The bonfire from our August summer vacation
Max has been sick much of the weekend. He has a crazy summer cold. He is sick one moment, fine the next. I think I may be getting it.
Saturday was big and juicy–a ripe summer solstice full of rain and thunderstorms and sunlight. It was the new moon and when the day, full to bursting finally gave way to the dark it was truly dark. I made wishes and burnt them in flames to send them up to heaven or the universe or perhaps some place across the veil–wishes for the health of my loved ones, for my journey, for babies to be born, for other babes to come home and for even more babes to stay right where they are most loved.
Sunday morning I found myself at the rink. There were only a few of us there–a figure skater working on her routine and a couple of die hard hockey families. While Max got his sea legs back and skated himself back into wellness, chasing his friends, I dwelled in my beginner space again, and slowly worked on my “C-Cut”–the hockey style way of skating backwards. The 80s pop that was blasting over the loudspeakers fell away and for me the rink felt silent–just the cut of my skates on the ice, the whoosh of my boy whirling past. My mind was still as I worked on something so new, as I tried to keep my balance in this new way. I could not think of anything else while I was paying such close attention to where my weight was.
It still surprises me how much I am settling into things that are unsettling, choosing the unfamiliar, the new. Some might think I am rushing away from my life, searching for distraction but I know that no–its an opening, to the practice of being a beginner, to sink into the richness of life with all its possibilities. I wobble in these new unfamiliar hockey skates but I notice how different it is, how much easier I can turn, and it is fascinating to me and it makes me curious. I to wobble in a newish way of being, I see how strange I feel to let go of some old patterns, assumptions and ways. It scares me a little and it makes me curious.
Today at yoga we had a substitute teacher. She was a good teacher but she is not my beloved one. I realized how attached I had become to Karen’s style, rhythm voice. I heard myself say…”Ah…but Karen has us hold that pose for 5 breaths-not three” and I giggled and realized how todays yoga practice for me was simply being there with someone new. To adjust to a new place, to arrive somewhere else than where I had hoped and to see the beauty in it.
But making room for all this new means clearing out the old. I am diligent and its seems that my practice is to let go, let go, let go some more.
I am quiet tonight. I am here at my desk at work and I long to stay, clear papers, clean out email, let go of all the things that don’t need me. This letting go is a new exercise for me–even though I have been practicing for years. It is an onion and the more I do I continue to wobble, beginner like, letting go of what is not needed to make space for fresh dreams, new paths, fascinating journeys. I am scared to let go of too much. There is so much of my life that I love and I am terrified, even as I say yes, that the price I will pay for my dreams will be too high.
I say yes anyway and comfort myself with the fact that there is still a lot of stuff to get rid of that doesn’t serve me before I get to the rest of it, before I am left asking myself what dear and beloved bits I need to sacrifice. Right now I am sacrificing my latte’s, paper clutter and toys and clothes we don’t need. I am letting go of habits like buying things we want just for kicks. I am slowly letting go of my all to quick reactions–the ones that assume that someone meant to hurt me when they spoke–the ones that personalize. I am practicing letting go of my self judgements and my inner gremlin’s admonishments. That is practice enough.
One day I may be asked to sacrifice my financial security, my comfort, my community. I can talk a good game about non-attachment but Oh, if I am honest it terrifies me–when I wonder what my dreams will cost. Its a silly exercise really as there is no way to know. So I focus on the paper, the negative self-talk, the reactivity. I know that really there is no magical economy–no God or Goddess with a ledger book keeping score of what I have given up before I get my prize. There is no formula of suffering that must be met before dreams can be realized. I know it but I am still practicing owning it.
I know that simply the practice is the point. And it will carry me where I need to be. That I believe because there is no other way to go.
Losses will come. Anyway. And grief and letting go will be part of the game. Anyway. And I will keep breathing anyway.
The other day I was standing in my friend Maureen’s kitchen. I can’t remember exactly how it came up but I remember distinctly saying this, “You know, these days I find myself mostly doing things that I am not very good at.”
Gone are the days when I filled my spare time with things I had done for years, things I felt naturally talented at, things that made me feel accomplished. Dance, knitting, baking, my work. All these activities left me feeling like an expert, good about myself. Smart. Strong.
Instead I find that I am spending my time exploring things that are new. Things that make me feel wobbly. Things that make me feel a little scared. Things that are hard and that I can’t seem to master no matter how long I work at it, but things I need to do, or things I love to do, or things I simply just want to do.
I may be attempting to make some headway on the disaster that is my house, trying to demystify being organized with a tornado for a son who inherits his habits from me. I could be slogging away at guitar, working my way through muffled notes and sloppy rhythm, trying to loosen up my stiff right hand, while strengthening my weak left one. I find myself wobbling around a skating rink, going round and round, trying to avoid an embarrassing spill. Or singing really rough harmonies that sound slightly flat. I may be trying to bake without wheat flour, or garden in the shade. Or I may be sitting on my cushion desperately trying to quiet my mind or on my mat working my way into a pose.
These days I feel so unpracticed at everything I do, I am such a beginner. And make no mistake, its a role I embrace. For so long I was so scared to try anything that I didn’t think I would be good at. I let a lot of opportunities to try new things pass me by for fear of looking dumb. I thought I wouldn’t be able to enjoy something if I didn’t master it and if I thought there was little chance of mastery…well…I just let it go. But now, I am beginning to love doing things just to try them out without any pressure to succeed. Just to experience them. Its hard and it requires a whole new story of myself to protect my little eager heart, but I am bit by bit embracing it and feeling my life deepen.
I never would have embraced this “beginner’s lifestyle” if motherhood hadn’t forced me.
I plunged into the sea of beginning, when I became a parent. I went from being an accomplished, confident and completely masterful woman to a beginner in every way shape and form. It was all so new. I was so unpracticed, even the simplest things seemed impossible: breastfeeding, changing diapers, getting those little shirts over those big heads, getting out the door on time, taking a shower. In the 36 hours of my labor I transitioned from being an expert to being an outright, brand spankin’ new beginner.
What I came to believe was that even if I didn’t know how do to something, I would and could learn if it really was important enough. After weeks of showing my breasts to complete strangers I finally figured out how to feed my child discreetly even while waiting in line at the grocery. I could dress Max with one hand and sip an iced latte held in the other and could change a diaper in under 10 seconds flat.
But truth be told, the minute I mastered anything in this parenting gig, the minute I thought I had motherhood down and had begun to feel “good” at this new job, I was sunk again, thrown once more into the land of change, and mystery, and exploration without a map. If the last 7 and a half years have taught me anything, it is the inevitability of trading in mastery for mystery.
This has been accentuated by the fact that I am a girly girl mom raising a boy’s boy son. In addition to all the mysteries of child development, I have had to immerse myself into the secret life of boys. Without a partner to turn to to say, “You handle this,” I find I need to delve into topics I never would have imagined that I would need to explore, let alone master
Which leads me to “safety yellow” colored jock straps. Or rather, the choices between yellow mesh gym shorts with built in cups or yellow cycling pants with built in cups.
Max is starting a hockey program on Saturday. He has been counting down the minutes until I finally let him play. While I made him really work to earn the chance to play, truth be told, I was so excited that he was embracing a sport I knew. I thought that maybe, my own wobbly skating aside, I would get a pass on the beginner thing this time. That finally, he would enter a phase where I could skate along on information I had mastered long ago. That I was getting a long deserved mom’s rest in the stands where I could comfortably discuss the icing calls with the veteran hockey moms from game 1 on. Better yet, I could feel an expert again-if not at playing hockey, then well…at watching hockey…and being a proper hockey mom. In fact, I might be able to tell a few of those other moms a thing or two about off-sides and slashing and holding and all that.
