On September 6, 2021 I turned 47 years old. In roughly six months from today, I’ll be 48. I feel like 50 is approaching a lot more quickly than I’m comfortable with.
For some serendipitous reason, I was recently scrolling through old emails I’d sent to myself. Among them, I found messages I sent when turning 40 about my plans for 50. According to me, then, at 50 I would be writing to be published, I’d have been meeting with a Spiritual Director, and training to be a Spiritual Director. I wanted to accompany or companion Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) folk on their paths. Of course, I’m not ready, today, to embody any of my prior aspirations.
Instead of focusing on writing and spiritual practices, my early forties were an extension of the survivalism of my thirties. I attended to developing my resume with more professional jobs and left a small business for the nonprofit sector. My daily life was hectic with very little left over for me. I remember scrambling to leave the office in time to catch the bus to pick up the kiddo from after school care then to catch the bus home then to make some food then to relax and relate. They were long days of bettering our chances of survival. I did make small gains in terms of work experience and now occupy a position in a local school district’s administration office. My son is thriving in an alternative school. I’m happily remarried. We own a house we call home. We are comfortable, safe, and secure.
It makes sense that 40 year old me is reminding and prompting 47-leaning-into-50 year old me about our dreams. I could actually do something about or for them now. I want to live up to the intentions my younger self set. What does that mean? What do I do next? I feel like I’m on the cusp of something fresh and my own. What on earth is it?
The speed at which 50 is approaching both thrills and terrifies me. On the other side of this cusp 50 is waiting for me. I will know something. I will have some clarity, insight, wisdom. I will do something with all that. If, and only if, I attend to it now. Otherwise, we’re looking at a few years of settling into this newfound comfort and security with nothing in particular to show for all the effort and change that brought us here. What value is there in individual contentment? I feel challenged by my younger self to sift through my experiences and perceive some meaning or message, and offer it... to whom?
I’m on the cusp of understanding something or things. I’m on the cusp of proficiency in some set of skills and practices. I want to meet 50 with my hands full, ready to share it all. In these brief years between 47 and 50, I commit my time to discernment and practice so that I can be effective and generous in the next phase of my life.
This year, 2022, I prioritize my body - my physical form and health, my bloodwork, physical fitness, physical comfort, enjoyable movement, restorative sleep. I make my body The Priority. I make Me the priority.
I have an incremental and simple plan for this year. It’s posted on the refrigerator. It outlines what I am doing to tend my body well. But, it doesn’t explain why I am doing this.
I am putting my body first because I am embodied. I am in physical form. I believe that embodiment, physicality, the physical world, is good. My body is good. I am also over the recommended weight for my height. My A1C and lipids profile raises doctors’ concerns. I can’t hike as far or high or fast as I’d prefer. I suffer from poor sleep. I haven’t tended me very well… ever. My body bears my senses, provides information, and delivers expressions of all kinds. My body, me, I deserve to be treated well and cultivated with nourishment, activity, and loving-kindness.
I grew up believing in a duality of the spirit versus the body. The spirit was valuable and worthy of attention. The body was an afterthought. It was a mere container for transporting the spirit through this life. For many years, emphasizing my spirit over my body served me in examining my society and culture critically. But it also failed me. This duality prevented me from perceiving and appreciating the worth, beauty, and good work performed by and in the physical realm. Most immediately, it stunted my understanding and appreciation of my own body.
It’s taken me years, honestly, to believe and function from a place of valuing the physical world. For example, it’s taken me years to go from hearing “God’s” voice when I am in nature to perceiving nature as sacred in and of itself. The natural world is not a medium for a more important supernatural Other. It possesses its own divinity, which is a blessing that is with us and in us from the beginning. Through that lens, I perceive myself as a sacred blessing. I have worth, as this form, at this time.
It’s hard to convey this in words. I reread what I just wrote and acknowledge that one could still take away a message that something special resides within the physical form. That’s not what I mean. I mean that my living, breathing, pulsing, cycling body is the specialness itself. I extend that and mean it for all living entities.
When I believe this way, I turn away from my old ways of living. I reject elevating spirit over matter. I repent treating my body as a basic husk for a mysterious kernel within it. I practice attending to my body, not out of duty nor to follow a doctor’s prescription nor yield to a culture that praises young-looking, fit, “beautiful” bodies - but to align my actions with my beliefs. I want to hear my own voice and express myself in my behavior.
