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Mom Issues

I love watching the TV show Mom. I love the mother-daughter angst and hilarity, the messiness and the beauty, and the warm, slapdash coffee-drinking community of the AA women in the show. I love the raw honesty, and how perfectly it shows how you can both love and hate someone at the same time.

It reminds me of my year-long stint in Al-Anon about seven years ago. I was heartbroken and truly desperate at the time, which is probably the only reason I went, but I look back on that time fondly.

The room we met in was dingy, the walls the color of mayonnaise, the floor was carpeted that indiscriminate browny-gray color. There was bad coffee that you could cover up the flavor of with heavy sugar.

There were people that looked nothing like my friends or family, people I probably would not meet anywhere else in my life, and yet, we had so much in common.

When I moved to a new city, I vowed to continue to go to Al Anon, but gradually, life and work commitments got busy and crowded out the time I had planned to spend on meetings.

Now that my husband and I are about to have our first child, though, there’s been a sense of inner persistence that I need to go back.

It has to do with my mom.

My mom… where to even start? I’d describe my mom as feisty. She is never more herself than in the midst of a debate with someone. She was the person who would chat with the grocery store cashier in such a way that caused one of us to ask, “Do you know her, Mom?” And she never knew the person, but she was good at making conversation. Birthday parties, Christmases, Easters, our home would be decorated to the hilt. We had Christmas and Easter traditions. We had perfect family pictures in which everyone wore a matching outfit. She was the person who got the question a lot, “How do you do it all?” because she did it all, flawlessly. And the house was clean at all times, even with eight kids.

She was also the person who would be in the mood of the Wicked Witch of the West, and pick up the phone and suddenly transform into Mary Poppins.

And then, my dad died. I was fifteen. My oldest sibling was nearly eighteen; my youngest sibling was two. My mom was forty-five.

About three months after my mom’s death, some friends of my mom came over to keep her company. A short while after that day, they found me and one of my sisters. “We’re a little concerned about your mother’s drinking,” they said. They mentioned some behaviors they were seeing.

I still don’t know why they brought it up to us. We were kids, and knew nothing about what to do, or what was normal and what wasn’t. It was almost like they thought we could do something with the information.

We did nothing, because we didn’t know that there was anything to do. Slowly, life as we knew it changed in little ways. One thing I heard a lot during that time from my mom was how “No one understood” what it was like. She started finding reasons not to see the many friends she had once spent time with.

I went to college. Coming home for breaks for most college students can be suddenly very strange, because you see your family from outside for the first time, and all the things that you once thought were normal start to look weird. For me, I saw that my mom was increasingly choosing to spend time alone, leaving dinners to my much-younger siblings to put together on their own. This scared me.

One of my sisters mentioned to me, on one of these trips home, that her boyfriend thought our mom was an alcoholic. “Do you think she is?” she asked. “I do,” I said. I remember my mom storming into the room where we were talking. “Who said that I was an alcoholic?” she demanded.

“I did, Mom, and I think it needs to stop,” I said.

This was when she took the keys to the truck I was driving. I spent a tortured weekend wondering what to do, and why I was being punished for telling the truth.

This began a period of years wherein I was my mom’s fiercest critic. I thought that if I could fight the increasing dysfunction and show her a mirror to herself, that she would change, and everything would get back to “normal” again. I was worried about my siblings at home growing up thinking that this was normal, and I was eager to show them something different. The more I fought and tried to change my mom, the worse things got.

I never stopped to think that in my mom’s eyes, she thought I would never see her as good enough. I never thought for a second that the drinking might be about depression, or shame, or anxiety.

Throughout college, my mom started accumulating dogs. It seemed that for every sibling that left the house for school, there would be a new dog to replace the person who had gone. We suddenly were at a point where there were seven dogs in our family home, and one was ferocious.

The dogs became the reason why my mom couldn’t stay for a sister’s wedding reception. They needed her back at home.

When I left my toothbrush and contacts on the bathroom counter and the dogs ate them, I was still responsible for replacing them.

