Lessons from our Temporary Mabel

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-11-21,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-YA little over a month ago, I was walking Scruffy by my house and I ran into a woman holding an old, funny looking dog on a leash. “Do you recognize this dog?” she asked.  I said no.  After a few minutes of talking I discovered that she had found the dog running back and forth in the street, looking lost.

Since I work with a local rescue that almost always reunites lost pets with their owners within hours, and since we were in front of my house, I said, “I’ll take the old girl. I can hold onto her until we locate her parents.” We nicknamed her Temporary Mabel as we didn’t think she’d be here long.

That was about thirty-eight days ago. The last thing we wanted was another dog, but she grew on us. She’s got a pointed tri-color Corgi head, short constantly-shedding hair, a few bald spots, no tail, and short pencil legs. She’s anxious, at least nine years old based on her chip, and emits a high-pitched yowl when anyone leaves or comes into the room, which in a warm way reminds me of my childhood dysfunctional beagle.

She was not content with our fenced in yard, and demanded brisk, long walks. The first couple of times I took her out she pulled on her leash until she coughed. We bought harnesses for all the dogs, suddenly questioning why we subjected them to collars all these years.

Mabel and Scruffy on the hillBefore we got Scruffy, it never occurred to us to get a dog door or visit our town’s lovely dog park. Scruffy’ s needs taught us new things I wish we’d known when it was just Lily.

IMG_2373And Lily? Until I got her with her sensitive tummy and skin allergies, my pets always ate basic food, dry and cheap. But for her I had to upgrade to grain-free, limited-ingredient kibble. Then Henry the cat began eating the expensive dog food so I upgraded the kitty food too.

Comparatively, people who have a bunch of human kids get the opportunity to improve their parenting skills with each new child. But you don’t get a start fresh with parenting when you have just one.

I thought of this the whole thirty day waiting period that Temporary Mabel was gradually transforming into Permanent Mabel. I love Ivy and she’s the best daughter anyone could ever want or have; but I feel guilty that I made so many mistakes while raising her, and that as an only child she didn’t get the benefit of lessons learned from mistakes I could have made on earlier siblings.

get-attachment.aspxI don’t think I was ever a bad parent mind you, but I would have done things differently if I could have been sure it wouldn’t change the outcome. I love my life now and Ivy loves hers so maybe everything that happened was predestined. But you gain experience when adding children. If you have a bunch, by the time the fourth or fifth kid comes along you are flawless. And that lucky child gets the most learned, best version of you. Disclaimer: that view could be my fantasy imaginings as the mother of an only child, the grass is always greener and all that.

You foolishly believe when you’re pregnant that after the baby is born the time will go slowly, and you’ll have plenty of opportunity to figure it all out. But it doesn’t work like that. You pop the baby out, and next thing she’s in her early twenties and you’re scratching your head wondering how the heck this much time went by. You berate yourself for expecting her childhood to last forever, that each stage would go on indefinitely with ample time to research and do everything just right. a4

Maybe that’s why I can’t resist being a mother to this abundance of animals. With each new pet I raise I get “parenting” a little closer to perfect.

I hope that Ivy learned from some of my missteps and that her children get the very best version of her. If not, she will learn as she goes.

If nothing else, we hold fast to the belief that we did a way better job of raising children than our parents did, and that they were more adept than their mother and father and so on. If that were true though, our ancestors would have been absolutely clueless, and it’s only our current child-rearing experience that achieved perfection.

Clearly that’s not the case. Each parent starts fresh and makes a lot of the same mistakes. Be it from not knowing better, or stubbornness, or immaturity, or through loving too much and not wanting to set boundaries, or from setting too many. For better or worse, we devour and entrust that generation’s Guide to Parenting which conflicts with those of other generations. No matter how astute our parents were, we think we’re wiser… Until our kids are grown and then we reconsider and mull over the decisions we made, the paths we chose. We rethink our own parents’ actions.

Oh, now I understand…is a mantra that is often in my head.

We may not all be human or pet parents, but we are all constant learners, rushing to get it right before the clock runs out. Take a deep breath, savor the moments as they come, and use your life experience to be the best, kindest person you can be.

Childhood is temporary. Life is temporary. But you don’t realize that until it whizzes past you in a blur of fuzzy memories. All we can do is be humble and learn from our mistakes, our successes, our children and parents, and of course from our dogs.

-Carly G.

The Heart Grows Fonder

3I drove Ryan to the airport early Wednesday morning so he could visit his father in Minnesota. We’re together almost all of the time but I rarely mention him in this blog anymore except as “Ryan said this” or “Ryan commented that…” It may seem that the big love affair I captured in the blog over six years ago has lost its magic. It has not.

After spending only two nights alone, it has hit me how close we are. I don’t mention him just as I don’t mention that I have curly hair, or a penchant for being hypersensitive, or that I have big feet. These are all part of what makes me the person I am. It’s not that Ryan formed me into someone else; he’s fostered my Carly-ness from day one. But he is always by my side in a way I hadn’t realized until this week when suddenly he wasn’t.

I glance fondly around the quiet house we share, our old Granville House, named from It’s a Wonderful Life. We called the house this initially because it’s on a street with the same name as the one from the movie—a fact my aunt pointed out before we moved in. Like the derelict Victorian in the film, our home was long empty, beaten down and worn, and in need of someone to bring it back to life. I had a sign made for the outside that proudly proclaims it as Granville House, because we are corny and romantic that way.

After we moved in, a Carly-esque coincidence happened. On looking through some old documents from the original owner, I got a big surprise. The previous owner was a widow who lost her husband and son many years before, and who herself had passed away about four years earlier. The legal document I found listed the widow’s late husband’s first name: Granville. We were shocked by this, as we’d been calling it Granville House the whole time meaning something else entirely. Truly it was Granville’s house. Signs like this cemented the fact that we were on the right life path.

The last couple of days I’ve worked eight hours (from the living room/my home office) then spent long, quiet, lonely evenings missing Ryan. I have my animals as companions. Rebound Dog Lily is almost seven years old now. Hard to believe it was that long ago I crept into a Starbucks to write a blog about dating and how I was never going to do it again. About how I was going to get a rebound dog instead.

7 Lily

My full-blood, nine-hundred dollar Yorkie ended up being a mixed breed (so says her DNA). She weighs fifteen pounds, is deaf, has two leaky heart valves and a murmur. She’s had 19 teeth removed this year and has no enamel on the others so will lose those at some point too. But she’s the sweetest dog I’ve ever had. The absolutes I proclaimed about dog breeds, and my chronic checklists about everything—that’s not me anymore.

1A couple of years ago Ryan and I went to the pet store to get Henry (my now nineteen year old cat) some food. We spotted the pen of rescue dogs in the main aisle and fell in love with Scruffy. Ryan was resistant to adopt at first, until the little ragamuffin looked in his eyes. A ten month old they found in the street, the lady said, saved from a kill shelter. It’s funny how close Lily and Scruffy have become. They’re inseparable in the way Ryan and I are. They may not be glued to each other 24/7 but you can be sure that if one of them goes somewhere without the other (like the vet) there is panic. Like me, Lily was resistant at first to the idea of someone new in her life. She spent two solid weeks running away from Scruffy, avoiding eye contact if I held her up to the new dog, much the same way I avoided even the concept of having a new relationship. Then one day, she realized that Scruffy was the best thing that ever happened to her.

I love my house, filled with the touches that make it a CarlyRyan museum of sorts. Little bits of things collected since we met online. From the jar of rain I sent him from Massachusetts so many years ago, to the old Coke machine we got at the thrift store in our town. Everything in the home speaks of “us.” There was never the conflict of my stuff/your stuff I’ve had in other relationships. Sure, he’s got his book room, and the hall closet that’s a book nook, and I’ve got my Harmony Box collection and some dolls, but the feeling when you enter Granville House is one of peace, contentment, and unity.

Ivy is graduating next week from her community college. She’s a couple of years behind my original plan, but schedules, like lists, have become insignificant to me. Living and enjoying life is what matters. She started her new job this week, working with autistic children and adults. She will work there full time in the summer and hopefully part time in the fall. In August she will start school full time at a California state school to finish those final two years toward her bachelor’s degree.  I have never seen her so happy and relaxed and content with life. I have never seen myself that way, until now. The path we’re on certainly seems to be the right one. It’s where we belong. Neither of us would be here, if not for Ryan.

In the early days of my relationship with Ryan, when we only emailed each other, when we had no idea our casual correspondence would turn into a cross-country, long-distance romance, he sent one message that will always stick with me. I’ve quoted this before but it was early on and bears repeating. “You’ve had a bad run of luck and you are a bit punch drunk. This is going to change for you…”

He was certainly right about that.

