Thursday, November 29, 2012

One of Those Worst Case Scenario People

This past July 3rd, I was sitting in Bailey Hall, finishing up a graduate course with six other fellow writers. I shared that I was dreading our family’s road trip which we were embarking on that evening. My classmates tried to get me to focus upon the excitement of the adventure my husband, children, and I were about to have--there would be new sights, chances to talk and bond together, after all. Although I acknowledged this, I anticipated the cost of the trip, the squabbles my husband and I would have on the road, the nerves I’d deal with when our car would be on busy highways, my fear of an accident. Hearing me, our class leader asked, “Oh, are you one of those worst-case-scenario people?”

I could not help but to answer, “Yes”.

In the four months since that day I have given that question a lot of thought. I’ve returned to my childhood remembering how my Mom and I would gang up on my Dad when he’d say, “You know, I’m not going to be around forever”. Mom, knowing this was not a statement appropriately comforting to say in front of a child, would remark in a teasing way, “Why?! Where are you going?!” and laughing together she and I would lighten the mood by suggesting vacation spots for Dad or asking if he knew something we did not about the end of the world and God’s plans. It was odd conversation for sure, but given that my parents were 40 years old at the time of my birth, I realize now that Dad was very much aware of our age difference. I think he was only trying to prepare me in case something happened to him. Nothing did. He's now approaching his 85th birthday. Dad has always been a worrier. I am my father’s daughter.

Before my marriage, Eric and I went on an Engaged Encounter Weekend. At the sessions couples were encouraged to write and then talk with their partners about a variety of subjects--money, children, sex, employment, religion, etc. At one point in the weekend we were encouraged to discuss our fears. I was hit with one that felt incredibly ruthless, the fear of death (either his or mine) before our wedding day. It was an irrational fear, but I could not shake the feeling that everything I wanted in life--marriage, decades of love, our own family--might be taken from me before it all even started. I’m only grateful now, 24 years after my wedding day, three children later, that Eric stood by his obviously neurotic fiance that day when I broke into tears, needing to be reassured that I had no reason to fear losing what was good in my life. (I am thankful also that on my wedding day I was worry-free. Completely at peace and without any nerves at all, I enjoyed a beautiful ceremony, reception, and honeymoon. Thank God).

When my children were infants, I worried about SIDS when they went to bed at night. When they were toddlers I worried over them falling down the cellar stairs. I feared myself dying before a time when they would remember their mother. I went to sleep during thunderstorms planning how I could get everyone out of the house if lightning ignited a house fire. And now that they are 13, 17, and 20, I hold my breath when they are in a car without me. I hate driving in anything other than perfect road conditions, and although we did have a fun time on our family’s road trip in July, I saw every potential car crash when we navigated our way on the highways from here to North Carolina and back.

Although I wish it were not the case, and although I think I am a pretty positive and optimistic person in most areas of my life, I AM a worst case scenario kind of person when it comes to my fear of losing my husband and children. It isn’t a fun way to be, that is for sure, but it is as though I need to worry as a necessary precaution. Maybe if I worry over them, they’ll be safe. If I don’t worry, maybe they’ll be taken. I know this is ridiculous, but I seem to need to be aware and prepare myself for the worst case scenario every time. My husband doesn't appreciate the way I grab onto the passenger door handle each time he drives the car and therefore he prefers that I take the wheel, but he also has long known I think too much. "You have to think things through every possible angle", he has been saying to me since we were first dating. Again, I'm grateful for his patience with me.

The words “Let Go, Let God” are on my bathroom mirror. The mantra, “No Fear. No Expectations. Let’s just see what happens”, is one I adopted on New Year’s Day in 2011. “Don’t worry. I’ve got this....signed God” is a new one. And having my world change with my Mom’s illness and my Mother-in-Law’s battle with cancer and her death last Tuesday evening, reminds me that I am not in control here. I never was. I never am. And that’s more than okay. I cannot even control my own worries perhaps. They are what they are. If that paints me as neurotic, so be it. I have yet to meet a person who isn't.

No one will ever be around forever, but in the meantime, there’s a whole lot of living to be done. I may not ever be able to shake all of the worries, but I will continue to do my best to live with open arms and with as much love as I can muster, savoring the time and the people around me, just as I have always done. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Our Love Story

I met Eric at a junior high/senior high Pilgrim Fellowship outing at the Abol Slide. He was cute. Great smile. Easy laugh. He was older than I. He was going to be a senior in high school that fall. I was going to enter my freshman year. I watched him the entire day. He flirted with all the girls, including me. My then-boyfriend didn’t like that much. But I knew that it was attention without intention. That summer, in the weeks following our meeting at Abol, I would drive my mother crazy with requests that she drive around the block of the Congregational Church where Eric was mowing the lawn. I’d comment on his great looking legs which those 1982 short shorts could not help but show off. Mom would refuse to go around the block but she’d shake her head and laugh with me.