I prioritize my body this year, in ways that I haven't before, as an expression of my faith in the sacredness of embodiment. I prioritize my body in order to live a coherent, authentic daily life. I prioritize my body as one small inkling of an expression of my respect and attention to the sacred in all lives.
You were born right on time, full term, healthy, fat, and sweet. Even so, I wasn’t ready for you. They say, “having a baby changes everything.” I anticipated change. But what did that mean? I couldn’t foresee the specific changes that your life started in mine. Through all of the changes that followed your birth, you shone and continue to shine brightly.
My earliest years as a mother were super challenging for me. And, I have many bright memories of you from those years. You were a bold little character. Always observing. Always in motion. Every aspect of you was like that. Leading the way around the neighborhood. Demonstrating how you felt, in behavior before you had words. Once you started talking you just kept talking. You reached every milestone, succeeded through every challenge, on your own time, in your own way, with perpetual momentum, shining in the middle of it all, without a flicker or pause. The more time I had with you, the brighter you appeared to me. That’s how I saw you and how I continue to see you.
Today, I think good mothering is super challenging to all the moms who are practicing it. In my 13, almost 14, years as your mother, I’ve learned a few vitally important lessons for my mothering practice. In no particular order and with constant repetition:
Watching you growing up and exploring the world made being alive appear so interesting, surprising, new, active, ever expanding, and attractive to me. In that way, your light provided me with a beacon. The combination of witnessing your development and interacting with you as your mother led me back to an honest, engaged, fully-feeling life and back to myself, my essential Jenni-ness.
You already know that I live with chronic depression. (When you’re older, we might talk about what that has meant in my life.) Like many women, I became very depressed after I gave birth. Treating my postpartum depression started me on a path to finally receiving appropriate medication and therapy for the depression I’d experienced since I was teenager. In a long series of small improvements, I regained control of my life. Control in the sense of making more thoughtful, healthy, and often challenging choices about how I would live each day. I took that path so that I would be a good mother to you. I was surprised when it also led to being good to me.
Today, I think that practicing good mothering of you taught me the same vitally important lessons for caring for, or mothering, myself. I have my own light. I must tend to it, using tools I’ve learned in therapy and from other guides and experiences. I must celebrate my light, and while I’m still learning what that means I think it’s something about shining it on purpose by sharing my perspective, insights, ideas, and creativity.
I love you, North. I see your light. I honor that it is yours. I respect who you are today and the adult that you are growing into. I am grateful to you and to our relationship for the ways that mothering you changed me. You are a bright light.
"The family is the harbor. It's where you come in from the storms." - Dad
I’m well, like, very well, like the best that I’ve felt in my entire life. I share a home with my son and my husband. I’m generally comfortable with my emotions and my health. I enjoy a few close friendships. I’m coming into my own, in ways and with people that I couldn’t foresee. I trust that, in some way, you know this already, you knew it would happen for me, and you celebrate the learning and accomplishments that it took for me to get here.
I miss you. I wish for your easy company, insights, and compassion. I wish my son could know you and experience your influence in his life. His father is… difficult… for me. I feel like you would know how to counterbalance his shadow on North’s life with your light. I wish my husband could know you and that you could see how he supports, respects, and enjoys me.
I am an adult, mother, wife, friend…. I am a harbor, as you were a harbor. I am a harbor because you were a harbor.
When you died, I lost my harbor. I drifted, listed, and almost sank on more than one occasion.
Mom was the hurricane that tore through all my safe places, within and without. Was she always that way? After you died, she said that she could finally be her old self again. I didn’t recognize her. When you were dying, she told you that us kids would be orphans if you died because she wasn’t a mother anymore. Did you hear her say that? Did you know what she meant? I hope not.
I tried to step into your role and serve as the buffer, the barrier, between her and the rest of the family. I couldn’t do it. She was too powerful. I was too tender to withstand her gales and torrents. Her selfishness, vanity, judgment, and grudges. I tried to hold us together as a family, but the bonds were all broken. For a long time, I felt broken, too.
