shelf life

My career as a dilettante, though I prefer the word “flibbertigibbet,” began in earnest in second grade.

I hated Brownies. It was dumb, stupid, boring, retarded (sorry, PC wasn’t invented yet):  who the heck wanted want to sit around in an ugly brown beanie, eating third-rate cookies while making flowers out of tissue paper and writing things like, “How are you? I am fine. What is your favorite color?” to pen pals in Sri Lanka?

My dad, trying desperately to save me from a fate he wisely feared would befall me, said, ”Molly, winners never quit and quitters never win.”  

I quit, however,  and never looked back, which unfortunately set the tone for a stream of childhood fancies that I tried and quit – guitar came next, along with a brief flirtation with the kazoo (don’t ask), horseback riding, diving, softball, baking, cleaning my room, ice skating, getting straight A’s – all these and more were notions that just never took hold.

It wasn’t until I hit college that my lack of stick-to-it-iveness (sic) or lack of driving, long-term passion, began to bother me. What on earth was I going to be when I got out of school? How could I focus on one thing when so many interests called to me, like sirens driving me mad with indecision?

After graduation, in lieu of making an actual decision, I took a teaching position in Marseille, France for a year. And that’s when it happened, that tiny whisper in my brain like an insidious stream of smoke from the hundreds of cigarettes I smoked in café s that year, telling me to hurry, that time was running out, that potential has a shelf life.

Needless to say, depression and existential angst set in. Sitting in a French café is, of course, well-documented as the best kind of locale in which to experience existential angst, but there’s nothing erudite or poetic about it. It pretty much sucks knowing you’re headed for failure because you simply cannot make up your mind about what you want to be.  And you’re only 22.

After returning, I got a job as a reporter in DC– I had a direction, but still I heard that voice telling me I wasn’t BEING enough. So I took up Spanish, I volunteered in a reading program for higher-achieving inner-city kids, I partied and dated with abandon, I took a drawing class, I exercised too much and ate too little. Nothing really gave me joy or flipped my switch because I did everything out of a looming sense of imminent failure.  I believed whole-heartedly that what we do defines who we are, and my resume was seriously lacking.

So my 20’s pretty much sucked .  The shelf life  mantra was a Damacles sword that dangled ominously over everything I did or didn’t do. 

My 30’s were so dominated by raising children that I ignored that evil little voice for pretty much the entire decade. When I had time to start listening again about five years ago, what I found in its place was a kinder, gentler voice, one that had perhaps been there all along, “Potential doesn’t have a shelf-life,” it said softly, but with force.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t really ready to believe it. I continued to berate myself for taking up and dropping painting several times, making and not making jewelry several times, starting and dropping yoga, etc.

Then, about three years ago, my sister-in-law invited me to go to a group reading given by a well-known local psychic.  I wasn’t a “true believer,” but I was incredibly intrigued.

Towards the end of the evening, after readings that seemed pretty pedestrian — ”Will I get a new job soon?” "Yes…I see the number nine…it could be in 9 days or the 9th day of the month.";  “Is my dead husband near me?” "Yes, he’s in the room and asks if you’d please get the oil changed in the car.  He’s worried about the engine." — my time came. I asked her my question:

“I feel like I’ve been underwater,” I said, ”raising my babies and then small kids, and for the first time in my life, really, I feel like I’m ready to take on the world, try new things. But I’m afraid if I really go for it, my husband and children will be left behind.” 

She closed her eyes, and after conferring with my “guide” for a moment, she said something that put chills down my spine. “In your past life, you were a woman who couldn’t have children, so in this one you had to completely immerse yourself in them. You’ve paid that karmic debt now – I see you coming up for air —  and you are free to live this life.” She opened her eyes and looked at me, “And this is a life of exploration, experimentation and adventure for you. You have a great deal of power and you can do absolutely anything you set your mind to.”

Holy crap. If she was a shyster, she knew exactly how to get me, right in the solar plexus.  But I’m telling you, no one else’s reading that night came close to mine in magnitude, beauty and sheer, okay, I’ll say it – potential.

Regardless of that reading, today I really, truly know something about myself, something I chafed against, but now I love and accept wholeheartedly: 

I flit. I float. I’m not even slightly afraid to dive in deeply or stay in the shallows, but if the water is too cold or the other swimmers too boring, I look for another pool. It’s how I’m built and how I will always be. It’s not a weakness, not a failure. It’s a strength, this ability of mine to go where others may fear to tread because they might not be successful at something.  If I’m terrible at it and I really don’t like it, I quit. Sometimes I come back later…if I want…if I feel like it. Because I am NOT defined by what I do or don’t do.   I am defined by me. I make my own rules.  I have no "sell by" or "use by" date, and I refuse to be taken off the shelf before I’m totally used up.

Now, I wonder where that brown beanie got to?

lifetime achievement award

Three of the biggest annual milestones in my life are rather unfairly squashed together. It’s a trifecta of increasingly lukewarm celebration that used to leave me feeling a little gypped.

My birthday was last week. My anniversary was yesterday and Mother’s Day is Sunday. Frankly, by the time we get to Mother’s Day, there’s Molly-/Mommy-saturation in my house: the party hats and balloons are limp, the gifts grow increasingly lackluster to non-existent.  Even the cards start to blur together…“Happy Birthersary to the Best Mom in the World!”

It’s nobody’s fault this happens every year — just a matter of poor timing by our younger selves.  How were we to know 15 years ago when we set our wedding date for one week after my birthday that it would also be so close to Mother’s Day? Who the heck cared in those days before children? Who the heck knew what we were really in for?

And that’s the other thing. Children. They kinda’ get in the way of a real anniversary celebration. Duh.

Because of their sports schedules (okay, we brought it on ourselves to a degree) I spent last night, a milestone anniversary, not staring deeply into my still-sexy husband’s big, brown, green-flecked peepers over a candle-lit dinner. Nope. I spent it freezing my tuckus off in a camping chair on the edge of a softball field full of 10- and 11-year-old girls for almost three hours as, layer by layer, the almost-freezing rain pierced down to the bone.  My husband sat on the edge of a field, too, only he was 30-miles away watching 13-year-olds play soccer. 

But despite what on the surface seems extremely unromantic and downright miserable, we wished each other happy anniversary by cell with lightness, a kind of joy mixed with a pinch of wry humor.  There were winks in our voices.

We’ve earned that feeling . We deserve it. It’s a freakin’ badge of honor.

I’m not patting myself on the back, but fifteen years is a hell of a long time for a marriage. It’s about a third of my life, and sometimes the days felt like eons, the years like dog years. Those fifteen encompassed the hardest years in any marriage, what I think I’ll call the “Blur”here for lack of a better term:  in-laws; compromise; BABY, You get the baby! NO! YOU get the baby!; Sex?! Funny. Now hand me a damn diaper; I kind of hate you; compromise; mortgage; ANOTHER BABY +TODDLER; I kind of hate you again; No, maybe I kind of hate myself; TODDLER+ PRE-SCHOOLERS; I hate my job; You don’t bring me flowers anymore — is it because I’m fat?; What do you do all day while I’m at work?!; compromise; How do we spend all that money!; PRE-ADOLESCENTS; Sex?! Funny. They’ll hear us!, etc

What’s the statistic…? Half to a quarter of all marriages, depending on the age of the bride (the older the safer, btw), fail in the first ten years?  Can you blame them really?

We’ve made it through most of that deep muck. It’s been a marathon that, looking back, seems like an instant.  We’ve had our moments, don’t get me wrong, especially when we almost lost our footing at the clichéd seven-year mark. But we made it in a way that has left us more secure and tighter-knit than those two young, naïve kids who got married 15 years ago.

I know there will be further trials. Further tribulations. Perhaps worse than any we’ve experienced thus far.  I know this. But I also know that we’ll probably make it through them, and someday we may even laugh about them wryly.

All this to say that I now love the build-up, roar and fizzle-to-a-whimper of my celebration-trifecta .  Truly.  It’s like an annual Lifetime Achievement Award:

“Congratulations, Molly Schulz Kelash! You’ve made it through another relatively successful year of being a Wife and a Mother…and, by the way, Happy Birthday! Lookin’ good!”

It took me almost a decade to recognize it as an award. And, even if it’s just a made up award for a jumbled mess of celebrations, it’s a good mess and a true honor to receive it every year.  It’s all the Mother’s Birthersary present I need.

That and a brief cell phone conversation with my husband.

p.s.  Lest you feel sorry for poor ole deprived  me, hubby and I are heading for a weekend at a resort on Lake Superior  to mark our anniversary and to get enough staring into each others’ eyes to last us a year. Plus, I’ll be taking beautiful photos while I’m there with the Canon Rebel I got for my birthday…and a lens I got for Mother’s Day. Does that negate everything I said up there? I don’t think so, but let me know if you do!

inspirational rock

It sits on the window sill above my kitchen sink. When I see it, I smile or laugh depending on how much I focus on it. It even can inspire in me a momentary sense of well-being, peace, happiness, or joy, this smooth river rock with its carved letters that mean so much to me.

But it doesn’t say “peace,” “love”, “happiness,” or even “joy.”

It says “Quityerbellyachin”.

When my 10-year-old daughter and I first saw it in a basket of other stones that said “dream” or “dance” at our local nursery, Tangletown Gardens, it took us a couple seconds, as it probably did you, to figure out what it read.  Then we guffawed, we chortled and we repeated it over and over again as I held the heavy, smooth stone in my hands.

“There are a few people in my house who need to see this,” I told the guy at the cash register. We both smiled at it.

“Quityerbellyachin!,” I said to my daughter, probably another 10 times as we walked home with it, and each time we laughed and laughed.

So why would such a silly exhortation be above my kitchen sink? Why not “love” or “dance”?

I thought about that hard this morning and what came up surprised me.

Until my oldest child was about six, I suffered from what was probably initially post-partum depression that morphed undiagnosed into a constant, low-grade depression.  It manifested itself in a horrible anxiety, a fear for my children’s well-being that verged on pathological; and anger, a whole lot of it.

Other than that overriding fierce and irrational anxiety during their early years, I felt…almost nothing.  I loved them, for sure, but the love was so misted over in that horrible fog that trying to tap it was almost too much effort. Anger was my constant friend, something I could rely on to make me feel something…anything.

Joy? Happiness? Ha. Those were almost abstract concepts to me. I was the black hole of joy, the “un” in “unhappy”. I don’t want to overstate it and make it sound like I lay dramatically in bed all day with suicidal thoughts running through my brain, because I didn’t.  I endured. I coped. I kept on keepin’ on.  If you didn’t know, you didn’t know, because even I didn’t know I was depressed. My house was cleaner then than it is now, despite toddlers wreaking their hourly havoc.

I went to therapy. “I’m going to give you tools you can use when you get angry,” the therapist said to me, her assumption that I was just a normal mother of young children making me angrier. I didn’t feel normal, but I didn’t know why. And the wonderful “tools” she gave me sat on the metaphysical shelf. I could see them, but I couldn’t reach them.  My emotional arms were too short, too weak.

I’m better now. I have been for years since I’ve gotten the help I really needed. I feel everything, much to the amusement of my family as I tear up during movies or a particularly touching dog food commercial.

So why was I so drawn to that “Quityerbellyachin” rock? Why not the more beautiful sentiments of joy and happiness and love?  Because when I see those beautiful “feeling” words carved into heavy gray stone, I feel nothing.  I know more intimately than I’d like that you can’t command those emotions to come, no matter how hard you wish them, cajole them or wheedle them into existence.

“Quityerbellyachin” made me laugh. It made my daughter laugh. And every time I look at it now I realize that I bought it for me.  I am the one who needs to see it, to be reminded that I have absolutely nothing to complain about, that my life is good and full of all those things that at one time were like so many stones weighing me down.

And joy of joys, I can feel them all.