Independence Day

Happy fifth of July! Yesterday, we celebrated Independence Day. We drank, we ate, we wore red, white, and blue, perhaps we took in a parade, maybe we watched things explode in the sky, either in person or from the overstuffed comfort of our recliners. That’s what Independence Day is all about. Or is it? From the Facebook posts I perused, from the handful of usual and frequent posters amidst my hundreds of Facebook friends, they all seemed to echo the same exact message as Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful to those who serve, past, present, and future. Very. But what, really, is Independence Day about?  
 I always thought Independence Day was a day to remember the Declaration of Independence, a document declaring our intent, as a colony, to, by whatever means necessary, secure our independence from the tyranny and taxation of England. Tyranny and taxation. Independence. Freedom from tyranny and taxation imposed on us without fair representation. Hot tub time machine Batman! Déjà vu! While a worthy topic, that isn’t what I’m discussing today. I just couldn’t resist the temptation to provoke a little thought. Let’s be more mindful of those days off from work, the no bills in the mailbox day, those days when mobile deposits don’t post to our bank account. Those days are each unique in their dedication and purpose. Oh dear, friends are going to say I rant.  Let’s talk about independence. In general. I feel, as a nation of people, we aren’t as independent as we once intended, as we once fought for. But, as a person, I feel fairly independent. Free. Sure I have responsibilities and obligations, we all do. The absence of responsibilities and obligations does not negate our freedom, our independence. In fact, the more independent we are, often, I think, the more relied upon we become by those near us who have not achieved, or who have lost, their independence.

  

 I was independent enough to choose, for the time being, to move back to my childhood home to assist my elderly, widowed mother. She is less independent than she once was. She depends on me to do certain things she isn’t able to do; drive her to out of town doctor appointments, fill her car with gas, deal with her cable television service provider every time an error message pops up, and sundry other things.

My mom always encouraged me to be independent, and I tried, and though it took a few hard life lessons to really sink in, at the tender age of (almost) fifty-two, I think I’ve almost got it. To my mom, being independent, in the vein she meant, was to, as a woman, especially, always be able to support myself with my own earnings, regardless of marital status or a spouse’s wealth or earning ability. I eventually got that. I’m an independent wage earner. And in the dissolution of my one and only marriage, ironically, the only point of contention is how much spousal support I’ll have to pay to my husband! And for what duration. I know, right?

I taught my own children to be independent, in the same respect my mom taught me. I think they got it before at a much younger age than I, their life hard lessons being entwined with mine. I also tried to instill in my children a facet of independence I hold valuable; the ability to go and do and experience, if necessary, alone. Independently.

This type of independence is something I developed a great value for by observing, among so many others, my own mother, in her lack of independence. I don’t fault her, or anyone, for this lacking, it simply saddens me. How many hundreds of times I witnessed my mom, friends, and acquaintances lament missing out on something important or exciting to them because no one would go with them. To miss out on experiences, events, adventure, pieces of life, because of a fear or trepidation of going and doing alone breaks my heart. For this reason, I tried to instill this type of independence in my children’s core values. I sent them to camp “alone”, without friends, and encouraged them to make new friends. This may seem like child abuse in today’s world, but I felt it was an important skill for them to master, and the earlier the better. Acting alone, independently, is a reality in life. We go to job interviews alone. We can’t bring a buddy along for moral support. The ability to walk singularly and confidently into a room with a stranger and come across as the best candidate is not something that comes naturally to everyone. Myself included.

I suffered from two things as a child on into my early adulthood; shyness and being an only child. I learned from both afflictions, and I overcame both. As a shy person, acting alone can be a challenge, but, as an only child, being alone is a reality. I learned, as a child, to work up the courage to call my friends on a rainy day to see if anyone could come over and play. If no one was available, I was left to play alone. From this I learned to enjoy my own company, to cherish some solitude, and to play four different players in a solo game of Monopoly. Right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot. Right hand was always banker.

  
I am an extremely active person, I like to go, I like to do. I like to experience. I don’t like to sit still long. I can’t stand the thought of life passing me by, of time slipping away, without some experience attached to it. Funny to live in the same neighborhood near some of the same folks I used to call up to come play Monopoly with me on a rainy Saturday. Now, like then, they are more often unavailable than not. Many of our interests differ, our stations in life are different, we all have many who depend on us, which means I either need to act alone or miss out. Missing out is not an option.  

