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.

A long row to hoe

We’re two weeks in: shelter in place. I’m not sure how much longer we’ll do this, but I think we have a long row to hoe.

Collective crisis

I see the frantic posts as friends and family settle in to work from home, not work at all, isolate with children and parents, or isolate all alone.

I read helpful posts about how to cope, how to disinfect, reminders for self-care, poetry to lift us up, naming this grief.

But honestly, I don’t feel most of it.

I do feel something because this is a collective anxiety, a collective grief and confusion. For the most part, however, the coronavirus has not changed my life.

  • I’ve shopped in bulk for thirty years so I didn’t need to make a special run for groceries or toilet paper.
  • I’ve worked from home for twenty-four years, so 1) I still have work, and 2) my workspace has not changed.
  • I’ve been stocked up on supplies for all the little projects I want to tackle, and when I don’t have something, Amazon Prime delivers.

Yet, my life is different. Not necessarily in bad ways. I’m more mindful. Mindful of my movements through public spaces, of going into public spaces, of the surfaces and clothing I touch and use, of where and how I spend my time. I’m alone less, with my partner working from home now. I stay home more. These aren’t bad things.

Staying home means staying away

The last part, staying home more, is probably hardest for me. I usually spend half my time on the farm, close to my folks, so I can help mom and dad as needed. Now I can’t risk giving this invisible enemy a ride to the farm. So I won’t go back for a while.

Last week, I made a grocery haul to the farm to make sure mom and dad have enough.

I don’t stay long.

Mom asks questions and seems to understand, but then asks again.

When are you coming back?
I’m not sure. The virus, remember? But Audrey and Jason are staying here. They’ll be safe to spend time with you soon.
What are you going to do?
I’ll stay in Baton Rouge with Steven. Work.
When are you coming back here?

Back to the garden

Before I leave, I go with mom to check on the garden and greenhouse. I remind her gently, Don’t get too close to me.

We check on the plants, decide to transplant the zucchini. I didn’t come prepared, so I hoe a new row for the zucchini in flip flops and a sundress. We water. We talk. Mom asks questions. I hold my hands up: No closer!

I planted the garden with mom hoping to give her manageable tasks that help occupy her day, help her feel useful. But some days, she tells dad How am I going to do this!? Some days it’s a little much. Especially now. The virus and isolation.

When I’m with her to help, she enjoys gardening. Tugging at the hose just so, making sure it’s straight so it won’t scrape across the plants in the neighboring row. Pulling up the weeds and rogue grasses. Muscle memory and meditation.

A long row to hoe

I watch her knowing I may not be back for weeks, months even.

When are you coming back to do something with those tomatoes?
I don’t know, but I’ll make sure Audrey helps you.

My life hasn’t changed much because of the virus. I still spend about sixty hours a week in front of my two computer screens, working, writing, paying bills. I still cook most of my meals, go to the garage for paper towels when I use the last towel from the roll in the kitchen, plant seeds in my garden, pull weeds, move rocks, dig holes. My life is pretty much the same, except I wear gloves to the grocery and disinfect the containers when I come home.

Mom’s isn’t the same. She’s more isolated than ever. Little doors are closing in her brain. No church. No grocery runs. No PT.

When are you coming back?
We have a long row to hoe, Mom. But we’ll be okay. And I’ll meet you on the other side of this. I promise.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020.

Working with you

“I like working with you, ” she said casually as I walked away.

Why did this make make me tear up?

We had spent a few minutes, about 60, working on the greenhouse, repotting seedlings, watering.

“I like working with you.”

But you taught me all this we do.

I tear up because she doesn’t remember.

“I like working with you.”

She’s miles into the ALZ, but when I told her I wanted to take my flailing little seedlings to the greenhouse, she put on her jacket and followed me. She knew what needed to be done.

As I shook the delicate roots of the seedlings apart and repotted them into pierced Dixie cups, she collected rat-chewed bags, pulled down dried vines, then swept away the cobwebs. She prepped the greenhouse.

“I like working with you.”

