Christmas Anger

Because anger never came easy to me, or because I’d never seen it expressed by my mother and so I too learned to hold it in, I suddenly find myself attuned to it, in all its subtleties, and as such, it’s blossomed, especially after Menopause, which deftly set it (and other such vicissitudes of nice, sweet & pretty) free.

“Anger is sad’s bodyguard,” I’ve heard said, or: “Fear is the root of all anger,” but doesn’t that imply that anger has no value in and of itself?

I recall the beauty of a pure encounter. I was 37, with a new infant, a dead mother, a physically present but otherwise absent spouse, and a dilapidated farmhouse atop a mountain filled with in-laws.

The anger arose spontaneously (following a grievous transgression) was almost blissful, uncontaminated as it was by thought which is not to say that it was expressed mindlessly, like outrage, but instead, it burned clean, and was received, and something else, just as potent—it was released—without the festering of anger swallowed or anger dealt cuttingly on the sly.

“Choose discomfort over resentment.”

This is from Brené Brown best said with her Texas twang.
It was my motto last year, and it is also the intention I hold in relationship to my grown children.

“Parenting without resentment may be too ambitious a goal,” my therapist cautions.

In recent years, as the onslaught of hormones rocked me further and further from the shore of self-containment, I began to notice the very moment anger appeared.

Turns out it comes a lot at Christmastime, that time of year when I’m supposed to be all cookies and aprons and good cheer.

Tired is a huge trigger for me, and is a very close friend to overextended. Sick is another trigger, especially once I’m on the mend.

“If you don’t meet your expectations, lower them.”

A teacher of mine, Megha Nancy Buttenheim, spoke these words, and I suppose I’ve been at this lowering for the better half of my life while spending the first half (and apparently previous lifetimes) unconsciously driven.

Like any recovery, it’s one day at a time.

I am so ANGRY.
I am glad no one is home.

At 55 (wow, that’s such a huge number all of the sudden), anger is compounded by the awareness and understanding that arises with age and awakening (and with the election of a misogynist and the electrification of the #metoo movement, so very necessary and centuries too late.)

Nowhere is the gender differential experienced more acutely than during the holidays as our invisible work–caring for homes and families and communities and corporations–is exponentially magnified by the season of giving.

I love giving. I truly do. I enjoy the exchange of energy that gifts bring. That baking provides. That volunteering offers.

“Whenever we reach within and ask how we can delight each other physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, we are on Holy ground,” wrote my friend Michele Morgan Doucette.

But I am so angry. I am so tired. Not just angry and tired in this moment (recovering from the effects of a particularly protracted recovery), but angry for all the ways my mother was tired—she, who would bake cookies for every floor of the hospital (cut-out cookies and fudge and almond bark) while continuing to do the books for my dad’s practice, and caring for our home, and their six children, while Christmas shopping for all of us, including her 7 younger siblings and their families, and my father’s four younger siblings and their families, not to mention neighbors and friends and my father’s colleagues, along with hand-written (and addressed) Christmas cards sent far and wide to all the places we’d lived before.

My dark-haired, dark-eyed mother would arrive on Christmas Day, totally spent, a shell of herself, an absence glaringly magnified by the fact that it was her birthday.

WHERE ARE YOU? I wanted to scream.

Instead, I learned how to make a turkey dinner with all the fixings, her favorite. I bought her flowers, not just on her birthday, but year round. And breakfast in bed too. Eggs Benedict was her favorite. I wrote her cards–from every place I traveled, brought her presents. On Christmas Eve, I would stop by after Midnight Mass to be the first to wish her a Happy Birthday, catching her at that sacred hour when all the kids (and my father) were asleep, and she was most alive, on her knes in the livingroom wrappin.

Sometimes, I stayed on to help. Once, I let her continue alone after my boyfriend and I finished putting together the multi-storied Barbie Dream House at 2 am.

The Magic of Christmas.

I judged my mother for everything. For her vacancy. For not speaking up to my father. For not demanding help. For not claiming some time for indulgence on her own fucking birthday. For not taking time to at least buy something nice for herself. For being so disorganized that she’d save wrapping for Christmas Eve. For disappearing. For being tired. For drinking so much coffee and eating so much sugar. For never reaching her dreams. For never wanting anything.

I judged her and I carried her, and even though I did it all differently, her burdens became mine.

(Here come the tears.

“Anger is sad’s bodyguard.”)

On our very last Christmas together before our family imploded (and reconfigured), and just afater I finished exams, I took my father’s credit card and squeezed in a shopping spree so that my mother might have new things on Christmas Day, too. That silk blouse. Those velours pants. The hair clip. The gold chain. Right down to the stockings and boots.

