Questions for my dying father.

Bob and JM 1962

“Hi Daddy,” I said cheerfully. “How are you feeling?”

“No good,” he said, firmly but quietly. He sounded far away and tired, which he was. “No good” came out sounding like one word . . . nogood . . . as if enunciation of separate words was a chore. It was the same answer he’d given me the last few days in a row. Why I kept asking is a bit of a mystery. He’s 93. He’s dying of kidney and brain cancer. He’s in hospice and hasn’t eaten in nearly a month. Do I expect him to suddenly report he’s feeling better?

“I have a question for you” I said confidently, as if I had rehearsed. Truth is, I had, sort of. Mentally at least.

“I want to know about your wives.”

“What?” he asked. He sounded astonished or possibly just confused. Like maybe he thought the phone wasn’t working properly. Or maybe his brain wasn’t. Cancer does weird things.

“Your wives. I want to know about them. You never talk about them.” My heart was pounding.

“Oh Joan-Maire,” he said, his voice and his precious little stamina trailing off. “You’re asking me to remember things. ”

***

I remember things, but the problem for me now that my father is dying is that I don’t remember enough. I don’t know enough. For years, I didn’t hear enough or see enough and I don’t know the stories. Like any writer, stories are precious to me, the jewels of my life and my connection to my family and it feels like there simply aren’t enough stories about my father to knit me to him. After 52 years, he’s like a ghost. I see him out of the corner of my eye but I can’t really know him.

***

One recent evening I told Mr. Mom in tears that I couldn’t even begin to write an obituary or a eulogy for my father. I took great care with my mother’s, but here I am at the end of my father’s life and I don’t know basic facts like where he was born, where he worked, the dates of his service in WWII, who he was married to. How had I failed to gather this kind of information all these years?

“Listen, honey” Mr. Mom said, trying to comfort me. “Think about it. We’ve been married 23 years and in all those years he’s never once talked about himself.  In the times I’ve been around him, he might say ‘Isn’t it great the Saints won the game?’ or he might tell you about a horse he bet on, but he’s never said one word about himself. You know how your father is.”

My husband’s sweet attempt at absolution calmed me, but I vowed to ask my father a different question each day during my phone call to him. I started with the wives because, why not?

***

It’s a family secret how many times my father has been married. Most bets are on seven, but those who know for sure (his parents, his sister) are dead. Growing up I knew it was a lot but my mother and my paternal grandmother never talked about it for obvious reasons. Of all the things that bothered me about my family when I was young, his marriages wasn’t one of them. I didn’t know the word unconventional back then but I  knew he was, and in some silly, school-girlish, unexplainable way, it made him a kind of folk hero in my eyes. Everybody knew Bob marched to his own drummer.

Once long ago — I don’t remember when or the exact circumstances of the conversation — my mother told me Daddy wasn’t honest with her about his past marriages. She said not long after they married, my grandfather pulled her aside and said “I don’t know what Bob told you, but you’re wife number X.” For the life of me, I don’t remember if my mother told me the real number or demurred, as she often did on the topic of my father, but it drives me crazy that I don’t now know. Why did I ask so few questions when I was in the best position to do so?

***

On the fourth day of the long week I spent getting him settled into the nursing home, arranging hospice, and disposing of his personal possessions according to his handwritten instructions, he looked at me and sighed and said “This is no way to die.” I wasn’t sure what to say but he quickly added “Everybody should die like your aunt,” referring to his sister who got out of bed one morning about six years ago and simply keeled over. I was standing beside his hospital bed, leaning on the railing, looking at his bald head and his pale skin and his still-sparkly eyes and thinking how far this scenario was from what I had imagined would be his end. “I know Daddy,” I offered. “But I, for one, am glad you’re here with me today.” His eyes watered, betraying emotion I had never before seen in him and he looked straight into my eyes and smiled. “You’re a good Daddy,” I said, my voice cracking, as I leaned over, kissed him on the lips, and closed my eyes just long enough to hold back my tears and think it’s too bad he couldn’t drift away that very second.

