Month: July 2020


Even perfection is prone to cracks and flaws.  Our door opened and renters did come, but in less of a rush than we had hoped for.  Thankfully it was enough to pay most of the mortgage and bills.  The condo was only a one hour drive from my home, while my friend/co-owner lived five hours away.  Because I lived closer, I sometimes did the cleaning between renters to save on costs.  Because I lived closer, I also had greater access to the condo during unrented weeks.                                                                                                                                                     

Excuses to head to the lake began with the need to prepare for potential renters.  I worked on waking up the tired interior, decorating in an ‘Adirondack’ style that included rustic bits and various incarnations of bears and moose.  Searching for both the unique and the kitsch was a happy pastime and I poured my creative juices into the new venture.  The need to prep ended, but the need to escape to the peace of the water and woods did not.  When I reflect back on this period of time, I wonder if our marriage would have survived if the turmoil had not been tempered with the tranquility I found in my solitude there.  Many hours were spent paddling or just floating quietly on the lake.  Many nights passed in silence as I slept alone, no need to wait for the other side of the bed to be filled.                                                                                                                                  

Occasionally friends joined me for weekend retreats that filled the space with laughter and light conversation.  As our visits wore on serenity eased us into periods of contented silence.  The setting sun often led us into surrender to our own shadows, and conversations delved into hidden disappointments and desires.  Both with friends at my side and when alone, I sometimes felt an unfamiliar sense of expansion, beyond the lake and trees – an expansion that fed my curiosity, but also fought with my fears. 

My parents made the three hour trip to the condo several times, traveling through mountains familiar from family camping trips long ago.  My mother had often expressed her desire for a small place on the water, and here it was.  I wondered if that had been part of my initial attraction here.   My father and I were lured to the rowboat with fishing poles in hand.   We cast our lines while sharing a mix of stillness and words – with an unfamiliar ease between us.  Family trips to nearby lakes and streams were a common weekend activity growing up, so I was familiar with – if not skillful at – fishing.   A fishing pole had rarely graced my grip since leaving home.  But as I thought about my recent discovery of kayaking and the growing compulsion to spend more and more time on the water, it dawned on me.  The behavior I had observed and questioned for much of my life – consisting of my father, brothers, and various other men rising before the sun, trekking to a body of water and sitting alone while repeatedly whipping a long stick to and fro – may actually have had little to do with catching fish!                                                                                                                                            

My brothers and I learned at an early age how to thread squirming worms onto hooks and to safely remove flailing fish from our lines.  After the day’s catch was complete, I was happy to join my mother in the kitchen to prep for the frying, leaving my father and brothers to gut and clean.  Now, as I sat by my father’s side, other childhood memories floated by, including the early morning trips in his big red truck, just the two of us.                                                                                                                                             

Ron and the kids were not frequent visitors.  Spending time here as a family butted up against the reality of Ron’s reluctance to leave softball and its related segues, not to mention my teenagers’ drive away from togetherness in favor of growing independence.   The shoreline tangle of half submerged limbs and reeds reminded me of the complicated jumble of our family’s life.  At the same time the strong current of my emerging self swept me into the quiet water at the center of the lake again and again.


            Not all roads lead to the destination we think we are heading toward.  The opportunity opened to visit a friend on vacation in Vermont and I promptly jumped in my car and headed north.  My son was in college and my daughter was busy with softball, dating and hanging with friends.  Ron was in his own world of coaching and endless ‘meetings’ held at a local bar.  I was ready to find my own activities to fill evenings and weekends, looking for any road that seemed to lead out of the hole in the pit in my stomach.  It was a lifestyle I had not planned or prepared for and my hand was unsteady as it sketched an outline.  I had run from so many things: the oppression of overprotective parents, the isolation of the woods, love earned by giving up a piece of myself, and the reality of the impact of Ron’s drinking on my daily life.  Running was a well honed tool that served me well in the past, so I called on it once again and prepared for the ride.  I had always felt as if I were running away from things, but this time the direction shifted, as if I were running toward something – something I urgently needed to find.