5I sit now in the living room, looking out the French doors to the patio, where my plants and flowers thrive. Greens and pinks and yellows and reds blend together like a kaleidoscope. Lily and Scruffy play together endlessly. They are as bonded and as close as two beings can be while still retaining their individual personalities.

29025584_10215200801121470_603387100577923072_nI look wistfully over at the side of the couch where Ryan normally sits. We watch television at night, continually pausing the show to discuss things. He’ll hand me his phone and say “Hey did you see this story about it…” Or I’ll stop the movie to read him a text Ivy just sent. Or we put her on speaker when she calls and we lean into the phone to hear about her day. He generally falls asleep during whatever show we turn on. And he’s up long before me, in his study, doing book layouts. He’s quiet and unobtrusive, but his presence is inexorably linked to mine. He is my best friend, and he is my home.

His absence is tangible right now, but thankfully he will be home in two days, back to me, his dogs, his old cat, his older turtle, and our happy little life in the old Granville House.

Here’s to love-Carly G

On Learning from the Young

1Until I was old enough to attend kindergarten, all my knowledge came from my stay-at-home mother. The way I talked (wicked strong New England accent), the truths: wear clean underwear in case you have a car accident, always use mayonnaise and never Miracle Whip, spicy things will hurt your stomach, grease and flour your cake pans, color in the lines, connect the dots in order, the world is scary, new things are scary . . . My mother’s view was my view of the whole world. mom and daughter

By middle school though, and certainly by high school, I formed my own opinions. And in my teen years I went through a phase where I fought vehemently that all her ideas were wrong and all mine were right. I lacked the perspective of aging and failing at my endeavors, so for that short time I was utterly brilliant.2

When I was a teenager, I did a lot of babysitting. Two of my wards were adorable British children with even more adorable accents. I asked my mother at the time why they had accents if they were born here. She explained to me that they spent almost all their time with their British mother, but once they went to school and were exposed to American children, they would assimilate and lose their charming way of speaking. Years later, my mother ran into the family and confirmed that they were 100% Americanized.

I thought of this recently and how many parts of me changed from when I was a child, once I assimilated to all the people outside my home. The kicker is that a lot of the internal stuff is still there. So many of the major decisions in my life were made by the sheltered child inside, the one who still has the accent, who doesn’t color outside the lines. We may learn to talk differently, to dress differently, but aren’t our strictest convictions and beliefs the ones from our childhood:  fear of dogs, and mean men, and monsters in the closet, of being left? We don’t easily let those things go. 3

My mother knew, and told me, everything about her past and the past of the world she grew up in, from her perspective.  I took her past, and my present and future and ran with it. I relayed to her what I found, what I discovered along the way, things that were different from what she’d understood to be true. I tried to tear away the beliefs she’d had since she was that sheltered child. Similarly, in the last few years, as Ivy has grown into a young woman, I have learned from her. Be it new speech or new food or habits, in many ways, she has become my guide.

We moved to California a few years ago, and she became a vegetarian. Without planning to, so did I. I can talk to her about relationships and friendships and she gives good advice, better than I would have given at that age. I don’t know when she became so sage, but I sense a reversal of the teaching process.abus

As with my mother, I can teach Ivy everything about my past, and the past of the world I grew up in, but I know so little about the present, how things are now outside of my bubble and my experiences.

When I was young, I spent so much time growing and learning about who I wanted to be. As we age, we become formed and solid. That quest to change and develop slows down. It is our children, or any younger people we know, who pull us along to remind us that we are not done growing and changing. Until we are dead, we have life lessons to learn.

Ivy brought up a good point the other day, that she heard somewhere. If someone bangs into you walking on a sidewalk, you determine immediately that the person was not paying attention and is a jerk. But if you then discover that person is blind, you will grasp that your take on the situation was skewed. You will reconsider and feel like a heel.

We have run ins with people all the time, on social media, at work, on the freeway, and we are quick to get angry. But we should apply the same kindness and understanding we felt running into a blind person (blind being a metaphor for someone whose condition is not what we think). Everyone who irks us is not blind, but they may have something going on that we do not understand. Great advice from my teacher, Ivy, and another lesson to add to those that guide me on my path.

