Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Best I Could?

I was at my girlfriend's house, sitting around the kitchen table with a mutual friend a couple of years ago. We were enjoying some wine and cheese, and time out of our lives. I don't remember what we were talking about, or how the subject came up, but one of them said something along the lines of, "Well, she did the best she could." I have always considered that line to be a lame excuse at best, and a cop out at worst, so I proceeded to make my opinion known, in no uncertain terms. I did a pretty good job of putting a pall on the entire evening. My diatribe was perceived as an attack, and was viewed as inappropriate...out of proportion with the topic at hand, and all about me.

I thought I had reconciled myself to a kinder approach to "The Best I Could," but now I am not so sure. It seems to me one can say they did their best, but still have the effort fall far short of satisfactory. It also seems to me, on the few occasions I have allowed those words to come out of my mouth, if I really thought about it, I could have done better. I could have taken more time. Been more patient. Used a kinder tone of voice. Chosen better words. Put forth more effort. Paid more attention.

This applies to personal interactions as well as assigned tasks. Then the question becomes was it the best that could have been done at that time in space with what was available? Is one's seemingly best effort assailable only in retrospect? Do we, when in the middle of something, stop and ask ourselves is this the best I can do, then make any necessary adjustments? I know that I very often do not have the presence of mind to stop mid stream for such introspection, and adjust accordingly. So, no, I didn't do the best I could do.

Such a claim is made as a defensive posture, an attempt to deflect the slings and arrows of criticism, or to deny responsibility. What response can be made to such a statement that isn't a direct attack on the claimant's integrity? Conversely, what hope does anyone have of ascertaining necessary answers to major questions when such a defense is mounted?

We may set the intention every day to do the best we can do. But, I believe in our rush to get though tasks large and small, we gloss over the details. We forget to slow down and pay the proper attention, or be present enough to evaluate our efforts as we are putting them forward. We then bristle at being called out on our shortcomings and play the 'best I could' card.

So. I didn't do the best I could have done. I didn't listen well enough. I put forth far less effort than I was capable of. I was rushed. I reacted before I thought or felt. I was closed off and unavailable for any number of reasons, both real and perceived. I am aware of it. I will not offer excuses. I will not take refuge in something that leaves me feeling dishonest and you feeling unsatisfied. I am learning, however, how do do better. To come closer to my best. To better align my best with the ideal best that can be done in life. It is pride that makes us proffer the shield of 'I did the best I could.' It takes humility and courage to come to terms with the fact that your best just wasn't good enough.


Friday, May 16, 2008

My Favorite Flower

This is one of my favorite flowers. I love it in its wild form (maianthemum canadense or Canadian Mayflower) as well as its horticultural form (convallaria majalis). The dainty white belled flowers are beautiful, and I particularly enjoy their sweet yet subtle fragrance. I don't see them that often where I live, so when I was walking home from the gym, and spotted them the other night, I could not resist picking a sprig. Both varieties bloom in early May, and last only a short time.

Wild lily of the valley with bunch berry (sometimes called dog wood)

Horticultural lily of the valley. Frequently used as ground cover.

In college, I took a plant taxonomy course as part of my Environmental Studies major. The summer before the semester began, we were sent home with flower presses. Our assignment was to go through the woods, meadows, and shorelines where ever we were and take samples of wild flowers, and preserve them using the press. It was the summer of 1986, and I was living in Machias, Maine at the time. I remember finding varieties of dandelion-like composites I didn't know existed, and flowers in the lily family that took my breath away, some of them quite rare. It was on one of my treks in the woods that I came across wild lily of the valley and bunch berry. When the fall semester began, we took our preserved flowers and by way of delicate dissections identified them. Trying to get a look at the ovaries of a tiny flower to ascertain the shape, sometimes the tie breaker in identifying one variety from another, was challenging to say the least.

As a Mother's Day gift the following May, I mounted my remaining samples of lily of the valley on acid free paper, and framed it. My mother loved it, as did I. Enough so that I have considered collecting and preserving some flowers, and mounting them for myself.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

I'm Workin' on It

I am working on a post or three. Just needed some quiet time to sort it out.

Right now, I am off to Shea Stadium to chaperon a school trip to the ball park for a meteorological presentation and ball game. Last season before the wrecking ball takes it down, so damned skippy this born and bred Mets fan is goin'!!


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

On How to Be a Girl

For the last year and a half I have worn my hair very, very short. It is practical, minimizes the gray, and gives my face no place to hide. Until recently, I have received mostly compliments, some women saying they wish they had the nerve to cut their hair this short. Over the past 2 months, however, I have had several encounters where I was told I look like a guy or a boy. But by far, my most interesting encounter was with a little girl in a laundromat about a week and a half ago.

While my neighborhood is experiencing a demographic shift from more traditional ethnic families to young professionals priced out of Manhattan, there are still many of the old timers that remain. These are mostly Greek, Latin, Indian, Asian, and Albanian families, all of which have some very deep rooted gender roles passed from one generation to the next.

Last Sunday, I breezed into the laundromat to put in the last load of wash. A little girl was sitting on a window sill next to a pair of small load washing machines while her mother folded a freshly dry load of laundry. She was probably around 5 years old, had big brown eyes and slightly longer than shoulder length hair with bangs. She was wearing a pair of jeans and a pink shirt. As soon as she saw me, she asked me if I was a girl. I must admit, I was a little annoyed, as it was the third time in about two weeks that I had to defend my appearance. But this was a little girl, so I held my tongue and checked my tone of voice. I assured her that I was indeed a girl, removing my jacket to make myself more visible. The conversation continued...

"Well, why do you have short hair?"