            There was no hurry to get to Vermont so I decided to exit the highway in favor of a more scenic route.  The wooded landscape – not unlike that surrounding my childhood home – beckoned me to explore.  The map led me to back roads winding toward the small lakes that dotted the countryside.  The friend in Vermont and I had shared a mutual dream of purchasing a small piece of waterfront property to camp on.   I scouted out ‘for sale’ signs near water.  Signs nailed to trees or on posts nestled in wildflowers and weeds, steered me to the roadside.  Spotty cell phone service forced me to pull into a convenience store to use the pay phone.  The numbers all led to recorded messages – except for one.   A live voice came on the line after just two rings, and she was available to show me around immediately!  I described what I was looking for and we viewed several pieces of property that shouted with possibilities – until I mentioned that we wanted to use it for camping.  She explained that most lakes were governed by associations that prohibited such use.  It is still hard for me to understand that even if I own a piece of property, someone else can tell me what I can and cannot do on it.  Possibility fell silent as it slammed into a wall of rules as solid as the surrounding oaks.  

            The agent realized the search for a piece of property had turned into a dead end, and asked if I would consider a condo on a small nearby lake.  A minuscule budget made financial feasibility of such a purchase flutter like a fantasy, but I said I would take a look.  The small three bedroom condo was on a beautiful little lake.  The water was quiet, too small for boats with motors but ideal for paddling a kayak, surrounded by trees with most houses tucked out of sight.  The setting provided the perfect amount of privacy without total isolation.  It was perfect in all ways – except price.  The realtor suggested we could rent some weeks to help pay for it – in the summertime for vacationers, in the fall for leaf peepers, and in the winter for skiers.  A new image began to come into focus. 

            The rest of the drive to Vermont was filled with visions of the lake and the possibility of spending time there.  Purchasing and renting a condo had never even been a consideration.  But it was a means to an end.   Not to mention my strong sense of being led there, called to not only the lake, but to woodlands so similar to those I had eagerly escaped at eighteen.  I discussed the possibility with my friend when I arrived.  She surprised me with her interest.  We arranged to meet with the agent on her trip home from Vermont. We met, she saw, we talked, and we bought!

Growing Pains

            Training in child development in college along with years of experience in early childhood education, left me feeling well prepared for my own children’s younger years.  Ron often looked to me when there were questions and I was usually able to guide us to an answer.  But once preadolescence hit, I felt as clueless as a newbie.  My expectations and resolve seemed challenged daily.  The little kids that thought their parents knew the answers grew to discover there was more than one possible reply –many of which looked more attractive than those coming out of their parent’s mouth!  Then, certainty that the only correct answer was their own – or at the very least that of their friends – stood firm against any amount of evidence to the contrary.  These were tough years for all involved.  We have all been there, on one end or the other, in varying degrees of turmoil.  But knowing this was part of the well charted path to adulthood did not relieve the daily push and tug.

.           Our two children were as different as night and day.  Our son’s quiet nature brought back the pain that had lived beneath my own shyness at his age.  I worried that he felt the same unease and struggle to fit in.  I tried to ask, but his obvious discomfort with the subject did not offer any insights into his world.  Computers and video games were his choices as companions, and he became an expert at their use. We tried to limit time spent with electronic entertainment, but enforcement was difficult to maintain without vigilant attention – attention drawn to many other battles in the realm.  He excelled at school but did not engage in many social activities, despite the fact that we were eager to facilitate participation.  He did not live in the land of ‘no’s’ that had surrounded my own childhood.  I was comforted in knowing he had a few solid friends, and in remembering how important that had been for me.  He appeared to be an apple fallen not far from my branch of the tree. 

            Our daughter excelled at social activity – maybe too much so.  She laughed and talked freely, was constantly at friend’s houses and was involved in a number of school activities.  She was a solid B student despite habits of forgetting and losing homework.  Teachers often suggested she was unfocused and not working at her full potential.  She was also prone to impulsive behavior, and experimented with the dangers offered so freely around her while away from home.  We received calls from the police when we were certain she was safe in bed at a girlfriend’s house! She appeared to be an apple fallen not far from her father’s branch of the tree, creating a different set of worries. 

