Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Attitude of gratitude...
Once a year my mother took me clothes shopping. It was the last week of August – every year for 12 years. This is when I would get the basics, such as underwear and shoes. I also got school dresses and outfits -- we didn’t wear pants to school then. I so looked forward to that day of shopping. It was a special day that was not shared by my brothers or cousins.
Our family wasn’t poor, but there were never less than six kids to outfit each school year. Money was budgeted tightly. I now know that my mother was as an astute shopper. My parents bought me three pairs of shoes each school year – one in the fall and one in the spring and a pair of gym shoes. They also bought me two pairs of “tennis” shoes from the local grocery store. If I wanted any other shoes, I had to pay for them out of the money earned through baby-sitting.
All the girls in my class were wearing flats. I wanted to keep up with the style as all girls do, so I asked my mother for a pair of flats instead of white oxfords. Of course, this was not practical because after inspecting the soles and determining how long they would last, she would say, “It’s really not a wise choice, honey.” Until my first year in high school when she surprised me by saying that she understood that I wanted to dress like everyone else and we’d find a good quality pair of flats.
I was ecstatic! I tried on at least a dozen pairs of flats. There was just one problem – my feet were so small, the only flats they had that would fit were had the convertible strap. I hated that strap. It made me feel like a baby. My body and feet may have been small, but I wanted to look like the rest of the girls. They didn’t need that stupid strap and I didn’t want it.
I reluctantly decided to go with the standard white oxfords. My mother said that we would buy the oxfords, but she promised she would make sure I got a pair of flats as soon as we found some that would fit.
As we left the store, I could feel the tears starting to fall from my eyes. My mother knelt down in front of me and said “Don’t cry, honey. Someday you’ll see that being small will be to your advantage. Someday people will think you are ten years younger than you really are. And you will smile.” I know she meant well, but I just couldn’t see that silver lining.
I think what my mother was trying to say was that I needed to be grateful for what I had. I think she meant that I needed to develop an attitude of gratitude. Things may look just really, really awful, but I needed to turn that awfulness around and be happy.
Before Riley first came back to live with me, my life was totally different. I had a job that I loved and I was telecommuting. I had a man who cared about me although we didn’t see each other as often as I would have liked. I went to parties and festivals with my friends. I cooked. I wrote but never finished a book. I watched my favorite programs and I was happy. Even though I was sad from the loss of my son, I was happy with the way things were.
I expected a change when Riley came back. I knew I would have to compromise with him and tend to him. I was prepared. But, we had interests in common 20 years ago; surely we’d have things to share as roommates. And we did share. It was difficult but not so bad that I couldn’t handle it.
When I was 14, I spent a lot of time taking care of my grandmother who was terminally ill. I approached Riley with the same attitude. I saw a dying man in need of some caretaking. That was how I treated him. It was difficult at first because we were just about to make the move across country, but there was nothing I couldn’t manage. The adjustment was hard – no more parties and festivals – no more man to come for dinner – and my TV program line-up changed. So things changed, but I still didn’t feel UNhappy.
I’m looking back now and hearing those words that my mother said about those shoes. If she were here today, she would say “See… there’s always something for which to be grateful.” She would be so right.
If I had not taken Riley back, I would still be at the job that monopolized my day. I would still be doing things pretty much the way I was. I would be happy, but would I be satisfied?
Having Riley has opened my eyes to something that I had avoided after we separated. I did a lot of research on alcoholism. If it were not for Riley, I would never have started the blog. If not for the blog, I would never have started writing The Immortal Alcoholic’s Wife or started the FaceBook page. If it were not for caretaking an end-stage alcoholic, I would never know the warm feeling of accomplishment when I get the e-mail that says I’ve helped someone through a difficult time. I would never have discovered my passion for trying to make a difference. If it weren’t for all that, I would have hated about being forced into retirement. Maybe I would be spending my days dying my hair blue and going to the senior center for bingo. Actually, I love playing bingo – so let’s forget about that.
Today, I have an attitude of being grateful for having Riley in my life. I’m grateful that he gave me fodder for my book. I’m grateful that he feeds Jade and Jax everyday. I’m grateful that he unloads the dishwasher. I’m even grateful when he is talking nonsense because he gives me a reason to snicker. Yes, he is exasperating, irritating, frustrating and he keeps me on my toes. I hate it that I’m helpless in trying to get him to make the right choices. But, I’ve learned to respect the boundary.
When Riley is gone, my life will be easier. I might even find a sweet guy that will come to dinner. I will expand my social circle. I will write the next in my series of IA books. And I will continue to be happy in this world that Riley forced me to discover.
Tomorrow I may want to wring his neck, but for today I know my mother is watching me smile.
at 11:38 AM