Tag Archives: honesty

Managing Expectations: Or how to drive a U-haul in San Francisco

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Well it’s summer and likely, if you’re anywhere over ten years old– actually even if you’re ten and under…you’re managing expectations.  Your mother’s, your father’s, your sisters’ and brothers’, your boss’, your children’s, partner’s, house guests’…everyone’s expectations.  And it’s also likely that you feel like you’re letting someone, or a lot of people, down.  It’s also likely that you feel that someone is letting you down.

Except for maybe the Culligan Man.  He showed up this morning and I looked out the window hearing that familiar diesel truck moan and sputter, and I smiled and ran to the front door because I knew it was for one thing and one thing only:  to find out if we have enough salt in the softener.  Salt in the softener so that we can have the best of our well water.  And then maybe he’ll check the filter to see if our reverse osmosis thingy is working well, or whatever he does in my basement.

All I know is that he shows up with big bags of salt like he’s Santa, smiling– always smiling, takes off his shoes at the door, knows just where the light switch is for the basement, (I’ve lived in this house 20 years and I’m never sure which of the three switches it is on the panel, but he does!), and marches down my stairs.  He doesn’t balk at the mouse droppings, or comment on the disarray of my son’s Man Cave.  He plows right through it all to the mechanical room that I try to enter as seldom as possible, and does whatever voo-doo he does.  I don’t follow him.  I don’t micro-manage his little tete-a-tete with the bowels of my home.  He has it under control.  He knows we need him, and it’s his job to show up and he does, like Swiss clockwork.  I even feel the house being relieved that someone competent and consistent is in charge of its digestive system.  The house has expectations too.  I try to meet them.  But sometimes…I just fail.  The refrigerator, lawn mower, and front stove burners are all currently broken.  The gutters are spilling over, and there’s a significant ground squirrel problem under my porch, and I missed last month’s electric bill.  I just can’t do it all or be it all.  I have to fail something or someone.

As I explained to my daughter, home for the Fourth of July:  you just can’t be all things to all people, even the ones you love most.  You’re just gonna let people down from time to time.  Even and especially when you’re doing your best.  Something’s got to give.  But there’s no shame in that.  You have to learn to let yourself off the hook.  And to let others off the hook.  And sometimes…all the people you think should be there to help you, won’t be.  And you’ll need to pay people instead.  Or you might be surprised at who shows up when the primary people don’t.  Or can’t.  Or won’t.  No matter how hard we try…people fail each other.  You’re going to fail people.  And I hate to say it, but ultimately…it’s not your problem.  It’s theirs.  Even if it’s your mother.  Or your child.

I can say this to her…but do I really believe it?  Truth is:  I haven’t had that much experience royally failing someone I love.  Recently, I had to.  I had to choose:  Move my mother?  Or move my daughter and son?

Pretty much every primary person in my life is in a major transition right now:  moving, going to college, going from college into the work force, down-sizing from house to apartment, changing jobs.  Everyone needs each other’s help and no one has the capacity to give it fully.  They can barely give it to themselves, teetering in the untethering.

Some of this is help we can pay for.  But a lot of it isn’t.  Like who gets Dad’s World War II army blanket?  And who gets Mimi’s crocheted afghan, lovingly knit with arthritic fingers, even though it’s in every shade of diarrhea?  And who gets the monogrammed wedding tray?  And what to do with the old letters?  And who will meet the roommates and get just the right toiletry case and put the Montana flag on the dorm wall, or christen the apartment with a bottle of prosecco after getting the right kitchen table that exactly fits the nook.  And who will drive the U-haul through the streets of San Francisco?  This isn’t just stuff you can do with a credit card online.  This is stuff that needs a daughter, a sister, a mommy.

I’m all three.  And I just can’t be all three right now.  Not well.  My plate is so full, it’s over-flowing.  I can barely be one person, never mind three.  I have to choose.  I have to say “no.”