It wasn’t enough. Or it was too late. Or it was too much and my claiming awakened her own.

Relatives blamed me, blamed her for listening to me.

“Tell Dad you need time for yourself,” I demanded as I watched her disappear.

She left my father in the New Year, but not directly. She went out the side door. With another man. Barely a man. 20. The best friend of my boyfriend. (I expect she wanted the youth she never had. The youth I had.)

Later she left all of us with the bottle.

Finally, after ten years sober, her departure was final. Cancer. Just 2 years older than I am now. Her body riddled with guilt and regret.

My mother was a kind, gentle soul caught in the crossfire of what it is to be female, to grow up poor, to want more but not know how to claim it, to never know that you are deserving/worthy, just as you are.

I appreciated my mother and always told her so. But now I’d like to tell her something else. I’d like to gather her in my arms and say:

None of this was your fault.

~

(Note: For the longest time, I loved this photo, holding onto it and “the way we were,” and then one Christmas, I dropped it, and the glass shattered, and I realized then that I’d hated it, hated it for the way it made me feel sad.

Just now, I’m beginning to see it differently, something new creeping around the edges, two women, one 18, the other 39, saying, however imperfectly:

We’re here too.)

Pulling ahead of the Patriarchy


I was fourteen, ”14 and a half,” to be precise, at the cusp of everything—body, mind, emotion, soul—coming together—in full expression.

I aced each of my Regents exams, had friends from the Rockies to the Hudson to the Atlantic, cultivated a deep connection to not only my “personal savior” but to nature, and self (all of which I now call Spirit); and to top it off–as I walked by the deep end of Delafield Pond in my bikini on my way to the high dive (which I’d done countless times the previous summer)–the cadets, face down on their beach towels, lifted their heads.

Cue: Tragedy.

Not mine, Silly. I was only heading for the 10-foot dive (to jump no less.) The 30-foot dive isn’t even there anymore which is something I discovered two summers ago when I returned to the base for a visit. (And let me tell you, returning to the place where you used to live isn’t easy in post 9/11, USMA.)

But back to Tragedy.

Enter: Stage left.

Have you ever noticed how Mack Trucks dominate the road? They’re either going too fast or too slow, or they’re crossing the line or coming too hard into a steep curve that’s icy with snow; or they’re tearing up the backroads because the highway is closed after another one tipped itself on its side; or maybe, it’s simply a gorgeous summer day, like the very one when I was at Delafield Pond with the cadets lifting their heads, and 150 miles south a Mack Truck is climbing a bridge while the sun is high in the sky, and the visibility is prime, and still, the Mack Truck, being a Mack Truck, doesn’t even notice a broken down car up ahead with 4 women inside.

Come to think of it a Mack Truck is a good metaphor for something else that oppresses and destroys.

To this day, I grip the steering wheel or I hold onto the handle above the passenger seat or I press my feet up against the dashboard.

This was especially true in those first years, and exponentially so when crossing over a bridge; and then again, in the past handful of years once I began time traveling to rescue that 14-
& a half year old girl whose soul was left behind in the debris spread the length of a football field across a multi-lane bridge outside the city of Philadelphia.

Come to think of it, those guys from my highschool days, the ones who have been trolling my Facebook wall with their support of #45, are a lot like Mack Trucks.

Spreaders, is that what they’re called on public transportation?

“What? What’s the big deal?” says the Patriarchy, “This is how it’s always been. It’s never been a problem before.” or  “I was just joking. Don’t be so serious.”

What the Patriarchy fails to understand, doesn’t even begin to understand, and is apparently uninterested in understanding is that it’s always been a problem for the rest of us. We’ve just been too afraid to say too much or to say it too loud or too often, because. Mac Trucks.

I stayed up too late on the night of the Mid-Terms. I over-used my eyes and my heart and my brain and my patience, but surprisingly I fell to sleep with ease.

Still, I must not have slept well or enough because I dozed off on the mat this morning, and each time the teacher spoke into the savasana meditation of air and bliss, I stirred, wondering where I was, only to fall back to sleep again before I fully came to, until she said those dreaded words:

“Make small movements with your wrists and ankles before coming up to a seated position.”

I could hardly move off my mat but I had to move because the class was over and my mat was partially in the doorway because the class was unexpectedly relocated to the basement where there wasn’t enough room for so many women, all of which I took personally on behalf of women, given the election.

I mean the whole reason I drove an hour south into the Berkshires for this series of 4 elemental yoga classes (earth-water-fire-air) at the Clark Art Institute was the glass room upstair with the stunning view. Still, last week the water pool had been emptied and filled with rocks so that was already depressing.

But the basement? Relocating a group of aging women to the basement for the “Air” element on the morning after the election is hugely symbolic but I’m too tired to figure that out right now.

I got off my mat and dragged myself to the bathroom, where I noticed that my eyes were exceedingly small and puffy. They’ve been this way for days. (This happened once before, didn’t it? When was that?)

My mind flashes to something my therapist wrote to me last winter. We were talking about #metoo and the report I was making about a man who rubbed his hands across my ass in a public setting. She noticed my eyes that day right away, and I received this email from her when I got home:

These processes of going public with violating men ask you to be so reasonable and reasoned. Where do the anger and vigorous pushback go? Is it expressed in a safe place for you? Is it getting stuck in the windows of your soul, around your eyes? Such dilemmas–wanting to be of service to move consciousness along but… where does our vigor go? STOP to the violators or stopped up in us?

I postponed my post-yoga working lunch in the Clark café, and dragged my weary eyes outside into the woods and up the hillside.

Mack Trucks.

I left home for the Berkshires early this morning so that I wouldn’t get caught up in election news (particularly Texas or Florida or Georgia) or be distracted by volleys with the Jersey boys from highschool who were gung ho about their guy Trump.

The drive through the Green Mountains was surprisingly trafficky for Vermont, but then I remembered that my earlier departure meant I was traveling during the morning commute.

Just after I passed a utility truck and returned to the right lane to prepare to climb one last hill before turning south into the Berkshires, I saw a Mack Truck in my rear view mirror.

Crap, I thought to myself, and then I sped up a little, wanting to avoid any proximity, particularly with the high winds we were experiencing as the morning temperatures rose.

The Mack Truck sped up too.

I looked in my rearview mirror once more, prepared to let the Mack Truck pass me, but then I noticed that it was losing ground in the climb.

My small car, so low to the earth was less buffeted by the winds, and my engine remained steady and strong.

I watched in the mirror as the Mack Truck lagged further and further behind, and for the very first time in the 40 years since my grandmother and my aunties and their golf clubs were crushed under 18 wheels, I felt something else instead of consumed by fear.

More than 123 women were elected to Congress last week.

The cost of a margarita


7 hot flashes (one during, one afterward, one before bed , 3 while sleeping, 1 when waking

Note: Price does not include tip = 3 night wakings to pee (aided by the presence of young adults in the house with competing needs for entertainment & sleep.)

Recipe for a Fresh Cucumber Watermelon Margarita
muddled watermelon & tequila
lightly sweetened with MacArthur maple
served with watermelon/cucumber club soda on ice
garnished with garden basil & lime

Muse Waking

Make an offering of your life.
Outside the narrow confines of other’s approval.
Risk judgment. Risk ridicule. Risk adoration.
Let it all be. Beyond you.
Let your life pour like a drink, quenching the thirst of the parched earth.
Pour and pour and pour until you and the earth and all others are one.

~

Problems give way to clarity, pave the way for new beginnings, force long-needed change.

~

Resentment is lazy.

~

You are not here to be your family’s cup of tea.

You have a purpose beyond their pleasure.

The challenge is to love them (and especially yourself) while displeasing them.

Even Jesus disappointed his mother for Christ’s sake.

~

“Go away! I’m too tired. Leave me alone,” I say, when She arrives like she has of late, composing, even before my eyes are open.

And then I take it back, too afraid am I She won’t come back…

The heat inside rises like a wave up the breadth of my back and over the curve of my breast up toward my face.

The air condition in the hotel room, set low, is no matter. There is a steady fire beneath me.

I consider pouring cold water on the mattress like we did on our pillows when the sticky nights kept my sister and me from sleeping.

But water is no match for the child with the chemistry set inside; though I have taken to cool showers before bed and sometimes upon waking during the night.

Some nights she plays just a little; other times she is tireless; and I wake like I do today, barely rested, but hewing closer to Her because there is less of me.

“There! Are you happy!” I say aloud.

I’ve listened and written, dutifully Her servant these 36 years.

“Please come again.”

First journal entry, August 22, 1982

~

Language has power.
Be discerning.
Our words, like our lives.
Are prayers.

The Blue Lady

 

I became a mother this week on a rainy day much like today, but I don’t remember getting wet. What I do remember is my acute embarrassment.

“Please don’t use the sirens,” I said to the ambulance driver.

(Doctor’s daughters don’t do emergencies.)

I don’t remember if Casey rode up front, but I do remember asking if Mary could join me in back. It turns out they were relieved to have a midwife on board.

