Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

It’s been a year since you left us. Passed on. Gone to Heaven. Died. And lately I have been missing you more than ever. There is so much I want to tell you, so much I want to share. I need your listening. You always listened, and no one else does. Not the way you did.

Emily just had brain surgery. You remember the tumor? It was benign, thank goodness. But her recovery has been rockier than we all imagined. She’s struggling. I want to tell you about it. I need to tell you. You are the only one who would get how hard it is when your baby is suffering and you just can’t help it go away. (I remember you said I have to stop calling them “my babies”, but now is just not the time.) I know you would cry with me and comfort me and say the right things. It’s so hard to say them to myself. I need your help.

There is so much that I wanted to tell you over this past year. How I conquered the crap situation at work. What I did in the garden this spring (you should see my wildflowers!) Emily’s Christmas wedding was beautiful. But Christmas itself was brutal. After the first of the year Veronica moved back in with me, and I think she’ll finally go back to school. You remember how much she loved her classes once she started them. She’s been a big help to Grandpa, too.

And he misses you by the way. I don’t think that should come as a surprise. As imperfect as your marriage was, he really misses you. But you would be proud of him. You prepared him well during your sickness; he can cook for himself, do laundry, and he’s even gardening. He does it for you, in your honor.  He grew tomatoes from seed and bragged about his green thumb. It shattered me.

You should know, too, that we all created an altar for you and Eric last October at the museum. I kept all of your Day of the Dead stuff. It was beautiful and you would have been pleased. I stood to the side sometimes when I visited it and watched people read about you both. I wondered if they felt sad that we had lost a mother and a brother (a wife and a son, a Grandma and an uncle) within a year of each other. I had pictures of all the dogs, too. So many dogs in a lifetime, it was mind-boggling. We had lots of artifacts from your life and from Eric’s. It was cathartic to do it. But we won’t do it again. It hurt too much.

I am planting a tree in your memory on July 16th. I wanted to ask you what kind you would prefer. I suppose I will just have to take my best guess.

Mom, I know you are with me still. I have so much of your stuff that I always have a sweet reminder of you. I’m wearing your nightgown as I write this. I have memories of our conversations, too. Dad could never believe how long we would stay on the phone when I was making long drives, remember? Now Emily calls me on her long drives. (The doctors will have to clear her to drive again, sometimes it takes a few months.)

I have a request: would you please visit my dreams more often? Visit dad, too. He dreamt that you were at a party full of ladies wearing pink and drinking champagne. You were all laughing. He smiled when he told me. I know you must be busy, but you should make it a point to say hello once in a while. It would mean a lot.

How do I end a letter to someone I already said goodbye to? I guess I can just say thank you: thank you for the unconditional love. I think I’ll never have that again. But I had it for 54 years. Your own mother died so young. I feel lucky.  I remember something you used to say:

My Mother loved me, but she died.babe

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That Hospital

In my imagination, I am like the Tom Hanks character in “The Terminal”, lost and wandering, making a life in this big building full of diverse people in blue scrubs or backless gowns, full of vending machines and fluorescent lights. By night bedding down on a vinyl couch, by day on a quest to find the least disgusting public restroom.

In Reality (or something close to it) I am just a harried mom taking shifts with my younger daughter and my son-in-law while my oldest daughter recovers from her brain surgery. I’m not sure any of us really knew what to expect, and we are getting through it the best we can, with good intentions and love and concern, getting in the way of kind nurses, asking for the third time, timidly, what Emily just asked for in a whispering mumble as she comes and goes from much-needed rest.

It’s Day Six. She just moved rooms for the fifth time: from the ICU (two rooms there) to a patient floor, to her second room on the Rehabilitation floor. This last move was a welcome one; her roommate in her first rehab room was an obese woman in a wheelchair who routinely yells and curses at the staff and goes out for frequent cigarette breaks, bringing that smell back with her. (My daughter Emily has become extra sensitive to smells: the lotion I applied, the onion bagel her sister ate for breakfast, the coffee on our breaths as we struggle to stay coherent after sleeping just a few hours a night.) In that tiny shared room the sleeping chair was wedged between the wall and the hospital bed. The curtain separating the two beds was hardly a barrier between the curses and snores of the other occupant and my somnolent child. Distraught, I asked at the desk if perhaps there might be someone leaving in the next few days; if there was any chance that my daughter, recovering from brain surgery, might get an opportunity to have a different room.  Tears leaked from my eyes. The nurses at the desk glanced up at the very full board, noting who the roommate was, and met my eyes with sympathy. “Maybe we can shift someone around,” the charge nurse said. Before long, he came with the good news: a private room for Emily.

