I have been thinking a lot about expectations lately and how often we see them as concrete scenarios that drive our actions and emotions.

It started with watching my girls this summer, observing times when they would hatch plans with friends over text, going so far as to figure out movie times and counting their cash on hand and solidify the details only to be foiled by me when I reminded them that I’m not available to drive or they were already obligated to a babysitting job or day of camp. Oh, the disappointment and frustration that ensued! Often, I was the target of anger for simply pointing out that they hadn’t thought through the whole thing or asked the right people for input.

Then last week, Bernie Sanders came to Seattle for a few events and I watched the rage unfold on social media as he was preempted by two activists addressing the crowd about the Black Lives Matter  movement. Despite your personal feelings about the tactics or the movement or Sanders’ presidential bid, I am curious about how much of the anger and frustration was as a result of the expectation of the crowd that they would hear Sanders speak. I suspect that, had the two women been on the program, people would have received them warmly and openly, but since they had stood outside in the hot (for Seattle) sun waiting for hours to hear Sanders and then were disappointed, many of them reacted poorly to the fact that he left without speaking more than to the message of the activists.

I think that, generally, there are three kinds of expectations we have, positive, neutral, and negative.  Positive expectations represent our hopes – calculating the hours on our paycheck in order to know whether we’ll have the money to purchase the thing we really want, killing it on a job interview, giving birth to a healthy baby. They can be big or small, but these are the ones that really slay us when they don’t come true. Negative expectations represent our fears, and instead of disappointing us when they don’t come true, I think they often keep us from taking the kind of leaps that will help us grow or push boundaries that maybe need to be pushed. On more than one occasion, I have had to talk myself into approaching someone and asking for something that I think I deserve because my expectation is that I will be laughed at or turned down simply because I am not male.

Neutral expectations are those that are typically placed on us from the outside, either our family or friend groups or culture and, often, they aren’t expressed specifically but we internalize them all the same. It can be a strong feeling that our parents expect us to do well in school and get into college, that as young women or men (because of our gender identity) we will act and speak and dress a certain way, but it can also be our way of placing expectations on other people – that because someone looks a certain way, they will act in accordance with our expectations.

As I was puzzling through this train of thought, I saw this headline:
JURY SELECTED IN NEW HAMPSHIRE PREP SCHOOL RAPE TRIAL
When I clicked through and read the very short article, I experienced such a toxic stew of feelings – sadness, anger, disappointment, fear – and I wondered about the accused and whether the culture in which boys about to graduate attempt to ‘score’ with younger female students” (specifically, that they ‘take the virginity of a freshman girl,’ sets up an expectation that this behavior is normal – even desirable. In no way does this excuse or justify his behavior (this aspiring DIVINITY student), but could it be one more example of ways in which we human beings trick ourselves into believing that expectations almost always equal reality? That they somehow ought to come to fruition or that there is nothing we can do about it? 


It is terrifically hard to walk through a day without having any sort of expectations. But I wonder what would happen if I practiced noticing them and challenging them a little? What if, the next time I assume something positive is going to happen, I take a minute and acknowledge that things could go horribly awry and pledge to be flexible if they do? Or what if the next time there is a negative expectation, I ask myself where that comes from and what might happen if I dismantle that notion? I’m getting to the place where I think that all of those external expectations ought to be challenged and dissected so that I can decide whether they limit me or raise me up. 

First of all, I think that the way we generally talk about the entire concept of “work-life balance” misses the mark. All too often, I hear it spoken of as though it is a fixed point, something to achieve and then rest in. As I creep ever-closer to middle age, I am cognizant of the fact that assessing the time and energy I put forward into different areas of my life is an ongoing process. Before I was married, there were certain goals and values that drove how I spent my time. After marriage, they shifted. When Bubba and I bought our first house, they shifted again. Having kids threw a huge wrench into how I saw the minutes of every day, and now that they are older and more independent, I am re-evaluating again. There is no such thing as a fixed target to shoot for.

