Author Archives: Jean

About Jean

Trying to make sense of it all and . . . for the most part . . . doing it.

Queen for a Day

When my kids were little, it was very important for me to be the best mom. Not the best of all the other moms, but the best mom I could be. I read parenting books. We made pilgrimages to the Red Balloon Bookstore and the Children’s Museum. I made chore charts, and schedules, and potty charts. I made meal plans, and after-school snacks. We went camping and sledding and hiking. And we sang in the car on the way to them all. This was my full-time, less-than-minumum-wage job and I was going to be the best. I was a crazy lunatic Supermom.

And every Mother’s Day, with the guilt of motherhood itself on my shoulders, my grandest wish was to be left alone. Spending that day with the family was like spending Christmas at the office. Without cookies.

Tradition dictated that we go to church and stop at the greenhouse on the way home. It was torturous. The kids were hungry, loud, and plucking buds off all the plants. I saw all the pretty things we couldn’t afford. Someone always left in tears — usually me. One year we had the car in reverse before we noticed an employee holding our second-youngest by the hand outside on the sidewalk. I felt like the worst mom in the world. Then we’d go home where I’d cook, clean, wipe butts and open cards that said I was Queen for a Day.

Eventually the kids grew up, got jobs and made their own schedules. They went camping with friends, sang their own songs, and cooked their own meals. Parenting grown-ups requires a whole different set of skills, like holding back tears of joy or unsolicited advice. Mostly it’s just easier. My daily tasks are self-centered. The days are quieter. The only butt I wipe is my own. TMI?

Mother’s Days are different, too. I’m sitting with my feet up, a lazy dog on either side. My tummy is full — a disgusting mix of processed fried carbs accompanied by a hot cup of coffee — a breakfast Bubba retrieved at my request. The sun glows in a warm spring sky. The hammock and a good book beckon. Some of the “kids” will be here later and we’ll slap something on the grill and crack open a cold one. It’s the Mother’s Day I always dreamed of.

The gifts are better too. We won’t be picking them out together in chaos at a greenhouse. No, once the kids are grown the gifts are simpler and more profound.

The other day I text-congratulated one of my children on her last day of college. Her response was, “I couldn’t have done it without you.” It’s a reply most parents receive at some point with a hug and a thank you card. But there was more packed into that text than ever could have been said by Hallmark.

The tale is hers to tell, and I won’t divulge it here. There were some rocky years there, with many lessons learned by all involved. Some leave me angry like a mama bear, some are painful to recall. But I believed in her. I went out on a limb knowing it was about as far as I was willing or able to go. I stuck by her when other people who loved her had given up most if not all hope.

So this Mother’s Day I have something to show for the financial, emotional, and social sacrifices I’ve given through the years. Being a mother is knowing how much you have to give, how much each of them needs, and when to hold back. It’s about letting them live their life, make their own mistakes, and find their own solutions. It’s about knowing what they’re made of, and letting them prove it to you.

I have immeasurable pride in all my kids, but there’s a bond that happens when you fight in the trenches next to someone; when you save their life and then watch them make something of it. It’s a gift that you just can’t buy in a store and wrap up in a bow.

And for that, I’ll be Queen for a Day. In my hammock. In my frickin’ pajamas if I so choose. Now where did I put my scepter?

Peace . . .

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Parental Form

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When I was a kid, no one used backpacks. We just carried our books in our arms. So it wasn’t unusual to lose stuff on the way to or from school, or for parental forms to come home with wet dog-eared corners. On one such day, I handed a piece of white mimeographed paper to my mom, the top of the kitchen chair reaching just under my chin as I stood looking up at her hopefully.

She read the form and looked down at me. While shaking her head from side to side, she said, “Girl Scouts. You don’t want to do this, do you?”

That was my first experience with extracurricular activities.

The next was orchestra. Like I said, we didn’t have backpacks, so if you didn’t want your parents to find something, you couldn’t crumple it up and hide it in the bottom. My mom discovered the notice as I was doing my homework at the dining room table. Her face turned dreamy as she said, “Oh, Orchestra! Wouldn’t you like to play the cello?”

Indeed, I had never given a passing thought to the cello. Suddenly, I was getting the vibe that this would make my mother happy, and so I nodded yes.

The cello made my life a living hell. Firstly, unlike the Girl Scout form that I handed to her the minute I arrived through the door, this one had been in my math book for a while and, as such, was the last in my class to be turned in. The orchestra director was a little disappointed at the late submission, but when my mother assured him I could already read music, he accepted my form.

The school was able to find one last cello, presumably from the thrift store, riddled with scratches and graffiti from previous orchestra drop-outs. I wish I had a nickel for every kid who asked me in horror, “What did you do to your cello?”

My social life needed all the help it could get. Sitting on the bus next to a 4-foot instrument didn’t do me any favors. I envied the girls with the cute little flute cases, their hair impeccably braided. Not only did I suffer the slings and arrows of mean-hearted boys, and the sidewise glances from flute-cased girls, no room remained for my closest defenders to sit next to me. Alone in my seat, arm draped grudgingly around the awkward luggage, I intently engaged the changing landscape out the frosted window.

Practice was torture. I knew my parents were out in the living room laughing. I could see their stifled grins when they stopped in to my bedroom to tell me how good I sounded. Even as a kid I recognized a snow job. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star never screeched so bad. Forced to form new unwanted callouses, my fingers burned.

Rehearsals were embarrassing.  Anyone knows that the better one likes a thing, the easier it is to learn. Mom was right — I did know how to read music. But reading it and applying it to an instrument takes devotion. I was more determined to find a way out of it than to learn it. It didn’t take long for me to realize I couldn’t blend in. The director had a keen ear for the kids who played the wrong notes. Lucky for him, I learned how to fake it.

After our first concert, Mom said, “You sounded so great!” I replied, “You couldn’t hear me.” “Yes I could,” she encouraged. Another snow job.

“No, you couldn’t,” I explained, “because I wasn’t playing.” As it turns out, it was easier for me to learn how to move my bow left and right at the same time as everyone else than it was to play the thing. I’d hold my bow just above the strings, so as not to make that awful screeching sound. And being able to read music, I knew when to turn the page, further corroborating my own personal performance. I may have failed at the cello, but my acting performance was remarkable.

The next week she asked if there was something I’d rather play than the cello. I wanted to be in band. I wanted a clarinet, or maybe a flute. “Really?” Mom asked in disbelief. I nodded emphatically and my mother went to the school office and asked for the appropriate paperwork.

She dropped me off early the next morning with the completed form and signed check in hand. The band door was open, the teacher rustling through papers with his back to me. I handed him the envelope buoyantly. I still remember my excitement.

But it was too late. The other kids were a year ahead of me. There was no way he’d let me join unless I was able to take private lessons and catch up to the rest of the band. Even then I held out hope. I had taken private music lessons before. It was hard work, but I thought I could do it.

Unfortunately, it just never came to fruition. Whether my parents were too busy, or I found other interests, or they distracted me by signing me up for bowling and golf and more organ lessons, it just never happened.

Some memories make your heart warm. Some make it weep. We live them and then learn from them and then go on to choose what today will be. We do our best as parents and hope the love we spent was enough to balance the times we broke their hearts. Fortunately for me, the abundance of love I received more than made up for any misdirected parental form.

Peace . . .
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speechless

I imagined starting off this post with all the reasons excuses I haven’t been writing. My computer broke. I’ve been crocheting. I have more. If you’re interested, just let me know. But I highly suspect you aren’t.

The truth is, I’m speechless. At a time when I feel like I should most find my voice, I’m embarrassingly mute. It’s not that I’m disconnected; quite the opposite. I’ve become a news junkie. I go to bed at night wearing wireless earbuds and wake up in the morning wondering what I missed after I fell asleep with them in. It’s that bad.

I’ve always maintained that I can’t change what goes on in the vast world, and so I’m just going to pay attention to those things that I can change. Someone’s day. My outlook. A corner of the garden. That worked for me because I believed, and still do, that the majority of people in the world are good. I believed things would all work out in the end because good conquers evil most of the time.

So now I’m a news junkie and I can’t claim blissful ignorance anymore. I understand that the good majority is poor, and that money buys the world. And what does one do when her voice is small and peaceful in a world that is screaming injustice at the top of its lungs?

I became speechless.

It’s not that I have nothing to say. It’s just that there are others saying it so well and so loud with all the best words. (That’s funny, right?) I can’t compete. Nor should I. Just because I have opinions on the news doesn’t mean I ought to write about it. That’s like somebody who admires and critiques art feeling guilty for not painting.

