She Made Some Mistakes: My Mother

I’m 32 years old and have the immense pleasure of getting to watch my Mom interact with my children. She reads them books and helps them build Legos. She scratches their backs and soothes them to sleep. She chases them through the park and tells them about Jesus. She prays for them and loves on them. Their relationship is beautiful and pure.

If only all relationships could be this easy…

I’m five again. She’s opening a box of white L.A. Lights. The laces are pink and white. She laces them up and unleashes me upon the backyard. I run as fast as I can, returning to her sweaty and smiling. “These are the fastest shoes ever!” I hug her.

Daddy is away for work. Off on a dive boat. The little girls are sleeping in the bunk beds and somehow I finagle my way into her bed. We talk all night. I fall asleep about the same time the sun comes up.

We move from Pasadena to Pomona, California. A little corner lot with a giant backyard. We watch Winnie the Pooh. I’m afraid of the Heffalumps and Woozles and squeeze my way into her “nest”. My sisters and I are so often doing this; squeezing into the space behind the bend in her knees and the couch cushions. There are three of us girls, so we are always rotating and fighting for the space. How she sacrificed her physical space for us. We were always all over her. It never seemed to bother her.

But then there is one day. I remember it still; she’s pulling our beat-up station wagon into a parking spot. We’re being crazy. We’re a horde of insanity. The four of us. Jeremiah, Rachel, Sarah, and Stacey, baby Joshua on the way. And she says it; “You’re making me crazy, I’m going to the loony bin.”

What’s a loony bin? We shrug it off but quiet down for fear of spankings.

It’s Dads birthday. We’re at Knott’s Berry Farm having a blast. The sun is going down and we hear our last name being called over the loudspeaker. “Douglass, Darren Douglass, report to the front.”

There’s been a fire. The house is essentially gone. Just about everything in it, gone. All of my brand new birthday gifts for my 10th birthday, gone. The ruby ring passed down from my great-grandmother, gone.

She doesn’t even cry. Not in front of us anyway. She’s like a rock. We’re in a hotel for days while looking for a new house. She keeps us sane, activity-filled, like the destruction of our home is somehow a fun vacation opportunity.

I’m struggling in my new school. I’m having a hard time making friends. I feel lonely and sad after our move. She becomes my best friend. She plans early morning dates. Almond flavored tea and cookies, fresh berries, and Bible stories. She holds my head above water as I transition my little life.

But then there is the scream. The one I’ll never forget. The one with the bad news. The one that changes everything forever. I find her slumped next to the phone. I’m 12. She’s whimpering and I think she’s been attacked. I look for wounds but don’t see any, they are all on the inside, a heart shattered. They aren’t coming home. Jeremiah, Daddy, they are gone. Just like that, gone.

I’m standing in her room. I’m screaming at her. “Get up! Get up! I hate you! I hate you!” My face is hot with anger and tears. I’m not mad at her, but I can’t verbalize my pain. I need her to be my rock again. I need her to get up and take care of the baby. He’s crying, he doesn’t understand. I’m just 13 and I can’t be his mom.

She does it. Like the walking dead she lifts her covers and walks. She’s like a ghost. But she’s going through the motions anyway.

I’m getting bullied at school. It’s middle school and kids are mean. I’m trying to hide it. I’m trying to be brave. She knows me. She sees me. She steps in. She rescues me. She’s broken on the inside but she still shows up and protects me.

She’s remarried and we move to Big Bear. I’m in high school now. She sits down with me Freshman year and tells me about goals. We write them out, working backward. She encourages my dreams and gifts.

I’m 16. I’m fighting for my freedom. We butt-heads. I scream at her and call her names. She’s doing this parenting thing on her own. She fails. She succeeds. She makes some really nasty horrible mistakes out of her brokenness. I hold hate in my heart. I’m good and rebellious all at the same time. I’m confused about myself and yet so sure of myself.