I was beginning to get used to the idea that I could finally rest my weary little ego in the land of mastery. That is, I was resting until I got the email. From my darling and helpful good guy friend. The one who keeps me informed about guys stuff I need to know. The email from the friend that knocked me off my high horse and informed just how little I really knew. It was the email where he started to fill me in on jock straps.
Apparently there are all different kinds and I as a parent will have to help Max choose. He needs a special hockey jock strap which is different from the one his karate teacher had ordered him for that sport. Apparently the standard issue hockey jock shorts are safety yellow. Talk about a mystery… Yellow? Safety yellow? Its been hours since I learned this and I am still baffled. Why on earth, do they make them yellow? I mean, they are hidden, beneath black or blue or red hockey pants. Yellow bike helmets, I get it…but yellow underwear? Is it to make sure they don’t get thrown in the wrong pile of the wash? I have no idea and am not sure that I will ever know. But it simply a sign, a little laughable sign from the universe that even in the area I thought I would have down, I just don’t know how much I don’t know. And that there is no way to escape swimming in the land of beginning. There will always be a mystery.
So I am setting off, yet again, on another uncharted adventure. Me, my son, his yellow penis protecting underwear and I. I get to practice all over again, the art of being a beginner, of starting from ground zero, of knowing nothing and plunging in anyway, of just giving it a go and seeing where it leads. We always start right where we are completely new.
As for the whole mastery thing, well, I still would like to believe that one day I will get it all down. But truth be told, the richness of my life these days is coming from embracing the mystery. Parenting has taught me that in ways that are humbling and funny, sweet and torturous. And it will teach me over and over again.
On Friday, I took Max and a friend to go see the Washington Capitals practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. I thought it would be an opportunity for him to see his heros up close and personal. I thought it would be a chance for me to see how fast those boys really can skate, something that never fails to amaze me.
The best moment of the morning came when Alex Ovechkin, (for you non-hockey fans he is the star player on the Caps and in many circles thought to be the best player currently in the NHL) fell down. He wasn’t doing anything all that hard (for him at least). He wasn’t even going all that fast. He was just skating, maybe thinking of something else, and he tumbled. He lay there on the ice for a few seconds and then started to giggle. Then he got up and dusted himself off and started to skate again.
The moments when we witness our heros doing something amazing are indeed breathtaking–the unbelievable goal, the leaping of a star center fielder, the slam dunk that hangs in mid air for what seems like minutes or for that matter the perfectly played song, the crowd rousing speech, the essay that makes you cry. But if you ask me, Alex’s little tumble there, was a mama’s wish come true, as magical a moment as ever there was. I was able to look Max in the eyes and say, “See that…We all fall down. Even Ove falls. And then he gets up and keeps skating.” That fall meant more to both of us, than all of the Great Eight’s goals put together.
Sometimes it is so easy, for Max, oh shoot, for me to believe that we are the only ones who stumble. And not just on the ice. It is so easy to believe that I am the only one who loses her patience or her train of thought or can’t keep the house organized. It is so easy to believe that I am the only one who has been playing guitar for over a year and still can’t play the F chord, or for that matter strum the easy chords cleanly.
Lately, the house and the guitar and the inability to form a coherent sentence are not the things that make me feels so alone. No–its other things. Its been the fact that my life feels every bit like it is on the verge of breaking open but some days just feels stuck and unmagical and impossible to move through. Its been the fact that while I am embracing the stillness and silence of winter with awe, I sometimes find myself unable to settle. Its been the fact that while I am mostly hooting and hollerin’ while I run the rapids of my life, I sometimes still break into a complete panic and even worse feel stuck, paralyzed and just so damn lonely. And at those moments it is so easy to just sit down, stop, give up and say, “Why bother”. To gracefully admit defeat. To compromise and tell myself its OK that we all fail. Do I really need to live this way? Can’t I just go to sleep, wrap a blanket around my tired body and throw in the proverbial towel.
