Monday, November 23, 2009

The Furrowed Brow Is Not Pretty

      The older I get the more I know that humor, playfulness, and laugher are keys to a happy life.  As a kid, there was a lot of laughter in our house, for sure, and a sense of humor was valued.  There was also, however, the Catholic Church.  I can't speak for today but in the 50's and 60's the Catholic Church was not a playful place to be.  I attended a rigorous Catholic elementary school where silence was king and laughter was generally met with reprimand.  Mass and other devotions stressed (in my childlike mind) suffering, sadness, sacrifice, and solemnity and were often just plain scary.  Since life in our house was shaped by the Church, I suspect that those characteristics were part of the fabric, even if laughter was also a strong part of the fabric.  And life was serious.  You needed to do well in school you needed to have the right answer at the dinner table, you needed to "hold your tongue" when told to do so.  You were an O'Neill and O'Neills did not fail.  One thing that O'Neills had in common though?  A furrowed brow and a serious and responsible outlook on life.

      That seriousness did serve me well, no doubt.  Because I took education seriously, I was a successful student.  Because I paid attention and studied how to make it in the job world, I secured valuable and responsible employment.  When my children were born, I felt to the core of my being how important their early years were and took my responsibility as parent to the extreme. My focus in all was on how to do well in the world and doing well seemed to be about work.  And work is serious business.
So then I started getting up there in the decades and I stepped back from all this serious stuff and I discovered that it was all bullshit.  The furrowed brow is not pretty, is not playful, is not relaxing, is not fun.  The furrowed brow doesn't make me smile.  It doesn't make anyone smile.  Sure, there is a time and a place for seriousness but not all day, every day.  Playfulness, levity and laughter lighten the days.  Silliness and an ability to be a bit of a kid provide balance to the tragic headlines that weigh down the life of an adult.  I have decided that laugher and play are healthy behaviors that need to infuse each and every one of my days.  In fact, to be happily alive, I must laugh. I  must play.  I must be affectionate and warm and that joyfulness must be contagious.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Dear Meg

Dear Meg,
When they told me in the delivery room, that we had a daughter, I was taken aback.  Frankly, I guess I assumed you were a boy child.  After all, I knew how to "do" boys - I grew up with all those brothers and then there was your almost two year old brother .  I had experience with boys and just figured that was my destiny.  Surprise!  After I got over the shock of a baby girl, I began to consider this situation.  I remember laying upstairs on the bed with you on a warm, sunny day when you were just two or three days old.  I remember being flooded with that wonderful maternal emotion - the one that is in love with baby and with life, the one that knows that my life will never be the same now that this baby has entered it.  I remember tracing my finger over your delicate hands and toes and looking into your soul through your eyes.  Your eyes were beautiful and portended the incredible physical beauty you would carry  always.  There was an intimate connection that I sensed that I would never have with your brother.  You were a girl child.  You would need something different from me than he needed.  You would see the world a little differently and I would need to show you how to be a strong woman in a world that can be difficult for strong women.
Now you are 22 years old.  The work of raising you is over and  I step back  and observe the results.  You were a bright (in every way) little girl.  You made heads turn with your physical attractiveness and your sweet disposition.  In the primary grades, you created wonderful art,  listened intently to stories and wrote more than a few of your own.  Middle school was the beginning of the tough years - the years when other girls were not always nice (and maybe you weren't nice too, I can't say).  You always did your school work,  though I wondered from time to time if the social world was more your world than the academic world.  In this sense, your high school years were painful ones to watch.  You seemed angry at teachers, at kids, at the world and you rarely left your room (or so it seemed).  We worried about you.  You said everything was okay. That summer after graduation was such a blender of emotions.  You were scared and not ready to leave but you were also determined to go.  Oh my!  And that semester at Chico?  Must have been agony and yet you stayed.  You found strength and forced yourself to tough it out but when you came home in December, you were crushed.  The spirit that had been so alive in your as a 5 year old was buried under fear, self blame, anger, confusion, disappointment and self disgust.  No matter that we loved you and that we knew you would find your way again.... you could not be happy that spring.
But, in the way that life unfolds, you unfolded.  Over the last three years, you have grown in every dimension.  You have found a path at SSU.  You have supported yourself via jobs and loans and you have assumed apartment or house rentals. You even bought yourself a truck.  You have loved and lost men, and learned a ton about true friendships.  Through it all, you have discovered more and more talents and you have continued to be a source of great pride for Michael and me.
I think back now on my apprehension about raising a daughter.  I wanted a daughter who could be compassionate but not a push over.  I wanted a daughter who would be open to learning and who could teach when the opportunity presented itself (which it does all the time).  I wanted a daughter who would develop a mind of her own and who could articulate her thoughts.  I wanted a daughter who could appreciate the beauty in herself and in the people and the world around her.  I wanted you.  And now I step back and admire the young woman you have become and I am so grateful to have you in my life.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Run, Girl, Run!

