Apr 11, 2013

The "birthday" thing...or, Peace At Last

Birthdays.  How they change, one might even say "evolve", as we grow older......

Take my seventh birthday,  I remember this year in particular because I had gotten the idea (possibly from learning to read with Dick and Jane) that you got lots of presents at birthday parties.  LOTS!!  This year I did not consider the amount of presents I got "enough" and expressed my disappointment to my mother.  She quickly informed me that I was ungrateful and threatened to take away some of them immediately, which made me cry, which made her swat my bottom, which made us both have to take an exceedingly long time in the bathroom.  This made people curious, who then stared at me when I got out, (or so I was convinced), which upset me, which made my mother think I was pouting, which led to another "talking to", in which she did not swat me.  She verbally shamed me instead, teaching me two good lessons: Always be grateful and control your face because no telling what you will have people thinking..  One of these I have mastered.  
Not the last one.  
In any case, the day of my birth was already fraught with possible disappointments and control issues for me from that day forward.

The years between then and now have flown.  No, really.  Except for the years when I had small children, and I don't even remember those at all, so I'm not sure they even count.  If I don't remember them and there are no pictures to prove they happened  (because who, other than the mom, ever takes a picture?), they don't count, right? 

I remember my 38th, during which my mother was deathly sick with cancer, and I was in a very dark place.  Along came my birthday, (like I needed THAT!) and I was in a really, really bad mood.  I mean, dark, people, and I don't think I had said anything mean, but when I am in a dark mood I don't have to say anything.  People just know.  This year the only people around were my children and my best friend's children, who were almost exactly to the day the same age as The Rock Star and The Beautiful Redhead.  Such a dark mood was I in that I fixed spaghetti for supper (of course I had to fix supper) and I was in such a bad mood and not paying good attention that I served those children spaghetti with cold sauce that I had poured into the pan but never warmed up.  I did not know the difference until I sat down to eat, last (of course), and looked around at those precious kids who either loved me so much, or were so scared that I was going to kill them, that they had quietly and quickly downed that spaghetti, with COLD SAUCE, and were not going to say one word about it!  It made me feel so good (because they were such good kids!) and so bad (because I was such a horrible, scary, bad cooking biotch!) that I cried.  After I cried, which I should have just gotten out of the way and saved us all time, then we all laughed, once they knew it was safe for that kind of thing again, and I was so very sorry because I had temporarily forgotten the hard learned lessons of 7: to always be grateful and control my face!  And I vowed that I would never forget it again.

The next year I did much better.  Partly because it was my first birthday without my mother, partly because I had long ago gotten over the "birthday" thing, and partly because my 12 year old daughter, who did not cook, had made me an angel food cake.  I was so surprised and touched that I cried.   I asked her if she had gotten a box mix to do it and she said "I could have gotten a mix??????"  She has always been so wonderful like that, although she has never seemed to know it.  It's part of her charm, but mostly I was just so touched that she had thought about it and stepped in so that at least one year I did not have to make my own cake.  I do not like angel food cake, actually, and she didn't know that either, but if you don't think I ate that cake you would be greatly mistaken.  That was a good one. It's all I remember about that birthday, and it is enough.

A lot of birthday memories involving tears.  Tears of disappointment, anger, gratefulness, laughter.

Last week I celebrated my 48th.  I've gotten over wishing no one knew and I've gotten good at graciously accepting congratulations.  I gave up on wishes years ago, but this year I actually celebrated it for the first time in a very long time.

Sometime last winter I started feeling better.  Better than what?  Better than a tired, sad, jaded, cynical woman who would rather be hibernating.  I don't know if it's a hormonal change or just the end of deep grieving, and I suppose it doesn't make any difference.

Lately, I have been able to go out with friends and actually enjoy doing whatever we have done without wishing I could just go home after about 20 minutes.  This is like a miracle!