But then, there are moments like Ove’s moment. The moment where the only thing left to do is giggle, roll over, dust off and get back on my feet.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about what it takes, what it costs, to live authentically. I think it costs a lot. Not in the way some might believe–the funny looks, the fewer resources, the people who think I am strange. Sometimes, it is so damn exhausting to put my heart out there all the time, to keep chosing to stay awake, to stay with my fear, my loneliness and my joy.
And yet I don’t know what other choice there is to make, what other place there is to go but here, this wide open place. With every breath, even when I am tired, even when it seems impossible I need to choose to get up again, keep skating.
As the holidays fade and we get back into the rhythm of every day life, my wish for you is the strength to choose to live however authentic looks to you. And whether you giggle or cry when you fall may you choose to get back up.
The magical Max picking a name out of the hat…
There was a deep sigh of relief at our house this afternoon. A deep deep sigh. Our Washington Capitals finally beat back the Flyers and are now just one game down. Of course, the next pivotal game is in Philadelphia but still…there is hope here in Washington.
This week with the last three losses have been a little hard over at our house. On Tuesday night, Max stayed up to watch the game with me. In some ways it was blissful. A freshly bathed child, in his pjs, cuddled on his mama’s lap. I loved the sweet smell of him. Together we cheered on our boys, talked about penalties and exchanged thoughts about the game. Mother-son bonding at its best.
By the second period, our bonding took an ugly turn. Together we started yelling at the TV, the refs, Daniel Briere. But at a pivotal point, when the refs made a bad call and the Flyers got to make a penalty shot on the goal and it went in…well, lets just say I seriously questioned my decision to let him stay up late. From the minute the puck hit the net he started to sob into my chest. “I HATE THE FLYERS…I HATE THE FLYERS…They are mean, they are bullies and I hate them. SH*T…SH*T…SH*T!” (yes… he did)
All I could do was rock him back and forth, kiss his hair and soothe his little spirit. “Its just a game, babe…Our boys will get it back. They are the come back kids.” (Later I had to explain to him that the SH*T word is one we save only for hockey.) I actually used my handy dandy DVR to pause the game and took him upstairs to put him down to sleep, singing lullabies I haven’t had to pull out for years. As I came back downstairs to watch the sad ending of the game, feeling a bit woozy and beaten up ,a fierce raw mama love rose up in me and turned into sheer spitting anger at the Flyers. Yes, iIts been a very healthy week here.
So, needless to say, we are thrilled that the Caps brought it home today. Today we sat on the floor, just feet from our huge TV and screamed our lungs out. Max asked me to hug him as hard as I could to help him control his nervousness. We were on the edge, both of us, until that final buzzer sounded but for now we are OK. Its good to win, even if its only a passing phenomenon.
And speaking of winning…The winner of the Howdy Stranger giveaway of the beautiful MotherHenna mug is
none other than my writing partner and sweet soulsister Jena Strong at Bullseye Baby! Thanks to everyone who left comments, especially those of you leaving your very first one over here. I found myself wishing everyone of you could win a piece of Kara’s beautiful art and longed for the cash to buy many many mugs. I loved hearing from each and every one of you and hope that you will leave more. My magical door is open. Please come on in.
Last autumn, in search of rituals that would help me kick off the next phase of my life, I stumbled upon a little Chinese one. Its called something like the 49 wishes. A friend of mine had told me about it once and I had kept it stored away in my brain for the right time, the right place. Essentially it goes like this. You write a wish or a prayer on a piece of paper 49 times. You burn that paper and scatter the ashes to the wind. You do this for 49 days straight. Its a special kind of magic, setting your heart and mind on something–like a mantra. Putting it out into the universe and having faith that it will be delivered. For me this ritual was like plowing a field, making my heart ready for something to take root.
For 49 days I wrote this little phrase down “FEARLESS TRUE LOVE”. I haven’t told anyone this before really (except maybe Jackie) partly because I didn’t know what it meant and didn’t know how to answer the inevitable questions. Was I asking for permission to love myself fearlessly? Was I opening my heart to a rockin’ love affair? Seeking the gift of soulsistership and friendship? Maybe…all of it? Maybe something else entirely? I didn’t quite know what it meant to me but something inside me said “Just ask…the rest will follow”.
