Warning: A very long and rambly post!
"It's Friday, It's Five to Five And It's...Crackerjack!" When I was growing up in Britain, the whole country knew exactly what was happening on BBC at five to five on Friday nights. Crackerjack was a crazy variety children's show with a live studio audience who had to cry out "Crackerjack!" every time someone onstage said it. We only had two major channels of TV to choose from and no VCRs or PVRs so the whole nation tended to watch the same shows at the same time. Looking back nostalgically, it unified everyone and no one felt the lack of choice. If we didn't like a show we could not watch it or watch it and complain to friends the next day.
But that wasn't the only given in my structured childhood world: Mondays were washdays, Tuesdays for ironing, Wednesdays for dusting and so on. On Saturday mornings Dad always walked to my Nanna and Grandpop's house to visit and pick up my weekly treats from them (my Mandy and Beano comics, a couple of shillings pocket money and a bag full of gum and candy). If I was up and ready in time I'd often go with him. I especially loved our short cut through the cemetery, hidden from the world behind high rough stone walls and full of old gnarly trees and weathered tombstones. On Saturday evenings we usually had tea (dinner) at Nanna and Grandpop's with Dad's siblings and my cousins. Sunday at oneish was the big roast dinner.
Mam's mam, my Nanna who lived with us, often went to stay with someone else overnight on Friday, coming back Saturday night after tea. Tea through the week was always at five, usually me with Dad in front of the telly.
Trying to reconstruct this now, I realise that I've perhaps patched together segments from different ages throughout my childhood. The point is that I had a fairly rigid routine (and ridiculously early bedtimes and curfews!) although my playtime was unstructured within those boundaries and I was left to my own devices, even playing up the hills when I was older. Although not always at the time, now I look back on my childhood with appreciation and fond memories. The structure worked well for me although I balked at it sometimes, mostly in my early teens. Routine for children and dogs is comforting. Necessary perhaps. Yes, necessary. It instills a sense of security and trust. The same can be true for adults...in times of stress it can be reassuring to revert to or to create routines and habits.
But for the most part now I personally abhor routine. I hate feeling tied to commitments without thought. I do attend regular meetings and I do like to plan lunches and times with family and friends and I adhere to my commitments. But a 9-5 M-F job would stifle me. I like the shake up of my shifts, the reminder that life is 24/7.
So much preamble! I have written this self-indulgently, as a way to perhaps understand why I had such a strong reaction to a friend's 'requests' (they felt like demands) last week to respond to her chatty texts (which she views as her weekly check-in) within a day or two. And why I am very determined not to fall into the calling Dad at 3:30pm every day routine once Sandy leaves for Florida. I like the rhythm that has evolved between Dad and I for getting in touch with each other--it's phone calls and left messages and returned calls when it's convenient and e-mails whenever. Perhaps under different circumstances and at different times I would feel differently. I know I'm lucky to be able to call Dad, to have him and my aforementioned friend in my life but I don't want to rigidly feel obligated to respond to either of them at a set time or within a set period. For some reason that I haven't fully tapped into yet, I eventually feel resentful in such cases even though I understand that the requests/demands--sorry, they still feel like demands to me--stem from concern. Perhaps I just don't like being told what to do! Lol. Who does, really? I also realise that I sound like a spoiled, pouty brat!
After Derek (Dane's dad) and I separated, I lived with Harv for 5 1/2 years. Although that relationship ended in tatters of verbal abuse and control and brought me to one of the darkest times in my life, I learned a lot from that time. Early on, Harv brought to my attention an interesting habit that I wasn't even aware of. I would announce every time I went to the bathroom: "I'm just going to the bathroom." As if I was in school and needed permission. Harv was controlling but this habit popped up before he came into my life. Who really cared that I was going to the bathroom? Pondering further, I think it came from explaining my temporary absence to Dane when he was younger as he tended to be quite clingy and demanding sometimes. I used to read in the bathroom, the only time I really could in those days--it became an escape. My time to myself.
I once wrote to an admired Canadian young adult writer, Monica Hughes, saying how much I enjoyed her books that I read in the bathroom! She kindly replied saying that she hoped I would be eventually able to carve other times and places into my busy life where I could read, not just in the bathroom. Lol.
Harv pointing this out and telling me that I could just quietly go to the bathroom without announcing it, awakened me to the fact that I had created this habit and adopted it subconsciously. What else was I doing out of automatic habit in my life? It sounds obvious and silly now, but it was a real eye-opener to me at the time.
In telling Dane how much I sometimes resented having to call Dad at 3:30 every day, I realised (and told him) that he would never have fallen into that. He would never have let it happen. Another realisation. At first it created a necessary anchor in his shaky world (likely for both of us) but I could have weaned us both off the rigidity of it a couple of years ago.
