modern family transplanted and still blooming cinthia milner

Looking for My Own Modern Family

I long for a family again. This single mess has gone on long enough.

Late at night on my screened-in porch, I can hear a guy talking 2 screened-in porches away. Because I am a corner house, I have neighbors behind me, and beside me. This guy is behind me. I sit listening in the dark, sliding my glider back and forth, because as much as I love texting, I long for the sound of human voices. And man, does he have a lot to say. Especially in regard to his family. He has opinions about every single cousin, and after 2 years of late night listening, I must say I agree with him completely about his cousin Daniel and Daniel’s wife, Katie. Katie is no good. Daniel really should get the kids. Their court case is next week, and I am tempted to go to the courthouse and participate. I’ve been listening since she was first caught with her old boyfriend, who, by the way, is a drug dealer. I lack sympathy for her. Daniel has given her countless chances. I don’t know that there’s hope she’ll change, and I’m fairly diplomatic. In my own, eavesdropping way, I do feel like they’re family now, though I still do not know this mysterious night-talker’s name. As I listen to him in dark, I nod in agreement. He seems wise, and I feel he was correct on the subject of sidewalks in the town. We need more and wider. His wife never talks. She just shushes the baby, and likely enjoys the quiet of the night, and the sound of her husband’s voice. They leave their light off too, while soothing their little one to sleep.

If you watch much tv (that’s all I’ve done for the last 12 days–it’s the flu) every show seems determined to tell me what family is NOW. Okay, I’m listening because my own family has flown the coop, and I’m looking for a new one. From Modern Family to About a Boy, no one seems interested in a traditional family, but everyone wants to expand the definition. I can’t really say much on the subject since my present family is a voyeuristic, screened-in, eavesdropping experience that I feel is not sitcom worthy. But, I do think after the first little family of Adam and Eve, all other families have been pretty much a blur. So game on for whatever family you feel you might fit with, because isn’t that what family is? That one place in the universe where you just fit? Where everyone knows you and you don’t have to catch them up on the last, in my case, 55 years. They already know, and no they don’t want to hear it again.

Here’s what I’m missing: connections.

I don’t mind chatty conversations about nothing. As these blog posts attest I can rattle on all day about nothing, but I miss human connection. I’m just not sure where to find it.

So, I’ve been watching all these shows on tv. (As if that’s going to help me sort out what family is now–sans kids.) But actually, it does make me feel a little less crazy, because the best shows, the ones you’ll actually watch again and again, are the ones where people connect. It isn’t Cam and Mitchell being gay that makes Modern Family such a popular show. It’s the connection they have with each other, and the genuine love they express. Every time I come away thinking, I want that. I don’t mean a guy and a girl thing, but a whole community of people. The goofy friend, the screechy wife, the bumbling adolescences, the player friend. I like a big mix of people. If you get tired of grandma, go play with a toddler.

I’m just looking for my own Modern Family.

But going out and adopting a family is well, not so easy, and even on sitcoms, sooner or later, the group separates. Maybe that’s why so many people my age move to where their grandchildren are, so they’ll feel as though they’re family again. But then, you risk your daughter-in-law’s ire for eternity, and who can blame her? It’s her turn now to build a family. Does she really want you five minutes away?

I haven’t sorted it out, but I suppose I will. I’ll either make my way down the screened-in porches and help shush the baby while giving my own thoughts on Daniel and Katie, or perhaps I’ll move at least a bit closer to the grand kids. Who knows? But one thing is for sure, its hard to live a life with only friends. Friends are a part of the glue in life, but nothing really beats family. With my kids grown, and far away, and the 70s still a good ways away (okay not that far away, but away), I guess I’m looking for my own Modern Family.

I Will Garden (Part One)

It’s been a feverish week. My fever has stayed around 104 without medicine. 101 with it. I’m alternating Tylenol and Ibuprofen every two hours like I did with the kids when they were little and ran high temps. It’s the flu. 7-10 days I’m told. This is day 6. I don’t hold out much hope for day 10 if I continue like this. But, we’ll see.

Amazing how resilient the body is and yet, how not.

I will recover from this flu, though I suspect it will lag on into spring with a miserable cough, but the day will come when I tell my flu story during the February that all the doctors shut their doors due to “inclement weather.” There is several inches of ice in my backyard. The roads are fine (I know, I drove myself to the store out of necessity), but I suppose even doctors need breaks, and seized the excuse of black ice to have one.

Here’s the skinny: my mom died, and I’m going to garden again.

I know. Wow. Random, right? Nah. Because when you’ve lost both parents, as my absentee doctor says, it changes your position in the family. In other words, my granddaughters had three barriers between themselves and death. Their Maurme (my mom, their great-grandmother, so minus one barrier now), their YaYa, me, the grandmother, and their parents. While they could die early, it is more likely that they will pass the years as I have, and one day be the generation whose turn is death. Admittedly, I probably still have another 20-30 years, but just as likely, I may not. A dear friend, for whom I’d move heaven and earth to let no harm come to her,  is facing the unknown of her health right now, and we’ve texted late nights about the “what-ifs.” This is the hard stuff. Flat out. It just doesn’t get any harder than this.

I’ve arrived at the age where friends, siblings, and myself must look death straight on, and ask ourselves this question, what will be my response to death?

I will garden.

Because truth is, I don’t know yet. Death is a different subject than life, and I’m still dealing with the hassles and yes, joys, of life, no matter where my biological age has landed me. Life doesn’t say to you, oh, you need a moment to sort? Catch your breath?  Okay. Go ahead. Take a moment. I’m not sure how to navigate what seems like the very precarious space between life and death right now. I have to work. Pay bills. Eat. Do the normal things of everyday life while feeling like someone opened a door and shoved my mother through it, and I’m waiting on them to open it back up, and push her back into my life again.

I will garden.

Until my mind calms and creativity and death have formed some sort of pact.  I will go to the garden. I always have. It’s one place where peace reigns, time stands still, and death must linger beyond my garden gate, even when I am killing plants I’d rather keep alive.

I haven’t gardened in awhile. Not since I left South Turkey Creek. I didn’t see much point in actively gardening in a rental property, so mostly, I got the yard cleaned up, uncovered some pretty perennials, got rid of a billion firepower nandina (there is no plant I loathe more), and a few scraggly abelia that were in too much shade. It was rather like taking a good set of pruners outside and shaping things up a bit. But not much more. That’s what I did the first summer I was here.

The second summer, the unfinished path by the white picket fence was finally too much for me, so I finished it. I used cedar mulch for the path and planted David Austin roses to climb the fence. I splurged on an Agapanthus for Aggie. The fence faces South, and forms a barrier between the sidewalk, the roses, the path and the house. A great place for sun-loving plants, and since Brevard is located next to Pisgah National Forest (a rain forest), water and drying out in a Western exposure wasn’t an issue for the roses. It turned out to be the least mildew-inspiring spot. I jazzed up the the sidewalk side of the fence for walker-bys. It seemed a gracious thing to do. I chose fun plants for the kids: Echeveria, paddle plant (Kalanchoe thyrsiflora) and Euphorbia Myrsinites (Myrtle spurge or Donkey Tail), and colorful plants for the moms and those driving by: Salvia greggii ‘Hot lips’ lots of echinacea, penstemon, even day lilies (not a fan), but I wasn’t going for what I liked. I bought off the sale table at work. The succulents wouldn’t live through our presently 6 degree winter, but they were cheap, and lively, and added texture among the lilies and fancy penstemon. It worked. Folks stopped during their morning and evening walks to admire and ask what this or that was.

But, that was it really. Renter’s curb appeal. Being a good neighbor and keeping my yard ship-shape. The only true gardening I did was a test garden. As a horticulturist, the only way to know how it grows is to grow it.

But now, here I am. At this awkward and yes, scary place in life. I find myself wondering which friend, which sister is possibly next? Such morbid thoughts but death has that quality to it. So, this morning with dawn’s light creeping into my backyard, and prayers whispered for my dear friend who’ll spend her day chasing down doctors, I got dressed in boots and coat (leaving pjs on), and surveyed the back yard. Two cherry trees are the crowning glory, stretching their flower-laden branches between my yard and my neighbors. They need pruning desperately. 35-40′ feet tall and 25′ wide, that is a big job. Mental note to call Aaron, my handyman-soon-to-be-forester student. He’ll need to climb up in them for a proper job, but those lovely double blossoms will be blessed by it.