Sure, I can take on a portion of the help that’s been asked of me, but not all of it.  Most of all, I hate that I can’t freely offer it, because I know it’s hard for people to ask—even loved ones.  I have to leave it to them to divvy up their needs with other people, paid and volunteered.  No matter how I shake it, no matter how much I know that I have to say “yes” where I must and “no” where I must…still, there’s shame.  Guilt.  Because I know that there are old, engraved, ingrown expectations attached to every request, especially the ones which are non-verbal.  People show up for people they love.  That’s just the way it is.  Especially family.  Especially when they are in big transition.  They get on planes and roll up their sleeves and help pack boxes, and bring tea and food and comfort and love to the one in need.  They don’t say, “no.”

Until this summer, I have never been in a position where I just…can’t…give everyone the support I want to give.  My physical world won’t let me.  No matter how hard I try to juggle my life, it’s just not possible.  I have to say, “no” to most and “yes” to the ones who truly are incapable of doing what they need to do, without me.IMG_3464

That means that I just drove a fifteen-foot U-haul through the streets of San Francisco with both of my kids in the front seat, to move my daughter from college into her apartment.  Yes, I drive a horse trailer, but not on insanely-vertical urban hills!  Where you have to parallel park!  I was afraid to drive a car in San Francisco, never mind a U-haul!  But I pulled it off.  She asked, and it was the best answer I could give.  “Yes.”  That was what I had to offer.  That’s what needed to get done.  My daughter:  the organizing and packing.  My son:  his strong back and football-honed muscles, the heavy lifting.  And in a few weeks, my daughter and I will do it all for him when he moves into his dorm room in college, thankfully midwestern-flat.  As for my mother’s move, thank God for my other family members and the professional movers.  I’ll come later to help settle them in to their new apartment.  I’ll do my best to manage their expectations then.

So far, I’ve been met with grace.  But I still feel awful about it.  Just awful.  Even my mother’s “Don’t worry.  I have help now.  You have enough on your plate with the kids and work.  You can come later,” doesn’t feel all that great.  I should be there.  I should.  Period.  But I do feel a little less guilty.  Thanks, Mom.

Here’s the lesson in it:  when I say, lovingly, responsibly, that I just can’t…people figure it out.

Or someone else steps in.

The world doesn’t rely on your shoulders’ ability to hold it up.  And it doesn’t end if you give it a much-needed shrug.  And…so far, no one dies.  And I’m not the bad guy.

I have to choose the expectation that I can actually manage, have to manage.  And let the others go.

Maybe the world works that way when we claim our truth and let go of our guilt.

So today, thank you, Culligan Man, for managing mine.  You do it so well.  I don’t even know when you leave, I trust you that much.  I just hear that moan and sputter down the driveway, and know that I have good water to drink.  May we all have at least a few expectations that manage themselves as easily as that.

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Relationship Questionnaire

 

Sometimes I wonder if the divorce rate would be so high if we could tailor make a questionnaire for our love interests to fill out before we step into the abyss of a serious relationship.  I’m not talking about a Match.com sort of questionnaire.  I’m talking take-no-prisoners, pedal-to-the-metal, full-frontal, in- your-face, cut-to-the-chase, head-for-the-hills stuff you would only dare to say out loud in the woods, walking alone with your dogs.  Of course, I’d NEVER actually have the guts/gall to do it.  But making a personal, private list might serve some purpose.

Stuff like:  (indulge/humor me a little here)

1)
Do you like to kiss?  If so, do you consider it merely foreplay?

2)
Precisely how many hours a week would you like to be with me?

Please break that down into the below categories:

Talking/ Doing chores/ Having sex/ Cooking/ Watching TV/Cultural outings/ Social outings/ Dates/ Family time/ In-law time/ Physical activities (not including sex)

3)
Do you call your mother?

4)
Do you tell your father you love him?

5)
What’s the worst thing that happened to you as a child?  What’s the best thing?

6)
Who is your best friend and why?

7)
Has anyone close to you ever died and how did you deal with grief?

8)
Do you like to sing and/or play an instrument?

9)
Do you care if I gain weight?  If so how much is too much?

10)
What is your filthiest habit?  Do you drink?  If so, do you get mean when you drink? How much do you drink?  How about smoking?  Drugs?

