Self-Image & Procrastination

I am procrastinating. I should be shoveling the sidewalk, but writing trumps shoveling snow any day in my books.

Shoveling the sidewalk technically isn’t my job. The building’s owner has hired a young man who also lives here to do it, but he doesn’t really understand what he’s been hired to do. He shovels a narrow path from the parking lot to the front door — when he thinks there’s been enough snow to shovel. Sometimes, he doesn’t bother.

He doesn’t understand city ordinances require sidewalks to be cleared. If they’re not, the property-owner can be fined. Too, if someone is injured on a sidewalk which hasn’t been cleared, the injured party can sue the property owner. That means, the sidewalk needs to be cleared from the corner to the end of the parking lot.

Working at the pace of a snail, which is the way I tackle something like shoveling snow, it takes about an hour. I know it’s good for me to get outside and engage in some physical labor, so I don’t even mind doing it. Getting started, more often than not, overcoming the inertia of whatever sedentary activity I have chosen indoors, is the hardest part.

I’ve noticed that’s true about a lot of things — at least in my life. The task itself is less challenging than the effort it takes to begin.

Over the weekend, I organized my office. The space was undoubtedly intended to be a dining area since only a counter separates it from the kitchen, but I don’t really need a dining area. I long ago succumbed to the temptation of eating on a TV tray in front of the television set, and suspect that habit will be sustained through the rest of my life — or until I’m forced into eating communal meals in a nursing home.

Because I don’t really need a dining room, that space made a convenient area in which to store boxes when I was unpacking. When I left my job at the newspaper, I decided not to worry about getting rid of the boxes because they might be needed if I ended up moving again. However, that was five months ago, and it doesn’t look as though I’m going anywhere in the near future, so I decided it was time to get rid of the boxes.

I actually made the decision about the boxes a month ago. At that time, I’d been living in the apartment for eight months and was tired of the storage unit ambience. Once I made that decision, I started thinking about how to use the space and decided it would make a good office. I had been using my scrapbooking area — affectionately called Creativity Central — to take care of business, which means I’ve not done much scrapbooking in months.

As a result, I’ve been getting cranky. Creative activity renews my spirit and draws me closer to God. When I’ve not been creative, I feel alienated from myself — which sounds odd, but is true.

So! If I made the decision to organize an office area for myself and saw the need for this office space, why did it take so long for me to make it happen? Well, I needed to get the table which I’m using as a desk from my niece and I needed to carry the boxes to the basement. I needed help to do both — and the inertia factor effectively prevented me from getting too assertive about lining up that help.

However, on Saturday, Katie and I decided to make it happen. It took an hour to clear out the boxes and move the table in. One hour. That’s all. Granted, getting eveything organized once those two tasks were accomplished took a little more time than that. I actually spent an entire day on that. But the barrier to setting up the office was moving the boxes and table.

I wish this wasn’t a pattern in my life, but unfortunately, it  is. If I am excited about something, I don’t have a problem getting started. I get up in the morning, make coffee, feed the cats and sit down to pray. No problem. In the afternoon, when the weather permits, I go for a walk around 3 or 3:30. I put on my shoes and jacket, grab my iPhone (which conveniently has an iPod app, so I can listen to music) and head out for some bracing fresh air. No problem.

Going through job listings? Filling out applications? Writing cover letters to send out with resumes?

None of those activities fall into the fun and exciting category. To keep the stress in my life manageable, I opt to engage in those activities only twice a week. Each time, I spend the morning working to overcome the inertia and the afternoon tackling the task. Each time, when I’ve finished, I discover it wasn’t as bad as I had feared.

I don’t think I’m the only one who has a problem with procrastination, which makes me wonder. Why do we dread some tasks more than others, and why do we put them off, even after we recognize our aversion is no more than a chimera which will dissolve when we do not allow it to dissuade us from doing what must be done?

I think as much as anything, it has something  to do with self-image, comfort zones and expectations. I don’t see myself as a physical person, so the idea of shoveling snow, of tackling anything involving physical labor, creates mental discomfort. Each time, I am pushed out of my comfort zone. And, because I don’t know what to  expect from the experience — will I give myself a heart attack? — I procrastinate.

Similarly, I am not the kind of person who likes to brag, so the idea of selling myself in order to obtain an income-producing occupation — I have no problem staying busy with activities that generate no income whatsoever — creates discomfort. And, because I don’t feel comfortable bragging about my accomplishments, I’m not entirely sure I do a good job marketing myself, which in turn means I don’t see myself getting a job, and that expectation makes the whole enterprise seem futile.

Of course, I could be wrong. I’m just basing this observation on personal experience. But, if I’m right, that does suggest berating myself when I am procrastinating is probably counterproductive, a bit like whacking someone who is limping on the leg for not walking straight. It might be better just to sit back, recall times when a similar task has been undertaken and dwell a bit on the positive outcome. Perhaps, with that image in mind, the task won’t seem quite as onerous, may actually become somewhat attractive.

It’s worth a try. Worst case scenario? It doesn’t work and I continue to procrastinate. At least, I’ve tried and there’s something to be said for trying.

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Your Sins Are Forgiven

The penitential season of Lent has begun. I was halfway through a bowl of white chocolate ice cream with raspberries and chocolate chips at Coldstone Creamery before I remembered.

It’s not as though I hadn’t given Lent any thought. I’d decided to give up entertainment for Lent — television, movies, mysteries and romances. I’d also decided to fast after dinner in the evening — which probably wouldn’t amount to much for most people, but I’m an evening snacker, so it will undoubtedly be a challenge for me. And, as usual, I’ll give up sweets; Lent and chocolate simply don’t go together in my mind.

I attribute my forgetfulness to two factors. First, I woke in the middle of the night with a vicious headache that kept me awake for hours. I couldn’t even read, which is my usual method for coping with sleeplessness, because the light made it worse. Since I’d not experienced that before, I scared myself by wondering if I had a brain aneurysm and would be dead by morning.

Sometime in the midst of my worrying, I finally dozed off. When the alarm tugged me from sleep this morning, I was groggy — and disheartened to discover the sky spitting rain and snow. I’d committed myself to taking a woman I’d never met to the dentist, which involved an hour-long drive along a winding mountain road, a drive I preferred not to make when the weather promised poor visibility and road conditions. But a promise is a promise, so an hour after rising from a relatively sleepless night, I hit the road with a stranger.

I learned my passenger needed dental work because of beatings she had sustained — beatings so severe she also has optic nerve damage and can no longer read (which I find unimaginable), and lives on disability. My heart went out to her. I’ve been in abusive relationships, but escaped with no more than a bruised body and broken spirit. After learning about her past, I just wanted to do something for her — something relatively insignificant that still might feel special.

That is the second factor which contributed to my forgetfulness. When she asked for some yogurt or ice cream, I decided to take her to Coldstone, where she could develop her own ice cream creation. She was a little concerned about the cost, but I wanted her to have that experience — and I wanted to share it with her. I know that sharing positive experiences is part of the healing process, and I wanted to contribute in a small way to her healing.

And so it was, when I attended tonight’s liturgy and was reminded with ashes from whence I came, I found myself thinking of healing — which had nothing to do with the readings — and experiencing joy, which is a far cry from repentence. God is good, I kept thinking. In my complete unworthiness, God is so good.

Finally, this evening, I was able to check out Facebook to see what had popped up over the course of the day. Among the posts was a link from Father James Martin, a Jesuit whose page I “liked” because his books have had such an impact on me. The link carried me to a 3-minute meditation called “Unconditional Love” on the Loyola Press website.

There, everything came together — repentence and forgiveness, which are so much a part of Lent, and the healing and joy I was experiencing. It was all there in a three minute meditation on the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:21-24).

“What surprises me most about the forgiving father’s response?” That was the question posed for reflection. My immediate, gut-level response was: his over-the-top, no-holds-barred joy. That response led me to a new place, with this parable — not that this insight is original; it’s just that I’d not thought of it in conjunction with this parable before today.

How often do we take the gifts God has given us into the world and build lives for ourselves — careers, reputations, networks of associates and colleagues, bank accounts — that all too often leave us feeling dirty and dissatisfied because of the compromises we’ve made to advance ourselves in the eyes of the world? And then the day comes when it just doesn’t matter and we are filled with a longing, a hunger, for something else. At that point, we begin to seek with our hearts this God we left behind — left behind, sometimes, while still going through the motions of faith.

But, as soon as we turn to him with our hearts, he meets us with such joy and pours out on us such blessings — maybe not blessings the world can see, but blessings so inexplicably sweet joy bubbles up within us. We are forgiven and we are healed and we know those experiences are two sides of the same coin which God gives us willingly and abundantly. Somehow out of that, he begins to teach us how the gifts we carried into the world can be used as we make our home with him.

I am still learning that final lesson, but I am wide open to the experience, and the joy I knew today suggests I might be starting to get it right. That is all I want.

A Writer Writes

Dusk.

Passing cars light their own way now as the sun withdraws the light it has offered since morning. The road in front of my apartment foreshadows the coming night. Gray, gray, it all becomes gray — the roadway, the adjoining sidewalks, the trees across the street. A reflective time of day.

I sit down with a cup of coffee — Sumatran from freshly ground beans — sweetened with sugar and white chocolate mocha creamer. I’ve wondered since I bought the creamer whether “mocha” is used in the title instead of the word coffee, or if it’s used indicate coffee flavoring was used in the creamer. The latter would be redundant in light of the creamer’s purpose, but with manufacturers, logic isn’t always a factor in decision making.

I’m not passing judgment with that remark, just making an observation. I’m in no position to talk about logic and decision making. More often than not what I claim as logic upon closer scrutiny becomes nothing more than carefully crafted rationalizations.

What has presaged this cool observation about myself?

Today I have continued unpacking boxes which have been stacked in my so-called guestroom since I moved into my apartment last May. This has entailed unpacking books, choosing which to keep and which to donate to the local library, and sorting through binders filled with unfinished writing projects. Most of the later were relegated to the black trash bag I will carry out to the dumpster after the overflowing contents — much of it my shredded journals — have been removed.

One of the shelves beside my bed is now filled with tantalizing titles like BIRD BY BIRD: SOME INSTRUCTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE by Anne Lamott, POEMCRAZY: FREEING YOUR LIFE WITH WORDS by Susan G. Wooldridge, WRITING FROM THE HEART: TAPPING THE POWER OF YOUR INNER VOICE by Nancy Slonim Aromie, ESCAPING INTO THE OPEN: THE ART OF WRITING TRUE by Elizabeth Berg, WITH PEN IN HAND: THE HEALING POWER OF WRITING by Henriette Ann Klauser, THUNDER AND LIGHTNING: CRACKING OPEN THE WRITER’S CRAFT by Natalie Goldberg (who also wrote WRITING DOWN THE BONES, my all-time favorite book on writing), and THE POETRY HOME REPAIR MANUAL: PRACTICAL ADVICE FOR BEGINNING POETS by Ted Kooser. I am fully aware of the irony.

I read about writing, get inspired, start working on a project and lose my momentum. I always have excellent reasons for ceasing to work on a project. Work is usually a major factor. I have found while working in the word business that crafting language holds little appeal by the end of the day.

And my excuse during the past five months when I’ve had ample time to write? I have several, actually. First, I can’t be creative in chaos, and my home has been in a chaotic state of disarray since I didn’t finish unpacking. Second, my thoughts have been as unsettled as a butterfly in the face of my uncertain future, making it difficult to focus on a project. Third, seeking employment, watching my incredibly precocious granddaughters when I was in California, and spending long hours in prayer have left me little time to even conceive a project.

Even as I make that list, a little voice in the back of my head says, “a writer writes.” I like to silence that voice by pointing out the stack of journals I’ve filled in recent months. One of the books I’ve read on writing compares that kind of activity to making a compost heap and suggests it will create fertile ground for other projects. I hope that is true, because I know this about myself: I cannot not write.

Yes, I used a double negative. I intended to communicate the nearly obsessive nature of my writing practice.

When I was a teenager, I started writing poetry and short stories. While writing short stories lost its allure, I continued to craft poems regularly well into my thirties, adding the practice of keeping a journal in my early twenties. After I started to pursue an art career around the time I turned 35, I wrote very little poetry, but continued to keep a journal. When my art career ended 10 years later, I started to see myself as a writer again.

Unfortunately, apart from working in the newspaper industry, I haven’t done much. A poem here. A chaper or two of a book there. Yes, I have continued to fill journal after journal wiith reflections on my life, my faith, books I’ve read, ideas that have taken root as all of those experiences have tumbled over one another in my mind. But, I have not crafted anything of significance, anything I can present to an agent or publisher or audience.

So, the question I must ask myself as dusk slips into darkness is this: am I writer? And, if so, isn’t it about time I write something?

I give myself permission to finish unpacking and to set up an office area before embarking on another major project, but maybe I can tackle something smaller. Maybe I can work at crafting a poem; I’ve not written a word about my granddaughters though seeing their ultrasound a few weeks before they were born inspired me to write a poem to their mom.

That poem closed: “Hearts, steadily beating hearts; twins/ Entering my life through yours, / Allowed me to see again, / Remember, hear again, / The beat of my heart, my life, / Simple and uncomplicated.”

I need to live what that poem revealed to me: the beat of my own heart, my own life. A writer writes . . . and in doing so, discovers herself. I need to remember this.

Caustic Fumes

I survived, but failed to thrive.

That’s what I was thinking tonight as I shut off the TV and DVD player. I survived, but failed to thrive.

I’d been shredding journals off and on for hours. After Mass this morning, I went to my prayer desk and meditated on one of the Scripture passages I will use when I and another parishioner lead a Lenten retreat in a few weeks. Then, I tackled the journals.

Periodically, when the shredder became overheated, I would take a break to work on the letter I was writing to a young woman I met when I led a journal-writing workshop at the South Dakota Women’s Prison. Knowing that some of the women had little support outside the concrete block walls that formed their home, I told all of the women in the workshop I would answer their letters if they wrote. Some of the women took me up on the offer, but did not continue the correspondence beyond a letter or two.

Of the others, only Jess remains incarcerated. I have to admit, I know little about her offense. I made the decision when I began to volunteer at the South Dakota Women’s Prison to meet the women where they were. I didn’t ask about their pasts or the criminal activity that led to their arrests and convictions. I simply extended the hand of friendship. Over the years, Jess has grasped that hand firmly, and I am grateful to call her my friend because I have seen how much she has matured.

I’m not sure she received my best today, though. Shredding the journals seemed to unleash in my home a spirit of despair that I can only compare to the caustic fumes of corrosive cleaning agents.

As I shredded my journals from the 1980s, I found myself remembering the hollow-belly loneliness that drove me like a rabid dog into crazed relationships and sabotaged my efforts to build a professional career. And, I was filled with a deep gratitude for the counselor who patiently worked with me during those years, listening to me for hours as I attempted to unravel the mystery of my self-destructive behavior patterns, offering affirmation as well as guidance. She once told me — I don’t think this is a fabricated memory — that she learned as much from me as I learned from her. If she did say this to me, I doubt very much if it is true, but I appreciate the way her support and encouragement strengthened me.

As I shredded my journals from the 1990s, I found myself remembering the bitter struggle to take control of my life and all the ways in which I failed. Even working two jobs, I was forced into bankruptcy when I couldn’t make student loan payments while paying medical bills for the treatment I received for a precancerous condition. Surgery had been ruled out as an option because I, obviously, was unable to pick up the costs not covered by insurance — and who would have provided for us financially or cared for my girls while I recovered?

And then, there was the work situation where my supervisor’s leadership style and expectations did not mesh well with my work habits, a situation which eventually resulted in my decision to leave that place of employment. The worst year, though, was probably the year of my mid-life crisis. Mom died when she was 40. As I approached my 40th birthday, Henry David Thoreau’s quiet desperation* became a raging inferno in my life, which would have destroyed much had I not had faithful friends who weathered the storm with me.

I’ve not done much with journals I’ve filled since the turn of the millennium — primarily because I may need them as resource material for a couple projects I am considering. And so, as the day drew to a close, with six black trash bags filled with shredded paper in the apartment and another four in the overflowing dumpster outside, my heart was filled with the sadness for all those wasted years.

Granted, they were not intentionally wasted. I didn’t decide at some point to squander the gifts and opportunities God gave me. I simply did not have the resources to use them effectively. I did not have a parent or mentor who cared enough to guide me. I did not have the emotional capacity for healthy intimacy so I was unable to find someone with whom to share my life. And, I did not have the ability to evaluate new situations and choose wisely.

But, as I sit here writing, I look up to collect my thoughts and see an array of photos on the wall — Katie, Sara and Brodie’s wedding, Sara and Brodie holding the twins, Avery nestled on my shoulder, Paige snuggled close to me. And on the walls surrounding me are paintings and pastel drawings which are my work — some of them part of a series which is represented in museum collections.

How do we measure a life? If we measure a life by all of the ways an individual has failed, then I am undoubtedly at the bottom of the heap. But, if we measure a life by that individual’s legacy, then, maybe I’m more toward the middle. I’ve raised beautiful daughters who have grown into remarkable women. I’ve created beauty with brush and with words. And, though I have failed at marriage and intimate relationship, I have friendships that have endured as well as an ever-deepening relationship with God, who is love.

Seeing both sides of this today, the pain and the blessings, I find myself appreciating as never before the wisdom of St. Paul in his Letter to the Philippians: “Finally, bretheren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, watever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (4:8). Shredding journals today, and remembering the pain of those years, filled me with heartache tonight. But pausing for a few minutes to take note of the blessings which have also been part of my life brought me peace.

In this moment, as I head off to bed, I am simply filled with gratitude that God — or his angels — inspired me to open my heart to that which is good in my life so that as this day closes I am acutely aware of his love.
That’s a great way to end a day, a truly great way.

* “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” — from “Walden” according to some sources, a misquotation according to others.

Shredded Life

The paper shredder is cooling off.

The operating instructions indicate it will automatically shut off if it becomes overheated. That, according to the instructions, could happen if the shredder is used “continuously beyond the maximum running time.” Granted, I just skimmed the manual, but I can’t find any indication as to what constitutes “the maximum running time.”

That’s OK. I need a break from 1995, the year of my midlife crisis.

I started shredding my journals last night. I made the decision to do so before Christmas, and picked up a cheap shredder at Walmart. However, I put off tackling the task until after my sojourn in California. I wanted to make sure I wouldn’t regret disposing of the record I’ve kept, the story of my life that I’ve narrated in my own hand.

I’ve long wondered whether I wanted my children to read them. On one hand, I started keeping a journal after Sara was born because that’s when I became acutely aware of how ignorant I was of my mother’s life. I did not want to leave my children with a similar black hole. If I died before they became adults, I wanted them  to know me.

On the other hand, did I really want my children to know how desperately I longed for love well into my 40s? How foolish I was at times? Did I want them to know how difficult it was to be a single parent? Did I want them to know about those times when my feelings for them were less than warm and fuzzy? Did I want them to see all of my wrong turns and know how ignorant I was in my decision making at pivotal times in my life?

Because I certainly didn’t intend to give the girls access while I lived, the possibility existed that they would find something in my journals which hurt them, and I wouldn’t be there to explain, to apologize, to wrap my arms around them in love. If I have any control at the end, I want  my girls’ last memory of me to be one in which I tell them how much I love them and how proud I’ve been to be their mother. I want them to know that they (and now my grandgirls) have the best part of my life. 

The deciding factor was actually a box of letters I found last fall. I’d kept each one of the letters because it was important to me when I received it. Although I didn’t reread all of them, those I did read were deeply painful, and I found myself wondering why I held on to all of that pain.

Then I wondered how much pain I had carried with me from home to home over the years, and I said to myself, “Enough.” Yes, I made mistakes; I’m human — it happens. I need to let go. Getting rid of my journals seemed to be a good first step.

It’s both a symbollic gesture and practical. If the journals are gone, I can’t go back to them and review what I’ve written. I can’t relive those experiences. Instead, I can allow time to be a healing balm. Since I’m well into the second half of my life, even if I live as long as my dad did, it is time.

That being said, there are experiences I wish had never ended, and they have nothing to do with my girls. They have to do with my aborted art career.

In 1995, I was beginning to break through as an emerging artist. I was part of a dynamic group of incredibly gifted people. As I have been shredding 1995, glancing at a paragraph here and another there, looking at memorabilia I had taped into my journals, I’ve been thinking about them.

If they were still in my life, I wouldn’t be shredding and trashing these journals. I would shredding and creating with them. I would be working on an installation with Jeff or maybe Connie, or exploring ways to incorporate the shredded paper into new works, adapting ideas from Allan or Rick or Ginny or Ron.

I would be preparing a show about women in transition, maybe incorporating photographs of women which I’d manipulated with the help of Francine. Maybe the women’s stories — or poems — would be part of the exhibit, too. I don’t know. I just know I would be doing something and I would be  driven by the idea. It would consume me.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll still do something. Thus far, I’ve only shredded three years. There’s a lot more to do.

Let Me See

“Now, as [Jesus] approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. Jesus stopped and ordered that [the man] be brought to him; and when he came near, Jesus asked him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ He replied,”Lord, please let me see.'” (Luke 18:35,40-41)

Let me see.

What else could the man possible want, but to see? That was kind of a no-brainer. Why did Jesus even have to ask?

Perhaps, because the man needed to be heard, as well. As the blind man called out, people rebuked him, told him to be silent. He may have lived his whole life on the edges of society, having been pushed aside and silenced by those who could see. Perhaps as much as he needed to see, the blind man needed the one who could heal him to hear his voice, to acknowledge his humanity, his manhood, by letting him speak.

God is like that. He goes beyond what is obvious, working deep in our hearts and in our lives to give us what we didn’t even know we needed.

This morning, as I entered into that place of prayer where God speaks to me as well as listens, I found myself  mulling over the past four months. I was filled with gratitude for all he has done.

Our loving Father has shown me that my worth comes not from what I do, but from who I am — his child. That sounds like a no-brainer, too, but I have wrestled my whole life with identity issues. I’ve never quite found a niche where I seemed to belong, where I could put down roots, grow and blossom.

This has been hard for me. I’ve seen my brothers, who were raised in the same home, find spouses and build successful careers; I’ve done neither. I’ve seen friends overcome difficult circumstances and prosper; I never seem to do much more than survive difficult circumstances.

I’d grown to feel worthless and disposable. But, this fall, God began to heal that place in me.

He called me out of circumstances which would have reinforced this feeling, and led me into a  place where he could pour out his love on me. During the past four months, I have experienced moments of intense intimacy with God, including an experience of complete surrender. During this time, I have come to feel more grounded, have come to appreciate the way God works through the most ordinary of circumstances.

Too, during this time, I have begun to feel less like a piece of trash kicked from place to place and more like a servant of the Lord, going where he has sent me. My past has begun to take on a different cast in my heart, because I have seen in retrospect glimpses of the way he has used me for  a greater good. This inspires me to understand the image reflected back to me by the mirror of this world is distorted, not accurate, which in turn releases me from striving for success as it is understood in this world to focus more on serving him.

But not all of his gifts to me have been quite as ephemeral. God has given me the opportunity to spend weeks with my beautiful granddaughters, which was a balm to my soul. Since my daughter and her husband live so far from me, one of my abiding fears is that Paige and Avery will not come to know me as part of their extended family, but only as a guest in their lives.

I think being able to call upon me for this assistance was good for my daughter, too, though she may not yet realize it. She’s always been frightfully independent, and driven to succeed. I have been of little assistance apart from encouraging her and supporting her decisions, recognizing that her life is God’s gift to her and I must trust the two of them to work out her course in life. I think my assistance provided tangible evidence that she does have the safety net of a family that loves her, a reminder she may need from time to time.

Too, a retreat I attended indirectly helped my youngest daughter to begin reshaping her life. I was so inspired by the retreat leader at the Diocesan Women’s Retreat this fall that I asked Katie to attend an Advent retreat with me because the retreat leader would be there as well. Throughout the retreat, I watched her tug at her ear, a sure sign that something was going on inside her head. Sure enough, in the following weeks, she began to simplify her life and is talking about entering religious life. This feels like a special grace to me.

As I entered that place in prayer this morning where God speaks, I thought not only of these things, but also of the way clouds can prevent us from seeing the sun, from feeling its warmth on our faces and experiencing its light which lifts our spirits. I realized that this period of unemployment has — for a time, at least — burned away the clouds which have prevented me from experiencing God’s love as fully as I have known it in recent weeks.

And so, in this moment, I am grateful, not only that he has let me see, but that he knew what I needed when I could not have formed the words.

Deja vu love

Home.

Paige was so proud of herself. We were reading the ladybug book, and as we turned to the last page, she said the single word she knew was there — home.

At17-months-old, she is just learning to talk. I didn’t even know she could say the word “home” when she made that connection between the spoken word and the written word. I probably would have thought it was a fluke if she hadn’t repeated it the next day and the day after that.

Each time, her face beamed with pride. I’ve seen that expression a hundred times or more on her mother’s face. Every time Sara learned a new skill. Every time she received a special gift. Every time she made a gift for me. Every time she accomplished something which brought her recognition.

To see the same expression on Paige’s face made my heart ache. I wanted to hold my little girl again.

The years went too fast. She was a baby and then a toddler who didn’t want help with anything. “Do it myself,” she would say. “Do it myself.”

Then she was a sister, and before long, taught herself to read so she could read to her little sister. When she started school, she was a challenge to her teacher because she already knew what other children were just learning.

Now she’s a major in the Air Force Reserves. How did that happen? Where did the years go?

I know. This isn’t original. Every parent has felt this way — at least, every parent who has loved a child. The day after Sara graduated from high school, she left for her summer job in another state; I cried for three days. When I took her to college that fall, I was crying so hard as I left campus that I got lost on the freeway system in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Every rite of passage has been the same. College graduation. Her commissioning. Her wedding, when I knew that God had answered my prayers by bringing into her a life a man with a large and loving extended family, something I knew she needed.

When I watched “Mamma Mia!” the first time and heard the song, “Slipping Through My Fingers,” I both laughed and cried. The spark of recognition — yes, that’s what it is to be a mother when a daughter marries. The ache for every hope, every dream, every plan that wasn’t realized before that moment.

And now, when I watch her daughters, I see her. Sara thinks I give them too much attention when I visit. How could I not when they remind me so much of her? I watch Paige hunched over a book, turning pages, the hair at the nape of her neck curling into little ringlets, and I see both her and Sara at her age. I watch Avery dig into her food with both hands, using some of it as hair gel, and I see Sara doing the same thing.

When she was growing up, I was so busy. Going to college. Working. Trying to unravel the mess I’d made of my life after leaving home. I missed so much.

I’m going to miss even more with my grandgirls. The odds that I will win a Powerball jackpot are greater than the odds that Sara and Brodie will make a home near mine. And so I savor the opportunities I do have, hold them in my heart, treasure them.

I know Sara doesn’t understand this, but I find comfort in sitting in what I dubbed “the Gramma chair” in the room I called “Play Paradise,”and just watching the girls play. Sometimes reading a book at the same time, or knitting, but mostly just watching and remembering and loving. I don’t get a thing done, but that’s OK.

Loving them. Loving their mom. That’s enough. I can’t turn back time and do anything differently. I can’t be a better mom than I was, but I can still love her and love her precious, precious family.