Traces.

Dear friends,

Not long ago I was helping Mr. Mom clean house and, as I dusted the family photos around my desk, I lingered on the tiniest one — a black and white photo not much bigger than a postage stamp in a pink frame.

The young woman in the photo is both achingly familiar and long lost to me. In my mind’s eye, she is who I am. In the mirror, only traces of her remain.

I thought about my mother — about how much I miss her, about how I have stacks of photos of her at about age 5 right up until her death a little more than a year ago. And, yet, when I think of my mother, I instantly visualize her as she looked in her early 40s. The photos I have of her from that era are the ones that most say “Mom” to me.

Perhaps it is because that’s the age she moved us “home.”  I was 10 and my mother was 43 and she moved us from the city in which she had always lived to the place I call my hometown. I lived there until I went away for college; she eventually left, too, a few years later. But the pull of the place was so strong I moved back to my hometown 25 years later — with a husband and two kids and a passel of pets in tow. And, somehow, I think the way my mother looked when she moved us to that town — that town that became my true north — is how my mother will always appear in my memory.

I wonder how my children will think of me when I’m gone. Surely, it won’t be as the young woman in the pink frame that they never knew. The photo was taken in my mid-20s. I was unmarried. Shy, but confident enough to smile at a photographer. Happy, at having just presided over a successful professional conference (thus, the banquet table). Full of hope for my relationship with Mr. Mom and all that I dreamed a future family would bring.

I wonder — will my children think of me as the young mother of toddlers, a brunette usually sporting a pony-tail and who was perpetually harried? Or will they think of the mother of their middle-school years, the thinner red-head who dressed a little more stylishly but was no less harried thanks to graduate school? Or will they think of the mother I am now, the one who uprooted them from the town they loved growing up in as much as I did, but who was in search of a distinctly unharried, integrated life and who insisted they come along for the ride? Or will they remember me as a mother I am yet to become, who neither of us really knows yet but is somewhere to be found within the woman in my mind’s eye?

What will they say is the essence of the mother they remember, the one they loved and hated, clung to and pushed away, idolized and vilified?

Perhaps it is a fool’s chore to ponder these questions, but I can’t help myself. Mothers must pine for immortality because we raise children and look longingly into their eyes for traces of ourselves.  Do we glimpse the best of ourselves or the worst? An amalgam of contradictions as confounding as our own?

Truly, I hope they remember a bit of my mother in me. After all, the woman in my mind’s eye is but a derivation of the mother I remember, the kind I strive to be, one so loved her absence is felt every day despite her frailties and failures, one whose heart spilled over with love for her children and the promise of their children.

One who reached toward every day with the knowledge the day is never enough and yet all there is to be a mother.

With gratitude {for today},

Joan, who knows missing her mother this much is a kind of a gift

The downhill side.

Dear Friends,

A million years ago (actually 6,902 days, but who’s counting?) I birthed my first child. In the seconds after my Sweet Baby Kate first emerged into this world and I glimpsed her already-familiar beauty, I felt as if the whole world stretched before me like some endless yellow-brick road to a promised land called motherhood. When my child was born flawless and healthy, I was so euphoric I imagined, for one sublimely-cocooned moment, that this promised land was eternal and free of heartache, or fear, or worry. I felt like Mother Earth, solid and ageless and in perfect orbit in our universe.

And that lasted about a minute, until somebody prodded or poked my perfect baby sufficient to elicit a wail and my bubble was burst by a tsunami of abject fear. It’s pretty much been downhill from there, because every mother I know thinks she simply cannot bear another fever; another trip to the urgent care; another sleepless night worrying over The Teacher Who Doesn’t Understand; another snub from the snotty Girl Who Makes Her Friend-Candidates Try Out and, sorry, Kate, you didn’t make it; another lost tennis tournament; another boyfriend; another broken heart; another anything, because for Pete’s Sake, Can’t I Be Done Mothering Now?

And then one day recently I woke up and realized — all this daily bucking up I’ve been doing — holy crap, it’s almost over! I am being relieved of my duty because this fair-haired baby of mine with the delicate skin and chubby cheeks and sweet disposition has grown up. And, though I have pretended for months it can’t possibly be true, just last week two college acceptance letters came in the mail, pretty much proving she’s moving out soon.

And what will I be if I am not the Woman Who Mothers This Child? Don’t tell me I’ll be mothering her all the same (because those college kids need lots of loving support and encouragement, you know). Tell me how mothers survive children who move away because in all these years of bucking up, in all the books I’ve read about mothering, nobody told me how to endure The Day When She No Longer Resides With Me.

I’ve got less than 200 days to figure out how to be a Mother Who Lives Apart from Her Child. I welcome your advice. Well, let me be more direct: I desperately need your advice and encouragement and Mr. Mom has flat run out of words to offer the Woman Who Is Wholly Unprepared to be the Mother of a Grown Child.

With gratitude {for 7,000 days of cohabitation with my Sweet Baby Kate, even though it clearly wasn’t enough training for the likes of me},

Joan, who in those 7,000 days took hundreds of snapshots like this one, because the imperfect moments are the ones you really savor

Just breathe.

Dear Friends,

I tripped across these words of wisdom yesterday on – of all places – Facebook:

One way to handle the impulses that bind us to suffering is through cognitive intervention. If we’re behind the wheel and another driver cuts us off, leans on his horn, or otherwise drives provocatively, we can construct a narrative to explain his aggressiveness: “He’s late for something, and probably not for the first time. He’s desperate to get there, and you know yourself what that’s like!” The same line of creative speculation works in the face of any form of hostility: “She may have just lost her job,” or “He just had a fight with his wife.” These kinds of stories, even if fanciful, offer us some breathing room, interrupting the reaction chain that binds us to suffering.   — Bodhin Kjolhede, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review

There are two thoughts from this passage that really resonate with me. The first is: breathing room. In today’s fast-paced, uber-connected, over-indulgent world, it seems like we have such precious little space or encouragement to breathe. To reflect. To consider for one moment something other than our own immediate need or impulse.

Take Facebook, for example, which seems to offer as its chief attraction a fascinating and addicting milieu of low-brow instincts, mundane chatter and pseudo-aspirational bromides. I consider the site a virtual testament to a world increasingly devoid of impulse control and thoughtful reflection, though its entertainment value and instant gratification keep me coming back even as it depletes my world of oxygen.

The second is: impulses that bind us to suffering. I dare say you aren’t human if you claim you’ve never allowed aggression or insolence to beget your own rude response. The notion that my own thoughtless impulses bind me to suffering really stopped me in my tracks and begged the question – am I willing and able to interrupt the reaction chain?

I wish I had an answer for you but I don’t. I do have the impulse to give it a try . . . to search for more breathing room in my world and, in doing so, to create space for grace and kindness and joy for others in my orbit.

With gratitude {for wisdom that transcends my own},

Joan, who endeavors to breathe deeply every day

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