11)
Would you say that your family of origin is dysfunctional?  If so, rank it on a scale of 1-10, ten being totally cray cray.

12)
What books are on your bedside table?

13)
What’s the kinkiest thing you’ve done, sexually?

14)
What’s your deal-breaker as far as break-up goes?

15)
Have you ever cheated on a girlfriend/spouse?

16)
In a pinch, do you lie to get yourself out of a sticky situation?

17)
If you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be?

18)
Have you ever stolen anything?  If so, what was it?  How did you feel afterward?

19)
What kind of body are you planning to have when you’re fifty?  Seventy?  Do you plan on making it to 80?  What about 90?  If so, what’s your strategy?

20)
Do you want children?  If one had some sort of handi-cap how would you handle that?

21)
Why do you like me?  Give me at least ten reasons but no more than twenty because then I’ll know you’re bullshitting me.  (You’re about to run for the hills, aren’t you.  I can see it in your eyes.  Hang on—I’ll change my tone.  I’m flexible that way FYI.)

22)
On road trips, are you generally a conversationalist?  On road trips do you like to play music?  Can you take LOUD?

23)
Could you love a woman who listens to opera?  (not on road trips)

24)
Could you love a woman who still listens to the Indigo Girls?   (maybe on a road trip)

25)
Could you love a woman who ummm…still listens to James Taylor, Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, Carol King and…ummm…in a rare moment…John Denver?  Or who would make a mixed CD with the aforementioned…and maybe throw in a little Violent Femmes and Nirvana for flavor?  NOT that I have ever done that.

26)
Could you love a woman who ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmm—hang on I need a glass of wine for this one:  knows every word to A Chorus Line, Godspell,
Pippin, My Fair Lady, Annie, and uh…don’t worry, not Phantom or Les Miz…but maybe (slurp) Cats?

27)
Could you love a woman who would publicly mock you if you wore tightie whities?

28)
(but let’s get back to you)  Do you watch Saturday Night Live?

29)
What about Ellen?

30)
What about Jimmy Fallon?

31)
What about Glee?

32)
What about Smash?

33)
What about golf on television?  On a sunny day.  All day.  In August.

34)
What’s your Rorschach for parades?

35)
Have you ever or would you ever wear clogs?

36)
Have you ever or would you ever live in a foreign country?  Like say, Italy?  Tuscany, to be specific?  In a villa?

37)
Would you ride horses with me?

38)
Would you ever want me to play golf with you?  And if so, would you be kind?

39)
Can you shoot a decent game of pool?

40)
Do you pray?

41)
Do you know what foie gras is?  If so, do you like it?  Because that might be a deal breaker for me if you don’t.

42)
Would you ever be angry with me if I left crumbs on the counter?

43)
What about dishes in the sink?

44)
What about large piles of laundry rivaling Mt. Hood?

45)
Do you expect your woman to…you know…wax…down…there?

46)
Do you give foot massages?

47)
If your son or daughter was gay, how would you handle it?

48)
What are your top three places on earth that you want to visit?

49)
What’s on your bucket list?

50)
I repeat, do you watch golf on television?  How much ESPN do you watch in general?

51)
Do you eat bacon?  (See the foie gras question)

52)
What’s your favorite swear word and how often do you say it and do you say it a lot when you have sex?

53)
Would you ever burp/fart at the dinner table?

54)
Do you believe that chivalry is dead?

55)
DO YOU SNORE?  If so, would you be opposed to separate bedrooms?

56)
What did you get on the SAT’s?

57)
Did you think your last partner (if applicable) was better for having spent that part of their life with you?

58)
What do you think about marriage vows?

59)
What do you think about marriage?

60)
What do you think about divorce?

61)
When’s the last time you got called an asshole and why?

62)
What is your relationship like with yourself?

63)
Have you ever been arrested?

64)
Have you ever hit a person or gotten in a physical fight?  Do you have a bad temper?  Are you passive aggressive?

65)
How emotionally dependent are you, in relationships?

66)
Do you cry?

