hope and pride one minute to melancholy and brimming with fear and guilt the next. First friend. First sleepover. First move. First date. First kiss. First one to travel abroad. First “D” and “F”. First one to graduate from college. All her firsts. She paused, took a breath in, and then exhaled. She began again. His first breath. His first tooth. His first word. His first step. His first tumble. His first day of school. His first heartbreak. His first paying job. His first apartment. She beamed for a split second. She hesitated, looked out to the woods beyond the fence, and started again. The first time she heard the word cancer. The first night without her. The first morning they woke up to her empty room. The first time he left the water running. The first time he forgot she had passed. The first time he couldn’t remember her name. The first time he needed to be fed. The first time he looked at her and somehow spoke more clearly than ever with his eyes because the words were no longer there. All firsts. Each and every one was the very last first of its kind. The best and worst of firsts, indeed.

Sylvia (sighing) : I get it now, Erma. It’s how you look at it and what you learn from it.

Erma: That’s right. You’ve got it, my dear. Love it or hate it? That’s not the point. Appreciate it all. Every first is your last first of that kind, with that person, in that place, at that moment. Beginning or ending.

Sylvia’s Scraping Skies

Do you see that? Yes, that right there? I’m a part of that. Just an ever-so-small but necessary part of this microcosm. I say necessary because today I’m sitting at a table looking out on this daunting yet somehow comforting urban landscape and feeling that I belong.

Lately as I’ve been sharing with Erma before I can share with anyone else, I have felt like I’ve been playing Jenga; but today, this afternoon to be exact, as I furiously click away at the keyboard just rambling (I like to think of it as collecting thoughts) and trying to make chicken soup from chicken shit, I realized that I am not playing Jenga at all. I am a piece, THE piece, in the game. I’m that corner block, the one on the 39th floor, the one that has windows from top to bottom that always gets light. I’m the block that gets so much light that it can make the room uncomfortably warm on occasion. That same block also provides the only heat source at times. I’m also that single puzzle piece that when missing prohibits you from completing the game but only because you have no choice. That misplaced piece almost always requires the game to come to an end, an anti-climax of sort forever making the feelings of completion, fulfillment, and what some might consider victory elusive until that piece can be substituted, replicated, or replaced.

Erma: Sylvia, I have absolutely no idea where you are going with this. Are you saying that life would be incomplete without you? Are you saying that you are an integral part of life as we know it? What the hell are you saying?

Sylvia: Let me see if I can explain it better. I’ll pour us each a cup because this might take a bit.

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I don’t pretend that I am so relevant that life could not or would not go on without me; that’s not at all what I’m suggesting. The corner piece of the building does not hold up the rest; and obviously, it’s not a part of the foundation. It rests upon and garners its strength from all of its surround. Here’s what that block/piece represents though – it’s how I’m beginning to see myself. I’ve learned that while everyone does not particularly enjoy its presence (especially when it is unbearably warm in the summer sun, even with the air conditioning running steadily), there are many who count on it. Just being there to fill in. Well, guess what? I’m not replaceable or even an interim filler. I’m not an extraneous puzzle piece! I’m the biggest piece– in my game. So, if you make it to the 39th floor, and you can stand the bright light and the warmth, even when it is a scorcher of a day, participate in the game because here’s what I, Sylvia, and every Erma has learned over time: the 39th floor has the most magnificent and bold views. And once you have reached the 39th, there really is no need to go any farther. That corner room is the most welcoming, the brightest, the warmest, and the only piece in that game of Jenga capable, strong, and perfect enough for the place it occupies.

Be the irreplaceable piece in your game. Sylvia’s scraping skies, and she’s going to come out on top. If you want the view and can stand the fluctuating temperatures, join her. If not, the elevator going down is right there waiting for you.

Make It a Habit

If you think you’ll have something or someone forever, or you don’t think about that at all but just move through life without intention, purpose, and gratitude, life will still happen. You won’t have perspective though. You won’t know happiness. You won’t learn the power of presence and living in the moment. And yes, though some believe ignorance is bliss, Sylvia and Erma disagree. Only when one is mindful of the impermanence of life and its blessings can one know joy.

May you be mindful of the little joys in each day. Coffee in the morning with a friend. An evening text or phone call from your child. A peck on the cheek from your love as you bid so long to another day. The small, fleeting, seemingly ordinary moments are the ones that in the end are most poignant!

Would Sylvia & Erma Have Met On Facebook?

Surely they would have. When they would have met and under what circumstances are the two bigger questions and maybe even more intriguing speculations. There is honestly no better, easier, or more comfortable environment on social media for women – in my opinion- than Facebook. 