Many people resist new ideas, new perspectives. They feel they have earned the right to sit back and cruise for a bit, with the knowledge they accumulated over a lifetime. But knowledge is a relative term based largely on truths drilled into our heads as children, or personal experiences from a set point in time, with a set cast of characters.  We can ruminate over our pasts all we want, and rehash all that happened, but in the end, it’s only new perspective that changes our minds, and then only if we are willing to accept it.

2018-05-01_19-40-44I do not want to be bound to the past, and use only that as a reference for pivotal life decisions or for how I treat people. You can learn a lot from your elders, but you can learn much from your children too.

I may have lost my New England accent (for the most part) but so much of me is still that child inside, watching and listening for perspective, growing and developing into who I am going to be.

In the words of Ivy,

sbcc

 

Peace Out-

Carly G.

White Noise

thSW7XF2SPA couple of years ago, I bought a white noise machine for the bedroom. I’d heard about them for years but never saw the point. I like to sleep with quiet, not noise. Ivy’s dad bought one years and years ago, before Ivy was born. It wasn’t white noise though, it was rain and forest sounds. That was fine but then there would be a random cricket or a bang of thunder and I’d pop awake.

thBut I bought this machine anyway, probably on a Black Friday sale or something, I don’t recall. What I do recall is that by about day three, I couldn’t sleep without it. It shut out all the other real life noises, like dogs and cats jumping off the bed, or Sugar Glider barks, or crickets in the bathroom, or neighbors driving by. And mostly, it quieted the noises in my head.

I won’t go so far as to say there are voices in my head, because that sounds too much like insanity. But there is a lot of noise all the time, a lot of my own thoughts, and replays of songs, or television shows, or general music, plus the sound memories of a million different experiences from the day going a thousand miles an hour. There are endless what-if scenarios running on all the time, being played out layer after layer. Sometimes the white noise machine isn’t enough but it certainly takes the edge off.

blurred-racing-thoughtsI bring this all up because about a month ago I decided I needed to give up added sugar. My weight has gone up and down a bunch of times since I started this blog. I’m on an upswing now. I’m pretty heavy but holding fast and not gaining. I gave up eating meat about six months ago and gained weight because I was eating a lot more carbs. I’m sticking to being a vegetarian but there’s no excuse for all the sugar. Plus, as I age my cholesterol is going up. I’d never read labels for sugar before and certainly never really thought of it as anything but my harmless and much-adored drug of choice.

The first few days of not having sugar were miserable. I was shaky and so hyper even I wanted to slap me. Seeing the effects of withdrawal sort of woke me up to how addicted I truly was. After that initial adverse reaction though, I became calm. Too calm. The noise in my head was gone. It was uncomfortable for me, this silence. There was just…nothing. I felt depressed, which is not like me.

As moods go, I’m mostly zippy and bubbly all the time. I’ve been likened to Winnie the Pooh, Pollyanna, and Holly Hunter’s role in Broadcast News. But suddenly I was flat and sad. I took some vacation time from work to use up days and binge watched TV. I didn’t write at the same time or work on my dollhouse or read. I just sat. I was worried I was actually “depressed” and not just blue. Then I became concerned that maybe this was the new normal. Maybe this is how regular felt and I was usually so (sugar) high all the time I didn’t know it.

crazy_thoughts_by_treefrog_productions-d48jkcqI craved the erratic chaos in my head, the wide-awakedness, the creativity I couldn’t staunch. But it was just white noise inside. I had physical energy. Too much really, so I was still jazzed up that way. I did a ton of yard work and carried 130 bags of mulch, some in the rain, to spread. I laid weed barrier and hurt everything in my body. I weeded the hill and sliced my dirt-packed finger on a palm tree and kept working.  But the frenetic mental self, the crazy Carly inside, she wasn’t there.

I met a guy in an airport once who asked if I was Hypo Manic. I said no. He said he was and he took meds for it and it changed his life. He explained that most people hover a little above and a little below the normal mood range. And people like us, we’re almost always up up up. It’s not as drastic as bipolar. It’s like mini bipolar. But without as much down. At least that’s how I understand it. Back then I questioned why the heck I’d want to tamp down my constant happiness.

But after the last few weeks I kind of get it now. Part of me was sad because I missed the high, the explosion of mental positive energy and creativity that NEVER SHUTS DOWN. And the other half of me was so damn relieved to rest. To shut down and stare at the TV and binge watch Netflix shows. That side of me dreaded when the next wave of super energy would come back because I realized then how utterly exhausting that can be.