67)
What is your idea of a perfect Sunday?

68)
What is your sense of God?

69)
Wanna start this off by going to therapy with me?

Yeah…better off leaving it to the walk with the dogs in the woods.  But kind of a fun exercise.  You might want to give it a whirl.

(Thank you to my Facebook friends for helping me conjure this list.)

Yrs.

Laura

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Anyone Else Get Shushed? This Is For Us.

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What's Not Said

I love this photograph. I found it recently and lifted it from my mother’s house. (Sorry, Mom. Will send back soon. I’ve never done that before, I swear.) Here’s what I love: it’s a moment between moments. Two sets of parents at the wedding of their only children, from two very different backgrounds and social demographics, aligned for the rest of their lives through the lovely young man and woman at center. The moment between things, where looks are being delivered in the raised-eyebrow packages that they are. Proverbial ribs are being elbowed. Dreams are being re-charged and debunked. I wish I had a bubble over each of their heads. What is my mother saying to my father out of the side of her bridely mouth? What is my father’s father communicating to my mother’s father with that over-the-spectacle look? Is the whole iconic experience of their only child’s wedding not as they had dreamed after all those months of planning? Is myth in the end just that? Is there talk about virginity about to be lost? Dowry content? Does someone have to go to the bathroom? Or do they feel like MGM Hollywood greats for a day? Superstars. Alabaster sculptures. These are my elders– all such ladies and gentlemen. But here, to me they look like kids. I love this picture for that.

Do you remember the exact moment when you realized that your parents weren’t just parents, but that they were human beings with needs and weaknesses and fears and dashed dreams? That they were young like you once? Looking at photos like this help. It didn’t make it into the wedding album, where everybody’s lips and teeth and arms are in the “right” place. But still it wasn’t ripped up and thrown away either. Something about it was worth saving. The heart doesn’t want things all lined up. It speaks a different language– the language that is being spoken here. And so it doesn’t really matter then what they were saying. Only that they were saying it, and that one generation gets to be let in on the heart language of another.

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Apology. Grace.

A person from my past, with whom I’m have not kept in touch, sent me an email today, apologizing for being mean to me when we were in our teens.  It was an act of generosity and integrity.  I urge us all to do the same.  This is the sort of pass-it-on behavior that can change the world.  Think back to someone you were mean to.  In the sandbox.  At camp.  In the classroom.  At a birthday party.  At a fraternity party.  At a PTA meeting.  At work…  Get to the bottom of it in your heart.  Did they scare you?  Did you feel wronged by them?  Threatened?  Did you see something in them that you loathed about yourself?  Did they hold up a mirror for you in a way that was too hard to bear?  What kind of pain were you in at the time?  How did it feel to be mean?  Not so good.

Now go find their email address and tell them you’re sorry.  I have passed on this gift today, and while at first I couldn’t think of a specific incident– of really being mean to somebody, after I got real with myself, I thought of a few people I’m sure I hurt along the way.  And I reached out to them.  It felt like coming out of a cool lake. For both of us.  Thank you, then, to this old friend and her morning email. For her generosity of spirit. She didn’t have to do it. But she did.  That’s what really makes the world go ’round.

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Announcing "Haven" Newsletter

Based on the amazing notes I get every day, I’ve been thrilled to see how people seem to really appreciate the raw honesty and vulnerability in my book. It inspires me because vulnerability is my most cherished character trait in a person. And if my writing can help people to not feel alone, then it’s all worthwhile being the main character. To that end, I’ll be doing a monthly newsletter, starting in July. I’ll choose a theme and write about it in the newsletter, and then send it to the subscribers to my website. Then, on the announced date, there will be a discussion here on my blog in which people can share about this theme with me there to share as well. Since I moderate the comments, I’ll be sure to keep it safe and constructive. If you’d like to participate, go to my website and sign up: http://www.lauramunsonauthor.com. The newsletter sign up is on every page but Home on the left margin. The newsletter will come to your email address and give all pertinent information re: time, theme etc. I look forward to what we can co-create on the page in heart and mind and honesty! yrs. Laura