I run alone, except on Saturdays, when I run with a running club. But I joined the running club alone, I didn’t require the security of a friend to join with me. I will happily go to art galleries, museums, parks, national monuments, wine tasting, parties, restaurants, outings, traveling, and to events, alone, if necessary. I hike alone as much as possible. I kayak alone, usually. I camp alone, occasionally, I have even backpacked alone. If I’d waited for someone to go with me, I’d still be waiting! And I’d have missed out on so much. What an indescribably sad thought!

  

Sometimes I wonder if I’m alone, not just running, hiking, and kayaking, but in my fierce independence. Especially for a girl. Yesterday, as I drove away from the house, kayak atop my car, still dripping from the day’s solo adventure, a neighbor from across the street, you know, the one who speaks to everyone, who lies in wait for someone to exit their house, their car, then chats for an awfully long time. I’m not proud to say I’ve mastered avoidance. Until now, with him practically stepping in front of my moving vehicle, waving at me to stop. I rolled down my window, turned down the Jeremy Loops song I had blaring and greeted him. A couple of week s ago, the UPS driver knocked on our door while I wasn’t home. Mom answered. He had a large parcel, a kayak, for the neighbor next door. Mom couldn’t accept it because she isn’t very mobile and would have a hard time a) delivering the kayak to the neighbor upon their return and b) walking next door to tell them they had a delivery awaiting their retrieval. We both assumed the kayak was for the man of the household, with whom I’ve swapped stories of hikes and backpacking treks. But, the neighbor from across the street now leaned in my window and told me the mother in law had bought a kayak and wanted to go on solo paddling excursions, but couldn’t figure out how to fix the kayak to the newly installed roof rack on her Prius. My heart warmed, a kindred spirit, older than I. I told the neighbor I’d be happy to offer my assistance, next we met out in the front yard. 

I value and cherish independence, as a nation of people, from tyranny and taxation without representation, as a wage earner, but most of all, as a student of happiness, a liver of life! My life, the way I want it, and my happiness, depend on it! Go. Do. Be. Don’t wait. Make your declaration. Make every day independence day.

That’s Life

You’re a baby and you see toddlers walking and riding trikes and playing; you want to be a toddler.

You’re a toddler and you see the preschoolers going to preschool, they have friends and play games and have fun; you want to be a preschooler.

You’re a preschooler and you see the kindergartners going to “real school” and they’re so big and get to learn so many things and play on a bigger playground; you want to be a kindergartner.

You’re a kindergartner and you see the grade school kids go into classrooms and learn to read and do math and stay at school with their friends all day; you want to be a grade schooler.

You’re a grade schooler and you see the middle school kids. They’re so cool and fashionable and worldly; you can’t wait to be a middle school kid.

Middle school is sheer hell; you can’t wait to get to high school.

High school is much harder than it looked and you have to deal with adult emotions and relationships and responsibility before you’re really emotionally ready for it. You just want to grow up enough to deal with all this. College will be better.

That's life.
That’s life.

College is stressful, you feel a little unprepared and overwhelmed, it isn’t as easy as you thought it would be, and you still don’t feel emotionally ready to deal with adulthood plus the workload of college, and now there’s money to worry about, too. Graduation and a career job will be so much better.

Finding a job is really hard. Finding a job in your field of study is even harder. The student loans are due, friendships are harder to maintain now that everyone is grown up and working full time, trying to pay off student loans and make their way. Some friends are married already, some have pets they treat like children, some have children they treat like pets. How are we ready for all this? Your relationship is serious, but is it real? Is it right? Is this the one? How do you know?

You’re sick to death of your job, all you want is a new boss, new responsibilities, something interesting, some growth, some challenge. Your relationship has endured and even taken on a life of its own. It isn’t joyful but it seems to work, like the path of least resistance, it isn’t “bad”, so don’t try to fix it, or break it. If only you didn’t have so many personal and financial responsibilities, you’d quit all of it and go backpacking across Europe for a year. Or two. Friends have done that, they survived, why can’t you just do something crazy like that?

Seems like marriage is the next logical step. The career is going well, mind numbingly well. There seems to be only enough time to work, eat dinner, maybe fall asleep in front of TV and go to bed for a brief spell before starting all over again tomorrow morning. It’ll all pay off if you work harder, it’s all about making progress.

Married now. Got that to pay off, too. Career continues to grow, oh so slowly, like watching grass grow, but in super slow-mo. You thought you’d be so much further ahead, you thought this was what you were working for all this time, but everything is only partially paid for. We want kids, now, while we’re young enough.