I’m 18. I’m leaving home. My car crammed full of my things. Off to college. I don’t call often. I leave my siblings with a sense of guilt. It’s my first Christmas away. I come back to visit. Home doesn’t feel like home anymore, I’m homeless, a nomad, a wanderer.

She’s not the woman that cradled me in her arms, that held me in her nest. She isn’t, but she is. She’s fighting this internal fight that I don’t understand. She’s barely holding her head above water. I judge her, I cruelly and deeply judge her. Things fall apart. Her marriage. Her life.

Rebuilding. Slowly, one brick upon the next. She invites me over, and asks for forgiveness. I say the words, but my heart doesn’t really get it. I wasn’t even the one she wronged. She’s working to repair the relationships she can. I’m still judging, in secret. I’m still angry. For years and years, I’m angry. I’m still holding that day, the day I screamed at her to get up in my heart. I don’t know how to exhale it out. I can’t be free of it.

He’s born. My son. Blue eyes and bald head. My heart breaks and is rebuilt bigger. I look at him one afternoon; he’s laying on his Daddy’s chest. It strikes me, if they were gone, taken in an instant, would I get up, would I continue to live? Would I fight back at the pain and be brave enough to make mistakes, to grapple, to claw at life?

There it is, through my own experience, that exhale, that ability to forgive, to understand, to have compassion and empathy. She’s made some mistakes, my mother, some big some small. She’s been broken, but she’s been brave. She’s clung to faith and slivers of light in the darkness. She’s held my hand as I baby-stepped through life, she’s pushed me when she knew I needed it, she gave me wings and allowed me to fly.

My experiences with her are my own. Unique, different to each of us children, and yet with commonality. In a way we still seek that nest, that refuge. We’re adults now, forging our own paths. Carving out our identities, standing on our own two feet. But on those days that life is too much to bear, when the pain of existence knocks the air out of our lungs, there she is. She’ll cry with us, talk us through the pain, the injustice. She encourages and loves in a way that is beyond comprehension.

Our relationship is not perfect. We don’t always see eye-to-eye. Sometimes we just have to shrug our shoulders and change the subject. We try to fill those gaps and differences with love, and for that love I am forever grateful.

***written 05/2016

Simple Lovely

clothes-in-fashion-rio-1471480I sat on my Aunt’s bed as she brought item after item out of her closet. They were beautiful. Silks and linens, wool, designer prêt à porter. She laid them out, pile upon pile.

“When did you last wear it?” I asked.

I remember her facial expressions. I wasn’t sure if she was going to punch me or not, nonetheless I demanded, “Get rid of it!”

“You are brutal!” she said.

Next item. “Get rid of it!” “Brutal!!!”

The afternoon went on like this until her closet was paired down. We made a list of what she needed, new black pants, a crisp white blouse that she looked like a million bucks in, well fitting jeans. I loaded bags of her beautiful clothes into the back of my SUV and later donated them to a women’s shelter. Thousands of dollars in lovely lovely clothing, good-bye.

She said she felt lighter. She said she now knew just how brutal I was. That was two years ago, and she still calls me brutal. She’s right.

Kile and I joked about being minimalists, we like to do a massive purge every few years, it’s called moving. One such move we relocated from a 2000 sq-ft house to a 900 sq-ft apartment, unless we loved it, it was gone. You’re welcome Salvation Army.

I’ve long stood by the quality verses quantity methodology. People have looked in my closet and exclaimed, “wow, you have no clothes.” Kile scoffed when we were dating and I bought myself a pair of $200 jeans. He was shocked, I still wear them today, almost 8 years later, while he’s probably gone through 20 pairs in that time. He’s coming around.

While studying abroad I babysat for the most lovely french family. The mother had the most fantastic style, she wasn’t tendy or showy, just very classy, well fitting pants, a slimming sweater, ankle booties and a neckless. As I recall, she had a very small closet, by American standards anyway. She had a uniform. I loved it. How simple, how lovely.