“I asked about that yesterday. Nicely,” her husband said when the nurse left.

“I threatened them!” my younger daughter half-joked.

“And I cried,” I admitted.

So in a ploy that shall henceforth be called “Good Cop, Bad Cop, Sad Cop”, we achieved the goal of a room where my daughter can properly heal.

It’s been odd.  My adult daughter has been on her own for ten years, not needing me the way she once did. But now I am having experiences that remind me of caring for her as a baby. Last night I heated up her tea and tested the temperature on my wrist. I help her walk unsteadily to the bathroom, holding her hand. Her eyesight is still impacted by the surgery, so I’m reading aloud to her. It’s now Nicholas Sparks instead of Clifford, but it’s still déjà vu.

My younger daughter accompanied Emily to her PT session in the gym, where other patients were working. One man had no legs and no hands.  Another was re-learning how to talk. I know we are lucky; Emily will have a full (and, I hope, speedy) recovery. She’s young. She has plans. Not much stands in the way of this determined young lady.  She will spend her birthday in here. But she’ll get through it.

And she has a strong and loving support team in her good, bad, and sad cop family.

 

“Hey, I could wind up in there; maybe so could you.
Anything can happen when there’s nothing we can do;
And if you come to see me, Lord, and you sit in that visitor’s chair,
Take something home from that gift shop so you’ll have a souvenir
From that hospital”

– Loudon Wainwright iii

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Mother’s Day Wish  

It’s Mother’s Day. The day that we honor our mothers, as we should. I feel it in all directions – I am a mother, a daughter whose mother passed away ten months ago, and a teacher who had to think of the mothers of children in my class. (What can we make with handprints this year?)

This Mother’s Day it is rainy. How apt. I miss my mother, yet I am so grateful that I had her for 55 years. On this day last year, we were together. We had many wonderful times, and a few challenges here and there. In my deepest heart I thank her for all of it, and I like to think that she knows that and is smiling down on me.

I think of my own daughters; have I been a good mother to them? Sometimes I feel like I am the wayward child and they are guiding me through life. They are so much smarter than I ever was, so gifted and beautiful. If I accomplish nothing else in this crazy life, my two daughters are my shining legacy. You’re welcome, world!

Motherhood is such a journey – from pregnancy through childhood, watching them leave the nest, and beyond. I have remained close to my children and I try hard to keep the connection strong. But I know some are not so lucky. I know moms who have lost their child too early, moms whose children choose not to speak to them, moms whose own struggles have been so tough that they could not parent.

My eldest daughter is craving motherhood soon, having recently married a great guy, now her ovaries are screaming at her, “It’s time!” Maybe this time next year I will be a grandmother, and thus the cycle continues.

I have no profundity to share, just a quiet gratitude for the gifts I have been given and a sincere wish for a joyous day for all the moms I know – even the dads and grandparents and others who don’t have that label but certainly have the job.

May chocolate, flowers, and champagne rain down on all of us!

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Havana Na-na-na

IMG_3923For Spring Break, I am on a short tour to Cuba. When I travel alone, I often do everything on my own, but in the case of coming here, I thought it best to play safe. Americans cannot come here as self-proclaimed “tourists” due to lingering political issues that began over fifty years ago. However, Obama (love him!) opened up a people-to-people exchange to make it possible for Americans to visit and have cultural exchanges with the Cuban people. These can be facilitated by a tour company that works in conjunction with a Cuban travel agent.

