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Gifts: Flowers, Plant, Señor Mysterioso

Left to right: the plant was a recent gift from a woman in Recovery.
The grape hyacinths a gift from my son.
Señor Mysterioso was a present for my 30th birthday from one of my friends in Port Townsend –
(he has faithfully watched over my kitchen ever since).

***

A few words on a subject. We live next door to my mother now, and that probably wouldn’t have gone so well a few years ago – especially given she is sort of the de-facto property manager, as my aunt owns the house. Yeah I KNOW! Who gets themselves into such a situation?

Well, I feel pretty good about the whole business. We’ve had a few key learning experiences over the years, especially since we moved back to Grays Harbor in 2007 and my parents and the kids began to experience each other more. Both households have put a lot of good-faith effort into the relationship, and that has yielded a strong and loving family experience.

I remember at first my mom could barely handle watching the kids for the hour and a half it would take Ralph and I to go out to a movie. When she did watch them, she’d talk about the event like it was kind of a big hassle. Not the kids, but the work of watching them. Do you know how much this bugged me, my mind the way it was, also the fact I was like OH REALLY IT’S HARD WORK, FUNNY I DIDN’T NOTICE THAT DOING IT EVERY DAY LIKE I DO YOU COLOSSAL ASS, NO ONE GIVES ME A BREAK!!! Yeah… that was me, alright. (#LOLsob) I know she didn’t mean to speak in a way to cause me anxiety and irritation; she was a stressed-out kitten. And so was I!

Then there was just the occasional invasive weirdness. She’d do stuff like offer to take the kids on a walk, citing – aloud – the suggestion Ralph and I could use that time to have sex (um… Ew, mom. Also? Not always my first priority when I have a little time without responsibilities. Probably more like a distant sixth priority. And may I reiterate? Ew, mom.).

So, I wasn’t especially grateful for my mother’s help, conditional as it was. Like a laser-beam I focussed on her limitations, instead of acknowledging several facts. One, no one owes me SHIT. *ahem*. Two, my mom always had trouble with kids including her own, back in the day (hell, she has trouble with Responsibility, period, often feeling claustrophobic). I’m not proud to admit this – but I was judging her the way so many others judge mothers. Three, my dad was sick with cancer and dying, and during this I knew better than most, many of the ways this affected her. You’d think I’d have more sympathy. Finally, although it would be nice if the world assisted parents/carers of children more, especially in those early years, at least where I’ve lived they kinda don’t. Again, I was aware of this by the time we moved here. So why I thought my mom “owed” me more than what anyone else was giving, is beyond me (well wait, I know why – childhood resentments! More in a minute).

The simple but kinda flooring fact is: my mother was the ONLY person in our lives who offered this kind of help with any regularity – even the ladies in Port Townsend were more like, “LET’S TRADE” – and my father, loving a grandfather as he was, seemed happy to have the kids over but didn’t actively try to help my mother much. He let her do most of the worrying, feeding, et cetera.

But from the beginning my parents respected Ralph and I were adults with kids of our own. They honored or even celebrated our journey caring for children they loved so very much, just like we loved the children. That was pretty damned cool and not something everyone has. My parents were also willing to hear how Ralph and I did things differently than they themselves had. I think that takes a lot of strength, or faith. When all is said and done, I consider my parents and my brother three of my biggest EVER supporters. I am really fortunate in this regard.

My father died before I got sober, but things improved between my mother even more when this happened for me. The resentments I’d long held, some subtle, some festering and large, those all went away. This has made a tremendous difference in my life, one I cannot overstate. When it comes down to it, it matters little if the wrongs done to me as a child and teen were real or imagined. I had held them too long and let them operate on me, to the detriment of all I came into contact with. I gave myself the gift of forgiveness. and it’s made me a better daughter, sister, friend, wife, and mother.

Living next door to one another, today we have a few courtesy traditions. We are clear – so far (grin) – on whose house is whose. Everyone knocks or rings doorbells, no one just enters. In fact, today after my mom invited me in for coffee, my son came over and even though he knew I was there, he still observed the doorbell-ringing. Class act.

Most days the kids are back and forth, either helping Grandma with her projects – like working on planting or building a greenhouse, or cleaning the fish pond – or just goofing off on errands. My mom helps take care of the kids, something she does with regularity. We can ask one another for favors, and, as far as I can tell, we give and take with willing spirits. The kids are getting some fine treatment. Once a day my mom takes them out for a burger or shake, or chocolate milk, feeds them steak for breakfast, or invites them over for a smoothie and cartoons. Ralph brings dinner over to her house, something he did at the old house but is even easier now. I make coffee when she comes over, stopping my work if necessary. She’s my mom, and I’m fortunate to still have her around.

From the very beginning I let my kids have their own relationship with most people, but yes, even my parents. I’m really glad I did this – it was really a deep-rooted choice for me that at times seemed contraindicated by others I saw around me. I guess when it comes down to it, even back in the day I trusted everyone to be themselves – and I really trusted my kids to form their own thought-life and relationships.

It’s good stuff.

bravery is being the only one who knows you’re afraid

Back in high school my closest girlfriends and I developed a system of “Badass Points”, an informally-tracked schema whereby each of us could earn group acknowledgement by doing something daring or asinine – and usually both (like skipping class and smoking with “the stoners” – this meant working-class or poor classmates who wore jean jackets adorned with Sharpie’d skulls and who listened to metal – or telling a teacher he had a sexy bum. Unconscionable but rather tame on that last one, I know, but in my defense we were seventeen and imprisoned in our family lives and school). I don’t remember our game running very long but it was much-beloved to me all the same. I liked the idea of being a Badass when most my life I’d invested in Good Girl, when indeed I was very afraid of many things. To venture out – only a bit – and be myself instead of the Convenience I was relied upon to be – felt grand.