Baby is here, so blessed! It’ll be cool when baby is a toddler and can do more than giggle, coo, eat and poo. Blessed, though, so blessed. Going to work is hard. You’re really, really tired. Blessed, but tired.

Another baby. The first is now a toddler, thought we’d better have another before the first was so old. Makes sense to get the diaper and drooling thing over, once and for all, as quickly as possible. Can you imagine how terrific life will be when they’re both put of diapers? Still feel blessed. More exhausted now. Work is just there, you’ll get the career back on track once your regain consciousness, again.

One in preschool one in school, two time schedules, two drops offs, two pickups. You wonder how you accomplish work, commute, drop off, pick up, dinner, TV, and sleep all in a 24-hour recurring nightmare. You live for weekends, except they end up being an endless parade of Costco trips, themed birthday parties and yard work. You miss college. You miss your friends, you miss the person you married, you miss you and the only friends you ever see are parents of other kids at cheesy themed birthday parties. You don’t ever want to eat store bought birthday cake frosting again. Or cake, for that matter. It’ll be better when both kids are grade schoolers.

Soccer and T-ball and karate and cheerleading and softball and swim lessons and math tutors. Your childhood was so simple by comparison, you’d really like to go back! You drive a big, unstylish car and it’s full of Goldfish and Cheerios and empty, sticky Capri Sun pouches, which, by the way, you’re out of, time to go to Costco again. Is it Sunday already? How did that happen? It’ll be easier when the kids are in high school and can drive themselves.

How do you parent teenagers? They’re so difficult to deal with, moody, angry, sullen, always right, always questioning authority. You love them, of course, but they’re really so much needier than you ever remember being, so much needier than they realize they are, so vulnerable, really. You thought it was hard when you were a teenager, this is a whole different world. Life was simple then, God, you wish you could go back.

College applications, SAT scores and unlikely scholarships. How did that happen? You groomed those kids in every sport, knowing a full ride, athletic scholarship was the only way college for two would be anywhere near affordable. There is the meager college savings, but even that pales compared to what’s necessary. It all came so fast. It seems like you “just” paid off your student loans, and now there will be a whole new batch of student loans. How can an education possibly cost so much, and is it really worth it? How far have you gotten with your college education, not as far as you hoped. But once the nest is empty you can focus on your career again, make some real headway in the decade or so before retirement.

The nest is empty. This is weird. You don’t even know your spouse, it’s like living with a stranger, like starting all over, in an arranged marriage. You miss the kids, you wish they were little again, those were the good days. Your old friends are going through the same thing, the ones that are still alive, God, and some are so ill, and others are alone, divorced, addicted. Life is so precious, it’s hard, so hard, but fleeting and precious. You feel incredibly mortal. Incredibly vulnerable, more helpless at times than when you were an infant. It’ll get better when retirement comes, the just reward for the hard-working, prudent average American.

Skydiving! You felt alive for ten minutes. You can’t believe you just squandered three hundred bucks.

The resort vacations are disappointing; paying all that money to just sit around and drink, in a slightly nicer climate. You can sit and drink at home and get better TV. What a waste of time and money, but it’s what all your friends are doing. You still wonder about backpacking across Europe. Do people your age do that? Do you care? You wish you had the guts.

The gold watch, no pension, an anemic portfolio, and a retirement account that doesn’t even cover the debt amassed from the kids’ college. Volatility of real estate values and skyrocketing healthcare keeps you awake at night, there’s a pill for that. The copays on your prescriptions alone are staggering. You worry about the kids, they are struggling getting their careers off the ground, it is so competitive out there, and with a young family, how do they find the time, money and energy for all that. It was so much simpler when you were raising your family. The worry is suffocating, day and night. There’s a pill for that, too. It’ll be better when the grandkids are older.

The grandkids are headed for college. How do the kids afford all that? The house, the car, the bills, spousal support, therapy, and their lifestyle? You don’t understand their fast-paced, fractured, fragmented and technology dependent lives. All of their friendships and business dealing seem to be contained in a small device permanently clutched in their hand, persistently distracting them from conversation, from the moment at hand. You look into their eyes and catch a glimpse of sheer terror, theirs? Or was it a reflection of your own expression? You feel more mortal than ever, but you wonder how they’ll get by without you. You long for simpler times, you think about the past, when you aren’t worrying about the future. You wish you were a child again. Life was so simple. Where did your life go?