When I left my paying job to stay at home with my kids, there was this assumption that I had no “work,” and to be completely honest, I bought into that idea for way too long. The fact is, because of my inability to compartmentalize the different aspects of my life, what really happened was that my work became my life. That is, everything mothering and household-running was so important and so pressing that I did it 99% of the time, but because I didn’t consider it my job, I didn’t fully acknowledge that I had ceased doing so many of the things I enjoyed doing before that I considered my “life.” I had allowed everything to bleed together and become one which meant that I had very little that was just mine.  Because very few others recognized what I was spending the majority of my time doing as “work,” it was hard to justify my frustrations with this dynamic, which made me all the more unhappy.

Prior to having children, I had lots of ideas about the kind of work I wanted to do, things I might find meaningful and worth spending 40+ hours a week doing. I wanted to enjoy my work, but I also wanted to be able to fully enjoy those other parts of my life like working in the yard and hiking with Bubba and having dinner with friends. As soon as I quit to stay home and the hours of “work” were not  clearly delineated, the shift was monumental. When I was at my office, I couldn’t empty the dishwasher or fold a load of laundry or fix the bathroom toilet because I wasn’t physically at home to do it. Now, suddenly, at home, it felt as though I were cheating if I chose to sit on the couch and read instead of doing any of those things because my home and my children had become my work and it was staring me in the face all the time.

Over the past fifteen years, my level of freedom from parenting and household work has ebbed and flowed, and I have had the opportunity to make choices over and over again about what other kind of meaningful work I can do – paid or not. I have obviously chosen writing as one of those things, but I have also found volunteer positions with organizations I want to support. I have come to understand that the most important question I can ask when I consider doing any kind of work is not “do I have time for this?” but “how will this feed me?” If I choose to spend my time engaged in activities that align with my passions and interests, even if they are intense and challenging, I know from experience that I will ultimately end up feeling energized and sated. There will be times when that work means I won’t cook dinner from scratch for the family or the dog won’t get his customary three to four walks a day or the laundry will pile up, and that’s okay. The freedom to schedule my own time, to float between different types of work is something for which I am immensely grateful. Being the primary parent to my kids means that my work is often a reaction to something else – hunger, dirt, transportation needs – and it is generally satisfying, if only until the next meal or pile of laundry or basketball game. Having the ability to engage in other work that is proactive and creative is something that feeds me in a different way, and that is just as important. My work and my life are very closely intertwined and it is often hard to see where one leaves off and the other begins, but I’m not sure that it is important to discern those boundaries.  Knowing that there are some tasks I will engage in that I really don’t enjoy is okay as long as they are part of the bigger picture and the larger goals I have. For me, the trick is to make sure that I am mindful of the tasks that ignite a fire in my belly and I find a way to do them with regularity. Often, emptying the dishwasher again can feel like a slog, but if I’m doing it because I know I will be able to sit down and write or read or go to a meeting without wishing I’d done it, I have more mental freedom to fully engage with what I’m doing.

The typical way that we talk about work-life balance sets up a dynamic where the two are pitted against each other in some surreal tug-of-war where one necessarily ends up losing and the other winning, at least for a while. But the fact is, if we are actively choosing to spend time not working for pay (at least not full-time) and staying home with our children, the most important thing is not to parse out bits of time for “work” and “life” but to recognize that within this setup, we can actively choose to engage in things that we find fulfilling and interesting. When we do that, we are enhancing our lives and, by extension, our children’s lives because what they end up with is a happy, energized parent. This notion of some elusive “balance” between the energy we put into working and the energy we get from living is wholly false. If we are lucky, the two overlap in a Venn Diagram that allows us to find compensation and purpose and a sense of enjoyment without guilt. And as our children grow up and become more independent, we will have given ourselves the gift of meaningful work that we can continue to engage in more and more.