Things came to a head one day when I came to pick up my sister to take her out for her birthday. As I entered the garage, one of the dogs started barking frantically and then attacked me. I was on the floor, unable to fend off the dog, who bit me on my arms, my legs. Blood was everywhere.

As my mom cleaned the several bites, she said, “You probably need to go to the hospital.” The wounds were deep enough that I needed to change the bandages every two hours. The words I remember hearing as I left the house were, “If I have to put down my dog because of you, I’ll never speak to you again.”

This was the breaking point, for me. I drove to the doctor and had the bites attended to, and then I went to see a counselor to try to figure out how to respond to my mom. Internally, my world had crumbled. Who was I, I thought, if even my own mom would choose to protect her dog over me? It was a realization that either I was worthless, or I couldn’t depend on my mom for the love that I thought I could. My counselor encouraged me in drafting a letter in which I laid out some boundaries: that I wouldn’t accept responsibility for the dog attack, that I wouldn’t be talking to my mom for a while, that I would not accept critical remarks anymore.

The period of silence lasted for six months. During that time, some of my younger siblings challenged me. “You know she won’t apologize,” they said, “so it’s up to you to make amends.” I questioned myself for wanting to maintain distance. I would be ruining Thanksgiving and Christmas if we couldn’t be all together, they said. Finally, a note came from my mom, inviting me to family Christmas. Guilt assailed me again. At least she was extending an olive branch, I thought. But I was still very angry.

Against my better judgment, I went to family Christmas, to keep the peace, so not to deprive the rest of my family of a chance to have a holiday together. Five minutes in, I knew it was a mistake. My temper was at the boiling point. My mom greeted me civilly and kindly, but there was no mention of the past, the dog attack, or anything that had happened before this. She wanted to pretend as though nothing had happened. This tipped me over the edge. I raged and screamed and threw things. My mom looked afraid that I was going to attack her. I decided to leave the house, even though it was Christmas.

And this is what led me to Al Anon. “How do I fix my mom?” was in essence, the question that I wanted answered. My first meeting was thus a shocker. I expected words of advice and pity. What I heard was “Keep the focus on yourself.”

I wanted a quick fix. I wanted everything to get better so I could get on with my normal life again. What I found, was that many people in Al Anon had been going to meetings for 30 years. It wasn’t a one-and-done sort of thing. It was a lifestyle shift. What I saw in the people who shared was something I didn’t even realize I wanted: peace. Patience. Serenity.

The biggest realization that came to me through my time in Al Anon was that no, I couldn’t change my mom. I couldn’t change her alcoholism, or the effect it had on our family life and on my relationship with her. But I could exercise my own choices. I could choose to say yes or no. I could choose to be present or absent. I started to put up boundaries and my first consideration started to be, “Will I be safe?” If the answer was no, my word would be no. Secondly, I thought, “Will I be treated well?” Again, if the answer was no, I would say no.

Boundaries saved my relationship with my mom. Instead of raging, trying to persuade through argument, and raised voices, I found that by using the power of no, I had control over our encounters that I had never had before. I also found that my mom responded to my no, and she responded when I left the house as a result of a critical comment. It was when I started letting go of changing her and focused on my own behavior, that she actually started to change how she treated me.

The last six years have been mainly positive lessons in setting boundaries, and my relationship with my mom has been neutral or positive much of the time. I have thought back gratefully to Al Anon and the lessons it taught me, and figured that I had learned what I needed to learn from it.

This year, however, things started to get hard again.

It began with my wedding. Christmas of last year, my mom fell from a step stool and fractured her leg in several places. The damage was quite bad, and she needed surgery and a long, six-month recuperation in a wheelchair, which was very challenging for her. Each of us siblings did what we could to help her around the house and chip in for groceries, which started to become alcohol as well. For Easter, my mom asked me to stop on the way and buy her alcohol. I was uncomfortable with the request, because I didn’t want to enable her addiction. When I refused, she threatened not to come to my wedding.  I forced myself to say, “Well, we’ll miss you.” The threat was rescinded.

