How dare she!

My readers have been clamoring for a new post (ok, it was only one reader, and he wasn’t actually “clamoring”). Nevertheless, it got me writing…

Without sleep, or morning quiet time, or exercise, or healthy food, or adequate hugs, or a challenge, I look like this darling kitty. I may be exaggerating, but if so, not by much. Do not mistake me for high maintenance. I repeat, with emphasis: I AM NOT HIGH MAINTENANCE.

High maintenance costs big bucks, right? It’s designer clothes, Manolo Blahnik (I had to look up the spelling) shoes, diamonds in various karats, and a host of impressive friends only one level separated from Kevin Bacon. After all, I scream when I have to go shopping, and even louder when I have to take time to try anything on, get a haircut, paint my nails, or have my eyebrows threaded. I would rather, honestly, be doing just about anything else, even cleaning up the scary pile of dishes in the kitchen.

To clarify, high maintenance is falling apart if hubby doesn’t notice the designer clothes, Manolo Blahniks, diamonds, new hair cut, pretty nails, or freshly arched eyebrows– without inquiring about the costs. Complete, unquestioned adoration is required, plus deep pockets, and an even deeper understanding of the important syndromes: the “honey I have a headache” syndrome, the “I’m too tired from shopping and drinking champagne to fix dinner” syndrome, and the “Are you really going to wear that?” syndrome.

I, on the other hand (she says grandly), am quite happy in sweats, jammies, t-shirts with tiny holes, jeans, flip-flops, and various other mantles of schlumpiness. I don’t even care if hubby does not notice how pretty I look in them, and I don’t get headaches (low testosterone works wonders), nor come home too drunk to fix dinner (I have other excuses): decidedly low maintenance, albeit often a bit low on the low-maintenance side, like having blood pressure so low that I can’t donate blood. Perhaps I could go shopping and then give blood.

Ah, but I banter back and forth with myself, and with you, dear readers, while avoiding the honest-to-goodness reasons I DO qualify as high maintenance, the reasons ALL OF US do too.

Life is fan-flinging-tastically measured, and not necessarily to our individual tastes. That dream we had yesterday and tuck away for tomorrow may never happen if we don’t amp up the expectations (of ourselves, of others), and make it happen, or at least delve in far enough to realize, upon careful examination (or trial and error), that it is a different dream we want after all. By not exploring our yearnings, by not heeding our most poignant needs, by not being honest, we are short-changing ourselves, and a host of other people who look to us for inspiration (or for excuses). We must not stand idly by…or life will, in its inimitable and accidentally pernicious way, pass us by.

I have been watching my mother, now 84 and struggling with some dementia, my whole life. If there is such thing as a bone that is lazy, she does not possess it. She worked hard every single day I knew her. I’m certain that even when she was on vacation, she worked hard to keep everything clean and organized, to keep herself perfectly dressed and coiffed. But what I do not know about her, sadly, is what her dreams were. Perhaps they became dreams for others, the inescapable wishes every parent has for their children: that they will be safe, happy, and decent members of society (and that they will come visit every now and again). Did she have dreams when she was a child? Surely she did, but I am quite certain that once she began having children, she relegated them to the past, chalked them up to whimsy, or figured that someday she might get back to them.

Why is this relevant now? Because she is unhappy. Her life is nearing its end, and I’m sure she is thinking, “Was that it?” I am seeing the bitterness that she has always carried yet masked in her busyness, in her caring for others. I believe she never gave herself permission to explore her desires, though she always encouraged me to explore my own.

Furthermore, I believe she didn’t know how. Life threw her many crooked wrenches, and each time it did, she used them to re-build her life as best as she could, but never to her ultimate satisfaction. Her ability to dream; perhaps based on the expectations of her generation, or because she grew up with an alcoholic father, or perhaps even because she never got over my father, was stifled by the story she wrote for herself, the one in which the plot did not include her own satisfaction.

This morning I decided that I am just fine with my high maintenance needs, the ones I listed, and the ones I have kept tucked away behind certain expectations. I may not desire fancy things, but I do crave the kinds of pursuits that speak to me as an individual, not merely as a person playing a role. A mother who takes off for a week to dive into the ocean and take photos? How dare she! A mother who gets take-out because she was so busy writing she lost track of time? How dare she! A mother who goes back to college in the middle of homeschooling her children? How dare she!

Next week I am taking off for the day, to pick up one writer, then another…on a trek to Santa Barbara to have lunch with three other writers, writers I’ve yet to meet face to face. A whimsical, wonderful day for me, despite the responsibilities that cry out for me to stay home and take care of them. How dare she!

14 thoughts on “How dare she!

  1. Good for you, girlfriend. You’ve discovered that the woman who gives nothing to herself has nothing to give anyone else — expect ultimately regrets, guilt and resentment. In fulfilling your own dreams, you’re setting a fine example for your kids. My mom, like yours, poured everything into me with nothing left for herself. Then she died at the young age of 54. I, on the other hand, have lived life exclusively on my own terms, with no accounting to anybody. A middle-ground might have been called for one might think. Maybe in my next lifetime…

  2. Hey Britt, this was an excellent piece. Putting aside the deliciously-turned phrase “and various other mantles of schlumpiness”, I was engaged and then thoughtful at your mother’s situation. I think it is/was a very common ailment, this “the needs of others” thing, and I expect my own Ma experienced it. None of us can surrender ourselves utterly to circumstances and feel fulfilled personally. I have many responsibilities, but I’m an artist and a writer and a slacker, and all of these things require their own space. And like yourself, I’ve made the time. Hats off to the pair of us. Indigo x

    1. Indigo! Thank you for your careful reading, and for “None of us can surrender ourselves utterly to circumstances and feel fulfilled personally.” Lifting my hat to you now…

  3. First, tears . . .for a few reasons: I envy anyone who still has a mother, regardless of her failing state of mind. And I’m touched beyond belief at what brings kindred spirits together in a world made both smaller and larger via technology. As to high maintenance — bring it on if it means living out a dream or two. You could not be the writer (person) you are if you didn’t continually reexamine the profound ways in which language begs us to stop/look/listen. Recast the idiom. After tears, the pinch. I am not dreaming.

    1. I thought you might, in particular, appreciate the Blahnik reference. Tee-hee. Thank you for the thoughts about Mom–sometimes, only lately, I am less appreciative of her than I should be. See you soon!

  4. That’s right. You can’t give what you don’t have, so don’t forget to give to yourself – at least once in a while. This made me think of my mother too. A woman who had no dreams of her own, but could only dream of me while she slaved away…

    The Lost Medal

    In late sun one afternoon she rakes and sifts
    Through fallen leaves, hunting tirelessly
    Underneath the apple tree
    Where she believes her missing medal to be –
    The one received in school for best writer.
    But time has bound her hands to domestic duty:
    Endless sweeping, cooking, laundry – stuck in a common
    Quandary, yet a time-honored
    And noble vocation. Some call it sacrifice
    To abandon one’s own voice and vision
    For obligation. Therefore she stashes
    In her black scrapbook her daughter’s verses
    Esteeming each poem a literary jewel,
    And trusts that her only girl will
    Someday find her lost medal.

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