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Inheritance

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Inheritance by Laura A. Munson

When life is long, we take off our gold bracelets and put them into the back of a low drawer. When life is long, we move far away from that drawer. We curse the drawer. We curse the bondage of gold bracelets, the parents who bought them for us, the mines that produced them and the rivers they leached strychnine into to get the gold. We go to the river and look into the slither of the still-pink-bellied fish and say, “I’m sorry.”
When life is short though, we think, “Well, it might be nice to feel the fickle weight of a gold bangle on my wrist. Might be nice to look down and see my hand looking fancy and shiny. Might be nice to remember my parents in this piece of jewelry.” So we go back to the drawer and find the bracelets, and we put them on again, forgive our parents, and feel sixteen and long in life.
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This year I inherited a combined legacy of five hundred years of unbroken china, crystal and silver. And in some addendum to the throes of running from gold bracelets, I have found myself living, what looks like semi-permanently, in the northwest corner of the biggest “square state,” Montana. Montana, where the women were lucky to arrive with their lives, much less their china, crystal and silver. Montana, where pomp went out with the bath water. Montana, where a formal dining room is a new concept, or rather, one of the Bacchanalia left behind for a better life, a job on the railroad, a wanderlust-ful love for mountains, gold.
So I sit here on a snowy day and stare into my grandmother’s glass and oak dining room hutch and think, I am the one who is going to break this glass front, I just know it. It’ll be my child who slams her toy baby carriage into it and shatters it; my dog with such a brawny tail. After all, I am the first to allow a dog or toy baby carriage in the dining room. I am the first who uses her dining room to wrap presents for Christmas and to write novels, and not for nightly dinners and Sunday afternoon suppers. I am the first not to use the china. I am the first to merely behold it.
I found out last night that there is a woman in my town who has met me once and now feels the need to state in public places that she does not like me. She is quoted as saying something to the effect that I am a lady of leisure—that I sit around all day and have tea parties with all my fancy china. I guess she’s heard about my formal dining room with the five hundred years of china stacked into its hutch. It’s no secret. But in Montana, it is an anomaly. I like to think of this woman when I am on my third load of laundry, second batch of dishes, fourth leg of kid-school-transport, third reincarnation of this week’s beef—from roast to stew to cold sandwiches. I like to think about how my Montana includes her, but how hers does not include me. And make my peace.
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Other times, particularly when I’m on my fourth leg of kid taxi service, I day dream about teaching this woman a little lesson: I want to invite her to lunch and eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on Limoges Haviland that came with my great grandmother in a covered wagon from Manchester, Vermont to southern Illinois in the mid 1800’s when she and her husband realized that they couldn’t support their eight children on the income from their farm and that there was cheap farm land “out west.”
And then we’ll drink milk from Steuben goblets that I’ll blow the dust out of and I’ll read the accompanying note in the slanted elegance of looping letters: “Given to me by Chester Wright Munson on our wedding day. Good. Save for the girls.” And I’ll hold up a claret red shot glass and read that accompanying note in the same script: “Brought back from Chicago by my parents when they attended the World’s Fair– 1893.”
And we’ll stab at carrot sticks (it’s not a fancy meal, this one) with pre-Civil-War Towle forks not taken by the Yankees who camped in my great great grandmother’s yard, and I’ll tell her about my great great grandmother and how she hid her babies under her bed and her silver in the ground behind the smokehouse while her husband was losing an eye at the Battle of Shiloh, the same battle where William Elliott Aldrich also fought, only for his Northern cause. And I’ll tell her how he lived to have a son and that son was my great grandfather Hilen, who came to Fon du Lac, Wisconsin through the Erie Canal when he was nineteen and how he worked on the railway as a conductor and I’ll show her his lantern with his name engraved into its base—and a date: 1858.
