Prom Chronicles

prom 3Prom talk had become a focal point of our nightly dinner conversation.   The first of Principessa’s friends to be invited to prom had no romantic story to share, but rather a comical rendition of boy meets girl.

I imagine it started weeks earlier in the mind of a boy who had never spoken to the pretty girl in class that he admired.  One day, with stomach churning, blood rushing to the face, and the room spinning, the boy popped the question, “Will you go to prom with me?”  Fear made it difficult for the boy to hold his position long enough to hear a response.  He may faint.

“Sure,” the girl answered.  “Can I have your phone number?”

The boy hardly registered the answer or the question; his ears were thumping from a pounding pulse.  The otherwise simple task of recalling his phone number proved to be too much.  The boy had exhausted himself.  Later, please.

Brave on the boy.  And on the girl.  Double brave on the girl who asked a boy and got rejected.  Prom is not for sissies.

Having survived my own proms, I enjoyed watching this one from my mother seat.  I was very practical, I thought, by not getting swept up in the nonsense.  Until the big day…

No one was more shocked than me when I welled up.  Crying isn’t my thing, especially in public.  But the sight of my first-born looking all grown up was too much for a sentimental soul.  I used to loathe the cliché ‘they grow up so fast.’  But it’s true what they say about time flying.  When you arrive at a transition point like this, your history of parenting fades so quickly, it’s as if it never happened.

I hold my hands up, one directly in front of the other, to illustrate my point to Principessa.  “It’s like the memory – no, the feeling – of holding you for the first time is here, right next to the sight of you in your prom dress.  It’s THAT close.  And THAT overwhelming.  It’s as if all those years between birth and now are condensed to mere milliseconds.

If you had asked me hours before if my daughter could matter more to me than she already does, I would have said, “No, I can’t imagine how.”  And yet, watching her walk away with a boy, she somehow mattered more.  It’s like there’s a scale from 1 to 10 and I would have sworn that she mattered to me with a 10.  But then I contemplate sending her into the world and suddenly my heart is filled with a 5000 kind of mattering.

I am in grave danger of ‘losing it’ when husband makes a joke.  I manage to pull up my big girl britches and remind myself that Prinicpessa is not gone.  She is not dying or even moving out of the house – yet.   More importantly, she is not moving out of my heart – EVER.  She has rented space in my physical world for 16 years.  But she has purchased a space in my heart for life.  In this space, she will never leave me.

This one thought gets me to midnight when Principessa returns home, sans shoes like Cinderella.  “It was like a dream,” she said.   We smiled at each other and I kissed her goodnight as I have thousands of times.  And yet, it was like kissing her for the very first time.

5 Things I Want My Son To Know About Dating

mother's day tea. (2)Dear Beagle,

When you were in preschool we had a special date called “Mother’s Day Tea.  You and your classmates worked for a week to create invitations, place settings, and snacks.  On the day of the event, dressed up in your Sunday best and wearing a necktie for the first time, you sat patiently waiting at a pint-sized table for two.  I was outside the classroom waiting anxiously for my name to be called.  “Mrs. Dunham,” the teacher announced, which prompted you to stand up, push your chair in gracefully, and walk to the door to take my arm.  You led me to my place as if on official business, and asked me to join you for a bite.  I graciously accepted the tiny chair you pulled out as I fought back tears of joy.

My heart gushed with emotion that day.  Watching you learn the timeless lessons of hospitality thrust my mind toward the day you would be taller than me, dressing in man clothes and shaving in preparation for your date – which wouldn’t include me.

You had perfect manners that day, Beagle.  Any girl would have been proud to be sitting across from you.  My hope, now that you’re dating, is that you retain the sense of importance in this ritual.  You’ve got the basics, but there is so much more about relationships that I want you to know.  Here are the top five:

  1. Don’t be careless with another person’s heart and don’t let them be careless with yours.  You are playing with two hearts.  Protect them both with gratitude, for the risk of incurring hurt is high when you take each other for granted.  Be kind, be gentle, be aware.  Honor the validity of your partner’s feelings even when they differ from your own.  Love is a two-way street.  It’s not about taking and using, it’s about giving and receiving.  Listen to what your own heart is telling you and act on it with a mix of caution and abandon.  And most of all, be brave.  Because at some point your heart will be broken.  But it will heal and find the capacity to love again.  That’s what the heart does so well.  And if it’s you that departs first, let her down with dignity and you will preserve your own.
  2.  Love the one you’re with.  We all want to feel special to someone.  We want to know that the person we’re with has hand-picked us from the pack of possibilities.  At first we are fixated on the other, blinded by love.  But as time wears on, eyes may wander and observations may surface.  If you find yourself distracted by the ‘greener grass,’ it’s time to re-evaluate.  Take stock of your feelings and sort them out so you can make clear decisions.  Perhaps it’s time to move on, perhaps not.  But if you decide to stay, put your whole self into it.  Intimate relationships require and deserve focus.
  3. Don’t kiss and tell.  This is a no-brainer.  If you want your relationships to succeed, you must honor sacred ground.  No matter how much your ‘Boyz’ pressure you for information, keep it to yourself, even after the relationship has ended.  Back away from the desire to brag about your progress with a girl.  Respect the secrets you discover about each other and, dare I say, with each other.  You will never regret the practice of becoming trustworthy.
  4. Be yourself.  Partners in relationship have a way of highlighting each other’s warts, especially when the shine of newness has worn off.  When one chews too loudly or the other does that thing she always does, it’s easy to be critical.  We start to snip away at each other like tailors trimming and binding to make a perfect fit.  Sometimes we agree to give up parts of ourselves and we become altered versions of the whole person we were born to be.  True, we all have some ‘fat’ to trim; we could give up some bad habits that serve no one.  But each of us is perfect and valuable and worthy as is.   Better to find a person that fits the clothes than alter the clothes to fit a person.
  5. Take responsibility.  Relationships possess a level of risk, both physical and emotional.  Don’t let those risks run away with you.  Think before you speak.  Think even harder before you act.  Know what I’m sayin’?  Let me spell it out…If you don’t want to become a teen parent, protect yourself.  Don’t assume your partner is taking care of business.  Or better yet, abstain.  Enough said.                                                                                                                               The most important piece of wisdom to remember about relationships is this: YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN HAPPINESS.  Don’t try to blame your witchy girlfriend, or her angry mother, or her crazy friends.  No one makes you unhappy.  Happiness is a matter of choice and perspective.  If you love, respect, and care for yourself, happiness will not outrun you.

Beagle, you know how much I adore you.  You’ve long outgrown my cuddles, but I hope you’ll never outgrow my love.  I want the best for you and for all the people who are lucky enough to meet you in this lifetime.  So listen to your wise mother.  And bend down and kiss her once in a while.  She will always be your first love.

“So there’s this boy who stole my heart.  He calls me Mom.”  -anonymous

Love Letters

i love youA teenage girl lost her father and regretted that she hadn’t sufficiently expressed her love before he passed.  Another teenage girl, absorbing this lesson, decided to write love letters to each member of her extended family.  She could write things she couldn’t say out loud.

It took courage to release her feelings.  She felt vulnerable and unsure of how her messages would be received.  Being young and inexperienced in the power of love, the girl did not anticipate the gratitude that was released through her expressions of affection.

A grandmother with a tough exterior, softened.

A beloved grandpa cried outright.

A burdened aunt stepped a little lighter.

And an uncle, who keeps to himself, was shockingly animated and conversant.

It was all very confusing for the girl.  She had discovered that her love had power.  She could hold it or share it.  She could shape it into words that helped people, including herself.  With love, she could change the world.

The girl decided that love would be something she’d use more often to lighten the load.  She vowed to do more reflecting that would remind her of the importance of the people in her life.  She would write to help the people see it too.  She would open herself whenever she could to the gifts that loving-kindness had to offer.

In this way, the girl protected herself from the threat of regret.  More importantly, she pushed love to the front of the line where it belonged, where she could see it clearly and allow it to color her world.

Love In Hiding

love is blindA woman says of her struggling marriage, ‘Love is supposed to be easy.’  Oh, really?  Where did you get that cockamamie idea?

Perhaps I might have agreed when I was sixteen and fell head over heels for the first boy who returned my affection.  But in a month’s time, a breakup occurred and love ceased being easy.  Love, I learned, could be cruel and uncomfortable.  It could also be thrilling and rewarding.  But never easy.

To be fair, it’s not love itself that is hard.  Life just makes it look that way.  It’s hard to see through the smoke screen of work and stress and disappointment and failure.  Love doesn’t make a ready appearance in the sassy child or the nagging spouse or the demanding boss.  But it is there for the taking.

Love is the reason one puts up with the nonsense of life.  It is the motivation to hold things together –  the reward at the end of the struggle.  Love is not the magic potion that makes the messy disappear, replacing it with perpetual sunshine and butterflies.  Love is the place you try to return to every time life pulls you out to sea.

A mother whose daughter was away at camp wondered, ‘Is it bad that I don’t miss her?  Does it mean that I don’t love her?’  Again, I ask, really?

Love doesn’t have to mean wanting to spend twenty-four hours a day with someone.  Love cannot be defined in neat little packages like this.  It refuses to look a certain way or act a certain way.  It simply cannot be contained in a defined set of parameters.

