Baptism

It was a baptism of sorts, but instead of washing away sin, it washed away years of sadness and fear and a sense of utter exhaustion that had accumulated in the swell of seemingly endless fights. Truth be told, there probably was some sin mixed in there, too. There always seems to be more than enough sin to go around.

It had been a long and hot morning hiking trails and climbing to the top of Enchanted Rock, a granite dome in the middle of Texas’ scrubby Hill Country. A friend and I, both freshly divorced and with about a year of single parenting under our belts, headed out for the only kind of summer vacation we could afford—two days of modified camping approximately one tank of gas from home.  Scrambling up the face of Enchanted Rock was a cheap and local substitute for what we really wanted to do, hike the Grand Canyon and celebrate afterwards on the Vegas Strip. Yet, there was something about a rock called “Enchanted” that sent us roaring down I-35 on through the Lake Whitney area, stopping for snow cones that we promptly laced with enough alcohol to give our little escape that Vegas-feel.

The Indians believed that Enchanted Rock held magical powers. The cracking and popping that rings out as the sun sets in the summertime was said to be the voice of spirits calling forth to restore the souls of the dead. That myth became a siren call for two middle-aged women looking to be reborn.

The rock itself is not that intimidating, but the curvature of the stone, rising out from cracked earth and needle-sharp bushes, means that climbers spend about an hour pushing their bodies up an angle we would have drawn with the help of a compass in ninth grade Geometry class. Everywhere we looked, fellow hikers were bent almost in half, forming a humble bow to the force of gravity that pulled us back toward the thick underbrush below. Once on top, we tore off our boots and stretched out like a couple of lizards bathing in the sun. We embraced the heat rising off the stone as it penetrated into the depths of our tired bones. At some point a cloud passed overhead and sprinkled us with its gentle refreshment. We locked arms on the steepest part of the way down, laughing and bracing ourselves against pitching forward and tumbling all the way to Mexico.

A few winding miles away, we set up our next camp on the Perdanales River. A slow and gentle ribbon covered by a canopy of thick brush, it was the perfect contrast to the hot and dry rock where we’d spent the morning. The first order of the afternoon was to unlace the crusty, dusty hiking boots and dangle our feet in the chilly water. The shock of that cold river was pure pain. We were out of shape and, having just climbed an entire “mountain,” our calf muscles were screaming like the donkeys we could hear braying from some ranch in the distance. But after a few minutes the cold pushed away the tightness, and we ran our toes over the slimy rocks to work out the kinks and cramps.

And that’s were the little country baptism took place. We stayed there, feet dangling, for a long, long time knowing that the water would eventually wash it all away. The stress of a contentious divorce, the worry about keeping a roof over our heads and Captain Crunch on the breakfast table, the fear about what fresh hell was lurking around the next corner and concern about all those statistics predicting our daughters of divorce would be incarcerated, drug-addicted and pregnant by 14 finally started to loosen their grip and float away like leaves in the current.  We talked a lot and cried a little and promised we’d leave the past hurts and fears at the river’s edge. There was nothing left to do but sleep.

With two camping chairs, a cooler and a backpack, we somehow created a nest where we both slept so deeply, it almost took a kiss from some Hill Country Prince Charming to wake us up. Late into the afternoon, when the sharp rays of the Texas sun had softened, we woke to find that the families that had been perched along side us had packed up their coolers and floaties and gone back home.

Soon we decamped, filled up the gas tank and headed back to our busy lives and uncertain futures. But the load was lighter now. Having scrubbed the tarnish off our feet with the help of river rocks and sandy shoreline, we declared it a new start, a fresh beginning a christening of a lovely life to come.

 

 

 

Queen of the Courts

I’ll go right ahead and admit it up front. I was pretty darn proud of myself.

After several years of watching my daughter play highly competitive volleyball, I finally had the chance to step out on the court with a bunch of other out-of-shape-moms, mind you, and play a full on, regulation court game. It was moms vs. daughters, and we were out for blood.

It was one thing to sit courtside with a venti mocha frappuccino and yell super-helpful advice like “Move your feet,” and “Go to the ball,” or my personal favorite “Get low.”

It’s quite another thing to run full speed, stop on a dime, crouch like a frog, swing your arms and connect squarely with the ball and score a point for the over-40 set.

But I was undaunted, as were the other mothers on my team. We’d talked about this for several years—putting together a team of would-be athletes whose 98 lb. daughters made it all look so easy and fun. After all, we’d all been somewhat sporty 10, 15, 20 years ago. Surely we had retained some of that ability?

Despite many skinned knees, a twisted ankle and several lost acrylic nails, the moms persevered and beat the more experienced and better-coached girls by a slim but favorable margin. We celebrated with Gatorade like real athletes, and we walked out of the gym singing, “We are the Champions.”

Then it happened. One of the husbands who was there to cheer on both sides of the mother/daughter rivalry, looked at us pitifully and smirked, “You look awfully pleased with yourselves for having just beaten a bunch of seventh graders half your size.”

The next day the aches and pains were more than a double dose of Advil could handle, and I knew before my feet hit the floor that my volleyball career would carry on from the sidelines. At school the carpool line was full of fellow teammates groaning and comparing stiff muscles.

Fast forward a bunch of years and many games later, and my daughter is still playing volleyball, this time for a college on the other side of the country.  Thankfully, she’s too far away to worry about a mother/daughter rematch.

Last year I visited her for a particularly challenging tournament which the team, unfortunately, lost.  After the game, I couldn’t resist a little well-placed, well-intentioned jab. “So, was it worse than the time that you lost to all the moms?”

I think she gave me the stink eye.

