I need to forget where I take shelter being a little too comfortable in my reclining chair day after day upon returning home from work. Here I read, socialize and most sadly this is where I eat. Thinking about how to improve my health are first steps, written plans and action being the next phase.
There is a restlessness I feel. Uncertain whether it is the change of season or the fact that this time of year always seems to unearth projects like knitting, freshening up the interior of the house or tackling stacks of books or writing that novel. I become a tad anxious and overwhelmed, but immersion in nature, I believe will stimulate self-truth, upright the ship for a voyage to face whatever lies ahead in this journey.
Innately, I feel like running out into the wilderness of my backyard, touching every living surface particularly noting the sights, smells and feeling of nature. I wish to see the light of the sun through the paper thin bark of a white birch, the loose end unwrapped and flapping softly to mark a passing breeze. I wish to feel the cold under my bare feet as I race on a whim to the garden where the towering sunflower skeletons, hollowed and lifeless stand ready to catch the snow with petals shriveled and the color of creamy coffee. This is not the way one writer should experience life-sedentary from the arm of a chair, living life vicariously. I need to get up, out and move.
We walked everywhere and when we were not able to make the journey on foot, we would hop on public transportation. Later, when I was older, I rode my bike miles and miles to a friend's house in Saco or a longer distance to Fortune's Rocks near Biddeford Pool. It took me so long to ride my three speed up and down the hills to the beach that I was not able to stay, but for a quick bare-footed walk on the sand, until I had to turn around and head home before it got dark.
When I visit home, I feel much like I did during those early journeys on my bike. It takes so long to get home, I am never able to linger, explore all the crooks and crannies to recall details of my past life in Biddeford. Not having lived there in over three decades now, the changes make it hard to remember. The big historic tree in front of my grandmother's apartment was cut down. The changes are not all bad, many once empty store fronts have new life now as restaurants have opened and my beloved city is being revitalized as a center for the arts.
When I was little, I would most often walk throughout the city with my grandmother Caroline. We would visit Butler's where extra attention was given to my grandmother's carefully wrapped in lamb skin feet. The shoe attendant would take great care in helping my grandmother get the perfect shoes with the most comfortable fit. I would walk up and down the sweeping staircase of this small department store slipping my hand down the shiny wooden banister my heels clicking on the large tiles as I landed at the bottom of the stairs. Once the shoes were purchased, my Grandmother would take me to Woolworth's a door or two down from Butler's for a whirl in the soda fountain stools while I waited for a sundae or a colossal banana split. The price was set in accordance with the small tag found inside the balloon of my choosing that hung like a bunch of bananas above our heads on each stainless steel column that lined the counter area. The draw of the colorful array of round balloons must have sold a number of banana splits each day, for while my Gram and I sat there we heard the pop of many a balloon the only way to pay for your split.
With a full belly, the walk home seemed long. Sometimes we would stop at a shop near the Thatcher Hotel where they just sold undergarments. My grandmother would pull a dark green curtain aside while a woman with a short, graying hair and a tape measure dangling from her neck would follow my grandmother. I would wait patiently until they both emerged. Everyone would talk in undertones, a parcel was quickly put into a brown paper bag and we would head for home. After a morning of running errands, my grandmother would arrange her bed for an afternoon nap. The coverlet folded down at the foot of the bed and then removed so it would not be dirty or wrinkled. I don't actually recall napping, but we would snuggle in her bed and she would listen to my hours spent with Sister Mary Natalie my first grade teacher at St. Mary's School and she would tell me of the two weeks she spent with my aunt as they traversed this great country with two little kids in the backseat. It sounds like an adventure, one that my grandmother cherished.
As I age, it is the moments spent growing up in a bustling little city in southern Maine where running ordinary day to day errands with my grandmother, buying shoes and spinning in a soda fountain chair are what I cherish. It is the slowing down and the taking time that help to forge the memories. I went cross country in a big old jet plane, but I don't remember much. Pardon the cliche: There's no place like home.
This poem is in response to my inability in remembering detail. I have forgotten the sound of my mother's voice, moments when my dying friend admitted to fear and the number of steps to my grandmother's apartment. I want to so desperately to remember everything, and as I frantically try to recall, I remember nothing. I must trust the silence.
Hues of color bleed through the darkness,
When not long ago,
Pricks of light shone,
Through black, nothingness.
Fresh memories empty into
Silence reveals the
News has gotten me on edge. Last night someone posted on Facebook that healthy dogs have been suddenly dying from a strange virus. Instead of reading it and critically determining the viability of this post or calling the vet for an official confirmation or denial of the article, I ignored it- at least until Rex sneezed on me during the night and woke me up each time. I think it is called pandemonium in my mind or maybe just plain anxiety. It was just a week ago that our Rex was rushed to the vet. He was on a bland diet and is on the tail end of antibiotic, yet he has developed new symptoms: repeatedly sneezing. Unlike last week's illness, at least Rex is exercising his tail, wanting to cuddle and has not forgotten the bad habit of begging. Hopefully, all is right with our world and that article was a hoax.
