A friend gifts herself on her birthday with novel experiences like hot air ballooning and power sailing. I am not as ambitious. In previous years, I wished for perfect days on my birthday — wearing favorite clothes, sleeping late, no housework or homework, good food and culture. My definition of perfect was pretty broad but these days my definition is still too restrictive to strive for. And so, time to change.
I’ve started projects on natal days. Some years I ‘finalize’ resolutions that I just couldn’t get right at the beginning of January. For many years, I didn’t want to make a big deal about celebrating my birthday but without a partner, if any deal is going to be made, I can’t keep my friends in the dark. And I am grateful for the rememberings — a few packages, morning coffee with, a phone call or two from, theater in evening and afterwards food so rich my tummy ached, and a big bouquet of Facebook wishes.
All good, all good. I am filled to the brim with gratitude.
Last week, before Julia’s birthday, I dove into self-pity mode, wallowing for 36 hours before surfacing to take a breath.
I had put in an intense week working on Julia’s IEP (Individual Education Plan) which for the first time includes a post high school transition plan. Julia’s deficits were spelled out utterly and specifically as were the initial transition goals—to live in a supported environment and to use public transportation independently to go to work. Those weren’t goals, they were disappointments, something to be settled for not aspired to. They curdled my blood and smashed my dreams. Not that I can tell you exactly what those dreams are, and granted, any of my dreams for Julia swing wildly from art school to group home life. But the point is that there are days I can see her in art school. What I dreamed to be the low end of a good life, was suddenly something to be reached for. Is there a suggestion that even these goals might be out of reach? I did a lot of mental moaning.
Coming up for air, I saw that all of my sorrowing was for myself. It had so little to do with Julia. What she does, where she can live, how she can work is about her. Was I perhaps seeing her as my reflection, as a comment on my effort, as a measure of my worth as a mother, as my failure? I can’t even say. It was so all-encompassing and wallow-worthy, and now, out of it, I cannot be sure that I am correct in my assessment. Whatever was the exact reason for the wallow, it was something to investigate. I needed to name it, own it and feel it without judgment or shame.
During that wallow day, I googled self-pity to get a writing start and was surprised by what I found. Had I read the opening lines of Didion’s “A year of Magical Thinking” with a great deal more gentleness than was meant? I am not sure. Steven Fry (“the most destructive vice”), John Gardner (“the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics”), Gabrielle Zevin (“the most useless of all human emotions”), even Helen Keller (“Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything wise in this world.”) judge it so harshly. My favorite was by Patty Duke: “Self-pity is very unattractive.” If it is unattractive, I certainly don’t want to be caught with too much on my hands. Ha!
But I’ve needed it, I’ve been there, I’ve pulled myself out and friends have lent a hand. It is just what it is. I don’t enjoy the wallow, even when I am full out into it but when there is self-sorrow, self-compassion, self-pity for all of sorrows of impossible days, it is just something to feel, to get through the day and go to bed early, to have some macaroni and cheese and maybe chocolate ice cream. Or an orange. It is burden, to be sure, it doesn’t feel good. Perhaps it might be destructive to embraced it in large and long portions. But to be honest, I don’t know how to avoid it and I don’t know if avoiding it would be so much a good thing.
And then . . . Without intention, with something more like compulsion, I’ve spent the week putting away the near and distant past. I did a radical filing the reams of paper that collect on the kitchen counter, the dining room table and my inbox. I made new folders, did every bit of left over business, trashed some and put it all away.
Yesterday’s task was the disposal of the escrow account from my mother’s estate. After an estate is closed, a bit of money is left in case there are any late claims or bills. That time is over, and so, I wrote checks and letters and mailed those to the siblings. When the checks are cashed, I will take my share, close the account and send my estate attorney copies of the finale.
And then it will be done.
The compulsion continued and I’ve dragged out the piles and box of photos that need scanning and distributing. I sorted for an hour this morning. There is a good deal of time to put into this one. It is good winter work and hopefully, I can finish it before the season turns.
Today, Julia was finished with school before noon. My intention was to do something, some particular something, that I have been longing to do but have not just gotten out there. And so, we went ice skating. Julia has been doing it on Sundays for weeks now and I’ve wanted to joined her but it has been more years than she is old since I last put on skates. So many years, that when I got on the ice, the blades of my skates did not glide. It was probably an almost invisible coating of rust on the bottom of the blades. I could walk on the ice. I have seen children do that — ice walking without gliding but I had never been able to do it myself. It was very strange. It took going around the entire rink to get the glide back into my skates and many, many laps before I was willing to stop hugging the rail. It will take another session or two before I am anywhere near comfortable to venture out beyond the outside rim. But sometime, somewhere, it is necessary to begin.
With all of this, all the ups and downs, investigations and big feelings, and especially the gratitude for the day, I have the feeling that something is ending. Some chapter, some verse. And the there are seeds planted for what will appear. Nursing possibility.
That is the meat of the day. Nursing possibility.