In the fall I got to know Eric better. We were together in band, chorus, and stage band. I still had my boyfriend however I would often bum rides home from Eric after practices. I started trying to fix him up with one of my girlfriends and they went on a date together. Luckily, it didn’t take. In the month before Christmas Eric told me he knew someone who wanted to ask me to the Christmas Dance. “Is it YOU?” I boldly asked him. When he said it was my boyfriend who wanted to ask me, my heart sank. I think Eric noticed that.

Over the holidays I finally realized that I was not being fair to my boyfriend. We broke up. I did not know what might happen in the future but I needed to give myself a chance to be asked out by Eric. On February 18th, 1983 Eric and I went on our first date. We played in the band at a basketball game and then went to McDonald’s to split a small fry and a soda. We continued dating throughout the spring. I remember the day he said, “I think I love you”. There was no denying the powerful feeling in my gut. My heart raced at those words. I know the day I knew I had fallen in love. It was when I realized I was making him laugh. Having grown up in a house where my father, brothers and sister were comedians grabbing the spotlight, I had watched the entertainment from the sidelines. But with Eric, I loosened up and he was now appreciating my own wit. I fell hard.

That summer a bad case of mono robbed me of several weeks with Eric. He was going off to college in the fall and when I recovered from my illness he joined my parents and I on a trip to New Hampshire. I remained behind to visit with my sister. Eric would return to Maine with my Mom and Dad. Eric and I had talked about what we would do when the summer ended. We decided we’d break up, after all he was going to meet other girls at college and I was only 15. I wanted to date others, to explore other relationships. Eric had been the first boy I’d ever kissed. Surely, I had more adventures in my future. In New Hampshire we said our goodbyes. I cried. What I did not expect was that Eric was crying too.

We did break up. I dated others. Eric did not. He was patient with me. He knew I was young. He gave us an amazing gift with his patience. We wrote to one another. We talked on the phone, and every time Eric returned home we met up, talked, kissed, and fell deeper in love. After three years of being “On again, off again”, in the spring of my senior year I knew I had to make a final decision on our relationship. Luckily, I made the right call.

I went off to college, at Eric’s college. We had more adventures. He must have asked me to marry him a hundred times, but I kept saying no. Then on one trip home I talked to my Mom. I told her of Eric’s proposals and she smiled. At the age of 20 I thought for sure she would tell me I was much too young to get married. When she showed me her approval, I felt at peace. The next time Eric asked me to marry him, I said yes. Eric and I were married on November 26, 1988 the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Eric was a school teacher. I was three semesters away from graduating from college. We postponed our honeymoon trip until Christmas vacation. We moved into an apartment between our schools. I graduated from college, went to graduate school, and got a teaching job at the same school where Eric worked. Turns out, we would always be high school sweethearts. We built a home and moved in seven days after the birth of our first child, Sydney, in 1992. Three years later we welcomed a second daughter, Emma, in 1995. In 1998 we lost a baby to a miscarriage but a year later our son, Paul, was born.

Today is our 24th wedding anniversary. In a few months we’ll celebrate the 30 years since our first date. We have been richly blessed in those years. We have had many years of fun, many years of laughter, many years of true love. It hasn’t always been easy. We’ve worked for this life together. There have been times of great challenge. There have been times of frustration, hurt, confusion, and doubt. But we believe in us. We believe in the family we have created. We believe in our life together. And we are excited about our future together.

He is still cute. Great smile. Easy laugh. Sexy legs. Dependable shoulders. Bright blue eyes. We’ve had years of powerful emotions and he still gives me that powerful feeling in my gut and makes my heart race. I'm still crazy about him. And we still make one another laugh nearly every day.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Surrender in the Night's Air

Tonight I felt the night air calling for me again. I quietly left the house under the pretense of bringing the dog outside and walked in my slippers onto the driveway. It was barely a month ago when I did the same, but that evening I had dropped to my knees before lying down on my back to look up at the stars. Thankfully my home is set off from the road, far away from any curious neighbor’s eyes because I began making these regular excursions late at night over the summer months. As autumn approached, I needed them to continue. Seeing the tar and the grass all damp from the day’s fog, tonight I made my way over to the front steps instead. I took some deep breaths and gave myself permission to cry. I did not sob however, as I thought I might, but a few full tears did eventually fall to my cheeks.

