I’ve tried to cultivate an attitude of gratitude lately. It’s not as corny as it sounds. But I had read something a while back that stated that the more we are thankful for, the more we will have to be thankful for.
I know, I know, it has a white washing of hokey on it, but as someone who wants to see the positive, I thought about giving it a whirl. I felt obligated to in some ways.
I know there’s times I dwell on the negative too often and shouldn’t, so I thought this exercise would be good for me to try.
I started out, sitting on the porch with my coffee at 5 a.m., thinking of the things I was grateful for. Of course, there was my family, and especially my child, the dogs, my home.
Those were givens. My list of things I was grateful for seemed to be tainted by that inevitable ‘but’ that seemed to be lingering in my mind.
I was thankful, but.
I needed this, or I needed that. I wanted this, or I wanted that. If only I had X, I could really, truly be grateful.
I was thankful, but it felt like I was pandering in some way and wasn’t authentic.
But, life sometimes has a very Jagger-esque way of bringing you what you need, when you need it.
In the middle of my attempts of trying to force thankfulness, my areas to be thankful were revealed.
As I saw a mother struggle to maneuver her child’s wheelchair through a doorway, I felt a pang of what she must selflessly do each day. I silently said a ‘thank you’ for my child’s health.
I read about someone who was homeless and realized even though small, how grateful I was for my home.
I heard about someone who was lonely and felt the thankfulness for having family and friends.
After a severe storm ripped through a state this past spring, a friend said she realized as she did her laundry, how thankful she was for having dish towels, clean and folded in her drawer because it dawned on her how those little things of having a drawer of dishtowels can be taken for granted.
My list of grateful expanded, including those overlooked things like having clean laundry, even when it needed to be folded and put away; dirty dishes in the sink meant I had eaten.
Those things that I was complaining about would seem like heaven to someone else.
My morning ritual of listing my things I was thankful for soon outgrew my allotted time frame. And when I ran out of time to list what I was thankful for, there was no room left to complain.
Sappy, whitewashed corny, I know. But I am thankful just the same.
When you date someone for longer than three months, people want to know when you’re getting married.
As soon as you get married, people want to know when you’re going to have a baby.
When you have a baby, people want to know what that child is going to be when he grows up. Well, that and when you’re going to have another one.
But people will ask you inane questions like: “What’s he going to be when he grows up?”
My response was usually “potty trained.”
Someone asked him when he was 3 what he wanted to be; he replied with doggie doctor and an orange Power Ranger. An appropriate response from someone his age.
“He’s going to be a preacher,” Granny declared of Cole one day. “Look at him, he’s going to be a preacher.”
I don’t know if I want my child to have the responsibility of being a preacher, leading a congregation spiritually can be an exhausting job and it’s something he would be expecting his future wife to be involved in as well.
“He’s going to be the president,” Mama said proudly.
Scratch that one too. I don’t want my child to deal with the stress, the pressure, the anger that is directed towards just about everyone who has ever held that office. Plus, once they start the vetting process, his mama may keep him out.
“What do you want him to be?” Mama asked.
“Happy,” I replied. “I want him to be happy.”
I also wanted him to be healthy, to be successful on his terms – that may not be the things that made me feel successful – and I wanted him to be loved.
Did I want him to have some fancy-schmancy title after his name, or an acronym proclaiming him to be the grand poobah of a company?
Not if that’s not what makes him happy.
Did I want him to make plenty of money? Sure, we all want our children to know financial security and peace but there’s also some things more important than money. Those big bucks may mean more hours at a job, away from family.
Did I want him to be successful? Absolutely, I did and I know whatever he decided he wanted to be, he would go at it with the determination to be successful and to do his best.
But beyond all of that, I wanted my child to be happy, and that was something he could only define for himself.
Another parent and I were talking about this very subject a few years ago. The parent said she wanted her daughter to grow up to be a good person more than anything. She said no matter what path her daughter decided to follow, she wanted her to be an example of how to treat others and how to do the right thing at all times, to express that compassion that needs to be shared. Her words were so simply eloquent that I knew that was what I wanted for my child as well; that this beautiful truth was what every parent wanted for their child.