***

Since I have so few stories of my father to tell, I go over and over them in my head. Perhaps my favorite is from my wedding day. As you know, my name is Joan-Marie. Joan is my mother’s mother and Marie is my father’s mother. My entire life I went by Joan, unless you were family or happened to be in the company of my father, who was prone to correcting you if you dared abridge it or made the mistake of choosing some abominable variation like Joanie. As we rehearsed our vows in front of the wedding party, the minister — who we didn’t know because we had a destination wedding with rent-a-clergy — kept calling me Joan. At one point, I stopped him and said “Will you please call me Joan-Marie? Please, out of respect for my father.” I hadn’t planned it and I don’t even know why I said it, except it seemed strange to be in the company of my parents and to be called something other than Joan-Marie on my wedding day. My dad shot me a look. It was a millisecond of pure love and gratitude amidst a whirlwind weekend but I knew we were connected in that moment no matter how many years we had been apart.

***

My second favorite story about my father doesn’t even involve him. My mother and my paternal grandmother and I had gone on a Sunday drive, as we often did during my childhood. The day had turned out to be a wild goose chase. We were looking for a landmark we never found and had gotten lost more than once. On the way home, we were all three sitting in the front seat of my mother’s car and I had my head on my grandmother’s lap and my feet on my mother’s lap. We were hungry and my mother suggested we stop for a hamburger.  “No!” I said adamantly and sat up straight. “Take me someplace nice. Someplace like Daddy would. I want to go to a restaurant with atmosphere.”

I was maybe 11 years old. I didn’t really know what the word atmosphere meant, but I recognized it when I saw it. My father had taken me to places with chandeliers and starched white tablecloths and lobster dinners in places like New Orleans and New York. I barely remembered it but I knew he had treated me to the kind of high class establishments he favored. I might be stuck in the boonies with my mother and grandmother, but I wanted them to know I knew the difference.

They laughed and laughed at me and I suppose they already knew I was my father’s child.

***

As I was sorting through my father’s belongings, I ran across an envelope of assorted papers and photographs. Among the photographs was the one at the beginning of this post. I’d never seen it and don’t recognize the surroundings, but I recognized my grandmother’s writing on the back: “Robert and Joan-Marie, August 24, 1965.”

Among the stack of papers were letters he wrote to his parents while stationed in Italy and North Africa during the war. One was a will he typed and signed in case he was killed as a 20-year-old soldier. I was staying with my cousin who lives near my father’s nursing home and after we went to bed, I stayed up late into the night reading my father’s correspondence. Many were signed “Your loving son, Robert.” It was the first and only glimpse I’d ever had into the young man he used to be. I recognized his refined and polite prose but not the affection, the humor, the warmth, the thoughtful reflection so evident in his letters. I cried myself to sleep that night, grateful for the carefully preserved history I had in my possession and sorrowful for the one-dimensional father of my memory.

***

“Never live close to your kinfolk,” my dad used to say.  I heard him say it a number of times and never asked why he felt that way. I suspect it was, at least in part, because he was a heavy drinker and an unrepentant gambler and book-maker and his kinfolk disapproved, as did his ex wives and his youngest daughter. His philosophy probably made his world a little less complicated in one sense because for most of my life, I saw him very infrequently. The flip side to that coin is that my father’s meager presence made him almost a mythical figure in my childhood. He was a kind of Santa Clause, a jolly gift giver who showed up on special occasions only, drunk and generous.  His drinking deeply hurt his sister and his mother, whose disapproval of my father’s lifestyle was a constant. My mother married three alcoholics in a row, so she said nothing, and later, one of the things I most admired about my mother was that even with all the reasons she could have counted to badmouth him, she always managed to take the high road. In the last years of her life, she grew close to him. She did his laundry and took him dinner and chided me when she thought I should call him more often.