She acts amazed when I pull off moves much less complex than the ones I watched her perform over the years. I tear up because she doesn’t remember that she taught me how.

“I like working with you.”

Mom, I love working with you. You’ve trained me well.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020
Alzheimer's

Running out of breath (not really a poem, but . . .)

It’s like running out of breath, isn’t it?

As if you’re jogging too fast.

Unable to recover your breathing.

Gasping for air.

I’m doing those blocks you gave me. They’re really good.

Blocks? I think a couple of ticks.

Oh, the puzzle books!
Yes. Books not blocks. I get mixed up. They’re good for  [gasp, gasp] . . . I do them.

Like that last pushup.

Your arms struggle to push your body from the floor.

But you just can’t.

You collapse.

Yesterday when your dad and I went to the . . .

I wait a couple of ticks, then:

Where did you go?
I don’t know. [push, push, collapse] I know I wanted to tell you.
That’s okay. You’ll remember in a minute.

Sometimes you do. More and more you don’t.

You feel weary.

I feel you slipping away.

You work the puzzles, but you’re tuckered out.

It’s like you’re dozing off,
then perk up a second when you remember something you want to tell me.

But your mind is muddled with fatigue.

The words tangle in their own descenders and beaks.

We’re working on the . . . At the . . . [Deep sigh, shoulders fall.] I don’t know, I forget . . .

Sometimes we can untangle the words together.

More and more, weary of fighting to find them, you just let them go and shuffle away.

Sometimes, it’s like waking up from a great dream you want to share.

But by the time you find me, . . .

I really wanted to tell you something, but I lost it before I got here.

When you manage to string two or three sentences together,
the words scrape across the gravel that has collected in your throat . . .

Here, have some of my water.

. . . because words travel less and less across your vocal chords.

Still . . .

You amaze me.
Ever the athlete, you’re strong in this race, even as you gasp for air.
Always the coach, you’re inspirational, even as your arms fall limp and you collapse.
Still the sage, you’re wise, even when your words dissolve, silenced, on your tongue.
Forever my mom, you’re my role model, gravel-scraped chords, diminishing gaze, and all.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020

Just like that

And just like that, he’s spending his last night in Puerto Rico.

Isn’t it always just like that?

Just like that, you’re graduating and everyone’s I can’t believe how grown up you are!
Just like that, you’re raising a family of your own.
Just like that, your children are graduating and everyone’s like I can’t believe how grown up he/she is!
Just like that, you’re shifting from child to caretaker with a parent.

You feel like you have all the time in the world, but just like that, time’s up!

Our San Juan adventure

I’m grateful that Steven said yes to this adventure in Puerto Rico. The experience was gratifying for him professionally, and I was giddy to take trips to Puerto Rico, where we snorkeled, found the best sushi chef ever, hiked, made new friends, explored Old San Juan, found magical mountain falls, rolled down the windows to hear the coquí, and splashed in a bay of dinoflagellates. Steven loved watching the ships come into the bay. Being the endearingly annoying geek he is, of course he found the website for tracking all ships of a certain size.

Now, just like that, he’s spending his last night with that fabulous view. Harmony is docked there today. And I’m packing up to go back to our home for a couple of weeks, where we’ll work out our new normal.

When I’m here I’m not there and not here when I’m there

Mom seems to be struggling with the idea that I’m leaving tonight. She came down to my house as I was packing. I turned on Netflix Anne with an E for her while I finished packing all but the computer in the car. When I walked her out, she asked if I was taking the gator (the farm vehicle mom and dad use for getting around the property).

No, I’m taking the van. You’re taking the gator.
Where are you going?
I’m going to Baton Rouge.
When?
Tonight.
Tonight!?
Yes, Steven’s coming home tomorrow.
Tomorrow?
How long will you be gone?
A couple of weeks.
What about your . . .

The words didn’t come to her, but I understood when she flapped her arms.

I have another flying lesson on Monday.
How long will you be gone?
Ten to fourteen days. But I’ll call every day.

