Gossips

“If I thought she’d get the story right, I would have told her everything.”

I found that line on a piece of paper in a random box I was cleaning out, and I’m not sure if I wrote it or someone else did. It resonates for me now, alongside the phrase “if they’ll talk with you about someone else’s business, they’ll talk about your business with someone else.”

These words are surfacing for me now, coincidentally, burbling to a central thought. My joy at finding women who show me the way forward is tempered by the realization that I’ve also found people showing me the way not to go. And I’m grateful for them too. As my sister says, everybody has a purpose, even if only to serve as a horrible example.

The lesson about gossips, about taking care with your choices, is easy to forget when you’ve spent years as an outsider, when you’re finally included in the circle, when you find yourself on the grown-up version of the prom committee. It’s easy to get caught up in the giggles and snark in the back of the room, laughter at the expense of another person.

But it won’t be long before that laughter is at your expense. It won’t be long before the prom committee aims its cruelty missile your direction, because it must always have a target or it won’t exist.

The realization that you’re the subject of insider discussion is unsettling. I spent years fighting the culture of gossip, which was easier to spot in cliquish suburban Chicago, where clique members wore the uniform of acceptable suburban hair color (honey blonde) and drove acceptable suburban vehicles (Lexus) and had acceptable family units (blond husband, two kids). It’s harder to spot in Portland, where people revel in their differences and celebrate being weird.

But it exists here too. No matter where it’s found, gossips show themselves. They’re easier to spot, if you remind yourself what to look for.

I needed a refresher on this lesson before it kicked my ass. I’m glad I found that piece of paper, and this poem, to remind me to take care in my associations.

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Emily Dickinson provided similar observations;

The Soul selects her own Society
Then–shuts the Door

 

I’m glad to remember these lessons before I need them, even in this place of wonder and acceptance. I’ve gotten better at seeing the signs now, avoiding entanglements with people who demonstrate with their actions that they should not be trusted. And that’s the hardest part, really; choosing not to trust someone, keeping them at bay, staying untangled.

The lure of acceptance is enticing to an introvert. But it is possible to consider carefully who to choose, which people to select for your own society without losing the joy of creating community. And in this, I’ve gained trustworthy friends too, people who have gently reminded me to look at the signals, who have shared their difficult paths and pointed out pitfalls before I went so far down a road that I couldn’t find my way back.

I have been lucky at last in learning this lesson the easy way. I’ll fly headlong into adventure on my own, take professional risks that lead me into unfamiliar territory, but I take longer now to gauge the depth and breadth of a person’s character, and trust my instincts when the warning lights flash.

This is another facet of the aging process for which I am so grateful; the wisdom of discernment.

 

 

Bud Vase

Packing is interrupted by the discovery — once again — of things from my life, or my kids’ lives. We’ve only lived in this location five years, and our belongings are dotted with pieces of history.

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This vase was given to me when one of my children was born. The doctor who delivered my babies always had a single rose delivered to his new moms, so I had two of these vases. One broke over the years. It was a sweet gesture by that doctor, simple and elegant, a nod of welcome to a new phase in the mother’s life. I wonder if he gave two roses to mothers of twins.

This bud vase has stayed intact in my life for 27 years, assuming it came with the delivery of my oldest child. It’s a piece of delicate glass that’s traveled through several moves, too many to count, and has been used every summer for lily-of-the-valley bouquets and single daisies on shortened stems. It’s useful, yes, but it also serves as a meditation object for me on my life as a mother. This slender vase reminds me of the tentative beginning of my motherhood, fragile and vulnerable and scared. That moment of my own birth into my new self, the glass occluded then but clear now.

Were I to design a vase now to represent my life as a mother from this vantage point, it would look different. There would be room for more than one bloom, its base would be rounder and more stable, and the glass might well be rose-colored. Perhaps the side would be stamped with an emblem reflecting our family, a five-headed bouquet of vastly different flowers, a tiger lily for Matt and sweetheart roses for Sophia and a sunflower for Thomas, some yucca for Tim and my own peony, surrounded by a thick circle. It would be a wild, ill-matched bouquet, like us. Perhaps there would be a band running along the bottom with the names of my children, and must include the child to whom I didn’t give birth and so I did not receive a flower. But being a mother to Thomas — that motherhood came hard-fought and joyfully won.

And at the bottom of the vase, in the sturdiest, most stable part would be my Tim, whose unflagging dependability and support made that motherhood flourish. We have a good family, the five of us, and I’d want everyone together if only in spirit, in symbol.

There will be more added to the family, I’m sure. Spouses and partners, children and grandchildren. Friends and in-laws. And we’ll make room. These lives will expand and embrace more love. And should that love lead to new babies, maybe I’ll offer each new parent their own bud vase, a way to remember their brief moment of perfect joy.

 

Space

It must be clear by now that my ideas about how something is going to go before it happens rarely align with how it actually goes. Maybe someday I’ll realize that myself.

Tim wanted to watch Interstellar this weekend. He’s a space-movie fan, someone who watches 2001 Space Odyssey every time it’s on. When he watches 2001, I take a nap. It’s our agreement. He doesn’t have to watch musicals with me, and I don’t have to watch space movies with him.

This weekend, with the weather so chilly, I thought it would be nice if we snuggled into bed under my electric blanket while he watched the space movie and I read a book. Perfect way to spend a cool Saturday evening.

But I never read the book. I didn’t even open it.

I figure everyone has watched Interstellar, so I’ll skip the summary. But I couldn’t take my eyes off it. And no, it’s not because of Matthew McGorgeousCheekbones.

I saw it as a story of exploring dimensions we haven’t discovered yet, of using science alongside the intangible connections between people, the idea of our understanding of time and space being enhanced by our pull of love for other people. It was so close to themes that Madeleine L’Engle used in her Time Quintet, the books that starred in my childhood reading selections, that it felt like I was inside one of her books. How about the fact that the main story was about the love of a father for his daughter? Or that the daughter ended up being the one who held the solution?

I kind of don’t care that it doesn’t technically pass the Bechdel test. It’s a movie about time travel: people don’t actually talk directly to each other a lot.

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“Dykes to Watch Out For (Bechdel test origin)” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dykes_to_Watch_Out_For_(Bechdel_test_origin).jpg#/media/File:Dykes_to_Watch_Out_For_(Bechdel_test_origin).jpg

So maybe I could ease up on my space scoffing. Maybe I could remember that I grew up loving books that were about science and scientists and time travel and tesseracts. YES TESSERACTS.

If I had been reading one of Ms. L’Engle’s books *while* Tim watched Interstellar, my world might just have folded in upon itself in a singularity. But what a blissful ending for me.

Superiority Complex

I saw this the other day.

The phrase “like a girl” has influenced my thinking since I was young. With three older brothers, I’ve had cause to think about what it means to do anything “like a girl”, and to consider why gender has been ascribed to activity, and why one gender is judged to be inferior to the other. These considerations affected how I raised my children, particularly my boys, as it was important that they understood that the genders had no inherent superiority or inferiority. Since language shapes and reveals how we see the world, I chose consciously to focus their view of gender as merely biological constructs, not societal.

My upbringing was a different story. Continue reading