***

The subject of calling him is a sore spot, so who better to bring it up than my mother? When Kate was a baby, my father had what I refer to as a mental breakdown. He was later diagnosed as bi-polar, which explained a lot, but at the time he was acting nonsensically and several members of my family were worried. At one point, I felt he was a danger to himself so I contacted the authorities and he was detained for three days. We went to court and he convinced the judge he should be released. He was deeply wounded by my intervention and we didn’t speak for years. I rationalized it was his choice to stay away but truth be told it was at least as much mine. I figured he’d gotten by all those years without his family meddling in his affairs and told myself to keep my distance, which was easy enough given his oft-stated philosophy. Eventually, he started calling again, and once he even called to chide me himself for my infrequent contact. In the most unkind moment I ever shared with my father, I told him I was doing the best I could to raise my children and that I was sorry to disappoint him. And then I added “You know, Daddy, when I was 10 and wondered where in the hell you were, I never once asked why you didn’t call me more.” It was a terribly cruel postscript to a painful phone call and I’ve always regretted it.

***

If you ask about my father to anyone who knows him, the first thing you’ll hear is that he’s smart. He’s also well-spoken. Meticulous. Demanding. Magnanimous. Opinionated. Precise. Generous. Grand. Infuriating. Optimistic. Calculating. Mercurial. Dictatorial. I saw all these sides of his personality and more, and now I wonder why it was so hard to know something more of him than his moods.

On a day he was adjusting to the nursing home and frustrated with me, he reminded me sternly “I’m still calling the shots!”

Later when I told Mr. Mom, he said “You gotta hand it to him, Joan. Bob has always called the shots. He’s lived life on his own terms and I admire him for that.”

***

I’ve traveled to Oklahoma twice since I learned my father has terminal brain cancer. On one visit he was lying down, in pain but uncharacteristically chatty. We were talking about our shared passion — a good meal — and he said “You know what my favorite steak is? It’s . . .”

He trailed off and I could tell he was searching for a name.

“A ribeye?” I said.

“Yes, a ribeye! I love a good ribeye steak!”

“Me too, Daddy,” I said. “It used to be my favorite steak before I became a vegetarian.”

“What’s your favorite steak now?” he asked.

The irony was lost on him and I laughed out loud, delighted by the humor of the moment and the fact that I knew the answer to a question about my father.

***

On another visit he was sitting up, quiet, and obviously in pain. He wiped his head and said, almost under his breath, “You know, sometimes I wonder what this life is all about.”

“Me too, Daddy, me too.” He dropped his chin to his chest and I said “Have you figured it out yet? I’d like to know.”

He paused for a long time then whispered “I think we’re just here to take care of one another.”

I figure we have. In our own ways. Maybe not the storybook way, maybe not the best way, but in a way uniquely ours, in a place strangely more intimate and more lovely than I ever imagined as a possible destination for Robert and Joan-Marie.

Empty nesting.

Dear friends,

studiocollage

A few sneak peeks of my work-in-progress sewing studio.

I’ve been away from this space for a long time.

I didn’t plan to take a hiatus . . . I’ve just been savoring every moment of my last weeks with Parker at home and I guess I lost track of time.

But guess what? He’s already off at college. (His program in Heavy Equipment Operations at our state’s technical college started June 2.) And Kate flew the nest, too, and decided not to return home for the summer. Instead, she rented an off-campus apartment in Oklahoma in hopes of playing USTA tennis with her coach and landing a summer job that lasts longer than the summer.

It’s weird — having no chicks in the nest. Mr. Mom and I have experienced three whole days of It’s-Just-You-and-Me-Babe Freedom. We have no idea what to make of it yet, so I have no pronouncements to offer.

Okay, maybe I have one: In times like these, it’s best to distract yourself.

To that end, I dove head-first into the deep waters of home improvement. You may recall that two years ago when I struggled with Kate leaving for college, I had no plan. The combination of idle time and her unoccupied bedroom haunted me for weeks and I vowed to avoid a repeat with Parker. It was a coincidence that we moved Kate to her Oklahoma apartment and Parker to his college dorm over the same weekend, but it was not a coincidence that I drove straight home and immediately embarked on two redecorating projects.

First, Kate’s former bedroom is being repurposed into my quilting studio. The to-do is long but the results are immensely gratifying. I mean, come on! I may have lost a daughter (and her assorted furnishings), but I gained a dedicated sewing space. I’m not suggesting it’s anything close to an even trade, but it sure takes the sting off. The recently painted black bookcase (to match my sewing table), the glass canisters filled with brightly colored fabric scraps, the celery green cutting table (a thrift store bargain), the Jadite bowl of fabric pears — it all delights me to no end. I’m quite a ways from finishing the entire space, but I can’t wait to give you a tour when it’s perfect.