Don’t get me wrong. You have to get past all of the bullshit that people throw out there. We are all capable of slinging it every now and again, but there’s a vast difference between allowing yourself to wade incessantly in others’ crap and occasionally throwing a little handful of it yourself –or merely stepping in it and getting it on the bottom of your shoe. The latter two are rid of easily and can be overlooked, even forgiven in the worst cases. The former,well, it can be so cumbersome that it’ll weigh you down.  It depends on how thick your skin is, how insecure you are, and if you’ve mastered the expression, “Are you fucking kidding me?” 

Here’s the difference for women though, I think, as it relates to the FB dynamic. Again, just a few random thoughts, so please hear me out. Women put themselves on Facebook for myriad reasons.  Women in their teens and twenties usually do it to self-promote and even garner attention about their looks, their loves, their lives, good or bad. Many of them “collect” friends. I’ve actually seen some with over a thousand in their collections. Really. Seriously? Come on, really?  So, that’s FB on Starbucks and with a membership at 24-hour Fitness. In other words, FB on steroids.

Women in their thirties and forties, however, seem to use it more for personal shared experiences and professional purposes. Their posts are evenly distributed between the two for the most part. Perhaps they are not the LinkedIn types.  Maybe they just want to take a few minutes in their day to escape- to connect with old high school friends or college friends with whom they’ve yet to lose touch fully (they are hanging on). Maybe they are even hoping that they’ll prove to everyone that life is great when we form those even deeper and more public connections with the friends and family they saw over the weekend or even last night. They may employ FB as a calendar of sorts for journaling or scheduling purposes; collaboration on childrearing, weight loss and body image issues as a result of childbearing and childrearing; marriage, work, and social engagements (namely vacations, date nights, PTA meetings, etc.); showing one another that they too can have it all and do so without giving a fuck. Here’s the thing though. They do give a fuck.  After all, they are on FB. That’s Facebook on Ritalin.

Women in their fifties- actually from probably late 40s on- utilize FB differently. I’m convinced it depends on where they/we are emotionally and physically. If they still have children at home or who are nearly ready to go off to college (or embark on their first adult living adventure), FB is a great tool to share helpful hints and soul-sustaining suggestions. What you’ll often hear from this generation of women is how quickly those years with their children have passed. Women begin to get more sentimental but also a bit more matter-of-fact. You’ll see either a lot more about their partners/ spouses/ SOs – or a whole lot less. (Admittedly, that’s where I fall to the extent that people wonder if I’m actually married. My husband isn’t on FB, and I’m glad. I like that it’s my realm in our marriage.)  Nothing against you guys, but as many of my FB friends well know, women in this age group don’t need to make everything about men or partners.  Actually, we may use FB as an escape. You can read into that or not because frankly this age group is beginning to master the art of not giving a shit. These women haven’t fine tuned it yet, but they are on their way. With the help of their FB friends, luncheons, dinners, movie nights, and girls’getaways; and coffee, wine, and/or chocolate, these women are becoming comfortable in their own skin.  It’s funny how that happens just as the skin is losing elasticity and lacks collagen from the hormonal imbalances inflicted by the onset and throes of menopause. One of life’s ironies, for sure. We share tips on healthy, easily prepared meals.  We commiserate and eventually find communal comic relief in topics like hot flashes, insomnia, and abnormal hair growth. We are trying to become a bit more egocentric without apology.  FB on hormone replacement for some. FB on anti-depressants for others.

Now, I’ve yet to reach my sixties, but I can pretty well say that women on FB at this age are beginning to achieve a balance. Most seem to have accepted their lots in life. These women post heavily about grandchildren and health issues, but they also demonstrate a certain level of acceptance in terms of self-image. They don’t seem to outwardly obsess about their looks or the physical appearance of others. In fact, they are beginning to see only the good. “I have really unsightly spider veins, FB friends.” Comments on such an admission will range anywhere from “Dot, at least you are still walking on your own steam” to “Be thankful they are only spider veins and not varicose veins making green-blue tributaries on your legs like mine.” They always see a bright side. Perhaps it’s because they also believe in the power of the FB share.  They tend to be more superstitious and will almost always share the posts and prayers that strongly urge “copy and paste” or else the wrath of Zeus will be thrust upon them and their loved ones. These are the women we can count on to save our collective soul. FB on 1,000 units of Vitamin D, increased calcium, and perhaps a glass or two of newly discovered Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, or Merlot. (Malbecs are too exotic; champagne is only for special occasions.)

Women in their 70s,80s, and 90s?  Not much to complain about. They are the role models for the rest of us. They are who they are, and they are just extremely happy to be alive.  They post prayers. They share funny animal and baby videos. They don’t complain. They are looking back at the rest of us and saying, “Are you fucking kidding us, girls? Life is short and getting shorter. Get over whatever or whoever is eating away at you and move on. Eat the cake. Drink the wine. Spoil the children. Buy the shoes. Take the trip.” FB on pure oxygen.

