New Year’s Eve and Day have usually filled me more with sadness than excitement. Not so much now, but definitely in most of my past. Maybe it’s just my tendancy toward looking at the darker side of things. Maybe it’s been my bad habit to look at all the personal failures (mine alone) of the waning year and regret things not done, rather than look ahead to a new year filled with possibilities. Maybe it’s the post-holiday let down unfortunately coinciding with the start of the new year. An unfortunate bit of timing…. January, for me, has never really felt like the start of anything. It is winter, which is not a bad thing, but to me it is not a time of beginning. September has felt more like the beginning of the year – probably because for a big chunk of my life it was the start of the school year, and as a child and teenager and into my early twenties, life pretty much revolved around the school year. I also prefer the colder months, so September always heralded the beginning of that half of the year. A time when I could start wearing longer and more layered apparel. Back into my shell, back into a coccoon, in a way. I have a painful streak of shyness in me that has always been there – as long as I can remember. I have been able to compensate for it in my adult life, but it is always there. Always trying to pull me back inside myself. We are often at war….and the war is worth winning, and so I fight – because if I let that shy streak win, I lose moments that cannot be reclaimed. Opportunities that, once lost, may never resurface. I waste my life by losing that war. I’ve already wasted great pieces of it, to my regret. But sometimes I have not fought well. I have not been one to make New Year’s Resolutions much. Maybe because of my aversion to looking ahead. Fear of situations that I will have to force myself – fight myself – to face and conquer – things as simple as going to a party with my husband where he knows everyone and I only know him. These things leave me tense and verging on tearful, and I hate that part of me. But it’s there. And sometimes I win, and sometimes I lose. I am in and out of this shell. I took ballet as a child for a few years. Tap lessons, too, I think. Anyway, there was one recital where, apparently (and not surprisingly) I was probably terrified at the prospect of going out on that stage in my tutu – I think it was yellow that year – but I did it. And later on I told my parents that I’d "kicked up my bravery" to get myself out on the stage with the other girls. I don’t remember this, but it sounds like something a small version of me would say. My mother has reminded me of this occasionally over the years. I can still do it when necessary – kick up my bravery. But it takes effort. I am not a social butterfly. I am a social turtle. I don’t do small talk well. I am not comfortable in my own skin. I feel awkward and out of proportion in groups of people. Yes – out of proportion. I feel like I am slightly too big. Too easily noticed. (And I’m not really all that easily noticed, to be honest.) I do not want to be looked at, unless it is on my terms. And what terms are those? I have come to realize that I need to serve some sort of purpose in order to relax. I remember the years I worked at a restaurant in southern RI. A seafood and Italian place with two dining rooms and great long lines of people in the summertime. I would go home smelling like grease and cigarette smoke (this is before all the non-smoking legislation, obviously. In fact, there was a non-smoking section of about seven tables over in one little nook of one of the dining rooms. Amazingly the smoke knew not to cross over into that area, so there was no danger of second-hand inhalation….) Anyway, over the years I did everything a female employee could do there (oh yeah, there were lines that genders did not cross)…I was a busgirl, I worked in takeout, I was a hostess, a waitress, and I could cashier when the need arose) and I found out that I was most "relaxed" – if you could call it relaxing to run around like a maniac in those sticky, greasy summer evenings – when I was in a uniform. If you were a hostess you wore a dress or a skirt and you looked nice and didn’t sweat much. You still ended up smelling like grease and smoke because it was unavoidable, but your makeup – if you bothered with it – didn’t run and you didn’t need two showers at the end of the night – just one. Okay, I digressed a bit. Anyway – I was never comfortable as a hostess. I didn’t have the personality for it, and I felt naked without an apron on. Weird, huh? The apron – worn by waitresses and busgirls – was my suit of armor. I could relax in it. No – not a suit of armor – it was more like a shield. Somehow, it felt like protection. From what I couldn’t tell you. But I guess in my case it just said "I have a reason for being here. I am doing something useful." Something useful. I have a reason for being here. I think occasionally I still want to wear that apron. At home – I am completely comfortable having people over and cooking for them. I love when we throw these casual parties – we are due for one…maybe February? – and I can set out plates and bowls and platters of food, and periodically take hot things out of the oven and set out another round of something for people who are already saying they’ve had too much to eat….I can talk about food. I can talk about other things while I’m cooking or dishing up or bruleeing something….because I am doing something useful. I have a reason for being here. My parents used to throw great parties. All kinds of good food. I think I absorbed some of this from my childhood. To me, all the cooking my mother did seemed effortless. I know now that it’s not the least bit effortless, but to me it’s comfortable, and that’s just as good. I think, also, it has to do with a certain level of confidence. I am comfortable and confident in the kitchen. It is my favorite room in the house. I am in my element there. I am not always in my element – none of us are. But some handle that better than I do. Or they fake it better than I think I do. Seven years ago at this time I actually made resolutions at the New