I like to believe that in death you can see deeper, further, than I can see in life. That even as you knew Mom would destroy everything that you’d built, you knew that I would find, create, and tend new life. That even as I wrestled with my big emotions, bad reactions, and poor choices, something better was before me and inside me. Something good, whole, creative, and made from me was making its way, my way, to be my life.
I thought it was the grief of losing you that caused me so much pain and disoriented me for so many years. I thought those years were lost years. I regret a lot of how and who I was then, but I claim the years as part of me. The years of separating from the family that no longer existed. The years of stepping out, and then stepping further out again, from Mom’s shadow and into my own light. I like to believe that you saw my light when I was young and knew that it would sustain me until I could shine it more brightly, with purpose, on my own.
I live on the opposite side of the country from our family, now. I’ve built a new harbor with my chosen family: my son and husband, my friends near and far, my very self. I practice harboring so that I am safe from storms, and I can provide safety from storms. I received that aspiration from you.
I grieve the collapse of our family. I celebrate the model you set for what and how a harbor operates. Thank you for that gift. It is my brightest memory of you and the lens through which I understand the latter part of your life. It’s the compass that led me home to who and how I choose to be me, for myself and for my loved ones.
introduction quotes to The Almanac:
“The world doesn’t need another wanderlusting soul seeker.
It needs a homemaker
- me -
To make my home within it.”
“Well, you know the way I left was not the way I planned
But I thought the world needed love and a steady hand
So, I'm steady now.”
- Dar Williams
Have you ever felt emotionally homeless? As if you were disconnected from an emotional core of safety, security, trust, and visibility? As if no one in your life could really see you, genuinely relate to you, or care what was happening inside of you?
I was 18 years old when my father died and with him went the fragile web that was our family. We became a set of individuals alienated from each other. I felt completely alone, isolated, and without gravity. I drifted through the space of echoes and ghosts. I was homesick and homeless. There was no “there” there anymore.
In a gradual and painstaking way I searched for my home among wise older women, bright young women, and all the wrong boyfriends. Mercifully, the good stuff stuck. I was graced with resonance. In the good company of friends and guides, my grief and rage subsided, I grew up, and I grew in connection with them. Therapy played an important role, too, by teaching me to see myself more clearly, co-operate my emotions and my mind, and practice my agency. I became less reactive, more loving, and steady.
Over the years, a chosen family emerged, even when I couldn’t really perceive it. It shines brightly in hindsight. I learned with them how to build a home inside me and to welcome home the people I love in whatever space we find ourselves.
So at 46 years old, I am home.
I am a home to myself. I make myself at home in my body and in my humanity. I am a homemaker who fosters intimate connections of women to deep parts of themselves and to each other. I bring love and steadying to my parenting and my partnership in our home.
This book is a collection of the people and practices that comprise my homemaking. In these pages I articulate the who and the how of meaning in my life. This is my testimony to the meaning of home.
Back in May, my therapist recommended that I do The Artist's Way &/or compile my own program of practices for creativity and self-care to do regularly and with intention. I do have a number of practices, little rituals, mottos and mantras that have worked together, over time, to bring me from hard times/despair/insecurity into a place of comfort/security/sweetness in my life and relationships. I decided to assemble them into a book I'd call The Almanac.
Once I started listing the items to go into the Almanac it started to change. Mapping my Almanac against conventional almanacs, I structured it with the calendar year. Dates and their significance for me stood out. Equinoxes and solstices. Birthdays and death days. Cultural and religious holidays. The table of contents grew from practices and ideas to include my most meaningful relationships and other significant symbols.
The types of entries will vary, like a quote with what it means to me or a description of a practice and how I use it, etc. Entries for each person will be a letter to the person describing who they are to me, how they've influenced my growth and my life, and how I see them. Writing these letters is the slowest, most heart-rending, and probably most cathartic part of creating the Almanac. It's a process of pulling from my insides out, to where I can bear witness to the people who made me, make me, and accompany me in this life.
I'm beyond excited about this project. I'm building a physical artifact of who and what is meaningful to me. I'm representing how I make meaning. As someone who wrestles with depression, this is a big deal because my depression churns up questions about the meaning, the value, of my tiny life. The Almanac bears evidence that my life is meaningful - to me, individually, and through the connections I have with other people. Crafting the Almanac is a commitment to witnessing the meaning in, and maybe of, my life.