Second mental note: Weeping Snow Fountain Cherry must go. Horrible tree. Grafted and the trunk is completely out of proportion with the top. The blooms are slightly pretty, but not pretty enough, and besides it stands crowding a Hicksii yew. Who wants that? If I chose, I chose the Hicksii. It reminds me of my friend, Carol, who worked at the famous Hick’s Nursery on Long Island where it was developed. Plants that remind me of lovely friends are keepers.

And, out with a blooming crab tree in a corner by the picket fence. It looks like a jungle in that corner. Replace it Arborvitae ‘Emerald Green’ because the power line cuts right through there and with their max 12′ tall they’ll give privacy but not touch the power lines.

The cold felt good on my hot skin. I could breathe again momentarily. And my thoughts were my own, not crowded with loss, but planning a garden. I would have stayed a bit longer but my neighbor stuck her head over the fence and yelled, feeling better are we?

“No,” I said, “just making plans for spring.” My moment of reverie was gone. My brain was getting fuzzy again, anyway.

She threw up her hand in agreement, and disappeared behind her frozen walled fence that I’ve never gotten a glimpse behind. Perhaps for the best.

Yes, I said to myself, I am making plans for spring, and a garden.

My backyard has one large eye sore, a chain link fence. On a good day, those things reek of death, but on a winter’s day, with its shape outlined in ice, even more so. Something must be done about that fence, I pondered, but that was a problem for another day. Still, I could not go inside and let it win, with its glint-y iciness, so I spoke aloud. “Spring is coming. Spring is coming, Mr. Chain Link Fence, and you cannot stop it.” The resurrection of life is as sure as death. It is coming.

And, I will garden.

 

so this happened how will you respond

So, this Happened. How Will You Respond?

So, this happened. How will you respond?

I’ve been asking myself that question all week.

  • You really did get fired. How will you respond?
  • You’re alone, now. How will you respond?
  • You were lied too. How will you respond?
  • Your health is gone. How will you respond?
  • Your children have ignored all the values you taught them. How will you respond?
  • Your spouse is no help at all. How will you respond?

These are mild compared to some I could write. You just declared bankruptcy. How will you respond?

But, they’re also pretty heavy compared to some I could write. The shower is stopped up. How will you respond?

How about this one? You’ve gained weight. How will you respond? (I’m going to deal with it tomorrow, that’s how.)

A friend shared a Christmas letter she received from a friend. She wanted my take on it. It wasn’t hard to understand what the author of the letter was suffering from–bitterness. He’d had a full life, a brilliant career and great health, due to a healthy lifestyle. So, yeah, he was supposed to be that guy. The guy we want to be when our turn comes. His plans were to write his memoir during retirement, but his health betrayed him. Instead, he’s making daily doctor runs, and the pages of the memoir remain blank. He’s not jogging through old age. He’s pushing a walker. It happens.

So, who are you pointing the finger at? Because, can we be honest? The first response is always the tragedy staring me. Look what happened to me. (If you’re still on your parents, then Lord help you, please respond by saying thank you for giving me life, and move on.)

Having a fit won’t change what happened. It happened.

I’m taking a class in setting personal boundaries. Here’s what I’ve realized. I don’t need to learn to say no, as much as I need to learn to respect other people’s no. I seriously need to stop hearing their no as an attack on me, and instead hear it for what it is.

Just a plain, simple no.

Oh but, that is hard when it is a gut-wrenching no.  And, we all have at least one gut-wrenching no. That one we try not to remember because when we do, we feel it all over again. Rejection.

Years ago, I worked in a Community Rehabilitation program. We helped with repairs on low-income homes. I was assigned to an African-American woman, who I thought was younger than I was (I was mid-20s.) Turns out she was 42, just gorgeous and aging really well. But, she was, as the saying goes, bat-shit crazy. She talked about her husband. Her husband this, her husband that. The husband had been gone for 20+ years. He was married with kids. Her response? She was having none of his no. She believed he would come back.

That’s one response, I suppose. Denial.

