City Girl and the Space Invader

Peach, a fear-filled girl like her mother, was the only person home with me when something went ‘bump’ in the night. More accurately, the something went ‘tap, tap, tap.’  My desire was to hide under the bed covers and hope that whatever made the sound would disappear. But protective mothering instincts kicked in when I realized that whatever it was could harm my little one if the only adult in the house didn’t get her trembling butt out of bed.

The sound was loud, persistent, and not reactive to me turning on every light in the house, which made me even more scared and truly on the verge of utter panic. This anxious mental state, combined with a 2 a.m. stupor, dulled my deductive reasoning capabilities. When I couldn’t find the source of the sound, I began to entertain the idea of ghosts trapped in my walls.

The tapping sound seemed to stop when I approached a certain interior wall which gave me hope that it was a living critter and not other-worldly. But it didn’t match any of the crawling, scratching sounds that I was familiar with.

When I polled friends the next day, every one of them initially offered the ‘mouse in the wall’ theory and proceeded with tales of their own experience with rodent invaders. But I too have been-there-done-that and this was no mouse!

One wise sleuth guessed ‘woodpecker’ which seemed like a possible match so I ran with it and started consulting the knower of all things. Google informed me that woodpeckers have sharply-clawed toes and and strong, pointed beaks that act as a chisel and crowbar. This is disturbing information when said bird is within the confines of one’s house. When I got to the part about a woodpecker’s 4-inch long tongue that can wrap around its skull, I closed the page. Visions of a vicious and frustrated bird pecking my brains out while clinging to my face made me shiver.

I am countrified enough to know that woodpeckers primarily eat insects, which adds a layer of disturbance as my house may be infested with termites. A reasonable thing to do would be to call an exterminator or a critter-extractor who would be happy to divest me of a large fee to rid my house of unconfirmed pests. Or, I could wait for the space invader to present itself by pecking a hole through the wall, thus declaring its exact whereabouts and whatabouts.

Neither of these options is attractive to me or to Husband who is a staunch do-it-yourselfer. But as the occurrences of nighttime prowling have not abated, we need to take action.  Suggestions are welcome..as long as they don’t involve a City Girl crawling into dark places with a gunny sack and a flashlight.

 

Who Am I? And When Will I Know?

Peach came to me with a delighted look on her face after receiving a compliment from a friend who told her, “I wish I had your life.  You’re so cool.”  This surprised Peach who, of course, spends time thinking the same thoughts about others. 

She repeated the words several times, testing my reaction, seeking validation and convincing herself that it could be true.  ‘Cool’ isn’t a concept she’d tried on before.  Did it fit?  Could she pull it off?  We are what we believe we are, but how do we know what to believe?

I wish I could say it’s only tweens and teens who absorb the opinions of others in order to define themselves.  But too many times as an adult I’ve caught myself feeling good or bad based on another person’s criticism or compliment.

In my book, Tween You and Me:  A Preteen Guide To Becoming Your Best Self, I advocate for girls to know themselves, be themselves, and love themselves.  What I don’t highlight is how challenging the first step is.

Figuring out who we are is lifelong work.  We’re like a slow-cooked meal that needs extended time to simmer before emerging from the pot in the form of palatable dish.  Becoming a mature person who understands herself takes patience and practice.  It requires us to spend time on the inside, releasing the flavor of us, bit by bit.

A sage will advise you to ‘Listen to your heart’ or your gut, or some such organ, to guide you through life.  But if we haven’t established a relationship with our innards, this advice is useless.  We’re likely to choose the more convenient but tenuous path of adopting the world’s idea of who we should be.  Seeing ourselves in the mirror of the world can be helpful, but the world can only show us how we are.  It can’t define who we are.

Certain Native American tribes had naming ceremonies, sometimes beginning at birth.  The name reflected a virtue the parents hoped for the baby to have.  This would be replaced in adolescence in response to a strength for which the child was known.  As an adult, another name might be granted to reflect an expectation for the person to live up to.  The process of identification was fluid.

The goal in getting to know yourself isn’t to land on one comprehensive definition.  The goal is to become skilled enough at turning inward that you can see, understand, and act in accordance with your true vision and values as they apply to any given moment. 

As parents, we want this for our children.  We want to know that they’re armored with self-confidence and immune to the judgmental world.  We want for them what we still don’t possess for ourselves 100% of the time.  The best we can do is meet them where they’re at, not trying to change anything, and not expecting adult-level responses to the feedback that hammers them every day from all directions.

I offered Peach an observation of my own.  “I see a girl who is growing and learning every day.  I see a girl who is a good friend and loves her family.  I see a girl who wonders about things with an imaginative mind and works tirelessly at creating.  This girl has ideas worth sharing and a future that’s bright. And I think that makes you pretty cool.”

Peach smiled at this and said, “Thanks.  I think I can see that too.”

Big Girls Should Cry

Friend is a self-described control freak and I love her for it.  I adore a person who’s self-aware and can be unapologetically true to herself.

‘Control’ works for Friend.  It makes her feel safe.  She knows how to stay in her comfort zone so she’ll operate at optimal capacity.  For the most part, this works well for our friendship. Until….Friend’s controlling tendencies cause her to suffer.  Then I, in my emotion-loving, demonstrative Italian way, need to step in.

As a controller, Friend doesn’t cry.  Ever.  She likes to tell herself that she doesn’t need to.  But I don’t buy that hogwash for a second.  Friend is forthcoming about her predisposition to ulcers.  And she makes her own association between stuffing down negative, raw feelings and the resultant deterioration of her innards.  I encourage her to let it all out but this is like asking a zebra to shed its stripes.  It feels too naked and vulnerable.

Sometimes, when Friend is moved by emotion and I hear the feeling creeping up in her trembly voice, I poke the sensitivity for her, hoping that the tears will find their tipping point. But Friend is a master represser who doesn’t yet trust in the beauty of unbridled expression.

I won’t give up on her because I want her to enjoy the All-Access Pass to Life.  I want to help her see the depth and beauty that lies below the surface of the happy human experience. 

This sounds macabre.  But in truth, the realm of darkness balances the lightness of life.  It provides a broader range within which we can explore the vastness that might otherwise be limited by our own fear of discovery.

Life is like an amusement park with benign kiddie rides as well as thrill rides.  If we choose to sit on a bench watching wistfully as the more daring park-goers ride the Tower of Terror, we might feel safe and content but we’re shorting ourselves the full experience.  If we eschew our own emotional roller coasters such as grief, depression or loss, we miss the thrill of having conquered the entire range of emotions at our disposal.  We become observers on the sidelines of our own life, not daring to dive into our limits.

When I rode my first upside-down roller coaster at 40 years old, I nearly fainted from fear.  But the feeling quickly passed and was replaced with immense satisfaction in having allowed myself to participate.  The same response happened during my first public speaking event, and my wedding, and every other situation in which I am the center of attention.  Our rollercoasters are everywhere. 

Unlike me, being in the limelight is a safe zone for Friend.  But feeling and expressing downbeat emotion is her roller coaster.  I have to remind her sometimes that no one actually ‘cries their eyes out.’  And that if she ‘breaks down and cries’ she won’t actually break.  She will simply bust through the barrier that has been holding in all the hurt.

I propose a reciprocal fear-conquering goal for myself and Friend.  One day, I will put myself in front of a large public gathering to tell a heartfelt personal story, and she will sit in the audience, moved to tears, begging for tissues, because she refuses to stop crying until she is spent.  Afterwards, we will both feel shell-shocked and nauseated, but we will have each other to lean on.  When we recover, we will toast to our bravery, then, most likely, we’ll head back to our comfort corners where I will observe on the outskirts and she will smile her way through distress.  But at least we’ll be able to say that we defied our demons and lived to tell about it. 

Growing Pains

Friend is facing her first experience of launching a child off to college and is beginning to do the mother-bird scramble.

“Should I be doing something?”  she asked with a slight hint of panic.  “Did I forget to give my son some sort of key family experience?  Will he grow up and say ‘you never did this with me….’?”

I laughed out loud because this is what friends do when they’re smug about already having moved through a parenting stage that a girlfriend is struggling with.