In the words of one of my favorite millenials, I need to do me. And if my voice is small and peaceful and speaks of wholeness, balance and love, there’s room for it. And maybe someone will hear it and smile. Because if all I do today is make someone smile, that’s enough.

I’ll never rid the world of injustice, prevail over all evil, or move millions to march. But I am enough. For that one person who just needed a hug or a smile or to be seen, I am enough.

So maybe you’ll be hearing more of me again. But you may need to take out your earbuds and listen closely over the roar of the protesters.

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So proud of the women my daughters have become. They love deeply. They think critically. And on this day we became not just mother and daughters, but women standing as one with millions across the globe against injustice, fear, hatred, and bullshit.

Peace . . .


Santa Can be a Real Jerk Sometimes

452535925Every year as I dug through the gifts and candy in the red felt sock that hung from my bedroom doorknob, I hoped against hope that the last gift I hauled out of that thing was not going to be an orange. I could see the orb-shaped something filling out the toe of the sock. Pulling out the little cellophane-wrapped sweets that had dropped to the bottom, my nails must have scraped the bumpy texture of the peel. The fresh citrusy smell must have wafted past my nostrils. But I held out hope that it was a ball, or a pair of really pretty mittens, or anything . . . but an orange. Yet, every year it was an orange. Either Santa had a messed-up sense of humor, or he was just a big dick dressed in red.

Santa left my other gifts unwrapped under the tree. That worked, because my next oldest sibling was ten years older than me, and by that time, was most likely helping to perpetuate the storyline. So any unwrapped gifts under the tree were From: Santa; To: me.

Like any kid, sometimes Santa brought exactly what I wanted, and some years he hadn’t a clue. The year I got my pixie haircut, he brought me a long, blonde wig. It was exactly what I wanted, and I tossed my head like the girls in the Prell commercials swinging it sensuously in slow motion.

49929aThe year he brought me a fire engine pedal-car, he lost some of his magic status. The box featured pictures of all the models, and my parents asked me which one I wanted to be in the box. I imagined it was a magical box that would change whatever was inside to be exactly the model you wished for. I wished hard and pointed to the Tee Bird, but what they pulled out of the box was a fire engine, complete with a bell on the front for announcing emergencies. The toy was my first encounter with independence because back then little kids just pedaled around blocks unchaperoned for hours at a time.
320856568024So that was cool, but I knew somewhere there was a little kid who pointed at the fire engine and got the blue Tee Bird. That was my second clue that Santa wasn’t all he was cracked up to be.

Eventually I learned the harsh truth that my parents were just filling in while Santa sat at the North Pole consuming dubious amounts of cookies and Amaretto. I couldn’t believe it was them putting that damned orange in the bottom of my sock all along. And while it might have been forgivable for Santa to make that mistake — after all, he had millions of socks to fill — I could not say the same for my parents. They had only one job that night, to place a few unwrapped gifts around the tree and fill my sock with toys and candy, saving the obvious best gift for the bottom of the sock.

I don’t mean to say that I harbored ill feelings over the faux pas of my parents. Christmas was and is still something I hold dear and find magical. I wish joy and peace to all in the new year, and in the grand scheme of things, I think I’ve turned out alright.

But for the life of me, every time I see a big, round, juicy orange at this time of year, I remember the disappointment of finding one in the toe of my sock on Christmas morn.

And I am reminded of what a sick jerk Santa really can be.

Peace . . .


Yesterday We Argued

Yesterday morning, we argued. It was the oddest thing. For a year we were on the same side. Preaching to the same choir.

Then we elected our next president of the United States, and suddenly we were at odds over how to move on. One of us was in despair, and the other was angry. One of us wanted to protest peacefully, and the other wanted to burn some shit.

Didn’t America know this wouldn’t end? There was too much division. Too many issues still at stake no matter who we elected .

Yet, this division in our own home I hadn’t expected. It didn’t last long, but it was a little like this:

Bubba: All I’m saying is don’t be surprised if I end up in jail.

Me: Well don’t expect me to bail your sorry ass out.

There are more elections to come. No, not the one in 2020. I’m talking about how we elect to move on. To re-weave the violently broken threads that held us together. Emotions are high.