In the act of all that writing I must have drawn a magical door. It is a door through which people now seem parade into our life, boldly changing it with the blink of an eyelash. Some are folks who have known us awhile and love us well. But others just a year ago were strangers. Total strangers. In some cases they dropped by for a short while and left us with gifts to last a lifetime. In other cases, they moved in and continue to help us grow and stretch and blossom in new ways. I long to tell the stories of these strangers who have become dear friends and of the certain kind of magic that happens when people lead with wide open hearts. This spring I might just start.
This week, one of my favorite recently former strangers, wrote a series about how to encourage creativity in children. In one particular post, she urges us to teach our children to welcome strangers. I loved this post and embraced the wisdom in it. I have done it from the minute Max was born, sometimes against my better judgment. But I did it because I want to teach him that the world is good. Now don’t get me wrong, I have taught him well how to keep safe (do not go anywhere with strangers and always follow your gut when someone strikes you as icky and weird, and always stay close to a grown up you know and trust). I want him to know the joy of welcoming people into our lives and seeing life just open up in amazing ways. I want him to wake up prepared to be surprised about the wonderful things life has delivered to our door. Strangers are a critical ingredient to a creative life–whether you are a child or a 38 year old mama. So we talk to new people as we walk downtown, do our grocery shopping or play in the park. We ask questions. We follow-up. Its been life-changing.
On particular version of this magical portal for me has been this blog. I am forever amazed at who I have discovered coming through this way. I have found myself encircled in a community of women, strong, beautiful, brilliant women–soul sisters really. Women who have brought out the best in my writing, who laugh at my stories and who help me shoulder grief. It is a gift.
I have lately been particularly interested in connecting in “real life” with you amazing women I have discovered typing away. I want to know your stories. I want to hear how you ended up where you ended up. I want to invite you in and pour you tea and listen as you tell me what you dream about. Whether you live just down the street, up the coast a bit, across the country in a windy place or sunny space, or in a far away magical land, I want to make tea possible. Something tells me in the coming months, these and so many more wonderful creative women will be leaping through my door, virtually and really truly and I want to celebrate that, honor it and invite you all in for tea.
So here is a challenge–Leave me a comment on this post and let me know you are here. On Friday, Max and I will put the names of all the beautiful you who comment here in a hat. We will pick one of you lucky friends and will send you this beautiful hand painted mug (pictured above) made by Kara a new found blogging friend whose art speaks to me of magic and sisterhood.
Howdy stranger…Come on in and have some tea. We have a lot of catching up to do.
A little postscript: A shout out to Laura and all you other Philadelphia Flyers fans. Your boys skated well tonight. While I cheered for my Caps I have to call ‘em like I see ‘em and that was some rockin’ hockey played by the orange and black today, especially by Martin Biron. It will be an interesting week as we move into game three all tied up…
One of my very first memories of childhood involves the Flyers. It it just a snapshot–a flash. But I remember it clear as day. I remember sitting in our family room, I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4. Our neighbor’s son was there. He was 9. We were watching hockey. And I was thrilled.
My mother was a Philadelphia fan. We lived in South Jersey. Everyone was. It was an exciting time for Philadelphia hockey, the 1970s. At least that is what I am told. What I know was that it was an exciting time for us.
I loved watching the skating back and forth. The movement of the puck across the ice. To me it looked like the players were dancing.
But as the years went on, watching Philadelphia hockey also made me feel yucky. They were so mean. They were called Bullies. They pushed and the shoved and they hurt people. I couldn’t cheer for that, even though I enjoyed the game. When I was 5 or maybe 6, I remember watching our Flyers hoist the Stanley Cup over their heads and I remember not being entirely thrilled about it. I think it was the first time I realized that not everything in life is simple–that joy can come at great expense. That sometimes winning means playing dirty. And I didn’t like it. I just didn’t like it at all. Life suddenly felt complicated.
