Love Out of Love

Today would have been our 32nd wedding anniversary. But we fell out of love.

We’re human. We’re imperfect, and about half-way through those 32 years that might have been, we divorced.

Our status changed, and we tick Divorced on forms now, but that status, the divorce, didn’t define our relationship. Love, even when we were out of love, defined us.

Love out of love

My ex husband and I fell out of love and after almost sixteen years of marriage, we finalized our divorce. We went through rough patches during the transition, but even those rough patches didn’t define where we would land after we spun out.

Love did.

NOTE: I’m not sharing our story prescriptively. Our story can’t be every divorced couple’s story. I’m not suggesting that this is the better path, the good vs. the bad journey. This is not a lesson. I’m sharing this because the dates and numbers bring our story round to my heart. I’m sharing because I’m grateful.

I’ve written about this before, but today the numbers compel me to revisit. Almost 16 years of marriage. Just over 16 years divorced. Today would have been our 32nd anniversary. We lost something, sure. We lost a lot, but I learned to carry love forward and allow it to redefine itself. I’m sharing our story again because I’m still grateful.

Our story

I’m grateful for many things, but the first swell of gratitude to spring from that well is our children. They are the tether, the balance, the bond that helped redefine my feelings for and relationship to my ex. Thanks to them, I can make space to celebrate some of the good things these 32 years allowed, starting with the wedding.

We were married under two ancient oaks on my college roommate’s parents’ property, Deux chênes, where the stars and stripes of the U.S. flag alongside the cedar of the Lebanese flag hung on the gates to welcome guests. I’m grateful to Nora and Gerald for hosting our quirky wedding.

I’m grateful for my friends (former roommates) who stood with me for the ceremony. I’m grateful for all the family who attended and participated: my uncle who married us, my cousin who gifted us with hundreds of photos, my cousin who styled my hair, my cousin’s son who carried the rings. I’m grateful for my parents who supported me as I took that adult leap.

The day wasn’t perfect. August in Louisiana! A deluge just hours before the outdoor nuptials soaked the grounds. My dad had to find a giant swath of green tarp post haste. The pre-ceremony included meltdowns and nerves. Post ceremony found me standing in ants for a photo, then spending some time kicking and writhing as they scurried up my wedding gown. To seal the imperfections, when it came time to sign the certificate, we learned that ministers don’t bring the marriage certificates to the wedding. Oops!

You’re not really married, my uncle sighed.

It wasn’t perfect, but the things I remember most are the beautiful moments. The lush air as the ceremony began. The belly dancer who led us away post vows. The dresses my mom and my mother-in-law wore. The belly dancing during the reception. The food. The laughter and joy of family and friends.

Celebrate the love

I lift up those good memories of our wedding day. I also celebrate the 16 years inside the marriage: the adventures of raising three children; our two homes; the mutual friends we made along the way; the meals we shared as a family (chicken rice again, Baba?!) and with friends; the wine tastings; the vacations on a budget; the church we found together.

The church was one of several sacred spaces we discovered together. When things fell apart, the path through was a memory from that sanctuary. Years before the divorce, I sat in our church when Sharon Williams Andrews delivered a sermon on forgiveness as a guest minister. I can honestly say that her words took purchase in my heart and carried me through many moments of the 16 years after the divorce.

Post divorce, my ex and I moved on. We found new partners, new places, new circles, new journeys separate from each other, yet made space for love on the other side of being in love. We come together for holiday and special occasions. We’ve even squeezed in a beach trip together.

We’re divorced for many reasons. We made mistakes. We weren’t a match made in heaven, but we’re happily divorced for a more important reason. We allowed love. And reflecting on that, I would argue that, despite the divorce, I chose well when I married my ex.

He’s a keeper.

My dad called last week to tell me what a wonderful visit he and mom had with my ex. My ex went to the farm (bearing groceries as usual) two weekends in a row, not for a special occasion, not because the kids were there. Love carried him there. He knows my parents are limping through these months, mom’s Alzheimer’s and dad’s heart intensified by the isolation of COVID. He took time, spent time, cooked and visited. Love.

My grandmother would have said, “He’s a keeper.” Except I didn’t keep him. 

Love still wins.

We had a marriage that didn’t last, but the divorce didn’t define us. The divorce didn’t wreck the relationships that become entangled in a marriage. We still share love for each other’s parents, we still have mutual friends, and we are still a family.

Falling out of love didn’t define us. Love did. Love wins, and I’m grateful for this twisted road we took to know love.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved 2020

 

The flow: I’m here for it.

Sometimes I side-eye my neighbors with envy when I work on my yard. One neighbor’s yard is mostly concrete and structures, no trees. The other yard is mostly grass, just one tree interfering with the flow of the mower. My yard is a tangle of spaces, the pond by the patio, the tattered greenhouse and giant philodendron in the middle, the fire pit, palm trees, the picnic table, pines, gardenia bushes, vegetable and flower beds, fig trees, the hill in one back corner, and the decrepit shed in the other. There are no straight paths for to flow the mow.

Crooked paths

I’ve never taken straight paths and sometimes I side-eye those who do with a little envy. The straight path seems much easier when I’m in the thick of a bush yanking at Virginia creepers that have climbed twenty feet (Virginia, please come collect your creepers and take them home).

I don’t hate my crooked paths. Most days, I love them. They’re organic, mysterious, and, in unexpected moments, healing.

My crooked paths are complicated by my disinclination to domestic tasks. I delay the exhausting, thankless tasks like trimming the edges of the lawn or chasing the dust that collects on the surfaces of my home. Why bother when a week later the edges are ragged and the dust has collected again? Some might judge me for it, but, even as an adolescent, I am happiest sitting in my sacred space, exploring, dreaming, delighting in the words, in the markers and colors, in the creative opportunities before me.

The neighbors’ yards are disciplined, controlled. Easier to maintain. The space might seem beautiful and peaceful on days when I drag my mower around impossible edges and swear as I yank weeds from the fence, but they don’t feel sacred to me. Where’s the whimsy, the fun, the flow? I hope the neighbors have more fun than their beautifully kept yards feel.

Disciplined control versus organic flow

My life is a testimony to going with the flow. I could spin my story many different ways.

  • She didn’t have any backbone, so she just stumbled from one thing to the next.
  • She let the flow of life lead her through beautiful years of education, relationships, and careers.
  • She could never make up her mind.
  • She is good at taking care of what is before her and dealing with chaos.
  • She never planned for the future.
  • She lived in the present.
  • She’s lazy.
  • She’s creative.
  • She’s undisciplined.
  • She’s free.

It’s all true.

If “flow” conjures for you images of water, you’re not alone. Imagine all the waters. The slow, mighty river; the babbling brook; the ocean’s gentle swells; the crashing waves; the dark, quiet lake; the puddles of rain; the deafening falls. All of the water metaphors, even the ones that contradict each other, are correct. There is truth in all of them.

The two metaphors that speak most strongly to me lately are going with the flow (everything I desire is downstream) and standing in the stream as the waters of time, of life, wash over my feet (always water, yet always different). But when do I let go and just float with the flow and when should I stand? Or maybe I just allow the flow to take me, oars up, dropping my hand in the waters from time to time to test the waters, guide the flow? Yes and yes. It’s everything. All the metaphors. All the things.

In the flow of 2020

After flowing between worlds for a year and a half, moving back into our home when Steven returned from Puerto Rico in January, I stopped, stood in the stream, to take inventory. Then came the pandemic, for which we all stopped to asses our situation.

This year, as we shelter in place, I stand in the stream and know my experience is privileged and comfortable. In March, I dove into programs that nourished me. I showed up for myself every morning, to write, to explore, to dream, just like that young girl I remember. In my reduced Covid19 world, I took care of things in front of me: the pond I started three years ago, the garden beds that were unkempt for two years, the novel I started twenty-five years ago, the Tweet-story launch I conceived three years ago. I took a crooked, organic, undisciplined path to tackle my projects, but I finished them. All of them.

I’m here for the flow.

What’s next? I’m not sure. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s deal with what is right before you. But mostly, to trust my intuition. I’ll know when it’s time to stand and time to float. That divine gift of intuition will guide my hand to the waters when it’s time.

What’s next is whatever else 2020 drops along my crooked path. And when I face it, I’ll know what to do.