Lake-Placid-and-vicinity-6055989-smallTabletRetinaIt’s been a month since I gave up added sugar, or at least knocked it way down. I feel okay now, not sad, not excited just kind of even. I still get a little burst of happiness from hugging Ryan or the pets, or looking at the flowers in my garden, but I’m not Roger Rabbit happy, and that’s okay.

Maybe as time goes on my brain will continue to readjust to the lack of sugar, and will rewire. I will be super hyper all on my own, driving everyone around me to drink. Or maybe the little white noise machine in my head will keep running, and I will know how it feels to feel quiet, to feel placid.

This is my first blog in a month or so and I guess that says something about my emergence from the “drug” withdrawal. I made it through Easter without Cadbury Eggs which is a feat all on its own. Today I picked up a Snickers three times in the store and set it down. I then picked up a Three Musketeers. I set that down too and left with fresh strawberries.

I’m not saying sugar has shaped my personality, only allowed it to flourish and go unchecked and unbridled. Maybe I won’t be writing a book a year, and writing screenplays and stories and trying to learn Spanish and renovating the house and volunteering and working full time…but I’m good with that.

For the first time in my life, I think I’d be good to just sit for a while and be content and hear…nothing.

To accepting tranquility,

-Carly G.

 

 

 

 

 

The Fountain of Youth

IMGWhen you’re a kid, your life revolves around playing with your friends and focusing on the now.  You give very little thought about the future because the assumption is that you live will forever. You haven’t yet learned about race or class, or that you are better than or less than a friend because of social standing. It’s a time of purity and wonder.

As you age you measure yourself against others, obsess about achieving. You feel inadequate if your house isn’t big enough, or if you can’t afford a house. If you have a job you love it’s not good enough, you need to get a higher position in the company to feel validated, and make more money for a bigger house. These are generalizations. There are plenty of people who live frugally and have the home and car they need and do not spend their lives discontented with their present station in life. Good for them. They are a step ahead of the rest of us for whom there is a burning desire to fare better than our parents did, live in a nicer place, get more education…

A couple of weeks ago, Ivy and I took an unexpected trip to the Salton Sea, to visit my father and step mother, Lola. It’s about a two hundred mile drive to their place, which we’d never seen. When I’ve visited them in the past bunch of years, it was at my sister Tammy’s place in Arizona. Ivy hadn’t seen them since she was nine years old which was way too long.

Ivy and I drove, chatting along the way as the miles flew past. As we neared the destination, there was a movie-like fade in. Windmills.  Hundreds and hundreds of them in sync, blowing, spinning round and round like enormous pinwheels. I imagined a voice narrating. “And now it begins.”   windmills

After the surreal windmill scene, miles and miles of nothingness followed. Dry, dead, drought grass as far as we could see.

file-1Then suddenly to our right we saw light gleaming off the Salton Sea, the one-time tourist attraction extraordinaire turned highly salinated, somewhat toxic, dead-fish-on-its-shores site. It’s stunning to see, as mesmerizing as any real ocean, with its sparking waters, and rhythmic waves. It was a joy to spot this oasis, this vast rolling ocean within  miles of barren landscape.

Before long we saw the RV park up on the left, a bright white oval eye against a flat, dry yellow face. I know, I know, me and my symbolism. In my defense, the park is called Fountain of Youth so I’m not the only one who is a symbol enthusiast.

Front_Entrance_Fountain_of_Youth_Spa400This 55+ park is where Dad and Lola have spent most of their time in the last nine years or so, going up north to another park in summers, or to stay with Tammy. Once we passed through the security gate, Lola pulled up on a golf cart and told us to follow her. We drove down the small cozy paved roads, peppered with flowering shrubs and trees, until we reached their home. We dropped off our things, jumped in the cart, and drove to their friend Sophie’s lot where we spent most of the rest of our visit.

There was a parade that day, and we watched as the residents, all of them good friends, marched on with their floats, each proudly showing off their activity: hiking, bocce, golf. People from all around the world ended up there. Two fire trucks showed up for the parade too and everyone waved at them. Lola said they see the emergency workers a lot because it’s a senior park and people are always dying. She said it as a matter of fact, no emotion or commentary. I thought of a neighborhood of children, when suddenly one child leaves in a moving truck, never to be seen again. You move on and just enjoy the friends you have left. The residents here do the same.