Because my mom brought up the upcoming wedding a lot, and seemed quite stressed out about it, I knew it was a big deal. We worked together to find a dress she liked. I arranged to have her hair done on the day, and to have her makeup done, thinking that all these things would give her a boost of confidence on the day.

The wedding came around, and I realized that my mom’s anxiety was not helped in any way by the dress, makeup or hair. She attended the wedding, but when my husband and I came to reception, we couldn’t find her anywhere. My siblings shared that she had decided to stay at the AirBnB for the night instead.

The level of hurt and betrayal I felt at her absence brought back memories of the dog attack several years ago. As my husband and I spent time on our honeymoon, I reflected on my mom, and tried to figure out what was bothering me so much. It came down to, that I could try to be the best daughter I could be, and that she still might not show up to the important moments in my life. For the first time in a long time, I find myself feeling this: I give up. What’s the point of putting in the work on a relationship like this?

As I’ve been preparing to become a mother myself, talking with my mom about motherhood has sometimes been really helpful (she’ll tell me about what to expect in pregnancy, and how it feels going into labor). I would like to draw on her knowledge, both because she had eight kids and went through labor several times, and also because she’s a nurse. Most of all, I’d like to share in motherhood with her because she is my mom.

But this time has brought some new fresh wounds. I’ve heard from my mom several times now that she doesn’t plan to visit me or the baby when she is born – not out of spite. Not because she doesn’t support me in becoming a mom. It’s because she really doesn’t like the city where my husband and I live.

I thought boundaries were the answer. Setting and keeping boundaries for what I will and won’t accept has been really helpful up to this point.

In the last year, however, the new pain I am experiencing has to do with the absence of my mom. How do you put up boundaries on the absence of your mom in your life? Why am I suddenly at a new breaking point, when things seemed to go so well for so long?

I read somewhere that we tend to dismiss anger because it’s not a “pretty” emotion – but, in reality, anger sometimes points the way to truth. Anger is a teacher. When something happens and it makes us angry, that anger tells us something about ourselves, that maybe something was violated, or a need was unmet.

In this case, I am feeling a lot of anger. Anger because I’ve tried really hard to be a good daughter, visiting my mom when she needed help, being there for her. Now, in getting married and having a child, I realize that no matter how much I might show up for her, she might still not show up for me. And I don’t know what to do with that new understanding.

Should this be a surprise? Has the past taught me differently? No. As I look back on this tale of my mom’s alcoholism, it is clear that the disease has stolen a lot – from my mom, from my family, from my relationship with my mom. The well has been dry for a long, long time, but I keep going back to the well and getting angry because there is no water there, and there SHOULD be.

I know that I need to let go of the SHOULD. I don’t think I have the power to let go on my own. And that is how I know I need Al Anon again.

Usually I wait to write a blog post until I feel that I understand everything and can tie it up with a neat little bow. In this case, there is a lot that I still don’t understand about my own feelings, about the situation, about my mom, about what might be the key to finding new peace in this mess. But I feel compelled to write it out anyway, because it’s real, it’s here, and I’m learning as I go.

 

 

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Advice that helped me most as a single person; and advice that didn’t (from a Catholic perspective)

Singleness was very hard for me. I’m not sure why exactly it was so hard. Marriage and family life had always been very attractive to me, and I had a strong natural desire for the life. The questions and problems of married life deeply interested me, too. I wanted to know about all marriages – good ones, bad ones, hard ones, easy ones, and to know why they were hard, or easy. It’s difficult to articulate, but marriage appeared to be a crucible in which to work through the biggest internal dramas we face – the desire to be loved, the desire for holiness and goodness, to find extraordinary themes in the ordinary.

 

Wanting it so much, and being single for so long, often made me feel ridiculous, particularly when I talked this internal difficulty out with married friends. I wondered if my desire was pointing me toward something that wasn’t really for me? And believing that God leads my life, and speaks in the circumstances of my life, I often wondered if God was telling me that it was a different life that He was calling me to.