Then I’d like to tell her that it’s his wife’s china that we are eating off of (Yankee china to Confederate silver), and that she had a son who had a wife named Genevieve who died young of typhoid and left two baby boys behind and it’s her Adderly’s white china dessert plates with the blue relief fleur de lis that we’re going to eat our chocolate chip cookies off of in a minute, right after she says that she was all wrong about me—that I’m not an over-privileged ninny, just a woman well-endowed with the fragile touchstones of family stories, just another sentimental woman in a long line of sentimental women who clung to their possessions in a world that had no promises and still doesn’t. Right after she says she’s sorry.
Then I’ll say, “That’s okay. Next time I’ll cook you a real meal,” and give her a linen napkin with hundred-year-old creases in it and a hand-sewn M in grey, and I’ll remove the straight pin from it and the browned note written in yet another slanted elegance, stating with some sort of pathos toward the daughters to come, “Hand embroidered for my trousseau—1912.” And I’ll tell her about the farm girl who wrote that note, that she had a beautiful contralto voice and went to Northwestern University to pursue a graduate degree in voice until she was sexually harassed by her professor who threatened her with failure, so she up and left and went back to her hometown sweetheart who moved her to a small industrial community on the Mississippi River where he ran a corn syrup factory and she sang in the Presbyterian church choir and at her piano and had a son who was brain damaged at birth by the doctor’s forceps and lay otherwise perfect, in a small crib in the dining room, right next to the hutch I have now, until he was thirteen and died of pneumonia.
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Then I’ll show her the piano and tell her that farm girl was my grandmother and maybe I’ll play her the song she used to play for me: believe me if all those endearing young charms, which I gaze on so fondly today, were to change by tomorrow and fleet in my arms like fairy gifts fading away… That’s all, of course, pending on whether she has a change of heart and hands over the olive branch. If she doesn’t, she won’t get a cookie.
But I don’t do any of that.
Instead I stand at the glass hutch doors and turn the old key and sniff the bloody waft of brass and stare at the notes I’ve been left by my mothers on all sides. Some have to do with china. Others, with furniture. Photographs. Silver. Quilts. I take out a sterling pitcher—the one my father says was always on his dinner table as a boy, and with flannel cloth and polish, I run my fingers over the same beveled handle that my grandmother did, thinking about her solo for Sunday church, or her vegetable baby not crying in the next room.
The fact remains that my mothers wanted to be known. And this is what they had to care for and show for themselves, with sick children and husbands dying in war and life on this mystical and heartbreaking planet. They were the ladies of the house, and that meant something to them; the fact that there are notes shows me that it did not, however, mean everything.
I’ve read those notes over and over. Some are on torn pieces of paper—the backs of checks, lined note-paper with the lines rubbed off by years of sitting in a teacup with the train going by. Others are on engraved stationary—“Mrs. Hilen Aldrich.” And on the inside, “Given to our first grandchild by her loving grandparents, Lucy and Hilen. Hoop skirt chair needle-pointed by Lucy. Chair belonged to Hilen’s father and mother. With sincere adoration—1932.” This note is covered in a child’s pencil scribbles; perhaps those of the first grandchild, my mother, or perhaps mine, playing next to my mother on a china-dusting day. Whichever. It doesn’t matter.
We are all the same in the china cabinet. We are rebellious youths running far from family. We are new mothers who for the first time fear death and seek understanding in the chain of legacy. We are trying to make “home” in new places, remembering Thanksgiving dinners and entire people—their voices, their smells, their eyes sparkling over a story and the gravy only their wife can make—all from the glimmer of a forget-me-not on a Staffordshire chafing dish. We are far from our mother’s gravy. We are the mothers.
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I’ll dust the contents of this cabinet. I’ll keep it well. We will not be the ones to break it. And there will be Christmases around these plates and cups and homemade buns, all because there is a tiny plate just for buns. There will be mint juleps because there are spoons for mint juleps. Shrimp because there are shrimp forks. Espresso because there are demi-tasse. And the mothers will bring these things to the table over and over; the bounty of table-side ritual, the battens of family. And the gold will wear thin on the cup handles and little chips will dig in around the crystal rims…and it means that we were all here. On this beautiful and heartbreaking planet, breaking our bread, but not our fragile things. That’s life, long and short, in a china plate. That’s inheritance.

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