They be them, we be we

When it comes to communication styles. my three oldest siblings take after Mom’s side of the family, Ian & I after Dad’s.  I know that because, even though Ian died at eleven (I was seven), he asked questions, which indicates he was at ease with basic communication. The three oldest are not.  A difference that took center stage today at our local farm market.

John & I arrived around 10:30 a.m., hoping to find Jon & Ang whipping up their world-class omelettes, although happy for a luscious ladling of Jency Cooper’s incredible bread pudding if they were not.

As we strolled from the roadway to under the beautiful canopy of oak trees, I mentioned to John about a fellow whose back was right in front of us, “Looks like the back of Mike.”  Dag-na-bit, if the bloke didn’t turn around & it WAS my brother!  Who lives in Australia.

For the first time in my life, I started hyperventilating, my knees went wobbly & my head spun.  But when Mike talked to me, you’d have thought it was a regular old Saturday, with nothing astonishing unfolding.  “We took a chance we’d see you here,” he said.

It would have been knee-wobbling even if they were Candy & Dave, who’ve been known to show up out of the blue, but Dave & Candy actually LIKE me, don’t have shattering issues with me.  Mike & Kerry don’t & do.  And it would be different if they’d arrive yesterday, but they got in on WEDNESDAY, staying with friends all of a 5-minute drive from our house.  My brain was reeling.

Mike’s host assured me, “Yes, they’ve been in town, but I assure you that you’ve been on their radar, tagged for a get together.”  That made sense to him – they’ve been in town for four days, but I should feel great because we are on their list of people to see.

And it would have been fine & dandy with our mother & with Mim.  I find it weird.  Besides, they’ve been clear as crystal over the past twenty years that I drive them – especially Kerry – right around the bend.

Kerry wrote 40+ years ago that when I enter a room, she wants to exit it because I am so rude;  in the last direct communications we had, twenty some years ago, she informed me I was the most psychotic person she knew.  She has not given me any reason to think that she is currently of a different opinion.  Less than two years ago, neither Kerry nor Mike contacted me after our sister, Mim died, not even after watching her online memorial tribute, a special collaboration between me & their Sydneysider daughter.  Not a peep.

Yet, here was Mike acting as if everything was right as rain.   There I was, trying to shift in literally a heartbeat from being wholly absent to literally in my face – too abrupt a shift without risking stripping my emotional gears.

Mike invited us out to breakfast on Monday.  Pick us up at 8:30 a.m., go to Daddypop’s.  Accepted, but realize will have to decline.  It just doesn’t work for me.  I understand that it does for them & that they might not see where I am coming from.

The difference between me & them is that I would not have a good time being out with someone I don’t like.  I love them, just as I love Peter & loved Mim.  The feeling is clearly NOT reciprocated & that is okay.  Can absolutely understand how being the way I am would drive them, being the way they are, right up a tree.  I wish them well, are glad that they wish me well, but accept that we do NOT do well together.

I actually went through something similar with my oldest brother, Peter, about fourteen years ago.  For a period of about six months, he’d take me out to breakfast every few weeks.  Finally, my curiosity got the better of me & I asked him, “I love going out with you, but am wondering – I’ve never been your cup of tea.  Are we working to establish a relationship that hasn’t existed before -or- have your discovered something about me to like that you didn’t realize before, because I’m still me.

My question did not go well.

Peter stormed, “There you go!  Why can’t you just accept going out to breakfast for what it is?  But, no – you have to have a 40-page dissertation!”  And I realized he was absolutely right – I do need to understand what’s happening when someone who has never been able to be around me without emotionally fidgeting is suddenly reaching out as if s/he enjoys my company.  And if they don’t enjoy my company, why would they bother with slapping on a mask & acting for 90 minutes as if they do?

A friend suggested, “Maybe they are trying to open up a new beginning, a fresh start.”  Let’s see…  They arrived on Wednesday, are going back to Australia on Tuesday (?), were planning – without seeing if we were free – on breakfast with us on Monday.  Sounds to me like someone squeezing us in, not looking for a new embrace of love & familial friendship.

As I sense it, our differences are not personal – they’re rooted in personality.  Where I say UP, they hear SIDE WAYS.  Where I say purple, they hear bright Kelly green.

I’ve worked darn hard to get to a place where I am okay with them being them & me being me.  I could develop a here & now relationship with Peter because he made it clear it was something to which he was open.  Mike & Kerry have never shown the slightest interest, which is okay.  Why hang out with someone you once considered the most psychotic rude person you’ve ever come across?  I sure wouldn’t.

I am grateful to Mike & Kerry for asking us out.  It’s true that they might feel totally different about me than they’ve expressed over the past 44 years & that breakfast on Monday could be a glorious new beginning of the sort of relationship I’ve craved all my life.  BUT my reality is I just don’t have the energy to take the risk.

John & I thank them for the invitation.  We are happy they had a nice visit with their son & his wife in Georgia, plus one with our nephew in North Carolina.  I hope they got an opportunity to visit with Peter & maybe even get in one with Pam.  We both wish them a great stay in Bryn Athyn & safe travels home.  But today’s experience drove home that they be them & we be we & the chemistries can too easily blow up in our faces.  We appreciate their outreach, yet must regretfully decline.

Coming home to where I am

Until the other day, seeing the title in a list of books by David Richo, had forgotten about Coming Home To Where You Are (2008).  And although the name hit a deep resonating bell, could not for the life of me recall WHY that book rang so true with me.

Even after coming across my copy & reading 1/3 of the way through, still couldn’t figure out why seeing the title for the first time in three years had stirred me so deeply.  Fell asleep last night thinking, “Must have been another book.”  Then, early this morning, got to page 77.

This book illuminates & lightens.  It shines light into undiscovered or dark corners of my relationships within my family & within myself; it lightened any sense of sadness regret recrimination connected with any of us.  In David Richo, in Brene Brown, Glennon Doyle-Melton, Michael Singer, Jen Sincero & so many others, I found others, especially my mother, described in beautiful, tender terms.

It was the commitments at the end of the chapter on Respectful Assertiveness that stopped me cold – I am learning to ask for what I need without demand, manipulation, or expectation.  I honor the timing, wishes, and limits of others while protecting my own boundaries.  I am open to a radical transformation of myself so that I can be free of malice.  I look for ways to be kind for myself while not letting myself get away with anything.

That was published seven years after Mom’s 09/6/01 passing, but it is SO what she learned over her closing four years.  Especially the opening words of each commitment – realizing it was okay to DO these things, period.

It was just this morning, just a few moments ago, that it occurred to me why doing these very things were never an issue with her & Dad.  With the two of them, asking ~ honoring ~ being open to change ~ looking for ways to be kind to their relationship was as natural as breathing.  She never had to strive to do it, it just happened naturally. Once Dad died, so did the ease or even the expectation that doing these things would be acceptable.

Mom’s post-her father’s death & pre-Dad experience was that it was NOT.  Her widowed mother – someone my brother describes as an utter Gorgon – expected Mom to completely dance to HER tune.  Gran’s middle daughter learned that she was expected to have no needs, to not deserve honor, to accept things as they were, that her mother was the only one worthy of kindness.

When Dad came along, doing the once impossible was an immediate norm.  She never had to learn it or get permission to do; from their first serious connection, in a kitchen during a New Year’s Eve party, mutual respect-honoring-transformation-kindness was part of everything they were. When Dad died so young, at 63, so did the comfort, the natural cadence of expectation & fulfillment.

And that drove me crazy.  For all of my life, I needed a Mom NEVER stood up for herself with her kids, not even when Dad was alive.  Dad stood up for Mom, but she couldn’t.  The only time I ever knew my father to seriously lose it with me was a time – I was around 5th grade – when I sassed Mom & refused to apologize;  he came after me with a hair brush, ready to tan my hide, Mom beseeching him in the background, “Pete, don’t…”  He ultimately did her bidding & didn’t lay a hand on me, but I was verbally scorched & grounded.  Dad stood up for Mom, but she couldn’t.  Until the closing years of her life.