At one point in my life, I prayed, meditated and did yoga everyday. Recently, I have given renewed attention to my spirituality and I honestly crave meditation. yoga and long walks in the woods which I find to be meditative. When I review how I have spent my time each day, I am embarrassed.
I must evaluate the quality and need for the activities that eat up my time. Prayer, work, eating (all necessary), writing, reading and photography (also necessary) and then there's social networking. Do I have the discipline it takes to moderate this activity? I have made those promises to myself before, only to be sucked into the vortex emerging hours later with little accomplished. We got rid of cable TV because it did not contribute to my well-being or the well-being of my family. For the most part, I have replaced the nearly mindless chatter of the tube for the highly dysfunctional world of Facebook where dirty laundry is aired, people bash one another with no remorse and proper grammar is entirely ignored. Why, oh why do I not have better regard for how I spend my time? It is all about discipline, isn't it? Moderation in all things.
I have all I can do to contain my laughter. My 13 year old caught a glimpse of the above self-portrait (Day 15) and without prompting demonstrated various techniques to enhance my photo with a smile. "Look Ma, do it like this," she said demonstrating the preferred smile while explaining the "how not to smile" techniques. Apparently one should never smile with the teeth together nor should the top teeth ever overlap the bottom, which is my usual strategy. I guess I've got it all wrong. The following photo is post smiling lessons. I have my daughter Eddaejia to thank for today's selfie!
My mother must be so very happy. See the post about my mother's failed attempts at smiling lessons here: http://travelinma.blogspot.com/2013/11/on-black-box.html
Lately, I have been thinking about how I handle stress, disappointment and life's surprises-of which I have had many. Grit? It is always a question as to how much I have. It seems that I have more when I have accessed my resources and supports than when my reserves for "curve balls" has been depleted by lack of self-attention. It has long been my contention that not only do the daily habits of a spiritual being like praying, meditating and engaging in kindnesses support each soul, but for me, creative pursuits contribute greatly to my well-being. That is why I write. It sounds corny, but it feeds my soul.
Writing for the purpose of posting to my blog has become a habit. The hard part is working on other writing projects that require long term effort, persistence and facing the fact that I don't always know what I am doing as I tread on new territory. My motivation for my current project is to honor a strong woman who became my dear friend, an unlikely pairing. Part of what thwarts me is the fear that my words will not do her justice. Part of my fear is that my memory of her remains unclear, foggy. When I think of this project there is a mix of excitement, apprehension and pure fear. It is easier to think plenty about this project than to plunge ahead and give it a go. I am hopeful that with all my supports at the ready and by creating a plan for persistent effort, I will find my way through the brambles.
This morning, every flat surface in the house seemed to have a teenage boy snuggled under a blanket. What a wondrous way to wake, so we set about to make them all feel at home. Pounds and pounds of bacon sizzled in the pan sending a lingering wake-up smell in the house and a waffle recipe that multiplied by five times for all these extra mouths, plus the adult children and significant others who normally join us each Sunday. The house was filled with food and people.
It was cold and drizzly and some folks in the state woke to snow. My trusty Sue-Baru would get us to Bangor (running some errands) and then to the Augusta area to visit with my dear aunt. This trip was long over-do and I was able to catch up on the welfare of all my cousins who have been lost in the decades of adulthood. Photos along with my aunt's commentary provided me with a glimpse of their lives with children and grandchildren since my younger wild days of chasing my boy cousins for hugs and kisses.
Later in the afternoon, as I sat on a bench in the middle of a large square room (facing what I thought at first was a self-portrait taken with a camera), I was in awe that this piece of art that was two stories tall was in fact a tapestry. My daughter, who is an artist told me that this particular artist is confined to a wheelchair and has designed a lift to hoist himself up to meet eye to eye with the line he is working on. Such tedious work. It puts a ridiculous touch on my little self portrait project and my hesitation to share art depicting myself.
Today after the visit with my aunt and a brief stop at Colby College's Museum of Art, I realize that my life is full of possibilities: the human connection spawning love and the divine connection unfurling creativity and love. I sometimes fail to recognize these. Both experiences were of a Divine nature. Love and creativity. 'Can't miss.
There are a few things that change around here as soon as the cold weather arrives-the wood stoves are cranking, I have all I can do to stay up until 9 p.m. and the family gathers for what has become traditional Fall and Winter meals. Thoughts of Friday night conjure up testing yeasty dough for proofing and using four hands to decorate the pizza pie. Some weeks the house is filled with hungry teenagers and older Keene children with significant others, while other Fridays are pretty quiet with wedges of left over pizza available for a snack late into the night or for the perfect "take and go" breakfast in the morning. Food does not last long around here.