Second, Parker’s former bedroom is being repurposed into a guest room. I know to some mothers’ ears this will sound harsh. “He leaves for college and you empty his bedroom?”

But here’s the deal. His academic program is only a year long, after which he will be employed and, if things go according to his 10-year plan, he’ll be traveling extensively. He told me he thinks it would be “cool” to operate a crane in New York City. The point is — the boy has dreams and plans and they don’t include living with me anymore. When he is at home, he’ll need a bed, not a bedroom. (And, let’s be honest, the presence of “his decor” in “his room” makes me miss him even more so I’m creating a room that doesn’t remind me he doesn’t live here anymore.) Plus, I have overnight guests coming later this summer and his boring white walls, oak furniture, and teenager bedding and posters simply won’t do.

Some people drink. I paint. To each his own method of coping, I say.

Anyway, I’m busy cleaning, painting, organizing, decorating, and generally pouring every ounce of my personal time into two big projects. I hope it will be Labor Day before I look up and notice my house is empty, by which time I’ll be used to it. (Makes sense to me!)

With gratitude {for interesting distractions and a partner-in-crime who seems willing to indulge my every DIY whim},

Joan, who has been remarkably composed during this difficult transition and still thinks she’d feel better if she’d just have a good cry

PS: I’ve been away so long, I can’t leave now without telling you about five, very important developments since you last heard from me.

ONE: Parker went to his first (and last) prom. To say he looked handsome in his tux is an understatement. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this boy!

parkprofile

TWO: Kate’s college tennis team once again qualified for nationals and competed in Orlando, FL. I didn’t get to attend this year due to work obligations but I’m bursting with pride for “my girls.” Their final ranking for the season is number #19. IN THE NATION.

NCAA

THREE: When Kate moved to Oklahoma, she took SweetPea with her. THINK ABOUT THIS! Both my kids and my dog left home at the same time. Okay, I know SweetPea is Kate’s dog. But she has lived with me for 8 years. It’s like a death in the family, I tell you.

sweetpea

FOUR: During the time I was gone from this space, Mr. Mom and I spent a week in Colorado for our mountain trial. I haven’t had time or inclination to write about it. Long-story short: It happened and we’re awaiting the judge’s verdict. There’s a lot of drama and twists and turns (including a near-death experience with a star witness and my verbal altercation with the Unfriendly’s attorney), but I’m saving it for later.

FIVE: I am married to the kindest, most considerate man in the world. If he wasn’t the foundation of my empty nest, I’m not sure what I would do. Just sayin’.

Day 18: Employed!

Dear friends,

parkseed2

Parker and friends shoveling seed in the hazy grain elevator.

Today my boy got a job. So on this 18th day of a month of Thanksgiving I am grateful for gainful employment for the youngest member of our family.

It’s not Park’s first job and won’t be his last but should tide him over until he leaves for college. During the summer he worked long hours for good wages, hauling hay for a handful of local farmers and shoveling seed at a nearby grain company. I’m proud to say he saved the majority of his earnings and has a bank account Kate salivates over.

But when hay season ended in early September, he found himself unemployed until today.

Starting next month, he’ll be a cook at a new Buffalo Wild Wings franchise that’s opening in our town. Score! Our family loves wings. We cook them frequently and go out of our way to try new wing joints whenever we’re traveling. B-Dubs (as the teenagers call it) is one of our favorites. Given the local restaurant’s kitchen staffing, I can’t imagine we’ll pass up many opportunities to eat wings made by our favorite cook.

Pass the hot sauce, will you?

With gratitude {for paychecks and a new excuse to eat wings},

Joan, who celebrated Parker’s announcement by making his special request for supper — biscuits and gravy (hey, when it’s good, it’s worth having two days in a row!)

Days 16 and 17: Just this.

Dear friends,

This consumed my last two days:

kate

Kate was home for the weekend and both SweetPea and I relaxed in the comfort of her presence.