As the years went on I lost interest in the NHL. It could have been that we no longer lived in the Philadelphia area and noone we knew got excited about the New York teams. It could have been that I grew up into dolls and books and art projects and dancing. It could have been the icky feeling I got about cheering for bullies.
But whatever it was, I still loved hockey. I watched the big kids play pick-up hockey on the pond, street hockey at the bus stop. In middle school and high school we hung out at the rink, watching our friends and dreamy older boys play high school and club hockey. When I found myself in love with a hockey player I actually learned something about the game, the strategy, what went wrong, what went right. I could recognize good players. I could appreciate how hard it was. In college, our team was not elite but I watched each game with interest.
But I could never get into the NHL. To me it seemed brutal and horrible and bloody and not interesting. I could sit in the stands watching college puck with interest but when the pros came on TV I stood up and left the room. I couldn’t even watch in solidarity with my close guy friends. Sportsman ship, treating people with respect, love for each other these things are important to me and somehow my early experience with the Broad Street Bullies just soured me on the game.
For a variety of reasons this year, having to do with magic and friendship, we have rediscovered hockey at our house. It has been hard not to get swept away by the story of the Washington Caps this year. I actually find myself reading the sports page of the Washington Post. I find myself worrying about the defensive lineup. I am in love with their coach–or at least his story.
For those who don’t care a bit about hockey (are you even still reading this post?? have I lost all readers?) tonight is the first game of the playoff series between the Capitals and (gulp) the Flyers. And I am a bundle of nerves, conflicted and a little bit sick. Not because I am a fan, but because I can’t stand not to watch. After watching every minute of the last two games I am hooked on the Caps, their young fast team and their story. And I am sick thinking about the new Broad Street Bullies and their mean mean play. And I am wondering how I will feel watching this series play out. Will I be 6 all over again? I wish I could just look away. But I want to see the Caps win. And I want to believe that my (new) team will win–playing fair and clean. And I want the bullies to go home, scorned. Because if that happens, maybe I can believe again that the world is fair.
I have a friend who is a big fan. He is serious about his Caps and hockey but I think he thinks that I, with my nervous stomach, am a bit crazy. After all its just a game. Sure it would be nice for the hometown to win, but does it have to be so complicated. When is a hockey game just that…a hockey game? Why does it all have to be fraught with meaning?
But it is. And while it might seem nutty its an opportunity. To watch what comes up for me. To observe. To see.
And maybe just to watch, cheer and enjoy.
Wish me luck. Its gonna be a long week.
Update: I am glad I watched. It was an amazing game–Twists, turns, drama. Physical yes, but hockey at it’s prettiest. I cheered for the Red team, the home team and didn’t feel I was betraying my past. The bullies had their moment but in the end the Capital triumphed. Better yet, I just had fun–me, Max, pizza and the TV. Big fat sigh of relief.
Its late on a school night. Max should be getting ready for bed, or at least close to brushing his teeth. Instead we are entering an ice rink in a town 30 minutes away. We are here to see a teenage friend play ice hockey.
Max has recently expressed a fascination with things on ice. Its unclear to me how much of it is a pure interest in the game, and how much of it is a love of our friend Jeff, a hockey dad and all around fan. It is Jeff we meet at the rink, Jeff who takes Max’s hand and whispers to him the secrets of the game. Whatever it is, the attention from Jeff, the fast moving game, the being in the middle of a very male world, it makes his heart sing. And so I make an exception about bedtime and I drive 30 minutes on a school night out to the rink.
We arrive at the rink and within minutes I am alone. Max has scurried off to the booth from where Jeff runs the scoreboard. He sits on Jeff’s lap. He stands on the bench in the penalty box waiting to open the gate. He wrestles with another dad, a nice man, whose name I will not catch, but who picks Max up by his elbows while Jeff looks on and laughs–three boys together playing a game that can not include me. Max is happy and so I can sit, alone for a change, and be with my thoughts.