The past month has been so tiring. I am exhausted. My husband and I took our family to see his ailing Mom a few weekends ago. It was a nice day and we took many family pictures. Barbara was most patient as everyone asked to have a picture taken with her. We knew, I think, that this was our last chance to do that. The following weekend I made a solo four hour trip north to visit my own parents and to take in my daughter’s college concert. Then, after preparing my classes for their week off over Thanksgiving break, I turned my attention to my daughter’s play, my husband’s own musical production, my son’s basketball games, and my other daughter’s weekend visit home with her friend Erin. I cleaned the house, baked sweets, cooked meals, brought supplies over to a fundraising event. I, next, got ready for a couple of days of teacher workshops before the Thanksgiving holiday. However, on the first teacher workshop day, something did not feel right. At first I blamed it on the chill of the building. And then I got my father-in-law’s email. My Mom-in-law, who had been battling cancer for quite some time, was having trouble breathing. Within minutes I was meeting with my boss to tell him of the situation and I secured the next day off for my husband and I.

Everyone, it seems, has a “birth story” to tell. It’s less common to hear a tale of someone’s death. But those stories can be most beautiful and worth sharing too. Barbara died Tuesday evening surrounded by her husband and three children. Earlier in the day I had gone to her side, stopping to hold her daughter, son, and husband in my arms, quietly promising Barb’s spirit that I would forever be there for them all. I kissed her forehead, once to say thank you for everything she had ever done for us, and once again to say goodbye. Although I want to preserve my memory of so much more, I am not sure I have the strength tonight to talk of everything that has transpired in the past 96 hours, but I will say now that, as sad as they have been, there have been many moments of magnificent wonder. God watched over us all this week, of this I have little doubt.

Taking myself outside tonight, I gave myself permission to cry, but then I realized that what I was doing in the night’s air had more to do with asking for help. I told God that I am scared. I am trying so hard to be strong, to be the good girl I have always tried to be,  to be helpful and selfless and generous....and I just don’t know if I can do it. I am scared to fall apart. To do so would mean I would need to get back up again. And what if I can’t do that? Winter is coming. I’m going to need to pull on a jacket, grab a hat and some gloves when the night air calls me. To the outside I will go--to let a few tears fall at a time, to continue praying for strength and the courage to continue on in the faith that He will be there to pull me back up off the ground, each time I bravely surrender my burdens to Him.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dear Barbara

Dear Barbara,

Hi. It’s me, Anne. I am not sure of myself today. I am trying to write, to express what is on my mind and in my heart, but I’m all over the place in terms of getting the words down on paper. I hope you will forgive my lack of composure. I think it’s more important that I just say what I think I need to say instead of worrying over whether or not I am being eloquent. So here goes.

It was always important to me that I come to know you, to know who you are, to earn your approval because I married your Eric. I was very blessed to have my own wonderful mother. We were always very close, and I knew that Eric was close to his mom too and I liked that. In the early years after I first met you, you were most quiet with me, as can be your nature, and I worried at times that I was not proving to you that I was a good choice for your son. I was (and still am) vain, self-centered, loose-lipped, dramatic, and showy at times. I worried, “Am I too loud? Am I ditsy? Did I talk too much? Did I say the wrong thing?” I replayed what had come out of my mouth and I wasn’t sure what you thought of me and I wanted so much for you to like me.

But when I got to meet your Mom and Dad, I began to realize that the challenge I thought I had in getting to know you was indicative of my own immaturity and limited experiences. After getting engaged to Eric, I wanted to know my husband’s mom better so I began to try harder. You were simply someone unlike anyone I’d met before and that was more than okay. I needed to be quiet myself and pay attention to you. I needed to let all that you are wash over me. I had some help along the way. I met your parents. I saw you in the twinkling of Jack Lovell’s eyes and in the love and grace and pride of your mother Ann. And that’s when I got to see what Eric had in you. That’s when I knew all that there is to appreciate in you.

And then we had children. You became “Meme Walker”. Our children love you so much. I particularly enjoy how Paul has always been able to see your wit, to hear the jokes you make quietly under your breath, to find the humor and affection you display with your husband. It was Paul, I think, who secured my love and appreciation for you. And now I have a son of my own, a son who has become most interested in girls, a son I am preparing carefully and most thoughtfully to someday fall in love, marry, and start a family of his own. I want, more than anything, for my son to be just as wonderful a man as your son. And yes, I have every reason to believe that will be the case.

As we prepare to celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary on Monday, I am so happy to be married to Eric. What a good guy he is. I am grateful to you for everything you are and everything you have done to make him the man he is today. I was just 15 years old when I began coming over to your house in Millinocket. I knew back then that Eric adored you. The affectionate teen he was grew to become a good man who continued to love his Mom with his whole heart. When Eric asked me to marry him, I knew I would forever be protected, respected, and honored by him in the way he always displayed protection, respect, and honor for you.

As the years went by I came to know that you did approve of the woman your first born son had married. I loved the way you made me feel special whenever you’d bring over a new serving dish that had been your Mom’s or Mana’s, items that were for entertaining. “I know you like to entertain”, you’d say. I love the way you acknowledged my efforts in putting on Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners each holiday. I smile at the memories of you fighting Joel for my needhams. That made me feel good. I love that we would sometimes gang up on the boys together and make fun of them. I enjoyed our time by the pool together. I am grateful that as the years went by, we did talk, share, laugh, and show affection in the most natural of ways. We talked of books, of family, of the seasons, of the children and pets. And I love your laugh, your chuckle.

I know you are fighting for more special moments with your three children, grandkids, brothers, and your husband, and I am so very sorry that you are going through this. Your fight against cancer has been a noble one. I admire the strength and the grace you have had in this battle. You have taught us all so much throughout the years. Even more perhaps in these last few months, weeks, and days, those which have been your hardest days. Thank you for allowing us to be part of your final days. I can honestly say that despite the pain and the sadness we feel in losing you, it has been beautiful too.

What a fabulous and loving family you have raised. I am so proud to be part of it. Know that I am forever going to respect, protect, honor, and love your son. Know that I will continue to raise our children well. Know that I will watch over your son Joel and your beautiful daughter Lisa and your devoted husband Jerry, and all your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I’ll never let myself forget all that I have learned by knowing you. Thank you for your patience with me through the years, for teaching me patience, grace, humility, and strength through your own being. You are a most remarkable woman. Thank you for being my Mom too.

I love you.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

I'll Just Be

A little after 7am this morning I woke to the sound of paws on my bedroom door. Our pup Ziva had been kicked out of the bedroom when my husband had gone to bed, an understandable and welcomed gesture since we sleep better when the dog isn’t scratching at the foot of our bed. Ziva had obediently gone downstairs to sleep on the family room couch but the sun had come up and it was now time to remind us that she was part of the family too. I went to the door, was greeted by her excitement, and together we went downstairs. Then Ziva went outside while I prepared her breakfast.

The time I get on these weekend mornings when the dog forces me out of bed is surprisingly welcomed. She and I each crawl onto the sofa and the sun comes around the side of the house and begins to stream in the windows. She settles in and quickly nods off. The house is silent except for the ticking of two wall clocks, one near the coat closets, the other in the downstairs bathroom over the washer and dryer, an odd place for a clock perhaps, but its nautical Captain’s wheel shape fits nicely in the decor of my “ocean bathroom”. Anyhow, the ticking is soothing and is only heard in these hours of solitude.

Today will bring much excitement and a houseful in just a few hours’ time. This morning I’ll clean the house and bake some desserts in preparation of our extra company. Eric and Emma will head in different directions to put on productions of their separate plays. Paul and I will head to the school gym where he’ll play two basketball games before heading to a friend’s birthday party. Sydney will drive with her friend Erin to catch her Dad’s show in the afternoon and join me at her sister’s performance in the evening. It’ll be late when we all meet back here at the house together, but we’ll undoubtedly stay up and talk and laugh together before heading off to bed.

But for now I am still. I am thinking of how full my life has always been, of how I have endlessly been surrounded by love, family, and friends, of how happy and grateful I am for the life I am living. No matter how busy, how many responsibilities I juggle, how often I must zip from one thing to another, I do manage to steal away from the hustle and bustle, to sneak to a place of solitude if only for a brief time. I’ve always needed some time to myself, time to think, to reflect, time to watch carefully, to listen intently, to feel deeply.

And so, as I watch Ziva move from window to window right now, growling softly at something she thinks she has heard or spotted outside, I smile. It’ll take only a small pat on the couch beside me to have her jump into my lap, to lap my face in joy, to remind me I’m loved and appreciated for getting up with her so early, but for now I think I’ll just sit back and take everything in...her soft growl, the ticking of the clocks, the sun streaming in the window...and I’ll just be.