“Scent is our most potent form of time travel.” Victoria Erickson
Isn’t weird how life events are so often indexed by smell? Our noses program us to remember the most offbeat memories by scent. Baby powder transports is back in time to squishy babies, fresh from the bath, deliciously cuddly and dusted with the stuff. The aroma of freshly baked cookies opens a door to just about any time milk and a tasty little ‘somethin-somethin’ made our day.
Of course, we can’t take all the credit for logging a brainful of aroma information. Like most complex things the human body flawlessly executes, your olfactory senses neatly link smells to situations. Often that process produces a conditioned response, like how just a whiff of a vaguely familiar odor of the dentist office makes us want to walk the other way. Researchers claim that whatever smells a mother favors, while the baby is in utero, infants prefer as they grow. That actually makes perfect sense, considering how I love the smell of garlic and lilac (not in that order). That’s the beauty of the ‘emotional brain’.
“Scent is the strongest tie to memory.” Maggie Stiefvaver
Scientists call the way we link scent to experience, an associated learning mechanism, which just means our emotions and sense of smell are hardwired to our brain. Our perceptions of odors not only create an emotional, conditioned response to them, but can even influence how we think and act. That makes perfect sense when you think of places like healthcare facilities, where the fragrance of lavender is used to calm and relax, while often masking other less appealing odors! So often I remember a scent even more than the actual event – or maybe that’s just a side effect of aging!
Was I a helicopter mom when my kids were baby humans? Hmmmm. Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner! Looking back, there were a few times I just might have qualified. There were the times I urged my pre-teen daughter to let me know she arrived safely at her friend’s house – who lived at the end of our street! Then, there was the cringe worthy moment I ran into the local bank my high school senior daughter worked, begging them to let me take her home before the beginning snow storm took hold. Not one of my finer moments. On the other hand, I never did my kids’ homework or school projects FOR them, so there’s that. Still, doesn’t everyone have a crazy button just waiting to be pushed?
Okay, maybe not.
I’m pleased to say, now that grandchildren are the focus (victims) of my worry, I’ve let up on the controls. Usually. That is except for the times I whisper my over the top concerns about them maybe needing a warmer jacket to which their moms, with practiced eye-rolls, calmly reply “they’re fine, Mom.” Groan.
Being overprotective and over-controlling, while hardly an optimum parenting style, is also not a new idea. A term first used in Dr. Haim Ginott’s 1969 book, “Parents and Teenagers”, helicopter parenting is still alive though maybe not ‘well.’ They’ve just gone 2.0, being dubbed tiger or ‘lawnmower’ parents, mowing down any obstacles in their kids’ way, damn the cost. Some parents, intent on getting their children into the most prestigious nursery schools, begin their helicoptering when the babes are still in the bassinet. There are parents that, out of necessity, like special needs or allergies, have to be more singularly focused on their children. Yet many, even overwhelmed with work, a big household or economic constraints, treat their children more balanced and sanely while conversely, other parents absent themselves completely.
“A lot of parents will do anything for their children except let them be themselves.” Banksy
I’m not proud today of having been a mommy hovercraft. I could blame a lot on my own strict, controlling, appearance-focused parents but that’s just passing the buck. I could say I was the ultimate worry wart but at least I showed unconditional love, something that was elusive to me. I could even wonder if so much of my inordinate worry was based on fear, often unreasonable, that they would be injured or ill, shadowed from the loss of my young brother.
” ‘If only’ must be the two saddest words in the world.” Mercedes Lockey
When I hear people say ‘I have no regrets’, my first thought is “I’ll have what they’re having”. Living a life that gathers no regrets is something we all want, but as years, events, experiences pile up, it’s harder to to come by — at least with a straight face. The truth is, we each have our own vision of how we wanted our lives to be and how they actually unfolded. As years add up, so do regrets. Whether they are productive or unhealthy often is not the point. Yet, they still have a way of elbowing into your consciousness, invited or not. They become like an accusatory Jack-in the Box, gleefully popping up with a laundry list of things you did or didn’t do and once it starts, it’s hard to shut up.
One of the biggest regrets of life, I think is a sense of having gone on the trip, but missed the adventure. Gary Haugen
The complicated, worrisome year we’ve all lived through is cause enough for mental review. More than ever, we realized just how precious life is — and how short. The obvious fragility of life was a newsreel re-run over and over through months of a pandemic. I suspect many of us, seeing very real mortality all around us, were treated to inadvertent flashbacks of our lives, enabling regrets to saddle up for rando visits. I’m that kid who, instead of pressing ESC, say ‘hold my beer’ (as if I actually drank), and settle in for masochistic doomscrolling of all my failures.