After the parade, the crowd flowed up to the deck at Sophie’s place, the roomy home with the desert and sea view, with a wall of bright pink azaleas and a mini Mourning dove who watched us suspiciously from her nest. The Chocolate Mountains perfectly completed the backdrop. The whole day felt like a movie broken up into scenes with Ivy and me moving from seat to seat, spending time with different combinations of Dad and Lola and their friends, listening to their conversations, telling them our stories.

th1BQYRXVGThere was a lot of champagne flowing that day, and the people at the party were as lively as college students, and enjoying their lives just as much. Fountain of Youth, indeed. From what I saw and heard, their days consist of hanging out and playing, reading, enjoying the pool and hot tub, and taking walks with their dogs. Their pensions or social security or savings cover their expenses. They can just enjoy living, having earned it after so many years of “adulting.” I’m sure there are real issues they deal with beneath the surface, worrying about their grown children, or people they have conflicts with, or their health; but for the most part, they collectively seemed to be content, right where they landed.

At one point I sat with a British man from Canterbury. He and I sat on a wicker couch. I asked him what he did…before. Everyone here was retired after all, and from all over the world. I was curious about his job when he was on the work force. He paused, said no one ever asked that. He was fine with telling me but realized no one ever asked. His life before does not matter for this blog, only the point that everyone in the park lives in the now. He looked around and pointed, “I don’t know what he did before, or him, or her…” but added, “They’re good people.”

I suggested that everyone was on a level playing field here, it seemed. He said yes, exactly. Some of them had a lot of money, some not so much. In the complex, there were probably doctors and lawyers and who knows what, but now they’re retired. What they had before or were before…none of that mattered here. He said something along the lines of, “I’ll probably die here but I’m okay with that. I like it here.”

contentmentIt got me thinking. At the end of the day, or the end of your life, when careers are over and your children are grown with children or grandchildren of their own, it’s your time.  Your season to hang out with friends, and relax, and talk about the journey you are on together, in the now. Because then is long gone and what remains is all that matters. All the corporate climbing, and the fancy cars and clothes, and how popular you were in high school, it matters so little in the scheme of things.

Now they are all living in similar small seasonal homes, drinking champagne on a deck and looking over at an ocean that was at its prime when they were children. And like them, time may have changed it, weathered it, made it not as healthy as it once was; but it is just as strong and vibrant and full of life.

They take each moment for what it is. One bocce tournament at a time, one karaoke night, one homecoming parade, one round of golf on the sand course, one friend leaving forever in an ambulance…

The next morning we went to Bombay Beach before breakfast. To me it was a sad, forgotten place. The area was mostly abandoned. The beach sported derelict buildings and structures that many years ago could have been thriving hot dog stands or amusement park rides. I pictured tourist families running around on the beach, excited to be escaping from their life to come to this miracle ocean. I contrasted it to life now: the empty beach, the empty buildings. No one around except for some residents who live close by, in the tiny area of homes before the vastness that stretches on until the park where Dad and Lola live.

We went to the American Legion and met their friends from the night before. A man who was probably eighty held up a paper cup with a Bloody Mary in it—the drink of choice for all of them. “Some party last night!” I didn’t know him but laughed at the relaxed frivolity amongst them. In the corner, an older man played his guitar and sang country music. We sat with Dad and his friends at a long folding table, and we ordered off a paper slip menu with check boxes. It was an adventure.

I couldn’t help but imagine the narrator’s voice then, the Buddha-esque Carly who puts things in perspective. “This is the scene where you look around and drink everything in. Where you came from, where they came from does not matter. You are part of their journey and they are part of yours. ” Their friend Sophie looked at me then and smiled. “There’s a lot of kindness here.” Her eyes scanned the room as mine did. “A lot of kind people.”

A short while later, Ivy and I said our goodbyes and began the drive alongside the Salton Sea, now to our left. We drove until we were surrounded by the windmills again, lulling us back from what felt like our dream sequence, the symbolic end of our trip. And into the heavy traffic of the 10 and the 5 and 118…and back to our own version of now. The hurried, break-neck pace of our lives with jobs and college and our everyday challenges.

