I’ve been listening to audiobook WHAT COMES NEXT AND HOW TO LIKE IT by Abigail Thomas, a terrific memoir that nudges me to savor the large and small happenings of life in the moment.
So here’s what’s happening right now; my cats are chasing one another around the house, my youngest daughter is texting me videos of a mother black bear and her two cubs, and my oldest is just home from a job she adores, working with animals.
I love May in Alaska. The daylight, the wildlife, my increasing levels of energy remind me that there are many good things ahead. When June comes, the days fly by so quickly, but right now, summer is something wonderful to look forward to, just around the corner.
If you’re in Alaska this summer, please check out the Downtown Saturday market or Muldoon Farmers Market. Say hello if you see me there! I may be selling signed copies of my book.
I emailed a friend in
recently to bid her Happy Mother’s Day. Normally sunny, her response caught me
off guard when she mentioned how sad this holiday made her. I’d grown
accustomed to being the maudlin one about moms and Mother’s Day.
But when I checked my
Facebook feed, there were numerous tributes to moms lost due to death or
alienation. A few brave moms of deceased children posted their grief. Others were
caring for their elderly mothers who now no longer remembered them.
The day evokes a lot of
emotion for so many of us.
I’d been thinking
about my own mother that week, and about some of the good things she instilled.
My mother fostered a love of reading, which sparked my interest in stories and
in writing. If I asked for a book, I nearly always got it. (I was lucky to have
older siblings who read to me and taught me to be an early reader, too.)
My mom promoted a love
of animals to us kids which is a huge part of my life to this day. She didn’t
easily sustain relationships with pets, or with people, for that matter, but it
was a nice start. And she was a believer in volunteer work, which I have subsequently
True, I’ve written
about my mom’s tendency to dislike the mother role enough to seemingly dispense
of her kids, leaving us later in life to scout one another out as if on at
Easter egg hunt.
Clearly, not every
woman is cut out to be a mom.
It doesn’t help that
we expect so much from them. I can think of no other role so important, or so
scrutinized. The impact of the mothering we receive during our early years
lingers throughout our entire lives, and far into the future if we have kids,
and if they do, too.
Mothers are idealized as protectors: a person who is caring and giving and who builds a person up rather than knocking them down. But very few of us can say our mothers check all of these boxes. In many ways, a mother is set up to fail.-Lynn Steger Strong in What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About.
I’ve been fortunate to have so many different
women in my life who’ve given me guidance and motherly love. I’ve appreciated
that there were limitations to it, and conscious not to overstay my emotional
welcome since these women had their own children and their own lives. From
grade schoolteachers and a college professor to a former roommate and friends’
moms, and later in life, my newfound aunts, I have benefitted from random gifts
of maternal love.
As for me, I’ve made lots of mistakes with my kids. They relied on their own supplemental moms at times to fill in my gaps. And after watching me struggle as a single mom, neither of my kids were moved to become parents themselves, though they’ve provided me with numerous grand-pets.
A few days ago, a crisis
call from one of my daughter’s friends, whose mother passed away, brought it
full circle. She needed someone to just listen, and I got to be the stand-in
mom figure, even for just a little while.
How wonderful it is to know that we can help fill in parenting or mentoring gaps for others. And equally fabulous to think about spending time with little kids one day who may not have a grandparent in close proximity. I like the idea of being a supplemental mom and grandmom.
Expanding the definition of family can be a beautiful thing. It can reduce pressure and feelings of isolation. I felt insecure when my own kids relied on other moms, but I came to understand the great benefits to all involved down the line.
Moms (and dads) are the original influencers, but we can all choose to have or to be supplements to help along the way. It can ease the pressure we put on our parents or ourselves.
A humble thank you to dear Fay for the incredibly generous and unexpected gift to my oldest daughter after reading my last post. My daughter is now the proud owner of a reliable and safe vehicle again.