            Rounding everyone up for a family dinner a few days a week seemed to be a ‘mission impossible’.  Baseball and softball games, along with a variety of other reasons to be absent at dinner time, always seemed to call in a louder voice.  I often found myself alone, waiting for everyone to come home for dinner, frequently disappointed in the turn out.  It was not a priority for anyone but me.  I had grown up with the entire family around the table each and every night to eat what my mother had prepared – not that conversation or sharing the day’s events were served with the food.  I had hoped to change that, but my illusions of what the family I was creating should look like were rapidly fading.

            Vacations were an area of conflict between me and Ron.  I fought the flow of money to fun and frolic, with little – if any – set aside for savings or emergencies.   Despite my reluctance we bought a popular timeshare and used it to trade for vacations in places like the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas.  But there was a positive side to the spending that was hard for even me to resist.  The trips forced us to be together as a family for extended periods of time – a rare occurrence at home.  All four of us shared the new adventures and activities.  The daily flood of work and school and sports and friends did not follow us.  There was more laughter as we bobbed to the surface to catch a breath of uncluttered air. 

            The kids kept getting older and busier and more independent.  I felt my role changing, felt the intensity of need for my help and availability lessen, as definition of my own future years became hazy.  I wasn’t ready to sink into oblivion.  So I started to look for what I needed elsewhere, stopped waiting for everyone to come home, and took to the road myself.   I went back to school to get another certification to make more money.  I went away on weekends to visit friends.  I ran in any direction that presented itself to avoid the growing loneliness and frustration; and to hunt for clarity in the developing story of life beyond motherhood.           

From Woods to Water

            A friend’s 50th birthday led us to a quiet waterway where a dock lined with long, narrow, hard plastic boats greeted us.  Her husband had invited our family on a surprise guided kayaking trip to celebrate the occasion.  I resisted the panic starting to rise, as I wondered how one stayed afloat in such a wobbly looking piece of equipment.  I had never seen such a thing before – this was over 15 years ago, long before every other car on the highway carried a pair on the rooftop.  I had never learned how to swim properly, could barely keep my head above water with an awkward doggie paddle.  The only boat I had ever been in was a sturdy flat bottomed row boat – always close to shore.  The guide demonstrated how to get into the boat and make it move with a two sided paddle.  I listened with eager ears as he cited the safety rules, hoping I would live to celebrate 50 years myself.  My husband was a good swimmer and, hopefully, could rescue me. The kids were also competent swimmers.  I had insisted they take lessons early on to insure their safety around water, knowing I would be of no use in rescue attempts.   I couldn’t remain onshore and ruin the celebration, so I tightly zipped and strapped a life jacket around my body, certain of the inevitable need for its use.  Then I hesitantly let the guide’s confidence and reassurance convince my feet to slip into the boat.  We paddled around in shallow water for a few minutes, then off we went – into water deep enough to occlude the view of the bottom with a shoreline that moved well beyond my doggie paddle range. 

            My body stiffened in an attempt to avoid tipping as I moved the paddle from side to side. The boat moved more easily than I had expected, gliding along without much effort.  The guide stayed close at first, talked about the water, pointed out sights along the shore, and gave additional hints to improve technique.  I had never moved so smoothly and with such ease – in or out of the water.  The rhythmic dipping of the paddle soon took on a strangely natural feel.  The peacefulness of the surroundings soaked through my fear.  A sigh escaped as my breath slowed and deepened.  My death grip on the paddle softened, and the rest of my body slowly followed my fingers’ lead.  I started to fall in love with it all.  We all laughed and talked some, but also paddled quietly for long stretches.  It was a sunny day, not too hot, not too many bugs.  I have no idea how long we were on the water – but I felt like I could keep going forever.   As we headed for the shore I knew this was just the beginning.  Me – the girl that grew up in the woods, could barely swim, had rarely spent time in or on the water – called to explore this new experience further.  I soon purchased my own boat, not realizing how important kayaking would become on my path towards finding personal peace.