Recently, I was treated to an insomniac night of life review on an endless loop. I saw a 19 year old girl supporting a husband through college instead of fighting for art school, obviously not the smartest decision I ever made on many levels. As years spin by, I saw relationships I should have run from with my hair on fire, or left long before their expiration date. I’m a slow learner. I was starkly reminded of how parents’ threats of distancing and disapproval shaped my life as well as any confidence or idea of myself long into adulthood. I saw all the chances I didn’t take, in living color. All the places I never saw, risks I never took and the chicken-little fear that controlled it all.
Living in regret will become your biggest regret. Bill Johnson
Pandemics have a nasty habit of making us question things we take for granted. When life seems a whole lot more fragile, words become a lot more important. Don’t let the right ones get away.
Whether you’re speaker or listener, words matter. They can heal or hurt; inspire or humiliate, encourage, teach or comfort. They can be the tiebreaker in an argument; a deal breaker in a relationship. They can make someone feel important or diminished; deeply hurt or transformed with love. They can criticize, accuse, or malign. The can also soften a heart and change the trajectory of someone’s life. Words can change lives for worse or for better; or through their absence, leave a hole that is often never filled.
The give and take of words is all part of human speak. We ask work questions about marketing and quality control. We ask about freshness of the lettuce or what’s on sale that day. We ask our kids it they remembered to pack their homework and sneakers for gym as they run out the door. More often than not, we don’t give a whole lot of thought to the mundane exchanges we have every day. Yet, the power of our words is immeasurable.
You better know that in the end, it’s better to say too much
Than to never to say what you need to say again. John Mayer
There are people who never stop talking and who knows, I may be one of them. But, with all our talk, talk, talk, what is really said? We use hundreds of words every day – but how many cut to the chase of life? How many of us carve out that critical second to say the one thing that could transform a heart? In a world as uncertain, as volatile as we live today, we are all painfully aware of our human vulnerability. We are reminded each day, as we see numbers across the world tell the story of humans gone too suddenly, that life is not forever. Just as words we say in haste or anger form a destructive legacy that never be taken back, many that need to be said, that could change everything in someone’s world, are not. The time when they could be spoken is no longer and there is no better proof than the now 100,000 people who have gone forever. Words we wish to have said have disappeared into the ether.
There is no time to leave important words unsaid. Paulo Coelho
In my book, the most magic words in life are often the simplest, yet time slips by and what we meant to say disappears with it. Yet, words, those very words, can mean the world like:
Thank you. It always amazes me how little we acknowledge kindness and thoughtfulness. Sure we dole out automatic thank you’s like M&M’s, with no real thought. Now, I’m totally onboard with politeness, in any setting, but authentic, cognizant gratitude is the real deal. My mother always told me, if you don’t thank someone who sends you a gift, you don’t deserve it. Words on paper count, too. But as treasured as a call or thank-you note is, the heart behind the thank you makes all the difference. Don’t sell these words short. From a grocery checker to a child being thoughtful, these two little words say ‘I see you – and you matter.’
I’m sorry. Even if you did something you totally regret and would never do again, an ‘I’m sorry’ is the way to go. In fact, these two little words are some of the most important you can ever say. Apologizing never comes easy. In fact, when we are really pissed, (it happens) that ‘I’m sorry’ seems almost impossible. Said from the heart, though, it means we learned the hard way, that we realized we hurt someone and even if what we did won’t go down in history as Titanic sized, we are truly bummed it happened. Taking responsibility for our actions can go a long way to healing our relationships – and ourselves.
Forgive me. When we value a relationship, our greatest hope, when something goes wrong, is to repair it and restore it to its original condition. We should never take a person we cherish or their forgiveness for granted. Extending the proverbial olive branch with hope, not expectation, is a leap of faith. Acceptance is their gift to us, not an automatic expectation.
I love you. Don’t wait for the funeral or the door closing to tell people how you feel about them. Say it when it counts. Say it as often as it needs to be said or as often as you feel it. Say it before it’s too late. And people who grieve the 100,000 authentic, cherished people, claimed without warning by COVID-19, may always wonder, as I did when my own husband died suddenly, if “I love you” could have been said just one more time. No matter how many times “I love you” is said or even written, not one of us will ever say, “No more. I’m good thanks”.
The world, as we know it, will change. So will we.
Change is pretty much innate to living. No matter how evolved and enlightened we think we are, nothing is more intrinsic to nature and humanity than change. From hurricanes and earthquakes to fires and pandemics, nature can transform our world in a nanosecond. We can try to control it but nature will always tell us who’s boss. The current pandemic is deadly proof that when humanity and nature collide, things will change and not in a good way. Hello, COVID-19.