“It’s simple,” I told her.  “No, you shouldn’t be trying to make up for missed opportunities.  Because yes, your son will tell you that you short-changed him in childhood – no matter what hoops you’ve jumped through to make his life spectacular.”

Knowing this doesn’t stop us parents from trying to over-provide as we send our babies out into the world.  For yours truly, sending my second child off to college this year, my un-nesting ritual included a trip to the pharmacy to prepare an insanely sophisticated First Aid kit, the likes of which could patch up a wounded soldier on the front lines of war; one who also suffers from cold, flu, sunburn, allergies and bug bites.

Let’s face it, this milestone is big-huge for parents, not just kids.  We want to make sure that we’ve checked all the boxes.

When our babies were small, we had growth charts that told us if they were getting what they needed.  Then we had academic progress reports to inform us.  What nebulous system, besides coming of age, do we use to reassure us that they’re adequately prepared to be solo in the big wide world?

We know, deep down, that all will be well.  But we may also secretly fear that our child will crash and burn.  And worse, that it will be our fault – a result of some failing on our part.

This is a rabbit hole that my mind has fallen into more than once.  Like earlier this summer when I determined that 14 year old Peach didn’t have enough structured activity to keep her from melting in to a lazy pile of teenaged decay.  In short, I panicked and began arranging to-do lists for her to complete.  I lectured her about the balance between work and play, giving and receiving.  And I admonished her for her resistance to my lessons.

“The only time you’re growing is when you’re uncomfortable.” I told her, stealing wisdom from a blog I had read that day.

“Uncomfortable?!” she repeated.  Check.  Double check.  We were both miserable thanks to my reactionary measures.

So goes the learning process.  I’m still growing too.

Friend and I poked fun at ourselves, which always serves to lessen the growing pains.  We decided that our misguided fears about parenting are borne of the immense love we have for our children. 

Love and fear are catastrophically intertwined.  It is these two reasons, only these two, that drive all of our actions.

I give to my child because I love him AND I fear that he will suffer without my support.

I withhold from my child because I love him and I fear that he will be spoilt.

Same. Same.

I tried to explain this to Peach by way of an apology.  “If I get crazy, you’re allowed to ask me what I’m afraid of.” 

Peach might just be brave enough to confront me with my own fear.  If she does, I promised to be okay with the discomfort, because I’m told that if one masters discomfort, one can master anything.

There’s plenty of discomfort on my doorstep as a parent of three, and letting go has been challenging.  But I think, overall, I’m doing pretty well with it.

The Passing Of A Princess


I was 7 years old when I fell in love with the idea of a Princess.  Many years later I met a noble woman, known then as the Birthday Princess, who restored my faith in the fairytale of life.

We met during a time of personal emergence when each of us were fledging writers, sharing our identical secret desire to change the world with a book.  We were fast friends whose kinship sustained and nurtured an unexpected bond, despite the fact that we would never meet in person a second time.

Sacha was a natural cheerleader and coach, unwavering in her support of others.  She spread her special brand of magic like a farmer feeding her chickens – scattering goodness all over with abandon.  The only thing she asked in return was that you love your own self more; that you see in yourself the beauty and potential that she saw in you.

Sometimes in life, if we keep our eyes open, we stumble into people along the way that we don’t deserve.  They are the rare gems that enrich us and invite us to elevate our game. 

Sacha was one of those people whose light shown so bright, from a place of such sincerity and generosity, that one was instantly drawn into it.  My crass, inelegant self wondered how Sacha managed to be so filled with joy.  She was never careless with life or people or words.  She was intentional, tender, and bubbly.

When a royal presence like Sacha is taken suddenly from the world, the sweetness of life suffers a bitter blow. I will miss this friend with an unparalleled level of loss, for I am quite certain there isn’t another of her for me in the world.  But I am privileged and humbled to have been part of her fold.  For those left behind, a calling remains, a challenge really, to embody what we’ve learned from one who had mastered the art of love here on Earth.

I imagine Sacha slipping seamlessly into Heaven, taking her place amongst angels as if she belonged there all along.  No doubt she would be shocked to find herself there, but likely she is delighting in the magnificence that surrounds her and wondering how she can share it with others.