My friend has created this check-in habit which is fine. But it's her habit not mine. I enjoy hearing from her, catching up with her life. If she wants to send a chatty text (this has been going on for years and became emails at one point when my phone mushed up and muddled her texts) weekly, every Monday, so be it. I'll respond when I have something to say which may not be until Thursday or the weekend or the week after. I know it stems partly from concern, from good intentions. But last Monday when she had texted, I had seen her for lunch the Thursday before and when I didn't reply on Monday she sent me a text on Wednesday morning asking if I was OK cos she had sent a text on Monday afternoon and I hadn't replied yet. And she repeated her text to me (which are recitals of what she has done, not necessarily questions or invites for me to share my time although I know she enjoys that). I replied and said not to worry that I don't expect replies immediately or even at all to chatty texts. She texted back that she does expect a reply within a couple of days cos of our age and health issues! In response, I said I'd at least send a smiley. But as I thought about it later, I don't want to even do that! I don't want to HAVE to respond! (can you hear me stamping my feet? Lol) If something is very wrong, we both have people around us who would let the other person know. I have tried to explain this before but it comes across as being defensive and doesn't seem to help.
Sorry about my rant!
As this week turned out, I was planning for her birthday and I did have reason to contact her throughout the week. Plans involve me checking at work to see if I can switch shifts with someone and I told my friend I wouldn't be able to get to that until this weekend when I'm working. She said that was fine, thanked me and said she would be in touch next weekend (this on Saturday). And yesterday (Monday) I didn't get a text from her. Although it's always lovely to hear from friends, in this case I consider the absence of a Monday text a plus. And I already feel freer in the relationship.
That sparks a memory: When Harv and I split, I left him in the house for a few days while I went to live with a friend, so he could clear his stuff out and so I was safe. Rob (who was one of my saviours in helping pull me from the abusive relationship) came with me back to my house. Harv had cleared out the whole of the front room...all the furniture, everything. I took a deep breath.
"You realise he's done that on purpose with that room? He's making a statement?" Rob asked.
"I know. But it doesn't matter. I can breathe again!"
Yay! You, my now-exhausted but loyal reader have now reached the end of this very looooooong blog. Thank you so much for sticking with me this far. For staying by my side while I untangle sticky emotions. I have no reward (except the end of my rambling) but invite you to consider how routines and habits can help and hinder in your life. Be sure that what you choose to embrace as a routine or habit truly serves you in the way you want it to. And if not, change it. You have that power. This is YOUR life.
Yesterday when i visited Dad, i wasn't prepared for the depth of his clearing. He had emptied the top of a small table that he called 'Mam's table' after she died. It was beside the chair she slept in for almost a year. It held some photos and some mementos of special moments that happened after she died, reminding us she's close. And it held her urn.
Incredulous and alarmed, I cried, "Where's Mam?"
"What?" Dad asked.
"What have you done with Mam? Her urn?"
"Oh, in there." Dad pointed to a clear plastic tote.
"What are you going to do with it? I can take her home."
I can't remember Dad's response. Perhaps he intends to put the urn back up somewhere once the new floors are down (partly the reason for all this drastic clearing). I knew that I had to let go of the emotion. Of course I know that Mam, her spirit, isn't in the pretty pink and gold urn. So I turned my attention to a manila envelope stuffed with old photos, mainly black and white, that Dad had set aside for me. I glanced through them while Dad and I chatted, many of the photos heartwarming.
In the middle of the photos, I saw a pink piece of folded paper with Mam's handwriting on it. No other paper was in the envelope. She had copied down the following poem:
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which we always used.
Put no difference in your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes together.
What is death but a negligible accident?
I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.
~ Canon Henry Scott Holland
Last week was busy but delightfully so (except for long, exhausting shifts at work but they come with their own reward. Lol). Monday started with a day spent in the States with Dane. It rained a little and was chilly while we were at Grand Marais but we had the most delicious fish chowder at the Angry Trout and a lovely view. And just time together.
On Tuesday I was in Random Acts of Poetry with four other poets. Our last stop was the university radio which is in a small building with four stone steps leading to the door. After reading our poems on air, we filed out of the building. On the ground, at the bottom of the steps, lay a plucked wild rose. I pointed to it but didn't pick it up. Back in the truck, while waiting for the other poets to catch up, I wished I had. Instead Holly had. When she brought it into the truck, we talked about it. She remarked on its fragrance and i remarked how I'd seen it and took it as a thank you for sharing our words with the world and that i already had a poem in mind about it.
"Oh, then you should have it!" she said and passed the rose to me.
I kept it all week and I have the following picture of it as my cellphone wallpaper now. And I have a poem swirling around in my mind.
On today, our Canadian Thanksgiving, may you recognise and receive many blessings from the universe.
Welcome! I'm Sue Blott: a writer of all things, a poet at heart, mom, wife, daughter, step-mom, grandma, tea drinker, tai chi-er, mystic, artist, dreamer...and now a blogger! This is my world.