            As the mother of two children heading into their teen years and the wife of a man buried in the wounds of his past, I fought my way through the period I later thought of as the frazzled 40’s.   Paperwork often followed me home from my job and I took evening courses to advance my career.   Then there were the usual ongoing obligations at home: kids, shopping, cooking, cleaning, garden, laundry, car…   Closely followed by attempts at regular exercise, weight watching, traveling to extended family, and connecting with friends.  ‘Down time’ was spent worrying about the next day, week or month as I tried to avoid surprises and maintain some sense of order and control.   I felt like the captain of a ship with the life boats gone missing as skies darkened and thunderclouds neared.  Then an island appeared on the horizon, right in the middle of a strip mall!   I had explored a similar oasis over a decade earlier, a yoga class – offbeat and not so easy to find back then.  I did not immediately steer toward the whispered call to serenity and self care; could not sail past the din of daily demands.  Maybe someday, when the kids were older, when I was done with my studies, when he was home more… but the lopsided load threatened to capsize the ship.  I finally reached towards the lifeline and signed up for Yoga 101. 

            A short hallway led to a softly lit reception area.  People moved about depositing their shoes in one area while gathering mats and blankets and straps and small hard pillows. The quiet was interrupted only by whispered greetings.  Everyone appeared so calm and peaceful – and the class hadn’t even started yet!  Maybe this was a mistake.  Habit led me to the back corner of the room.  The overlaying hush was unnerving, but I soon found I could depend on my busy mind to keep me company, keep me attached to parts of myself that affirmed my place in the world outside.  The instructor had a calm demeanor and a down-to-earth voice – not the airy-sing-song-other-worldly kind of voice that can sometimes be associated with the practice.    He led the class with clear instructions, helped each of us find our way through the poses, and wrapped it all in affable acceptance.  I came back for more.  I learned to breathe more deeply and increased my awareness of the tension that seemed to inhabit every corner of my body.  Sometimes I could visualize my breath traveling to my shoulders or hips, expanding the area as I inhaled and releasing the persistent pressure as I exhaled.  It felt good to let my rigid body, thoughts and life begin to thaw.  I left quickly after each class and though smiles and brief words were exchanged I did not have time to forge new connections.  

            Routine attendance moved onto my long ‘to do’ list.  No one at home appeared to suffer from my two hour absence once a week.  One eight week session ran into the next.  One year and then another passed as I moved on to classes that offered greater challenges and opportunities.  Consistent practice led to greater physical opening within a pose, the ability to stand with strength and endurance, and lengthening muscles that led to greater range of motion.  But changes did not end at the physical.  My heart began to find greater expansion.  Belief in my own power to make decisions and stand my ground blossomed.  Flexibility in thought stretched towards broader acceptance of others – and even more importantly, of myself. 

              One day I spoke to a woman whose face had grown familiar in classes.  A few words led to a brief intense discussion on the expansive gray area that lived between the black and white end posts of limited thinking.  A door opened to more than a new friendship, to something more like kinship.  We became companions in yoga class and started taking extra time after to sit with tea at a local café.  The kids were growing and needed me less.  Or maybe I needed this more, as I started to move away from the nagging voices in my head that I thought defined who I was.  The decade of years that separated us did not interfere with exploration and new visions of familiar topics – in all shades of gray.  We each added our own personal touches of color to the other’s life.   I looked forward to our conversations and began to trust the gentle guidance generously shared, gathered from greater experiences along the hills and valleys already traversed.  We shared curiosity and laughter along with despondency and woe.   I felt supported through times that seemed impossible to bear.   I also observed a loving marriage nurtured through communication, connection and trust.  A kind of partnership I had never witnessed, and that felt unavailable to me. 

            Dissonance grew between the tranquil heart and mind experienced during yoga practice and the turbulence and restrained anger hovering at home.  An area in a corner of our half finished basement became my place to sit quietly and listen to peaceful music.  But once there I did not want to return upstairs to make dinner, make decisions, and make do.  I felt guilty separating myself from the family I yearned to be with, and eventually stopped retreating to the basement.  The world of yoga and my real world seemed to separate like oil and water when they touched.