My return from South America was promptly eclipsed by the massive November 30th earthquake here in Alaska.
I’d landed in Los Angeles from a brief layover in Peru when I turned on my phone to find a flood of texts. The first was from my youngest daughter, giving me a heads up that something “big” had happened. Many others were check-ins from family and friends.
While I felt a little guilty for not being in Alaska when it happened, and a splash jealous for missing the experience, it’s been a fascinating event to witness through the eyes of others.
I’d never been through a natural disaster, so returning home from a 3 week-long trip just hours afterward was memorable. While we Alaskans are accustomed to our fair share of earthquakes and aftershocks, this one was a doozy at 7.0.
Supermarkets ran low on food and water. Electricity was out in much of the city when I returned. So was cell phone service. Some roads and schools were destroyed. Yet no one died, a great tribute to careful city planning and building codes in Anchorage. There weren’t reports of opportunistic thefts.
A few things stuck with me.
Each person’s reaction to the same event was unique.
This reminded me of the birth order conversation I often had during my book tour.
If a family of four was home together in the same room during the quake, their reactions varied widely, from getting under a table, crying and shaking, or running outside. Their ability to deal with the trauma long afterward was as varied as their responses, often due to their age and role in the family, past experiences, genetic makeup, and other traits and quirks.
Pets were/are and are as impacted by the earthquake as their humans.
Many dogs and cats ran away from home shortly after the big shake. They lost control of their bowels, and some continue to have problems. A doggy daycare staff member told me more dogs have to wear anxiety jackets, and have a compromised immune system from the stress, developing kennel cough at a higher rate. And a friend’s 15 year-old bird died soon after the quake, not due to injury, but due to strain.
Only the worst images were replayed by the media and were then shared in social media, though many people experienced no damage to their belongings or homes.
Don’t get me wrong; there was a lot of damage done. Most everyone I know sustained loss of belongings due to the earthquake.
Yet it reminds me how scared we become after watching news images, whether it’s on television or the social media shares. Perhaps it’s about an American tourist who died overseas. Or an image of violence, played and shared, over and over. We become fearful and wary.
We might forget to mention who all emerged safely from this earthquake, who all helped one another, and how grateful we are that no one died as a direct result of such a seismic quake.
After I called my daughter from Los Angeles, and she told me that she and her sister were fine, as were my pets, I wondered about my newly renovated kitchen. Twenty-three years of ugly had been replaced by beauty just before I left on my trip, and I had been over the moon about it. But I knew what a complete jerk I’d be for asking about it long distance.
My plane landed in Anchorage several hours after the shake, and I hailed a taxi. My driver was an African immigrant, small yet loud, and hidden under his oversized red wool hat with a pompom on top. On the way home, he told me about how it was for him, a relatively new citizen, to be jarred awake from a deep sleep. How he ran outside and fell to the ground, and how he calmed himself, realizing there was nothing he could do to control the outcome.
“We can replace things,” he told me,” We cannot replace peoples.”
It was just the message I needed to hear.
I opened the door to my place, and looked at each room, saving my new kitchen for last. And though it appeared someone held a raucous party on the second floor and left the mess afterward, my kitchen, my long-awaited kitchen, was undisturbed.
I am truly thankful.
I’ve heard a number of people say they wanted to leave state after this earthquake. It came without warning. The aftershocks still continue. It was too much to deal with.
But for me, showing up just after to witness the inspiring recovery efforts, Alaska still feels like a soft place to land.
I’m about to leave for South America in a few days. By myself. It will be continent 6/7 for me, and I’m nearing my goal of finishing the research for a travel memoir and companion guide book for older, non-wealthy women who want to get out of their comfort zone and see the world on their terms.
I’m frightened of flying. I won’t know the language, despite my efforts to learn. And I’ll be on a clenched budget, especially since I just got my kitchen renovated.
But there is something truly humbling about leaving for a new adventure.