I watched as the farmhouse and the barn and the Deerfield River feathered from view and we approached the village where I’d moved to teach school two years earlier; but I don’t remember much else except for the mountaintop that we climbed on our way to the nearest hospital, thirty-some minutes away.

As we bounced over Hogback Mountain, I looked out at its three-state view, while the young EMT, fearing a delivery, attempted an IV into my right hand. But she needn’t have worried. I had already told the baby to wait, and although my contractions had been steady and strong since my water broke just before dawn (a good thing since my husband was heading out the door to go fishing for the day… before cell phones), I hadn’t experienced a single contraction after stepping inside the ambulance.

“How far along are you,” my sister asked when I called that morning to apologize. She’d sent her 9-year-old on a plane from Florida to visit us for two weeks and I had promised not to go into labor during his stay. “First babies always come late,” I reminded this mother of three, so eager was I to see my nephew.

“Well, it must be early labor,” she said, “You’re too calm.”

When Mary arrived shortly after that call, I asked if she’d would mind waiting to examine me, so consumed was I by contractions.

She made the same assumption about the progress of my labor given my steadiness.

When she finally did check my cervix, there were three surprises.

“You’re 8 centimeters already,” she said, astounded. “And something else.”

The something else was what resulted in several phone calls to area hospitals and then an ambulance ride down the river through the village and over the mountain toward the big town.

“I am not going out on that stretcher,” I told the EMTs when they arrived in my kitchen. “I don’t want to upset the neighbors.”

Casey had just come in from hanging the diapers on the line, and before we all left out the back door, I pointed to the doughs on the counter. “Will you put those back in the freezer,” I said to him, feeling a pang for the meal we would never share with our home birthing team.

“I bet this is a boy,” I’d joked to Mary in the ambulance, given that I had been told by more than one intuitive that this baby would arrive “after” my due date (not almost two weeks before it) and that the baby would be a girl.

Mary later told me of the third surprise, that instead of a head, she’d felt testicles.

And although I hadn’t experienced any contractions on the ambulance ride, coaxing the baby to wait, she later told me that my labor had indeed progressed. I was fully dilated by the time we arrived in the emergency room.

“She’s in labor?” the front desk nurses said, as I was wheeled past them.

“She’s still in her street clothes,” two others said, as they looked into the examining room where I was lifted onto a bed.

I looked these women up and down too and had thought them orderlies, but one would turn out to be the surgeon, who did her own examination.

“Small,” she pronounced.

“Adequate,” Mary countered.

“Unproven,” she said.

They stood at the foot of my stretcher disputing the capacity of my pelvis.

“Calm,” Mary offered, of my demeanor.

“I’ll give it two hours,” the doctor said. “But the results could be tragic.”

They looked from each other toward me.

“Can I have a minute?” I said.

I motioned to Casey to join me in the bathroom. I closed the door. I kept the lights off.

I had miscarried twice before. Bled through the early months of this pregnancy too. Had Braxton-Hicks beginning at 5 months. Had planned a home birth because I’d fallen in love with a midwife named Mary who told me that she took my little baby home with her each night in her third eye, each and every night.

I had felt so peaceful there in our little farmhouse beside the mountain. The morning’s cloud cover created a cocoon as I labored at the edge of our bed, the skylight overhead where we watched the stars at night a comfort too, the door to the balcony over the brook open to the air, and this blissful feeling between contractions that my mother told me I’d find if I paid attention to the spaces in between enveloped me.

Now gone.

“Remember, you and the baby want the same thing,” my mother said, having birthed 9 children without a single miscarriage or epidural.

She was a Christmas baby like my great aunt, while I followed on the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and her grandson was apparently arriving on the Assumption of Mary, coming early to do so.

I opened the bathroom door to bright lights and urgent faces, remembering my bare feet on our soft pine floors, Mary kneeling in front of me, pressing her thumbs into my shin, lending exquisite relief during a strong contraction.

“We’ll take the c-section,” I said.

And then I remember the very last contraction I experienced.

“This will sting,” said the anesthesiologist who arrived in the operating room with a nurse and his long needle while the surgical team scrubbed like I had once done with my father and to whom I had just recently said, just as he had said to me: I never want surgery. (We would each have surgery within 48 hours of each other this very week.)

“Can you wait a minute,” I said to the anesthesiologist, laughing at the absurdity of his warning about the epidural. “I’m having a contraction.”

In the end, they had to yank the baby out of the birth canal so ready was he to be born through me instead of removed by them.

Protocol would not let me view the delivery, but they did let me see him for a flash before they whisked him to the examining table under the bright lights where they pronounced him healthy. Protocol also prevented me from him until the anesthesia wore off.