Not long ago Mark Zuckerberg posted a picture on Facebook, first day back on the job since his daughter was born. “What to wear?” he wrote followed by a picture of 10 of the exact same shirt. How simple, I thought.

It’s spring and I started feeling like I needed to declutter. I don’t know what it is about winter that causes us to hoard or things to pile up. The Christmas lights not properly put away. The dishes never properly organized in my new kitchen. The out of order closet. The messy desk. The list goes on.

But where to start?

I picked up a copy of Marie Kondo’s “the life-changing magic of tidying up” and began flipping through it. On the back of her lovely little book I read this: “With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy”…”

Spark Joy. What a concept. Only keep things that bring you joy…in a way I think I’ve often done this when weeding through my belongings, but never before have I had a name for it.

Immediately I began making a list of things to let go, and others that I would hold onto.

Ill-fitting jeans that make me feel bad about myself. Goodbye.

Basically anything that forces me to wear a strapless bra. Farewell.

Beautiful shoes that kill my feet and sit in a box. Au revoir.

Gold yard sale owl book-ends, you bring me silly joy. Spark Joy.

Provincial runner that brings me back to my year abroad. Spark Joy.

Panini press and juicer, you stay.

And so on and so forth. Spark Joy. How simple, how lovely. I looked at my things with the same simple brutality that I forced my Aunt to weed through her closet. There were somethings I wanted to hold on to, just because maybe I’d need them. How silly, I’d never used them, they were in fact useless. Use-less. Never used. Why on earth was I allowing them to clutter my space and better yet my brain?

I always feel so light after a good decluttering. How simple. How lovely.

Peonies and Promises

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I wanted peonies for my wedding bouquet. The only problem was that our nuptials were planned for late July in Southern California. Fresh peonies would be out of the question, I masked my disappointment and settled on pink roses. It was so hot that day, I remember sweat dripping down my back under the lace of my dress. It didn’t matter. The wilted flowers didn’t matter. None of it did, just the guy who nervously rubbed the skin off my hands as we said our vows, only he mattered.

Last year we celebrated six years of marriage, but we didn’t feel like celebrating. It had been seven months since he’d had a job. He’d flown all over the country from interview to interview, strung along on the hope that “this one” would be the right fit, only to come home defeated and deflated. The year had been beyond difficult, a series of let-downs, joblessness, failed attempts, and tears. I’d spent my quiet times crying out to God. Begging Him to reveal the plan. I couldn’t see far enough ahead to take more than one step at a time.

And so, that’s what we did. One step at a time, most of the time with tears in my eyes.

We were hurting, frustrated, losing hope in ourselves and each other. Things looked bleak. Then came the phone call, the interview, the flights and fit. Life was moving, changing, progressing.

I hadn’t “seen” the house when he put in an offer. We were under contract, earnest money transferred, escrow pending and I hadn’t even stepped in the threshold.

I had kissed him goodbye and put him on a plane. We’d be apart for a month, and although I know so many couples experience time apart, we never really had and I was scared. I wasn’t alone, I had family around helping, but strangely I felt alone. The right side of the bed empty, alone. The baby is crying and I’ve got to do this, alone. I’m feeling lonely, alone.

Nevertheless, I kept my chin up. I knew it was for the greater purpose, and I was so excited about what was on the horizon.

Everything felt like a goodbye.

Goodbye beach, goodbye California.

Goodbye salty walking trail.

Goodbye dear cousin, playdates and coffee at Kean.

Goodbye family.

Goodbye friends.

Goodbye.

It ached. I ached. But again, I kept my chin up.

We got on a plane, just the kids and I, and landed in Salt Lake. He was waiting at the exit and although we had only been apart I few weeks at that point, it felt like a sweet reunion.

He bought me to the house that would be my home. Everything seemed a shade of beige and it just didn’t feel like home. But then he showed me the trees. As we stood under them he took my hand. I exhaled.

Peace.

I had to go home, get on a plane again, and return to California, but then I felt confused. Where was home now?

