Remember how we all couldn’t wait to be done with 2016? Yeah. Me, too. Despite our shiniest hopes, this year wasn’t much better. As 2017 begins to glimmer in our rearview mirror, I’m filling the last few blogs of this year with some reflections on the past twelve months. It’s been a real trudge, hasn’t it? I hope yours was better than mine. Here are three things about my 2017.
THING ONE: ME
I lost my bearings this year. I teetered and tottered on the precipice of a yawning, black canyon of despair and depression after the inauguration in January. A constant gnaw set up shop in the pit of my belly and rarely took time off. Sleep was an elusive motherfucker. I felt the “Inez” in me flare up and flame–my mother’s worrywart and chicken little tendencies–and often felt grateful that she was no longer here on earth to witness it all. It would have broke her. It nearly broke me.
I lost my voice. My writing voice. That voice that I have learned is a nonnegotiable, vital part of my well-being. After January, I began to believe my stories weren’t important enough, weren’t big enough, simply were not enough. We need to hear the voices of the marginalized! shouted the timeline of my social media feeds. I understood my privilege and even as a woman, I’ve never felt terribly marginalized. So, I read a lot of other peoples’ writing. I sat with their stories and watched what was evoked in me. Sometimes fear. Other times, defensiveness. I would ask myself why. I read and absorbed and I learned.
I lost some friendships. Or at least I lost some traction in some friendships. I’m one of those who hangs on for dear life, even when the shore seems another lifetime away. Even when it’s not in my best interest to keep my white-knuckled grip. But when the world seems to turn upside-down, we change. Our friends change and the relationships inevitably change, too. Our coping mechanisms have a way of weeding out the dead wood and exposing what is left behind. Some people aren’t meant to be in your life forever another friend mused when we were commiserating with each other about this.
Something miraculous happened around the summer, though. I found my legs–my 2017 legs. The strong, stable legs that would carry me throughout the trudge of the rest of the year, even with a torn meniscus. I unfollowed a lot of folks on social media as I identified my triggers. I reduced the amount of time I spent on Facebook, in particular. I remembered what was good and real in my life and reminded myself that I didn’t have the luxury of a dramatic fall into that deep canyon. Two young adult kids on the cusp of their independent lives would not benefit from a mother who threw herself off the edge. I also had my yoga classes, filled with more people than ever, looking for tools and solace, grasping for their breath and the the connection to something as real and living as their own flesh and bones. I had stuff to do and that sense of purpose kept me focused and alive.
And then I found my voice again–my writing voice–when I stopped caring what other people thought. (It always works that way, you know. It’s not much of a mystery.) I began this blog, published every Sunday, as a challenge to myself. I called myself a writer, but I wasn’t writing much. The sole intention of this blog was to see if I could walk the walk. I don’t usually write about big topics of social justice or politics, but instead I share my small, little stories about three things each week. Nothing makes me happier when telling my stories encourages others to share theirs. Our stories are where we find meaning and connection, even and especially in the seemingly small, quiet stories of our lives.
My circle of trusted humans continues to shrink but what remains begins to develop the richest, most beautiful patina. As the boundaries get renegotiated and tighten up in some friendships, other boundaries expand to create new ones and deepen others. I took time to mourn the loss of what once was and accepted responsibility for what was mine. I stopped trying to fix what wasn’t. Sometimes the learning curve is steep and treacherous.
It’s been a gritty, tumultuous year and I’m not confident the next will be much smoother.
THING TWO: SON
When you’re up to your elbows in poop and barf and the latest virus making the rounds through your kids’ preschool class, you can’t even begin to imagine living without these creatures. Raising little humans is an all-encompassing venture where–if you’re lucky–you come up for air once every three months or so.
And then they’re gone. Seriously, just like that.
And isn’t that just wonderful? I mean, how many of us daydream about having our unemployed, 28-year-old son living in our basement with his pregnant girlfriend? (Not that that’s the end of the world, either. It’s just not what most of us moms and dads wish for.) As parents, our only job is to build independent, capable, contributing, and kind adults. It’s not for the faint of heart, this parenting gig, and it’s not without its share of detours and roadblocks and dead ends.
You also cry. A lot. Or maybe that’s just me.
This year was a bit of rollercoaster for our family, filled with comings and goings, coming back agains, stumbles and recoveries but overwhelmingly, the sprouting of the most magnificent of iridescent wings in both my son and daughter. It was a hard year, at times, chock-full of tough decisions and teary farewells and giddy celebrations. I have a tattoo on my right forearm that reads, “she feels in italics and thinks in capitals” and 2017 was all about the italics and capitals.
I’m exhausted. And also proud as hell.
My son landed a pretty nice, if temporary, gig working in the sports department at a major newspaper. Cool, we thought, and bought him his first grown-up, queen-sized bed for his new, queen-sized life working and living in Seattle. But because being young is about seizing all the opportunities all the time, he went on to apply for and land an even tonier job in the king-sized city of Manhattan. Equipped with a couple of suitcases and my broken heart, he left his new mattress behind to begin a new job at Sports Illustrated. He left on my birthday. My birthday! I reminded myself it wasn’t all about me, wiped my snotty tears on the sleeve of my hoodie and got to planning my fall trip to the east coast. Oh, and did I mention our New York City Christmas? I signed up for frequent-flier miles because I was sure I’d be flying frequently. I dreamed about Christmas shopping at Chelsea Market, walking the High Line in the snow and long afternoons at MOMA.