Scheduling a big family reunion? Nada. An out of town vaca? Nope. Planning dinner with friends? Well, dining out – is out. Those quick little errands will have to wait, too, maybe for quite awhile. Being ‘up close and personal’ has become a little too personal – and risky. (And no one misses hugging more than an Italian girl!) We’ve entered a Rod Serling universe and we can’t just change the channel. Social distancing has become a thing, the ONLY thing that can help slow the spread of the virus and save lives. Will it eliminate risk? No, but it’s critical to lessening the upward curve, a curve that can lead to worst case scenarios.
We change jobs, houses and hairstyles but changes that create sudden empty shelves and streets, one that mandates social isolation? No, there’s nothing ‘normal’ about this kind of change. Our connected society is suddenly off balance. Schools, parks, stores, and jobs are shut down. Stocks have been in free fall. Healthcare workers are begging for beds, supplies, and critical equipment. Why wouldn’t we be upset, anxious as hell and complain about all we take for granted being put on hold? But, if we can be resilient enough to manage a few weeks sheltering in place to care for ourselves and one another, we will do more than just wade through a pandemic. We will have learned, like the Velveteen Rabbit, to be ‘real’.
A few months ago, I wrote a blog about ‘first world problems’, and while being in isolation certainly isn’t a walk in the park, for most it’s hardly ‘worst case scenario’ either. We can feel depressed and anxious when we look at our daily lives and barely recognize them. Other than missing hugging and smooching my kids, grands and friends like crazy, I may be luckier than most. Working remotely for many years was a type of training wheels for living in place. And often, after my husband’s procedures, we hunkered down for an isolated recuperation. That’s not to say, I’m also spoiled with the ability to hop in my car and run to the library, post office, and grocery when the mood or need hits. Those times will come again and when they do, I’ll consider them with different eyes.
An avid reader of the WW2 period, (go figure) helps me put a little perspective to these current times. There is little comparison to the rationing, blackouts and terrifying bomb shelter life people endured during those long years. The spirit of community, embracing uncertainty and the greater good shown in that era is an enduring example of how people ramp up in times of crisis. With fear and sacrifice as constant companions, people kept living each day, as best they possibly could. What their ‘can do’ spirit, resilience and sense of gratitude accomplished earned them the title ‘the Greatest Generation’. We’ve only experienced a drastically changed lifestyle for less than two weeks. What will future generations say about us?
When COVID-19 eventually lessens its stranglehold, the country will slowly return to a new normal. But, in some areas, the more things change the more they remain the same. The wealthiest 5%, remain at the head of the line, to be saved once again with bailouts, while the other 80% will struggle exponentially from job loss, and financial difficulties. Some will still have no healthcare, live from paycheck to paycheck, often in abject poverty. Those people will see complaints about missing happy hours, gym time or trips to the mall as alien as those of another planet. In a country divided by affluence and lack of it, political party, race and gender, this pandemic is proof illness does not discriminate; only the way we treat it.
Raising kids is not a walk in the park. They keep you young, they keep you humble — and they call you on your crap.
“A hundred years from now it won’t matter what sort of house I lived in, or kind of car I drove but, the world may be different because I was important to the life of a child.”
Between escalating birthdays and widowhood, I reflect on a lot these days on both the meaning — and brevity of life. The noisy, giggling, sibling rivalry days inherent in raising small children that seemed never ending — but did. The torch passed and now those babies are parental units themselves, running on the same relentless parental hamster wheel of schedules, homework, errands and laundry that once filled my days.
Looking back, though, there is nothing I wouldn’t do to be smack in the middle of those worrywart, race-against-the-clock days, and the babies who inhabited them. The days you lug oranges to soccer games, cupcakes to birthday parties and stayed up nights sewing Halloween costumes end. And suddenly, you’re crying at graduations, toasting an engagement and in the blink of an eye, another generation is on the way. You pass the baton. Long feverish nights, endless science projects, little league games and wee hours of waiting for cars to pull in driveways are now in your adult babies’ hands.
Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see. Neil Postman
Children change our lives. They toss them in a hectic blender of love, worry and crazy, then rearrange them incredulously inside people who become adults themselves. Like many in my generation, I was barely 21 when I had my first child. I dove headfirst into cribs and spit up baby food with no nostalgia about lost single days of island hopping, because there was none. Today’s moms trade successful careers, first single apartments and free wheeling travel memories for marriage and child-raising. They bring life experience, and a taste of fulfillment to their babies while others like me bring still young(ish) enthusiasm and a reasonable amount of energy to race lively grandchildren. Standing on the flip side of motherhood, I can totally appreciate both sides of that same coin.
