Mothers of a Different Flock —from a Stairwell to a Stairway
The pain and abandonment and the incredible need and drive to feel love comes from a place that must be healed. The healing really started to take place in me as I grew into my adulthood assisted by a very wonderful woman, my father’s hand selected psychology, and a counselor who was older than my bilological mother, her first name was Sabra. I adored her. She was for me, the mother figure, the father figure, that sought to help me heal my wounded child while I was still a teenager. Without her assistance, I know I would have been more wounded and possibly not made to my adulthood intact. She suspected the molestation even though I had no memory of it as a teenager. Ah, the gentleness of her therapy was amazing. Her strict boundaries she set for me just as amazing. I think in many, many ways I emulate her to this day in my teaching persona, and in many ways my mothering abilities. I remember one day showing up too early, as usual, for my appointment, and she sat in her office, door open, and had me wait on her as she sewed a patch, a badge, on her daughter’s Girl Scout slash. It was elegant and a very simple boundary setting exercise, an example. Sabra was always gentle, tough as nails, when needed, but very gentle. I didn’t show up quiet as early the next few sessions.
Sabra Stair —like a stair way to adult thinking for me, she was. She was, and is, to this day, a woman I see as a spiritual mother—full of honesty, passion, the ability to ask questions, and the ability to be compassionate with a half crazy adolescent girl. I was so envious of her daughter at that moment, but also so very proud I was witnessing a working mom, who combined her love of her family and her career seemingly so effortlessly. I knew then when I had a family, I would somehow continue my service to others, somehow be more than just the mom stuck in the traffic of daily caregiving, smothering myself as I had seen my mother do. However, what I did not fully see was that my wounding as a child had doomed me to a type of repetition of my mother’s smothered life for many years. We all have guideposts in our lives, and if we are lucky, they are living guideposts, not just words on a page, not just ancient wisdom passed down through the generations, but true people who live honest lives. We all need to see the wisdom exemplified, given credence by a human being walking the path, the path of pure intention and pure love. We then can see, with our eyes and our souls, the possibilities of life, the joy of life, the life well lived.
The healing humans all seek is there, but each human being must be willing to dig deep, to let go of preconceived notions, preconceived way of living, and breathing—even existing. There are scriptures, ancient ones, and religions to guide and to soothe and possible direct wounded or confused lives. This aspect of innocent suffering is not a new aspect for human kind. This aspect of suffering with grace, with an intention of love, instead of resentment and revenge, a newer concept than some others, has been in existence a little over two thousand years. There is healing for each trauma, for each hurt, and it begins with acceptance of the hurt. Recognizing the pain, finding the source of the pain, then letting that pain have its day, its way with the soul for the necessary time it takes to really feel the pain, and then letting of the pain. This is the healing. This is the plan. No, it is not always a plan that is comfortable, at all. No one gets out of this life without some sort of pain, some sort of growth through pain. I know that for me, that this journey to myself, began as a child and continues to this day. My dad told me multiple times as I grew up that if I ever stopped growing I would be dead. Well, Dad, I am here. I am growing. I am continuing the path you began for me.
As of last year, I was and in my mind still am a secondary teacher in an urban school with over 70% free and reduced lunch as my group of students. This past year I relocated to another district, rural, but still the same make up of assorted teens in need. I teach seniors, mostly, with sophomores and a few juniors scattered in the mix. I have the honor of being around some great kids, some excellent kids. I have the dubious duty of sharing my life with some great adults who are teachers and some teachers who are pretty selfish and self-promoting adults. It is the same in all schools, and yet my school seems to promote a sense of safety and family more than most. I was nicknamed Momma Means one year by my senior girls. I accepted the appellation as an honor. Teaching someone to keep her head above water in life, whether as a teacher of writing or literally teaching someone to make it out in the real world, that is being a mom. I was a mom only for a while to my own daughters, it seems that I did a pretty good job as long as they were just this shy of teenage time. I was thinking that might have been because I was “mothered” well more by aunties and my father, and by age 12, my mom was too distant to really connect with me. My determination to stay home so long with my girls had roots in my mother’s suicide attempts when I was a child and her eventual self-inflicted death when I was just 27 years old. My father, although completely dedicated to his job, was in many ways an influence as a parental force for my future parenting of my two girls, and subsequent teenagers as a teacher.
When you learn to swim in any new place, work or a lake, remember this.
“Gasping for breath is to be avoided,” my father instructed.” It is the sign of a weak swimmer. “Try to take in even breaths, every three to five strokes,” he instructed. He flipped on his back and then turned gracefully over in the water like a pale pink dolphin. He glided down the length of the pool, popping his balding blond head up above the water line every so many strokes, opening his mouth just enough for a breath, and eyes closed continued to swim in a perfectly straight line. Then he stopped, ducked under the water momentarily, and rose slowly up, facing my fascinated 5 year old face. “Come on,” he said. “I will hold you under your tummy while you practice your strokes and breaths.” The water was freezing even in the oppressive Arkansas humidity of mid-summer. The sun had set behind the oaks and hickory nut trees surrounding the pool at Devil’s Den State Park. I skidded off the rough cement coping of the edge of the pool. I plopped contentedly into his waiting arms. Small, pale, happy in the water, I felt my feet leave the floor of the pool, as my dad lifted me into the appropriate position.