After I post this tribute, I will wait with hopeful expectation for her response.  She would write something poetic in the comments section about how my words danced off the page and filled her heart.  And I would believe her, soaking up the free praise given by my most ardent supporter. 

Eventually, it will hit me that I’ll never again hear her words of encouragement, unless, like a solid Sacha student, I learn to do this for myself.  How proud she would be of me for finding the courage to be without her.  She would tell me not to worry that I’m not there yet.  Just be gentle with yourself and celebrate every step toward reclaiming happiness.

Thank you, Sacha, for gracing this world, and my life, with the gift of you.

Deb

City Girl In The Country – With Snakes

When Beagle was bitten by a snake at six years old while playing in the yard with his sister, the two came running to the house at full speed.  At first it was hard to decipher what had happened as the hysteria was so great.  In fact, Principessa – who was only emotionally scathed – was screaming louder than her brother.  “The snake was hanging from his finger!!!”  she screached.

Sure enough, there were two puncture holes – undeniable proof of a snake bite.

Now, when a city girl’s child gets bitten by a snake, even if that city girl has been trained in First Aid, there is sure to be some panic.  But I kept my wits about me and called a number of authoritative resources to alleviate any concern that Beagle would perish from the incident.

“What kind of snake was it?” they all asked me, AS IF I WOULD KNOW.  “That’s why I called you, the expert, to magically tell me that the unidentified snake, which you and I didn’t see, was NOT poisonous.”

Country-Boy husband determined that it was most likely a harmless garter snake.  He was so cavalier about it that one almost wouldn’t detect his immense snake phobia.

In the years that followed, there were numerous snake sitings including one that took up residence in the foundation of our house.  By this point, Beagle had proven himself to be quite a nature boy.  So I enlisted him to try to catch it – in order to conquer his snake PTSD of course.  Good of me, right?

Meanwhile, I was becoming more seasoned in country life as I took to educating myself on local wildlife.  Which basically means that I was figuring out my own hierarchy of ‘Things In Nature That Can Harm Me.’  Strangely, I find myself rather enamored of squamates, most of whom can swallow prey much larger than their heads.  In stark contrast, I am exceedingly sour about ticks whose main purpose it seems is to convey bacterial disease.

When this tiny baby was discovered

dead, but beautifully intact, I decided to keep it as an ornament on my desk, much to the horror of my family.  But the real prize came when Husband called me to the yard where he discovered its mama while mowing the lawn.

Lest you think me completely devoid of my city-senses, I will clarify that I don’t handle live snakes with my hands.  But I will get close enough for a photo op.  Husband, on the other hand, wouldn’t approach closer than (literally) a ten foot swimming pool pole, which he used to scoop it up.

This particular snake with its rattling tail stunned me into a morning of research to verify that it wasn’t a poisonous variety but rather a Milk Snake, common to these parts.

When I proudly played show and tell with photos of my yard-mate, my co-worker jumped back 20 feet and began to unwind. She was shaking and stuttering and had to remove her striped cardigan which somehow reminded her of a snake.

I was aghast at her extreme reaction, but truthfully, I was also entertained and maybe a bit smug.  How far I’ve come after 12 years in the country.  These days I’m more apt to consider the city pests like rats and traffic to be more intolerable than slithering, slimy creatures of the country.

In fact, I’ve developed an actual kinship with nature.  I feel sorry for the creatures that become trapped in my house – the fly desperately seeking exit at the screen door, the drama-filled bird maming itself while trying to crash through the window…  And I’d rather have a bat in my house (which I have, several times) because they’re so smart about getting themselves free through the smallest of spaces.

Friends wanted to know what I did with the snake.  They were horrified to hear that Husband and I placed it on the other side of the fence to avoid injury from the lawn mower.  Many offered advice to eliminate it.  But this city girl-turned-coutnry wouldn’t think of harming creatures in the their natural habitat.  If however, I ever find a snake in my bed, well, that will be a different blog altogether.

Where a Parent Really Is During Graduation

In a few days my son will graduate from High School and I won’t be there.  Well, physically I will be.  But I can’t account for my mind.  It will be wandering across acres of memories, reconstructing a captivating story of the boy we called Beagle.

