Scarlett’s Letter November 19, 2019


I made considerable progress on yesterdays to do list, but, as expected, several items will simply have to wait until Thanksgiving weekend when I next return home. The only thing I neglected to do this morning was eat breakfast, and breakfast is ALWAYS on my list. I’ll have an early lunch, and two dinners, one at the airport, dim sum, for sure, and another, likely, on the long flight from LAX to JFK, to absorb the copious amounts of usually dreadful, airline wine likely to be involved in a red eye flight to NYC. How else does one obtain the red eyes referred to?

I grew up a latchkey kid, my dad owned an old, fashioned Schwinn Bicycle shop in Marin County for most of my childhood, and was a travelling salesman for various bicycle distributors, including Schwinn, before that. My mom was a registered nurse, she worked in local convalescent hospitals and, often, in the bike shop, when needed. For much of my childhood, I came home from school to an empty house. Mom, while nursing, usually made it home about an hour later than me, so I didn’t have time to do too much harm. Weekends, however, were another story. I was often left alone all day Saturday. Mom, concerned that I may have ample time with which to destroy our home, would seek to occupy every last minute with chores, chores she found challenging to keep up on while working, chores I was, at least in appearance, eager to do in exchange for the monthly board for my horse. When I awoke each and every Saturday morning, on the edge of the Formica counter in the kitchen, impossible to overlook, was a list of chores, always written on a Schwinn tablet in her familiar cursive handwriting. I cleaned bathrooms, I vacuumed, I dusted, I mopped, I ironed. Of course, I found ways to cheat, and I was a master at procrastination. I’d spend the morning playing or watching cartoons, the good old ones, then an hour before Mom was due home, I’d go on a mission to make it look like I’d done all my chores. To this day, she has never suggested I shortchanged her in any way. She’d come home and find the house a) standing b) quiet c) clean. She’d also find her list, exactly where she left it, on the edge of the Formica counter, in the kitchen, with each requested chore neatly crossed off. This, my introduction to to-do lists and the satisfaction in crossing complete items through with a bold, defiant line.

Mom has always been one to, I don’t want to say nag, but the term does come to mind, let’s say, remind, me of things that need to be addressed, sometimes warranted, but, usually, needlessly. While this may have been more necessary when I was twelve years old, now, at age fifty, having been in command of my own life and having left many to-do lists myself, and done a fair share of nagging of my own family, I feel I am quite responsible, self-directed and, frankly, able to manage the day-to-day components of my life. If there is one thing I have a hard time with, it’s micro-management, no matter who is dishing it out. No matter how much I love them. I abhor and resent and resist, micro-management, with every tiny cell I am made up of. Unnecessary reminders fall dangerously close to micro-management in my book.

As I write, there is a rap, rap rap upon my bedroom door. It is 7:30 AM and I have not ventured, yet, out of “my room”. Mom, with mild panic in her voice, “don’t you have an appointment this morning? I was panic-stricken, I thought you’d be leaving by now.” Panic-stricken? Really? That I’d miss my bikini wax at 8:30? Does she even know what a bikini wax is? I reply. She doesn’t hear me. Bless her heart, to worry over every detail of my life, when, really, a bikini wax is the least of our concerns. We have topics much more important looming ahead.

I’ve raised my own children. Two of them. Mom only raised one, me. True, I may have amounted to the same trouble as two, I don’t know. My kids were pretty good, but I was a different kind of mom, not to dis my mom’s parenting style. We’re just very different. I like to think I was more “consultative”, for lack of a better term. We had adult conversations, my kids and me, from the time they could speak until, well, about five minutes ago. And, if there is one thing I’ve learned from growing up and from motherhood, it’s that kids, and to define that term, your children, no matter their age, are going to struggle and make mistakes. As are we. As parents, sometimes, we just have to let those mistakes unfold, to proffer advice, to suggest alternatives, and to let them run to the end of the leash.  My kids have wrecked cars and suffered broken hearts, my kids have broken hearts and lived beyond their means. I have stumbled upon incriminating photos of one child of mine on Facebook and sent him, I’m sure, the most terrifying text message he ever received, “I certainly hope you aren’t behaving tonight as you did last night per the photo of you I just saw on so-and-so’s wall.” They have violated curfew to the point where we had to renegotiate the whole thing and ended up, actually, abolishing it altogether, because it worked out better for our family. Basically, it came down to this; “if you need to stay out beyond (insert reasonable curfew time here), just call and tell me where you’ll be staying the night, and don’t come home”. This after one child, having been locked out of the house and not carrying a house key, climbed up the onto the porch roof, and, finding his bedroom window also locked, climbed over onto my bedroom balcony, from the roof, and, basically, broke into my room while I (didn’t) sleep at 3:00 AM, three hours after curfew and an hour before I had to get up for work. Like I wouldn’t notice. Like I said, abolishing curfew is probably not the usual approach, but one that worked for us. But, through it all, with love, support, good communication and a close bond that many shared experiences fosters, they have both become incredibly strong, successful, independent, individuals. I could not be prouder. They are both, by far, more mature and well grounded than I was even a decade older than they are. We are never prepared, formally, in any way, to raise children to adulthood. We all muddle our way through, based on our own experiences, often applying methods different than our own parents, in hopes of a different result, knowing ourselves, only, our youthful deviations.

