I just read my friend Lizzy Russinko's post on Instagram. This is one of her many insightful statements that she shares with the world thru her hand lettering and her speaking engagements. I have heard it before, "The story you are afraid to tell will set you free" but it didn't really sink in until today. As I read her post I realized that by starting this blog and by sharing the story I wrote about my mom in Heros and Rainbows, I am starting to share my real story. Sure, I am open about the fact that my mom was an alcoholic, but it's just a statement and then I move on. But the better part of the story is how she was both an alcoholic AND an amazing person. And I am always peeling back new layers of the patterns that I have taken on by being raised by her and the choices I made in my teens and 20's. They are all bubbling up right now as I enter my mid 40's - insight into why I fell in love so young and ran into the "safety" of a long term relationship, why I left college 2 years in thinking it was too expensive to finish and yet I ended up putting Nicholas thru school and taking on debt in his name, why I became a mom at 28 - it's all right there, deep in the core of who I am and asking to be told. And maybe in the telling, I will see my future more clearly? I sure hope so. And that hope is based on the fact that as people read Heros and Rainbows, they shared their own stories of loss and redemption. And I am starting to see that when you share your honest truth, rather than no one caring, it connects us to those around us. People who we have been drawn to or maybe barely know, but we find a common thread and we feel seen and heard and that is true connection.
When I was 17 I met Nicholas at Whole Foods Market in Mill Valley. I felt, at the time, like the best version of myself. I had been to Spain the previous summer and it had given me perspective. I came back less entangled with the "friends" I had been in school with since third grade but who had never been very accepting or kind. Growing up I wore the wrong clothes, didn't have a mom who could volunteer and drive on field trips, had weird food, the list was long. But by 17 I was feeling more sure of myself. I got my own car that November when my grandmother could not drive anymore. And I felt free - to go wherever I wanted to go. And then I did the precollege program at CCAC and I knew I wanted to go to art school. I could see my future clearly and I had hope. But my home life was rocky. I was exceptionally close with my mom - we shopped and cooked together everyday, we were on our own. But it was also hard. She would be fine for long periods of time and then she would do into a deep dark place and then explode. I never knew when it would happen and it often was horrible timing- after I had a good weekend at my dad's or I had a friend over to stay or I had gone to a friend's house to sleep over. Sometimes she would storm in and take me out of a fun situation or embarrass me in front of friends. So I guess my life was always on edge, waiting for the other shoe to drop. We would have huge fights - raging into the night, doors slammed, tears shed, so many tears. And then the storm would pass, sometimes she would say she was sorry, sometimes she would just pretend it never happened. But there was never any real resolution. This went on until I decided to move out the fall of my senior year at the age of seventeen. The summer after I met Nicholas.
What I can see clearly now is that I was running from one codependent relationship to another. He needed me, I needed him to need me, and I thought I needed him to get out of the cycle with my mom. But what I did was give up the time in my life that would have been just for me, before kids and marriage. I gave my 20's to a domestic long term relationship. And I will never get that time back.
Now in my 40's I am letting go of the need to be needed. I hear this is the beginning of menopause, when we move from being caretakers of the world to caretakers of ourselves. In a time not so long ago when we gave birth in our teens and 20's we would have been done mothering by now and it really would be more of a time for ourselves. In the modern era, many of us still have young children and/or teenagers that we are caring for. Sometimes I feel like I will drown in doing for others, probably because I have been gasping for "air", which is really time and space, for so long. But I keep getting reminders that I need to focus on what is good for me - it might be a 10+ year plan but it started a few years ago and each year, especially at this time of year, I need to refocus and stay clear. Take MATS classes and build my illustration portfolio, do my work for the Town of Fairfax which brings stability to my life, and take on private clients but only if it pays well (which requires me to charge a decent rate) or leads to creative growth. I'm not sure what my future holds, but I know I want to be in deeper connection with my creative forces, I want to travel and I want to feel at peace rather than waiting for something bad to happen. And I think this is the story I need to keep telling, because it will set me free.
My mom’s side of the family were early pioneers. They came over shortly after the Mayflower and took a covered wagon out west settling in Kansas. They lived in mud Hogan’s and survived however they could in a new land. My dad’s side are from Italy and came later - my great grandmother traveled on her own in her late teens, to meet her brothers who had already settled in upstate New York. They were brick makers - cutting clay from the Hudson River. I come from hearty stock. Strong women who had to make it work.
It's no surprise that I tend to attract pioneer spirited women into my life. Michele and I met when our kids were little and they had just arrived in Fairfax. The fact that her most recent home was Mendocino meant she was rooted in the land. As I got to know her, I found out she grew up in California Gold Country and that her parents had run a gas station. Her mom had three kids, all close in age, by the time she was in her early 20's. She set up her sewing machine in the gas station "office" and would make clothes for the kids, take in odd jobs and make sure their home was filled with beautiful things even though they didn't have much money. My favorite Michele growing up story is that her mom let her drive to school when she was 10! She sat on a pile of pillows and coasted most of the way, but she did it. Until the principal called her mom and explained that she could not let her 10 year old daughter drive to school!
Michele and I have always joked about “packing the wagons” when we want to get back to the land and out of the crazy tech based culture we are currently living in. At the time we meant covered wagons. But as I worked on a piece of art for her to honor her move back to Mendocino, I realized she has a wagon! A Volvo wagon -it hit me all of a sudden that we call long cars “wagons”and it’s still a part of our language and culture. I have a mini van but it’s also a modern day wagon. I’m prepared for most adventures at any given moment. The back of my car currently has: a bag of beach toys (even though it’s December), blankets for sitting on sand or grass, cloth grocery bags, a cooler bag for cold items, a kids potty from Ikea, sun hats, baby powder, diapers (Dax no longer needs them, but someone else might!), yoga mat and more. Even though we are just braving getting kids to school, going for a hike, to the beach or on a road trip, we are prepared and perhaps it goes back to where we came from - women striking out most likely not because they wanted to but because they had to - to be safe, to make a better life for themselves and their children, to find work for their husbands and brothers. But none the less, it was an adventure that they survived and maybe even thrived in.
At this point in history packing the wagons might happen due to climate change. My thoughts are always looping back to how can I help my kids have a stable future in an unstable world. I want them to learn to grow food, build shelter, make things of value. Maybe it's a romanticised version of the post apocalyptic world but I feel like our future depends on us learning the things we have cast aside in the name of progress and convenience. And I want to pack my wagon and head north, to find land and community and a connection to something deeper that will last even if everything else doesn't. In the meantime, I'll visit Michele on The Farm and get a glimpse of what it's like to really pack a wagon and head back to the place that is truly home.