This was about the tenth time we had this conversation, and we haven’t been around each other that much today. I added the “I’ll call every day” because her face washed out, a panic in her eyes. I truly don’t do much for her, but she feels better when I’m here.

When she drove up the field in the gator back to her house, I had a moment. I don’t cry much, ever, but I had a moment. I wish I could make her feel safe and whole. I wish I could break into the labs where they’re doing all those amazing things that seem to be fixing Alzheimer’s and take the equipment for her.

I’ll only be away ten to fourteen days, but I know, just like that, there’ll be less of her when I come back.

New normal

But let’s refocus. I’m on my way back from the farm to the suburbs to feather that nest before Steven gets home tomorrow. I’m a little sad about the things we didn’t get around to exploring in Puerto Rico (just like that, it’s over), but I’m profoundly grateful for the experiences we had and I’m looking forward to sorting out the new normal here between the suburb and the farm.

As I settle into that new normal, I’ll be a more mindful of the ticks of time, in hopes to experience less I wish I had . . . and more I’m so glad I did that! Because, just like that . . . you know.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020

The Cane

Mom comes over sporting a cane today.

What’s wrong?
My knee.
The right one?
No, this one, pausing to wave the cane at the left knee. I wish they would finish what they’re doing.

She’s holding the cane in her right hand, which is correct, but she’s moving it with the right knee, which is wrong.

What they’re doing?
Yeah. You know . . .

Thinking . . . I don’t really know.

You mean, the exercises? The PT?
Yeah.

Today is Thursday, and it’s been gray, cloudy, humid, and foggy since we took a short road trip on Monday. I took her for PT on Wednesday. All my joints feel achy from this gray weather. Could that be the problem?

When you go back Friday, you need to tell them . . .
I don’t think I’m going back. My knee hurts.
But you’re going because your knee hurts. They’re supposed to help make it better.
Well, I don’t know, as she almost trips over an ant bed.
You need to tell them in case something you did there yesterday . . .
Oh, I won’t remember . . .

This is how our conversation goes from my house to hers, as she shuffles, her feet barely clearly the tired winter grass. This feels like downhill. I try to be careful with my words.

In case you don’t remember, I’ll tell dad to be sure they know your knee was hurting today.

Wasn’t it just yesterday, I leaned on her?

You need help with ____ [fill in the blank with the move, painting, cutting down the tree, taking down the pool, refinishing the cabinets, the kids, the wedding, school, a dress, the story, your buttons, your nap . . . lullaby, say goodnight . . .]?

Just yesterday.

Today she leans on the cane, on me, and most heavily on dad.

Today is downhill. I liked the hike uphill better.

Maybe tomorrow the clouds will break and, when we walk up the hill to her house, she won’t need the cane.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020.

Two Grandmothers, One Disease, Three Stories

Two Grandmothers

I’ve begun to ask myself why I feel more inclined to tell the story of one grandmother versus the other. Where emotion and humor are concerned, I probably have more in common with the one I’m less inclined to story about.

So why does one story draw me more than the other?

They competed for our affections. Not openly, but every now and then it would slip out.

You like her chicken-n-dumplings better than mine.
Y’all spend more time at her house.
You always go there first.

Both were Mama grandmas, but pronounced differently: Mama Nick (MAH-mah Nick) and Mama Wilson (MAW-Maw Wilson). Mama Wilson was average height —maybe a little tall for her generation— and stout; Mama Nick was short and, by her 60s, hunched.

Both were excellent cooks. One favored gardening. The other sewing and crafts.

Mom learned her domestic skills (cooking and gardening) from her mother-in-law. Arguably, this is because mom was the red-headed middle child and neither parents’ favorite, and she married fresh out of high school, living the first few months of marriage in a trailer next to her in-laws’ house. Whatever the reasons, mom’s chicken-n-dumplings are more like her mother-in-law’s than her own mom’s, and, while mom can sew if she puts her mind to it, she prefers the dirt, like her mother-in-law.

Why her?

I prefer the dirt, too. So, why do I feel more inclined to write about my maternal grandmother?