We cooked, we ate, we talked, we napped, we watched television, we cleaned, we celebrated Mr. Mom’s birthday (a couple of days early) and we shopped — all in a single weekend. It was just what this mother hen needed to reconnect with the chickie she misses most.

And — it was a warm-up for next weekend, when I’ll travel to Oklahoma for this big event.

With gratitude {for a much-needed mother-daughter recharge},

Joan, who indulged her little chickie’s special request for biscuits and sausage gravy and was told by everyone who ate them they were the best ever

biscuit

Day 13: Cover your eyes!

Dear friends,

If you have a child or a grandchild in college, chances are your loved one’s college has a “confessions” social media outlet.

I know a little something about both university life and social media and more than I ever wanted to know about the kinds of things college students “confess.”

The trend started on Facebook several years ago, but it appears to have moved on to Twitter. The confessions are anonymous and range from crushes; to one-night-stand regrets; to run-of-the-mill complaints about roommates, parking, cafeteria food and stupid professors; to attention-seeking posturing; to age-old and pedestrian Greek rivalries; to obvious cries for help from young adults in distress; to deviant (or alleged deviant) behavior. It’s simultaneously boring, laughable, painfully familiar, and horrifying.

If you wish to preserve your faith and hope in the next generation, cover your eyes should you ever encounter a college confessions channel. If you’re a parent paying tuition, just don’t go there lest you stop payment on your check.

I accidentally stumbled across the confessional Twitter feed from Kate’s college when one of Kate’s friends retweeted a superficial compliment mentioning my daughter by name. I subscribed to the feed and have regretted it ever since because I find it utterly depressing most days and prefer not to think about the darker and/or shallow side of a rite of passage I long ago survived.

But today, a confession appeared in my feed that both surprised me and bolstered my diminishing hope in millennials. It simply said:

(My daughter) is a beautiful girl, inside and out.

I’m her mother, so of course I agree with the observation, especially on the inside part. But after days of posts about drunken parties and boorish behavior, it was a tiny ray of hope in a bleakly indulgent, privileged, overwrought morass of post-adolescent anxiety.

I’m not one to press my luck, so I immediately unsubscribed. Always go out on a high note, I say.

With gratitude {for the seemingly sweet and thoughtful soul who took the road less traveled},

Joan, who — not surprisingly — avoided the Animal House bacchanalia at her alma mater and, therefore, has no interesting collegiate stories around which most confessions are built

Day 11: The Sportsman.

Dear friends,

park

On Day 11 of this month of Thanksgiving, I can’t help but reflect on our home’s favorite sportsman.

Parker is the only 18-year-old male in our home and, as such, is by far our family’s finest athletic specimen. He runs a 21-minute 5K without practice, dunks basketballs with little effort, contorts his 6’7″ frame into amazing twists and flips off the high dive, and has a wicked (and frightening) tennis serve.

But it’s his talent at motorsports that really makes us pause. He’s only been riding since we moved to Missouri, but Mr. Mom says he’s a natural.

Parker spent last weekend competing in the Hillbilly Grand Prix, a well-known off-road motorcycle racing series. He took 5th place in his category, Class C Sportsman. (I know nothing about it, but Mr. Mom says it’s a step above the rookies and purely recreational riders, and a step below the money class.)

Mr. Mom competed in motocross for years until he gave up motorcycles for drag racing, so he knows quite a bit about the sport. He taught Parker to ride and figures he’s a fair judge of his skill. When he says he’s impressed by Parker, I take it seriously.

Of course it helps that Mr. Mom is turning our acreage into a motocross wonderland. Here’s Park trying out two new logs jumps Mr. Mom built.

http://instagram.com/p/f58wjAqhkG/

Watching a young man compete at something he loves in the prime of his life is — for this mother — as mesmerizing and alluring as Greek mythology. Like Hermes, the beautiful boy of my daydreams slays athletic obstacles, escapes danger and seduces those who would detour his aspirations. Who needs lore when the lionhearted is right under your roof?

With gratitude {for the beauty, grace and fearlessness of young manhood on full display},

Joan, but you can call her Athena of Textile Artistry

Day 5: Buddy!!!!!