"Because I chose to cut it short so that it isn't in the way when I exercise."

"But boys have short hair."

"Yes, they do. But Girls can have short hair too. There is no one or right way to be a girl. Girls can have long hair or short hair. Girls can have muscles or not have muscles. Girls can become moms or not become moms. They can go to work or they can stay home. There are many, many ways to be a girl. You get to choose what kind of girl you want to be. No one can tell you how to be a girl."

Then I asked her, "Do boys sometimes have long hair?"


"Does that make them girls?"


"No, it doesn't. It makes them boys with long hair. Just like I am a girl with short hair. More than one way to be a girl, and you get to choose how."

I was speaking very softly while I worked next to this girl. I didn't want to scare her, and I didn't want her called away until I was finished.

"You can do anything a boy can do, if you want to. Don't let anyone tell you you can't. I have short hair. I am a mom. I am strong. I am the kind of girl I want to be. I chose. Always remember you can choose."

Her mother was either finished folding, or had an inkling that we were talking and came to investigate. I assured her that we were fine. The child was not bothering me. Isn't it funny that as parents, we assume that our children are annoying another adult with whom they are interacting? I finished loading the machine, put in the soap and went back upstairs. The girl was gone when I returned. I wonder if she will remember my words.


Monday, May 05, 2008

One Hundred Posts Later...

I just so happened to look over at the sidebar of my blog and noticed that this will be my one hundredth post. It has taken me nearly 2 full years to reach this milestone. It seems I progress in fits and starts. Since I have been feeling somewhat reflective since I awoke, I will indulge myself here.

My second post was a short missive pondering the significance of turning forty. A few weeks ago I wrote about waiting. There is a pattern here, but I think there is also some actual progress as well. I don't spend as much time waiting as I once did, but there is still some work to be done.

There is a transformation going on, I can feel it. But there are times when I feel as if I have taken two steps forward and one step back. On my darker days, I am convinced that I have taken one baby step forward and two giant steps back. I have attained a greater sense of calm. But I continue to hide from painful things rather than confront and vanquish them. It really is quite ridiculous that a fear of loss and pain compel me to hide resulting in the very loss and pain that I fear. More ridiculous still is the ability to articulate the problem, and not actually solve it in a meaningful way.

Within the past year or two, I have found myself peeling layers of stuff away, both in physical and metaphysical terms. On the physical side, I used to wear fairly dramatic eyeliner, have hair to my waist, more than a few extra pounds and three rings stacked on the third finger of my left hand. Today, a little mascara, less hair than most men, a lean physique and one thin gold band is all that is left. I hoard fewer possessions than I once did as mean task when one lives with a pack rat!!

Mentally, the same sort of paring down is happening as well, but it feels somewhat superficial. Like picking away the outer edges of a week old scab...those pieces are ready to come off, and take very little effort to remove. But when you work your way toward the center of the wound, the scab is not so willing to come away...sometimes it hurts, sometimes it bleeds. So you stop picking, maybe for a day or more, until that part has healed a little more, and the painless picking can resume.

When I was a child, I picked scabs with reckless abandon, giving no thought at all to the scars I was creating as I reopened wounds again and again. But those were only my knees, not my soul. As life goes on, I have learned that I need to approach some wounds with a little more care. Perhaps some salve. Some I am afraid to touch yet. I know it will hurt, and fear the pain more than the canker itself. I am trying to move away from a fear based life, as again and again I discover that my fear of the thing is almost always bigger than the thing itself.

There are some really big things on my plate right now:

• My son is rapidly approaching adolescence. I want to walk through it with him in such a way that we come out the other side as two adults who would choose to spend time together, rather than that awkward obligatory mother/child relationship.

• I have some friendships that need some work. I am harboring some hurt and grudges to some extent. It needs to be addressed. I have to decide how I want to address it. Should fences be mended to best extent possible, recognizing that somethings you just never come all the way back from, or should I just let them go. Either way, the loss is significant.

• I need to be a better cousin, niece, sister and aunt. Call. Write. Understand that no one can read my mind to know that I am actually thinking of, caring about and loving them.

• I need to figure out how to better exist in my marriage: how to be more present, more caring, more patient. We used to walk side by side, but Brian always knew I was adjusting my pace to match his, or reminded me to do just that. Somewhere along the line, that stopped, and when we looked up, I was a quarter mile up the road. Brian feels left behind. I feel held back. This dynamic is creating feelings of resentment and jealousy. Not healthy at all.

In someways I feel like an athlete playing through an injury. Every day, I show up to the game, and some days, I make a pretty good play. While it is clear that I am not performing at a hundred percent, being sidelined is not an option. Would that it were. I'd go someplace really quiet, but not necessarily solitary. But maybe that is an illusion...that healing time has to happen outside the daily demands of life. Maybe it is through the daily demands of life, practice as it were, that we heal, grow and strengthen. But when your natural tendency is to burrow in rather than stretch out, it can be difficult to just get out of your own way!


In other news:

--> Christopher's baseball team is undefeated (3 and 0) so far. His Cardinals actually mercied the Astros 13-2 (in his league, games are declared over when one team is beating the other by more than 10 runs).

--> Brian's birthday was last Tuesday. We had the party on Saturday night. A good time was had by all. We thought we'd have the weekend kid free, but alas, Christopher's Boy Scout troop canceled their camping trip.

--> Christopher brought home an absolutely stellar progress report last week. His math grade is still a little weak, but I think we can bring it up before the end of the year.

--> Brian's 42 and a half year old sister, mother to our 18 year old nephew, just gave birth to a brand new baby girl, Alexis Juliana. She is the only girl born to this generation, so nope, she's not gonna be spoiled...nahh.