“What did you want me to be when I was younger?” I asked Mama.
“What I want you to be now,” she began. “Safe. And when I say safe, I mean happy too, I guess.
I want to know that you are content in your corner of the world, that you are doing what you want to do with your life and that you are taken care of as you go about doing it.
I say safe because I can’t be there with you to make sure you are, so I say safe instead of happy because I think safe covers it all.
Safe does equal happy, doesn’t it? When we are safe, and feel comforted, secure, we are happy, aren’t we?
“I know you think I am silly and being overprotective for saying that, but does that make sense?” she asked.
It absolutely did. For once, it made beautiful, simple, perfect sense.
I’ve noticed a few things lately about myself. When I say I need to drop a few pounds, forgoing my daily candy bar and glass of wine doesn’t cause the scales to nudge south.
My skin is extremely dry and seems to be revealing crevices where smoothness used to be.
And I can never get warm, especially my hands and feet.
“Just you wait,” a lady warned, the voice of experience. “That will change and you will have hot flashes so hot you will think you are having a nuclear meltdown.”
I would love an occasional hot flash. I worry I may lose a finger I get so cold most of the time. A hot flash in the middle of the winter would be welcomed.
“You think that,” she said.
Apparently I am wrong about this.
“Just wait,” this woman continued – she was an acquaintance, a woman I had seen a few times and was friendly with on a social level and here she was, prophesizing how my life would be when my hormones finally changed.
“You will think you are consumed by an eternal fire all of sudden,” she continued.
She paused long enough to give me a firm appraisal.
“How old are you anyway?” she asked.
I love how people who are just acquaintances can get all up in your business and ask personal questions.
“Forty,” I said.
Her eyes squinted and she gave me a grunt. “Oh yeah, you’ve got about two years before you start dealing with this, but you just wait.”
“I am looking forward to the hot flashes,” I said honestly.
I was. Really. I am just that cold natured that a hot flash would make me feel like I was beach side in Bimini.
The lady let out a raucous laugh.
“You don’t just have hot flashes, sweetheart. That’s part of it. There’s mood swings, crying, weight gain, gravity … oh, honey, you don’t have any idea!”
Actually, I did.
Mama went through the change my senior year in high school.
She yanked me out of the passenger side window of my friend Ginny’s car once.
Problem was, Ginny was trying to get down our driveway at the time so the car was still moving. She had charged the thing full force, running up the driveway, red hair flying, Virginia Slim 120 in her fist.
It wasn’t the first time Mama had done something like that. Usually, I just thought she was possessed and needed a priest until Granny told me what the real problem was.
“Your mama needs her some hormone pills or I need some nerve pills. When I went through this, I wasn’t this bad.”
“Went through what?” I asked.
“The change,” was Granny’s answer.
I didn’t know what change she was referring to. All I knew was Mama was scary. Very, very, very scary. One minute she was about to kill someone, the next she was crying over the letters she got in the mail about saving baby seals.
I hid in my room with my Vince Neil and Nikki Sixx posters. Even with their makeup and heavy metal they were less scary than Mama and this “change.”
“When is she gonna be done changing?” I asked Granny.
Granny frowned. “Lawd have mercy, I don’t know – she’s been a going through this for a while … she needs to hurry up and get this over with. I can’t take no more. I am gonna slap her silly.”
I thought back over the previous years. Maybe the process had evolved over a few years. Her moments of “normal” had seemed like a distant memory.
She had showed up at friends’ houses, demanding to know what I was doing there when she knew I had been going to their house. She had yanked my phone out of the wall and hid it under my grandfather’s chair.
She had a fit one day because we had broccoli and no cauliflower and that’s what she wanted for her ranch dip. She was so upset, she sat down and cried. Cried – over cauliflower. A clear indicator her hormones, and maybe good common sense, were at war.
