Have you ever forgotten that you’re the one holding the brush that paints the broad strokes? Do you ever become so caught up in basic day-to-day muck that you completely miss the fact your life is a canvas of your making?
I’ve done just that.
I’m not blaming myself. I hope you don’t blame yourself either. Perhaps you fielded a number of curveballs, coming at you fast and furious, over the past several years. I did and I know brushstrokes were the furthest thing from my mind.
But now, my friend. Now we both need to remember we’re made of stardust and sunshine, if author Martha Beck is to be believed.
Balancing out those ethereal substances, I need to remember I come from roots—strong roots. Truthfully, when I lost both of my parents and my marriage in the space of 18 months, it unmoored me. Don’t get me wrong—I didn’t break down. I dug deep and used what shaped me. But in the aftermath of those events, a void loomed. The three people who had loved me more than anything in the world were gone.
That merits a deep breath in any life. Even just a third of that equation merits a deep breath in any life.
Recently, I found myself staying up far too late watching home movies. As the Universe so often does, it led me to just what I needed. I didn’t realize the problem and the cure until it did.
My childhood home popped up on the screen, along with my father’s voice: “Merry Christmas from our house to yours.” And suddenly, I was at the annual family holiday party I miss to this day. It was loud and wonderful and chaotic and all the things I remember it being.
A few minutes later, I was at my sister’s house–a year later–for another family Christmas Eve. I smiled from ear to ear as I saw the tiny versions of my grown nieces and nephews squeal with every present opened.
A sister. An aunt. Ah yes, I am these things still.
I saw birthday parties in the backyard and a 1970s kitchen I knew oh so well. My father’s garden. My sister bragging about the pants she found at JCPenney for “just $8.” Me in a bikini when I could rock one. My mother scolding my father to put down the camera. I’m so glad he didn’t.
I watched as my 20-something self packed up a moving van the day I officially left home to live on my own. I saw my mother dusting my bedroom furniture as it sat in the driveway waiting to be loaded into the moving truck. Did she realize she had just dusted the same dresser just minutes before? Did I mention I had never seen my mother dust before? My older self—the mother watching movies, decades removed–saw that the dusting gave her away. At the time, I thought she was cavalier about my going. Now I see how she hid her feelings in the constant motion of that day. She was torn to see me go.
A daughter. I was a daughter once.
I saw my sons as babies. A much younger version of myself scampered after them, lighting birthday candles, letting them make music with wooden spoons on my pots and pans.
A stay-at-home mom. How hard I fought for that.
My son wandered into the room as I watched and said, “Mom, you look so tired in this video.” I remembered those days of little sleep, wiping noses, cleaning vomit, worriedly taking temperatures. I saw myself praise my children, showing patience despite being bone tired. Not always, as I remember—but at least on video I was patient.
In the craziness of the past several years, I had forgotten what shaped me for so many years prior. The names I used to be called—daughter, wife, youngest child. The life and love that came with those names.
So many people today identify me only as a divorced mother. The breadwinner. Solid, stable. They never knew the party girl, the ready laugh, the free spirit. I remembered she is still a part of me, even if she had to take an extended hiatus.
In these videos, I remembered the missing pieces. What built me. Family parties, sibling bickering, a small house overflowing with people who love each other. I heard my father say my name with love. I saw how my outer bravado belied my inner terror at moving hundreds of miles from the only tribe I’d ever known—ah yes, that girl. I was her. She lies within me. I am not just the woman who survived muck five years ago.
I am so much more.
I laughed and smiled as I watched. To hear and see my parents again—what a blessing. But as my father panned out from my sister’s house—the last Christmas party he recorded—I panicked. There I was, an older observer from the outside, to a party where I was also a young attendee. Today’s me couldn’t get back into that party.
I watched as family members (including my younger self) walked to and fro in the living room, chatting and laughing. I wanted to rush the door, walk inside and hear my name called. My childhood name. I wanted to eat sauerkraut balls as I stood around the dining room table, listening to my sisters chat and chasing the little kids into their bedtime routines. I cried when the screen went dark.
My life today is far from that life. My parents no longer call to check on me. I’m not that 20-something sans responsibilities. My sisters are retired and don’t visit much.
It’s all so different. I can’t say it’s better. I just have to say it’s not the same.
But, I had all of it once. I had what so many people wish for. I had what I try so hard to create for my boys, despite society’s view of a “fractured family.”
They are loved.
They are celebrated.
They have been given roots to balance their stardust and sunshine.
As I was. As I hope you were also, no matter what has happened in your life since.
That, my friends, is goodness. Something not to be forgotten.
Consider my memory jogged.
34 Comments Add yours
Having lost both parents and _nearly_ my marriage in about as much time, I empathize with you here. Sometimes I feel like I’m painting a Rembrandt when Jackson Pollack walks in and spatters my work with . . . color? chaos? challenge? inspiration? opportunity? I do envy you those videos. My history is a still life, mostly in black and white. I can no longer hear their voices or see their faces break into smiles, except via my increasingly foggy memories.
I have to ask, because you are a creative type like me, does not being able to experience them with your senses affect how real it all seems? It’s not that I don’t know how I grew up in who I grew up with, but there are days now where I feel like I have forgotten I ever had that advantage. For some reason, watching those movies, made it all real again.
My mother died when I was quite young (it was my my stepmother who died recently), so my memories of her have always been a hybrid of organic and Polaroid. I can no longer recall her alto voice, but I still remember the lessons of her words, the scratchiness of her Chanel wool, the scent of her No 5, the feel of her hand on my hair as I rested my head in her lap. No picture or movie or recording can make that more real. Of course, with these recent deaths, there is a period where the immediacy of them fades, but my first mother’s passing taught me not only how to hold on to memories and sensations, but also how not to fear the inevitable fading of those memories. Photos, movies, letters, while they refresh my memory, they do not make anything more real.
Wise words and oh so true.
I can relate to your description of parties past, “Family parties, sibling bickering, a small house overflowing with people who love each other.” These are things that are starting to happen with less frequency as the kids get older, family members move away and develop their own health issues. I remember younger versions of myself as tired as you describe and not being able to enjoy myself. Your post is a reminder to treasure any moment as much as I can now because it can all go away so quickly. What a testament that even in the thickest of muck, you were able to come out and still raise your boys with goodness!
Thank you! It does go quickly, doesn’t it? The days may be long at times but the years go by far too fast.
“dug deep and used what shaped me”, this is a powerful statement! I love your metaphorical constructs Kay!
Thank you! Every once in a while I get it right:).
I LOVE your new picture icon. ❤ ❤ ❤ And Happy Valentine's Day!
Thank you! Happy Valentine’s Day to you too!
I love this!
I read this and tears pricked … so much of this I can relate to. I miss those family gatherings just like you .. they were so very special as was the love and bonding of the family. I miss my parents so much .. Thinking of you and knowing that your boys are so lucky to have you
No matter how old we get, missing our parents is so tough. Family is a rock, right? If you’re lucky enough to have it, hold on:).
Wow, that was from the heart Kristine. Great post. Maybe one day I’ll sit down and watch my own replay.
Thanks, Roy! I hope you do. The walk down memory lane did me good.
I’m glad you remembered that you indeed live life well, and right, my friend Kay.
Thanks, Mark! So many of us in this blogging community do. Gives me hope for our world!
Kristine. Wow. Your words took hold of my heart and left me breathless. You made me feel deeply and also long for my own trip back in time. Man, if we had only known then. This was a perfect way to begin my day. Thank you for writing something so beautiful. xo
What a lovely thing to say:). Thank you, truly. I hear you on wishing we could take today’s wisdom back into those earlier times. As I watched my younger self pack up to move, I wanted to tell her that she would grow and change so much. That the move was a good thing for growth. But that it would also take her far from those who love her best. And there is always a price for that. I know you know a little something about that :-).
One of your very best, dear lady. Thank you so very much.
Aw. You make me blush:). Thank you!
This is so moving Kristine. I’m glad that you have those wonderful videos to give you a timely reminder of all those people you’ve been.
I’m glad also! My dad’s filming used to so annoy my mother–how easily he might have stopped! I’m so glad he didn’t:).
The truth about life is that our canvases lie open and vulnerable to the contributions of others. Like it or not, life is participatory art. We each wield a brush, and it’s up to us to create an agreeable composition out of what we originally intended versus what was suddenly added, or subtracted, by others. We have no choice but to work with what we have, plying our brushes to minimize shadows and play up light.
You live in light, my friend. That’s what’s beautiful about you. And your canvas is a work of art. Thank you for writing from your deepest self. xoxo
Oh, what a beautiful way to put it! It IS a participatory art, isn’t it? I think I’ve been trying to turn shadows into light :-). Thank you, as always, my friend. You bring your own light to the space every time you visit.
Cut to the heart: your mother dusting your furniture outside, sibling arguments in an environment of deep caring, your son saying you look tired, etc. You’ve captured poignancy and growth and personal milestones so well. I’ve been thinking similar thoughts lately, transitioning from the chaos and dependency on me to the sometimes haunting calm of a seemingly empty house. A good sign: Suddenly, I’m thinking about new adventures I want to undertake. Maybe go to a Willa Cather conference in Ireland. Hike the trails of Nebraska that I didn’t even know about when I lived there. Ride the Washington Metro for as long as I want some day, listening to Bob Dylan and getting lost. So many of your chapters are written. Now you’re going to expand the collection. Cheers. (FWIW, I think I’d take a pass on the sauerkraut balls, so perhaps my sense of adventure is somewhat in doubt!)
Lol. Sauerkraut balls, done well, taste so much better than they sound. This German girl promises you that :-). And thank you, Kathy, for the kind words. I love your ideas! They are so very unique and none of the trite things so many empty-nesters do just because it’s what everyone does. It sounds like you have thought of things that will truly bring you adventure and fulfillment. Wishing you Godspeed in getting to those!
Back then you were being shown how to create that for your future family…and now a reminder that you did. Built on much wisdom and love Kristine, a lifetime of understanding…for you and your children.
Yes, it is good to look back and smile for those heartfelt times…and also know that one day in the future, your children will also one day sit down and watch a video of the love you have created for them ❤
Oh, I hope they pop some popcorn, sit back and laugh, Mark! Truly:).
They will probably have a laugh, just a you did…and those bitter sweet moments that touch us all…because of the strength and courage that it brings with it, in the love it has shown ❤
I have to say, I loved reading this. We are trying to do the same for our boys, but because neither of us had that when we were growing up. We’ve insisted on our boys having a much better childhood. Thanks for posting this. 😊😊
Thank you:). I hope you’re making your own home movies! My boys have loved watching theirs and laughing at their antics as much as I have.
I’m more still photos than video, but with the advent of the iPhone, that number is a lot higher now. Believe me, they’ve been documented plenty, almost to the point of irritation. 😃😃