There is something to be said for retirement, and slowing down, and appreciating life at face value, seeing your friends as you did when you were children, without the filters of color or finances. The gift is to savor what is here now and not what is next. Life is fleeting, and the next thing may never come. But now is all around us, and there is a lot of kindness here.

8

And that is what I learned on my trip to see my father.

-Carly G.

The Inner Judge

The other day I went into an upscale burger place in our town to set up a fundraiser for a pet rescue I’m involved with. While I waited for the manager, I saw two middle class, middle aged men walk up to the counter together to get their trays of food. One of the men grabbed a double burger from the tray and dashed outside. My instant reaction was that this guy was jerk. He didn’t even say goodbye to his friend, just snatched the food and ran out. What an antisocial creep, I thought. I got a little angry and rolled my eyes.

Luckily, I kept an eye on the hamburger grabber and felt like a judgmental idiot when I saw him hand the burger to the bedraggled looking, probable homeless man outside. The scraggly man smiled and took the burger to go with drink he already had (surely the man bought that too). Then the middle aged man came back in, rejoined his friend, and they took the trays and went off to sit. I noticed as the man walked away that he wore an L.A. City Fire t-shirt. So he saves lives and gives food to homeless people. Good job, Carly, wrongly judging a really good guy based on…what exactly?

It got me wondering why we put labels on people. I talked to Ryan about it on the way home, how when you’re younger you need labels so you can tell one person from another. Dangerous person, nice person, old person, child, parent, teacher, policeman, etc. We learn labels from parents and from society and it’s important to know who people are so we can stay safe. But as we grow up, it goes one of two ways.

You cling to the identifying tags you learned through experience, and die with an unwavering conviction that all X types are bad and all Y types will hurt you, and you are the only one who is truly good and smart and worthy. I know too many people who slap labels on every poor soul who is not just like them. Are they so lacking in self-awareness that they truly think they are better than everyone? Or do they have so little confidence that they need to put others down to feel good? Whatever the causation, it makes for a lot of negativity inside them and to the ones who endure their judgment.

The second way it can go is that you grow up. You learn lessons from those around you who are different. You put yourself in their shoes, and you understand.

When I was younger, I was pretty self-righteous. Maybe I didn’t come right out and say, “I would NEVER do that. I can’t believe you live your life that way.” But I thought it. A lot. Maybe I said it too. I hope not. But time humbles a person; and over the years I took on a lot of roles I may have turned my nose up at before. I’ve been divorced twice, lived with men out of wedlock, didn’t finish college, drank enough alcohol to throw up a bunch of times, got a tattoo, declared bankruptcy, gave away a dog I couldn’t control, smoked cigarettes, raised my daughter on takeout food…the list goes on and on.

All things my younger, perfect-self vowed never to do.

But as you live life, you often start becoming all the things you rallied against. It takes the wind out of your sails in a hurry, and you gain compassion because you know how it feels to be on other side. I’ve lived in some very low rent apartments and some fancy houses. I’ve been a registered Democrat, Republican, and have voted third party. I did the Atkins diet and ate mostly meat for a year. And now I’m a tree hugging vegetarian in Southern California. I never saw that happening. The California part at least. I think I always had an inner hippie.

And for everything I wasn’t: homeless, a minority, chronically ill, elderly, fiercely religious, gay, a drug addict or alcoholic, violent, mentally challenged, very rich, college educated, depressed, schizophrenic… I have been very close to people who are those things and it gave me perspective.

I consider myself a self-aware, kind person. But then there was the guy the other day. The inner me burst out, unfairly labeling and judging the kind man who was bringing food to a homeless guy, reminding me that old habits die hard. I wanted to smack my smug inner voice.

Inside, we are all just humans, crossing paths on this planet at the same time. We have different journeys but share the same roads. And it’s a much better experience if you learn to respect your fellow travelers and see them as they are, not through the lenses of your own biases.

It’s good that once in a while I am reminded that I’m not quite there yet and still have a lot of work left to do.

Here’s to true kindness,

-Carly G.

On Building a Dollhouse

Ryan bought me a dollhouse for Christmas. I never had one as a child, except for a folding vinyl one we got at a flea market. Though I liked that one very much at the time, it was not a real dollhouse. I always wanted a big wooden house that I could decorate with wallpaper and paint and tiny furniture. I never managed to get one, and when I had Ivy I vowed that she would have a grand dollhouse. For some reason, her childhood went by too fast and I never managed to get her one either.  She says she was just as happy with her multi-level grand Barbie house with an elevator but to me that does not count.