The sound of the skates cutting across the ice is meditative. The nice people sitting around me cheering for their kids disappear. I am alone with the memories that wash over me as I follow the puck across the ice. I am carried away, back to a more innocent age, to a rink just like this one.
I was just 13–or maybe 14 when we met. He was a dreamy blond Canadian boy who played hockey. He sat next to me in 8th grade history class. He was popular and talented and wonderful and he took my breath away. And then he took me completely by surprise. One February night, at an ice rink, he took my hand and asked me out. He was my first real love.
For the next two years, we were an item. I don’t remember anything else about those two years but him. He was my Romeo. I worshipped him. At his brother’s hockey games, we would sneak away, hand in hand, out of the sight of everyone to “warm up.” I practically lived at his house. We would lay for hours on end, wrapped up together on his water bed, listening to music. We trusted each other. In that bedroom, we grew up.
He played on an elite travel team. Many a Sunday night, after an afternoon of hanging out in his room, we would eat whole wheat spaghetti in his kitchen. Then he would disappear to the garage and pick up his big hockey bag and stick. I would throw on my coat and watch him throw his bag into the back of his dad’s station wagon. We would climb in the back seat and his dad would drive us all to some far flung rink, while his mother sat up front chatting away.
He would disappear into a locker room and emerge on the ice. I would sit in the stands between his mom and his dad. I would watch every play, every move he made with the attention one gives only to a true love. His father would sit to my right and whisper into my ear what was happening as each play unfolded. His mom would sit to my left knitting, occasionally chiming in. I learned not only about love on those winters nights. By accident, I learned about hockey.
After the game, he and I would snuggle in the back seat of that stationwagon, oblivious to his (clearly very cool and hip) parents up front. I would sit on his lap and bury my head into his chest and breathe in the sweet musky scent of a guy who had just skated his butt off for an hour and a half. A guy who made my heart do flips. A guy who hung the moon. A guy I was sure I would love forever.
I sit now in the stands now and I half expect to see his face when the defenseman turns my way. I can almost hear his dad’s voice now, call out the plays, explain the penalties. I hear him call out as the boys crash into the boards. “There you go…That’s it…Skate…skate…skate. Oh…too bad.” I hear his voice in my head, clear and bell like as I surprise myself with what I remember. I turn slightly to the right almost instinctively and say, “That was a nice clean pass, wasn’t it?”. I say it to no one in particular but I feel the smile, the warm arm around my shoulder that would have answered me back then. I heard he died years ago. I wish that I had said a prayer then–that I had reached out to the family. That I had found my old love and told him how much I adored his dad. I say a prayer for him now as the skates cut across the ice. As the buzzer sounds marking the end of the period.
The buzzer knocks me forward 24 years, back to my grown-up life. I wonder why I am thinking so much about this chapter of my life. I had not thought of this dreamy Canadian boy, his gentle mother, his laid back and kind father for some 20 years, but now I think of them all so often this winter. I think about how his dad taught me to pump gas and let me sign for it. I think of how his mom would ask me to help her chop vegetables. I think about how I crossed some Rubicon in the company of that warm family. In the arms of that sweet boy.
I want to go back and touch the heart that I would break when we were older. I want to go back and say what I should have said when his mother finally gave in to cancer years after we broke up. I want to go back and thank him for being so gentle and kind with me as we walked the path from innocence to knowing. I want to take his hand in mine and tell him that he changed my life when he asked me out that February night. I never did any of those things but I am yearning to do it now. And I can’t help but wonder why…
Perhaps it is about being at the cusp of a beginning again. Perhaps it is standing in a new place of innocence. After years of being out of commission I am now standing again, ready to plunge into love or something that feels like it. Perhaps the hopeful, heady feeling reminds me of being so young again. Perhaps it is that I know that I am once again in a moment, a moment not that much different from when I was wrapping my hands around a cup of hot chocolate, wondering what would happen next, that moment between the second and third period right before that dreamy boy took me by surprise when he asked me to take a walk around the rink, when he swept me off my feet, and sent me tumbling headfirst into the adventure I call my grown-up life.
