The First Loss

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Today I had to tell my little boy that his grandfather died.  My father-in-law’s death was sudden, and my heart broke for my sweet boy when I told him that his Papa had died.  All I could do was wrap him in my arms and hold tight.  Until he pulled his head back, took my face in his little hands and said, “Mama, you need to blow your nose.  You keep sniffing in.”  Then I laughed.  He smiled, kissed my cheek and told me he loved me, then scampered off my lap to play with the bowling set he has set up in the family room.  Normal, everyday routine.

I know what it’s like to lose a grandfather.  I lost my mother’s father, my Grampy, in 1987.  I was 18 when he died, and I miss him always.  Every time something wonderful happens, I hope he knows about it and is happy for me.  Each time I accomplish something, I hope he knows and is proud of me.  When my son was born, I thought how much he would have loved to have another great grandson.  When I got married the first time, I hoped he would approve; when I got divorced, I knew he would be angry at my ex-husband for the way he treated me.  When I married my Ernie Hemingway, I knew Grampy would be happy that I had found someone to love and with whom I could build a life.  And every holiday season, when I pull out my tree and all the decorations I miss him desperately.  Still, even after all this time.

My heart aches for my husband, who lost his father.  I want to put my arms around him and absorb all the pain for him, take it away so that he can smile again.  I know he will someday smile again, but I would give anything for him not to hurt until then.  I will do whatever he needs me to do in the coming days, pushing my own grief to the back of the line so that I can help him, hold him through his own tears and the waves of grief, and perhaps in that way take some of the blows for him.  I want to comfort him, but I know that what he wants most I cannot give.

I will sit with my husband and his brothers, his mother, his children, in the coming days and nights.  I will hold open my arms for anyone to nestle in, to claim a hug should they need one.  I will cry when I think about what a good man my father-in-law was.  I will know how fortunate I am that my husband was raised by such a remarkable man and that my son got to spend time with him.  I will feel lucky to have known him for as long as I did.  I will murmur to my husband how blessed he is to have had such a father, and how proud his father was of him.  And someday, when my little boy finally understands that his grandfather is gone and comes to me crying, I will tell him how lucky he was to have been loved by his Papa, and how honored his Papa felt to be loved by him.

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April is for Lightening Up

Unwilling to write yesterday for fear I would awaken to find whatever I created was an April Fool’s joke played by the universe, here I am today looking forward to my April goals as promulgated by my happiness muse, Gretchen Rubin.

a) Sing in the morning. I don’t know about singing, but I have started putting on music in the morning when I awaken. I’m afraid if I begin singing, something horrible will happen. Perhaps my husband will divorce me after hearing the horrid noise emanating from my throat, perhaps the skies will open, and the gods will smite me for daring to blemish the beauty of an early morning with something so foul, or my child will be horrified and seek to become emancipated at age five. I have a horrible singing voice and sound like nothing so much as a melee between a bunch of alley cats. My son told me at age three that he didn’t want me to sing to him any longer because I had a terrible voice.

I’ve also purchased an under-counter radio/cd player for my kitchen. In my mind, these types of appliances have long been the province of my grandparents; it seemed as though my nana had some type of machine under every inch of cabinet space in her mongrel kitchen that my grandfather built piece by piece. Regardless, I don’t want a radio taking up valuable counter space, so I caved. I haven’t yet installed it, so Ernie Hemingway hasn’t seen it. I’m hoping the reaction is not explosive, unless it’s along the lines of ‘what a fantastic idea!’

Regardless, the goal seems to be having more lightness and more music in my mornings, so whether I sing is irrelevant. The idea is to make this whole happiness project thing work for me, so I’m not being bullied into singing.

b) Acknowledge the reality of people’s feelings. Although not as good as I could be, I’m told I’m actually pretty good at this. Having a young child is terrific practice. The person with whom I have the most trouble in this area is the person with whom it should be easiest. But I’ll keep trying.

c) Be a treasure house of happy memories. Holidays with my family remind me how fabulous we all are at remembering the good and putting aside the unpleasant. It’s not that we forget; it’s that we deliberately choose to put the negative aside in favor of the smiles, the laughter and the warm feelings. This is one of my favorite things about my family, and one of the things I most want to pass on to my child. Having a sense of history, a sense of your place in the world, is important, but having positive experiences to frame your sense of self is one of the most extraordinary gifts a parent can give a child.

d) Take time for projects. I recently cleaned out what we call “Mummy’s Closet” in my house. It’s a small area in the hallway that looks remarkably similar to the closet in which Harry Potter spent his nights while living with the Dursleys of Privet Drive, in which I keep gifts and books and crafting materials. Everything in it is my exclusive domain. I can hardly ever find the things I want in there, and I have found that I often “lose” Christmas and Hanukkah gifts I’ve bought early in the year, so I decided the contents needed to be culled and organized.

I made a pilgrimage to my spiritual home, The Container Store, and purchased several bins, which I separated into three categories: yarn, patterns, crochet hooks and knitting needles; jewelry making supplies; and fabric and sewing notions and patterns. I am hopeful that now I’ve seen all the wondrous colors and projects available to me, I will make time for them.  I’ve already made a couple of jewelry items and pulled out a sweater that I started working on before I began law school in 1993. When I asked my mother for help in figuring out where in the pattern I had stopped, we joked that although it’s been so long since I started the sweater that the style has likely gone out of fashion and come back in again.