Some days, this might look like bouncing from this to that. If it’s dusting or mowing, that’ll be true. But most days, I’ll be mindful as I commit my energy to a new project, to my circles, to work, to social justice, and to lifting up. I’ll find my place in the flow of this dissonant year. I’ll find my voice in the lessons of this turbulent flow. My path will be organic but, with the luxury of youth behind me, mindful, disciplined even. I stand mindfully in the rough bed of 2020, unsure when and how to show up, but ready. As I surrender to the stream, I dip my hands into the water to guide my path downstream, going with the flow but no longer drifting.

La Fête Nat (Fireworks in France for me?)

Bigger, harder things may be ahead, but what’s before me today? My birthday! And I’m here for it.

I showed up for my quiet time this morning. What’s before me now? The maddening backyard, which I mowed in my flip flops and a sundress because it’s my birthday and I can. Covered in clippings and sweat by 8 am, I asked, What’s before me now? This will be my mantra. What’s before me now? 

I’m going into this new trip around the sun mindful, flowing, and grateful for all of the waters, all of the experiences that have flowed through and enriched my life.

Thank you for all the wishes I know I’ll receive from phone calls, cards, emails, texts, and on social media. Please accept this heartfelt wish in return:

I hope on this day you feel the flow, whether you’re standing in it as it cools your heels or whether you float and flow with it, downstream. May this flow fill you with joy and delight.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020

Happy Father’s Day

Gifts

He gave me my first typewriter.

He bought me my first car, a red Toyota Celica stick shift because everyone should know how to shift a stick.

Sure he left me sleeping sideways in a swing for a few minutes when I was barely one, but he came back with the camera and took the photo. Twenty years later, he gave me his Nikon.

He infected me with the lure of dark rooms, trays of chemicals, and glossy black and whites, so I signed up for a photography class my last semester of undergrad.

He gifted me with curiosity. I languished way too long in college, but that’s not what I mean. I’m talking about that innate curiosity that today sends me down Google rabbit holes and through mazes of YouTube tutorials. Always yearning for new skills.

Space

Happy Father's Day!

My first typewriter circa 1968

Did I mention he gave me typewriters? My first one. And then some.

I took a very crooked path, sometimes I felt I had lost my way, but after years of art-numbing theory courses, distractions, and living life, I’m back. Sure, it’s a PC, not a typewriter. It’s a Canon, not a Nikon. But I’m showing up. And that’s also something he gave me. The stick-to-it-ness. The courage to come back, to try. That steady hand, that stubborn determination.

Mostly, he gave me space. When I was two, to feed the hens he’d already fed. When I was ten, to explore the castle on the hill. When I was fifteen, to hole up in my room for days with cassette tapes and a typewriter. Through the years, to sign up for the all the lessons, horseback, judo, painting, pottery, piano, topped off with thirteen years of college! He gave me space to learn and explore.

He had seen my scores, which, like his, highlighted sciences and numbers, yet he allowed me to explore literature, art, speech, creative writing, liberal arts. He gave me the freedom to nurture that chaotic part of me, that inner artist child. The crooked path.

Covid19 chronicles

Emotions are high these days. Mine may have spiked in one of those twenty-some hours I spent sitting with dad in the hospital. Heart work. Even though the procedure is now routine, you can’t avoid entertaining mortality when the lessons involve aortic valves, Cath labs, and beating hearts.

I watched him, I saw myself. Those fears behind a curtain. The stoic, I got this. I know him. Left brain strong, right brain leanings. I watched and learned a couple of things.

First lesson: He’s not the greatest patient (I warned my kids that they’re in trouble if I inherited his hospital patient gene). In his defense, he carries a heavy load and no matter where he is, sitting still and waiting is a struggle.

Second lesson: he talks in his sleep… with some profundity!

When I saw him doze off, I wiggled on the hospital couch to resume my mini reading vacation. My plans were quickly thwarted when he began speaking very clearly, as if sitting at a table with a dozen colleagues.

“I wonder what happens when you get to the last page?”

The last page

Right away, I knew I had to take notes.

I could chew on the first line for years, but he continued, “You take a picture of the next-to-the-last page.”

What!?

He kept going. I couldn’t keep up, mostly because of the first two lines. What is this last page?

“It looks very thorough if what I see is correct.”

Most of his life, dad followed the science, gave his energy to his left brain, but his right brain has always been strong. Maybe part of me is the version of him that managed to wriggle lose from the confines of left brain. Whether left or right, science and art, we share this —facing the last page—, we share our mortality, imagining it, facing it, wrangling with it.

“Where is the next-to-the-last page?” he asked.

A question I wanted to ask, but he voiced it and quickly offered a response.

“I wouldn’t want to answer that.  [pause] We just passed through.”

My eyes focused on his chest for the rise and fall of life. Thank god!

Happy Father’s Day!

Happy Father's Day

We all have a father, a sperm donor at least. We don’t all have a dad.

I have a dad. I am still learning how much this has blessed my life. After this week and as we move through Covid19, I’m grateful that my dad is still here with me. Even on the days he confuses me and scares me with his sleep talking. I’ll think about that last page for many days, years even. What do we do when we get there? I’m immensely grateful that this week wasn’t a last page for us.

Thanks, Dad. I’m grateful for all you’ve taught me, all the space and love you’ve given me.  I’m sorry we can’t be with you today to celebrate, but know I love and appreciate you. I promise, after we get a couple more Q-tips up our noses, we’ll be right over with shrimp and coconut cake to make our own Happy Father’s Day time.

©Pennie Nichols. 2020. All Rights Reserved.

She stopped making brownies.

What have we lost?

OK, let’s take an inventory.

Sure.

Helps us know where we are.

I get it.

So, tell us.

Fine. Um. Started, maybe three years ago. It’s hard to know. She was so anxious, anticipating its arrival, it’s hard to know when it arrived. What part of it was imaginary? What part of it was actually it?

Yes, but, inventory. What have we lost?

Are you kidding? Memory, of course.

I know. We all know that. But how did it come apart.

Oh, the pieces of it. None of us thought to take notes. But something like, well, first, confidence. I think that was first to go.

OK. 1. Confidence.

Yeah, and I know we’re lucky, because in some cases, they don’t lose the confidence. They think it’s everyone else.

You’re correct. You’re lucky. Then what?

Just about everything else starting fracturing, chipping away. Once you lose your confidence, you don’t trust yourself with anything.

But what did it look like.

Small things. Like recipes. She couldn’t remember if she’d already added that cup of flour or sugar. But she knew she wasn’t sure. She knew she needed help and she asked.

You’re very lucky.

We know! So I would come over and help her, walk through the recipe. Even though she couldn’t trust herself, it was amazing. Sometimes she’d remember those little tricks that aren’t part of the recipe. Make sure you… and After you finish…, you have to…

OK. So, 1. confidence, which meant you had to help more. Then what.

Like I said, we weren’t taking notes. It gets jumbled in my mind. She started losing things. I noticed she puts things away in odd places.

So, keeping up with personal belongings.

They weren’t always personal. Dishes. Pans. Corn cutters.

We’ll just call it organization. 2. Organization. What went next? You said she was doing puzzles. Did she stop doing puzzles?

Not at all. But they’re not really puzzles. She likes word scans. She works on her word scans, even today, desperately. I think she thinks they will save her. Lift the fog. I know they help, but I don’t think they’ll do what she wants.

That’s good. So she still engages. She still knows?

Definitely.

You’re…

I know. We’re lucky.

She stopped making brownies.

Can you remember what went next?

Hard to remember exactly. Her voice, maybe. Her words.

Not sure I understand.

It’s like her voice is out of practice. Gravel collects in her throat. Her words fall over the uneven path, losing their way. She’ll start a story or a thought, then cough because gravel, then the words are gone. Sometimes I know where she is going and can fill in the blank. A simple word or name —rug, Steven, doctor, tractor— might put her back on track. Lately, though, she gives up.

So 3. Language. She’s struggling to put complete sentences together.

Yes! She starts then loses the thread. Sometimes I can help, but more and more, there’s just not enough information.

She’s still driving?

No. That was easy. Her driving was still fine, but the doctor explained that she could be sued, even if it wasn’t her fault. That was enough.

So, 4. Driving. You’re lucky about how that went down.

We know.

What about cooking?

Measuring

Complex cooking, number 5? She still warms things up. But she doesn’t cook dumplings, butter beans, or corn. Laundry is questionable. Number 6. The floors… Listen to me. All the domestic things! We’re measuring her progress in domestics!