Why is it that very few 30-something women I know have real good guy friends? Not guys who are married to our girlfriends, or our husbands’ buddies who hang out at the house but real friends. Guys who share interests and passions. Who we connect with and enjoy just as much as our very best girlfriends. Guys who we have a relationship with that is independent of our spouses or partners.
Is it just me who is missing this?
When I was in college, I had a bunch of male friends. In fact it was my gang of guy friends with whom I often felt most myself. Whether it was staying up in the pub arguing about politics, hanging out listening to music in the dorm, whispering across a table in the library, or brewing beer, I felt truly at home with my male buddies, accepted in a basic earthier way. While I put on my best face for all but a few of the girls I knew, with the guys it was always a little bit more real. I let down my hair with them. With them I felt I could really live in the moment and not be judged.
I relished being around their differentness. They had a fresh (although sometimes simpler) perspective on the world–a perspective I often found to be just what I needed to get out of my rut. They taught me to love the game of hockey (or football or baseball depending on the season), David Letterman and Martin Scorsese. They taught me to mix drinks and play raquetball. In their ruthless world of jokiness I learned to hold my own, push back, sharpen my ironic wit.
Those guy friends of mine were able to immediately weed out the jerks I was dating and didnt dance around, trying to be polite about it either. And when I didn’t listen to their advice, they were able to hold me and let me cry in a way my girlfriends never quite could.
But now in this phase of my life, all that is changed. I have noticed that the only time I am socializing with manfriends is when I am getting together with couples. The only men in my social life are girlfriends’s husbands. If I am not surrounded by his-and-her pairs then it is because it is ladies night out, an evening with a girlfriend or two. I don’t really have deep independent friendships with men.
Partly this is because I have happily, yes, I have grown into mature female friendships. Friendships based on the shared bonds of mothering, of nurturing or of hitting/breaking through the glass ceiling. These are now the friendships that nurture my soul. I am blessed to be surrounded by a community of wise and interesting women with whom I connect at a deep level. I wouldn’t trade this beautiful female connectedness for all the beer in Wisconsin. But I have to admit, I kinda miss having close friendships with men.
This really hit me the other night when my dear friend Jackie and I ended up kicking back with some neighbors. She and I had planned on just having a glass of wine on her front porch but we had been spontaneously invited into the end of a dinner party just down the road. One by one various spouses peeled off exhausted and we were left sitting up in the backyard with just a couple of the guys. We stayed up late in the night talking about guitars, music and dogs, marriage and raising kids, local politics and why hockey might possibly be the best sport ever. Something old and comfortable from my past bubbled up to the surface and I felt nostalgic for my old male friendships.
And I found myself wondering…why is it that so many of us fall into purely same-sex friendships during these childbearing years? Is it truly because we identify so strongly with the experience of other women? Is it because the possibility of a deep connected relationship with someone of the opposite sex who is not our partner feels somehow disloyal or maybe just a tad strange? Do we avoid these friendships because of a taboo or because we really don’t have much in common anymore?
I found myself wondering…when and why do we let our friendships go? Is it because in the blissful period of our relationships with our partners that we no longer feel a need for that kind of connectedness? Is it simply more convenient and easy to socialize as partners? To segregate by sex?
At this point in my life, I long to have a few good guy friends back. As a single mom with a boy, I need someone to help translate his seemily odd behavior to me. I don’t want to count on men that I am dating to help me through the magical world of boys–to help me find little league teams–and give me advice on teenage boys. In fact as I begin to think about dating I want to keep that part of my life separate from my life as a parent. Perhaps it is because I am starting to consider venturing into the scary world of dating that I long to have the safe haven of platonic friendship as a touchpoint. A pal to hang around with with none of the drama of sex attached. But I dont think it is that alone.
I wonder, am I the only gal in town who finds herself looking for Mr. Good Friend?