We have an expectation that love is the bandaid to life.  We count on it to protect and heal even when we’ve turned away.  We slip into the habit of placing love in a corner and ignoring it whilst we charge through life, full of expectations.  In the process of living, we may trick ourselves into believing that a new someone or a new something is more lovable than the old something we already have – the one that has lost it’s shine.  We gravitate toward new love like moths to a flame and realize, wen we get really close, that we can still get burned.  A flame is a flame.  Love is love.  It does not change.

Love itself is constant and accessible.  It will not demand entrance in places that we have closed off.  But if it is invited, right here and now, with the person you think you’ve forgotten how to love, it will come back.  It has to.  For it does not make its own choices.  Love only responds to our invitation.

Farther Down The Road

two footprintsMother can hear grown son screaming to her, or at her, from a distance ahead.  She is hard of hearing but can still make out a tone of annoyance, if not the actual words.  “Catch up, Mom!  Get with the times.  Live!”

Mother wants to oblige.  She promised to follow her baby to the ends of the earth.  But she finds that she can’t keep up now, and son will not slow down.  Can she blame him?  He has a young life to live.  He is smitten with his own family, his glitzy career, his agenda.

Mother is not youthful anymore.  She doesn’t want to give in to ‘old’ yet, but age is calling the shots and she is powerless over it.  Fears are creeping in at a rapid pace. She knows her limits.  Eventually, she gives up the chase and sits down at the side of the path.  It feels so good to rest.   And so lonely.

Mother hardly recognizes herself.  She remembers a time when she was fun and open-minded.  She and son took on the world together.  But the world is faster now, and she is slower.  Speed is no longer a friend.  So she reverts to safe mode, which annoys her son.

Son is easily frustrated by Mother’s evolution.  He is impatient and critical.  He wants her to be the hero she used to be:  ‘Mother the Great’: Invincible Adventurer of Life and Defender of Love.  Deep down Mother knows that son is fearful too.  He sees her slipping away and feels a piece of himself breaking off.  The man he is will not allow him to accept the inevitable.  He will fight age and death by ignoring the signs. He will pretend, as he is accustomed, that Mother is indestructible.

Mother recalls a time when her son was little, playing by the lakeside on a breezy day.  Frustrated that his toy boats were repeatedly knocked over, he asked Mother to stop the wind.  She wanted to oblige her son’s naïve wish but she had to admit that even Mother couldn’t stop the wind.  These many years later, the son is the wind and it is Mother who wants to pin it down, just for a second, to capture the foregone moments that are now only distant memories.

Someday, too soon, Mother will stop travelling the path and come to rest for the last time.  If he is not careful, son may wander too far ahead and regret his absence from the transition.  But today he has a choice.  He could sit a spell with Mother, as difficult as it is, and try to see the world through her eyes for a change – just as she did for him all those years.  Or he could choose to carry Mother a few paces so she could be part of his world.  Both choices will require a concession on the son’s part.

The son’s choice will not change the final destination.  The path was carved long ago for him and his mother.  But his decision will change the journey, and the journey is what matters.  Mother taught him that.

Perhaps the boy chooses well.  Or not.  Mother and son cannot know what the next day will bring. Every day is a different chapter in the story.  The only thing that is certain is that mother loves son, and son loves mother, no matter what happens on the path.

Love Class

Warning:  Rated “S” for Spiritual.  Content may be inappropriate for atheists and agnostics.

crossAs I re-read my ‘Intention to Love’ declaration I noticed a tone of enthusiasm and self-assuredness.  Forty days ago I jumped headlong into Lent with a commitment to love – everyone.  What was I thinking?

It didn’t take long for me to be bowled over by the hard-to-love tidal wave.  Which I could have predicted and prepared for if not for a premature self-satisfaction with my success in loving criminals and sassy teens.

Caroline Myss advises watching what you wish for.  If one asks for patience, one will be presented with three people or situations that try your patience to its limit.  How else would you learn?  Did you expect that patience would fall into your lap just because you asked for it?  Did you think you’d be asked to forgive Santa Claus?

Truthfully, yes.  I had hoped that setting a conscious intention to love would ease the process.  Apparently, it had the opposite effect.  If this is Life School, I signed up for the A.P. class in Love.  And it was more than I bargained for.

One of my first assignments was to find love for a family member who conducted herself in an irresponsible manner.  It was an old story, a skipping record that keeps repeating, making it increasingly difficult to tolerate.

I tackled my assignment with prayer – the old standby.  I prayed for this person to be relieved of her evil ways.  I prayed hard for tolerance.  Nothing changed.  My prayers were like rubber balls bouncing off a wall.

I sat with my  frustration for a while before raising a hand to ask for help.  ‘What am I missing?’  An image of a mirror came to me.  Cautiously, I turned the mirror on myself – on my spiritual arrogance to be exact.  Who was I to think this person needed help?  Maybe she was fine and I was the one with the problem.

