Sunday night is usually movie night at our place. Having finished (re-)watching the entire Darling Buds of May series, on DVD, over the past months, last weekend the boys, T and I watched Mama Mia: Here We Go Again.
Crazy to see the stars in the movie having aged 10 years since the first version in 2008. Thus realizing that T and I have aged that much, as well — though perhaps not as well. No Botox, here in the countryside, he he. Although, looking at Cher, who played Sophie’s grandmother… well. Suffice it to say that there is such a thing as too much of a “good” thing. (Out of the mouths of babes: “Mama, why does that lady look so scary?“)
We saw the first version the year we moved to France. Just after arriving, we were still living in T’s uncle & aunt M & J’s barn apartment. W was four years old, and X was two; I was heavily pregnant with Y, or maybe had just given birth to him. M was still alive and still, mostly, his vivaciously vibrant self. None of us’d known about his deeply-metastasized prostate cancer then.
Fast forward ten years and a lot changes in a neighbourhood. People move in, people move out. Friendships and relationships sprout up and later disintegrate. And people die.
Somehow though, we can remain together, in spirit. And that’s what Mama Mia, and the sequel, is all about: putting friends and family first, and celebrating spirit.
As much as I loved the sequel, I was very much missing favourite actor Meryl Streep (whose character Donna, since the last movie, has passed away, in the plot line), for most of it, beautiful and talented though new-to-the-cast Lily James (“young Donna”) is. For me, the best part is when Meryl finally does enter the scene, as Donna’s geist, near the end of the movie, and sings to daughter Sophie, who still, of course, deeply mourns her. It’s at once heartbreakingly sad, beautiful, and joyful. I immediately thought of my blogging buddy Ailsa and her mom; and I thought of Aunt J and Uncle M.
And of course, I thought of my own mom.
I love my mom. I’m grateful and blessed to still be able to hear her voice, alive and well, even if it’s from 8000 kilometres away.
Monday afternoon, while I was at my volunteer job, she called. There was a lull at reception, between incoming appointments, and my only tasks were to greet visitors and provide backup support to the counsellor-in-session if necessary. So Mom and I chatted awhile, on FaceTime. She told me more about her book-club pick, The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls.
She’s been telling me about it for ages. She does that with books: if she really thinks it’s good, she’ll keep talking about it ’till I finally get curious enough to buy it, even if I already have a stack of unfinished books at my bedside.
Funny thing is, every time I finally take a gander at a book my mom recommends, I do end up reading it from cover to cover.
My mom’s a natural curator. She’s great like that with clothes, too. Two years ago, she brought me a pair of jeans that suited me and fit me perfectly. Jeans, for heaven’s sakes. Hello, that is freaking major.
So yesterday I finally hit the “buy” button on the Kindle version of The Glass Castle. I read some of it before bed last night. The opening of the story is immediately gripping. And heart-wrenching. Just what I was afraid of, and why I hadn’t bought it till now. But it was also something else: it was… relieving.
Nearly all day, when I’m feeling low, I mentally beat myself up over small things. Perhaps my biggest problem is self-esteem. (I don’t know exactly why, since my parents were awesome. Maybe that’s why. Hard to live up to their example. Or maybe it’s the detrimental effects of praise. Who knows.)
Anyway, I often think I’m a terrible mom because I’m not always perfect. (Well, let’s face it, I’m very, very far from perfect.) But my kids often say sweet things to me about how glad they are I’m their mom. And I’ll say, in my weaker moments, with genuine curiosity and surprise, “Really? But… why?”
Yes, I know that’s sad. And that it doesn’t set a good example of empowered womanhood for them. “See? Bad mom,” says my inner critic. (Except the worst part is my inner critic also has Tourette’s.)
But the fact is I must be doing something right, no matter how much I wish I were doing better, because in spite of how much they argue with me, like when I’m trying to get them to do their chores or homework or anything else besides play Minecraft, the kids actually want to be with me. As opposed to say, wanting to be at a hospital, which is where the author of The Glass Castle felt nurtured and properly cared for at last, when she was three years old and recovering from burns from trying to cook food for herself.
I’d been afraid to read this book because my mom told me it was about a dysfunctional family; the father was a brilliant inventor but alcoholic, the mother was an artist; both were narcissistic and neglected their kids. The daughter survived/grew up, and became extremely successful, and wrote this book — about her own life. After her father’s death and with her mother’s blessing.
I was afraid to read this book because I love making art. And I love(d?) wine. Did that make me an alcoholic who neglects her kids? I thought reading the book might confirm it.
After reading the first chapter, I realized the answer was a resounding NO. And I have the feeling that that was the message that my highly-perceptive mom wanted to get through to me. She knows I tend to get some idea in my head and obsess over it. And she knows I tend to make mountains out of molehills.
I tend to over-identify and then over-self-criticize. I have noticed many others out there doing the same. If I hang around an alcoholic or three for a few months, or even read books about alcoholics, or read books written by alcoholics, I’ll see myself in him/her/them, and I’ll think I’m one, too.
