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my clean kitchen

Next step: the windows

Here’s a dirty little secret that many women aren’t willing to share: we aren’t all neat freaks. Despite my mother’s best training and ongoing exasperation, I am one of them. Here I am, firmly in mid-life, and my mom, who turns 75 this year, still feels she can come over and clean my fridge, or wash the walls, to “support me”. In the world of mother-daughter relationships, this signifies all kinds of anxiety-ridden, passive-aggressive baggage – I know. And I have let her, because it is one way that she can express her love for me. You can imagine what a pre-cleaning cleaning frenzy I go through each time this happens. My sons know this as the “Grandma clean-up”, and I am certainly passing my neuroses onto them.

Here’s the pattern. Grandma is coming over, so we make sure the dishes are picked up from the table, the bedrooms and the living room, and put in the dishwasher. We consolidate game controllers and make sure all those green rectangular game cases are back on the shelf. Books! They are everywhere – and I make piles of them, and banish the ones that don’t have a home yet off to my bedroom, with the mismatched socks and the laundry that hasn’t been put away yet (at least I have already folded it). We run around with a grocery bag for wrappers and straws, and a damp cloth to take the sticky bits off the tables. I sweep and mop the floor, and one son runs the vacuum while another attacks the bathrooms. All this can be done in an hour or less – so why do I wait for an occasion to do it? Why do I teach my kids, tacitly, that a consistently clean and tidy home is for OTHER people?

This is no epiphany. I have recognized this pattern in my life since I left home nearly 30 years ago. But this year is the first year that I am the Adult in my home. Before, I was waiting for some Prince Charming that I could serve (oh yeah, let’s not go there), or I was in a relationship and hoping that Prince Charming would lend a hand (one did, and one decidedly didn’t). This year, there’s me and my kids. And sometimes, like this weekend, there’s just me.

Well, guess what? I like a clean kitchen. I’m not waiting for anyone to come over to wash and put away the pots and pans, to get rid of the compost and to sweep up the crumbs from toast. I am worth a shiny sink or two. It calms me and helps me concentrate to be in an orderly house. Cleaning it is not an act of subservience if I’m doing it for me. I may never be a neat freak, but I can give myself the gift of a home that I love to be in.

On A Pink Cloud by Mark van LaereYou may have seen BrenĂ© Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability – with 10.6 million views, I’d be surprised if you hadn’t at least heard of it. In it, the social work researcher describes her work, determining why some people are able to live “whole-hearted” lives while others struggle. The key, she says, is opening up to the possibility of bad news, disconnection, and rejection. It’s taking our fear and shame by the horns and saying yes, it’s there, and feeling it anyway – because we are worthy of love and connection.

On a scale of 1-10, how worthy do you feel of love, connection and acceptance? How much are you willing to be vulnerable? After some rough years where I didn’t feel worthy as a partner, a professional, or even a functioning grown-up, I am starting to open myself up to vulnerability. It’s a huge step forward. Maybe, like BrenĂ© says, it was a spiritual awakening. It means that whether I am applying for work, creating a career for myself, or opening myself up to new friendships (maybe new relationships), it matters much less than it used to if that connection doesn’t happen. Within myself, I am learning to be whole.

And now, here’s the new lesson for me – learning to be whole includes learning how to grow, how to be shaped and influenced by the people and things around me, while still feeling entirely myself. I don’t have to give up who I am to connect with others. I can have boundaries and relationships, and so can the people I care about. Occasionally for me, breathing through that (still scary) place of vulnerability, I imagine either myself or whoever I am interacting with wrapped in a big pink cloud. Try it – it’s surprisingly effective!

Wishing you pink clouds and whole hearts,

Cath

Camping Solo

near Botanical Beach

Last weekend, I did something completely new for me. Something independent, even a little bit risky. I went camping, in a tent, on a stretch of wild beach, with no cell phone access, by myself. Emphasis on BY MYSELF. SOLO. It was fantastic.

I have never, ever, taken a holiday alone. I have travelled by myself a fair bit, but it has always been related to work or to a volunteer activity. The men in my life have taken trips on their own, and I have travelled with them, or my parents, or my kids, or even my girlfriends. But just me? With only my own thoughts and books to keep me company? I’ve never been that independent… until now.

I’d been hoping to get away by myself for months. First, it was going to be January, then Spring Break, then things got busy and now here we are in the middle of summer. All I wanted was some quiet – some uninterrupted time to read, write, and think. I also wanted to be by the ocean. So I packed my little tent, a few clothes, four books (that was three too many, but I was indecisive) and two days’ worth of food. Oh, and my hand bell for meditation. And a small treat that a friend left at my house last week (thanks, Scott). And off I went.

Not my cove, which shall remain a secret...

I picked the far end of the Juan de Fuca Trail for finding my piece of paradise. I wanted open ocean, but not a four-hour drive to Tofino. By the time I left my house on Saturday afternoon, and drove two hours to the trailhead, it was after five. That meant that if I were going to camp at an official “campground”, it would have to be Payzant Beach. Even better, I found the perfect spot only 3 km in.

I set the tent up where the forest gives way to slate rock formations – great for the view, but a little hard for sleeping on, considering my sleeping mat had a hole in it (note to self: check for leaks before leaving home). Once my home-away-from-home was set up, I took off my hiking boots and picked my way, barefoot, to the edge of the rocks. (I stayed barefoot right until I left) In the water, a thick kelp forest bobbed about, and I strained my eyes for signs that seals might be disguising themselves amongst the bulbs. I heard a great sigh, and thought it might be whales, but it was a wave pushing into an undercut portion of a rock. Just as I thought “hmm, no seals” and looked down, there was one right at my feet! We both gasped, and she did one of those end-of-the-pool flips that you see Olympic swimmers do, and was gone — almost. I spotted her again, getting another look at me from a safer distance.

That was as exciting as it got – the rest of my mini-holiday was for thinking, dozing on warm rocks, reading, composing songs in my head, cooking easy one-pot meals, dozing and reading some more, and inspecting the tide. It was more relaxing than the all-inclusive Mexican resort I went to with my (ex) boyfriend a couple of years ago, because I didn’t even have to choose where to eat, or worry about whether anyone apart from me was having a good time.

Four, maybe five times, other hikers joined me on the beach, but they stayed in their own space and I stayed in mine. They never stayed for longer than a snack and a picture. I hardly had to speak to anyone. I was so much in my own little world that I question whether I really am an extrovert, or just a very friendly introvert.

Seal food

Seal food

I got up early the morning of the third day, put my things back in my backpack, and trekked out again, longing for coffee and a shower. I have rarely felt so at peace, and so whole-in-myself. No cougars or bears mauled me, no thieves took my cell phone out of my tent (though I scared myself with that thought as I searched for it on my final morning) – I didn’t even get a mosquito bite. I did get a couple of bruises from clumsy attempts to climb over logs with a 40 lb pack on my back (10 of those were books). I chalk that up to forgetting that I’m not 20 any more.

In all, it went so well, I may just make solo camping an annual event. Don’t worry – I will always leave notes about where I am, and when to expect me back. I’ll stick to mid-country areas where I know that if I sprain my ankle, someone will be along in a couple of hours. I’ll take fewer books, and more writing paper. And I may even stay longer than two days.

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