Bubba and I have recently begun having conversations about what our life will look like in five years when Eve and Lola are both gone to college. At that point, it will be important for both of us to have some shared purpose and some individual interests. If we apply this particular way of looking at “balance,” and are able to identify the things that we enjoy doing together and apart, and fully support the others’ need to engage in both, perhaps the shift to this new lifestyle will be smoother. (Not that I won’t cry a big, ugly cry when my last one moves out, but, hey, it’s a start…)

Away from home is such a mixed bag. Time together with three of my favorite humans – Bubba, Eve, Lola – with nothing to do but enjoy each other is something to be so grateful for. Very little is asked of me in the way of my normal home-based duties. There is no chauffeuring, no cooking, no dish-doing, laundry perhaps once a week in some local, worn-formica-and-linoleum coin-op. And, frankly, I enjoy it. After togetherness all day (even sharing a hotel room with these three loves of my life), that 90 minutes of solitude in the laundromat is welcome. I get to see the natives as they do their wash, take note of the water-logged magazines and who brings their kids with them. I have fantasized about making a photo collage of the facilities and the characters who inhabit them – the rusty machines and change-makers on the walls, the folks who walk in barefoot (in Hawaii, anyway) and the tiny Asian men who shuffle in to wash their boxer shorts full of holes.

Summer vacation is a pleasure that flings me altogether out of my routine and nearly out of my skin. I read and read and, while I am often inspired, the only writing I do is to scratch out ideas on a fluorescent pink pad of paper, the threads of which I hope I can retrieve when I return home. By the time I set foot back on my own worn hardwood floors, I am torn between lying down with the pets on the floor and snuggling or restocking the refrigerator with our favorite things and simply retreating to my room to type, type, type. It takes a few days to slog through the email and the mail mail and the ever-present laundry (why can’t I just do it once a week at home? Is that some magic of the vacation? That everyone is judicious with their clothes because they only packed so much? Would it be wrong to just ask everyone to wear their bathing suit every day all summer with some flimsy cover-up instead of shrugging on shorts and t-shirts?).

I am full of ideas and also full of children and pets. There are walks to take, camps to drive to, meals to fix and extra kids to entertain and every summer I hope to stumble on the elusive perfect balance that will allow me to write all I want and soak in every drop of sunshine with my family. I have learned to accept this unease, this tension of desires. This morning, Bubba and the girls all went to the gym together and I asked him, “Is it wrong to say that I can’t wait to be here all alone for an hour this morning?” Walking the dog in the cool morning air, I avoided the route that would put me in chatting range with any friendly neighbors and when I reminded myself to breathe and just acknowledge what I am feeling, the image that came to mind was of a taut guitar string that had just been plucked. I vibrate with it all.

It was the freckles. I’m the only one in my house that has them – scattered all down my arms and hands, but as a kid, half of my household had them, and as far as I was concerned, they came from Grandpa. Most of his kids had freckles dotting their faces and arms and hands and many of their kids did, too – my cousins. But I don’t see that side of the family much except on Facebook, so when we flew to California for my cousin’s wedding this weekend and I walked in the door and saw people with freckles, I felt that tug of home, of connection.

There is something about going back to a place that holds so much history for me and spending time there with the people who first introduced me to it. Even though I never lived in that town, I have touchstones there – landmarks and memories that sit steadfast in my head and heart, and somehow I am able to navigate my way from the beach to the zoo to my aunt’s house and back.

Sitting in her living room on Friday night with my cousins, telling the same stories we always tell about the things we did when we saw each other once a year as kids, I felt so strongly a part of something bigger. Every once in a while I glanced at Eve and Lola and was glad they get folded in to this tradition every few years as well. Bubba has been around enough that he slips easily in to the group, trading jokes and recalling some of the same family lore.

On Saturday, when more cousins and aunts and uncles arrived, the chaos felt warm and comfortable. We met up at the beach, greeting new babies and walking in a pack, seamlessly moving between generations as we stopped to gaze at crabs and fish, use the bathroom, reapply sunscreen, talking and laughing easily. In the evening, in a crowd of more than 100 people, we continued the dance, shifting to say hello to more family with firm hugs and slipping into conversations without small talk. This is where I learned to do family – with these people who are smart and stubborn and funny and freckled. This is where I learned that you can disagree and tease and be in a bad mood and still be loved and cherished and celebrated. This is where I began to understand that, even as you display your own quirks and unique personality, you are tied to others by virtue of your similarities – like those freckles or having the gift of gab.

No matter how big this family gets, with weddings and babies born, it will always be strong and solid, cemented by the stories of childhood pranks and the sweet memories of Grandma and Grandpa. As we sat on a bench near the water one day, I looked over and saw my uncle wearing the opal ring that my grandfather used to wear and I felt a warmth, a continuity, a solid foundation behind me. He has the same freckled hands, the same long, graceful fingers, the same generous heart I remember, and when I see him holding his own grandchildren I know that the legacy of love my grandparents started will live on.

http://www.clker.com/clipart-super-hero-flying-silhouette.html

Yesterday was one of the loveliest Mother’s Days I’ve had. My girls are old enough to temper their sibling interactions with each other and put up with my sentimental slobbering with minimal complaining.  They were sweet and kind, funny and gentle, and Bubba had planned the day with lots of relaxation in mind.

I saw lots of wonderful messages in texts and on social media and I was so happy that so many other mothers out there were feeling the love yesterday. But there were a few things that gave me pause, even though I know they were meant with love and gratitude.

The whole “Supermom” thing has a twist on it for me, especially when it is held up by corporations trying to sell us something or organizations that are designed to support or revere motherhood. I am no Supermom. I am hardworking-good-enough-human-mom, and it has taken me years to get to the point where that is all I aspire to.

Several years ago, in my therapist’s office, I began my journey toward good-enough-mom. As I described some of the pressures I put on myself on a daily basis, the lessons I wanted to be sure to impart to my daughters, the life I wanted to provide for them, the people I hoped they would become, I noticed my therapist’s face change. I can’t describe it, but her energy shifted from wholehearted agreement and mentally patting me on the back for my wonderful ideas and intentions to skeptical, thoughtful.  I stopped talking mid-sentence and asked, “What?”

“You are trying to be Supermom. Good, healthy, hot, nutritious meals three times a day, enough mental stimulation, lots of emotional support for your girls and your husband. Keeping a tidy house, never being late for anything, making sure the girls get enough social interaction and their doctor and dentist appointments happen on time. Seeing that everyone gets enough sleep and not too much TV and good exercise daily, right?”

None of that sounded bad to me. I was confused.

“Where is the time for you? Where is the flexibility for mistakes or spills or spontaneous resting time?”

There will be time for me when the girls are older, when Bubba isn’t traveling so much for work, when….I thought to myself.

“You know that your girls are learning as much or more from watching you as they are by listening to what you say, right? They see that you are putting all of your efforts into making everyone else’s life perfect and smooth. They see that you have no needs of your own, and that is what they think mothers do. They see you utterly exhausted to the point of tears at the end of most days and they will internalize the message that they are expected to be Supermoms, too, when they have kids. Is that what you want for them?”

Oh, shit.

As hard as it was, from that day forward, I did my best to give up on the idea that being a Supermom was the highest form of parenting. I began trying to give myself some slack, to give myself permission to make cereal and bananas for dinner some nights, or order a pizza. I began to work toward a goal of good-enough-mom, if only so that my daughters would see that as a viable path for themselves. I started working on saying no to things I didn’t want to do for them and articulating that my desires were just as important as theirs. And it took a long time, but most days that is where I am. And so when I see messages in the mass media about “Supermoms,” it makes me sad to think that there are folks out there who are setting our girls up to believe that being hard-working-full-of-love-most-of-the-time-good-enough-moms aren’t worth celebrating.  Because I’m here to tell you that we are.

The human brain loves a shortcut. Maybe not as much as my Dad did, driving through the rural back-roads of Oregon, but pretty close, I think.  The look of pure satisfaction on his face as he turned in the opposite direction that we expected him to, the glee when he discovered a different route that would shave minutes or seconds off of our trip, it was a thing to behold.  Cheating the system, cutting a corner, figuring out a pattern and exploiting it – that was the stuff of legend in our household and always good for a cheap thrill.  I took notes as a kid, and my brain followed suit, laying down a nice flat steamrolled bed of gravel and pouring some asphalt over the top of it. Streamlining the process for the next time and feeling smug that I had discovered a better way, a faster way, a more efficient way to deal with all sorts of things, not just how to get from Point A to Point B.

After a few times of traveling that new road my brain laid down, it increased the speed limit for me. How nice, I thought, I barely even need to think about this anymore. It has become reflex to react in this particular way to this particular set of events. And, often, it was nice. It was time-saving. But when I got to the point where I could navigate those paths blindfolded and in my sleep, I forgot that they were crafted by a child.

When I was a kid, my brain laid down a path to being okay with people leaving. Forged over the span of a few years as some pretty critical folks peeled off and left, it gave me a way to shortcut the hurt whenever I suspected someone else was about to go. I used that road for a long time, and I got really good at it. The signage on that road went a little something like this:

GO AHEAD. I’M FINE.

and

I’M DONE WITH YOU, ANYWAY.

Long-time readers may recall that about ten years ago, Bubba was really sick with some mystery illness. He was in and out of the hospital every few months for days at a time and it took many doctors over three years to figure out what was wrong. But in those three years or so, he did his level best to keep on keeping on in-between episodes, continuing to travel internationally for work and provide for the four of us. This meant that on a few occasions, he would fall seriously ill in a foreign country and I would get a phone call in the middle of the night – from Prague or China or somewhere that felt really, really far away.  That path went from a foot-worn deer path in my brain and heart to a full on superhighway.

GO AHEAD. WE’LL BE FINE.

When he was home, I was guarded but loving. Affectionate and caring but ready to pull away just in case.  As if that shortcut would circumvent the deep wellspring of despair I would have plunged into had anything happened to him. As if I could distance myself enough emotionally to be able to just carry on if he were gone for good.

And yet. That shortcut beckoned. My brain saw that path as the well-lit one studded with diners and rest stops along the way and it was so well-traveled that I could barely discern the other road off to the side.

These days, I’m working on creating a new path. As Bubba readies himself for another long trip and Eve pulls away more and more in search of a new kind of independence and Lola hits the stage where her bedroom is the best room in the house (as long as she’s in there alone or with a girlfriend), I am discovering that that old highway is no longer useful. It never really got me where I needed to go, anyway. There’s no getting around the hurt when someone leaves. So instead of pulling away preemptively, I’m going to hang on a little tighter. I’m going to squeeze every last drop of affection out of the time I do get with these amazing people and hopefully the signs on my new road will read

I LOVE YOU AND I MISS YOU.
GLAD WE HAD THIS TIME TOGETHER.

When I look at this image, the first thing I see is an old woman and it’s hard to see anything else.  But as soon as someone points out the young lady facing away from me in the same lines on the page, it is nearly impossible to see the old woman again. I am stuck with the view of the young lady.

In order to switch back and forth, I am forced to focus on certain parts of the image instead of looking at the whole. If I want to go back to the view of the old woman, I seek out the line of her mouth and raise my eyes up to her beak-like nose.

If I then want to see the young lady again, I look out to where her eyelash and nose are to shift perspective.  And as I do so, I am reminded that I possess the same power of perspective in my daily life.

Perception is reality, right? So if we’re in a challenging situation, or a pattern in our lives where our default perspective is glass-half-empty, it’s up to us to change the way we look at it. The trick is not to fill up the glass, but to see that it is half full instead.  We have to focus on certain parts of the whole that help us to see things in a different way, and it is important to teach our kids how to do this for themselves. As they hit adolescence and emotions become king, it can be really difficult to perceive things in a positive way, and once the negative patterns have been set, it takes work to change them.

If you have a teen who sees things in a decidedly unhappy way (I hate school, nobody likes me, I suck at math/history/lit), there’s no use challenging their perception. You will get nowhere by disputing their sense of reality or belittling their emotional responses, but you can help them turn the tide slowly by helping them see things in a different way. One powerful way to do this is to begin a gratitude practice (although you may not want to call it that).

When Eve started high school there were a lot of challenges and it didn’t take long for her to feel like a square peg in a round hole. After weeks of angst and hand-wringing (on my part), lots of conversations designed to build her up, and a few frustrated arguments, I decided to lead by example. Every night before turning my bedside lamp off, I texted Eve a list of three things I was grateful for and asked her if she had three to tell me about. I wanted the last thing in her mind before sleep to be happy.  She started out slowly, often able to come up with one or two things, but sometimes getting stuck. It took a week or so before she was texting me first and asking for my reply, and her list of things has deepened from “my soft pillow” to items like “teachers I can trust” and her own strengths. Her perspective is shifting right before my eyes and I would be remiss if I didn’t say that it has made a difference in her willingness to get up and tackle each new day as it comes, challenges and all.

It is a practice, and, like the effort it takes to focus my eyes on one set of lines or another in that drawing when I want to see a certain perspective, it is continual. The best part about it, though, for me, is the reminder that I am ultimately in charge of which lenses I see the world through – hope or fear, scarcity or abundance, gratitude or anger – and I hope that my girls are learning that, too.

What a week! I am putting the first touches on the website for my new project (that I’ve been hinting about here for a while, now), and it is a lot of work, but it’s really fun. You can visit the site here and give  me any feedback you have on what you see/what I might change or add.  The endeavor is called The SELF (Social-Emotional Learning Foundations) Project. The goal is to bring social-emotional education to tweens and teens at schools, after-school programs, and other places where they gather.  The curriculum is divided into six areas:

  • mindfulness
  • living with joy
  • dealing with stress, anxiety, and fear
  • developing self-worth
  • compassion
  • big questions of life
I’m offering one-off events as well as entire workshops based in these areas and hoping to do a few summer camps this year.  I will also facilitate groups for parents and others raising tweens and teens to talk about mindful parenting through this tumultuous time, again either as ongoing meetings or as one-off speaking/facilitating events.  Eventually, I hope to develop the curriculum so that it can be licensed to other people who want to teach it in their own communities.  Each focus area has discussion prompts, worksheets, activities, and guided visualizations/meditations in order to offer different ways of looking at the same ideas.  It is based in research I’ve done over the past eight years as I raise my own girls and strive to help them develop as whole human beings, and most of the meditations and worksheets are things I created to help my girls through challenging times. If you know of schools or other organizations (YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, etc.) who might be interested, please pass on the link to the website so they can check it out.   I am happy to travel in the Pacific Northwest to speak and teach.  
—————————————————————————–
Also, in case you missed it, I had a piece published this week that I have worked on for a while and I’d love it if you headed over to read it – especially if you know tweens or teens that have questions about sex and sexuality.  You can find it here.

“Smart Clip Reminds Parents of Babies Left in Cars”

I don’t even really know where to go with this. I know that the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas showcases all sorts of innovative and crazy technologies, many of which are altogether unnecessary but cool. I get that in the spirit of seeing what can be created, companies often try to design markets around things that nobody needs, but might want. 
But this? A clip that fits on to your child’s seat belt to remind you that they are there when you exit your car? Yes, I have heard the (extremely rare and baffling) news reports of harried parents accidentally leaving their children in cars while they go to work all day. And I agree that if even one life can be saved by installing a “Smart Clip” on your child’s carseat, it’s worth it.  
But more profoundly, this speaks to me of the increasing lack of attention we pay to the things that we do every day. How far does your mind have to be down the rabbit hole of to-do’s that you forget about the living, breathing human beings around you? How much could some small shift in attention and mindfulness affect our ability to remember what we’re doing while we’re doing it?
I’m not judging. I am as likely as anyone else to forget what I’m doing in the moment. I leave my keys behind, my grocery bags in the car about every third time I head to get food for the week, and I often get into another room and have to stop a beat to recall why the hell I’m there.  All of those things point to me not being present, and generally all it takes is a thoughtful intention to be mindful of what I’m doing to bring me back.  
I am reminded of something that I heard Dr. JoAnn Deak say once in a lecture she delivered.  If a girl isn’t making eye contact with you, she isn’t processing what you’re saying.  I wonder how often I don’t look up when my loved ones come into the room and start talking to me, my head buried in a book or staring at my computer screen.  I wonder how that makes them feel, or if they are so used to people not making eye contact with them that they don’t think a thing of it.  And I wonder how many nuances of conversation I am missing by not taking a nanosecond to be intentional about my attention.  It is so easy to think that we are paying attention simply because we do something by rote (nod and murmur, “uh huh” at a break in someone’s sentence, buckle our child into their carseat and drive to work), but it takes more than that to truly be part of that action, and ironically, it doesn’t take much more time. It simply requires that we be mindful of what we’re doing at any given time, a task that is becoming increasingly challenging for all of us as we succumb to the rhetoric about ‘productivity.’ Personally, I’d rather see more people doing things with intentionality and purpose and attention than people doing more things on balance.  A culture that requires a “Smart Clip” to remember its children are there isn’t one that I can be terribly proud of. 

I am sitting in my cluttered kitchen contemplating a new vision for today. I had plans to go to yoga and then lunch with a friend to catch up a little on her new career endeavors and mine, but she “called in sick.” For the time being, I’ve put two spaghetti squash into the oven to roast so I can have a head start on making dinner tonight and I’m at the kitchen table eating leftover enchilada filling with avocado and thinking about the extra hours I’ve been given today.

Yesterday I called my mom. She recently quit her job for a variety of reasons (she is 70+ years old and won’t call it a retirement) and is struggling with memory loss.  She has good days and bad, and she seemed cheerful yesterday when she answered the phone, although she quickly confessed that she had a headache so she was sitting on the couch with the cat, hoping it would go away.  She lamented the grey shroud of fog outside her family room windows and went so far as to blame her headache on that. I wondered if it had more to do with her blood sugar, but didn’t say that aloud.

Frankly, I’m feeling a little guilty that I am so excited about gaining a few hours today to get things done. I’m feeling badly that there are so many things to do on my list that it might take me 15 minutes to decide which of them to begin with. Mom doesn’t really have anything to do and it shows. Her husband gets up every day and heads to their carpet store and while I don’t know how much he enjoys the work, it’s something. I don’t know what Mom does. I know she doesn’t prepare any food for herself anymore. She doesn’t remember to take her Metformin on her own. She doesn’t make her way efficiently through paragraphs of legal mumbo-jumbo as she helps clients buy and sell their homes. I think, mostly, she sits with the cat.

My list runs the gamut from picking up (and then installing) two new parts for my dishwasher, settling a bill with the chiropractor and dropping off donations to the homeless shelter nearby to creating a business plan and website design for a new venture I’m creating. There is also laundry, dog-walking and cleaning out the litter box to accomplish, among other things. I’m not feeling overwhelmed or frustrated. Instead, I’m feeling purposeful and energized, knowing that these things are by turns mundane and vital and wondering how Mom can get some of that in her life.

After chatting for nearly an hour yesterday, we were winding down the conversation and Mom suddenly said, “THANK you SO much for calling!  Thank you!”  And, although she didn’t sound sad or lonely, my heart broke a little bit at the thought of her sitting on the couch with the cat, alone in the fog with nothing to do today. I guess I don’t blame her for not calling it ‘retirement.’