Just the other day it dawned on my that my wardrobe is comprised of dark, somber colors, as are most of the furnishings of my house.  There is a good reason for my clothes to be dominated by black, because I have wisely given up the struggle to eliminate black dog hair.  I've simply embraced it because it takes less energy that way.  Besides, I like black!  Black is always appropriate, it makes me look more streamlined, and it goes with everything.  I bought a new couch, which is black, but that's all right, not only because of the dog hair but because it matches my curtains.  Yes, they are black, but not all of them.  I have tan ones on the insides.  Black and tan.....not the color scheme of a happy person.

On Easter, I was marveling at feeling so alive and not viciously angry, and I had the strongest urge to put a pastel table clothe on the table and decorate.  This hadn't happened to me for at least 10 years.  Maybe 15?  I looked at my tablecloths and I have 2 in a burnt orange, 1 in what we called "maroon" in the 80's, and a plaid one in tones of maroon and burnt orange run through with a little gold.  I also have a green and white checked one which has been ruined by numerous painting jobs by the kids over the years, so I couldn't really count that one.

There I stood in my kitchen, in a good mood that had lasted more than 15 minutes, for the first time in many years, looking around and realizing that in the last 10 years I have literally been in mourning, and that I was not feeling that way anymore.   Even more than that, I hadn't been feeling that way for a while.....this lightening of mood seemed to be sticking around.  This, too, was like a miracle.

I mean, you guys, it was like a miracle!  All I could think was that maybe 48 wouldn't be so bad.  It felt like I had woken up from a deep sleep.  I had not been in a deep sleep, literally, but I was emerging from the fog (link included if "fog" is not another color here--technology is not my friend)  of grief that I had been in for so long.  Lately it has felt like the sun is shining through.  Lately I have gotten up and enjoyed days instead of just slogging through them so I could go back to bed.  Lately I have actually smiled for real instead of just doing it so people would go away and leave me alone.  Lately I have felt more like myself again.  When I first started to notice it, I thought it was fluke, but it's not going away.  It's lasted long enough now that I am cautiously optimistic that it is not a phase.

What I think is that, living through these times, like dealing with cancer, comes terror, resolution, and finally, a kind of peace.  The worst thing you could ever imagine has happened, is happening, and will continue to happen.  You know this, and you still are, still you, still here.   Is it not a miracle that you can wake up every day and thank God for that, even after you've had the worst news you could ever hope to hear?  Is it not an act of faith to keep slogging through the days, even if you are only pretending?  Is it not a miracle if, after slogging through many years, one day you feel alive again?

We have moved, as a country, to a place I never thought we would.  I don't like it, and I fight it every day.  But still I go on, singing with the radio, smiling real smiles, hoping for the best but prepared for the worst.  Of course I'm prepared for the worst, you don't get to be 48 without learning that it never hurts to be jaded and cynical!  Otherwise you would just be an idiot, or a celebrity.  I will also admit that I have gotten old enough to take the attitude that whatever happens, I will not be the one to have to deal with it for that many more years, let alone pay for it.  On my worst days I symbolically tell younger generations "Good luck with that!" and laugh, because I fell for that crap too, when I was their age.  But only on the worst days, which are farther and farther apart.

These days I am mostly calm.  It is a calmness born of 10 years in the fog of grief and in the rain of constant disappointment, complete with dreary, mostly black props, and the knowledge that as long as there is still breath in my body, come what may, I have to keep going until my job is done. These 10 years may have seemed boring to those looking in from the outside, but in here it has been time well spent deciding what I really think, wrestling demons to the ground (then jumping up and throwing my hands in the sign for touchdown!)  and working on my faith.  I have never been alone for one second and the work has paid off: I feel peaceful and clear eyed, and ready, come what may.  I don't doubt that the hard times are getting closer daily, but I just show up to serve and let God take care of the rest.

And that, my friends, is my plan for the future, however much of it remains to me.   But I am definitely getting a pastel table clothe, too.  Life is too short to live surrounded with dreary props.  Don'tchathink?