In that vein, I don’t think I’d earn many points these days. I’ve become someone quite risk-averse because I’ve found my position oppressively policed by forces both tangible and many perhaps insubstantial to others’ eyes; I’ve found my Fearless ameliorated by events personally devastating that linger on. These days my “badass” mostly runs to deeply-committed-to concepts of fairness that are so inextricably wound up in spiritual practice and belief they are less individual instances of Awesome and more rewarding ways of life that I nevertheless continue to grapple with – for instance, trusting my kids in their wholeness and personhood

OR –

my “badass” consists of speaking up against oppressive social mores that are trite and common, yet devastating and ubiquitous: more wearying than acutely scary. Examples from just lately: this weekend in a group when a person wondered aloud how a missing girl’s family could have let the child out of their sight in the first place – and after a pause in the conversation I indicated my non-support for such victim-blaming and insensitive speech; another example, speaking out when my daughter’s hairstylist called skinny gym neophytes “gross”.

I know at least a handful of readers might think I’m badass enough given the above examples – and a handful of other readers will eyeroll at just how limited and cowardly I really am. Other people’s verdicts don’t matter so much – because what matters is I haven’t felt a Badass in some time and what’s more I feel it’s something I need.

Being a Badass isn’t about, for me, being a jerk to other people, or proving a point to someone else – it’s about doing something I want to do because I want to do it, and I’m a grown lady who’s allowed to make mistakes – right? – without looking around to make sure there won’t be a big scary reprisal, or wondering what my reputation (such as it is, because Who? Gives A Shit) will suffer. Why do I still fear things when I’ve survived through so much so far?

If I was Badass I’d stop running to spend my every last dime on my kids’ immediate needs and I’d “selfishly” buy myself some things I want – I’d let the kiddos have holey socks and stained clothes and I’d fix myself up with some slutty and awesome bra and panty sets and maybe a top that wasn’t an old band t-shirt. But on the flip side if I was a Badass I’d stop giving a damn for the folk who talk like it’s Empowering to collect Nice Things; I’d start saying “Fuck Off” (mentally) now and forever to those who speak prescriptively about those “must haves” that carry price points that don’t reflect my foursome’s economic reality and I’d say “No Thanks, but Good Luck With That” to those with worldviews that don’t concern themselves with the earth, with fellow man here and abroad, and with conspicuous consumption and the cultural heritage of being an American who just tramples and eats everything they see.

If I was a Badass I’d stop feeling crap about my bad habits. Fuck it. Seriously, I have them. They’ll lift someday, or they won’t.

If I was Badass I’d call up that friend who’s not been a friend and tell her, “You know what? You aren’t much of a friend, and it really hurts, and I know you’re busy, but you should know I have feelings.”

If I was a Badass I’d tell my friends, to their faces, I love you.

If I was a Badass I’d let the house be messy (OK, messier) and know that I would get around to fixing it at some point so let’s move on. Instead of what I do now, which is make sure to take care of that shit first, THEN decide what I want to do with the rest of my supposedly-“free” time.

If I was Badass I’d stop worrying about my husband’s health and trust him to manage his own self. God knows I do pretty right by him.

If I was Badass I’d seek more joy and maybe be a more loving and spontaneous and relaxed lady for this man. I’d quit working myself so hard.

If I was a Badass I’d sing loud in front of other people, because I love to sing, and the only people who ever, EVAR hear it are my kids.

If I was a Badass I’d stop feeling this weird shame we’re working class and have working class lives. I’d stop feeling it was my “fault” somehow, especially considering when I reflect on other people’s lives I truly grant them the same humanity and nobility inherent regardless of status and privilege or any lack thereof (or at least I really, really think I do).

If I was Badass, I’d stop feeling people have a right to give a damn or have a say about what food I feed my children, like I’m required to make sure they grow into some awesome consumers with prim and holistic eating habits I can put down to my awesome parenting. Truth is some days I love to cook more than anything, other days (like today!) I save my mental health and take a walk to the diner and get a veggie burger with my son, and it’s pretty funny how hot and cold I am on the whole good-housewife bit. I come nowhere near the mark on being good at this, the whole well-rounded awesome Mama routine, so it’s laughable I still put this pressure on myself. And yeah, I know people shouldn’t have that right to weigh in, but weigh in they do, and dammit, I let it get to me.

That’s part of my problem, maybe most of it. Deep down I keep believing people have the right to weigh in. On my worthDeep down I still really fear not being a Nice Girl. So many things I want to say but don’t. Or sometimes I do say them then later feel a very humorless shame because my words weren’t “Nice”, or they might have been uncouth or low class or “inappropriate” according to the voice (who?) of someone who, well the one thing I can tell you, is this person is not very fun anyway. The twisted thing is, I am a good (enough) person, and I’m a friend to many and do okay by those I take responsibility for. What am I really afraid of? And another really twisted thing is I know lots of “not-nice” folk and they are some of my favorite people and they’re not scary or horrid!

I’ve made it on my own steam, and that’s to my credit as well as the family and friends who support me so well and the privilege I was born with. But inside… inside I’m often cowering, afraid to lose things I probably don’t really need in the first place, cowering even knowing I won’t lose Me no matter what I do.

But you know. One last thing? I think just writing it all out, and letting it go publicly just what a coward I am?- like, PRETTY much, all the things I’m afraid of? All of a sudden, just now, feels pretty Badass. Hit “publish” – too late now.

It’s almost 2 AM and I hear my daughter giggling at something she’s watching (with headphones) on the laptop. You know what’s really awesome? That. I have her, today, and a sense of unabiding joy when I’m with her.

So I’m going to join her.

***

“Every man has his own courage, and is betrayed because he seeks in himself the courage of other persons.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson