God grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can, and the wisdom to know it’s me. ~Author Unknown
The phrase “pulling up my boot straps,” has been running through my mind for about ten days now. It pops into my thoughts out of nowhere, and I’m reminded (again) that I’m working on change, and it takes some movement. Not just off the sofa (watching Downton Abby and catching up on DVRs), but out of a rut that takes some patience and thought. The bootstrap reference is a funny one, given my love of boots, and the lack of straps on most of them. But, there’s a pair of boots for each task and I just need to figure out which ones to wear, pull them on and move forward. It’s not exactly about the boots, it’s about the places they take me.
Things do not change; we change. ~Henry David Thoreau
As many of you know, I’ve been dragging along through a year-long “shit storm.” I haven’t shared all the details, but if you’ve been reading these posts long enough (I started June 28th, 2011) you know that it’s part mid-life crisis (for lack of a less clichéd term) and part personal catharses. Change. This past year has been all about change for me. Moving through some hard stuff, figuring out what direction I’m headed in, taking on personal challenges and trying to do the best job I could, caring for my Mom in what ended up being her last months of life. It was a very hard year, and I can’t say I’m sorry to see it end. Lot’s of great things came out of 2011 as well: writing successes I didn’t anticipate, seeing old friends, caring for Mom, and an amazing trip to Yellowstone, that was a true game changer. Still, over all, it was a lot of challenge and struggle.
All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another. ~Anatole France
Relationships, and situations, that I’ve counted on for years, people I love, morphed…. I morphed. I haven’t been someone who really “lets go” easily, and it was an entire year where that seemed to be the prevailing message: learn to accept change, and let go. I can’t hold on to those who are dying, they die eventually, and I go on without them. I can’t make friendships stay the same, or fix them when they’re broken. Learning that some relationships aren’t healthy for either party, is a tough one, but seeing ones I’ve cherished languish and change, really took me down for a while. I can’t expect family to always be the family I thought they were, or want and wish them to be, but it’s that much harder to accept change in family relationships that I’ve believed in and nurtured. Hurt feelings heal slowly. Kids grow up and change, and I can’t mold them anymore, or keep them little and near me. I never intended to, and always thought I was that mother who doesn’t cling. But when my kids began moving in entirely different directions, I learned a lot more about fight or flight, than I’d anticipated. My own fight or flight instincts. They’ll never fit into the adorable little boots I still keep by the door (that they each wore, and wore, and wore some more), but I like to remember that they once fit them. I bought Middle Man some cool new boots for Christmas, a sign of moving on, right?
Those who expect moments of change to be comfortable and free of conflict have not learned their history. ~Joan Wallach Scott
<– If I relied solely on pulling up boot straps, these are the only ones with a strap. I need to consider different options.
Loss and change go hand and hand. Seems I’ve been stuck for a long time, when it comes to certain kinds of change. This past year, I’ve been learning, the hard way, how to let go of some of these things and move with the flow. But it hasn’t been pretty: I stewed. I cried. I reached out. I raged. I retreated. I wanted, wanted, wanted to hold on and fix things, over and over; only to learn, over and over, that it can’t always be done… and often, shouldn’t be. So I cried some more, I raged some more, I withdrew some more… and then, I began to come around. The month of December came to symbolically represent the entire eleven months before it. As I sat in my mother’s hospice room day after day, I began to feel some clarity move into the darker spaces I’d been stuck in. I worked on my manuscript. I sat and watched old episodes of The Waltons, Little House on the Prairie, The Big Valley and Bonanza, usually nestled in bed with Mom. Watching shows from my childhood, gave me a chance to revisit old patterns, and sit with them a little. I sat quietly and thought, while she rested. I cried, a lot. And at the end of it all, when she died, I felt a lot of feelings shift and lift away. Some of the things I’d struggled with seemed to simply melt in the days around and after her death. Others, I continue to work on, but ahhh, such relief in the release.
He that will not apply new remedies must expect new evils; for time is the greatest innovator. ~Francis Bacon, “On Innovation,” 1597
So all this change, has me finally pulling up my metaphorical boot straps and starting to move forward again. I haven’t exactly spent the last five weeks, since my mother died, sitting at home crying, or licking my wounds. I’ve actually cried very little; having gotten a lot of it out in that final two months, when I seemed to cry with each shift of light, in a given day. I’m not stewing anymore about things, in general. I’ve just been trying to sit quietly, as things settle around me. That, in itself has not been easy, with five kids in this house until the middle of January, all of whom are not aware of the internal workings of a morphing mom. They notice when I’m
bitchy cranky; they notice when I don’t make dinner; but the fact that my life is changing, seems to be a blip on others’ screens. And I get that. This past week, was the first full week that I could just plan some alone time. Theoretically. As it turned out, there was a lot of stuff waiting to fill the time slots. Health stuff that I’ve put off, had to be dealt with. Notes to write (in gratitude for many kindnesses), meetings to go to, piles of stuff to sort through.
Every possession and every happiness is but lent by chance for an uncertain time, and may therefore be demanded back the next hour. ~Arthur Schopenhauer
I still have not sorted through my mother’s things. Such a small bin of things to sort, really, and yet I picked up the first sweater, smelled her on it and got no further. Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. The smell of an old boyfriend/girlfriend; that blanket you find, that still smells like your child when they were three (oh to cuddle that sweet neck, that sturdy little body, again); the item of clothing that you keep tucked away, because you can still smell someone you’ve loved and lost (my grandmother’s sweater, my mother’s). The sweater had been washed; all I had to do was fold it and put it in the donation pile. But, there I was holding it close and smelling my Mom, her scent as woven into the fabric as each cotton strand that made it. I didn’t smell her death, or her last days. I smelled her: waiting in my kitchen for dinner. I smelled her sitting on my deck, drink in hand and watching the water. I smelled my Mom, who I miss. So, I put the sweater away and left the bin for another day… when I have some sturdier boots on. (Sturdy boots required->)
Change always comes bearing gifts. ~Price Pritchett
<– Some things just take finesse and the courage, to wear the right boots out.
I find that after a year of reflection and change, and a new year to try on new things, change is gonna do me good. I am not waiting for people to help me feel better, anymore. My mother’s death clarified, in my own mind, that the family I’ve made around me, is sometimes tighter than the one I was born into. I knew that before, but I resisted it and kept hoping for something that clearly wasn’t real anymore. Now, I’m happy to know that I love who I love and they love me however they can… not necessarily how I wanted. Accepting that, is easier than hitting my head against a wall that isn’t going to move. It felt like all year, 2011, I was trying to work out the reasons for change, and how to fix them, when I really needed to just let things go and accept where they are now. Loss is hard. I wish I did it better, that I didn’t struggle so much against the current, but I do, or I have. The gift of watching my mother struggle and then leave us, was that the struggle was wasted energy. I want my energy to be used where it’s productive, where it brings joy. It’s easier said than done, but at least I’m starting to really get it. I’ve felt myself beginning to stir again, after a few weeks to reflect and sit with my feelings. I am wanting to clean those closets, that have bugged me for ages; I’m writing more and getting ready to make some efforts to do something with that, and I’m accepting the notion of change, and more change.
The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them. ~George Bernard Shaw
(<– Some days require the comfy boots, that pull on easily)
So this year, when my little girl, my first baby, graduates from college and heads off for wherever she is yearning to go, I’m breathing through it mindfully. I may put on some comfy boots, for the transition, I may pull out the all- weather ones. I’m getting used to the idea now, accepting it, instead of hitting that wall in May. I’m trying to step aside and not hold onto the ideas I’ve fostered for nearly 22 years now. As my manuscript sits out there, in stranger’s hands, I’m not losing sleep over it. They like it, or they don’t. It’s already written, and as well as I could in the time that I wrote it. The next steps are the ones I take to make other things happen for my writing. I’ll take them… soon enough. I’m grateful for new friendships that have come along and brought smiles where I didn’t anticipate them, hugs when I needed them. I’m grateful for the old ones that held true and shine on. I’m lucky to have family that circles the wagons and holds me dear, when I felt alone and overwhelmed. I’m lucky to have had so many people beside me, even as I thrashed in the water. I’m lucky for the people I didn’t count, who ended up counting a lot, with notes and friendly messages, when I needed it most. While I don’t generally use names here, I want Ruth to know that her steadfast wisdom, her kindness and love were a brighter light than she knew. It is not that she did more than others who care for me, but it was so unanticipated, and so beautifully delivered. And, I know she reads every post. It’s those unexpected gifts that have come out of the change, that have made the idea of movement forward, the idea of letting go, so much easier. It doesn’t seem like I’ll fall as far, with so many nets beneath me.
If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. ~Mary Engelbreit
<– There are a lot of ways to look at things. Sturdy, comfy, reliable, flexible.
A lot of the changes in the past year really come down to seeing it differently. Shifting perspective. Sometimes, that means letting go entirely of the way I saw it before, the way I want(ed) it to be (whatever “it” is), but sometimes it’s a sudden shift, and I see something differently. I was thinking about Principessa’s graduation, her (final) return to school a few weeks ago, and Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are came to mind. “Oh please don’t go, we’ll eat you up we love you so!” I’ve read it hundreds of times it seems and always saw the Wild Things as beasts who wanted my children… but what if I was the Wild Thing all along? Roaring my terrible roars, gnashing my terrible teeth, and rolling my terrible eyes, trying to keep my kids close. In the end, they must, like Max: yell “No!” They’ll leave, but they eventually sail back. When I heard Stevie Nicks’ Landslide, at my High School graduation, I presumed it was all about growing up. Now, when I hear it, the words have such a different meaning… I’ve aged into it. “I’ve been afraid of changing, ’cause I built my life around you. But time makes you bolder, children get older, and I’m getting older too.” Hmm. Maybe it’s not about high school graduation after all! (She said sarcastically) It would be foolish to say that this girl has changed so much that change is easy, that letting go is comfortable. It’s not. But I’m at least looking at all of my options, and ready to put on the right boots for the occasion.
Final Note: Yes, I may have too many boots. Accepting change and letting go, does not apply to boots and shoes, generally speaking. Smart Guy frowns and says, “Hmm, don’t you think you should get rid of a few pair.” (As I line them up for the “photo shoot.”) Umm… well, no. Smart Guy lets go in a blink, on most things. I then retrieve the gems from the pile he puts in our donations basket, and sure enough, Middle Man has two new favorite sweaters, that would have been gone, baby gone. Not all holding on is bad!
Thank you to The Note Garden, for a wonderful source of “change” quotes.
What changes do you struggle with? Where do you stumble? Which boots (in the pictures) would you donate? Be kind, I am attached to all of them. Wink, wink.
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always provocative!! Our sermon today, at church was about ‘pulling up by bootstraps’ too. the idea that we must also realize our limitations, and rely on god ws something I had not consciously put much creedence in. Always buying into ‘God helps those who help themselves’. Hmmm now I have some pondering to do.
Boots or flip flops? All of it works……
No doubt, flip flops are more comfortable, most of the time! Funny that you are getting this post, and a sermon on bootstraps! Thanks for reading Kate, and taking the time to share your thoughts. I guess we’ll be pondering together. 😉
I sure hope “always provocative” is a good thing! 😉
Love the boot analogy and I really liked the quotes peppered throughout the post. I think I would keep all of the boots because they all make up different parts of you. Plus, you have some very cute boots! 🙂
Thanks Jeandayfriday! I am hoping that there are more votes for keeping them all; or that you’re the only one that votes! There really aren’t any that I want to part with right now. But then, it’s that letting go thing again. 😉
Yes…cute boots! Good analogy…
Thanks Rebecca! I’ll take that as a vote for keeping them. 😉 Thanks for stopping in and weighing in.
Two weeks ago an 85-year-old neighbor was killed in a car accident. It was not her fault and it was sudden for her. This Saturday, while walking my dog by her house, I met her 60-some-year-old daughter who was standing by her mother’s open garage door and silently weeping. She was missing her mother, yes, but she was overwhelmed by the stuff her mother had saved. The garage was full and, she said, so was the house and the attic. “What can I do with all this stuff?” She asked me and the universe. Trying to be practical, I told her about organizations that would pick it up and take it away. But it wasn’t the practical she was looking for. What she wanted to know, needed to know, was how to turn loose of her mother’s things and, if she did, did that mean she was turning loose of her mother. I’m afraid, I was not much help. Reading your blog reminded me that while I talked to this woman about the loss of her mother, I stared at a pair of boots that were standing in the garage next to gardening tools and I wondered, could this woman ever turn loose of her mother’s boots. Reading your blog, I know it won’t be easy for her, but I also know that humans are resilient and that moving forward will happen for her in due time. HF
What a powerful story Harper; not a surprise from you! I am so grateful that my mother’s possessions fit in only 2 large bins. She had let go of her “things” a long time ago, as her mind struggled to to fight the decay. Huntington’s took so much from her, but she let her stuff go on her own. As her illness progressed, she let go of so many things that had once meant so much. While it was sad to watch her change and “lose herself,” I am thankful now that there is not a house full of her things. Having sorted my mother in law’s things 2 years ago, when she died suddenly, I know how very hard it is. The garden boots, I’d keep, but then I hold on. 😉 Thanks for sharing Harper, and as always, thanks for reading my post.
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Thanks for including my post in your blog. Enjoyed reading your writing.
Such a beautiful post Dawn – heartfelt on so many levels. Brings back lots of memories for me as well. One of the best I want to share with you was reading the book “Love you forever” by Robert Munsch. Do you have it? Have you read it? If not, do check this out: http://robertmunsch.com/book/love-you-forever# and listen to the author read the book – it’ll take about 5 min. It’s a children’s book – or is it ?
I’m always happy when my work speaks to others. Thanks for reading it, and sharing some feedback Rita! 🙂
This post holds memories for me too, Dawn. I really like the analogies of the different boots – one of my favourite types of shoes incidentally, well, them and jandals (flip-flops). We’ve managed to clear Mum’s wardrobe, a number of her clothes and shoes finding their way into ours, even though they don’t fit. But all the clothes in the dressers remain untouched even after a year. I hope the changes continue to flow rather than flood!
I am very lucky, that my Mom had long since gotten rid of most of her things. There was no house to empty, or closets and drawers to sift through. If you scroll down, there is a very tender story from Harper Faulkner, regarding a neighbor whose mother recently died. I had it so much easier than others, in this respect. I hold you in my thought snagglwordz. I know you are still grieving as well. Thanks for the kind words and for reading my mine. 🙂
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