Dear friends,

If you’re of a certain age and pop culture sensibility, the name Buddy (spoken with great enthusiasm or followed by multiple exclamation points) refers to a particular elf of the overgrown variety. Of the looks-like-Will-Ferrell variety.

But in our home, we squeal with glee about a different Buddy.

cakeboss2

I’m talking about Buddy Valastro! The Cake Boss!!!

You may recall that CupKate and I went all the way to NYC (Hoboken, actually) to meet Buddy and visit his bakery. His pastries were beyond compare, but Buddy was nowhere to be found.

Turns out, though, Buddy is going to Tulsa. Which is precisely why the best part of my day yesterday was buying VIP tickets for Kate and me to meet him at this event.

It will be a perfect prelude to Thanksgiving and I can’t wait! I’ll drive to Kate’s college and pick her up on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, then we’ll drive on to Tulsa for a dinner out and an evening with our favorite pastry chef and reality television show. I’ll head home the next morning and, 24 hours after that, she and her teammates will head to our house for Thanksgiving break.

It’s all kinds of awesome. And just the delight of planning it made for the best Monday in a long time.

(Especially a Monday on which my biorhythms are still adjusting to the time change and I’m cranky.)

With gratitude {for Monday surprises and mother-daughter junkets},

Joan, who’s pretty sure Buddy will think Kate and I are the coolest mother-daughter fans he meets on his entire tour

Parkie Park.

Dear friends,

Park

Today my sweet boy turns 18. I don’t know where the time went but it sure offered lots of surprises, challenges and delights.

No parent wants to admit it, I suppose, but you can’t help but compare one child to another. Once you have two or more children on deck and you get your sea legs, you eventually learn that the inevitable comparison is fine as long as you allow each child to find his or her place in the family without excessive relativity.

Kate has always been calm and composed, bordering on stoic. Two and a half years after Kate’s arrival, Parker blew into our lives like a sudden summer storm. He kicked up all kinds of dust and, by comparison, we found him impulsive, intense, headstrong, and — once we decided to admit it — wildly entertaining.

As a toddler, we nicknamed him Park the Shark because he was always in motion, gliding through our home, watchful for any opportunity to exploit a moment of uncertainty or chaos to his advantage. Kate mothered him from the beginning, which meant Mr. Mom and I often found ourselves in the role of amused observers, wondering how this unique and captivating creature found his way to us.

Over the years, he’s mellowed considerably. But he’s still the family muse, wit, and impossible-to-stay-mad-at moppet, albeit a very large and very hairy moppet. Last weekend, Kate surprised him with an early birthday present and he climbed on her lap (all 6 feet and 7 inches of him) and gave her several exaggerated hugs. He could get away with murder in our family and his three enablers are well aware of their susceptibility to his charm. (Don’t believe me? Talk to his father who purchased the boy a very expensive motor bike for his 18th birthday.)

No matter how much he grows or matures, he’ll always be Parkie Park to his mother, the woman who once wrote that his electric blue eyes are “the lapis pools of my undoing.”  As downfalls go, I’ll take my fetching boy any day.

With gratitude {for the pleasure of the unexpected, the unpredictable, and the thoroughly bewitching power of a son},

Joan, who’s still mourning the loss of her baby’s curls

parkcurls2

and who hopes her little daredevil chases all the thrills on his bucket list

snow

The Mayor of Dork City.

Dear friends,

So I told you all about those keyrings I made over the weekend? And how I put them all in the mail to various and sundry surprise recipients?

Turns out, I got the surprise.

You see, I made keyrings for Kate and her Russian roommate, Kris. (Remember the ones with tennis ball fabric? Instead of a label with the word “love” like the one I showed you, I stitched on their names. I didn’t photograph them for my blog post because I didn’t want the girls to be tipped off.)

I wrote a card to Kate telling her I missed her and to give Kris my love; I carefully wrapped the keyrings in tissue paper and twine; then I sealed the whole thing up in a padded envelope and dropped it in the mailbox.

And as soon as I let go of the package, I had a sinking thought: Kristina’s keyring said “Chris.”