I could sense teacher nodding approval.  I was onto something.  My prayers changed to pleas of protection for this family member from me, from my harsh criticism, and for all the ways she has to put up with me. Instantly, the ugliness of her behavior melted away.  Love flowed in as effortlessly and forcefully as water past a newly released dam.  The lesson was clear:  trying or wanting to change others is not loving.  Relationship 101.  I should have remembered that.

With my semester project behind me, I still had to face final exams – Holy Week.  The testing was as intense and stressful as I remember from my college days.  My trying-to-be-more-loving self, now humbled, met with an endless stream of themed challenges:  Loving the Self.

When one has minored in Too Much all her life, and received High Honors in it, she is loathe to dump that ‘accomplishment.’  But if one wants to also claim proficiency in Love, Too Much must go.

Self-critics came out of the woodwork like an infestation of pests that had met with a fumigating spray.  Each had a label – too weak, too loud, too intense, too shy, too bold, too scared, too broken.  ‘Too’ was like a gong clanging in the background of my mind, and often in the foreground.  The world, including my dear family, was more than willing to help me see my too-muchness.

My final exam felt less like a test and more like an unguided trek across dangerous terrain in extreme weather.  And all I brought was a flashlight.  Fortunately, I spotted some encouragement along the way.  There was this from Tama: You do not have to be perfect to lead.  Someone needs what you have learned from your struggle.  And this one from Glennon:  Maybe I am who I am for a purpose.  Maybe I’ve been wasting my energy trying to be different.

As I contemplated the many gurus I admire, it occurred to me that they had their own ‘too-muchness.’  Mother Theresa was described as impatient.  Look what her impatience did for the world!  Gandhi was intolerant (of poverty and oppression) which may have stemmed from his intolerant character.  And Einstein was rebellious.  Need I say more?

We are flawed characters, us humans.  But so lovable.  So deserving.  So valuable.

I rose on Easter Sunday wondering if I passed my Love class.  Did Jesus wonder that when he ascended to Heaven?  Was he worried that maybe he could have done better, saved more people?

I may find myself enrolled in Love Class again next semester and the one after that.  I’ll take it as many times as I have to in order to excel.  And I’ll continue to teach it too.  Because we teach best what we most need to learn.

Love, Here I Come

i love youEvery year at this time (the Christian season of Lent) I seize the opportunity to spearhead my own crash course on Life.  Some themes I’ve taken on in past years include Gratitude, Non-Judgment, and Giving.  For forty days I commit my focus to a challenge that impels me to be a better version of myself.  Without fail, this practice proves to be life-altering and inspirational.

I don’t always go public with these personal encounters, but when Friend asked me what project I was cooking up this year (so that she might also be inspired), I felt obliged to share.  Marianne Williamson said, “As we let our own light shine, we give other people permission to do the same.”  Or as the fellow diner said in response to Meg Ryan’s orgasm interpretation (in When Harry Met Sally), “I’ll have what she’s having.”  Same same.

So here it is, The Forty Days of Love.  Cliché, I know, since it also happens to be Valentine’s Day.  But whatever, love rules.

Love is one of those words that has no right being just one word.  There’s too much going on with love to box it up in four letters.  Poets and playwrights, saints and songwriters have said more about love than any other subject, and still, they’ve only grazed the surface.  There’s plenty more to learn about love and I intend to do just that.  Experiment and learn.  I’ll notice it, play with it, express it, apologize for withholding it, accept it, and maybe even try to define it.

No one and no thing is off limits.  If you cross my path this month, be you friend or foe, expect to find love.  Love has agreed to be my constant companion.  It’s good like that – very accommodating – though very sneaky too.  Love tends to hide in the most unlikely places.  No worries, I have a nose like a basset hound.  And a black belt in gratitude.  Love, I will hunt you down if I have to.  But I don’t expect it will come to that.

If you intend to join me on this journey, buckle up.  It’s never an easy stroll through the park.  This conscious living thing is Work.  I’m not talking about ladling on an extra dose of hugs and kisses to the dear ones.  It’s easy to love them. No ma’am, I’m talkin’ love thy enemies – the ones who tick you off and stir the pot and make you want to say those curse words that fit so nicely in the angry space.  That’s the love I want to know – the kind that claims dominion over evil.

It’s you and me against the world, love.  Let’s do this thing.

Deb

p.s. After writing this piece and before posting it, a neighbor’s house was broken into.  I offered up my blessings for the people who had been violated, then another for the criminal – for whatever is going on for him/her that motivates stealing.  Hard to suspend the judgment, but I’m throwing some love in that direction and the judgment is caving.  Powerful stuff love is.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: