Last week when I posted my dilemma on Facebook regarding my “about me” statement, my mother’s pastor suggested I change it to “Mother of two…In search of definition”. I chuckled at the comment, but didn’t feel like I was in search of definition. I knew who I was.
The more I thought about the comment, however, the more I realized he was right. I think I am currently in search of definition. In less than a month we’ll drive our youngest child to college and then we’ll be “empty nesters”. I’ve quit (albeit temporarily) both of my bookgroups. Soon I’ll be working full-time, probably in an office.
When I became a parent I automatically obtained a new definition, and while I’m still going to be a parent, the definition I’ve had for the past 20 years is fading to an aside.
Not only will I need to redefine myself, I need to redefine my relationship with my husband. We spent the past 20 years raising our kids; spending weekends doing kid-related things; spending evenings helping with homework. Our focus was the kids. What are we going to do without that focus?
I’ll let you in on a secret — while I love being a parent, I envy the relationships I see between people who don’t, for whatever reason, have children. I watch Howard and Ruthie — neighbors who live behind us. They’re always doing things together — traveling, shopping, bringing in groceries together. They have a togetherness I wish I had with my husband. Then there is my Aunt Ginny and Uncle Jack. They have a comfortable routine that seems so snug and easy. Something I don’t feel in my life — life with the kids has always been a little chaotic. Finally, there is our own IB who admitted she still sheds a tear when her honey leaves town. I’ve always looked forward to my honey leaving town when I could be the decision-maker for a while instead of the rule-follower. I wish I could miss him when he was gone. I could go on and on — Mali and her honey travel to wildly exotic places. Violet Monkey and her honey do too, and make amazing sounding healthy meals together.
I’ve also defined myself as a reader, but lately I’ve not been much of a reader. It took me months to read one 500 page book and I’m having trouble getting through a much smaller book a friend loaned me. By taking a sabbatical from my book groups I’ve eliminated at least 20 social engagements for the next year. I’ve pulled away from friends lately — I think it is partly because of this transformation I’m feeling. Or perhaps I’m just depressed about it.
I’ve worked part-time and “on-call” at home for the past 8 years or so. I’ve made my own hours and worked, sometimes — often, in my pajamas. Getting up, getting ready for work, driving 45 minutes or more in rush-hour traffic and sitting in an office (probably windowless and shared with two other people) is not my idea of a good way to spend over half of my waking hours.
I used to look forward to the times I could redefine myself: college, moving to a new area, beginning a new job. I could leave behind the parts of me that I didn’t like and try on new ones. The new people I’d meet would not know about my temper or my shyness or my unpopularity in high school. I am not looking forward to this redefinition period. What will I be? Empty-nester-office-drone? Eww. I don’t like the sound of that.
I hate to be a bother. I hate to annoy people. I get worked up about possibly saying the wrong thing to someone at a party and worry about it the next day, and beyond. I don’t know how normal this is. I don’t normally talk about it, but I know it is the root of a few of my character flaws, like why I usually wait for people to call me, rarely initiate things with friends and why I dislike asking for help of any kind. I don’t want to bother them if they are in the middle of something. I don’t want to annoy them with my request. I don’t run my air conditioner if I don’t absolutely have to because a neighbor complained that it was loud — I wouldn’t want to bother her in her quietly air conditioned house. I just want to live my life and not be a bother to anyone.
Until the past couple of years this issue only manifested itself in real life, but lately I’ve been more conscious of feeling this way about my online interactions. For instance, when I first became active in Facebook I had all sorts of things streaming on my “wall”. I had my twitter feed and my friendfeed sent to my Facebook wall. I also allowed whatever app I was using on Facebook to be sent to my wall. These notices were then sent to my Facebook friends’ newsfeeds and I annoyed at least one person enough that he deleted me from his friends. When I asked him about it he suggested I join twitter if I wanted to update my status as often as I seemed to be updating it. I explained that it was twitter that was doing it.
Anyway, after that I tried to limit what was posted to my wall. I made a few mistakes, but seemed to be doing fine. Lately, however, a number of people are posting status reports that they are annoyed by other people’s wall posts. Of course (another of my issues is thinking that I’m to blame for everything) I assumed they were talking about my wall posts. Was my app/external site usage being seen by my followers and I didn’t know it? I searched the settings and double checked that what I was doing on Facebook was not annoying anyone. Not bothering them.
And then there is this blog. The theme or the plugins or the widgets is causing problems with commenting and viewing. I’ve spent entire days troubleshooting and have not found an answer.
This is one issue that is not going to be fixed by writing a post about it. I expect that I’ll have this issue until the day I die. I imagine it is part of a larger issue.
So if I annoy you in real life or on Facebook or on Twitter or on my blog, please accept my apologies. I really don’t do it on purpose.
There have been times in my life when I’m somewhere and think, “oh my gosh. I’m here. How did this happen? Do I really want to be here?” Usually they turn out fine — and sometimes better than fine.
I suspect tomorrow will be one of those times. I’m going to a BarCamp event in DC. From what I understand it is an event where people go to learn from each other. People suggest topics and then groups of people brainstorm about them. Or something.
I’ve got a few worries about the day. First of all, it looks like the majority of BarCamp goers are young. Like really young. And smart. They all know much more than I do about anything I know anything about. And there will be A LOT of them. 441 according to the list of attendees. I recognize three names from the list of 441 attendees. And one of the three names is mine.
According to the directions, I’m to show up at 9:00 am and go to a basement. Then wait for an agenda to be made. Then go to sessions. PowerPoint is banned in order to make the sessions more interactive. Then eat lunch. Attend more sessions. Then go drink beer.
So, if I were several years younger, much brighter, not introverted, possibly male I might be really looking forward to this, instead of dreading it.
Oh wait! I see a session suggestion on accessibility. Ok, maybe this will be more fun than I thought!
One of the she scariest months in my life has to have been October 2002 when two very disturbed individuals went on a 3-week-long shooting spree in an area that included most of the DC metro area — and many the places I regularly frequented. All together they killed at least 10 people, targeting random people for what seemed to be no reason.
My son’s elementary school canceled recess during that time. My son’s soccer team canceled all games and practices. Buying gas terrified me. Getting from my car to a public building suddenly became something that resembled a obstacle course — we walked quickly in a zig-zag pattern until we were safely inside. Playgrounds were silent. No one was on the streets in our neighborhood. Trick-or-treating for Halloween was scheduled to be canceled. Every day I worried that one of my kids or husband (who refused to let the sniper attacks make him give up riding his bike to work) would be killed during the day.
Then suddenly it was over. The snipers had been caught and the streets were safe again. The DC metro area breathed a collective sigh of relief. My son and husband among them.
One of those men is scheduled to die this evening and despite the fear he and his accomplice put me through 7 years ago, I cannot be glad about that. I don’t like it that our country puts people to death. Of course people will counter my argument with — what if it was one of your kids. Or your parents. Or your husband. I cannot possibly know what my thoughts would be in that case. I only know now that despite our country’s long history of having the death penalty, people still kill each other. I don’t think the death penalty is working.
About 9 years ago I realized I’d never spent the night in a motel / hotel room by myself and it bothered me. I’d eaten at a restaurant by myself. I’d seen a movie in a theater by myself. I’d traveled by air, train & car by myself. I felt that the next step to independence was to spend a night in a motel room by myself. I sort of obsessed on it for a few years. Then I forgot about it and moved on to other obsessions.
So when I found myself getting too sleepy to drive another 5 hours last week on my way to visit my relatives in Mississippi and stopped for the night in at the Comfort Inn in Chattanooga, Tennessee I didn’t immediately remember that I’d never stayed in a motel or hotel alone until I was sitting on the love seat of my room eating take-out from a nearby fast food restaurant.
I think the hotel is relatively new — the room was clean and didn’t have that “hotel room” smell that usually makes me wonder what underlying odor it is covering up. The window opened a little, so I was able to get some fresh air. I didn’t bother turning on the air conditioning — it was warm, but not that warm. I had a king sized bed, a spacious and clean bathroom and as far as I could tell, was the only person on my floor. I had a great view of the mountains as well. I slept well and awoke rested for the remainder of the trip. Breakfast, which was included in the modest price of the room was okay — I’d had better.
On the way back from Mississippi I was not sure I was going to stop along the way to sleep. Had I left my Aunt’s house earlier I might have made it all the way home that night, but when I got within 4 hours of my town I hit a heavy rainstorm. Since I hadn’t eaten dinner I thought it best to stop, eat and get some sleep. I again looked for a Choice Hotel — they’d always been reliable. When I saw that Salem, Virginia had a Quality Inn, I took the exit and checked in at the hotel. The front desk staff person was nice. She asked if I minded facing the pool — I said I didn’t mind and was checked into a room very close to the lobby. I didn’t go to my room right away, but got some take out food instead and brought it back to the hotel. I grabbed my overnight bag and computer from the car and headed to the room. The key didn’t work, nor did the second key I was given. Finally the front desk staff person walked to the room and was able to make the key work after a few tries. I didn’t plan on leaving the room until I left the next morning, so didn’t really worry about whether the key would work when I tried it.
The room smelled like a hotel room — that cloying sweet smell that resembles the smell some public bathrooms have. This room had two double beds and a very small, but clean-enough bathroom whose door would not open all the way. The room itself didn’t feel very clean and the carpet near the wall was noticeably dirty.
The room also had a sliding glass door which led to the courtyard which housed a swimming pool. I opened the door, but quickly closed it and tried to figure out how to lock and secure it. I was able to lock it and pull down a inadequate-looking security bar, but the J-shaped lock wouldn’t fit into its security holder. I fretted about this for a while, but ended up feeling semi-safe.
After eating my take-out food (standing up near the table — I didn’t want to sit on the bed and eat and was too lazy to pull the chair closer to the table) I got ready for bed. It was then I noticed the faint splatter of what looked like either dried blood or dried feces on the wall behind the nightstand. My mind immediately raced through all the slasher movies I’d seen in my youth (not that many, but one would have been enough) and tried to work out how the person had been stabbed so the blood would squirt on the wall between the beds. They would have had to been standing in front of the nightstand — maybe talking on the phone. I wondered if the body was somewhere in the room — I checked under the beds and in the drawers. No corpse. I actually hoped the stain was feces instead. In hindsight I think it might have been cola or root beer on the wall. The vending machine doled out plastic bottles, and a hand-written sign did warn consumers to wait a while before unscrewing the cap. I wasn’t thinking too clearly that night, however.
I did a little work then read some email messages on my cell phone. I couldn’t bring myself to shut off the light near the bathroom — I was still nervous about the security of the sliding glass door — so I tried to fall asleep with the light on. Surprisingly, I did fall asleep rather quickly.
I awoke to a woman’s voice and checked my phone to see what time it was. I thought I’d overslept and the woman was calling a child. The clock on my phone read 3:15. The woman called again, and just as I realized she was saying, “Sir! Sir! Excuse me Sir!” I heard a loud knocking sound from the hotel hallway. I thought the woman was talking to someone in a room close to mine and was knocking on the door. The knocking continued and I wondered if she’d mistaken my room for one that held a man. I walked to the door, calling out, “Who is it”? More knocking, more insistent this time. I asked, “Who is it? What do you want?” Just more knocking. I then realized that I could peek out through the peephole to see who was outside knocking on my door. Since I didn’t have the foresight to grab my glasses before I went to the door, all I know about the person knocking on my door was that it was a man in a long-sleeved dark tee-shirt with writing on the front. I said, “I don’t know you. Go away!” The knocking stopped. The telephone rang. I answered the phone, but no one was on the line.
At this point I was really frightened. Isn’t this when the killer often strikes in slasher movies? I thought maybe he’d gone outside and was going to break into the room through the sliding glass door. Maybe he was already in the room, hiding behind the draperies that covered the door. I hung up the phone and was about to call the front desk when it rang again. This time I shouted, “Who is this? What do you want?” At first there was no answer, then a woman’s voice asked me if I had another guest in my room. I said I did not, but that a man was knocking on the room door. She explained that she just wanted to make sure that he didn’t belong in my room.
I then heard her outside again, asking the man which room he belonged in. He mumbled that he didn’t know.
I came close to packing up and leaving right then, but was more worried about what was outside the room than what might get inside. I turned on the television and then climbed back into bed — sure that I’d not sleep a wink anymore that night. Again I surprised myself by sleeping for a couple more hours — waking to the sound of my alarm clock at 5:30 am.
I didn’t shower, having seen Psycho several times, ate a quick breakfast (better than the Comfort Inn’s was) and checked out. The front desk staff person, a man this time, asked if everything had been okay. As I began to list the problems, he said, “Oh, I understand you had a little problem last night. So sorry about that. Sorry for the inconvenience.” I replied that I’d been very frightened and he said that the man was found sleeping in the hallway and was drunk or high. He then went on to say that they were concerned about security, but there was nothing they could have done to prevent that — the lobby couldn’t be locked.
So, I’ve had two vastly different nights staying in a hotel alone. I don’t think I’m going to look forward to doing it again anytime soon, thanks to the incident at the Quality Inn of Salem, Virginia.
My daughter has discovered The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. I knew she would at some time or another — I’d assumed they still taught it in schools, then I saw it in a poetry packet that she brought home from school and felt a long forgotten excitement in my chest. When I initially asked her what she thought about it, she said they had not gotten to it yet in a bored teenage voice.
Just before spring break she said, “Mom! I LOVED Prufrock!” in a not-so-bored teenage voice. She was animated and excited and quoted lines from the poem to me. We discussed the meaning of stanzas and wondered who the women were who were discussing Michelangelo.
I vividly remember reading Prufrock for the first time. I was a Freshman in college. I remember loving the rhythm of the syllables in the poem. I remember loving the pictures the words and lines painted. I remember wondering how coffee spoons could measure time or how eating a peach could be something daring to do. I was young with my whole life ahead of me. I was not going to be like this middle-aged man. Ever. I’d never be afraid like he seemed to be. I’d never regret missing out on things, because I knew I’d do it all. I had plans. Our professor was a middle-aged man. He tried to explain the poem to us from his perspective.
Reading the poem again, now in middle-age, is much more painful than it was when I was 19. At 19 I thought the man a fool for his regrets. I felt no pity for J. Alfred Prufrock. But now, I see where he is coming from. There are days that I have similar feelings to this man. Days when I regret things I’ve not done, and some that I have done. I’ve been shy all of my life and sometimes dealing with strangers has been frightening to me.
Mostly I think I’ve lived a good life so far — I’ve taken some risks — as a young adult and again as an older adult. I’ve faced a few fears and conqured them. My mom and aunt seem to think I can do it all, while my daughter seems to think I should have done more.
Some days I feel like giving in to my fears — staying home when I don’t want to face strangers. Having someone else make phone calls for me. Driving far out of my way to avoid having to drive in a city (yes, NYC, I’m talking about you). Other days, I take a deep breath and just DO. I go to meetings I’d rather not attend. I make those phone calls I was avoiding. I take the shorter route to Sarah Lawrence which goes through Manhattan (so say the signs).
What’s next? Eating alone in a fancy restaurant? Applying for a new job? Going birding with a bird group?
“And how should I begin?
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?”
–From The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Elliot
I returned from a camping trip to an incomplete blog. Five months of posts on this and on the blog I manage for my son’s wrestling team were missing. The latest posts showing were from March of this year. Of course I feared the worst (although I do have some backups on my computer) and thought I was in for hours of re-creation.
Luckily the folks at LunarPages were able to fix the problem. Kudos to Matt and Dragos at LunarPages for fixing this quickly and efficiently.
I thought I was going to get off easy today. Dean took Clare to school at 7 this morning. All I’d have to do was take Andrew at 10 and pick Clare up at 12. Andrew said he’d get the bus home. Easy day.
I drove Andrew to school as planned, then did some work in my attic office. Then it began to snow. It was light at first – I sat here looking out the window thinking how pretty it was and how much I was going to enjoy the drive to school to get Clare if big fat flakes were falling. I continued to work and occasionally looked out the window to marvel at what a little snow does to the landscape.
At 11:30 I decided to head out and brush the two inches of white powdery snow off my car. The road was covered in snow, and slippery under my daughter’s cast-off faux Uggs. I wondered, briefly, if I should take the SUV instead, but thought that my car would be fine, and when I headed up the street (a very slight incline) I was confident all would be well.
All was well until I turned off Bradley and onto a side street. This street is somewhat steep, narrow and curvy. Not like that street in San Francisco, but not like the Ohio Turnpike either. If I’d had the road to myself I may have swerved and gone straight to a less hilly street up the road, but I was in the turn when I saw the 4 stuck cars on Rayburn. This included a pick-up truck that was facing the wrong way in the right hand lane (and partially on someone’s yard). So, I called forth all of my driving in northern Illinois winters memories, held fast to the steering wheel and drove up the hill, avoiding the pick-up by a few inches.
There were cars behind me and cars facing me in the other lane, but no one in front of me so I didn’t have to worry about rear-ending anyone. I drove very slowly, but kept my foot on the gas and I made progress. Slowly. I was lucky that I never had to stop, because I might not have started again. I made it to the top of the hill and then waited for the slow progression of cars to pass me on Wilson. Turning right on Wilson was fine, I figured I’d been through the worst part, but as I inched up to the top of a slight hill approaching Whittier, I saw I’d been mistaken. Cars were off the road and those that were moving were slipping and sliding sideways and backwards. I slipped sideways twice and once had to hold the steering wheel very tightly as I skidded forward a number of feet.
Once I turned onto Whittier it was better, more crowded, but flatter. As expected, the road in front of Whitman was a madhouse. Pretty much a parking lot while parents sat in their cars calling their students on their cell phones or waited in the right turn lane to turn into the parking lot. I’d already decided to park the car outside Whittier Woods and call Clare to come to me.
So I called and got her idiotic answer message of some puppets saying Snape, Snape, Severus Snape over and over again. I tried again. No answer. So I texted her that I was outside Wittier Woods. Then I sat and watched as the big fat flakes I’d been looking forward to driving in covered the car windows. A few minutes later Clare called and said that she was hanging out with friends and didn’t need a ride home.
Here I’d like to say I was understanding and wonderfully motherly, but I’d be lying. I told her how angry I was that I risked my life driving in the snow and couldn’t she have told me that earlier? She said she did and I said, you said you were going to hang out with your friends on Thursday. She said, Mom, it is Thursday. I said, oops. Sorry.
So I made my slow way back home, this time wisely avoiding Lombard East Rayburn.
I got home, called Clare to apologize and took some photos of the pretty snow, happy to be off the snowy, slippery streets.
I headed up to the attic and began working and admiring the pretty snow that now had covered the trees so that the whole world looked like a black and white photograph with some sort of blur effect.
Then the phone rang. It was Andrew. Wrestling practice was canceled and he needed me to pick him up.
Years ago when I was enamored with Stephen King’s novels I read in an interview that the only book of his that scared him when he was writing it was Pet Sematary. I found that a little hard to believe. I didn’t think that someone could write something that scared them any more than they could tickle themselves enough to really laugh.
Last night, in my attic office, I was up late finishing up my alloted word count for my NaNoWriMo story. Everyone else in the house was asleep, or nearly asleep. In the story the main character has a seemingly irrational fear of something common in all homes and I was at the part describing this fear. I suddenly got a little nervous myself and when I heard a noise that seemed to come from the closet near my desk, I jumped and my heart began to pound. We live in an older house, that has creaks and groans all the time, and the night was a little windy, so the noise was either the house settling, a twig falling on the roof — only a couple feet from my head — or something dropping off my daughter’s bed (directly below my desk). Even though I told myself those things, I was shaken and when I checked that my word count was adequate, saved my work, closed down the computer, shut off the attic lights and hurried downstairs to bed.
Until last night I didn’t realize that I was writing a novel in the horror/thriller genre. Sorry Mr. King – I’ll never doubt you again!