 

So, with all this in mind, I want to share some of the things that people said to me, or experiences I had along the way that helped – as I waited, wondered, agonized – and some of the things that, in the end, didn’t really help. You may be reading this and find something that you have said along the way, and I am going to try to get these words as right as I can, but of course they’ve probably changed in my memory of hearing them. I’m also opting to keep each person anonymous, but you hopefully know who you are, and please accept my gratitude by knowing how you helped me!

 

Things that Didn’t Help

Let’s start here, and then there’s no way to go but up!

 

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“Maybe you’re just being too picky”

Why this didn’t help: Maybe I was being too picky. And it’s true that being too picky can make you single longer. If I’m breaking it off because I’m two inches taller, or because I eat supper at 7pm and he eats supper at 5pm, this might warrant the above advice.

 

But in my experience, I was too picky especially at a time when I wasn’t really internally ready to be married. I thought of all kinds of silly excuses for breaking things off – “we don’t listen to the same music,” etc. The pickiness hinted at something underlying: that I felt I needed more time to get to know myself. That I had a gut feeling it wasn’t quite right, and because I couldn’t decode the gut feeling, I made up a “picky” reason for it.

 

When you’re in your 30s, and you’re single, it can be even easier for people to offer this advice, because of the assumption that “it should have happened by now.” It can be easy to date several people with whom it doesn’t feel quite right, and the reason you’re still single must be that you’re too picky. This logic often made me second-guess myself, flirting with the idea of letting go of some “must-haves” because “maybe I am too picky.”

 

One must-have for me was faith. Into my 30s, the need to share faith with a spouse became clearer: faith determines many of the decisions I make about how I spend my time, how I spend my money, the career I choose to have, the circle of friends I know. Many people said, “It’s just where you go to church. Why does that have to matter so much?” But when the reality is that faith feeds into most aspects of how I choose to live my life, my reasoning was that I had to share my life with a person who could walk with me in the direction I had committed to walking. It came to a head when I realized that this faith mattered so much that, if I couldn’t find someone to share it with in marriage, I was better off continuing to be single. [Disclaimer: I’ve known many married couples of different faiths, or one who had a deep faith married to one who did not, who had good marriages. This reflects only my own thoughts in discernment for myself].

 

Another area of potential too-pickiness came in the area of attraction. Because meeting a guy with faith was already so difficult, I wondered if maybe I was too picky to break things off when I couldn’t bring myself to want to be physically close to him. This could be agonizing. I wondered if my lack of attraction meant that I was afraid of commitment? I wondered if I should wait 6 more, 8 more, 14 more dates to see if it developed? After struggling through this question many times, I finally determined that physical attraction is essential, and not feeling it doesn’t make you “too picky.”

 

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“You just need to surrender it/let go and let God, and then it will happen. Once I finally stopped looking”…

Why this didn’t help: See number 2 below.

 

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“The church needs single people, because they’re more free to serve. Maybe you’re one of those people.”

Why this didn’t help: I think that is somewhat self-explanatory. It demeans singleness to the role of “cleaner” or “garbage collector” for the church. There are better ways to market the beauty of singleness within the church. Let people who are joyfully single tell you why the church needs single people.

 

Things that Helped

 

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“I wish I hadn’t worried:”

One friend shared with me that she had married at 34. She had watched friends marry and have children, while she went from one place to the other, working as a nurse, studying to be a pastor. What she said that helped: “I wish that I hadn’t worried so much. I wish that I’d realized it was going to be alright, and had spent my time thinking of other things. Then, once you get married, you realize that the worries don’t end there. There are always other things to worry about in life – whether you’ll be able to have children; and then, the safety of your children, and how they will grow up.”