Regular readers will recall that my boy-raising road was paved with its share of challenges.  But as it happens when one reaches the end of a worthwhile journey, the recollection of events, once digested, magically morphs into a more palatable version of a fairytale, complete with villains, heroes, and happy endings.

It’s only in hindsight that we’re able to connect dots that were laid down like a breadcrumb trail, solely for the purpose of finding our way back to that place we started in where pure, unadulterated love between parent and child reigned.

In real-time, when a child of ours declares his hate for his parents, we might crumble in despair.  When he fails a class, we might worry. When he suffers an injustice at the hands of a friend, we feel the hurt tenfold.  But when we watch him graduate amidst the pomp and circumstance, we see the culmination of all the horrifying and glorifying circumstances that brought him to this point.  The big picture in review makes sense.  He had to struggle some, and we had to suffer some in order to arrive at this moment of sweet relief and joy.

When one’s child graduates, there is a strange phenomenon of vulnerability that occurs during which any incident may elicit a poignant memory.  As this is not my first ‘Mother of a Graduate’ season, I recognize and welcome the anticipatory swell of emotions that shows up at random, unpredictable times.  Whilst bakery clerks may be caught off-guard by a suddenly tearful woman staring foggily into a pastry case because she’s thinking of the precious boy who used to accompany her there for treats, I am blissfully unaffected by my state of emotional undress.  There’s just no telling what catalyst will set off the waterworks in the weeks surrounding the launching of a child, and one can’t be bothered with corralling all those feelings.

Husband recognizes that I’m off-center and, wisely, doesn’t try to talk me out of tears.  Instead, we reminisce about our shared history with Beagle as if we’re discussing something that happened in the span of a day.  We talk about the tender way our son loved his dog and grieved its passing; the summer he patiently taught his sister how to ride a bike and dive into a swimming pool; the funny time at the store when the cashier handed him change and he pressed it back into her hand while whispering, grandma-style, ‘Go buy yourself an ice cream.’

These memories sustain us. The pits and peaks, the joy and pain are equal parts of the perfection.  It’s a mind-boggling miracle, really, this people-raising gig.  Somehow, the process unfolds exactly as it should, every time, resulting in unparalleled fulfillment of life.

Husband, insensitive creature that he is, presents a metaphor that brings me to my knees.  “Beagle’s life,” he explains, “is a train ride that we were on.  We’ve arrived at our stop.  It’s time to let him continue on without us.”  I envision myself on a train station platform, handkerchief waving and heart aching as my baby boy disappears around the bend. 

Husband tries comforting me with more analogies which only serves to open the wound.  He suggests that we’ve programmed the GPS up to this point, but now it’s Beagle’s turn to set the destination.  Lucky for us, he has proven that he’s competent in finding his way and surviving the inevitable travails of an adventure. Like the time when he and his friends decided to buy an old camper and take it to a concert for the weekend with less than $50 between them in their pockets.  I’ll leave the details to the imagination, but allow me to emphasize the point that Beagle did not once feel the need to call his parents for assistance.

Beagle will not likely recall his life the way I do. He may never understand how how his choices worried me, how his humor rescued me, or how his questions entertained me.  He won’t know how I doubted myself at every juncture and prayed continuously for guidance.  This is all ok with me, as long as he knows that he was, is, and always will be loved beyond measure.

The time has finally come for Beagle to claim the independence he has craved since before he could walk.  I have no choice but to trust that he’s ready.  As I sit amidst a crowd of loved ones at the graduation ceremony, I will share mutual pangs of longing for days gone by, coupled with indescribable satisfaction in present time.  Husband and I will squeeze each other’s hands a little too tightly, in order to balance the feeling of releasing our hold on the son we love so very, very much.

When all is said and done, after the diploma and handshakes and hugs, I will be replete and wrung out like a wet rag that was saturated with years of uncertainty and gratification during which I raised a young man.  My map of the parenting experience will be updated. The drama will fade and my prior concerns may seem silly.  All that will be left is appreciation for the gift of this child, this marvel who appears before me in a new light.

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