As I neared the home stretch of my senior year in high school, I had determined she chose my 12th grade year to go through this transition just to make my life miserable.
Senior year isn’t challenging enough, no, she chose this to make me live in perpetual fear.
“How old was your Mama when she went through the change?” the lady asked, breaking me from my estrogen reverie.
A quick addition of math – Mama was 28 when she had me, 18 years later was 46.
“You’ve got a few years then,” the lady said, then reconsidered. “Or you may be already starting now … you may not have been having the flashes but have you been moody and overly emotional lately? Have things started moving south that used to be … maybe further north?”
She gave me a once over as she asked that. I saw where her gaze paused.
Maybe it’s time to start facing the change after all.
Mama, for the most part, has always been right about just about everything. Don’t dare tell her that, or I will never hear the end of it.
There’s just been a few things that she has been inherently wrong about and she and I will never agree on. One of the main things is Mama just never got the power of sisterhood.
Sure, she had a few really good friends I remember growing up, a few of them from her childhood, where she had grown up with them and to me, they were aunt Connie and aunt Cherry.
A few were from work, the friends she commiserated with, walked picket lines with and shared company dinners with for 30 years.
But she never really ‘got’ the power of that sisterhood.
“Be careful of other women, Kitten,” she would warn. “It can be hard to trust and be friends with women.”
I wonder if something happened to Mama, if someone she had considered a trusted friend had somehow betrayed her when she was younger, because my earliest memories were of her warnings of this.
This cautionary statement jaded me somewhat during my adolescence, making me wonder if this was true. I remember once another girlfriend stirring trouble between myself and another good friend, abruptly ending the friendship over lies and twisted tales.
“See, Kitten,” Mama said. “It’s hard to be friends with other females. You just can’t trust them.”
I didn’t think it had a thing to do with our gender. I think it had more to do with the guilty party was a deceitful little pot stirrer who thrived on drama.
Despite Mama’s warnings, I maintained some really strong friendships with other females throughout my life. Sure, there had been those few who had turned out to not be the quality of friends I had thought – again, not gender related but because of the individual.
Any time I recounted a spat or issue between myself and someone I thought was a friend, Mama would make that “mmmm hmmm” noise she makes, no doubt pressing her lips together as she sucked in a sharp intake of air, trying her darnedest to not say “I told you so – you can’t trust other women.”
For the record, I have had just as many guy friends who ended up being backstabbing, two-faced users. We just don’t typically call them the same thing we do women who possess those traits. There was no comment from Mama’s peanut gallery regarding the fact I couldn’t trust male friends. I can think of a few in particular who turned out to be more untrustworthy than any of the female friends.
But Mama held fast to her argument. She listed off the female friends I had trusted, I had held dear that had revealed themselves to not be.
Ironically, one female who I found to be a big betrayer was one that had reminded me of Mama the most.
If anything, it was not a matter of a chromosome, it was a matter of personal integrity.
I countered with the lengthy list of soul-sisters who had been by my side through thick and thin and how like little glimmers of grace, these women had helped me through some dark times. They had picked me up, dusted me off and made me find hope in eternal nights. It was the sisters who had brought cheesecake or wine when needed – and cheesecake and wine are always needed – the sisters who listen to the whines, and then told me no matter what I did, they had my back and more importantly, they believed in me, because I had always believed in them.
There was this indescribable, intangible, magical connection between these bonds, these soul-sisters and I, many of them spanning over decades, some transcending from my earliest memories.
Instead of seeing each other as a female enemy or someone we were in competition with over a man or a job, we lifted each other up, helped one another and conspired to help each other. We bonded over shoes and bags. We realized we were stronger together, looking out for each other, and finding that sisterhood link we all share – that we should share.
Moments of solidarity, the knowledge that our bond being strengthened and preserved was providing a foundation for a blueprint for sisterhood in the future.
Mama still didn’t get it. She still warns me of the times I have been hurt, but I believe the power of sisterhood and how incredible it can be, worth the chance of being burned.
But maybe that was something Mama never got to experience. And for that, I am truly sad.