Excitement. Rage. Pride. Sorrow. Anxiety. Validation. Elation. Intrigue. Apprehension. Hope. Apathy.

Add to that list whatever you’re feeling. It’s valid. And so are the ones you aren’t feeling. That is to say, him — over there, on the other side — his feelings are as valid as yours.

Just because you don’t feel it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, isn’t true, doesn’t matter . . . doesn’t hurt.

I argued that all this division comes back to fear. Bubba disagreed. He restated that it was anger. I raised my voice and told him it’s because we’re all afraid. Some people are afraid of those who are different. Others are afraid of freedoms being lost. There is fear of lost jobs, or being deported, or emails. The media preys on our fear for viewership. Both campaigns were all about fear of the other side. It’s all fear!

Bubba said this is what attracted him to me, this glass half-full, sun-shiny for-the-people way of looking at the world, but that I was dead wrong. It’s about hatred and anger.

So I interrupted him and said, “Wait a minute. Didn’t Yoda say something about anger is fear?”

And as he walked away from me throwing his hands up into the air, every word coming out louder and faster, he said,

“Yes . . . Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. Goddamit, you’re right!”

And because in our household, there is no greater authority than Yoda, I won this one.

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I Envy the Trees

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I envy the trees. Their mindful growth. No worry of the future, no regret of the past. Only reach. Grow. Endure winter. Expect spring.

I envy the flowers. Bloom authentically. Attract bees. And butterflies. And buggy bugs. Smell delicious. Scatter seeds.

I envy the path. Cares not where its going; nor where its been. Not burdened by guests; insects, mammals, humans. Not lonely with the lack thereof. Here for those who seek.

I envy the sky. Stormy anger. Bitter rain. Peaceful blue. Quietly watches. Patiently listens. Trustworthy secret-keeper.

I envy the soil. Cool, earthy, deep. Receives the trees, the flowers, the path. Consumes the sky. Provides.

 


Evolve

The organist and vocalist were late. I hated my dress. I had little say in the flowers. Yet, there was a smile on my face. I was following in the footsteps of those young women who had gone down the aisle before me. No, not my bridesmaids — the women who followed in the footsteps of their mothers and their mother’s mothers before them.

The person who walked down the aisle that day so many years ago seems like a completely different person from the one who writes here today. I had different beliefs, even though my values have remained the same. We base our beliefs on myths and facts  that updated as new information becomes available.

Values are the things we find important, and although the priorities of our values may shift with time or age, they typically remain unchanged. I value love, but I no longer believe marriage is the only way to secure it. Does that help explain it? Life doesn’t grant do-overs, but it does grant start-overs, and we are all encouraged to grow and evolve.

barbara-billingsleyJune Cleaver and Mary Scott were my role models. June Cleaver was a fictional character on a black and white television show where men came home from work expecting quiet children and dinner on the table. June was known for her impeccable dresses and tidy pearls.

20580367823_243881f7c6_zMary Scott was my grandmother. She was a non-fictional character who watched me while my mother worked. She was known for her jet-black hair, slight frame, and dainty gestures.

Both June and Mary believed it was the woman’s duty and privilege to run the home while their husbands worked. Their homes were always as tidy as their skirts by the time their spouse returned home, and they knew how to get a steaming dinner on the table at the same time each day. Boy, did I have a rude awakening!

It’s hard to talk about how I might have done things differently if I had a the chance. After all, I might have had different children, or no children at all. I’d have waited. I’d have learned more about myself. I’d have considered the impact my choices make on the world, and my life. But life doesn’t give us do-overs. Fortunately, it does give us start-overs.

Is it time to update your beliefs? What myths might you hold as truth? What facts must be updated with new information? What are your values? Do you need to reprioritize them based on a change in your life, age, job, or family?

My children are waiting for marriage and children. I’m proud of the choices they’re making. If they do decide to do either, they’ll have so much more to offer their spouse and/or children. They’ll have a better idea of how to live with other people. They’ll have a better grasp of their own values and beliefs, and not rely on ones borrowed from their parents, grandparents, or fictional t.v. characters.

It’s okay to change your beliefs. It’s okay to realign your values. It doesn’t mean you’re a whole different person. It means you’re evolving.

Peace . . .

Evolution

Evolve.


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