Mama Wilson wasn’t the “sweet” grandmother. She was wonderful, we loved her; but she was strung between sweet and stern, between doting and “don’t-do-that!” She had a bush just outside her back door that we, the grandchildren, called the stick bush. If she became cross with one of us, in an instant, she had reached through the back door without looking, snap!, and was swishing the switch that would blister our bottoms.

I remember hiding under one of the cupboards she used for storing cloth, needles, patterns, and thread. From there she might just scold us, the switch becoming more of an exclamation point on the reprimands.

Thankfully, those switch moments didn’t define our relationships with her. Even as children, we joked about the switch bush.

Skills

August 20, 1956, my four grandparents and my parents, at their nuptials. Mom is wearing the wedding gown Mama Wilson made for her.

What I remember more about mawmaw are her amazing skills. For fun, she made wall-hangings and things like mantel clocks, using molds, plaster, and paint. To supplement their income, she sewed dresses, vests, pants, pajamas, and wedding gowns for friends and neighbors. Of course, on-the-house garments for family.

She probably didn’t realize she had extraordinary skills and creativity. I remember the year we were in town, and she found out we would be shopping for clothing. I was at the grow-an-inch-each-month age. She looked at me, head to toe, toe to head, pulled out a bolt of cloth and a pattern from the cupboard. After spreading the cloth on the floor, she opened the pattern.

In my mind, she tossed the light tissue pattern in the air and let it fall perfectly on the cloth, but that would be an exaggeration. She smoothed the used pattern on the material, then went to the kitchen and came out with a fist full of butter knives and threw them (not exaggerating here) along the edges of the pattern before cutting the material. That afternoon, I had a McCall’s skirt, knickers, and vest that would fit me for more than a mere month.

My mom and I can sew okay, but we didn’t inherit those skills. Maybe that’s one reason I’m drawn to her story.

The oak tree roots

I think mostly, though, it’s the tree incident. I wasn’t witness but heard more than one first-hand account about her fall on the roots of the oak tree. That year, I began writing about her: a short story “Divinity” and a novel. The oak-tree story inspired the opening scene of the novel, and later, of my first screenplay. The oak tree probably marks when I first really started paying attention to what was happening to my grandmothers.

One disease

Did I mention that both of my grandmothers had Alzheimer’s?

The first signs of it began in their mid to late 60s. By 80, the disease had ravaged their minds. I would come to Louisiana for disheartening holidays, stories about the meek, sweet grandmother, now in a nursing home because she was too difficult to care for, swearing like a sailor, starting two kitchen fires, and running off two caretakers; the stern grandmother, now meek, fumbling with safety pins on her sweater where she’d lost buttons she could no longer sew back on, clinging to my grandfather’s every move, and painfully pleasant to everyone around her.

The stern-to-meek grandmother had developed a tendency to wander at night. On one of her wee-hour excursions, the roots of the old oak tree tripped her up, an incident that prompted the installation of door alarms.

That oak tree and the timing draw me to Mama Wilson’s story. Mama Nick died before I moved back to Louisiana. My visits with her were brief and heart-breaking, often spent trying to figure out where her dentures were and what happened to that new slip mom had brought her last time. I knew less about the day-to-day of her relationship with the disease. She had fallen while I was away.

The falls

I was around enough to watch some of Mama Wilson’s fall. Her fall wasn’t any less heart-breaking, but I was able to catch glimpses of the grandmother I remembered. We helped her with her safety pins, she fussed with my daughters’ hair, and we answered when she asked “Where’s Norman?” Before she slipped away, she held all three of my babies. She didn’t always realize they were her great-grandchildren, but that she held them was a blessing.

As Mama Wilson declined, mom wasn’t always patient. She watched her with dismay and started to say things like, “I hope you can be more patient than me . . . ” and “If I get like that . . . ” Then, mom got like that.

This time, I’m here for the whole fall. We’re blessed that mom’s fall started much later, in her late 70s, and that mom is an exemplary and compliant patient.

I started this essay years ago, before mom stumbled across the rough roots of Alzheimer’s. Some of the beginning of the essay is no longer accurate in the present tense. Mom cooked her last pot of chicken-n-dumplings on her own two or three years ago, she’s no longer able to put her mind to complex tasks like sewing, and her gardening is limited to weed-pulling now. She can’t hoe a row or organize the planting of it. This year, she wasn’t able to make any of the Christmas cookies on her own.

Three stories

I never finished writing about Mama Wilson’s fall before mom tripped on her own diseased roots. I haven’t even begun the forensic work to write about Mama Nick’s fall into the disease. I’m drawn to Mama Wilson’s story first because it was the first time I witnessed alertness spilling from the eyes, awareness and stories slowly draining until finally the gaze is vacant.

All three stories —Mama Wilson’s, Mama Nicks, and mom’s— inform my own as I stare down the triple-barreled Alzheimer’s rifle. All three stories challenge me. Like stubborn weeds, they break above the root and require more than the casual tug to be released.

My intention this year is to dig a bit deeper, to finish Mama Wilson’s story, explore Mama Nick’s, and continue to be part of mom’s. Turning over their stories with my words, my heart will break a little more, but I’ll learn more about these women I cherish, the disease I dread, and myself.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2020

Living In Between

2019 forced me to face living in between.

In between places, in between people, in between homes, in between climates.

I read a bit about the in between from a variety of perspectives: a Jewish journal, a family dealing with cancer and chemo, a parent of a fugitive son, and more. I discovered many different in betweens and ideas to chew on: the loss of clarity in that liminal space; living in the middle versus focusing on the goal; living between knowing and not-knowing.

Here are some of the lessons I am digesting as I emerge from 2019 and living in between. They aren’t unique to living in between, but these lessons became more pronounced in that threshold.

Transitions are hard.

I spent the last five to seven days before my first trips between Baton Rouge, Puerto Rico, and the farm grieving about leaving. This was particularly disturbing for those eight-day stints because I was wasting most of my stay sad about leaving and/or anxious about going.

Lesson: Be present.

Be present has become cliché because we’re reminded to do this from many corners. If it feels watered down, it’s not any less important or vital. After I recognized what I was doing, I made a mindful effort to be present up to the very last minute, wherever I was. The transition is still hard, but I learned to spend less time transitioning and more time living where I stood.

I don’t miss.

During my first trip to Puerto Rico, I experienced an aha! moment. For all the angsting I did before leaving for San Juan,

I don’t want to leave.
Will my dogs be ok?
How much more will mom decline while I’m gone?

the aha! came one evening when Steven was watching a show in which a character was expressing I miss you so much! I realized I hadn’t thought about my dogs in days. I hadn’t missed anything or anybody back home in days. My first thought was: I’m broken! How could I not miss anyone?

I started mulling over past absences and found a disturbing truth: I never miss anyone or any place. I look forward to reunions and visits to places, but I couldn’t find that yearning in me that we associate with absence.

Lesson: Be grateful.

The discussion was tricky, but I talked about this with Steven. I had to admit to him that I never miss him. I’m grateful that he didn’t fall apart and equate love with missing/yearning in absence, thankful that he helped me come round to a deeper understanding of myself. I’m grateful for Steven.

Burdens are often self-inflicted.

I’m especially grateful for Steven for taking this deployment to Puerto Rico. We’ve had a year of adventures.

Steven’s gig in Puerto Rico meant, however, being apart anywhere from a week to six weeks, together eight to fourteen days. My I don’t miss you was pretty damn handy for this. As a couple we experienced odd moments of relearning each other and settling territory (the Puerto Rico condo was his, not mine; the farm house was mine, not his; the house in Baton Rouge was no longer either of ours). The absences were hard on Steven, my pets, and my mom.

The hard part for me? I felt pulled in opposite directions, overwhelmed at times because wherever I showed up, someone needed something from me. Some days, I felt crushed by responsibilities. I held a couple of pity parties for myself, sharing them mainly with Steven and my daughter who was keeping the fort down at our main home.

I don’t want to [insert domestic tasks] everywhere I go!
Why can’t you [insert domestic tasks]?

Fussing never feels great and it certainly wasn’t how I wanted to spend the time I had with my people. One day I was sulking about this pattern, and then, the aha! No one was demanding anything from me. I was choosing to take on tasks.

Lesson: Be mindful.

Being mindful helped me set comfortable boundaries around the domestic tedium and tasks. Once I stopped blaming people I was doing things for and owning the responsibility of my choices, I was able to navigate to a more comfortable balance. In some instances, I didn’t change what I did. Understanding that it was my choice made the task less burdensome. In other instances, I chose differently and no one was less for it.

Relationships are a gift.

For each moment I spent with/between my parents, Steven, my friends, and my children, I spent much more time alone.

In solitude, I explored the wall around my heart. It’s not unrelated to why I don’t miss people. I’ve written about this wall before. I’m clearer now on what that wall is, why it’s there, even why I may have needed it at some point in my life. With mom’s health declining and my dad’s scary heart episodes, I’m motivated to keep the wall fortified. Who wants to be vulnerable at times like these?

The wall protects me from things I fear but that protection comes at a cost. I know it’s time to bring the wall down, but awareness doesn’t make that any easier or any less frightening.

Lesson: Let love.

I know that I love, but I have never loved with abandon. Years ago, when I first began exploring this and admitted that I thought I’d never have a soul mate, Steven begged to differ. (So grateful for him.)

I’m grateful for the love I have allowed in —my family, my friends, Steven— and I’m grateful for Steven’s patience and trust as I’ve discovered my wall, fortified it from time to time, defended it. I’m taking baby a-brick-at-a-time steps, but that wall is coming down. In this liminal space, I feel anxious and afraid, but even in the uncertainty of this threshold, I sense opportunity and new beginnings. It’s a beautiful thing to peek over my wall and discover a sea of love.

Emerging from living in between (or into a new one?)

In 2019, I lived in between the suburbs, the island, and the farm, an experience that was a gift of travel adventures, self-awareness, healing, and mindfulness. The experience was also a microcosm of life because don’t we all always live in the in between?

On the largest scale, in between birth and death.
On smaller scales: in between milestones and celebrations, in between semesters and jobs, in between Mondays and Fridays, Fridays and Sundays, in between appointments and dates, in between waking and sleeping.

We are all living in between something.

As we enter a new year, my wish is that we find peace in that in between. Be present, be grateful, be mindful, and be love. Best of everything to you in 2020.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2019

Don’t give up

Don't give upI had a moment when I first saw her.

Don’t give up.

María ravaged her park. Fountains, benches, arbors, and trees were bent, broken, flattened. Trees more ancient than this tree succumbed to the winds, roots releasing their grip.

Her roots clutched the soil.

Don’t give up.

She broke. She lost limbs, thick trunk limbs. But she clung to her place in the Bosquesito of the Parque Luis Muñoz Rivera.Don't give up

In María’s aftermath, crews carried away broken benches, dead limbs, and tree debris. Chainsaws finished what winds could not, cutting through thick five-foot trunks in anticipation of removing the roots.

But the crews and the saws let her be.

Don't give up
Don’t give up.

Crooked. Broken. Determined. She watched as they planted saplings in her shadow. Sometimes leaning against her as they took a break. Maybe they understood she wasn’t done. Shoots of green reaching through her weathered bark towards the sun. The promise of new limbs, new blooms, new seeds, new life.

Don’t give up.

Changes and loss are hard. It’s right that we make room for the new. New energy. New ideas. New vibes. New saplings. It’s also beautiful to stand strong, even if broken, and finish what you came to do.

Don’t give up.

I had a moment when I met this tree. Awe. Hope. Bliss. She’ll be my spirit plant as I wind through the remaining days of this year and make plans for 2020. I’m a little broken, perhaps bent and crooked. But I’m not done. And I won’t give up.

©Pennie Nichols All Rights Reserved 2019