I won’t begin to fathom when Sylvia and Erma would have met on FB, but this I know. They found each other. They read each other’s posts. They laughed and cried. They discovered that they were not going through anything alone.

Facebook. Solidarity for sisters of all ages.  Hit the like button. Get through life with a thumbs-up.

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The Moment Sylvia Learned Her Best Friend was dying

An excerpt:

“You know, right? You know she has a mass, right?”

Of course, I know. How could I not know?  After all, she is my mother. My first friend. My best friend. My confidante. My spring board. My cheerleader. My moral compass.

But I didn’t know. I mean deep down I knew that she would one day succumb in some way, shape, or form to her addiction, her vice, that which she so often claimed was her saving grace, her anti-depressant, her stability. I don’t know what or whom I hated more at that instant. The cigarettes. The doctor. God. Or my mother. Even myself. Yes, me.  How could I not see the ravages that her body and spirit had been enduring all of my life? And why, oh why, had none of us helped her, comforted her, been important enough to her to save her from herself?

And then, there facing her in the ER, she looked at me lovingly with her beautiful, soulful, caring, blue eyes, and I could see.  She was not my anything. She belonged all this time to herself. For the first time in forever, I realized that this was about her- her alone-and she was saying, “This is my life on my terms.”

Terry Sohl

All I Needed to Know I Learned from My Mother

So, I envisioned posting this last week and then the week got away from me as most weeks and days usually do. For better or worse.  And there it is: for better or worse. That’s been the rumination of late, especially as I’ve attempted to get a look at myself through a toothpaste-covered mirror.

When we marry, there’s this “little” part of the traditional ceremony that says, “for better or worse, richer or poorer, etc.”  The toothpaste-covered mirror is definitely not indicative of the better part.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s far from the worst part either.  Let’s just say that these days the spit-covered mirror and the toothpaste-crusted sink represent ambivalence that is slowly becoming indifference. Indifference in this case isn’t a bad thing either.

I used to curse and scowl as I walked past that first sink of the double vanity, the one unknowingly claimed by him upon moving in to this house. And in all honesty, I still mutter and complain each morning and evening as I make my way to my side of the vanity.  How can someone not see the remnants of what is left behind?  My gosh, it’s so clear to me. And that’s when it hit me: as I ambled past that mirror last week for the millionth time and saw what has been there for quite a while- my war-torn reflection- a vision of a woman who has gone from caring and complaining about the mess to one who has thrown in the towel, literally and figuratively, and decided not to care.  Not to care about the small stuff.  Because as my mother said repeatedly, and reiterated almost ad nauseum, especially as she lay dying the last four months of her life (the only time in her life when she put her needs, wants, and thoughts first), no one ever gets a medal for keeping a clean house. It’s a thankless job. Necessary but without reward. And above all – both Sylvia and Erma would concur- it’s the least for which you’ll be remembered when all is said and done.

Yes, I get the “pride in appearance” part of it, but really?  I’ll take the word of a great lady who cleaned many toothpaste-covered mirrors in her lifetime, that in the end, it just doesn’t matter. All that matters is that you paid attention to that woman staring back at you in the mirror; you paid attention to and cared for yourself. After decades of wiping up around the sink, scrubbing the hardened toothpaste from the porcelain, and windexing the mirror last to find that the woman who took pride in and did the jobs that no else would without prodding, coaxing, or begging, lost herself.  When she allowed herself to be relegated to the person in the house who would deal with everyone else’s mess (physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual), she conceded defeat in a way. Mom didn’t realize that the war would take its toll, not until the battle scars of being a wife, mother, grandmother, and fixer-of-all-things were deep and permanent. It was then that she would admonish, “Show them you matter by putting yourself first, Kay. Trust me, if you don’t treat yourself well, you’ll let others think that you are okay with being last, disrespected and dismissed.”

So, that’s what this Sylvia has been thinking about lately. She’s been reflecting on her mother’s words — on Erma’s words. Sometimes it’s okay to say no. I just don’t feel like dealing with your shit or anyone else’s right now. At this moment, here and now, however fleeting, it’s all about me. The spit-covered mirror and the toothpaste-crusted sink will still be there tomorrow. I’m going to grab a cup of coffee and sit for a moment and do nothing. For better or worse.

Grab a mug, pull up a chair, and we’ll watch the sunrise.

When your mother asks, ‘Do you want a piece of advice?’ it is a mere formality. It doesn’t matter if you answer yes or no. You’re going to get it anyway.

~Erma Bombeck