It’s just a way of measuring.

This is the saddest conversation.

I know.

No you don’t. You’re hitting the domestics. All the wifely things that are falling away. Did you know she was a PE teacher? She used to have a routine. Sit ups, push-ups, stretches, weights. Every morning. We should have noticed when that stopped.

You’re right. That’s important. So 7. Exercise.

I don’t know if that was 7 or 2 or 10! It’s gone. My point is… I don’t know what my point is. When was the last time she balanced the checkbook? That’s significant. When was the last time she refinished a piece of furniture on her own? Made a 24-hour drive to visit her son? Everyone asks the last time she did a load of laundry, but she was more than a housewife!

I understand she still mows.

She does. She’s wrecking the mower but she does. She feels useful, and we don’t want to take that from her. I’m sorry. Sorry I snapped at you.

No worries. Understandable. Back to inventory…

I wonder when she dribbled her last basketball, won her last ping pong game. She played tennis! Coached. Helped me teach swimming lessons. Even babies. I can’t remember the last time she got in the pool.

She was an athlete, I see.

Yes. Before when I snapped, I said “we’re measuring her progress” but that’s not true, is it? It’s the progress of the disease. We measure her diminishing, opposite of progress.

Yes. We’re just taking inventory.

Of her losses. Well, here’s one. Brownies!

Sorry?

She stopped making brownies.

She used to make them for church. And this isn’t about housewivery. It was her contribution. The kids asked for them. That was her thing. That made her somebody. A point of pride that they loved the brownies. She’d always explain to anyone who asked, “Duncan Hines, dark fudge brownies.” Boxed brownies! Easy! She made them for years until a couple of… , lord knows, maybe as many as six weeks ago. Maybe three months. She stopped looking for the boxes on the shelves. Stopped making them.

So, number 8? I think we’re at 8. Brownies.

She stopped making brownies.

I’m so sorry.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020

No perfect mom

Healing work centers around recovery and often the recovery is from damage inflicted by a parent. Yeah! Your mom and/or your dad!

So this is a different kind of mother’s day message. If you wanted sappy sweet, this isn’t the one.

What parents do

Some of you were truly battered by a parent, emotionally, some of you physically, but I felt nurtured and supported, even spoiled, by my parents. I have trouble embracing the notion that my mom or dad damaged me. Yet any healing work, any counseling turns the loop to the family dynamic.

I get it. There are moments when a parent, deliberately or unwittingly, stifles something she should have nurtured. Moments where you were swept through his journey of choice when it wasn’t ideal for you. You may live your life without ever examining it. Maybe you harbor subterranean anger that poisons every garden you plant, every effort you make. Or you may spend hundreds of dollars diving deep into the childhood wounds.

No one is perfect.

Not a single one of us. If we’re lucky enough to move through parenting years, we’re going to trip up somewhere, drop a ball over there, wreck a moment here, shove a secret into a closet. If I find a moment that needs healing because of mom or dad, I try to see them, human, doing the best they could, dad looking for the user’s manual, mom for the plugs to close up the leaks. I lean in just enough to heal, just enough to acknowledge those moments from my childhood that lift their heads and say: Remember this? when the counselor demands it. I lean in deeper to forgive.

But, yikes. When I lean back, I panic! What damage did I do to my kids!!?? What kind of recovery-from-mom work do they need to do?

There is no perfect mom.

Mine’s not. I’m not. Yours wasn’t. If you’re one, you aren’t a perfect mom either. But let’s be tender with our moms, with ourselves. None of us received that user manual, and even if you read all the parenting books and magazines, you fell off the page from time to time. It’s inevitable. We all need to forgive and be forgiven.

Can you still tell mom “You’re the best mom ever” or smile when your children tell you the same? Sure! We’re in this together. Learning. And we did the best we could with the tools we were given (that last phrase is loaded). Those of us who can afford it or understand we need it, will spend at least a little time in recovery from mom. But feel free to tell her Thanks for being the best mom ever. And if you’re a mom, don’t let Dr. Doubt smother the emotion when yours tell you the same. It’s code for I love you, and we all need more love.

Happy Mother’s Day, y’all.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020

Dear Dad, I see you.