As soon as I fasten my seatbelt, I nearly always start to cry. Partly because I’m exhausted from my work and because I’m excited and scared, I’m flooded with thoughts of friends and loved ones who’d wanted to travel more but didn’t get the chance. Early deaths or bad circumstances. And yet, here I go. And I take none of it for granted.
I’ve worked really hard to engineer a future for myself, one that looked unlikely early on. In my struggle to attempt control over my environment, I’ve become an over-anxious control freak.
Nothing crushes the false sense of control like travel. And traveling to someone else’s country, playing in their playground without officially having been invited, it’s clear that I have little influence or control. Feeling small and powerless can be exhilarating.
So away I go. Far from responsibility of house and home,away from the security friends and family,away from social media and television. I hope to meet new friends see some animals and sights. I hope I get lots of exercise and sleep. And on Thanksgiving, I will see with a new lens how grateful I am for all that I have waiting for me right here at home.
I’d like to share some moments of beauty in my weekend.
I joined friends for a gorgeous kayaking trip for several hours in Prince William Sound this past weekend. Paddling through cool waters with nothing but the sound of glaciers calving was as calming as a massage.
Returning home, I spent time with my oldest daughter and her boyfriend for her birthday. (Thank you for the many of you who wished her well!). I’d love to report that she’s doing brilliantly and is finding her place in this chaotic beautiful world. But it isn’t so.
I think all parents have times where they struggle with how to let their grown kids be themselves and to celebrate them just as they are. To let go just enough. Enough so their adult child feels the love and support and pride from their parent. Enough to let the child be accountable for their choices without too much buffering from the parent. Enough to continue hoping without judgment and expectation.
My oldest daughter, like firstborns everywhere, has absorbed so much more of my missteps than her younger sister. When she hurts, I feel a stabbing pain, accompanied by defensiveness.
Self-care, like spending time with friends, kayaking, with a splash of detachment and a good bit of faith that things will turn out as they should, all help. That, and writing.
So that’s what’s up in my neck of the world this week.How about you?
If you have a favorite picture I’ve posted in this, please let me know. I’ll send it to Holland America’s photo contest.
I surprised myself by getting a little protective of my estranged mother at a book event recently as I answered readers questions. While my mother made a complicated and fascinating character in my memoir as she did in life, I know it wasn’t only her children she made miserable.
By the time my memoir Pieces of Me: Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters was published, I was years past being angry with her for her wackadoodle and sometimes sadistic parenting. It helped to assume she was mentally ill, and to look at the time from whence she came.
Being stuck in a trailer full of their unending demands threatened to choke the life right out of her. She fancied herself a Hollywood starlet waiting to be discovered. But the discovery never happened, and her home became littered with ungrateful children.—page 78.
My mother was born in a time when women’s choices were defined by gender. The expectations of women were, in short:
To marry. To have children. To be satisfied with being married and having children. To turn the other cheek when struck by the father of those children. To accept having as many children as she became pregnant with.
That didn’t turn out too good for those who had different wants.
Not everyone is cut out to be married, and not all people are built for parenting. Just ask my mom. Better yet, ask any of her children.
When I went away to college in my late teens, I first heard the term feminism. It surely didn’t fit into my then-conservative belief system. Sure, I was pursuing an education to do something beyond having children, like working, but I was no feminist. Or was I?
When I looked up the definition of feminism in the dictionary, I found it to be pretty simple:
The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.
Oh. That’s it? Nothing in there about not liking men or rejecting God like I’d been told feminism was. Just a simple belief that we should have equal rights and opportunities.
Today, I shudder when I hear young women today disavow feminism. “I’m not a feminist, but…”
Do you enjoy the right to vote? I want to ask them. Are you glad you can work and have kids, or not have kids? Or have kids and stay home with them? Are you tickled that you can stick with having pets instead of children? Pleased not to replicate 19 Kids and Counting unless you want to? And are you grateful that it’s no longer legal in the US for a husband to beat his wife?
