Well, it’s been just over a week since that beautiful, wonderful granddaughter Freida came into our lives. She is truly fabulous … I won’t go on and on because I know – or at least I’m pretty sure – that we (those of us who are grandparents) are all convinced that we have the most fabulous little ones. Anyhow, I spent a glorious week with Nili, Andy and the kids (no longer can I say “with the boys” now that we have Freida in the family) trying to help out and ease the transition into parenting three children with two of them rambunctious young boys. Elizabeth Stone said that being a parent – and I think this is true for grandparents as well – is having decided “forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.” As I peer into Freida’s eyes I know that she was right.
Retirement made it easy for me to spend a week grandmothering; no worries about the work that’s piling up, no panic-driven phone calls from colleagues, no deadlines looming. I shared a room with my 8 year old grandson Art and sometimes with his 5 year old brother Noam as well. We were up early every day, and the days have been incredibly full and busy (we had a baby-naming ceremony on Sunday for about 60 people), there have been lots of guests (some who pitch in with the work, some who (argh!!!!) want to be taken care of themselves). I am so glad that I was able to be there and help. I am also soooooooooooooooo tired!
I’m finding it really hard to write this post because I’m feeling so tied up in knots. A new grandchild; what could be better. I don’t want to be feeling anything other than joy and yet somehow there’s a heaviness of spirit that’s lurking in my heart. Do I write about that? Do I try to understand what I’m feeling or just pretend it isn’t there and hope it goes away? As I was in the midst of writing my youngest son Motti popped up on my screen and in our chatting I mentioned that I was feeling kind of sad and he shared these words with me: “does this sadness have other true ways to see them which build more life and give more strength to joy perhaps?” He asked me to listen to this video as I thought and wrote; I share it here with you.
It’s in the spirit of these beautifully sung words that I’m writing. If you don’t want to see the darkness that’s a part of my particular moonlight at this moment in time then I suggest that you just listen to the song again and have a wonderful day. See you on Monday.
If you’re okay with acknowledging struggle and might have some insight (and kindness) to share … read on as I struggle with life’s incongruities. If you see yourself in anything I’m writing please know that there’s no blame or finger-pointing here; just a woman trying to figure out life from a new perspective. Maybe you can help.
By Monday – 6 days after Freida was born – the last of the guests had gone home. The boys were back in school. There was homework to do, and laundry, and the other myriad things that make up the day-to-day lives of young families (notice that I’m including myself in this family that I’m characterizing as young!). I still wanted to leave some frozen meals for the kids so that they wouldn’t have to think about shopping and cooking (so much) for a while. A postscript: when I left to fly home there were 8 lasagnas, 8 chicken casseroles, 4 meatloafs, 80 hefty meatballs, and 4 family-sized servings of Kung Pao Chicken in the freezer … not bad for a single day’s cooking I think. By 9:30 at night I was the only one awake, and painfully aware of a sense of sadness setting in as I thought about heading home myself in a few more days. I sat in a darkened room, listening to the sounds of a family at sleep and wondering what this was all about.
Once again I’m feeling a little lost between lives, between identities. I think that what’s resonating for me in this atmosphere that focuses so much on the beauty of the family is that I’m also painfully aware of the dissonance between my image of family and the reality of the family(ies) within which I live. It’s these gaps – reality vs. expectations, lived truth vs. imagined truth, the way I wish things were and the way they are – that seem to be behind much of my struggle today; a struggle that’s tied up with moving from one phase of life to another and from having fewer distractions (that is … work) to keep my mind off the things that break my heart.
Family. Erma Bombeck had this to say about families: ” We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together”. Of course, you have to add to that the complexity of families, especially families like the ones I’m a part of that haven’t always been defined as a family together. Shirley Abbott wisely points out that “we all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors dwell in the attics of our brains as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of of our bodies”. Family. A unit of central importance to me while also the source of much of my pain.
I’ve believed – for most of my life – that somehow families are there to care for each other, accept and nurture each other, cherish each other. I have tried – sometimes more successfully than other times – to live my life that way. And yet, if I hold on to that belief then I’m all-too-often left sad and despairing. I try to keep my heart open to everyone in my extended family only to bump up against the reality that there are other agendas at play .. some of them agendas of separation not combination. I try to keep hope alive; the hope that the passage of time will bring us together only to find that coming together isn’t necessarily a shared desire. Continuing to reach out to others who are careless (or just down-right uncaring) about my feelings leaves me with the sense that I’m wearing a lampshade over my spirit; there’s something wonderful and bright that’s being muted and darkened.
Just as I’ve needed to go through my closets and decide what adds to my life and what reflects a kind of life that I no longer want to – or need to – live, maybe it’s time that I did the same with some of the relationships in my life. So, here as I sit in retirement, building a new identity for this part of my life, I’m struck by these words from Steve Pavlina: “… I’ll actually go so far as to say that the purpose of human relationships may be the expansion of consciousness itself. Through the process of identifying and resolving relationship problems, we’re forced to deal with our internal incongruencies. And as we become more conscious on the inside, our relationships expand towards greater consciousness on the outside.”
Retirement gives me more time to dwell in thoughts of what enriches my life and what diminishes me; in some ways that’s a good thing but the flip side is that it also means that the things that cause me pain loom larger in this more expansive lived landscape. Sometimes – I’m guessing – that the blending of the dark field and the moonlight requires us to quiet some of the noise in our souls so that we can hear the murmur of the wind as it skims over the blowing grass and the murmur of a week-old baby who trusts us all to just love her.