I make it to my bikini wax appointment, by the way, three minutes early.

Back at home, though, a new to-do list is emerging, and a new list of reminders, and, no, it isn’t on the corner of the same Formica counter that still glistens from all those years I waxed it, weekly, in the same old kitchen. So far, these reminders and the new to-do list items have all been verbal directives. “If you don’t want the oak library table and Grandpa’s oak rocking chair, when I’m gone, give them to your cousin Jane and Nolan, Nolan loves oak furniture.” The next day, “When I’m gone, if Dogwood (my son) and Sherwood (my son in law) don’t want your dad’s tools, offer them to Bob across the street, then to Ed (another neighbor).” This is not written anywhere, I am to remember. I am to remember?

And this all reminds me, vaguely, of the times my parents went on vacation to Hawaii and again, to Europe, both times, without me. I was in high school and I was left home. I was allowed to have one designated friend stay with me, I suppose, to help me invite the rest of the gang over, to not burn the house down, to eat all the Oreos and drink a half an ounce of booze from every bottle in the liquor cupboard, shaken up together in a mason jar, with orange juice. This, we called “kitchen shit” and it required leaning over the sink and plugging one’s nose to ingest it without gagging. I’m pretty sure Mom doesn’t know every detail of this, other than the Oreos being gone. But, my point, for weeks before my parents’ departure, she would tell me things I was to do, or not do, and I was to a) remember and b) comply. There was, probably, though I don’t remember for certain, probably a list of the more important points left on the counter for me.

As Mom’s new directives go, she has made them “mandatory” or non-negotiable. She has backed them all with a blanket threat. “If you don’t, I will come back and haunt you.” She is joking, of course, but not really, she looks serious. Very, very serious and is, actually, almost in tears. And, the truly terrifying thing about this is, she never threatened a consequence, that I can remember, before, in my life. I was told what was right, what was wrong, sometimes a discussion ensued, but never, to my recollection, did she say, “if you do this then I’ll (insert appropriate punishment here)”. I often tested the limits set, and was usually grounded, if caught, but then let off early. I’m not sure this haunting thing is a consequence I wish to put to the test. I’ll just comply. Completely. I like ghosts and all, but not ghosts I am quite so familiar with. Tap, tap, tap, “don’t you have an appointment this morning? I was panic-stricken, I thought you’d be leaving by now.” Aaaaaaggghhhhh!

“Do you want the house when I die?” Yes. No. Yes. No. I have to decide right now? I don’t know, and my answer changes every ten minutes. My spoken response has been, consistently, “not if it doesn’t make sense for you.” In other words, if the house needs to be liquidated to pay for a more appropriate living situation, then let’s liquidate. I am craving both new horizons, new geographic locations, and roots. I guess, based on some applied thought, I’d like to have a home to come back to, to visit, to fall back on, and Napa doesn’t seem a terrible place to have that home. Further, it would serve as an excellent performing asset if not needed for my own shelter. I do desire to live elsewhere, at least part of the year, perhaps even most of the year, and I am open to moving around and traveling and seeing the world in the next phase of my life, too. But, there is a great deal of comfort in having an anchor, a home, a place to hang one’s hat, keep the suitcase, the family heirlooms, or just return to visit on occasion. I am conflicted, but with a plan. A couple of plans, actually.

We chatted, again, this morning, Mom and I, about the house and some creative ideas I came up with last night in the hour or two I was eluded by sleep, ideas that may work for both of us, as in, Mom can progress to a more suitable living situation and I’ll hold down the fort and generate some income from it at the same time, to subsidize her needs. I’m not sure if this is what will ultimately materialize, or not. Time will tell. But at least a reasonable dialogue has been started and I’ve been able to reinforce that I am not here to profit, gain or force a selfish agenda. I am here to support and facilitate whatever course of actions will suit Mom the best. I’m a big girl, I most def can take care of myself, whether I am late for my bikini wax appointment, or not.

A concern I have, and not at all unfounded, is that I will be left with the house in its current condition, full of stuff I’ll have to, single handedly, sort, sift and deal with. This seems to be my specialty as of late, and one, again, that I abhor. Not so many years ago, on the eve of a long-threatened foreclosure, it was largely my responsibility to determine which items in the house, our family home, and in the hangar that served as a garage and storage, and even in the pastures, full of lovely creatures, which items could be forfeited, which could be rehomed, which should be saved and moved. An accumulation of a family of four over the course of two decades, in a typical American family, that, like many others, tended towards collecting more than needed.

Cut the crap.