Dear Dad,

I’m writing instead of calling, because I would fall all over myself before I managed to share these words. Today, I’m reverting to my childhood and leaving you a written message. Imagine finding this on the dining room table or taped to the fridge. Maybe on your pillow.

The message is simple:

I see you.

But I need to explain, a trait I inherited from you. So give me a minute.

When I’m there, I mostly spend time with mom, little projects to keep her afloat, errands to go through her grocery list. But, when I’m there, I see you too. I do.

When I write, I mostly write about mom and her battle. But I know, we all know, this is your battle too. She may be the warrior, but you’re her brave body guard.

And inside your armor, I see your heart. It’s breaking.

I’ve always seen you. And even from here, 90 miles away as we shelter at home, I see you.

The isolation.

Isolation suits me. Even in my childhood, sprawled in my room with notes and albums or just playing in the those upper stories of my brain, I was never lonely alone. Another gene you shared with me.

In isolation, I’m nourishing that inner artist child, finishing projects, reflecting. Even as I thrive and go back to my roots in isolation, even from this distance, I see you.

I see you and mom, over there, just two people marooned on 100 acres. Isolation isn’t kind to you.  It’s cruel, even. The distance from family and community diminishes her mind and nourishes her disease. That distance from family and community sits heavy on your already-burdened shoulders as you shepherd mom through these lonely days.

I’m grateful that you’re there with mom, and I see you. I know your heart aches under that armor. I know you’re weary from the weight of the armor.

You answer the same questions twenty times a day.

When’s Pennie coming back to take care of the garden?
Where’s my car?
How am I going to manage all that? gesturing the abundance of plants in the garden.

I see you. Patient. Feeling remorse when you lose that for a moment. It’s OK. We do the best we can.

I see you. Managing. The cooking. The money. The farm. The projects. Mom. You’re strong and smart. But some days you’re drained.

Before this, standing at mom’s side to battle the disease was already taking a toll. In isolation, the toll is great. Almost too much.

I see you, and you’re powering through. You gave me that too. Bracing shoulders, mind, whole body and armor, and powering through a tough patch or a challenging project. I see you.

I’m grateful for you.

Thank you for taking her to her neurologist this week.

Everyone in masks. The doc offered an elbow bump instead of a hand shake . . .

She may not tell you, but I know she’s grateful too. Even though the news is heavy, and perhaps a little guarded since she’s with you.

As expected, she did not score well on her test.

But I see you, dad. By her side, every step of the way. In the kitchen. At the doctor. In the grocery. In the garden.

I’m grateful.

Your world with mom is crumbling in your hands, at your feet, before your eyes, and you are there. I see you. You hold her, help her, shepherd her, encourage her.

When you finally sit alone, isolated in your office, I see you. And it’s OK.

  • When you pound an angry fist on your desk, it’s OK. I see your frustration and anger. It’s OK —it’s normal!— to feel angry now.
  • When you drop your chin to your chest and just let the tears come, I see you. It’s OK to feel sadness and grief.
  • Sometimes you find the isolation in your office comforting, and you sigh. Relieved. Alone at last. I see you. And it’s OK. It’s OK to take a break, to replenish, to be happy alone for a minute.

You shield her from your emotions, tucking the anger, the grief, and the relief, that mob of emotions, deep inside your armor. It’s OK to shield her. But I hope you know, I see you.

That’s all. I just want you to know I see love you.

Pennie

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020.

Don’t apologize for your upbeat online persona

This is not an invitation to defraud your Facebook friends or your swelling social-media “public.” Certainly not an invitation to post more selfies (the internet is already flooded with selfies!).

But we shouldn’t apologize for showing the best of ourselves. Not even when that online persona is a little exaggerated.

If you’re even the tiniest bit familiar with The Secret and any of the law of attraction coaches, you know that, along with gratitude, one of the strongest tools to reaching our goals is to project and feel the joy of what we want to be.

With our social media profiles, we are literally projecting images of and stories about ourselves. If the projection, even if exaggerated on a positive note, is true to who you strive to be, that’s not fake. It’s great. You’re modeling for your future self and for others. I would even argue that it’s a form of gratitude for who you are right now and where that is taking you.

Surely we can celebrate the value of pouring positive energy into the river of timelines.