 

This helped because: well, she was an example of someone who married in her mid-thirties, after having a career, after years of wondering. I was surrounded by friends who, if they married, married either as college graduates, or about five years later, at age 26 or 27. Sometimes it’s just helpful to hear a story about someone whose life looks different from the “norm.” Now, having married at 34, I too wish that I hadn’t been so consumed by the worries about whether it would happen, or wouldn’t. But I don’t know how I could have avoided the worry, either 🙂

 

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Not a reward for “figuring it out:”

Another friend hadn’t struggled with singleness, but she had struggled a lot with infertility. Years went by before she and her husband were able to conceive. After their son’s birth, another seven years went by as they tried everything and thought of everything, hoping for another baby. In a miraculous sequence of events, they were able to adopt a beautiful baby. Having heard so many stories from people about how “You just have to surrender it, and then it will happen,” etc, I asked my friend if she had experienced a moment of surrender. In fact, I did remember that a year before at Christmas, she had had an important moment of peace regarding her desire for children. However, this friend answered:

 

“No – I struggled the whole way through the whole thing. I was a big baby for most of it. There was nothing I did that made me worthy of this gift. It was always hard, and it would have continued to be hard. This is pure gift.”

 

Why this helped: It undid some of the negative impact of the ever-so-popular myth of “Once you are fixed enough/whole enough/figured it out enough, then you’ll receive the thing you want.” When I think about the damage this did to me as a single person, I still feel angry. I highly doubt that anyone who says it realizes what the backlash might be to the one who receives those words. It often sounds like a smug, “Well, I  figured it out, so now I’m married/have a baby. And you just need more work. That’s why you’re here struggling with this.”

 

One thing I’ve observed, is that we’re often too eager to ascribe the meaning of people’s circumstances, rather than allowing people to discern those meanings for themselves. For long-term (undesired) singleness, infertility, miscarriages, or other difficult situations, there may be many reasons why a loving God might ask us to bear the pain – and those reasons often aren’t about our inadequacies.

 

In the case of prolonged singleness, it might not be about us being stuck in a corner until we learn the lesson that all married people figured out already. Why do we tend to treat those who have something as being more blessed as those who do not have that thing? I look back on the time right after I moved to Minneapolis, when I had no money, knew almost no one in the city, as one of the most beautiful times in my life, not because of what I had, but because what I didn’t have opened my eyes to a beautiful city and people around me. The vulnerability I felt at that time opened me toward those around me who were in need- of friendship, of kindness –  in a way it is hard for me to be when I am in a place where I have many friends, have enough money, etc.

 

Perhaps there is an area of our life and work in which we have particular gifts, or particular people, to offer or to influence, and that if we had married earlier, these people might not have experienced the gifts through us. It could also be that in the waiting, agonizing and worrying, we have an opportunity to draw nearer to God and and invitation to be closer.  Being single isn’t solely about us being broken or doing something wrong. And being married isn’t necessarily about getting rewarded for doing something right.

 

We should learn not to see our circumstances are rewards or punishments, period. Anything we experience can be a lesson if we let it.

 

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“Our vocations will flow from living the best life we can live:”

Turning 30 and still not having much sense of where my life was going, a priest suggested seeking spiritual direction with a local sister. I was scared to take this step, thinking that this was the first step toward me, too, becoming a sister. Kind of funny to think about this now. Sister E ended up being a wonderful help. Practical and no-nonsense, she told me forthright to stop thinking about my vocation and focus on the present. “Our vocations will flow from living the best life we can live,” she said. Instead, she asked me to focus on the very real present things: praying each day. Exercising each day. Thinking of a virtue I’d like to grow in, and practicing that virtue. Reading good books.

 

Why this helped: It took the pressure off. In focusing on the present, I found a joy that had been missing in my life. I loved the internal balance I felt as a result of living as Sister E prescribed. And knowing a sister made the idea of being a sister less scary. Sometimes, when we’re living without something we really want, it can be easy to hold the rest of our life hostage. Our minds are on the future, and whether the future holds what we hope it does.

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“Retreat to the real:”

At age 26 or 27, I went on a retreat with brothers and sisters. They were very attractive people – joyful, and authentic. Their real-ness and honesty was compelling… and it released many fears in me. What if I was actually called to be a sister? What if this was God’s plan, to spring this upon me at the retreat? What if I wasn’t headed where I thought I was in life? I finally decided to present this cornucopia of questions to one of the joyful brothers on the retreat. He said that fear and worry can be like a hydra monster inside of our heads. One worry gives birth to another, until it becomes a many-headed beast and we are trapped in anxiety. He gave me this phrase that has helped in many areas of my life: “Retreat to the real”. Whenever consumed by the worries, fears and doubts, stop engaging them, and go and do something real. God is in the real. Go rake the leaves. Go wash the dishes. Do something that engages your full concentration, and if possible, your total physical strength.