Another year or so passed and I found myself, again, largely in charge of emptying the house we attempted to retain in town. Short sale. I had long since moved away, leaving the home and the man within to pursue a more positive, productive and happy life. Again, I sifted, sorted and determined what should be forfeited, donated, sold, retained. That which was retained ended up in two very large storage units, costing me, personally and solely, over $400 per month. Over the course of the year that followed, I attempted to find the energy, drive and motivation, other than saving myself a fuckload of money, to, again, address the accumulation of years. Methodically, with my trusty Civic, and on the rare free afternoons and coveted weekends I was on the western edge of the continent, I’d load as many boxes as I could fit into my car, take them home, and sort the contents into three piles; Goodwill, garbage and keep forever, or, at least until the next time I attempted to downsize. Months later, I managed to get everything into one unit, finally isolating what I wanted from that which belonged to my husband. I moved my items to a 10’ x 10’ unit for a small fraction of the original cost I’d been paying for storage.

Still cutting the crap.

Time passes. My children have both moved far away in pursuit of their goals and I am left with a storage unit full of my stuff, and theirs, in a city I no longer live in. And, with my most recent move, back home with Mom, those last things I cherish, the things I used daily and had in my home when I lived on my own, have been piled up in her garage in carefully labeled and classified boxes. The piles of boxes are causing her much consternation and me, frustration. A few weeks ago, all by myself, I rented a fourteen-foot moving van and single handedly relocated the contents of the storage unit in Sacramento to one in Napa, a larger unit with a larger price. The following day, I relocated my cherished items from Mom’s garage to my new storage unit, as well. And, in three months, my monthly rate increases. Substantially. I have three months to sift, sort and decide. What goes? What stays? Likely using the same method, five boxes at a time in trusty Meep, three piles; Goodwill, garbage and box back up and store. My goal, a unit no larger than 10’ x 10’, of only the most exquisite family heirlooms and cherished items. A few well chosen pieces, as I like to say, only the ones any self-proclaimed and slightly extremist minimalist would be compelled to keep.

Now, Mom is quizzing me on every item, artifact and scrap of paper from nearly ninety years of accumulation, almost fifty of that time in one house, a house with more than generous storage. And every nook and cranny, every cupboard, closet and cabinet crammed. Unless it is china, silver, crystal, a certain piece of furniture or particularly good photographs, it can go, and if I am in any way interested in the item, I take a picture of it, from several angles, and tell her to pass it on to someone else. I really, truly do crave a more minimalist life, though I am incredibly sentimental, at heart. I seek minimalism because it feels so good, and not just because I loathe, despise and abhor dusting which is probably as a result of all the dusting I did in my years of child servitude. I just don’t like clutter. It’s oppressive.

Cut the crap, please.

I find myself in a position I never really imagined. All those years, shopping at Costco, throwing decorations, books, electronics and every other imaginable thing into those enormous carts, all those years of piling my Target cart high with toys and books, home décor, DVDs and games. Every letter and greeting card I kept because I couldn’t bare to throw something so personal away, all the memorabilia, the cheerleading outfits, the prom dresses, the junior high band jacket with the awards still pinned to it, the musical instruments, themselves. I am the St. Peter of shit. I sit at the “pearly gates”, which look suspiciously like a roll-up door on a storage unit, and I am to decide, not just for myself, but for my entire family, my mom, my kids, what stays, what is valuable to any of us, and what goes. I don’t remember this being in my job description, but, as, ultimately, it will all be up to me to store, to pay to store, to dust and to trip over when in need of something useful at the back of the closet, I guess I have a rare opportunity to decide what is heavenly, and what goes to purgatory (Goodwill) or to hell (the dump).

Cut the crap.

So, as I cross the last of the items I can possibly cross off my to-do list today, a much larger to-do list looms ahead, one that will take months, perhaps years, to complete, accompanied by a lot of soul searching and some hard, hard decisions. The lesson, as I seek to evolve, is not one of trepidation or dread, but one of challenge. I have a truly rare opportunity. As a result of the events and actions that have transpired in my life over the past five years, I get to, pretty much, rebuild from scratch. I get to decide what, and who, is part of my life, and what can be “re-homed”. I am in complete control, ultimately, of where I choose to live, what I choose to do for a living, and even what bits and pieces of my past I wish to display in my home, use in my life, decorate with, keep and cherish. This is so liberating, so empowering and, frankly, sometimes, as I look at all the decisions ahead of me, large and small, large like a house and small like a greeting card from Mom and Dad for Valentine’s Day 1987, a little daunting. At least, by this point, I am well practiced.

And, really, we are all in this position, if we think about it. I am not unique, the liberation and empowerment I have exists for us all. That mine came about as a result of a whole bunch of crazy and unbelievable actions, and inactions, does not mean we don’t all have the same opportunity. The opportunity to reengineer our lives is always there, we just need to decide how, then act upon it. That I was sort of pushed into it, initially, was, really, by “luck”, if you will. And I may have considered it really bad luck, at first, but, now, see that it was all a long time coming, completely unavoidable, and has been an amazing and very positive catalyst for growth and change. So, in our effort to evolve, we often need to reexamine every aspect of our lives, much like the boxes of stuff we keep in the garage, the attic or in storage, and decide, which of the three piles does each belong in? Goodwill, garbage, or keep and cherish forever, or for now. Cut the crap! Embrace. Enjoy. Be empowered.

One thought on “Scarlett’s Letter November 19, 2019

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