My mother hated swimming. She was petrified of the water. Somehow, she had learned from someone, I suspect my father, how to simply float on her back, but that was all. No real ability to swim a stroke existed in her, but she made sure that my brother and I could swim like proverbial fish. In the 1960’s kids didn’t learn to swim as infants, as my daughters both did in the 1990’s. I had my first lessons in the arms of my father, and then a year or so later, Red Cross lessons at the public pool in my home town. After those were over, my mother was motivated to hire one of our favorite Red Cross instructors to teach David and me to swim in private lessons. My mother paid hard earned dollars per hour to the young beautiful raven haired life guard named Barbara. She loved us and we adored her. She taught us more complex strokes, diving, and how to hold our breath for minutes at a time. We dove for pennies in the deep end of the pool, and later on we dove for pennies in the twelve foot diving pool. It was a magical time. Blue water, chlorine in our eyes and nostrils, bleached out hair, which for me meant white hair with a light green cast since I was already so blond.
If I got my mouth full of water, or my nose, or swallowed half the pool, as my dad used to say, it never helps to struggle. Just get up to the top, rest, hold on, regain strength. Struggle is part of learning, but so is rest, so is regaining strength, so is being a stairway for someone to climb up to his or her next level. The deep end of the pool is always deep, but humans can float, can swim, and can learn how to manage the struggle. That is the point, I guess, I want to make, be the stairway not the stairwell.
The problem with any relationship, whether it be a friend or a lover, is the pursuit of complete transparency and honesty while remaining private in some past areas of your life. The fact of the matter is that we all have secrets, or areas of our lives we’d just rather not remember, rehash, or explain to a loved one, be it family, friend, or current lover. Really, there are two kinds of memories, those who make us smile, and those who cause our eyes to burn like acid has been poured into them. Some of the sad memories are okay to be shared, but most unhappy memories are better left tightly locked in the trunk of the car of our minds. An occasional thump can be heard when we are driving to new loves or new destinations of friendship or relationships, but that thump could be just a thump of a recalcitrant water bottle from yoga class or a loose tool from the emergency kit, and we don’t have to ever open that trunk up while we are driving. In fact, it’s dangerous to open a trunk up at full-speed down the highway of love. No telling what might fly out of the back of our brain’s nested contents.
So this week, I discovered late down the highway of love to let the bumps sound without opening the trunk at high speeds. Let it ride, let the bumps and thumps in the trunk make a rhythm that is innocuous for the moment. Open that trunk later, much later, when the speed has slowed.
Today I had a huge wake up call in the form of looking in a not so brilliant reflection of pent in anger. It wasn’t my anger, but it could have been my anger from ten years ago. I was calm in the face of anger, but it didn’t help, because in reality, there was a tiny, tiny part of me that was waiting for it, expecting it. I don’t feel that another’s emotions are my responsibility any more, but there are those moments in time when I see the train at the end of the tunnel, and it is headed for me regardless of how “evolved” I feel I might have grown. I have to own my part in things, and that being said, I do.
Now I have to go figure out how to fix it, and how to fix, more importantly MYSELF. It is never really about the other guy, but about one’s reaction, response, and communication with one’s inner being. Life can be dark or it can be light. All your choice. All my choice.
I was always a kid who loved the outdoors—the heat as well as the cold. Growing up, in spite of my fair skin and subsequent sunburns, blistering and peeling each July and August, I desired to be outside, and if possible, on or near the water… I find some sort of spritual and magical connection to lakes, streams, the ocean, even a puddle of water after a rain storm. It is as if each sparkling drop of water draws me like some sort of Siren or water nymph. I think it may be that my nature is to be near water, to calm myself, to “go to ground” with water. I have desired all of my life to live near water, and have had the privilege to live as a resident on a moutain top within a mile of a lake three times in my life. The first was a childhood home overlooking a defunct city resevoir that was a local fishing spot and picturesque site for water fowl and a wonderland of wather lilies with yellow blooms and huge croaking happy bull frogs.
The second home was a two year soujourn before my divorce. It was a time of relization and contemplation, and although I was overlooking that deep bluff bound of the lake, I was trapped by my topography and my attitude towards life, and therefore unable to touch the water I so loved. I moved to a home within a mile of my childhood lake after the divorce, and walked the shores of my childhood memories and lake each day after work for two years. I began to connect again. Again. Lost at the lake.
Now, this last residence, a mountain top cabin home in a community with a private rocky beach that is a haven for eagles soaring above the treetops is a daily temple for me, with water falls, streams and a daily soujourn to the lake’s emerald water with two adored dogs and my lover for an hour or so. For a time as a young mother, I had the honor of being a vacation home owner within walking distance of the shore of this same lake. I wonder if that might count as four lovely times I have found a haven by a body of water. My best friend from childhood lives now in East Glacier, Montana, and is within a few miles of Two Medicine Lake, and has rolling icy streams and rivers surrounding her abode.
I believe that the water is healing, and a source of comfort and love for me. I believe that the essence of life we all seek lies within our connections to nature. For me, that connection is water, a lake, a stream, the ocean lapping at my feet, or a puddle of fresh rain water, but water. I become lost in calm and reverence near water. I am lost happily at the lake, whatever lake it might be, I resolve to be near one as long as I can.
My eyes were watering so much that my mascara ran down my cheeks like some weird version of Alice Cooper or Ozzy or maybe Rocky Raccoon. I laughed again loudly and happily when he pointed to the black pool of make up circling my left eye and smearing my left check bone. I always laugh. Life is just easier that way, and I decided that about laughter and life long ago. The only thing I don’t know is this, how do I let it flow now that I don’t need the laugher as much but it comes so much more easily? I have learned not to judge but to “be” as my first great teacher after my parents and aunties and uncles left my immediate circle of influence. Just be. What a lovely phrase, but it was a phrase that remained a mystery to me for many years. Life is here in the now, and that one fact that I have acquired is now my motivation most days for the smile and the laughter. It can only get better if I choose it. So, in spite of the “aches and pains” of age creeping forward toward me, I smile and laugh. It is as it should be.
It is as it should be. Laugh.