Reading the commitments on page 77, was filled with such pride that Katharine Reynolds Lockhart was my mother. Because, in her mid-late 80s, she did learn to do all those things.  Learned that asking for what she needed was not demanding or manipulative or even expected a YES.  That it was honoring the timing, wishes & limits of others AND her own boundaries was an essential part of sound emotional health.  That she was capable of radical transformation, setting her free from self-malice.  That it was not only okay to be kind to herself, it was a necessary starting point for being kind to others.

Mom learned all those things on her own, once she realized it was okay to see things differently than she always had, something that dawned on her at 87.  Never say never!

As I move forward with this work of digesting, synthesizing all I’ve read over the past years, am expecting more & more precious moments thinking of Mom, my sibs, not so much my Dad (didn’t know him all that well) & the glory of tender-hearted relationship).

Good times ahead!

Full Circle – night capper

Kudos to Jo Ann Jenkins for a remarkable job making AARP relevant across the generations!

That said, I’ve noticed, having posted numerous inspiring AARP-produced TV spots celebrating care partners, ‘that no one ever seems to be actively dealing with the stress & strain of balancing family–parent-job-personal life or all the care falling disproportionately on one child (happens all the time) or with ancient personal or family issues resurfacing in present day.

Over & over, friends & pleasant acquaintances told me, “If I got along as well with my parent(s) as you do with your mother, I’d have her/him/them live with me, too.”

As I’ve written before, Mom & I were NOT a natural match.

SHE thought we were – Mom saw me as an almost carbon copy of herself.  And she had NO interest in seeing it any differently.  When she was on her 6th of 7 trips to Australia & left during a particularly dicey time in our relationship, I commented in a letter to her that she hadn’t a clue who I was.  She responded in outraged indignation – “NO ONE knows you better than I do!

The fact is that I took after my Dad, which worked out well for Mom; by his nature & nurture, Dad LOVED being there for others, putting them in a setting where they could shine, helping them out financially & (although my brothers might disagree) emotionally. We differ in that I believe it’s essential to help put others in a place where they can grow more than simply shine, that there are times when it is better for them if you step back & let them take responsibility for their lives.  That difference caused serious friction with Mom, who forgave her children any hurtful thing they did to her as long as they remembered to say, “I love you.”

That drove me right up a wall.

You don’t see anything close to that sort of exasperation in these AARP spots.

Mom handled her conflicts with her own mother by closing her eyes & telling herself that everything Gran did (whom I never met but is described by my oldest brother as the “most evil woman on earth”) was somehow explainable, it was HER (Mom) fault that she didn’t understand it.  It was a struggle for her to live with someone like me, who prefers to face situations,  seeing people as they present themselves, always remembering that how I see them might not be what actually is.

Mom hated confrontation, so accepted chronic conflict; I hate conflict, so accept occasional confrontation.  When I’d blow up, trying to move Mom to respond, she’d just freeze, like a deer caught in the headlights.

Praise be for her last six years, from her mid-80s to early 90s, for her calling a psychologist when she was 88 or 89 & confessing “I haven’t a clue who I am” & seeking counseling, for the two of us working together to respect the other’s differences – especially the ones that drove us around the bend –  for identifying our core issues even if we didn’t resolve them all.

Smiling, remembering a time that Mom irked me by something she’d said & I flashed with upset, only to have her say, “You TOLD me you wanted me to tell you how I feel.  Well, this is me, DOING it.”  She was right – she was doing exactly what I’d urged;  I hadn’t counted on how it would FEEL having her follow through.

While Dad asked questions & delved, Mom did not, nor did Peter, nor did Mim.  It worked quite well for them to have people accept the surface impression rather than trying to figure out what was actually being said.

Once I asked Mim what she meant by something she said; exasperated, she responded, “I meant what I said.”  So, it was fairly earth shaking when, in the closing years of her life, she asked Peter WHAT it was she was doing that was so upsetting to him & the others.  She said he drew himself up, looked her in the eye & answered her, “You ASK questions!

For my first 37 years, I had a relatively smooth relationship with Mom.  It had its ups & downs, especially when it can to how she treated my older sibs like little kids instead of adults, but things went relatively well.  They began to fall apart after I married John, when it was brought home to me that all the things I thought I’d always wanted that seemed to me simple to give – openness, caring, giving a sense of personal worth, fair mindednesss, loyalty to the relationship – actually were.  It was when I started to fall apart, being caught between my family’s dysfunction & John’s healthy spirit – that Mom pulled herself together.

We had family-based disagreements straight through to her final days, but we never doubted that the other loved us & had our best interests at heart.  Mom had some fascinating quirks that drove me nuts that I only came to understand over those final six weeks.  When she was at her most physically vulnerable, Mom showed awesome emotional strength & ability to discuss things she’d avoided for all of my life, maybe for most of hers.

AARP should produce a spot showing THAT reality; it might make it easier for a parent or child or care partner dealing with tough times to realize there is tremendous power in handling the soul-wrenching, even more than the heart-warming.  Maybe someday… – redux

Yes, was already featured, but can’t resist – captivated by Lydia’s selection on “How do you determine what you share on social media?” which aired on NPR’s Hidden Brain  in April.

Great listen & questions are thought provoking whether you’re sharing with a group or mulling over on your own.

Lydia – thanks for another winner!

In which John B. gives me SYNTHESIZE

I’ve debated whether to include my adventures in crazed personal development on this blog.  If not on one called “All Ages All Stages,” then WHERE?  So, here goes…

In my mid-60s, am finding myself radically digging down & dredging up transformation in ways & for reasons that never occurred to me before, might not have been possible until now.

One of the great ahas of the past two months was a gift from a dear friend, John B., with whom we breakfast on most Wednesdays.  Two weeks ago, between bites of my egg sandwich with provolone on raisin toast, I mentioned entering a major COMPILATION era of my life, pulling together core books & journals I’ve read & written over the past 30+ years.

My reading style drove Mom bonkers.  She came from the “never write in a book” school or readers.  Books were close to the sacred, NOT to be defaced.  On the other hand, I read books with a pen in hand, marking up pages with underlines & editorial symbols, turning down corners, sometimes folding a page in half to say “mega important stuff here!”  If a book deeply resonated, I journal it.  Then it went back on the shelf, out of mind & apparently conscious awareness.  Now, have hauled them all out & reviewing  them.  That’s what I described to my John & John B. that morning as compiling.

Synthesizing,” John B. countered.  “You’re synthesizing.”  Said in a tone & attitude of engaged support, which went straight to my welcoming heart.

Frankly, I  had no idea what synthesize means, but it meant the world to me that John connected enough to propose it as a more apt description of my process.

Zing!  Is it ever!

To compile is to “produce (something, especially a list, report, or book) by assembling information collected from other sources.”  Yes, that was what I meant when I said it.

But John B’s wise heart understood my true meaning & took me there.  To synthesize is to “combine (a number of things) into a coherent whole.”  A coherent whole. YES!

To recap from yesterday – my guardian angels et al are telling me…

Just do it.  

Give it your all or give it all up.  

Go big or go home.  

If not me, who?  If not now, when?

To which I add –  Go whole or stay small.

A fresh openness to seeing my path from a different perspective started with John B suggesting a more spot-on word.  Tank you, John, for giving me a clear image of where my current actions are directed.

Not just a something –  a life that makes sense, that presents as a coherent whole.

Care PARTNERS – night capper

There were as many times, right to the end, that Mom was as much a care giver to me as I was to her; we were truly care PARTNERS.

It is not easy, requires patience, communication & good humor as much as it does love. There were times that our friendship got us through, keeping us strong where our love for the other made us vulnerable.

And it was all worth it.

The grief, the aggravation, the hurt & sense of being alone – feelings we both felt at times – were as if nothing in light of all we gained through that partnership.

Thank you, AARP, for capturing it in thirty seconds.

THE FREEBIRD CLUB – website of the week!

At this moment, there are two (2) great reasons why I am crazy in love with The Freebird Club.   (I suspect many more will be added through the years).

FIRST, and most obvious.  This “social travel & home-stay club exclusively for the over 50s” set provides a place for older roamers to be part of a “genuine community of travelers , hosts & guests.  What a wonderful way for mature ramblers to connect with new people, form new friendships, enjoy your hosts as well as your lodgings.