My childhood Sundays were filled with mass at St. Mary's Church in Biddeford and then a big family brunch at my home on Dearborn Avenue. I think that is where I learned to overeat. This meant that family was gathered around the table eating and chatting until everyone was finished. The longer I ate english muffins slathered in peanut butter and bacon (after a course of bacon and eggs) the longer I had to listen to family stories. These tales uniquely bound us together.
My children are big story tellers. Recently, Jerry and I learned over Sunday waffles (homemade by the way) that Gabrielle was the scape goat for many escapades instigated by her older brother Alex and twin sister Elizabeth. No wonder Gabrielle was always in trouble, I ponder as I toss a few fresh strawberry slices on my blueberry waffle. Of course, no one else was there on this particular Sunday to deny or to support this point of view, but nonetheless the stories flow freely among the Keenes and their significant others or friends who choose to join us.
While writing about my childhood and family through the years, I realize that what has been most important to me has been the constancy of traditions and routine. Over the past week, we have jostled between summer like temperatures in the mid-60's or have endured the frigid task of scraping frost off the car windshield when the thermometer read 23 degrees. This is our season of gathering and telling tall tales over some mighty good homemade food which is part of our family history. I am ready.
Each night our double bed is overflowing with life inhaling, exhaling stretching and snoring. I slip under the layers of sheet, blanket and comforter and I start to yank, fighting for cover and more than a postage sized space to lay prone. It is quite a process to investigate the real estate claimed by canine and feline. Cats on the pillows, all curled with nose touching tail. Others stretch wherever there is space. stepping over dog, whose ears twitch in recognition and certainly not in irritation. We are a family where there is room for all.
Hunched, I sat on the side of the bed last night. My hand covering my eyes, elbow on knee, I was worried about my sick pup. Rex had not moved all night. Like checking a newborns breath, my hand rested gently on his aching side and I watched my hand move with each breath. Shallow, quick breaths. He recognized my presence his eyes opened glassy and sick. His tail between his legs. He lay motionless. Pitiful.
I lay on my side, moving my body like a contortionist to fit in the tiny space that was left on the bed. I kissed my boy, nestling my nose into his neck and was soothed by long gentle strokes along satiny fur. Whispering of my love and I spoke of fishing at camp, runs at the Stone Barn and long trips in the car. My armed craned over his body, I closed my eyes and prayed.
Between the hard, cold realities of life's upward climb, there is always cause for celebration. I collect those moments in photographs and words like I collect coins for lean times. I guess I am a happiness collector.
It has always been one of the most unnatural things for me to do-to stare into the eye of a lens for the sake of capturing my image. This difficulty has been fodder for family stories for decades and it drew my mother's ire. With care she gathered together all my school photos and hung them in the hallway across from the cellar door. Whenever photo day came near, she would beckon me to study the expression in each photo. There was no smile, but an odd pull of the lips that disappeared into a set of twin dimples. No teeth were shown.
"Here, smile like this. Show your teeth," my mother would demonstrate accentuating her smile with a pointed finger."You do it, now," she coaxed. I practiced in the tiny hallway, just me and my mother long enough to satisfy her. We parted, each hoping for a different outcome.
While sitting at the kitchen table, she unhinged the glass protecting each portrait-the expression was the same year after year. As I stood in line waiting for the photo to be taken, I practiced smiling as my mother had shown me. Sitting on that big black box and staring into the lens made me self-conscious and nervous. I always deferred to the default 'no smile, no teeth'-my mother's disappointment.
Even today, portraits are such a difficult undertaking. Everyone is coaxing me to smile. And, I just can't. I really don't know why.
With this admission, I realized that there was so much more that I didn't know about her.
Everything was red and big. Red lipstick was drawn just passed the natural curve of her lips. Hair dyed, twisted into a tight bun, morphed by the bow clip that loomed like wings of a great bird ready for take-off. Earrings made of shiny metals and ribbons rocked at her lobes looking weighty as she shuffled around the halls in shoes that were slightly too big and would not stay on her feet. All this warned us of her approach. She yelled as she walked. She never apologized for her booming voice and explained that she was Italian, as if that excused it all. She always talked over everyone. Her presence was made known right from the beginning.
"I have to find another job," I confided in my friend, a fellow teacher. "I can't work with that woman!" I swallowed hard, not really sure what I was going to do.
There was no way of missing her in the halls of school or on the road either. Her cars through the years were big, large tanks. She always insisted on driving. Her oversized hands gripped the wheel seconds at a time. Sometimes both hands were off the steering wheel to emphasize a point. The tank seemed to drive itself. "I can't look at the road," she began to explain loudly, "It distracts me!"
"For goodness sake, hang onto the wheel, would ya," I screamed. My eyes darting left, right and ahead in a futile attempt to control. Nothing about this woman was controllable, and I often wondered why her husband retired, kept opposite hours.
Spending time with her at the beginning was out of professional necessity and then over time, it was by choice, I realized that she was often a misunderstood woman with a big big heart.
"Come to my house for supper, " I offered.
"I can't," she answered without much forethought, then added, "Do you still have cats?"
She knew I had cats. "Ya, why?" I asked.
"I can't come," she stated firmly.
"You're not allergic to cats are you?" She had a dog which offered her company and wild chasing when it got loose. She was used to pets.
She didn't answer and there was an uncomfortable silence. I was dumbfounded and couldn't think of why she wouldn't be able come to my house. I was the one to always visit her at her house. She had never come to my house, although we had been friends for years now.
"I, I am..." oddly she stumbled over the words, "I am afraid of cats. I can't come."
I thought that I was the one that wrestled with irrational fears. This fearless woman who I thought I knew so well was afraid. I couldn't believe it.
This admission only opened the way for more honest talk.
I turned to leave catching a glimpse of his brown eyes casting so much feeling, it made words unnecessary. He was afraid. Afraid to move after the fall. This made everything worse. The Parkinson's Disease didn't help either. The Physical Therapist had him in a hoist to support his weight giving him a sense of stability. In a soft voice that I thought would be reassuring I cooed, "It will be OK Daddy. You'll be OK." I guess I was in denial. I left.
When I was a little girl, the day after Halloween marked a day when I would slide into a pew at St. Mary's Church in Biddeford and pray for people I did not know. All Soul's Day. The list went back by generations-family that remained nameless. "I pray for my grandmother's mother, my grandmother's father, my grandmother's grandmother," I mouthed. It didn't feel real. Just an obligation. Never did I realize at seven years old that I would one day be praying for the souls of my grandmother, my grandfather, my mother, my father, my aunts and my uncles.
"I can't be here. I can't," I managed to whisper breathlessly. "I can't breathe. An elephant is on my chest. I can't do it." Closing my eyes, I remained motionless. My body heavy and incapable of supporting my own weight in a seated position, never mind move to another room or the hall where I could forget.
"If you leave. You can never take this moment back," my sister confided. Choking back tears, I thought about how I had left my father a few days ago. This time I stayed. I needed to be here for my father. Through this transition.
Today my "All Soul's List" is just as long as when I was seven years old, but now I can remember how my father's bearded cheek scratched against my face when he snatched a kiss. I remember the oversized hand that reached out to walk me safely across the road. Old Spice after shave brings a flood of real memories. My heart aches in longing for one more moment.
I feel so vain. It took at least seven tries to settle on this self-portrait. Glasses on. Glasses off. Different angle. Oh, that double chin. That smile looks so fake. Gee whiz, my eyes are closed. I realize that all these messages are negative. My relationships with others are based upon character and virtues and not looks. So why is it so important to me to present as nearly a perfect image as I can possibly get?
My efforts to ground myself spiritually and to know God deeply will eventually help me move passed this self absorbed veil. There ought not to be any apologies or excuses necessary for my extra pounds, wrinkles or age spots . I am what I am. True beauty is from within. And with the help of God and those who love me I will continue to better understand just what thwarts my progress toward living fully.
Ignorance is bliss. I know nothing about engineering or architecture, yet I can't help myself from collecting photos of buildings, mostly brick buildings. Brick buildings of my youth include the bank with smooth rounded veined marble pillars. Somehow my cheek would find a way to access the coolness of the rock. The ceilings high making the building hollow and echo.
Perhaps my affinity for brick, aged buildings comes from after church Sunday visits to Auntie and Gene's in Portland. There was always lots of food. Not the meat and potatoes that graced my table at home, but fresh produce from the farmer's market and pickled vegetables. I developed my sense of culinary adventure behind that brick facade. Often we would bake short cakes to go with fresh strawberries or blueberries. I would walk down to the tiny store around the corner with my big sister to get a carton of cream that would be whipped into sweet peaks of delight. Auntie's was the first place I had a taste of loose tea, mostly milk and spoonfuls of sugar. Family stories, secrets between adults in French and food. Auntie's was a place of constancy and love.
It sounded like a shot. My eyes quickly scanned the expanse of glass before me. I saw nothing, yet I knew it was only a matter of change time and a change in temperature to discover the damage. Thirty minutes later, there were two small hairline cracks.
Timing is everything. If I hadn't been on the road at that moment. If that car that passed me hadn't decided to take the same road at that exact time. If I had gotten the car inspected last week....
I remember that many things happen that are out of our control. Acceptance is the lesson here. It was just one of those unfortunate series of events. It isn't even winter yet, when the sand trucks leave boulder sized sand grains on the road. Perhaps this does not bode well for my Sue-Baru and her new owner-me!
Thumbing through stacks of photos while visiting my childhood home recently, reminded me just how important it is to preserve and treasure family history through images. I found images of my father as a pudgy five year old in knickers with a pageboy haircut. In another photo my mother at about the same age, smiles in the direction of the camera the blue of her eyes lost in the black and white processing. There were decks of newer photos too. My mother was the photographer, that is when she remembered the camera. She captured mostly holidays or special occasions. The composition of all her her photos were problematic, the subjects rested on the bottom eighth of the photo showing the tops of heads, while most of the square print was wall and ceiling. Standing in the middle of my old bedroom, holding the image of Auntie and Gene with their smiles running off the edge of the photo made me smile. Suddenly, I recalled that despite protests (my mother painstakingly took forever to snap a "bad" photo) she continued to be the family photographer. When I was old enough, I wrangled the camera from her. From then on I was absent from family photos.
I have a friend that takes self-portraits almost daily. I stare her image. How does she do that? I couldn't. I thought. She holds all that she has become until that moment in the image. All the joys, the lessons and the pain. I realize for the most part, I remain absent from photographs. Although said to be photogenic, I do not like to like to have my photo taken. Hyper-critical, whenever I am forced to be in front of a lens I hide behind the torso of another and peek. Just little bits of me show.
What would happen if I began the practice of a self portrait a day? Would I come to discover the light within and learn to accept myself as I am? Does how I look really have much to do with all the "inside" work? I could learn to love.
One day my daughters may discover the series of self-portraits and hold them tightly and view them as gifts to be treasured.
Every clock displays a different time. On days when there is no work, no appointments does it matter? Responsibilities with time constraints ruin this plan for me. I am conditioned to wake up just before the alarm no matter the day, eat on schedule despite my lack of hunger and go to bed before a certain hour.
Does not the old time farmer adjust his or her internal clock to the cycle of nature? Generally, I find that during this time of year I long for the comfort of soups, stews and good long books while wrapped under the weight of blankets. Generally, adjust to the natural seasonal cycles quite easily. It is during the minute to minute attempts to empty my mind and connect with the Spirit when my mind wildly winds around the constraints of time and doing. "The mop. The floor Wish I could find that book. Where is it? Supper. I've gotta use up carrots? Chickens. Bring the scraps. Moldy bread. Over fridge. When was the last time we...." Rather than the present, I think about the tasks of the future. It is all about time and my tendency to multi-task. Touted as a super human feat among woman everywhere, multitasking is the demise to my mindfulness. Out of necessity, I have been doing it for decades now. I must retrain myself. To be. Quiet, hushed connections. With this my spirit will grow in beauty and show up in the most unlikely places, just like those ferns.
Always running on the edge of time each morning, I glanced at the clock in the car. "'Enough time for a photo?" I wondered. Today, I slowed the car to a halt yanked on the emergency break, quickly pulled the cell out of my pocket and captured the sunrise photo that had momentarily caught my breath. A short distance down the road passing Northeast creek, I contemplated another stop. Engaging with the natural world as I careened along asphalt roads and cars comprised mostly of plastic, makes for a series of difficult decisions during my fifteen minute commute particularly in the morning when I am bound by the clock. Does time contribute to the order of the world?
The runners threaded through the blueberry barrens aflame with the colors that autumn brings while the crowds gathered on the edge of the field to cheer the participants. Some were bundled for the brisk air while others ran in shorts and tank tops, cheeks rosy. I think the chill took everyone by surprise this afternoon, although it shouldn't-it is nearly November. My winter clothes are still folded neatly in some plastic tub somewhere. The weather in Maine has been unseasonably warm, until today. For weeks now I have pieced together a wardrobe rotating two skirts and a few tops with a jean jacket to cover my bare arms in case it turns cooler. As much as I like summer, there is something comforting about scratchy wool sweaters that require layers beneath, thick cozy socks and scarves-how I love my scarves! With the change of seasons, I get this impatient itchiness to slow down, yet I still race from meeting to meeting and appointment to appointment-waiting for hibernation. There are stacks of books to be read by the warmth of the fire, knitting projects to contemplate and crusty, yeasty breads to slide out of the oven. I will be ready for fall as soon as I find that tub of cold weather pants, tops and sweaters. For now, my wardrobe will consist of layers of summer. Right now, I'm in a holding pattern while everything around me changes.
It was about this time of year when my husband and I learned that I was expecting our first child. Often, I felt a spine tingling sensation the same I felt when rising up the crest of a hill and careening into the air of nothingness, an abyss. Parenting certainly was an unknown. I had never been one before and I had a mere nine months to prepare. I wanted my child to have every advantage. My body was supporting another life. An appointment was made with a nutritionist, I did not ingest anything that might harm and I walked each day.
My pregnancy was unremarkably remarkable. It was in the warmth of a late spring day that I began feeling a tightness. I was in labor- a slow labor. My husband and I arrived early, my in-laws going about their morning routine. They lived nearest the hospital. My father-in-law had been working for hours already hauling wealthy and common folk's trash to the dump. He had come home to take care of some billing and was sitting in his plaid rust colored chair, peering over his spectacles as we trudged through the door. My mother-in-law, drying her hands on a dishtowel cleared the couch and fluffed up some pillows.
The T.V. was forever droning in the background-white noise for living that did not seem to require attention. That day I was in labor and I felt I needed attention! Raquel Welch as a cave woman did not amuse me. "Turn that thing off, " I insisted, "I'm having a baby now. Here!"
Normally argumentative in a traditional controlled way, my father-in-law turned off the T.V. and all was quiet for the longest time.
A decade ago, I made one of those death bed promises that I don't regret, "I'll take care of him, don't worry Ma,"I reassured as I referred to my brother choking back tears. My mother had always taken care of all of us. Despite the miles that separated as I grew into adulthood, I knew that she was only a phone call away. She was there during my most troubled years as a young wife with young children and two full time jobs. I worked day and night with little sleep or rest. During periods of great joy mother was there to celebrate births, little dimpled hands wrapping around her gnarled fingers as she rocked and cooed. She had a great capacity for love. She was always there for me.
For nearly thirty-two years I have mothered. When life is care-free it is easy to remain filled with love, hope and great joy. It is during those times when you fear that you will fall to your knees collapsing under the weight of stress, anxiety, frustration and anger that living in the shadow of the most perfect mother becomes challenging.
It is not fair to compare myself with my mother really. We live in a different time. Parenting feels a bit more challenging than when I was a kid. I rode my bike everywhere, the phone was connected to the wall and I could not go far in having a private conversation. Life today seems more complex and tenuous. Is that only because I am an adult and a responsible one? Mothering is a complex job. Certainly not for the faint of heart.
After my work is done on this earth, it is my fervent hope that my children will look after one another. It is in the act of mothering that our children begin to make connections for how they can move about the world nurturing in big ways.
My mother's arms stroked figure eights in the salty sea. I never saw her swim conventionally, but she would sit with her legs extended facing the shore as though reclining in an easy chair. I was always fascinated with the fact that the salt content in the Atlantic intensified buoyancy and made it easy to float and dog paddle despite the swells rhythmic and sometimes unpredictable. Unlike a lake with the placid quiet waters, the Atlantic was always teaming with energy. Unlike my mother, I liked to gaze out onto the line of blue smudge and imagine swimming to a far off island or building a raft with drift wood pieces lashed together by seaweed.
My great grandfather, his brother, his son and his grandson (my uncle) were all lobstermen. With a house for three generations at the mouth of the Saco River where the ocean and muddy waters met, my ancestors woke in darkness and spent their day surrounded by shades of blue and green hauling lobsters into big crates to bring to market.
Bobbing in the water, I shaded my eyes against the glare of the sun as it danced off the surface, I swear I could see my grandfather the lobster boat's engine softly purring, muscles tightening from the strain of the lifting the trap, his face thickly lined from the weather. If only it were true.
(I spent most of my childhood on the beach at Camp Ellis where my family's homestead stood. I met my grandfather when I was a newborn. He died the day I was to come home from the hospital. Growing up with stories of Grampy helped me to develop love for a man I never knew.)
An island dweller am I,
The crashing waves lull me to sleep,
But by day
They infuse a rhythm,
On this little spit of land,
Hands weathered by the harsh winds
Pulling the day's catch.
Like strong coffee,
And filled with gratitude.
While the neighborhood boys poked frogs with sticks, I preferred to sit back and observe. Hours were spent on the edge of the asphalt on Dearborn Avenue where little piles of sand would build up in mounds. Streams of ants would march in single file intent on task completion. Lugging a grain of sand from place to place was hard work and I marveled at the sophistication of a community working together.
Perhaps I have only seen three praying mantis in my life because of their incredible nature to act like the stems of a leaf and blend or because of the uncanny ability of children to be observers. Throughout my adulthood, I have been graced with the privilege to be with children and learn great lessons through their display of wonderment and excitement. If we are quiet, patient and observant, we can view the world through the eyes of a child.
Most of the time, I am absent from the moment-thinking ahead to the next hour, the next day, the next month. A flurry of should's and a long list of do's. I know what I need to do. I must force myself to write a contract and and stick to a few basic goals for health and balance: Pray and meditate. Drink water. Walk. Eat in moderation and think long and hard before a morsel passes my lips. Pretty simple, huh? Then why do I find it so blasted difficult to do? The great procrastinator is at work. More than half-way to one-hundred in years, time is apt to run out for me. You'd think I'd have this self-care stuff figured out.
When I was five years old, it didn't take but a gold star stuck between my eyes to alert the whole neighborhood that my day in school was worthy of rejoicing. It still takes so little to motivate me even in my mature years.
Herein lies the problem. Like every other mother from here to Kalamazoo, I busy myself taking care of others. Now, I know how to do that!
Fear is a feeling that has been my companion for a long long time, along with worry. I come from a long line of worriers and anxious folk. This is just one conversation I had with myself just the other morning. Today I can just laugh about it. I think this is a common scene among Baby Boomers. Oh gosh, I think to myself as I'm gripping the wheel at 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock on my drive into school. I've got to write that Thank-You note. Wait. Did I write that note and give it him already? Or... did I just think about it? Nah, I wrote it and gave it to him. I think. Wait. What would the parents think if they received two thank-you's? They'd understand. They're busy people. No, I can't let anyone know. Sometimes, I think...it's hard. I'm losing my memory. I worry about early onset, you know. I used to be able to remember everything. Things are just a little fuzzy.
Due to the generosity of a friend, I was able to go to Green Acre Bahai School this weekend to study, pray and reflect. Not surprisingly, it was just what I needed. My vision is clearer and I have some spiritual goals in place. Thankfully, I gained insight. I need to be patient with myself and my human condition. Sometimes my vision will be blurred and other times I will focus on trivial matters that are not important to my spiritual development. I will stumble and fall, but I will pick myself up again. The importance of consistent effort cannot be understated.
As a kid, I talked to God all the time. Now, I just can't seem to do it. I pray, mostly when someone asks for help. I seldom pray for myself. It is clear that I need to work on my relationship with God. It receded as the tide when my parents died within three months of each other. Interestingly, I cannot talk to my parents either. I have lost my anchor and my rudders. With determination, I will find my way to port.
Through the kindness of a dear friend, I am on holy ground where all souls are seeking the truth for themselves. I have spent so many, many days here in transformation along with my family. Alone, this is my journey-one that I must work and sort out by myself. Presently, I feel empty. Dead. Perhaps I need to feel the emptiness to appreciate the full bounties of God's love for me, while discovering my spiritual potentiality.
Where do I begin? How do I find my way? I pray that I do.
We knew it was bad for us, but we ate it anyhow because it was what we packed on our annual excursion up to the White Mountains. Auntie would get the cast iron skillet hot and her husband Gene would dredge the chicken in flour, salt and pepper and perhaps a few secret ingredients. Certainly, the basket was filled with other goodies, most likely from the farmer's market, but I don't remember. All I remember was the fried chicken and the years that I saw the crumbling nose of the "Old Man in the Mountain" through a thick fog. Some years the foliage was so brilliant that we would pull the car over to the side of the road and just gawk with a chorus of "Ooohs and aaaahs."
Only as an adult do I now realize how important those traditions and annual family outings are to children. Those are the memories that after all these years make me smile and wish I could recall all the fine details. Auntie was a spontaneous free spirit who engineered a good number of my childhood memories, including dreams about her fried chicken. Most importantly she loved life. I just hope a little of her rubbed off on me.
Fear was my father's constant companion and its' dark shadow casts a chilling message that I hear to this day, "Be careful you might get hurt," or "Get off that ladder, you'll fall." I take few risks physically and I think of myself as a klutz. As a mother, I did not want my children to lug this message-a heavy burden with them into adulthood. Watching my children carry a confidence and an understanding of their physical strength and capabilities helps me to keep my mouth shut, most of the time.
One day, I do remember playing football with the neighborhood boys. We hadn't begun to play yet, when two brothers started hurling insults about my weight. I think I was about eight years old, in that chubby state that I never seemed to grow out of for long. They always seemed to be picking on me and reminded me how inferior I was to them, since I was a girl and a fat one at that. My backyard afforded just a big enough flat surface at the bottom of a slight slope of grass to play football. I remember the heckling and frustration I felt as a result. Normally, we played touch football, but we had collectively decided that we would allow tackling. Determined and fearless, I had a plan to tackle hard. The youngest brother who really was a bit of a wimpish bully was carrying the ball. My focus was to wrap my arms around his legs and trip him up. That will send him and his brother a message to not mess with me, I thought. The next thing I knew we both hit the ground with a thud, my nose taking the brunt of the impact. In like motion and timing, we quickly got to our feet, leaning forward while cupping our hands to catch the stream of red. He ran home wailing. I quietly stepped inside my house as I glanced out the window both teams had quickly dispersed and the back yard was empty.
Telling my father about the tackle, he applied a dry compress under my upper lip to stop the bleeding. I was prone on the couch my head propped up by pillows. My father was patiently explaining what he was doing and why. I was mesmerized.
"This is how they do it in the locker room," he shared, his voice seemed to be filled with pride. That day, I felt a special connection with my father. During those hours, he cared for me we never spoke of fear because we had it all under control. We were both fearless.
My friend began laughing, "You. Shy?" Describing myself as shy is akin to admitting that I can sit down and eat my weight in ice cream in one sitting. I wish I wasn't so painfully shy in crowds and with people I do not know well, but I am what I am. As I lean against the wall busying myself with a cup full of water, I watch others in the large room effortlessly move from person to person and group to group. Someone rushes passed me, I am unnoticed as though I blend in with the wallpaper. My eyes shift along the perimeter of the room searching for a clock. This has to be over soon, I mutter to myself. I wasn't always this way.
It is dark when the alarm goes off. My girls still asleep, will only rouse when the first light pierces the night sky. I am curled on my side, just resting and waiting for daybreak. Every morning is the same. The gentle cooing of the birds is often the first thing I hear in the morning as I shuffle my way to the coop. Once I open the door, a spring of wings and feathers is released and they flood toward me. Some begin pecking at my broken boot strap that hangs loosely. Some mornings, I talk. Some mornings I move through the mental list of chores for my hens in a silent monk-like state. Mostly, I move slowly and deliberately so I don't step on a bird. They depend upon my care.
By the time I return into the house, Rex my dog has ambled out of bed and is ready to give kisses, to go out and to be fed. Before I rush off to work, my large lap dog will sprawl across my lap, while one cat curls on available lap space while the other sprawls against my shoulder like a fox stole. My morning has been punctuated by crowds of creatures with the only alone time recorded to be while showering. Yet, I am in a state of peaceful acceptance for who I am at this moment. Time might as well stop.
At first, I wondered what was the big deal-the park being closed due to the government shut down. Why is this any different than any other off-season visit to the park when we walk across closed gates? Although the politics of this nation locked Acadia and sent the bulk of the rangers home, it is that the safety of throngs of fall visitors cannot be guaranteed. Yes, this is our park. Yes, we have a right to enjoy all that this area has to offer, but frankly, the fact is that people do stupid things. No one intends on falling and breaking a leg only to be rescued from elevations and sharp drops that necessitate a litter to be suspended by ropes and pullies down the face of a mountain. This operation can only be orchestrated by an army of trained people. Unfamiliar with the fury of the Atlantic and a mix of storms, spectators have been plucked off the shore and flung into the sea and tossed about like leaves in a whirlpool. There have been drownings. Yet there have also been rescues through the heroics of our Acadia National Park rangers and volunteers. I am privileged to live where I live. If I choose to venture into the park for a walk, I will use every precaution and a bit of common sense while repeatedly mouth the words, "Thank you. Thank you." Our rangers are unsung heroes quietly overseeing the safety of thousands and thousands of visitors each year. Sometimes, it is only through loss that we recognize all that we once had and enjoyed.
Thinking about long stretches of time with internet access makes a long bus ride a bit more palatable. I envisioned reading through the library on my Kindle immersing myself in pure escapism, really not grasping the concept of how many pages could be reasonably devoured in the time that stretched before me. Nonetheless, it was fun planning and dreaming of all the possibilities to pass the time while riding the bus for hours; that is until my friend, my disciplined friend revealed what she was going to do. She announced that she was going to review and delete or save the hundreds of work-related emails that had accumulated over a short period of time.
Disbelieving I asked, "You have how many emails, Kim?"
"Hundreds," she replied "I need to clean things up."
I gulped. She had hundreds. I had thousands. I couldn't read. Reading was certainly a guilty pleasure. I needed to mend my slovenly ways.
One by one I tackled each email. Why don't I do this daily as the junk rolls in? I am such a procrastinator! I grumbled internally.
I inhaled slowly and deeply, attempting to infuse patience into every cell of my being. My pointer finger started to ache with all the action deleting one email after another. Delete. Delete. Delete. It took way too long to tackle a hundred emails. Don't think about that. Just do it. Little by little... Have I always been this impatient?
After a few hours, my eyes averted the 'Select All' button. It was just too much of a temptation. Delete. Delete. At this rate it will take me more than a week of continuous deletion to clean up this mess!
I was determined. Delete. Delete. I checked the number of emails I had left in my inbox. I checked the time. Delete. Delete. That's it. I have better things to do. I can't do this!
After hours and hours of careful deletion, in one swift action all the emails turned blue and without much thought I pressed 'Delete.' A wave of relief swept over me and not the guilt or anxiety that I had anticipated. I felt free. Light.
That was two years ago. I want to feel free and light again. It is time.
This headshot was taken by my 13 year old. She has taken some of my most favorite photos as she has a good eye for composition. Along with the headshot is a mini biography three to five sentences in length. It was not easy. Comments are welcome. Here goes:
Barbara Keene is Trenton Elementary School's Reading Recovery/Title 1 Teacher and a mother of eight. As a 2013 Maine Writing Project Fellow, she is among the newest Teacher Consultants. Barbara enjoys long walks in the forests of Maine, strolls along the Atlantic shore and paddling at Donnell's Pond with her dog Rex. Her writing is fueled by her love of EB White whose writing makes the ordinary extraordinary.
Just a smudge separates sea from the sky. Each morning, I face the changing nature of the cove often prompting me to document through the truth of a lens. The cove never remains the same, but is modified by the pull of the tide, the hue of the sky or the direction of the wind. However, it is the horizon or lack thereof that is intriguing and draws me to stop, stare and ponder. Some mornings, I squint through the gray matching sea to sky unable to discern the existence of a horizon. I know that it is there. Why the curiosity? Days that this line is distinct and thick like the mark of a fat primary crayon, I still stare, awestruck.