He settled into a place in Brooklyn and I settled into my new reality of having my kid 3000 miles away from me.
A funny thing happens when you begin to mature. You start to know yourself. You reach a certain age with a duffle bag full of life experiences on your back and you begin to see beyond the shiny, bright lights of what the world tells you you should want and you tap into what you–really YOU–want. He called me while I was escaped to the Olympic Peninsula (trying to salvage my broken-hearted birthday) and told me he didn’t think this bright, shiny life in NYC was what he wanted. I put on my wise yoga-teacher-mom cap and counseled him with all the reasons to stay. It’s okay to be unsure, I told him. It’s okay to be uncomfortable.
He missed the Pacific Northwest. He missed his girlfriend. He missed his family. It just didn’t feel right, he said. He missed us! I felt a shudder of pride down my spine when I realized I had raised a young adult who actually still enjoyed his family and wanted to be near us. He had attended college in Arizona, spent summers living in NYC and Philadelphia and had made the very grown-up decision that he needed to get back to Seattle.
How many of us have stayed in a relationship or job or school or living situation for far too long, only because we were afraid to disappoint the expectations of others? Yeah. Me, too. Those were not my finest moments. I was impressed that my son had the wherewithal to realize something was not a good fit and took the steps to choose differently.
The suitcases and my broken heart and my kid flew back to the West Coast. Sports Illustrated was sad to say goodbye and he even continued to work remotely for them for awhile. He managed to get his pretty nice gig at that major newspaper back–this time as a permanent, full-time position. The heart palpitations I was having all month long magically stopped. Funny how that works.
It’s not easy for any of us to strike out on our own and build our grown-up lives. My own trajectory was riddled with side trips and strange rest stops and decisions I later regretted but then grew to understand and learn from. There is nothing remotely linear about a life well-lived. Up, down, backwards, sideways and those breathtaking spirally-curly-cue turns to the right and left and back again.
A life well-lived looks like a complex, fantastic work of art, one that can be interpreted many ways. The only thing that matters, though, is that it is an honest expression of the artist themselves.
THING THREE: DAUGHTER
I didn’t take the traditional, turn-18-and-go-off-to-college route. Remember what I said about being the one left holding on for dear life? That was me at 18. My daughter, on the other hand, chose differently.
There’s something about your child’s senior year of high school. Each and every event is touted as their “last”–their last, first day of high school, their last school concert, the last high school football game, the last, last day of school. It’s enough to exhaust all boxes of tissues. (That said, I’ve never been more emotional than the the last day of each of my kid’s elementary school years. It always felt a bit manipulative, you know, like the ending of a cheesy Hallmark movie. Cry, dammit, or else! It’s excruciating and unfair.) The entire senior year of high school is focused on sentimental endings stirred up and mixed in with the excitement of future plans and college acceptance letters and decisions, both big and small. All the parents talked about their kid’s leaving home looming like the most dreadful farewell.
Everyone was worried about me as my daughter prepared to leave for college. Everyone except me.
My daughter is a different animal. Quietly confident and smart as a whip. She surrounds herself with good, caring people. I knew she’d be okay. I was pretty sure I’d be okay, too.
We packed her up and drove her off to college on a misty, steel-gray Seattle morning in late September. Everything she needed, stuffed in the back of a Prius. Her roommate, a dear friend since seventh grade, made the transition that much easier. A space of her own, a brand new world at her feet, adventures to be had. Bright lights, big city. It was heady stuff. I left her on campus without much fanfare and only a few tears.
It’s a strange feeling to wake up in your house all alone after nearly two decades of it being filled with family. A house that served as central headquarters, once brimming with loud fights and birthday parties and tears and bedtime stories. The other, less poignant side of the coin is the exhilaration you feel when you realize that you can go/do/eat anything you please and no one will be around to protest. It was not unlike the giddy freedom I remember feeling the first time I lived on my own. This time around, I fantasized about driving to Canada and spending a few days in Vancouver, or out to LaPush for some ocean therapy. I wound up making popcorn for dinner, perfectly content to simply know I could do whatever I pleased.
By all accounts, it was an effortless transition for my daughter from the comforts of home to the less-comfortable dorms at the University of Washington. The frightened, white-knuckled-gripping, unsure 18-year-old in me had a hard time comprehending just how easy it was for her to adventure away to college. Having not had that experience, I was without a reference point. Did she not love us? Might she never come home again? was the endless loop of worries that surged as I channeled my inner Inez again. Was she not afraid? The 18-year-old me was governed by fear. My daughter was not. I had made the mistake of confusing her lack of anxiety with a lack of love.
My daughter is a different animal than me, thankfully.
From the early days of watching her flip and fly through the air with the greatest of ease as a competitive gymnast and later, as a diver on her high school team, I remembered my daughter was born with a type of grit and determination that I never possessed. Fearless? No, not fearless, but persistent as hell with a belief and drive in herself that cannot be taught. We might share some DNA, but this girl is uniquely her own. And that, right there, will take her far.
I like to drive through the campus and imagine my mom and dad there, lurking in the gothic architecture and ancient cherry trees. Both were graduates of the university and I know they are proud of their youngest granddaughter. They gave her valuable gifts of intellect and curiosity. The mystical, magical part of me believes they are looking over her, guiding her, protecting her. The sensible, practical part of me trusts that she’ll be just fine.
It’s been a helluva year, this year. Maybe next year, too. Come what may, we’ll all be over here, creating these fantastic, messy works of art that we’ll call life.