I remember being in kindergarten and running races daily at lunchtime.  I had decided that I was the fastest runner in the class and I wanted to demonstrate my speed.  In first grade, I was chased daily at lunchtime by Chuckie and I loved my speed and power.  I remember being on the small side compared to other kids but feeling as if my speed made up for any deficiencies in height.  As a ten year old, I climbed trees, rode bikes, played baseball and generally took my physicality for granted.  I saw the strength in my leg and arm muscles and used my body as a tool to enjoy being alive in the world.
When I was a college student I took a PE class in which I became acquainted with weight machines and the power of aerobic exercise.  That one class started a lifelong trend for me and I returned to those ten year old girl days.  I found the strength in my arms and legs again and loved the feeling of running, sweating, and breathing hard.  For years I ran daily, not competitively, but just for fun. I enjoyed the active and I enjoyed feeling healthy and strong.  Somewhere along the way, my knees forced me to slow down.  Running became history but still daily walks and/or bike rides felt good and healthy.  Now I wait for bones to heal and remember what "good and healthy" felt like.  Can't wait to be there again!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Scars Happen

I just peeled off the last steri strip from the four inch long incision on my right hip.  This incision allowed the orthopedic surgeon to take bone from the hip and use that to reconstruct my right clavicle.  The incision is healing well but I was actually surprised at how insignificant the scar seemed - just a very straight pink line.  My clavicle scar is still secured with steri strips and that is a bit more scary.  About 4 to 5 inches, it is not neat and straight.  At the moment, it is still shades of red and brown and very Frankensteinish.  These are my two "real" physical scars because I have been remarkably lucky.  Except for a few little dings from childhood, my body has seen very little trauma.  That really is the story of my life.  I have been remarkably lucky. Strong beginnings in life segued into responsible choices for post high school.  Bumpy relationships with men set the stage for a strong marriage that has supported me in many ways.  Family and friends have been my refuge and brought much laughter and love into my life. I have work that is rewarding and enough financial resources to go out to dinner occasionally or take a 6 day vacation in NYC from time to time.  Just a word of warning:  I'm not looking to break the lucky streak but I do have the scars to prove that stuff happens.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Go Figure

Who would think that two over 50 year old types could laugh hysterically in bed at 5:30 on  Monday morning in November?  First, okay, little kids do goofy things like that all the time but we're talking about serious,  responsible, gotta go to work adults.  And then it's Monday morning - start of the work week after relaxing weekend - no reason to laugh there.  And, for God's sake, it's NOVEMBER - where's the humor in that?  It's not like being on vacation, laid back silly like you might find in a tent in July.   And what brought about this incredible fit of belly laughter?  This deep throat CANNOT stop laughing fit?  This laugh til the snot runs out of your nose fit?  Wanna know?  Really?  Okay - the realization that we are the quintessential artsy-fartsy couple.  I am the artsy one.  He is the fartsy one.  Go figure.  That was worth the best in bed laugh of the year!  What the heck?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Summer Is Gone (For Now)

November 1st.  Halloween is a memory.  I guess that means that summertime is really over.  Why does that  bum me out so much?  I love the summertime and live for it all the rest of the year.  It's only been gone (practically speaking) for two months but until very recently I could sort of fool myself into thinking that summer was still hanging around.  But no more.  The clocks have been turned back and it is dark at 5:45.  The trees and flowers are either dressed to kill or dressed in death.  All this is depressing.  Summertime is time to be alive.  Wide, long days with uncluttered schedules make for an easy mind.  Balmy evenings, shorts, tank tops, and flip flops give rise to bike rides, walks with the dogs and excursions out to the beach. How can life get any better than life in the summertime?  And so I miss it already and there is a corner of my mind waiting, waiting waiting for those lazy, crazy wild days of summer.  I'm ready now.