My main project for April, however, is writing., or rather the devoting of daily time to my writing practice. I’ve got hundreds of starts – stories, essays, poems, just about anything – and I need to devote myself to finishing some things and making other nascent thoughts into reality. I could commit to getting up thirty minutes earlier each morning to write in peace, but I am far too committed to my sleep for that. I’d like to say I’ll take thirty minutes each night after putting my son to be, but I get so little time with Ernie Hemingway as it is that I will not sacrifice those hours each night before we both go to bed. Instead, I will make time during my day, giving up thirty minutes of mindless internet surfing or watching one television show on my DVR. Writing is a much better use of my time, and much more likely to help keep me sane than cruising around the ‘net or watching Emily Thorne get her “Revenge” on the Grayson family.

The Biggest Mystery of All

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Love…it’s what we all want, what makes us feel secure, what makes us at our best. True love, the good kind, that is. Not the obsessive kind that we all sort of fall into when we’re teenagers and hormones rule our lives, but the kind that makes you want to be your best, makes you feel safe and cherished.

Love is also the biggest mystery life has to offer. How we find it, how it works, how we keep it. We spend our lives trying to unravel the mysteries of love, and for many, today marks the annual celebration of that wonder. Of course, others just pull the covers up over their heads, groan and say “NOT AGAIN!”

Happy Valentine’s Day to all, however you choose to mark the day.

February: Remembering Love

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According to my magical happiness tome and my spiritual diva guide, Gretchen Rubin, February is the month to Remember Love.  Her suggestions for working on her marriage are categorized as follows:

a) Quit nagging. This is pretty self-explanatory, and I’ve actually been doing this fairly successfully for a while. I find I’m much happier when I just let go and take care of myself and my actions, rather than worrying about what everyone around me is doing.  I try to look at it as successfully managing my stress levels. The more I nag, the more my blood pressure rises and the higher my anxiety goes, so I stopped. Mostly. After all, nobody’s perfect.

I wasn’t sure how my little experiment was going to go as there was a part of me that viewed my inability to motivate action with my nagging as a sort of personal failure. Occasionally I think if my husband truly loved me he would do as I asked instead of ignoring me.  Am I alone in having that thought once in a while? Probably.  Nevertheless, I decided to try not nagging for a week and see what happened. The funny thing is the very things about which I had been nagging him began happening – WITHOUT ME EVEN HAVING TO OPEN MY MOUTH!

I gave it another week and got similar results. So I’ve kept my experiment going for a few months now, and I’m finding that more gets done when I keep my mouth shut and just take care of my own business. When I nag, not a whole lot gets done. It’s quite liberating, and I know my husband appreciates it because he smiles a lot more.

b) Don’t expect praise or appreciation. I’m pretty good with this. I keep my house clean for me, not for anyone else. I do the laundry not because I want people to be appreciative of the fact that they have clean clothes, clean towels and clean sheets, but because I want clean clothes, towels, and sheets, and it’s just as easy to do everybody else’s stuff when I do my own. Plus, I want my child and my husband to look neat and clean, but again, that’s my issue, not theirs. It’s taken me many years, but I’ve finally come to terms with the fact that I’m OCD about my living space, and the craziness I impose is for myself alone. Consequently, I don’t expect a thank you when I clean up the kitchen after dinner or put clean clothes in their drawers. I do things because I want to, not because I want people to thank me. It’s just how I roll.

c) Fight right. Many years of dysfunctional relationship and lots of psychoanalysis during my teens, twenties and into my thirties has made me hyper-aware of how to fight so that it’s constructive instead of destructive. There are certain lines you just don’t cross, even with a spouse, or perhaps especially with a spouse. Children grow up watching their parents interact, which includes sometimes disagree or fight, and I don’t want my child to learn bad communication and interaction habits from me. I want him to learn how to cherish the people he loves, and if there is a disagreement, how to resolve it in a way that both parties feel heard and appreciated.

Of course, nobody’s perfect, so this will be an on-going project for the rest of my life. After all, I’m only human.

d) No dumping. Finally, something I’m great at! I don’t dump anything on my husband because I know he’s got his own concerns and stresses at work, plus a whole host of other weighty things on his mind. Consequently, unless it’s something really important or something that requires his counsel, such as decisions regarding our child’s education or medical care, I talk to my girlfriends, my sister, my mother, and leave that stressful part of my life behind when hubby walks through the door. He doesn’t need to hear how I’m wondering if I’m a bad mother because I don’t arrange enough playdates or because I do too much for our son.

e) Give proofs of love. This is hard because we’re both so busy, but that’s no excuse. A quick hug and kiss in the morning, a note tucked into his wallet, a brief touch just to say “Hi, I’m here,” can make all the difference in the world, can easily brighten a day. I know my husband sometimes feels – like every other man whose wife is preoccupied with preschool age children – that I’m distracted and am so focused on our son that I take him for granted and forget about him, so I need to change that. I’m going to start hugging more; hugging relieves stress, after all, and boosts feelings of closeness. Everybody can use less stress and more feelings of closeness. I’m also going to figure out a way for us to spend some more time alone, other than late evenings after our little guy is asleep.

I can’t forget why I fell in love with my husband in the first place. After all, the life I have now, the life I love, my miracle boy … none of that would have happened without my husband. So I devote the month of February to showing my husband just how much he means to me.