So on Christmas I opened a real dollhouse and was thrilled. It was a kit with a lot of pieces but that made it all the more fun, right? Well, yes and no. It took a week before I had time to open the box and pour out the pieces, which seemed to multiply before my eyes. I had only a grainy picture on the box to guide me as to the final result, and some simple directions. Simple here means not that they made it simple for me to assemble but that the manufacturer simplified his process by putting everything in basic, poorly drawn sketches and covered all the instructions in about ten pages.

To say I was intimidated is an understatement. For one, I expected to snap it together, paint it, furnish it, and display it in record time. It took a whole day just to dry fit the base together because I didn’t understand the picture and kept taking it apart and putting it back together, second guessing every step. On the third try, I gave up and Ryan came out and took it apart and put it back together the exact same way and said the instructions were not confusing at all. But they were. I then watched YouTube Videos and read blogs about dollhouses. Most say you should paint the pieces first.

For a bit I sat, stunned, realizing that before I could build this I had to decide on colors, buy the paint and supplies, dry fit everything to make sure I had the right pieces in the right places, paint them, then glue them. With a lot of waiting in between. This would take forever!

Then I took a mental step back. So it takes forever. The point of the house, I understood then, was not to have something to display, but something to do, to experience. When the next weekend rolled around, I had my supplies, plenty of time, and a different attitude. All day Sunday, I painstakingly painted all the window frames on the first floor. I stained and polyurethaned the grand front door and porch railings. I thought ahead to paint the second floor piece white on one side for ceilings. I felt very clever and excited about my newfound dollhouse skills.

Then I started gluing. I forced a little window in and the wall itself got loose. Okay, I should have put the windows in before I put the walls up. Check. Lesson learned.

I glued all the window frames in and taped them up to hold them until the glue dried. I glued the front door in. I glued in the porch railings. And a few minutes later I realized the back of the railings were unstained. It was too late to take it all apart so I used a Q-tip dipped in stain and mostly covered everything.

Wow the first floor looked great, I thought. And I was thoroughly enjoying the process, learning what to do and what not to do. Like life, it’s about the experience. It’s about not making the same mistakes. I am sure that by the time I’m working on the top floor I will have this all figured out and hopefully no one will notice the errors on the first two floors.

With life, I am hoping people just focus on the NOW me, on my NOW life, not all the foolish, inept things I did when I was younger and just learning.

I looked at the grainy sketch of the house from the outside of the box. Life is very much like building a dollhouse. You see a picture of a grandparent or distant relative, someone the family speaks of with reverence. You wonder how to be like that, how to achieve what she did. There are no good instructions, just the bare bones you may hear about. She worked hard, got a degree, got married…

No one supplies the details of how she became successful. How she became an incredible matriarch that everyone looked up to. I am sure that if you were to see the details of such a life, you would find mistakes she made along the way. But we only look at the finished product. We remember the final person, and tend not to dwell on what she was before, unless we are resentful and hateful people (which I am not).

When I went to take pictures of my house in progress I was miffed to discover that my forgetting to paint the backsides of the window frames mattered. From the inside, they were unpainted and wood burned in some areas. It was too late to start over. I hadn’t thought about the inside of the house. Alas, another metaphor for life. We do not think about the insides, what we assume people cannot see. We strive for the outside appearance. The paint and stain and what the structure looks like. We tend not to focus on how we feel, the guilt we have, the sacrifices we’ve made, the compromises, the triumphs. We focus on what people will see. And there is no starting over.

In the end my dollhouse will look beautiful, because of what I’ve learned, because of the time I spent, and the enjoyment and frustrations I poured into it. Because only I know the errors I made and how hard I worked to get things right, and how proud I was when I did get things right. To someone on the outside, it may look a little flawed. Perhaps I’ll hang tiny wallpaper that isn’t the right scale, or I’ll use lavender paint in the living room that a miniature expert will think looks gaudy. But to me it will be just right, because at the end of the day I am supposed to make my own happiness. What others think should not penetrate the walls of this little house that is crafted with love and hope and dreams. This little house that symbolizes me, my struggles, and my pride in building a life.

Perhaps my foundation was shaky and I had subpar instructions, but in the end, I think me and my house will turn out just fine.

To building a life-

-Carly G.