Well of course it’s partly true. We’re all addicts — I read that somewhere — at some level, with regards to some thing or other. For example, in the past years I became addicted to writing, and now find myself oddly “addicted” (—painful and scary though publishing can feel, at times—) to blogging.
Some addictions are worse than others. Some are more extreme than others. We know that alcohol, except in very moderate quantities, is detrimental to our health. And perhaps those of us who regularly enjoy any kind of alcohol are, in some sense, habituated to the pleasure enough to feel it’s an important factor in social satisfaction. So am/was I an addict, when it comes to alcohol? Or am/was I just like most “adults” in western civilization — i.e. over-indulgent at times, and in that, way, “perrrrfick” normal (as in The Darling Buds Of May style of normal)? And perhaps, if I flatter myself, my only “problem” is that I’m just a little more honest and self-critical (or obsessive) about it than others?
I wasn’t sure.
And yet, only each of us, ourselves, can decide that, for ourselves. I learned that from a couple of infinitely wise-and-humble recovering AA’s, in some online sites I visited, looking for the answer.
Seriously, wise and humble — some of these folks. Of course, there are a couple of so-called rotten eggs in every dozen, but believe me — far from the usual stereotypes of rummies and religious cults, truly evolved 12-steppers have it goin’ on. Many of them Ph.D.-style. I think we could all try the 12-step program, for one aspect of our lives or another, if not several.
However, unlike most of the AA’s, I didn’t/don’t have people around me telling me I drank/drink too much. It was just me (or my headache, or my next-day blog posts or reply notifications feed, he he) telling me that. (Late-night drunk blogging and/or commenting is one of my worst wine-sauced crimes.)
Never mind my secret alternative-life fantasy of eventually retiring to become a wino on a bench.
I truly get along well with wino’s on benches. I wish I could talk to them more often — if only I were less sober during the day, I’d be less shy. I like to hear about their lives.
Anyway. I actually like to read/hear about just about anyone’s life, when a person is given the chance to tell their own story. I find success stories as interesting as “failure” stories. For reals.
The point is, I’m not good at big-picture perspective.
I once gave up alcohol completely, during a period of time unrelated to pregnancy/breastfeeding, for nearly five months straight.
That was from April through August this year. I have to admit that that period was one of the most joyous times in my adult life. I accomplished so much, and for many more people than just myself. I think it did help me see the big picture more clearly, and that made decision-making way easier. I did it simply by reading the first chapters of the AA Big Book, and by beginning to follow the 12 steps.
But that nearly-five months was also one of the most painful periods — because I lost some of my dearest friends. I tried and tried to build bridges but for some reason I couldn’t seem to make it work.
Anyway, the “joyfully aware” (read: completely, chronically, annoying-to-drinking-buddies so-called-sober) period ended, finally, on a whim — and because my newly joyful, big-picture-viewing Self had taken on WAY too much stuff. She’d stressed herself out to maximum limits. And just kept piling it on.
One night, at the end of August, while on a traditional once-yearly weekend away with her fabulous husband (thanks to her parents visiting from overseas, and kindly looking after the kids), my overloaded, stressed out Self could not resist the temptation of the most beautifully-presented glass of sparkling wine she’d ever seen, in a beautiful setting, in a beautiful-feeling moment.
I don’t regret drinking that glass of wine. Nor any other, for that matter. I think. At least, not from this happy-mood, “wellbriety” perspective. As I said, I love(d?) wine.
But something changes, in midlife. For me it has changed, anyway. The body doesn’t tolerate toxins as well. We begin to question ourselves more — or I do, at least. What seemed normal and fine in my twenties doesn’t feel as normal or fine now.
Am I getting to be an old fuddy-duddy?
But I am getting to be something different from what I was before. And I’m beginning to like it.
Whether everybody else does, or not.
- Mama Mia Image credit: Jonathan Prime/Universal Pictures via USA Today’s Spoilers! Why we cried for Meryl Streep’s Donna in ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’
- If you haven’t already, do check out Ailsa’s self-aware & brutiful writing, on subjects such as Pizza Tattoos & Apple Bongs, over at Pizza Party of One.
- Another amazing blog, which WordPress Reader’s Discover brought to my attention the other day, is Drinking Tips for Teens by Ross Murray. If you find yourself wishing you spent more time sputtering coffee all over your screen while you read, then this Quebecer’s writing is for you. Check out his unexpectedly hilarious prostate cancer diagnosis post,or his equally hilarious (Canadian) Thanksgiving post, Happy Thanksgendering.
- EDIT: ***WARNING,*** since I’ve tagged this post with “addiction” — Ailsa’s blog may contain triggers, for those trying to begin or maintain a sober lifestyle. Like my own blog, they venture into grey areas. 🤓🌪 For something sparklingly sober, check out this wonderful piece: “Two years of Sparkling Sobriety” by Lifting Weights Not Wine. ✨
Nadine inhales & exhales words & images from current vantage point in Zone of Emptiness, France. If you wish to contribute and/or show appreciation, please recommend/like and/or comment — or write an email via the contact page. Feedback welcome. Thank you for reading. 🖤