From the minute those squalling little bodies are placed in our arms, our lives are never the same. As they grow, we will do every crazy, exhausting thing we can to try to keep those nuggets safe, healthy and happy. I remember when I, and my neighbor/best bud, went on a no-nitrate, no additive ban, convinced we would rule as health-conscious moms. Unfortunately, boycotting hot dogs, Wonder Bread, and bologna demoted us to the bottom rung of our kids’ food hit parade. Though still suspicious of Marshmallow fluff and Taylor ham, we eventually sold out to hot dogs, but, to our credit, they were turkey so…
Three little words – that speak everything. When that Pandora heroine in Avatar says to her human, “I see you” it’s a pretty ‘awwwwww’ moment. But, beyond warm and fuzzy, what do those words really mean? I’d like to think they are a personal text to your soul, assuring that “I know you exist, I see your essence and I get you.” It says that someone sees us for who we are, what we can become, and that they have a backpack ready for whatever journey is on your horizon.
Such small words yet, what is more profound than feeling we are accepted, validated and embraced? The first time these words touched me was during dinner with a dear (much younger) friend of mine. We’ve shared a long friendship and a lot of life experiences, though each from our own different plane. Yet, I saw that night that the ability to understand, with such interest and caring, can forge a connection that transcends generation. That connection allows us to see, in one another, inner spirits that aren’t all that different.
Never confuse “I see you” with “I hear ya’. Nope. That’s a whole other aspect of understanding, and a pretty casual one at that. Really ‘seeing’ someone x-rays the person beneath loneliness, grief, even the smiles we wear before the world. It sees beneath the MEH shrug about really hating our job, the emptiness of not being understood, or the pressure to keep up. It also bypasses feelings of not being good or pretty or rich enough. That kind of ‘seeing’ accepts our regrets, and fears, along with all the goodness we keep locked up, tight as a drum. Continue reading “I. See. You.”→
Everyone has baggage. Everyone. Some carry bags as small as coin purses; others the size of a dumpster. While I’d like to say mine is wallet size, given a long, complicated life, it’s probably more of a satchel. Of course, I’d have to count make-up, keys with fuzzy pom poms, and all the just-in-case stuff in there, too, but still.
Each piece that piles into our bags, each painful, awkward piece, built our lives one way or the other. Stuff you did – or stuff that was done to you. Unresolved emotional issues, traumas, hurts and habits from growing up or adult years, all shape and mold us. They also add up, if not tended to, and morph into pretty hefty knapsacks we lug around with straps cutting into our shoulders. The weight alone, let alone the memories, trip us into withdrawing, or holding back in relationships that just might expose what the heck we’re carrying. Sometimes, we can’t even remember what is stuffed in that bag — but it remembers us.
When you bring past baggage into the present, it might be a short trip.
If we choose our friends, based on how much baggage they bring to the table, there might be a short list on the invite list. Choosing our partners, based on the skeletons in their backpacks, can be a smart as well as sketchy since it allows us to either dodge a bullet or — a potentially wonderful relationship. Life has a habit of piling a lot of stuff into our humanoid valises and it’s up to us to know the amount of weight we can carry without breaking – as well as if we can help carry another’s.
When cancer decided to drop in before our marriage vows, it grew my husband’s baggage to industrial size proportions. That kind of load can break all the snaps and zippers of budding married life. Luckily, we both just grabbed an end — and kept moving forward. But, that doesn’t work in every situation – nor should it. Just like group travel tours, we’re each in charge of our own suitcase and we’re the ones who have to carry and unpack it. That’s why your tour guide cautions you to travel light.
Everyone has baggage, maybe we should help each other carry it.” Rob Liano
How much does your life weigh? Now there’s a heavy question. Depending on all the ‘stuff’ we jam into it, our bag can be one damn heavy load, certainly too much for puny shoulders to carry for a lifetime. (and this is coming from a chick whose purse alone could use a rollaway wheels.) Unexpressed feelings, long held hurts and bad habits pile one on another. Past baggage weighs down our present.
Relationships can be the city dump of baggage. Sometimes you’ll get a widescreen, technicolor view of a potential partner’s heavy duty baggage; sometimes it’s the unsuspecting moving van of tattered boxes and bins that blindside you. But, then someone offers you an honest inventory of even the most difficult, messy baggage they’ve painfully carried, and it gets your attention — even your heart. When someone is able to identify, unpack, deal with and grow from all the ponderous stuff they’ve been lugging around, ah, that’s a person you can trust and open your heart to. When we’re able to introspectively shake out our own backpack of weighty history and evolve in the process, that’s a trifecta of happy. Continue reading “Baggage Claim”→