 

Why this helped: Maybe it just helped because I’m prone to worrying about things, and that came out in singleness, just as it comes out in married life, and any area of life I am in. But in that uncertainty about where my life was headed, there were many potential “what ifs”: what if I’m not in the right city and I won’t meet anyone? What if I need to fix something about myself and I don’t know what it is? What if I’m actually called to be a nun? What if…. Fill in the blank. “Retreat to the real” prompted me to stop the what ifs and get out of the vicious cycle, and I found that the real came as a welcome relief. And I find out, again and again, that the “what if” monster is nothing but a worry merry-go-round that never lets me off. The only thing that comes of that is dizziness.

 

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Seeing examples of well-lived lives:

Sometime after turning 30, I started reading about Dorothy Day. Her life was so compelling – first of all, it was sloppy and all over the place, which was appealing in and of itself to someone who often wondered what direction I was going. The passion that Day felt for the poor really attracted me. The many people she invested deeply in and knew, the searching questions she asked of life and of God, and the way each step in her life asked a new question and was not wasted by triviality – all of these things gave me a vision for how, if lifelong singleness was to be my life, I wanted that life to look.

 

It wasn’t just Dorothy Day. One friend, who was single into his thirties and forties, was an inspirational elementary school teacher. His energy and charisma was truly transformative within the classroom. I noticed another single friend’s deep thoughtfulness and way of contemplating her life in a way that always gave me new insights when I talked with her. I longed to be able to shine in the way that I saw these people shine.

 

Why this helped: I’m not exactly sure why reading about Dorothy Day, or seeing my friends’ examples, helped. I think it started awakening me to the many ways life can be beautiful and well-lived – the many vocations we each live within our vocation. It can be so easy to fall into line and only think about whether you’ll be married or single or (if you’re Catholic) a priest, brother or sister. Dorothy Day’s life… it was an awesome life. No one else could have lived her life in that particular way. It started me thinking about what my unique gifts are, and how can I put them to work in the world, and how God might write a unique story in me. And that “unique story” part freed me from thinking monochromatically about vocation.

 

Finally, some words of wisdom from my hubby (paraphrased):

 

John, married shortly before his 39th birthday, weighs in with a few insights, too.

 

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“People who married right out of college often try to give advice to those of us who are single into our 30s, but they often don’t realize that it’s a different ballgame.”

In other words, if you met your spouse at the time when your school, living space, and social circles are all within the same campus, you may not be able to offer the wisdom that is needed for blind dates, trying to meet people outside of your work environment, online dating struggles, etc. It can be easy to oversimplify the struggles of singleness if your single years post-high school were four, as opposed to fourteen.

 

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“I wish I had heard more from the pulpit about the struggles of the single life, and how to live that life virtuously. It is often taken for granted that the congregation is all families and married people. I’ve heard a few homilies about finding your vocation, but virtually none about singleness itself. It would be nice to hear, ‘Some of you won’t get married, and that’s okay.’ I especially think that priests, who deal with some of the same challenges as single people, are in a position to offer help and good advice to those of us who are single. Instead, it can often feel within the church that single people are 2-headed monsters, an anomaly, or we’re just forgotten about entirely.”

 

I agree with John wholeheartedly on this. Sometimes the loneliness and out-of-placed-ness I felt about singleness was because of the lack of conversation about it – or, if conversation came up, the emphasis was on how to “fix” it: “maybe you need to ______”.

 

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“Sometimes I think that married people turn their focus inward after marriage. There is a common sentiment that raising good kids is enough. Having been single most of my twenties and thirties, I thought a lot about charity in the outside community – joining the Peace Corps, volunteering to teach language. That’s something I don’t want to lose as  a married person. I think that all people, whether single or married, would do well to continue to look outward at the larger community and the ways we can serve.”