I’d only had anesthesia once before. Wisdom teeth. The same-day surgery room was set to close and I still couldn’t wake.  My roommate, a nurse, in fact,  arrived to drive me home while I continued to doze, and she cared for me through the night, ice on, ice off, so unable was I to rebound from the drugs. I was managing a seaside restaurant then, and a guy called the next day for a job. The restaurant had given him my home number. I was furious. Now that same guy accompanied our baby to the nursery while I was sewn up on the table and sent alone to recovery where I strived to wake and feel my legs so that I would be taken to the 4th floor to be with my baby.

I woke this morning feeling similarly drugged, to the sound of rain and a heavy cover of clouds, and although I wanted to rise and write before walking up to Sunday scones at Whetstone Ledges Farm, the absence of light made it difficult to stay afloat, and so I slipped back down under the surface of consciousness again and again.

“Do you feel your legs yet,” the nurse asked, as she covered my shivering body with more and more blankets. To this day the last two toes on my left foot are numb.

When I finally did meet my son, he was tightly wrapped in a blanket with a knit cap on his head as if we had never been one. I put up my hand as the midwife approached with him in her arms. I wanted to see Casey first. We had become parents, apart from one another, instead of at home in on our own bed. He held our baby first, for more than an hour, after I had carried him inside for 8 months.

I don’t remember if the rain lifted that afternoon when I held my son.

I remember feeling that this was Everything.

I remember knowing that nothing would ever be the same.

When I fell back to sleep this morning, I dreamt that most of the tomatoes on the vine in our garden had ripened, just in time for son’s return to celebrate his twenty-third birthday.

His name was meant to be Lila, after my grandmother, who died tragically at the age I am now.

I don’t know when it occurred to me that Lila and Lloyd share two L’s.

Twenty-three years old.

The twenty-third psalm was her favorite and read at her graveside. I think of it every time I walk the road past the silent repose of the Whetstone.

I like the version Bobby McFerrin sings.

“Beside the still waters, She will lead.”

Lloyd has surprised us lately, wanting to be home each year for his birthday after a couple that he spent away with girlfriends.

It’s unfathomable to me that he doesn’t live with us anymore. That the flesh of my flesh is not mine forever. That neither of us would want it to be so.

He was here last Christmas too, for an extended stay, during which we joined with old friends around a fire overlooking the Retreat Meadows as the sun set over the water.

We were deep in conversation with friends when I felt a swoosh past our circle of chairs, and my eyes followed a woman who, with a flourish, removed a dark cloak.

I lifted my phone and zoomed in to capture the beautiful blues and creamy whites of her wimple and habit but I couldn’t make out what hung from her neck and around her waist.

Her presence seemed to rivet me alone, and I’d lost the conversation, despite the company of my son and my oldest, dearest friend.

Instead, I stood up and crossed the space from the fire to her table beside the waters.

“The Marian Sisters of Santa Rosa,” she explained, pointing to the medallion that hung from her neck.

“My sword,” she said standing, of the beaded rosary that dangled from her hip down her left side, “To fight Evil.”

I shared my family’s Mary connection with her, my mother’s Christmas birth, mine on the Immaculate Conception, my son’s on the Assumption of Mary, and even my husband’s on the Feast Day, upon which my mother died.

“You are a Marian family,” she pronounced, and I smiled, thinking how some people enjoy certainty and others questions.

I returned to the fire, taking a seat across from from my friend with whom I attended the same Catholic Highschool. She had recently given me a nightlight that had belonged to her dear mother, and I almost thought to discard this plastic statue of Mary when after plugging it in, the bulb sparked and went black.

But upon removing the plug from the statue, I saw three small words under its base:

House of Lloyd.

Later, as the light faded in the sky over the water, the woman in the dark cloak stopped by our circle on her way out, asking:

“Is this the one born on Assumption of Mary?”

She looked directly at my son Lloyd and said:

“You are consecrated to Our Lady.”

It was he who once saw the blue light shimmering on the land alongside the Whetstone Brook upon which we would later build our home. He was just a boy then.

“It’s blue like the light over Uncle Lenny’s bar in the barn,” my son said, not knowing the word fluorescent, and referencing his first home, the place where he was conceived and practically born and where he watched his little brother come into the world upstairs in the little farmhouse beside the brook just weeks before his grandmother died on the Feast Day of Mary.

“The Blue Lady is here to help you,” my new therapist said, when I came to her grieving the loss of my mother.

I hadn’t been sure about the purchase of the land upon which I stood with my son until that day when I was told to whom the land just across the pond belonged.

The Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of Mary.