Monday, September 24, 2018

Obituary Anxiety

I have obituary anxiety.  Yes, I realize that how bizarre that sounds, but it's true. 

I'm not anxious about dying. Obviously, if I were to keel over tomorrow, I'd be worried about my children and devastated that I wouldn't be there to watch them grow into the people they are becoming. I'd be sad that my parents were losing a child, because that's a pain that I can't even let myself think about.  But I'm not afraid of dying.  Not at all.

I'm afraid of that five paragraph blurb that will run in the local paper or on some funeral home website.  I'm afraid of my family struggling to FILL those paragraphs. 

I've gotten married and had a couple of kids, so (whew!) that part is taken care of.  God willing, there will be some people to list in my "survived by" section.  But what are they going to put in the biography section?

I guess they could list some of my educational background, but are they really going to make it a rehashing of my resume?  "She worked for five years here, two years here, she really enjoyed this job - but she left it after one year to move to a different state with her husband..."  Blah, blah, blah.

I'm not currently involved with any civic organizations, I'm not attending a church regularly, I'm not volunteering in my community... what the heck is going in that paragraph?  She never turned down a slice of cake?  She enjoyed singing loudly in the car? She couldn't cook to save her life, but she successfully washed/dried/folded 10,452 loads of laundry in her lifetime? 

I think my anxiety isn't *really* about the future obituary, it's about feeling like I haven't accomplished much with my 35 years.  It's about not feeling successful on a day-to-day basis. 

I haven't been able to adjust my definition of success to match the "stay-at-home parent" season of life that I am currently in, and it's a problem.  It's a problem that's entirely in my head, and I'm working on it. 

Here's hoping sharing my thoughts with friends/acquaintances/and even strangers on the internet will help. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

She Left Scars - Part One

On my left wrist, there's a crescent-shaped scar that is the exact size and shape of Jessica L. Eakins's pinky finger nail.  I don't remember what I did or said to deserve that wrist "stab" I received in middle school, but I do remember laughing later when she said it was going to leave a mark. She was right. 

Do you know what a scar actually is?  It's an area of fibrous connective tissue that replaces your skin after an injury.  Connective tissue.  If scars are ultimately about connection, than Jess gave me several.

She was my first best friend.  She was the first person I ever invited to sleep over at my house... and she peed her pants that night. To be fair, she was headed to the bathroom in the middle of the night when she got startled by my entirely black dog.  The dog came running down the hall to greet her, and since she was walking around in the dark, all Jess heard was a jingling sound appearing to come out of nowhere.  If we had been at her house instead... I might have peed too.  I wouldn't say that first sleepover was "scarring," but it's definitely a memory that connected us.

Many years later, Jess "came out" to me in high school.  I can remember the layout of the classroom we were sitting in, I can remember her turning around in her seat to tell me... and then I can remember how she recanted her statement with a "just kidding" soon after.  What I can't remember is what I said in reply.  I'm sure it was an extremely unhelpful "Okay..." or something of that nature.

When Jess "came out" again (for real this time) our freshman year of college, I wish I could say that I responded in a better fashion.  Instead of showing her the love and support she needed, I made it all about me.  All I could think about was how this revelation changed our relationship.  How many times I'd changed clothes in front of her, innocently shared a bed with her, talked about guys with her... it all felt so different now.  This relationship I'd had for nearly my entire life felt *unfamiliar* all of a sudden.  And I hated it.

My reaction to that time in our lives feels like a scar.  Like a blemish on a friendship that was mostly smooth sailing.

Don't get me wrong, we were still friends after that.  Eventually something clicked in my head, and I found myself standing in the "Lesbian Fiction" section of Iowa City's Prairie Lights Bookstore trying to find her a present.  I can't remember what I selected, but I do remember I read about half of it before I gave it to her.  I marked my place with a post-it note saying that I was sorry it took me so long to reconcile her "true self" with the memory of our shared childhood I had frozen in my head.

Later, when she found my note, she told me two things: the first was that I needed to know that all lesbian relationships were NOT like that book (ha!) and the second was that she always knew I'd come around eventually.

Even with her encouraging words it still feels like a scar. A scar that won't heal.  Mostly because we can't talk about it.

Jess died during the spring of my Junior year of college.


(End of Part One.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Power of Storytelling

Two weekends ago, I had the pleasure of getting together with some college friends that I hadn't seen in over 10 years.  While we met up with a plan to watch a college football game at a local bar, we really ended up reminiscing with football as background noise.  We ended up telling stories.

What is it about storytelling that has the power to bring people together?

We all know that person who is just an excellent storyteller.  They could be rehashing their most recent trip to the grocery store, and we're somehow riveted.  Maybe it's his body language and the way he punctuates every sentence with his hands, or how she uses different voices to indicate different characters while she's speaking... but there is something about this person's delivery that manages to keep you engaged the entire time.  Talk about powerful.

And being on the receiving end of these stories also has the power to make you feel included. "Ah, yes.  I know this story," you'll think as you smile to yourself.  "I was there.  I'm part of this memory." Even if you weren't there, you might also take comfort in the common experience.  "Yes, I too created a tiny human that sometimes puts random things up his nose."

It's clear that storytelling can bring a room of people together, but can it bring people together across time?

As we cleaned out my grandmother's house after her recent passing, I found some children's books in her closet. The woman saved many things, and finding these books that no one had looked at in over 20 years wasn't surprising.

What WAS surprising was how much I felt my grandfather's presence when I read them to my daughter a few nights later.  I could still hear his strong, clear voice reading me those stories. I could feel my sisters wiggling next to me as the three of us squeezed onto the hide-a-bed during one of our sleepovers at Grandma and Grandpa's house.  I could hear my grandma chastising my grandpa from the other room for getting us "all riled up" with his goofy voices and facial expressions when we were supposed to be getting ready for bed.

My grandfather died when my daughter was 3, and while she recognizes him in photographs, I'm not sure if she has any actual memories of him.  But as I read her these same stories he used to read me, I swear I felt him right there in the room with us.

Behold, the power of storytelling.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

I can('t).

I can't.

I can't do this anymore.

I can't clean up one more cup of milk from the kitchen floor. I can't pick up these same toys over and over again.  I can't referee one more screaming match between siblings.

I can't spend one more day wearing clothes covered in random sticky substances - snotty noses wiped on my pants, spit up on my shirt.  The dirty laundry multiplying before my eyes.

I can't spend one more night falling into bed exhausted, worn down not only by the actual day - but by the weight of everything that I didn't get accomplished.  My soul crushed under the expectations of what a GOOD mom would have achieved in the last 24 hours. 

But... I can take a breath.

I can remember that making memories is often messy, and that kids are washable.

I can laugh to myself when I see them making a face that I make, or using phrases and expressions they clearly have inherited from their mother.

I can watch them sleep and marvel at the fact that no matter how old they get, I can look at their faces and see those babies we brought home from the hospital.

I can be the keeper of our family memories.  I can save these snapshots in my head.  I can remind myself that when there are no more sticky hands and dirty faces to clean, I will have earned the privilege of regaling them with stories of the little people they used to be.

I can.