I’m grateful for those who share the good things we are and can be. Thank you!

And please don’t apologize.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020.

The Struggle

I struggle with the struggle of body image, loving yourself, healthy weight . . . all of the things that go into healthy regard for differences. There’s this no-win vortex.

  • When you’re overweight, don’t body-shame yourself.
  • When you lose weight, be careful how you announce it, lest you shame someone who hasn’t.
  • When you’re too skinny, don’t body shame yourself.
  • When you change your diet and work out to build muscle on those bones, don’t brag in a way that body shames the skinny girl.

We tiptoe around healthy body image vs. healthy body weight vs. loving where we are vs. setting goals for where we want to be. I have friends who have legitimately worked on nutrition and exercise, but when they take photos of themselves to show their progress, they include a “disclaimer” of sorts to make sure they don’t tread over those who are still in the struggle.

I’ve always struggled with weight. We set impossible standards. When I look back at photos of my younger self, I wonder why I felt like I was fat all those years. I was fine. Can I say that? Fat? Fine? But fat vs. fine is not the real struggle for me. And this is not about PC.

A few years ago, I was sitting on my friend’s patio across from her then boyfriend. I don’t remember what we were talking about but, apparently, we were disagreeing  about something. I think he had had a few. When I felt like I was making a little traction in our discussion, he said:

Sit your fat ass down.
Whoa!

Can you hear me?

My friend apologized for her boyfriend’s comment. But my “whoa!” was not about his comment or my fat ass. At the time, my ass was bigger than I wanted, but I wondered Is that all you see? We were having a conversation. Is that really all you have?

I didn’t have a clever comeback in the moment. Honestly, I didn’t need one. I didn’t really care what he thought. But I’ve thought about that incident over the years. I realize that people, especially women, are dismissed if they’re too heavy, too skinny, too plain, too made-up, too pretty even! They don’t get to keep their voice at the table: Sit your ___ ass down!

I struggle with body image because it gets in the way when it shouldn’t. I remember an episode of a show Judd Hirsch was in, where he “met” a woman over the phone. They had several conversations and he pretty much fell in love with her. Then he met her in person, and she wasn’t what he expected.

I get it. Body chemistry counts for something. But it shouldn’t discount everything else. He liked her! She was funny. Clever. And Judd’s character could hear and understand her before he met her in physical.

Whoa! Sit your ass down! You don’t look like what I wanted.

I don’t have answers and I don’t think any single one of us can fix this. I’m also not unguilty of dismissing someone because they’re too something physically. But I’ll do my part to listen harder, hear better, see through it, and allow all the voices at the table —no matter what shape, color, or size— to be heard. Yeah. Even if you don’t or can’t, I’ll sit my fat ass down and listen.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020.

Bananas!

Everything is bananas right now.

I’m cautious speaking this aloud because some people are having a dreadful time. I’m not. Sounds bananas to some, I’m sure, but I’m thriving in this time out. I feel reconnected, recharged. I’m finishing projects around the house that I thought would take me years to tackle. I’m working, writing, following coaches and healers, practicing self-care and mindfulness . . . I’m never bored. I don’t hate this collective pause.

The battle of the bananas

This weekend, I chose to battle the bananas. Every year, I set out to get rid of them, but as I begin, my heart softens (the flowers are so pretty!), and I thin them instead, knowing they’ll be just as fierce next year.

Today, I cut down the dead ones, the tall ones tangled in the dead ones, alternating between swearing at the tangles and apologizing to the ones I took out by accident. Even though the execution feels powerful and fulfilling, it’s anticlimactic looking back on the finished job. The raggedy patch of banana trees probably looks a little worse than when I started. I take comfort knowing the patch will fill in nicely in about a week, and I’ve given the slain trees a last hurrah as a carpet of weed-block to help choke out that incessant Virginia creeper that creeps in from the arboretum.

Next on my to-do list today: the juniper tree. The first weekend of the quarantine, I leaned against the tree and I could feel the dead roots give.

I messed up.

About four or five years ago, mom was visiting. She was already talking about forgetting, worrying about her mind. But she was still comfortable driving an hour and a half from the farm to my house. She would make special trips just to help me out, attend a choir performance, watch a game. I’m not sure why she came that trip, but she was working in the yard.