Year. It was a time when I came to a crashing, crushing realization that I was incapable of helping a person who did not want my help. I had spent great chunks of time in the years before looking for answers to questions that this other person hadn’t asked for my help with…but I ignored that because I had to do something – as to do nothing was too painful. So I tried to help…tried to fix…I agonized…I sobbed…I yelled…I didn’t solve anything…nothing changed, no miracles, no nothing. Just me, tired and frustrated and terribly sad…and angry. At everyone. At me. And I finally, finally understood the Serenity Prayer….serenity to accept the things I couldn’t change. That was the hardest. Because I thought I could change things – if I just figured out the right approach…if I just read the right book…if I just found the right clue…if I just said the right thing….but no. This was something I could not change. Courage to change the things I can – that was where I needed to focus my energies. I was so sick of ME. I was out of shape, I was eating junk, I was miserable and tired and felt like my life was sinking in the mud. I had a ton of credit card debt…had avoided going to the dentist (oh, I fear them like some people fear mice and others fear bugs or spiders)…had avoided doing anything smart to take care of me. …and the wisdom to know the difference. That was what had finally clicked. Finally I understood the difference between what I could change and what I couldn’t. So I started 1997 off by taking steps toward repairing my own life. I started exercising. Every morning in my apartment. Up at 5:00. Eventually was working out for an hour every single day. I started eating better. Each month I tackled some element of my life that I had let slide. I got went to a credit counseling service to get help in getting myself out of debt. (Asking for help was the hardest part – the rest was cake.) And so on. And day by day, week by week, month by month, I worked on me. I lost weight, I built muscle (I sound like an infomercial for something, don’t I?) I felt SO much better and more energetic than I had before…and, most interesting to me, I gained confidence. I started to feel comfortable with me. I started to like myself better. I was not so much a turtle any more…not a butterfly – I don’t think I’ll ever get to that point – but somewhere in between. And that’s where I threw ALL of my energy – mental and physical and emotional. All of it. Well, most of it, anyway. I was introduced to Bill in June that year, and we started dating in August. Funny how that worked out, huh? But then, not funny at all. Timing was everything. If we had met the year before I doubt we’d have ever dated, much less married. I didn’t like me much, and he wouldn’t have liked me much either. I wasn’t the right me yet. Well, I would love to say that I’m still up at 5 every day, working out and eating right and all that, but that kind of fizzled out that same summer. I blamed the humidity and my 3rd floor apartment, but it wasn’t that. I was having fun instead. And I’d love to say I still weight what I weighed then, but I don’t. We went out to eat a lot…and cooked together a lot…and right now I’m halfway through 9 months of intentional weight gain, so I won’t see that waistline again for a while. But the thing I managed to hang onto was the confidence. Sometimes it slides out of my grasp. I have my low points. Last night was one of them, unexpectedly. But I bounce back better than I used to. And after this baby girl is born in May, I plan – not resolve, mind you, I just plan – to start my old exercise program again. Yeah, I know, I’ll already be sleep deprived with nursing the new baby, and all that, so I won’t be plunging exactly as I did 7 years ago. But I am quietly determined to do it, nevertheless. I think knowing that I’m going to be raising a daughter has re-lit this little fire in me. I want to set an example for her. I don’t want her mother to be so shy, or self-conscious. I want my daughter’s mother to be healthy and active and youthful and confident. I have had – and blown – plenty of opportunities to take my life in any number of directions. I was born into a time when I, as a woman, have not had to struggle much against the tide because of my gender. The one and only person who has ever held me back has been me, and I don’t want my daughter to learn to do that to herself. Not that it’s necessarily a learned thing…but just in case…. I want my daughter to be comfortable in her skin. And I don’t want her to have to rebel against my unconscious teachings in order to do that. I want her to look at me and say, well, if she can do all that, I can too – and more. I want her to fly. And Alex – I want this for him, too. I want to be a good female role model in his life, too. I want him to see me as strong, confident, all those same things I want my daughter to see, but from his male perspective. I want them both to be able to laugh at themselves. I don’t always manage to do that well. I take myself too seriously. I don’t want them to fall into that pattern. I want them to work hard, and I want them to laugh hard. I want them to be capable people – they will know how to cook and do laundry and pay bills and change the tires on their cars….(but not too soon…I want them to speak in cute little voices for quite a while.) So I’m not making a resolution, per se. I’m not writing this down, for one thing, (okay, I am, but I’m not itemizing any of it…) and I’m not talking about it at work or wherever, when people start their post-holiday diets and attempt to quit smoking again. I am afraid that if I cast this in stone, or shout it to too many of the people I see on a daily basis, that it will fizzle out and I’ll be back to yesterday again. And it’s too important to me to let that happen. So maybe I will just say that Serenity Prayer to myself every morning, and here and there throughout the day, and again before I fall asleep. Just to remind myself. Serenity…Courage…Wisdom. Just to remind myself of the mother I want for my children. Just to remind myself of who I have been, and to remind myself of the me I have seen while doing yoga at dawn.

6 thoughts on “Wisdom

  1. When is your birthday, Jayne. You may feel like it’s not the beginning of the year because your natal sun is far away from the Capricorn sun in January.


  2. I’m a Cancer (big surprise, huh?) – my birthday is in early July – and I think I exhibit a lot of typical Cancer traits, including the moodiness, the scuttling back into my shell at times, I’m a homebody, and so on….

  3. Well, the sun is pretty far away from your natal sun then, at this time of year. It’s called a solar opposition, and it means that your energy is pretty low in your yearly cycle. There can be years when Jupiter (the greater benefic) and/or Venus (the lesser benefic) would be sending blessings in spite of the solar opposition, so it’s not a single-item thing to declare about each January. But it’s a good rule of thumb.

    Also this: Saturn, the planet that rules restriction, hardship, rules, and learning by the hard knocks, is in the sign of cancer right now (and will be for the rest of 2004, I believe), so your inner life, your perspective, may feel narrowed, restricted, and hammered. Saturn is also called the great teacher, but a visit from him is usually not considered fun.

    Do everything your doctor tells you to. Follow the rules! Understand the rules. Stick to doing the right thing in health, diet, relationships, etc., and you’ll be learning the lessons of Saturn. But you still may feel restricted or low.

    You *do* have a lot of cancer traits. I like them. Love your blog.

  4. Jayne – what a beautiful and honest piece. I remember the summer gathering at Mere’s when you and Bill sat for hours talking in the back yard – and I remember wondering who that beautiful, confident young woman was! Your self-work shows and gives me great inspiration in working on my own stuff! And I’m so happy to hear that you will have a son and a daughter…woo hoo!

  5. Betsy, thank you! I remember that day too…it’s funny how sometimes I am her, and other times I am the “old” (younger) me…and other times – I’m someone else. It’s an ongoing evolution within, I guess, with its highs and lows, steps forward and steps back. Better that, though, than standing still, right?

    And speaking of that day at Mere’s – Christopher was just a little baby then, wasn’t he? I look at my little son and then at Mere’s and Beth’s and your “older” kids and remember when they were all born!!! That’s flown by….and, you know, for some bizarre reason the name “Frederick” still pops into my head when I think of Christopher. I don’t know why.

    Nice to hear from you!

  6. it’s because I looked at that child for six months and really felt that i had totally blown the responsibility of naming him – he just was not a Christopher — I didn’t have that experience with the other two so i was kind of freaked for a while, but he is now nothing but a Christopher (turning 7 in February!) — I can see where you would think of him with other names though!

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