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Life is Going to Be Different from Now On… a Growing Up Story

Age: Six                                                                                                       Year: Summer of  1989

 

Going on a vacation in the camper always starts the same way. Dad spends days (maybe a day) (maybe a few hours) (maybe an hour) getting the camper ready. 20060831_motorhomeIt has a long hallway inside. In the back, there is a bathroom on one side, and a tub and shower on the other side, but we mostly use it as a closet. You enter the camper through the back. As you walk through, you go by the stove and oven area, where there is also a microwave. Then, there’s long couch, where we sit when we’re driving, but it turns into beds. There is a table where you can sit, too.

 

Every time we leave, we turn on the Abba tape. That’s how we know the trip has started. I sit by the speaker and try to tune my voice along to the tape so no one can hear it, and I try to harmonize. If anyone hears me, they will laugh, so I have to be stealthy.

 

Dad usually drives. Mom sometimes gets up to get licorice and chocolate for him.

 

Dad always says, “Keep your eyes peeled.” We are constantly peeling our eyes. One of Dad’s favorite things to point out to us is geese. Ordinary birds don’t matter, just geese and bald eagles.koa2.jpg

 

 

One summer when Caitlin is a baby, we take the camper and go to visit Uncle Dick and Auntie Judy in Washington DC. We bring Grandma too.

 

One night we stay in a KOA campground that has peacocks. peacockAt first we think the peacocks are really cool, but then they start barking really loud, and it’s so loud that we can’t sleep much at all.

 

On our trip, I lose one of my teeth. I wonder if the tooth fairy will be able to find me if I’m not home, but Mom says the tooth fairy always knows where you are.tooth

 

I’m almost asleep, and I hear Mom come into the camper. Then I hear her coming over to me, so I pretend to be sleeping. Then, I feel her putting something under my pillow.

 

Mom is the tooth fairy?! I am so disappointed and sad. I start crying. Grandma wakes up.

 

“What – who is that? What’s going on?” she says, sounding kind of mad.

 

“It’s me, Grandma.”

 

“Well, go back to sleep.”

 

“I can’t. Mo-o-om is the tooth fairy!” I burst into sobs.

 

“Well, come here, then,” she says. “Sooner or later, everyone has to find out these kinds of things. You’re going to be alright.”granma.jpg

 

Grandma says some other things that comfort me, but I don’t remember what they are. Mostly, I realize that I’ve just passed a milestone in my life, but I’m relieved to have Grandma here to show me it’s okay.

 

“Is life going to be different from now on?” I say.
Grandma looks like she doesn’t quite know how to answer that.

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My Broken Road

I have a future husband who now has a name. His name is John. This feels so ordinary on one hand and so unbelievable on the other.

Reading These Happy Golden Years as a nine-year-old, I’m re-reading Laura and Almanzo’slaura-and-almanzo great love story: how she was a schoolteacher 12 miles away, and had to live with another family, and how he would go and pick her up every week so that she could go home and see her family. How Laura told him once that if he had “inclinations” toward her, she needed him to know she had no feelings for him. How he still kept coming to get her. That, to me, is the truest love, and that is my dream.

Age seventeen –  I’m sitting cross-legged on my bed, swept up by Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye, so convinced by this book that I, too, must give dating the talk-to-the-hand. That I, too, should make the “true love waits” pledge.

And then I’m in college, telling boys no to dating them because “I have given up dating,” and I’m dreaming of my future husband instead. I write him love letterslove-letter, promising my lifelong devotion. I imagine someone with piercing brown eyes who may be “running from a broken past” and who’s heart can only be unlocked by my love, etc. etc. I finally have one long relationship, which is good for that time, but rocky and tumultuous, with nowhere to rest. Several friends get engaged in our senior year, and my boyfriend and I break up instead. It’s a sad time.