But, like the guy frustrated with doctor’s offices, and blank memoirs, how much time are we wasting? That stunningly beautiful woman lived alone her entire adult life. The brilliant man knew illness happened to others, but believed he was exempt. She believed no one could leave her. He believed doing it all right insulated him. People leave. We’re not insulated from anything.

So, this has happened. How will you respond? How will I respond? I’ve been asking myself that question all week. My conclusion? Grace. Grace for me. Grace for whoever. What else is there, really?

 

 

 

biscuit with butter

Tell the Truth and Let the Lord Love You.

Tell the truth and let the Lord love you.

That should be the title of a book. Or a movie. Or my life. Because if you tell the truth, you’re probably going to irritate someone, so you’ll need the Lord to love you.

I didn’t come up with the saying. I got it secondhand. From a friend’s friend. I texted my friend today to ask her if she was going to church. She texted back that she was going to tell the truth and let the Lord love her, so no, she wasn’t going to church. She was laying on the couch. I was still pretty cozy in my bed (At 10:55 a.m., church starts at 11:15, I made it!), so I had nothing on her. But, that comment soothed my heart. It was butter on a hot biscuit. Freshly baked, just out of the oven, butter dripping down your fingers, warming your belly like you hadn’t eaten in weeks, kind of comment.

Because how hard have you tried to get someone to love you?

Enough to lie? Enough to pretend? Enough to be silent? Enough to do what you thought you’d never do?

I wish the comment was, tell the truth and let your people love you anyway. But, it isn’t. There’s been a few times that my kids needed to tell me a truth. I could see the fear and angst on their faces just before they spoke it. I’m not talking toddler truth here. I am talking man-did-I-mess-up-adult truth. I became mom pretty quick, and let them know that NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING could mess them up with me. Tell me the truth and I will love you to death. I will hot-butter-biscuit-love you to death, because speaking the truth takes a whole lot of courage sometimes.

My mom wasn’t so easy with that. She was quick to give a lecture, or be shocked. It was easy to shock her, which resulted in me lying to her, when really, I just wanted to tell her the truth. She was my mom. I wanted her to love me, and be proud of me, not be shocked by my stupid behavior or outrageous truth. So, yeah. Lying was easier. Tell the truth? Not when your audience is going to have the proverbial hiss-y fit. If the cost of speaking the truth is the cost of love, who does that?

Not me. I won’t give up love for truth. Will you?

I know what you’re thinking. If they can’t handle my truth then I don’t need that kind of love. Okay, Oprah. We agree. But how easy is that? And let’s talk about the people we love who fear losing our love if they’re honest with us. Come on. Super Soul Sunday sounds good, but walk that stuff out, and let’s agree that it is hard to disappoint those we love.

How I wish we’d let others (and ourselves) mess up big time and still love the heck out of each other. How I wish truth produced hugs and loving on one another. How I wish it wasn’t a choice between our truths and the love of loved ones, but sometimes, it is. But wishing is just that, wishing, and while confession is good for the soul, there’s a reason it’s done in a confessional booth with a slotted wall between you and your confessor. We can’t really handle each other’s truths, can we? I mean, really? Can we? It becomes personal. We get all weird, and make up conspiracy theories–assumptions about why they lied to us. Never thinking for a moment it was because they couldn’t stand our shocked faces. It tore them up to imagine it, so they kept quiet for way too long. Hey, I’m guilty of it. Ask my ex.

But, tell the truth and let the Lord love you? That one you can bank on. And, shocker–he already knows your truth. He’s not shocked. And judgment? Well, you got a clean slate the minute Jesus’ hands were pierced, so put that one back on the shelf. Abandon you? Never gonna happen. Your friend? Maybe she left in a huff. But, the Lord? Never.

He’ll love you to death. He’ll clean your wounds, and tell you chin up. He’ll stick by you, while you speak the truth in your heart. Yes, that one. The one that’s been lurking in there for eons. The one behind the door marked private. The one you thought you’d carry to your grave. Hey, listen. It’s on the tip of your tongue, anyway. Has been for awhile.

So, maybe you can’t tell your mom, or your spouse, or your friend. Maybe it isn’t even appropriate, too. But the Lord, yes, tell him, and let the warmth of hot-butter-biscuit love fill you up.