Or did life ever even happen? You were waiting for it to begin for half your life, and mourning its passage the second half. Ah, but, is that life? Or is it not? There is still time, though you never know how much. Grab that backpack and a Eurailpass, quick, before you talk yourself out of it! Life begins with the next breath! You only need to learn that, and breathe.

Life is in each moment, each precious, each unique. Every moment is a new beginning, if you only wish it to be. The moment you decide to live, to embrace that moment, you shall. Live your life. Now.

 

 

Scarlett’s Letter June 16, 2013

I’ve made it to New York City and had a lovely time today sharing some of my favorite sites with my daughter who now lives in up state New York. She has joined me for the week. We’re going to have fun! When I’m not working. Which won’t give us much time, so we are cramming everything we can into every free moment we have. We are very well practiced at this.

We were on our way to dinner and I noticed a couple walking down the street. I pointed them out to my daughter. The woman was carrying her purse; the man was carrying his backpack, dragging a suitcase and carrying her enormous Vera Bradley duffel bag. At least I’m fairly certain it was the woman’s Vera Bradley duffel bag, I honestly don’t know many men that choose to carry Vera Bradley duffel bags. In public, unless it’s the wife’s/girlfriend’s/spousal equivalent’s. I see this all the time in my travels. Have you ever tried to carry a duffel bag with all the clothes, make up, shoes, straightening irons and everything else a woman likely to carry a Vera Bradley duffel bag would need to be as lovely as her luggage? It’s frickin’ heavy!

I will admit, I have entertained the idea of acquiring a Vera Bradley piece, or two, but I know for certain I don’t want anything that I have to carry over my shoulder. I already have a purse and a backpack.  I don’t want anything that doesn’t roll. The only luggage I will ever carry I will never actually carry, unless I’m in the backcountry, backpacking. I insist on luggage with caster-style wheels, that will roll in any direction, and four wheels, not just two, so I can push my luggage down narrow passages without having to tip it and drag it.  Or carry it. Second, I can’t imagine the lovely quilted fabric would hold up to the abuse I dish out for very long.

I bought the best purse (very large purse) a little over a year ago. It was designed by a mom who is also a make up artist and who travels a great deal. It is stylish, well thought out, extremely well constructed and absolutely adorable. I get compliments on it every single day. But, in spite of it’s high quality and excellent engineering, superior materials, construction and design, I have worn it out to the point that it is almost embarrassing to carry. And still I carry it. The company has stopped making them for the time being, but I’ve launched a very loud and consistent campaign for a new batch. My point is, if this well engineered, high quality, well constructed super bag is in tatters after sixteen months in my care, no quilted duffel bag or tote is ever going to hold up to the kind of travel and abuse I am responsible for.

I was sharing my thoughts on this with my daughter when we saw another couple walking down Third Avenue, the woman, who by the way, was wearing Under Armor, as in pretty BAMF workout clothes, carrying just her big purse. Her man was carrying his backpack and a Vera Bradley duffel bag. Two different couples within ten minutes, within two blocks! It is an epidemic!

I was nearly apoplectic! So was my daughter! I can’t imagine, and she agrees, ever, ever, ever asking my significant other to tote my stuff around because it’s more than I can handle. Now my gentleman, like my daughter’s hubby, will insist on helping, and sometimes we reluctantly agree, but we both believe that a woman should be responsible for, and capable of, managing her own stuff. If not, we are either packing too much, or we are weak. Perhaps it’s our independent nature, perhaps it’s our love of backpacking, where you could never, ever, every ask someone else to carry your stuff. You just man up and carry your pack! Okay, true, on more than one occasion we did offload an item or two from our pack into my son’s, but, by golly, we packed less the next time. And the stuff we offloaded was “community” stuff, like rainflies or a cook stove or water purifier, not our wardrobe and luxury items (luxury item, we allow ourselves only one when backpacking). And, women backpacking with men have a certain code of honor to maintain, we are already out to prove we can trek as well, as fast, and as strong as the guys, no way are we going to wimp out on carrying our own stuff.

The second thing, here, guys; when your girl begs for a Vera Bradley duffel bag for some gift-worthy occasion, buy jewelry instead. She will be delighted with jewelry, it will cost about the same, maybe even less, and you will never, ever, ever have to carry it. If she just HAS to HAVE Vera, buy a wallet instead and put the jewelry inside as the “big surprise”. Just don’t tell her I told you!

Vera Bradley Guy and Under Armor Girl. What's wrong with this picture?
Vera Bradley Guy and Under Armor Girl. What’s wrong with this picture?