 

 

Greetings from the Past

christmas-cards-in-basket-525x700I sat at the kitchen table for hours sorting the rumpled Christmas cards into little piles that grew taller as my shame grew bigger.

For years, at least 15 I’d say, I’ve received dozens of holiday greetings that, right around January 30th would end up getting tossed into a giant wicker basket beneath an antique table in my entryway. I bought the basket because it fit the space and had a thick, knotted texture that looked old and modern at the same time. It turns out, the wicker basket ended up being just the right size to hold all my old of dead and dying friendships.

The cards, lovingly chosen and graciously written, had traveled from places around the world only to be enjoyed for a moment and tossed aside. After all, I needed room on the mail ledge for post holiday bills and Target circulars. These cards, with their smiling faces of toddlers wearing matching Christmas outfits, barely made it across the threshold of my house. The wonderful people who’d sent them were no longer a part of my life.

Anyone who passes the age of 30 knows that friendships–sometimes really good ones–come and go.  We’ve all had the experience of drifting away from people we genuinely like because time, distance and circumstances create an insurmountable chasm that we’re too tired or preoccupied to navigate.

In my case, I pulled away on purpose. Right about the time when my friends and I were blissfully attending each other’s baby showers, my husband and I left our home outside of D.C.  for a 114° frontier called Dallas.  It was a difficult transition that ultimately led to a series of what I viewed as “failures” (divorce, stalled career, deep financial problems.) At some point I began to ignore the repeated attempts my friends made to reach out to me. I felt like I had nothing to contribute to the friendship but complaints and worries, so I stopped returning calls and emails. I barely read the Christmas cards and letters before I tossed them in the basket. They were too much of a reminder of how different my life was from the one I’d left behind–the one my friends had carried on and were enjoying rather successfully in comparison to mine.

I guess I thought it was better to disappear because I felt like I couldn’t keep up, and I did not want to be the friend that everyone felt sorry for. What the Christmas cards and letters were showing was an enormous contrast to what I was experiencing in my life. There were no family vacations to London, no great career steps, no novels published or national awards to brag about.

It’s not like I spent the last twenty years alone and friendless. I’ve met wonderful men and women who’ve helped me create an outstanding life for myself and my daughters, and I like to think I’ve been a loving and loyal friend to them.

But as I sat there looking at photo cards and reading those awful brag letters, I realized that I missed the friends of my youth—the ones I hadn’t heard from in years but whose kids were likely off to college, just like mine. They were former playgroup moms whose parents were probably slipping into frailty and illness, just like mine. They were the wild and crazy college roommates who were likely watching the lines and wrinkles form around the corners of their eyes, just like mine.

Buried deep in that wicker basket, I also found a dusty and scratched photo card of my own toddler children, poised at the edge of dock feeding ducks and wearing their holiday best. It was the last Christmas card I’d sent to the friends back home. Placed next to all those other smiling faces, my card looked equally adorable.

With the wisdom that comes with the aforementioned facial wrinkles, I’ve realized that similarities and circumstances are not the framework of friendships. It was wrong, and very hurtful, of me to push people away because my life took a different path.

Recently I had the opportunity to reconnect with one of the women whose holiday cards lay dust-covered in that basket. We picked up right where we left off, and her unforgettable sense of humor inspired the holiday card I’m sending out this year.

A SHINY NEW CITY

 

I remember when I was little and I would come home from vacation and my house would look all different and a little weird. The colors (harvest gold and avocado) on our worn plaid couch would appear a little less dingy. The knickknacks on my dresser would seem a bit more interesting than usual. I’d even walk into a wall or two during my first few hours at home, almost like my autopilot had gotten turned off at some point during our trip to the beach. There was something about being away that seemed to make our old house look new again.

That’s the exact phenomenon I’m experiencing right now with an entire city. To me, it looks all new and shiny, inviting and full of possibilities.

It’s not that I’ve been away, mind you, well not physically at least. It’s that I’ve been busy single-momming for the last 20 years, and my life was almost entirely entrenched in a 5-mile radius that started at carpool line and ended at Target.

I moved to this City on the Trinity when my daughters were little bundles still too young to chew a chicken fried steak. I cannot fully explain the shock that hit me the moment I realized that Dallas was ground zero for the most beautiful, well-dressed, fit and fashionable women in America. I, on the other hand, was broke and exhausted from back-to-back babies, breastfeeding and 15 months without a full night’s sleep. And did I mention I am from the Northeast where women generally dress for bad weather all year long?

Minus the breastfeeding, that situation persevered until my daughters left for college, and I realized that I’d never gotten to know this city from a single girl’s point of view. I found myself driving around at some point recognizing that there was so much I didn’t know about Dallas because it wasn’t on my mother-radar.

And it helps that my time of awakening has coincided with an exciting rebirth of a town that’s universally known for things I generally ignore like J.R. Ewing and the Cowboys—two throwbacks that haven’t played well in decades.

To my delight, whole sections of this city have recently undergone enormous updates, much like myself. There’s an entire Arts District with late-night museum hours where you can stroll around drinking wine and chatting sculpture with people who don’t have to rush home to study for a physics test. And there are a whole slew of new high-rises that look like the perfect place to house a carefully edited selection of furniture and belongings that doesn’t include 15 years worth of Halloween costumes and a piano that no one has played since eighth grade.

Just like when I used to return from a beach vacation, everything around town looks new and appealing, and I have a strong desire to pick things up, examine them more closely and appreciate them a little more than I did in the past. My autopilot has been turned off, and I’m bumping into things that I’d failed to notice in the day-to-day blur of juggling job, kids, dog and whatever else needed to be fed or watered.

So, Hello Dallas! It’s nice to meet the new you. I’d like to introduce you to the new me. Let’s get acquainted.

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