Again we were apart, and this time the realities of the goodbyes set in. The packing and planning became more real. Now, rather than one step ahead I could see two, three, and even four at a time. The world became a whirlwind, twirling and twirling until it was finally time.

Home.

It felt foreign, but it felt good, it felt peaceful. And finally I could stop begging for answers, because here they were, we were walking into them.

A new job, a new church…the plan unfolding.

We were home less than two weeks when the snow began to fall. Everything lay dormant. We spent the cold days making the house a home. Hanging pictures and rearranging furniture.

Then Spring. Buds began to appear. It was so kind of the previous home owners to plan yellow daffodils all the around the property. The house was clearly loved by the people who lived here before us.

On my knees I tugged at the roots of some nasty weeds that had popped up. I moved leafs of the surrounding plants to get a better angle. Then they were sprouting up from the earth, lovely and green, with promises of full romantic blooms, peonies.

 

 

 

 

On Inconsistency

staircase-1171986I leapt when I started this blog, this space to put words and thoughts. I knew it would be difficult, a time suck, a free therapist, and a home for my random thoughts. I was excited. I was scared. I still am.

But when I began I hadn’t a clue just how difficult it would be. I just spent an hour trying to add the all important about page. And here I am, none the wiser, ready to fling my computer.

No, I don’t have a temper.

I think the greatest challenge has been consistency. I am most consistent in my inconsistency.

Exhibit A: I can have little man all organized, chore chart, more chores done, tasks completed. And then one day I wake up, off. For some reason the bed doesn’t get made, then the morning chores go undone, then little man eats cereal and stays in his pajamas all day. This doesn’t bother him, he likes cereal and pajamas, but then comes day two. I let him slide. His morning chores go undone again, his room becomes this strange stinky place and it takes me days, weeks to get back on track. Honest? I haven’t restarted the chores in months and still keep slipping my loose change into his piggy bank. Inconsistent.

Exhibit B: This isn’t my first time blogging. Oh no, I’ve been writing for years. At this point I think I have five failed blogs and three different books started, one personal memoir, a fictional novel, and a biography. Inconsistent.

Exhibit C: Last summer I was challenged to read the Bible in 90 days, LAST SUMMER! I’m on day 67 and keep hitting the “catch me up” tab in the app. Inconsistent.

I admit it! Whew, off my chest. I’m inconsistent. I lack discipline. I face opposition. I face what Steven Pressfield in his book “The War of Art” calls resistance.

Every morning, wham like a freight train, there it is knocking me off track, distracting me from my task. Resistance can come in the form of a fussy baby, a pile of laundry, or stack of dishes. It can come in the ring of the phone, chirp of an email, or social media update. It’s all around us, around me, trying to diminish and deplete.

I struggle with my type-A-ness. That menial task, distracting me from my work, calls my name. “Fold me!” it says. And I stop what I’m doing and fold away, because, let’s be honest no one else is going to fold it. No one else even notices it, that is until they run out of socks. It doesn’t take up anyone else’s mental energy. Only mine. So, out goes the window consistent writing hours, for some gym shorts?

Recently, I read a quote by JK Rowling. She said, “People very often say to me, ‘How did you do it, how did you raise a baby and write a book?’ And the answer is–I didn’t do housework for four years. I am not superwoman. And, um, living in squalor, that was the answer.”

 How freeing is this?

Now, my brain craves order. I love order. I believe God created order, not to stunt us, but to build us. So for me, personally, it helps to create a space of order, it helps my mind to wander and for my imagination to flow, but nevertheless I find Rowling’s quote to be life-giving. It’s okay to let some things go, it’s okay to focus on the “most” important. It’s okay to stare-down resistance. And it’s okay to battle inconsistency.

Whatever it is, whatever the dream or goal, for you or for me, get back to it, get back in the saddle, one unsure-tipsy-wobbling-inconsistent-baby-step at a time.