Turning 23, and 24, and 25, and 26, and having promising starts, but for some reason or another, I or sometimes he, says no. It hurts. I know that I do want to be married and have children, but God (or is it me?) keeps saying no, or wait. I conclude that I must need a lot of work, or maybe I need to stop looking, or that I don’t fully trust God, and that’s why I have to wait. I am prone for asking for advice, and I notice that advice is always plentiful. In the meantime, I grow. Friends come into my life, who challenge me to share more of my true self with them, who polish my rough edges. God brings me father figures to help me and guide me as I grow up without my own father. God shows me good women who I learn from, and who are generous enough to show me their flaws too. I learn to go to God with my pain, questions, fears. Meanwhile, it feels as though I’m the late bloomer of my circle. I don’t see the gifts, most of the time. I often define my life by the thing I want that isn’t there, because that’s often the one thing I see.praying

A few years go by. I meet my own 500 days of Summer. I fall hard, and for good reason. He is a humble guy, who works hard and steadily. He teaches me a lot about having integrity and being consistent, and being a hard worker even despite how I’m feeling. I think he is the one I’ve been waiting for. I build dreams in my mind about our future marriage. Our relationship is like that perfect coat you find in the store that is perfect but just doesn’t quite reach all the way around you. So, you wonder – do you give it up or just try to alter it? The risk is, if you alter it, it might ruin the integrity of the coat. But if you give it up, how do you know you can find a better one? When we try to talk about the hard things, we fight, and we can’t seem to get through it. I feel unsure of his feelings for me, or commitment, and this turns me into a ball of insecurities. It ends, raggedly. Neither of us wants to completely give up, but as time goes by, it feels as though the tides of our lives are drawing us farther away, instead of closer. Another several friends get engaged, and again, we break up. My heart is truly broken. I feel lost and shattered in a way I never have. The hurt feels too big, that I can’t imagine remaining in the same place. So, I move to the big city to start over.

That milestone year arrives – 30.  A priest tells me that God speaks through our circumstances, and tninhat if no one has arrived whom I am called to marry, God may have different plans for me. Though deeply afraid, I seek counsel from a sister, to see if we can “get to the bottom of this.” She encourages me into a life of rhythm – consistency in prayer, exercise, intellectual pursuits. She encourages me to let go of my vocation questions and focus on being a seed, soaking up the love of God. This proves truly life-changing for me. I find myself more consistently happy, joyful and grateful, than I ever have been.

The questions remain. Sometimes the pain of not knowing “my purpose” wakes me up at night and makes it impossible to go back to sleep. I study lives that are out of the ordinary, looking for clues for how to live passionately where I am now: Dorothy Daydorothy_day_1934mother-teresa, St. Therese of Lisieux, Teresa of Avila, Sr. Dolores Hart. More years go by – 31, 32. Dates – so many first dates, and some seconds, and thirds, but for four years, nothing lasts. I still have my collection of letters to my future husband, but I’m less regular in writing. I’m afraid to write to a future I’m not sure of, afraid that being awake to my hope will be too painful in the long run.

Valentine’s Day, 2016, arrives. I decide that if there anything I am doing that is getting in the way of my dating life, or God’s call for my life, I’d like to face it and work through it. I stumble on a book by Evan Marc Katz, relationship coach, called Believe in Love and as much as my roommate laughs at me, and I laugh at myself, I read his book that walks through obstacles we often put within our dating lives. In the process, I realize: my hopelessness is my greatest obstacle. In asking God to show me before I walk in any one vocational direction, I have been “afraid of commitment.” I realize that it may be easier for God to guide a moving shipsteer-ship than a stationary one. I decide to commit to dating, and to moving towards married life, and allowing God to steer me through my actions if this is not in His plan.

I go on many dates. The way isn’t clear, and my experiences are often awkward, or funny, or weird. I often realize that I can either persevere with a sense of humor or give up quickly. I meet one very admirable guy, a faithful Catholic, who, despite sharing the same faith and values, I have no real desire to date. I second guess whether this is me being afraid of commitment or “too picky.” I meet someone who inspires chemistry and great conversation, but we don’t share the same values or faith. I second guess if this is “as good as it gets?” Among all the first and second and third dates, I decide to start enjoying this process of meeting new people, and having these chances to learn with each one.

And among the many, one of these dates ends up being John, on April 15th 2016, a day of the year that inspires fear and dread in many American people.

To Be Continued Soon…