The Freebird Club adds an innovative new wrinkle to the Airbnb “sharing economy” accommodations model.  Founder Pete Mangan – formerly an administrator at the University of Dublin – put the HOME into homestay experience.  Social connection is a key part of the business model!

Background – –  Pete had built a house on property in beautiful Killorglin, Co Kerry,  just sitting there, empty, since he lived in Dublin.  He rented it out through Airbnb, the income helping cover his mortgage while playing host proved a lovely bit of fun for his dad, who handled the meeting & greeting in his absence. 

The son was delighted by the change his saw in his father, a widower of some years who lived alone, semi-retired from his veterinary practice.  He enjoyed his father’s tales of taking older couples off to a pub, to the local sights & events, often over lunch or dinner. 

As Pete, then serving as the University’s Senior Manager/Research & Development, read the reviews, particularly from older guests, it was clear what people remembered & treasured most were the good times & forever memories they made with his dad.  Pete realized that what his dad provided went way past the Airbnb model. Voila!  The Freebird Club was born! 

As Pete explained, “We really want to provide something that’s fun and inspiring for older people. It provides a whole new way of traveling for them. Often, they have the time, but nobody to do it with, and they won’t go alone. That’s why it’s a club and you can stay with other members.  We really want to provide something that’s fun and inspiring for older people. It provides a whole new way of traveling for them.”

Here’s how it works:  Unlike Airbnb, The Freebird Club is “peer-to-peer,” with travelers staying with their fellow members in a spare room.  You MUST be a member to book.  Plunk down a one-time membership fee (under $50), pass the vetting process, & you’re in!  The nominal fee covers the approval process AND helps ensure that only people committed to the Freebird travel philosophy join, nurturing a sense of belonging, trust & security.  Although they have a smattering of offerings in the USA yet, Pete hopes to find a lot of potential welcoming hosts among the Irish diaspora here in America.

The Freebird Club’s digital magazine sets my heart racing – its pieces are well written, beyond simply interesting to truly mind expanding.  It is a visual expression of what Pete Mangan holds dear, which goes way past simply offering older travelers with affordable lodgings with welcoming hosts.  In fact, there is nothing simple at all in what Pete seeks to achieve with The Freebird Club.  Which brings us to the…

SECOND reason I love The Freebird Club…  Yes, it offers value, community & great times.  But it offers more, much more.  And THAT goes straight to my heart, is what I love to pieces about Pete Mangan, why he is one of my heroes.

Because of his close relationship with his father & a professional life that spans a spectrum of interests: finance, the arts, university research and – let’s not forget! – innovation, Pete realized that the homestay experience he envisioned could do far more than provide accommodations.  It could help reduce, even eliminate, some heart-wrenching social problems.

Pete, with the heart of a true social entrepreneur, aims to reduce the growing sense of loneliness & isolation that enshrouds many older people.  He also knows from his family friends community that while many mature adults are asset-rich – their home paid off, no mortgages to pay – most live on some form of fixed income.  By offering a spare bedroom in their home to paying guests, they can monetize that asset!

Thanks to The Freebird Club, mature adults no longer have to feel their wings have been clipped by financial restraints (accommodations are considerably more affordable than traditional lodging) or a lack of traveling companions (all hosts greet their guests & are available for connection), while home owners can enrich their lives as well as their bank account.

Pete Mangan, inspired by his dad, Owen, has infused community into travel, for which I thank him.

Confession:  I am quietly freaking out here.  It was just around this time last Thursday that I met & spoke with Tom Kamber, when I started looking at Cyber Access for the Technically Timid (CATT) as something that could make a serious difference alleviating loneliness & isolation -and- provide a good income to the people spinning socializing into social networking.  Now, tonight am introduced to Pete Mangan, who sounds so much like Tom in his connection to helping people LIVE LIVE LIVE.  Between the two, my plans for CATT have been set on their ear, leaving me a bit breathless with shock, amazement & – I admit it – a twinge of fear.

About to sign up for our Freebird Club membership.  How lovely to know we have a fairly affordable option if we want to plan a late stay at a Radical Age Movement or Senior Planet event.  Let’s see….  In Brooklyn, Harlem or…?

The Freebird Club – an idea whose time has so clearly come!!