 

 

Quitter

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Quitter: I hate this word. Maybe because from an early age it was ingrained in me to finish what I started. My parents drilled this into me. “Finish what you’ve started. Goal set to be successful.”

My best examples of this go as far back as my tee-ball days, man was I horrible, but they made me finish out the season. Then, in high school it was the cheer squad, I could not get the cheers straight and had to constantly ask my best friend what cheer the captain was calling. I’m pretty sure I was always a beat behind. Again, mom made me finish out the season.

Goal set: Mom sat me down 8th grade year and asked me what my goals for high school were. I wanted to be on yearbook and maybe even editor. With that goal in mind she helped me break down each step that would need to be taken. Senior year, I was named editor, a title I held with immense pride.

Then came college: The goals changed and evolved. Finish. Study abroad. Learn French. Secure a great job in my chosen field. With these goals in mind, and frequent check in’s with my mom I forged my path. Started French. I remember the student in front of me turning back and telling me, “Rachel, you know your French, it’s just terrible.” He was Polish, maybe he didn’t mean to be so forward, maybe something was lost in translation, but he was right. I didn’t let that stop me. Horrible French and all I somehow convinced our study abroad department to allow me to do a year in the south of France.

Then there was my senior year of college: I found out I couldn’t afford my classes and was likely going to have to drop out just a few credits shy of my degree. I started working full-time, carried an internship, and wrote for the college paper, receiving an award for investigative journalism.

I finished, and felt that I had secured my future in my chosen field of journalism. I backpacked across Europe and again returned to the U.S. to begin my career as a copy editor. I got my first stack of copy, put my head down and started working. And working. And working.

I went home and felt this strange emptiness. This weird depression began to consume me. Other areas of my life were going great, I had met this amazing man who would soon become my husband and father to my children, I ran a marathon and raised money for charity, I wrote freelance articles, I was a part of an awesome and growing church. I had money, friends, a great relationship, basically everything I had wanted and yet I felt hollow. Professionally hollow.

I began to dread going to work, found myself in conflict with my co-workers and boss, people that I really liked, but found myself miserable to be around.

Then one afternoon I returned to my desk after lunch and found myself locked out of my computer, my girlfriend couldn’t access the network either. I joked that we were all getting laid off. A joke, a total joke, that became a total reality. Within an hour my whole department had been “released”. Security stood over us as we cleared out our desks.

I cried on my drive home. Sobbed, out of both relief and uncertainty. The misery was thankfully over.

It’s been nearly a decade since I packed up that desk…since my short-lived journalism career came to an abrupt end. At first I pursued work in my field, but paid my bills working retail, managing a spa, and teaching yoga.

I felt like a dream was dead. In a way in still feel like a dream has died. Like I quit. I just didn’t try hard enough. Quitter.

I’ve called myself this a thousand times. But am I?

For so long I struggled to make this dream a reality. I struggled to earn a paycheck. I compromised to get a title. Felt hollow and useless if a writing gig turned out a dead end, or I didn’t get the job I thought I was meant to have. 

You are not a paycheck. You are not a title. You are not a fancy house or car. Neither am I.

Not too long ago I stopped and looked around. I evaluated my life, present and past. I began to add up the important things. Make a list. Dollars in the bank, articles I’ve written, “important” things I’ve done…well, surprise surprise, they didn’t make the list. 

What did? For starters the two little people that rely on me daily, the tall ginger man I’m lucky to call husband, the sisters, the brothers, the aunts and uncles, grandmothers and mother. The list kept going on this way, until I realized that the most important thing in my life wasn’t a thing at all. 

This revaluation removed some of that self-imposed pressure. 

So, will I ever pay my bills by the pen? Maybe, maybe not. Does it matter? Not really.

There are some things we should quit in life. Like smoking. Quit right away. 

But dreams? No. Never. 

People? Never. 

Maybe it’s just that as we mature so should our aspirations, so should our priorities. They need refining, redefining. But quitting: Not in a million years.