I cursed.

Then I texted Kate to say she was getting a surprise with an “oops” and she’d understand when she saw it.

I’ve spent the last two days fretting over my brain’s misfire. Am I suffering from quilt-induced exhaustion? Am I getting early-onset dementia? Am I the Mayor of Dork City? And how in the world did I make such a mistake and then realize it the moment I let go of the package (but not a second before)?

I’m actually a little frightened. Today I typed a Tweet and used the word “worse” when I meant “worst.” The other day I typed “to” instead of “too.” My job involves a lot of words so I’ve got to get back on my game.

Turns out, though, sweet Kris — who seems to tolerate the quirks of Americans quite well — was still thrilled. I told Kate to return it so I could fix it, but “Kris” wouldn’t let go of “Chris.” In fact, she Tweeted this photo with a thanks for “the cutest keyring ever.”

chris

With gratitude {for scoring high on style even though I flunked international relations},

Joan, who will never again express disdain when the barista writes “Jone” on her Toffee Nut Latte because if the Russian college student can be gracious, shouldn’t she?

On balance.

Dear friends,

ballet-dancer1

I saw a Tweet today that said “You can have it all — just not at once.”

It was immediately followed by this blog post from my friend Sizzle, who was reflecting on the one-year anniversary of the purchase of her first home, which prompted my own reminiscing about the four houses Mr. Mom and I have called home. Each of our houses was in a different city; each holds unique and special memories for our family; and each was perfect (despite its particular deficiencies) for the season of our lives in which we dwelled under its roof.

We have lived in a big-city, post-War cottage with loads of charm; a plain-Jane, suburban 70’s special; a majestic, turn-of-the-century “mansion” on a brick-paved street in the center of my beloved hometown; and a modern and spacious Ranch situated on a scenic Midwest acreage. We’ve clearly had it all (or most) over the course of 20+ years and I’m reminded that all of life is lived “on balance.”

Not long ago I counseled a young colleague who was fretting about “work-life” issues. I shared with her some of the lessons I’ve learned as a working mother and wife and I advised her not to think she could find equilibrium on any given day. I told her that over time I’ve learned to look for “balance” only when contemplating the entire span of my life because in any given hour, any given month, even in periods as long as a year or more, my life has been decidedly off-kilter.

I think about the many years I spent ungodly hours at the office and commuting long distances. I think about the three-year period I completed a Master’s Degree and did absolutely nothing but go to work and go to class. (I even “cancelled” Thanksgiving the year I wrote my thesis. Mr. Mom was a saint during those years, by the way.) I think about the years I fretted I would never again pursue a personal interest beyond raising my children and I thought “Hobbies? What are hobbies?”  I think about the entire year I selfishly focused all my energy on losing weight and getting fit for my impending marriage. (I did look ravishing in my wedding dress, only to get pregnant and gain 50 pounds six months later.) I think about the weeks I spent lying on the sofa eating buttered crackers in a depressed state because Kate had left for college. I even think about recent weeks when I’ve become a crazed and obsessive quilter, rushing home from the office each evening to pursue my latest project into the wee hours of the morning.

Maybe you’ve got a secret for achieving perfect (or even relative) balance on any given day. If so, please share your wisdom! I suspect, though, that most of us do what we must do in the moment we must do it, and find our search for balance fruitless unless we set our gaze on a very long horizon.

And you know what? I wouldn’t change a thing about my life. (Except maybe I would save more and spend less, but good lord, who wouldn’t?) I’ve been blessed with so very much and I suspect so much more is coming my way, including interesting and invigorating new friendships in our (still) new town, new hobbies, new career opportunities, new family members (grandchildren some day?), and certainly new opportunities to grow and learn through the pain and challenge that inevitably beset every soul on earth.

On balance, life’s been good to me (and apparently Joe Walsh) so far. Why crave it all when every single bite is so uniquely flavorful?

With gratitude {for discovering that perfect balance is a rather silly notion except in bike-riding and ballet},

Joan, who invites you to leave a comment about the season of life you’re experiencing right this moment

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 820 other followers

%d bloggers like this: