bio–Questions to Mom

When my father died and I realized there were questions I wish I’d asked him about his life that would go unanswered. I decided to ask my mother those questions about her life. I really didn’t know a whole lot about her life, only surface things like you’d find in a public biography. I found that I really couldn’t. It wasn’t her unwillingness to answer but that when I probed her past she often broke into tears she didn’t feel comfortable prompting her to shed. I now wish that I had gone ahead and asked some of them because those questions reflect on my own past, not just hers. I will never know some things about myself that would give my heart ease just to know. I don’t know that they would make a difference but they might have.

Maybe I did ask and forgot the answers because I don’t have a mental file drawer with that label on it so I just can’t find those answers. I have a huge amount of information in my miscellaneous drawer. I filed a lot of what Mom said in that drawer because I didn’t know what to do with it, do I believe it, trust it, want it? With Mom, because I had so little trust in her good will, I didn’t listen to her with my heart. I was so very ready to defend myself at the drop of an adjective. It took so many years for me to be able to let down my guard.

What I’ve come to wish I’d found out is about my childhood behavior and specifically looking at ADHD and my relationships. I’ve said for many years that I was ADHD but never really, really thought about the implications of that idea in my childhood and relationship with my mother. On the other hand I have wondered if I didn’t sour the milk for my sisters. How much of what happened can be laid at my feet, how much was all her, and how much was just incompatible personalities? Those are questions I’ve asked myself all of my life. She certainly blamed me for most of it for our 59 years together.

Mother told he she realized she hated me when I was 18 months old. The way she said it made me totally believe her. I so wish I’d asked her more. For her answer to be so specific and me, so young, I wish I knew what it was that she identified about me that would lead her to say that. But I was afraid to disturb the pleasant balance we had finally found with each other and I was going to ask her to go back to such painful things? No. It seemed the price of the current peace between us was the answer to that question, but I wish I knew.

When I look in my baby book Mom wrote so many glowing things  about how I was always happy, babbling away, constantly in motion, cooperative, anxious to please and so on. But I wonder if this was a lie for public consumption when they she showed the baby book to friends or maybe so she wouldn’t have to face what she probably felt were her failures as a new mother. At 5 1/2 years old she wrote about her concerns for me that I was not tractable, wouldn’t be guided by her. She called me aggressive and uncooperative then, so I tend to believe the rest was wishful thinking on her part. I suspect she didn’t hate me all the time, but in waves. I probably was adorable at times but often enough I was difficult and willful that it made me very hard to parent. She didn’t seem to be the kind who questioned herself about motives or method so didn’t look to herself for solutions. As far as I ever remember, she blamed something or someone outside of herself when issues arose. At home is was usually me.

Mother never accepted that she did not have a patient personality. She was not only impatient with getting things that she wanted completed, done but she was incredibly and increasingly impatient with those who didn’t agree with her, who didn’t know as much as she thought she did about a subject, and especially she was impatient with children. She had this idea that children were little adults capable of reasonable, rational decisions. She thought children could make good decisions, meaning do what she said, and that children were there to wait on adults without demur. That all sounds harsh but as she aged the veneer of sociability and good manners she had cherished as a younger woman wore thin and her impatience sometimes came out and over rode good manners to a point even I found embarrassing. When I’d say, “Mother!” she’d say things like that’s just the way I feel or something else you’d expect out of an old lady.

I recall one time she had a business acquaintance staying with us for a few days. He was a nice, middle-aged guy from Australia. As usual the talk turned to politics and he said something about being ashamed of his country’s milk-toast attitudes and lack of activism about Viet Nam. Mom jumped on his for his lack of patriotism. I was astonished that she’d do that to company, and someone she didn’t really know. I saw his reaction, it wasn’t good. She just stuck her nose in the air. She truly astonished me at times because of the mantra she had about manners, breeding, propriety and so on. I don’t think she ever saw that her behavior violated that standard she had set.

Even her best friend, Ad, would comment on how “difficult” Mom was at times. They decided to go on a driving tour of  North Carolina one time when Mom was probably in her early 70s. Us three kids talked about betting on the durability of their friendship for this trip. I thought they might end up coming home early but they managed. I’m sure it was more about Ad’s loving, forgiving heart than anything else. Ad was not spared Mom’s sharp tongue  and bad temper but she usually just let it roll off with the occasional humph and, “well I never …!” I always internally cheered her on. There was no reason for her to put up with Mother’s ill manners. I really never understood why Ad did it but was glad she did. I loved her so deeply. She was the one I looked to as a loving, female adult in my life.

In reading Anne Lamot’s work she talks a lot about her mother and what an awful mother she had. Our mothers were similar in some ways in that they were neglectful, self-centered, and unsupportive. Reading her stuff got me to reading other women’s thoughts on their mothers. So much of the stuff that came out of the self-help movement of the 70s and early feminist work of that period was about mother to mother, how this conflict about child rearing played out. I didn’t relate to it at all, having no children. The current crop of women’s literature is so much more one-on-one with our mothers about what happened to us as children and how it as informed the women and mothers we became. As we have grown older the deeper schisms are being examined and as our parents have died we are freer to tell the truth we know about our own childhoods and the parents we feel we had.

My view is from the bottom up. I always feel like I’m looking up to see both Mom and Dad. In a way I saw the part under the surface, under the dress-up clothes and after the party but my point of view is also from a child’s eyes, a child’s expectations and needs. That makes me a much harsher judge because their emotional, intellectual and spiritual wrinkles, freckles, and shiny spots are amplified. They stand out more for me because I didn’t have a context in which to judge them, only my needs that were met/unmet. I had no tools to be compassionate or understanding that they had failures and successes, that they were winging-it. I didn’t know that adults didn’t know everything. Just as my mother expected me to know how, what, when, why to do things I expected the same thing of her and she let me down. She failed to be the adult she was supposed to be. I had to find the loving grown-up mother outside of my family. I grew up on this precarious ledge outside, not in the warmth of my mother’s home.

I’m lucky, my life has been good and I am happy now. I know I miss my mother so much now because of our unfinished business. I totally love my father but don’t think of him as often. He’s been gone 20 years longer than Mom but also I don’t have the conversations with him in my head like I do with Mom. When he died I had made sure there were no things left out, unsaid.


bio–Moving Closer to God

Like so many women, I’ve worked most of my life against the patriarchal image of god. I’ve done it consistently for almost 50 years but I still run into that guy with the white beard in my head, much to my frustration. I’ve worked hard to replace that image and maybe that is the problem. I’ve come to think that broadening my images might be a better way to go about what I’m trying to do. I don’t need to replace him just ask him to move over and share my head.

It is very hard for me to see the god I was raised with as a warm and loving anybody, much less father. He is really a scary dude. The biblical god is cruel, whimsical, and takes pleasure in the slaughter of thousands and thousands of people on a regular basis. It created us, gave us a test it knew we would fail, then punished us forever for the failure. Is god a power that really needs people to praise it all the time? For what? It’s ability to make people suffer? I don’t get prayers asking for things, though I do it out of hope, not faith. Could such a power exist, I suppose so but as a human it seems all so pointless. I want the god who choses prayers of thanks, for those things are the miracles in the world.

I’ve been looking for a god of real justice, of love and mercy, a god who holds you in her hands and gets you through all the shit and pain, fear and jealousy without going totally crazy. I’ve found her little by little, sighting by sighting as I look at life with gentler eyes. If I take the chance of looking every bit of life in the eye I find that spark. To look everyone in the eye I had to quit assigning blame. I had to really see that we are all actually dealing with our own stuff, theirs just looks different than mine. Even if they are the royalty of Dubai.

Our lives are all so messy, and it is all just awful to have to clean up after ourselves. Some of us end up living in the squalor of our messes, some give up and let it pile up higher day by day for not being attended to. Some of us learn to cope with some of it, trying to clean up after ourselves, even helping each other at times. Having some sustaining power who cares if I make it, makes a difference. I really seem to need someone to answer to, someone who cares. Sometimes I think I might be getting ahead of the game, others times I know I’m losing ground fast. But either way my god gives me hope that I will make it because I’m not really totally on my own.

Holy books are great, up to a point. I replace the male pronouns and write down useful things I find. It’s so hard to winnow out the chaff, there is so much of it. I keep looking for more efficient tools to clean it up with. I’ve found a few the most important being I try to live a simpler life so I don’t make so many new messes.

To get where I want to be I need a god to whom I can’t lie, a god to whom I can’t avoid admitting what’s true. If she sees the mess, I have no excuses left. I need a god with compassion, not one who seems to want to send me to everlasting hell for not trusting myself or knowing what to do and making a mess out of my life. That god is too scary. That god saps me of hope because I know there will always be failure in my path. I need a sense that god cares, this christian god is untrustworthy. I don’t know how to placate this god who demands too often that believers fall on their swords, demands too often I give up who I was created to be to the designs of someone else’s ideals.

Admitting that life is a mess is the essential starting place. Change only happens when you see there is a need. Sometimes it is tweaking, sometimes it is cleaning the Augean stables. Without the hope of a god, it’s all pointless. How can it be done and even why put so much effort in when in the end you are just going to die, go poof, into nothing. The mess is just too huge. The mess is all over, everywhere, next door, here in our own homes, not just in some foreign land. How can we look at all the poverty and injustice without a god to give us hope that there is some reason. I don’t buy that god is mad so is killing innocent children. And it’s too hard to live in a world where the only answer is, shit happens.

In my teens and 20s I went through a period of blaming god and saying if he was real I wanted nothing to do with him. I basically I wanted a new god who was at least not so much of a jerk so much of the time. It’s not the fear of hell but the injustice of it that made me reject the whole thing. Being in college in the late 1960s meant I was very much into the feminist ideas. I thought since god isn’t human but I need an image if I was going have a relationship with a god that I would chose a female image. I had good role models of loving mothers, even if mine wasn’t. I’d kill two birds with one stone and make this god into the mother with whom I could have a positive, accepting relationship with. I was done with job’s god.

Men have interpreted the creation story to justified the subjugation of women for thousands of years. I refuse to live by that book. The rules given to Moses were reasonable but men were so unable to accept them as applying to themselves that they turned the laws on their head and made the commandments the very reason for violating their god’s rules. In the end I’ve given up reading the old testament. There is too much just awful stuff in there to ferret-out out the bits of wisdom. The Tao Te Ching is a lot most accessible. So often institutional religion has drained the spirit out and replaced it with hubris and coercion. The whole institution thing is so corrupt, I appreciate why so many have tried to start over. That is in essence what I’ve done, starting with the very face of the divine.

From that starting point I became a seeker, which I remain to this day. I found that Quakers encourage this seeking, are rooted in a personal source of the light within each of us, and the idea of personal responsibility to the light that we seek to lead us through the mess we inevitably make in our lives. In becoming a Quaker I’ve grown in the image of that of god in each of us. I’ve been amazed by power of the Light and its continuing revelation though each and every person. God is working in and through each one of us. In some people it’s just a bit harder to see than in others.

It is particularly hard to see in those who have given up because the mess around them makes their light really dim. God shines through in the work of our minds and hands. Even a gun that has no other use than to kill people is a work of art, each concept executed in that weapon is the result of the light that someone found inside themself, that reveled itself. Look at the knitting Friends do in meeting. They take this long piece of yarn or thread and they make beautiful things. They make useful things, they make necessary things. That inclination to create is god shining through. God looks like a baby blanket, like a row of lettuce, an old used tire that needs to be cleaned up, it is all god’s work through us. In there is the face of God.

Even those who would deny that god exists because science shows them how all the pieces fit together still can’t answer the question that points to god. How did it all start? Where did the first spark come from? You can trace it through black holes to other dimensions but not back to that very first thought that came before the very first atom or spark of light. I side with those who say god exists and that I am is proof that she is.

b–And Going Away

I sat in the den with the TV on at 6:00 so I could catch at least a brief glimpse of the horses before the race. I usually look at them and pick who I think will win, sometimes I’m right sometimes I’m wrong but it gives me a horse to root for. This time it was all American Pharoah. I looked at the others but no way did I need to find someone to root for, it came with this day. I’ve watched just about every Belmont in which there was even the slightest hope of a Triple Crown. With this colt it felt hope rose so much higher than in the past, or maybe it was just my desire for one rose each year. Whatever it was, I was in tears before the gates opened.

I was a bit terrified as I watched, thinking bad thoughts of Ruffian and other horses who left their life on the track. These gorgeous, graceful creatures are so fragile. We’ve bred them to run only so far, with legs like toothpicks and hearts enough to break any horseman’s heart.

I kind of tried to narrate my own call of the race as AP walked nonchalantly into the number 5 slot. Moments later number eight, with his butt swinging out a bit, was in. The starter wants to get them off before the horses do something stupid so it took maybe two seconds for the gates to slam open and eight carriers of hope to bound forward pounding for the rail, if they can get there, all but one settling for second best. AP, who didn’t break well but fast enough, took the lead, and totally owned it. I don’t know about anyone else but owners, trainers, and friends of competitors who listend for anyone but AP.

I was truly worried about him staying sound until AP caught his stride and made it look easy. Once he wasn’t going to have to avoid another horse I felt more comfortable that he’d make it home in one piece. By the last furlong I’d actually almost forgotten my worry. As he crossed the wire my prayer of thanks was that he’d made it sound and then that he’d done it, won.

My bet is that even the owners of the horses that didn’t catch him weren’t all that disappointed. Frosted was the other name I kept an ear out for, intrigued by the gray (which is also being called blue roan by some), and was glad he had made it out in second place but certainly would have wanted to trip him if he’d come close to catching up. He’s a lovely horse and ran a good race but he isn’t AP.

I hand-road AP every stride from my couch, no whip, just prayers. I was so excited that the dogs got to barking along with me, the midget jumping up and down on the couch with me. As I wasn’t sure they understood this was like the coolest thing in twice their lives, I figured I’d just catch my breath, clear the tears I was crying off my glasses and hope the dogs would now lie down and relax.

I kept looking for the dun the female commentator who does the interviews usually rides. I wondered if that’s AP’s stable buddy, probably not. I looked at the visage of triumph on the jockey’s face, the joy and pride in the face of Bobby Beathard and the elation of the owners and just grinned. I even tried to let go of a my dismissiveness towards the owners, I kind of liked the son. I have to admit to a level of resentment towards those with all that money when there is so much need in the world. On the other hand, I’m glad their horse won, congratulations, finally.

b–Moving on

It seems many of our friends are moving, downsizing or getting away from noxious conditions. We were asked to share our experience with this. That is what follows.


     We are in the same process. We have been here for the whole 27 years of our life together. We have touched every surface in this home. We have painted, sanded, tiled, wallpapered, washed, waxed, and loved every bit. The deck outside was built with money from my mother’s estate, the tree out front with money as a housewarming gift from Mardi’s when we first moved in. 

     We have probably tilled every inch of the yard to plant and harvest. We dug and trimmed and encouraged things to grow. The yard was almost perfect this spring. Maybe saying it’s time, you’ve done what you can. Even the roses planted 2 years ago, which I was always afraid to plant because I don’t like using chemicals to keep the bugs away, were super abundant just as the peonies bloomed. The wisteria that I’ve been tying to get to bloom well finally did for the first time in my memory. I made sure to take pictures.

    The peonies have traveled from one house to the next with me and the dwarf red maple is from a seedling dug up in my mother’s yard as are the aucuba and and ajuga. Some of this we can take with us, some only the pictures and memories but all of it will come with us. I’ll miss eating the asparagus next year. We planted it several years ago and it should be of an eatable size next spring.

     Sorting stuff has gotten easier over the years. I have lost the need to be able to touch everything I own. It is OK for it to give others use and pleasure. A whole Jeep full of stuff went to the meeting house for the Strawberry Festival this Sat. I’ll go say a last good bye to all 7 boxes of stuff there. I will bring a thing or two back, maybe some earrings or a book or two. It is a relief to feel so much less acquisitive. In many ways that has been one of the burdens of my life. I’ve been like a turtle, needing to carry my home with me, just in case. I’m so much lighter as my needs and fears are fewer.
     In this process I’ve been striving to look forward rather than back. I can do that looking back from our new porch, doing it now bogs my spirit down because back feels too much like I’m losing something. Looking forward is gaining something and a grand new adventure. Looking forward opens me. It lets me open both my soul to the adventure and my hands to letting go of whats slowing me down. I’m terribly sentimental so this is a bit hard. Mardi has gone overboard with her culling and regretted giving some things away, having to replace them just to move from day to day. She is really into this simplifying but the moving has her scared.
     We haven’t even found a house yet and we have to wait a while to really aggressively look because the uncertainty is so scary. We are doing the part that pleases us, the simplifying, first. Starting that was the hardest part. It’s gained momentum as boxes for the thrift store fill up. We’ll see what next step we are ready for. I’m grateful that we started this. With sorting out I’ve found more space to wiggle my toes, along with some long lost possessions  We are in no rush except houses are getting more expensive. Now that I’m retired and so is she we are fairly unrestricted in where we can live. We just need to be able to get down into town for the music and events we enjoy and have enough money left to not be to scared to use some for pleasure.
     One day at a time, one finger at a time we are changing handholds. Even walking requires a moment of suspension when you are waiting to catch your balance again. You sound like you have your forward foot reaching for the ground. Once it settles I hope you find your new home brings you all the peace and health and joy your are looking for.