New Year’s Revolutions

It probably came from one of our child’s word mash-ups; this year I’m taking it seriously.

Resolution implies an exertion of will – “I am resolved to do, or not do….” whereas revolution implies action; not just action, but irrevocable action. (“Do or do not….there is no try” as Master Yoda would say.) Crossing the Rubicon, so to speak. Leaving a relationship or starting a new one. Getting rid of old things. Doing something you’ll never be able to reverse. You can’t take it back. Even failed revolutions create irrevocable change of some kind, for better or worse (often worse, for the rebels.)

Mike and I used to joke about what our “New Year’s Revolutions” would be. “Revolution,” instead of “resolution,” probably came from one of our child’s cute word mash-ups, not unlike the wonderful word “belongage,” a mash-up of “belongings” and “luggage” which our child started to use after a first airplane experience. “Please keep your seat belts fastened and stow your belongage in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you.” “Keep your belongage with you at all times.”

Our “revolutions” were the usual kind of stuff – I’ll finally read that book, ride my bike more, get back to a low-carb diet, etc. So really more resolutions than revolutions – lists of things we’d have to will ourselves to do.

This year, after our second holiday season without Mike, I decided it was time to take the “revolutions” seriously, meaning that I would do something, or somethings, I couldn’t take back. Change something, however small, to acknowledge that my life, our lives, our child and me, have had a revolution imposed upon us already. Our lives have been irrevocably changed, and there’s nothing we can do about that, other than, well, go with it. Keep changing things. Move forward.

I always wait until Epiphany to take the tree down – to “undecorate” everything except the wreaths and outdoor lights. (It’s supposed to be over 50 degrees (F) Thursday, so if it isn’t pouring I’ll take care of the outdoor stuff then). So the tree is down and we stuffed it in the Subaru and hauled it to the forest preserve for recycling into mulch – earth to earth.

The decorations are put away in the colorful holiday boxes stowed in the “club” at the top of the basement stairs. It’s the “club” because when our child was a preschooler, Mike would sit in there with our child, at the top of the stairs under the shelves on the little ledges on either side of the stairs, and tell stories or play games. It was their clubhouse. Now that our child is grown, the club has reverted to storage on one side and a place for kitchen towels to be tossed into a waiting laundry basket until there’s enough to justify doing a load on the other. But we still call it the “club.”

I woke up on January 6, Epiphany, feeling centered in a way I had not felt since Mike died. Instead of feeling so incomplete, so exposed, as if I’d put on a one-sleeved jacket, or left the door unlocked or something, I felt whole – singular, but whole; not happy, exactly, just determined (I almost said “resolved” or “resolute” – kinda blows the theme here, though – HA!) , in a “get-on-with-it-Annie,” practical kind of way. Maybe that’s the ancestresses in me – calling from “our” chair, telling me to pick myself up and get busy, work to be done, no sense in moping, life goes on, grab a mop or a needle or a shovel, do something.

I’m not alone, of course, because I have our child to care for and help take on adulthood on the spectrum. But that mother-child relationship exists on a different plane entirely, and is entirely separate from my singularity as a woman, as a widow, and a former half-of-a-pair. Now I’m the remaining half, trying to be whole again.

So after all the decorations were put away, I was unloading the dishwasher, and I picked up the last of the wedding stemware – a lovely wineglass with seashells etched on it, and gold around the rim. There it is, in the middle there, between the coffee cups, in front of the urn with the fern.IMG_20180109_144344.jpg

But it was chipped in two places. And it doesn’t have a mate, a counterpart. It is the last of its kind, and now, serves only to remind me that the other glass, and the man who used it, is gone, forever.

So I did something I can’t take back, now. I threw that wine glass out.

Next came the coffee cup from the eighteenth-century inn on Deer Isle in Maine where we stayed, twice. (A bit of advice? If it was magical, fantastic, the first time, don’t go back).  That cup is also chipped, cracked, and the last of its kind. Missing its mate.

Out.

Between now and summer, the closet full of clothes that I’ve kept for purely sentimental reasons (the dress I was wearing the night we met, the second date dress, the dress from our walk in Lincoln Park) and the old “skinny” clothes from before we met, before I had a child, that no level of devotion to low carbs or yoga will ever get me into again, are going. Out.

Perhaps a small blessing from the autism spectrum, our child is not at all sentimental about things – clothes, objects, toys, etc., so I should get rid of a lot of this stuff while I’m still able, so no one who comes after me will have to shovel it out of here. That’s my job. Tidy up.

I’m also going to move the bird bath. No small task – it is made of concrete.

When we first moved in, the spot where it has been was the perfect spot for it. It covered up some old concrete-anchored post hole, too. We could see birds splash in it, perfectly, from the deck.

But in the last year of Mike’s life, I finally had that rotting deck rebuilt. And the carpenters rebuilt it to “code,” meaning that although we opened the front side of the deck that faces the yard, removing the railings and installing steps so we could walk right down into the yard, the railings around the outdoor table, around our little pentangular “poop deck”, were made higher than the old ones. And we couldn’t see the birdbath from there so well anymore.

Mike loved watching birds in the yard – in May and October, it’s an active aviary, with migrating birds coming to visit annually. We seemed to be a kind of way station. Cedar-waxings, finches, and once a year, a bright orange Baltimore Oriole.

But what’s the use of keeping the birdbath where it can’t be seen well from the deck?

Come spring, that thing is going closer to the middle of the yard. And maybe a new table and chairs that our child and I will actually use for summer dinners “al fresco.”

The second round of holidays without Mike showed me that I can’t live in rituals of the past and I can’t keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. Those days are gone. The first year, yes, it was all about remembering him, how he would have liked this, or how we used to do or eat that.

And I did get a new ornament for the tree, as I do annually, to symbolize the year – a glass monarch butterfly – it was a really good year for monarchs, after decades of decline. The monarch is a symbol of Mike to me because of the first poem he ever left on my answering machine…”Sail, monarch…” I hung it close to the little snowman with the shovel from the winter of 2000-2001 when Mike seemed to be outside shoveling constantly, and near the clip-on glass hummingbird from the “bride’s ornaments” collection I bought for us the first year of our marriage.

Those objects are now quieter, gentler reminders – things I try to be happy about, but not to ritualize.

Our child continues to sigh and say, “I miss Mr. M” almost every day, and every day I have to say again that while he cannot come back to this world, he sends his love from the next.

I hope he’ll send his support for my efforts to forge a singular but complete life this year – there’ve been a lot of good signs already. Dreams, books I’ve finally picked up and read and found very resonant of Mike – as if he led me to them, as if he were saying, “there’s something I want to say to you in here, Anne.”

I’m listening, loves. And hoping in your way, from the next world, you’ll be my co-revolutionary, my invisible comrade, in my New Year’s Revolution of living singularly but completely in this world, with you gone, before me, to the next.

The Attitude of Gratitude – Thankful Thursday 1

The chair wasn’t empty after all – it was imprinted with the form and memory of Mom, Grandma and still more Grandmothers before…

It’s the chair my Mother sat in every day, watching television, when she could still make it from the bedroom out to the family room to sit, on the days when she could just tolerate the frustration of the walker and the tether of the oxygen line.

It has been in my house since Mom died, nearly four years ago. For three years it sat in our little “library” room (a room probably more appropriately called a “den”) and I never sat in it.

Predictably, that cat commandeered it, claiming it as yet another spot she owned in this small house.

It still had the blue seat cushion that Mom used, and I could see her there, scowling, angry, frustrated, fed up, tired, defiant.IMG_20180103_220530955.jpg

On the day I was ready to finally get rid of Mike’s chair, the beat-up glider he had used in that den, I noticed that the cat’s occupancy of Mom’s chair had destroyed that blue seat cushion. It was past salvaging. So after I dragged Mike’s old brown glider, the one that managed to absorb crumbs and dust on its rails in a way that made it impossible to clean and thus also unsalvageable, out to the street as our one allowed “bulk item” for our weekly trash pick-up, I took the blue seat cushion off Mom’s chair, and threw it in the trash as well.

I moved the chair from one corner of the room to another, in a position across from my Dad’s chair (that’s for another post, another day) and slightly more toward the window.

And I sat down in it, for the first time in more than thirty years.

Immediately I noticed how well the chair fit me, as if it were molded for me, or on me. The meat of my palms at the base of my thumbs was cupped exactly by the rounded ends of the chairs’ arms.

The chair hit me in just the right place in my back. My feet rested perfectly on the floor, with my knees at a comfortable right angle, instead of dangling as they usually do from most all the other chairs in the world that seem to be made from some universal measure for people six inches taller than I.

The seat accommodated my, let’s say, “ample” behind like it had been waiting just for me.

I suddenly felt gently immersed in a kinship with generations of women in my family who had used that chair before me – not just Mom, but Grammie, and Grammie’s Mom, and her mother before her, if I remember the history of the object correctly.

That chair has a sort of genetic memory, and sitting in it gave me a moment of that memory.

These were tough, no-nonsense, New England women. Mom, a nurse. Grammie, a schoolteacher who like me, was widowed early. Grammie’s Mom, both a farm wife and shopkeeper’s wife, in early twentieth century Maine.

My relationships with Mom and Grammie couldn’t really be described as “warm.” Loving, yes. But filled with the kind of petty struggles that seem never-ending between Mothers and daughters, generation to generation. Stand up straight, comb your hair, set the table, hem that skirt, sew on the button, shuck the corn, can’t you do something about that hair! Call the men to dinner, dry the dishes, get your nose out of that book and go outside!