What can I do to help you?
Do you want to work on this area? These weed trees under the fig tree are out of control.

Just that week I had already trimmed the juniper tree, fashioning a hanging basket area. I had eight to ten pots hanging from the two main branches.

What about this tree?
I already trimmed it. See? I use it for my hanging baskets.
Where’s that . . . Mom made a sawing motion.
The saw you gave me? Right here, in the green house.

She loves that little tool, and I get it. Slices right through! I used it to slay the bananas.

The juniper tree day was a weekday. After I gave her the saw, I went inside, back to work. When I came out a couple of hours later, the weed trees were all down. So was most of the juniper.

I stopped in my tracks as I came around the greenhouse. I guess she looked up just before I wiped the dismay off my face.

Uh oh. Did I mess up?

Over the last three years, she has used this phrase quite a bit: I messed up. In that moment, I felt our roles clearly turn that parent-child corner.

No, no, it’s OK. I hadn’t planned to chop it down, but . . .
Maybe it’ll grow back. There’s still . . . she motioned at the trunk area.
Yeah, maybe it’ll grow back.

Some things grow back. Some things don’t. The banana trees will grow back. The juniper didn’t.

#coronachronicles

I think I was OK with mom’s condition, knowing that I could spend good quality time with her on a regular basis, encourage her in her battle. We’re beginning our fifth week of quarantine with no clear end date, and I feel less OK about it.

I’m thriving, but I’m sad. The distance from mom and dad breaks my heart. The isolation is hard on both of them, and I know the burden and sadness of dealing with mom’s Alzheimer’s alone is exhausting for dad.

When are you coming back?
I don’t know, Mom. We have to wait until after the virus.

Post Covid-19, some things will go back to normal. Some won’t.

After the shelter-in-place is lifted, I’ll go back, start my regular visits to the farm. Normal? I know I won’t pick up where I left off with mom. But we’ll pick up where we can. We’ll miss picking dewberries together, but maybe I’ll be back in time for blueberries. I’ll miss her birthday. Probably mother’s day too.

Today was a good day. I used the saw mom gave me to thin the banana trees. Then I pulled up the juniper. I knew it wouldn’t recover. Mom won’t either. Virus or no, everyday, someone is losing grip of something. That life my dad enjoyed with mom for over 60 years, his grip on it is slipping.

Thriving and hope

From time to time, I feel a little survivor’s guilt swell up, but I swallow it down. I’ve had both a new acquaintance and a dear long-time friend tell me: “It helps to know some people are doing well. Thanks for sharing. It gives me hope.”

So I am sharing. Cautiously. I’m feeling blessed and grateful, even as I move through the grief for the distance, the grief for this nation, for this planet. My thriving is just a drop of hope into an ocean of fear, but maybe it’s just the drop someone needs.

Post virus, some things will still be bananas. Things will get better, some things might even be better. But some things won’t. We might not be able to pick up where we left off, but we’ll all pick up where we can and, hopefully, do our best with what we carry forward.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020.

Time Out

Time out

You’re in time out
Could be worse.
It could be a spanking.
You just wait until dad gets home!
Or it could be a rejection.
Out! I can’t look at you anymore!
But it’s just time out.

Stay in your room.
No, you can’t leave yet.
What did you say?
Just wait until I tell your mom!

You’re in time out squirt.
Sit here and think about what you did.
The mindlessness,
Like a rat, gnawing away at the fine edges of all the beautiful things.
No respect. No consideration for me
your mom
your dad.
Taking all the things we’ve provided for granted.

You sit here and think about that, why don’t you?
The ease of playing with friends in parks and at parties.
Parties! Dinner parties, birthday parties, retirement parties
where everyone shared cakes and punch and finger foods.
You sit here and think about all those things you didn’t appreciate.
The mountains of choices at stores.
The restaurants, Can I have a taste of yours?
The Hi! Come give me a hug!s at church.
The neighborly handshakes across a fence.
The friendly conversations around a fire pit.
Drinking from water fountains.
Splashing around in public fountains and pools.

You’re in time out and you’d best do as I say.
Sit here.
Be grateful for all you still have.
And don’t come back out until you can be a better human.

You’re in time out.
It’s for your own good.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020.