Me: “Our organic tea tree essential oil has a strong refreshing scent, obtained by steam distillation of the leafs of organic Melaleuca Alternifolia trees, also known as ‘Tea Trees’.”
Daughter: “Mom, what are you doing?”
Me: “Avoid direct contact with eyes, If contact occurs, rinse well with water. Discontinue use if irritation or redness occurs. If you suspect an allergic reaction, stop use and contact your doctor.”
Me: “Before I could only read TEA TREE on this little bottle which is about font size 48. And also did you know there is 22g of protein per serving in our Greek yogurt? That’s fantastic! I read that this morning too.”
One daughter who is so sweet congratulates me with just the slightest hint of a patronizing tone like when I used to compliment my grandfather on remembering my name. Another one rolls her eyes and goes back to her morning practice mumbling something about how I have really set my happiness bar low.
What’s the big deal? You may wondering this as you realize you just spent thirty seconds of your life reading the ramblings of a middle aged woman. Glasses with bifocal lenses?? Big whoop.
But wait, there’s more. Yes I wholeheartedly agree with my daughter that I am a pro at setting the bar low, but I received an additional insight that I am not sure most people who have these bifocals are aware of. It is a superpower on many levels.
The following book title and excerpt can help explain the superpower which was so beautifully embodied by one of my favourite artists, Georgia O’Keeffe, described by one of my favourite writers, Rebecca Solnit.
Georgia O’Keeffe moved to rural New Mexico, from which she would sign her letters to the people she loved, “from the faraway nearby.” It was a way to measure physical and psychic geography together. Emotion has its geography, affection is what is nearby, within the boundaries of the self. You can be a thousand miles from the person next to you in bed or deeply invested in the survival of a stranger on the other side of the world.― Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby
I discovered that I can see both near and far in ways I didn’t know.
To toggle back and forth, like a camera lens zooming in and out, is part of the superpower. Sometimes daily life in a small town is no longer cute because the quaint has turned into a bored repetition or the devil has reared its ugly head in those pesky details of the petty and I retreat home where I stare out into my jungle valley and remember what is important. At other times, I have extracted myself from the mundane practical things, immersing myself in academic texts or walking around the house reading poetry out loud.
But there is nothing like the sound of the generator to jolt you out of your EMO stupor or to drown you out of your poetic readings to bring you back down to planet Earth as you face the reality that it has been raining for three days and you are out of solar power. You quickly get back in your body, fully grounded in yourself, screaming at everyone to unplug their devices over the din.
I have been practicing this skill for a long time. In fact, I first learned this concept from a very knowledgeable source when I was a child:
Near/Far. Big Picture/The Detail. Looking Ahead/ Look Right in Front. But there is this other dimension that Solnit mentions about this “Faraway Nearby” place, the one I am increasingly becoming familiar with as my children leave, and then return, and then leave again. I struggled in the last half of 2022 trying to understand how to be close when they are far.
After not speaking to one child for over a week, I texted,
“Are you alive?”
She texted back with a thumbs up.
I told my husband and he said hesitantly, “Yes she’s fine. I spoke to her yesterday. We have a regular call set up. I was going to fill you in on what’s happening in her life but we have been busy too…”
So I decide to call another daughter. She is already pissed off, having a rough day and seeing my face is making her angry, a familiar occurrence lately, so I ask to speak to her sister who is there with her. This sister is also upset because I don’t check on her enough and that the only reason I checked on her was because she happened to be beside the sister that doesn’t want to be checked on.
And then the other daughter’s schedule – working late nights and weekends and sleeping in the day – is conflicted with my schedule so we exchange some emojis and gifs.
Here I am again, awaiting the results of my big experiment with this family. After twenty-five years of parenting, did Chris and I accomplish what we intended to do? Defying the conventional wisdom, keeping them all close all those years with sharing rooms, homeschooling, family road trips, mandatory family breakfasts and dinners, and family traditions where we literally celebrate physical closeness like our Christmas tradition of cuddling in my bed or on the sofa watching the “The Lord of the Rings.”
It was hard enough when my eldest first left home over six years ago. But no one told me that I would never really adjust to the arrivals and departures, that I would always hate saying goodbye, that this last stretch of seven months not being with her would feel like a lifetime, and that now as she is deciding where to call home base, I am bracing myself again for life permanently far from her. And then eventually there will be grandkids to think about.
Then I assumed that they would leave one at a time with space in between for me to adapt to life with four, then three, then two, then one child at home; but in 2022, we found ourselves with only one left for a period of time. Now they are all back for the holidays with all different plans – two staying until spring, two leaving in a week who don’t know when they will be back, and the last one stays here.
Talk about an unchartered emotional and psychic landscape. There is no map for this. How do you have a map where the borders of solid ground shifts all the time? Where time now only consists of a calendar of flight information and itineraries? How can I maintain closeness when they will be in faraway places meeting new people in unique contexts where I will never be?
Here is where I can zoom out again. The most important thing is that they hold on to the deep knowing that they are supported and loved; a trust, built over twenty-fives years, that distance or time will never change that. And then zoom in. Focus on one flight at a time, one call at a time, one emoji at a time.
What is now near is the moment that they leave again. They are all here together for one more week.
My new bifocal glasses won’t help me see what I need to see or read things up close now. Now it is the work of the heart as a compass, guiding my focus and attention to what is important right in front of me like seeing a daughter lean her head on my shoulder; a daughter help her father clean the kitchen; a sister being proud of a sister; a brother making tea for a sister; a father teaching his daughters new training programs they can take with them when they leave; sisters holding a sister; siblings helping a sister meet a deadline; daughters wanting to have breakfast with me; and all of us cuddled on the couch watching “The Lord of the Rings.”