But when I sat down in that chair, I felt a depth of kinship, a physical kinship, with these women that was never so apparent to me before.

We were the same physical size. We walked through the world with nearly identical hands. Their hips were broad, like mine, and they liked to sit up straight, as I learned to do after all those little struggles.

I am grateful for that. The chair brought me close to those ancestresses in a different and deeper way than I had felt or considered before; as a teenager I had simply taken it for granted that my Grandmother’s dresses fit me and I never really thought about what that meant until I sat in my grandmothers’ (plural, at least three generations of them) chair.

Here is some deep connection, I thought. Their hands rested here, just as mine do, on short armrests of just the right length for them, and now, for me. The back of this chair supported their lower backs after long, long days of housekeeping, farming, nursing, just as it supports mine now.

The top of the back of the chair, covered in the picture with the cashmere blanket Dad gave Mom when she was expecting my oldest brother, her first child, is quite ornate. It is not comfortable for resting your head on – HA! No matter how exhausted these women were, they still sat up straight, heads high.

And now that my hands are starting to resemble my Mother’s hands, with hints of the same kind of arthritis, and my joints creak a little more, the way hers did, I feel a deeper kinship with these women, and I sense a message from them – they didn’t expect me to understand this while they were living, but they left a message, in that chair, for me, for after they were gone.

You are not so different from us. You have us within you. You’ll be ok. You can make it, no matter what life throws at you. Rest and rock a bit, but keep your head up.

I hope that means I have at least some of their toughness, their strength and grit, their endurance, their resilience, their clarity and longevity, their practical, no nonsense get-on-with-it-ness that got them past 85, to 89, to 90.

We weren’t demonstrative enough with each other – not enough hugs or endearments. But they did everything they could to transmit practical wisdom to me. 

Mom whispered when she sewed, drawing me in as she showed me the careful stitches to shorten the hems of every new skirt or dress, stitches that would be necessary for every new garment before “free alterations” or the new era of “petite” sizes. 

And I am grateful for that. And for the chair that reminds me of that.

Grammie was fierce with the rolling pin, brisk with the homemade doughnut dough (which she got up at 5 am to make for us on our summer visits to Maine), and I remembered that when rolling out the cookie dough this holiday season, using Mom’s wooden rolling pin, which she wielded with similar ferocity against any pie crust that dared defy her.

And I’m grateful I got to watch and learn from them, skills that seem old fashioned and forgotten, but that give me some small pride and pleasure still.  I’m grateful for the sense of shock I felt when an acquaintance casually confessed that she was walking on the cuffs if her trousers because she did not know how to shorten them.

Well, as a descendent of those hardy New England women, I’m grateful that I know how to thread a needle, measure and shorten a hem, sew on a button, roll out a pie crust or follow the rules of ICE (ice, compression, elevation) after a sprain. There is so much more they knew that I didn’t pay enough attention to – but I’m grateful for that chair that reminds me of those strong women who came before me, small as me in stature but richer by far in practical skill. Somehow when I sit there, in that chair that fits me perfectly, I feel a bit of their wisdom and experience coming through – remember – remember what we could do. What you still can do, if you put your mind to it.

So on this first post for my “thankful Thursdays,” I’m sticking to the basics like that chair.

I’m grateful too for the den in this little house where that chair resides, in the spot where Mike’s glider used to be, where memories of evenings listening to music with him remain vivid.

And for the little house itself, in these frigid January days, that has light and heat  and food and blankets within it. And pipes that haven’t frozen through years of winter as harsh as this.

I’m grateful that so far, the chickens have survived the subzero cold, while ceasing to lay eggs, as expected.

I’m grateful that the car starts, that the plumber came on Christmas Eve (time and a half, but hey, he came) and that I found the right part for the dishwasher, even though I’ll have to pay to have it installed.

I’m grateful to live in a place that values open, natural spaces, or as natural as they can be remade to be, to walk and breathe in, and to see the late afternoon winter sun paint the grasses and the ponds a glowing rose-gold while hawks soar and circle above.

I’m grateful and humbled to be the mother of the most amazing human being I’ve ever met, whose kindness, compassion, and cheerful perseverance in the face of a loud and confusing world is an example I continually hope someday to match.

I’m grateful for that silly cat, who gets nose to nose with me each morning, insisting I get up, get going, hop to it, rise and shine, there’s work to do here, feed me first of course and then you can deal with child and chickens. 

And I’m grateful for two more nights with the loveliest, freshest (and cheapest – free! delivered!) Christmas tree we’ve ever had in this house, which has shed not a needle since I won this year’s Battle of the Tree, and glows there in this den, giving me a little more time to be grateful for the peace and hope of this season and an excuse to linger and rock a bit longer, gently, in my Mothers chair.