In this loud and divisive time in history, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the constant images of protests. Then I’m reminded of role protesting has played in our nation’s history, and that those who’ve historically risked their lives for our freedoms weren’t only soldiers. They were also the soldier’s brave and sometimes unruly wives and mothers and sisters who wanted better for us all.
I like to imagine who my mom would have been had she been born a generation or so later. I picture her as an artist of some sort, living a quiet yet contented life, although given some of her other issues, that’s unrealistic. Still, I remain committed to appreciating mine, a most imperfect life filled with more work than I can accomplish balanced with a spectrum of friend and familial relationships and hobbies of my choosing with no pressure to get remarried.
It’s deep December, and I’m a bit late in checking in.
Then again, I’m also late on Christmas shopping and cards and decorating and the like. But I’ve found my Christmas cheer and am enjoying myself silly instead of feeling engulfed in guilt about my failings.
Yesterday, I saw Collateral Beauty at the theater with a friend. It’s a sweet film with a not too subtle message that has always resonated with me: In the middle of a tragedy or even a prolonged period of bleakness, don’t forget to look around for the splendor that’s right there in the middle of it.
I’m pretty good at finding collateral beauty in the midst of tragedy, having had much practice. But when life is simply too busy, or when it’s dark out around the clock in Alaska, or when my car stops working, it’s a different story. The little stuff bugs me. A lot.
But lately, I’ve found myself at so many events related to my memoir this season, recounting the endless acts of collateral beauty I’ve experienced. I can’t remember a time when I’ve cried more or felt so vulnerable. And so grateful.
Just this week, I met with two classes of high-schoolers for a discussion about the book and on recognizing signs of unhealthy relationships. Their insights were both sharp and gentle. I was in a daylong online dialogue on We Love Memoirs, and finished the week with a book signing at Kaladi Brother’s Coffee, my second home and the place where I logged many hours of evening writing. New and old friends joined me and settled in for a relaxed talk about our community, twenty or more years ago to now, and where they were when my girls were abducted, and the role they played to aid the recovery.
Holidays can be tough. I remember feeling stung in years past when I’d look at social media posts or holiday letters from what appeared to be closer or wealthier or just happier looking families than my own here in Anchorage. My friend and blogger Jen Singer wrote a beautiful post about her similar sentiments here in The Holiday Card No One Ever Sends.
Isolating during the holidays is a tradition for some of us. I don’t enjoy big groups, especially when I’m feeling blue, but this year, there’s been no time for that. Whether it’s been through book events or my day job, volunteer work or time spent doing nothing in particular with my girls, I feel a part of something great. And I can’t even begin to say how much love I feel with every email or post on social media and Christmas cards I’ve received. Thank you.
Truth is, I still live an imperfect life, but so long as it’s filled with love and connections and purpose, I wouldn’t trade it.
I wish to you that same feeling of connection. I hope you know that if you are alone, you don’t have to be. I recognize that just you stopping by to check in with me here is a wonderful effort. There are volunteer opportunities and other people around, looking for connection and meaning, looking for you.
Later today, I get to meet up with a woman who phoned me after a book signing a week ago. She reminded me that in 1990, she’d sold me her TV at a garage sale. I was in my mid-twenties then and was already on my own with my little girls. It took me a moment to place her, now nearly 30 years later.
“Don’t you remember?… I let you pay me for the TV in installments.”
I can’t wait to see her. Anyone who is kind enough to allow a broke young woman to essential rent-to own a garage sale item is definitely a part of my collateral beauty.
Merry Christmas. Happy Holidays. Thank you for being here with me. I’m happy to report that Pieces of Me:Rescuing My Kidnapped Daughters has been a popular Christmas gift this year. Thank you!
I really have to work hard this time of year at being grateful .
It’s bitter cold outside here in Alaska at the moment. My lips are cracked and bleeding, my refrigerator is empty since it’s too frigid to shop, and I find the constant darkness to be oppressive.
Add to that the holidays-something I loathe-and the pre and post election fallout and I’d say it’s been a stressful and overwhelming time. It feels like the world has gone crazy and we’ve stopped listening to one another.
I’ve been forced out of my shell the past many weeks with my book events. I’ve met a lot of new people and attended several book groups already. I’d spent enough time alone the year before that my social skills had atrophied. How refreshing it has been to see people choose to congregate, to agree, to disagree, and to do it with respect and often with affection.
Hopefully, I’ll keep my new social chops after the book events wind down. We’re all navigating this sometimes ominous-looking future the best we can, something I lose sight of when I spend too much time alone, scrolling through social media, reading instead of relating.
Here are some key players who make my life enough.
Today is winter solstice, the longest and darkest day of the year. Nowhere is it felt more powerfully than here in Alaska, near the top of the world.
I’ve spent years loathing this time of year, which regrettably falls right on the holidays. This has been an especially great year for me, and I’m more than a little sad to say goodbye to it.
Do you ever look back at the things you were most grateful for before the New Year? Doing that, rather than making lots of resolutions, has been a boost.
So for the chart toppers on my 2015 gratitude list—
Facebook helped me to reconnect with two young men I knew and loved as children, and I missed them after their dad and I broke up fifteen years ago. So what a surprise to hear from them, and to have them back in the fold.
My family reunion in Kentucky and Indiana is always a hit. I have eleven siblings, plus aunts and uncles and cousins, and see most of them ever two years. I actually rented a car and drove on an interstate for the first time. Yay, me! And learned my anxieties are too strong to repeat that effort.
I loved spending time with my grown girls last January in Mexico. It’s rare that our schedules sync any longer for vacationing, and our trip was filled with sun, silliness, and no family irritations.
rs when I make the journey. This time, I was able to see my old dear friends in Ohio and squash 30 years of catch-up in the space of a couple of days.
I adore traveling alone, and this October, I zipped over to Australia for a long-planned trip. What I didn’t plan was getting ill on the way over. I chit-chatted with an Aussie couple at my layover in Los Angeles, and they invited me to train over to see them the following weekend. When that weekend came, I was sicker still and wondering if they’d hate me for bringing sickness to their door. It turned out, the wife was a medical doctor. I got the best treatment and company and hopefully, lifelong friendships. I met a new friend, artist Will Stackhouse at a train station, and spent time with several other Aussie friends I’d made over my years of traveling.
And then there’s my book. My baby! Pieces of Me is due on September 20, 2016 for publication with She Writes Press.
My year, probably like yours, was also filled with normal life stuff. Disease and car accidents, unexpected expenses and unexpected losses. But on rewind, it was still a banner year.
So goodbye 2015, and thank you endlessly for the new and the old connections.
And I do resolve to stop slouching in 2016!
What are you grateful for today? Leave a comment below.
I’ve been a slug lately in regards to writing. Ever since I committed to publishing my memoir, I feel frozen. While I should be working on getting updated pictures for my book cover, or writing the information that will appear on the back of my book, I’ve been reading and watching TV and indulging in any number of distractions after work.
So before I leave for a few days of work in mystical Barrow, Alaska, I will at least share with you some of my favorite memoirs I’ve read this year while avoiding my own writing:
FINDING BETHANY by Glen Klinkhart
A DIFFERENT KIND OF SAME by Kelly Clink
COMING CLEAN by Kimberly Ray Miller
THE CRAGGY HOLE IN MY HEART AND THE CAT WHO FIXED IT by Geneen Roth
and my favorite find during my trip to Australia–THE ANTI-COOL GIRL by Rosie Waterland
The first two cover sibling tragedies, the third is about growing up with hoarders, the fourth covers the healing power a pet’s love provides, and the last is an Aussie woman’s meteoric rise from neglected and abused child in foster care to talented writer with a strong sense of purpose.