I came in tired and early in the morning, knowing the room would not be ready. The hotel concierge arranged a city tour for me in a red ’57 Dodge convertible, driven by the friendly Ernesto. As I greeted him in my halting and rusty Spanish, he decided I could practice speaking and listening on our tour. So, with my tired brain working overtime, Ernesto and I explored the city in my first people-to-people experience!

Havana is an interesting city. We drove past elegant large houses next to crumbling ones. We visited Revolution Square where Fidel Castro used to give many speeches, now populated by 50’s Chevys in jellybean colors. We drove up a winding street to Bosque Havana, a verdantly forested riverbank where I witnessed a ritual chicken sacrifice. Finally, we saw what my guide called the world’s biggest couch, the Malecon promenade, where locals hang out on the seawall socializing every evening.

Although I had heard that Cuba does not have good food, in the next few days our tour group visited some lovely restaurants – most in stately old homes – that proved this false. As a pescatarian, I’m sure I missed out on more great flavors in the meat selections, but dishes such as thinly sliced snapper marinated in lime, spicy seafood paella, and creamy butternut squash soup more than made up for it.

I brought some gifts to distribute, having heard that the people do not have much. In passing I was asked for a pen. Another sweet old lady asked if I had a lipstick; I had a brand new one in baby pink. I handed it to her and she frowned, wondering if I didn’t have a darker color?

To sample another country, another culture, in a week is not enough, But it’s a beginning. I’m grateful to have had a small taste of the rich flavor of Cuba. It has left me craving more, hoping to return algun dia!

 

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We Need to Talk – About Gun Control

Pre-Existing Condition

In the wake of the shooting in Roseburg Oregon, the panic set in again. It’s a real feeling for me, not paranoia. I work in a school. Sure, I could be shot by one of these random gunmen in a prayer group or perhaps even a yoga class, a restaurant, or a theatre. They seem to pick eclectic locations, to prey on whoever is there. It could be me. It could be you. It could be my kid.

But schools, for whatever reason, are often the setting. It’s a place we’ve all been. And I am there every day. I teach preschool.

This week we have a lockdown drill. We’ve had them before. It’s important to stay calm, to stay quiet, and to keep the kids still. But in my heart there is terror. The drill we had after Sandy Hook was especially hard. It could be real.  I sat…

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Feeling All the Feels

It is the evening after my daughter’s wedding and the evening before Christmas Eve. Christmas Eve eve, if you will. I am caught like a wayward snowflake between the two events. Many tears were cried at the wedding ceremony. It was a momentous occasion for my heart. And tears will likely be cried on Christmas day; for it is the first Christmas without my mother. And the second Christmas since I lost my brother. Holidays are meant to be shared with those we love. And when family members are no longer with us, there is a poignant ache in the midst of the festivities. Holidays have often been a bittersweet time for me; forced gaiety is not my forte.

But this year there is a lightness I did not expect: a new family member to balance the loss of the others. Because, even though the wedding was planned, anticipated, and discussed for over a year, the reality of the experience made me realize that I was finally allowing something important to happen: I acknowledged that my little girl is truly a grown woman. And her husband is a man I really really like. She picked a good one! She is smarter than her ol’ mom! And it makes me feel so relieved and so very proud.

I have been told, “You are not losing your daughter, you are gaining a son.” This actually feels true! When I hugged him goodbye at breakfast this morning I realized that I was falling in love. Not like a girlfriend and not like a mother, but like someone welcoming a new family member into her heart.

So although there is much loss to reflect upon under late night candle glow, there is also a warm glow of happiness. I won’t call myself Mother in law, which evokes an image of Fred Flintstone grumbling about Wilma’s mother. We’ll have to come up with a new term, my daughter, her hubby and I. Just as I finally decided to take Oma as my grandma name, because it has the word Om in it.

That grandbaby will be another new person I will be ready to welcome in, when the time comes.

This season has shattered me with loss and showered me with blessings. I am profoundly grateful at a time when sorrow sometimes overtakes joy. I am able to ride this rollercoaster of Feelings and keep holding on.

Although I am not so appeased as to stay put and enjoy the season’s Feels at home (I am running off to Mexico with my youngest daughter while the newlyweds enjoy a New Zealand honeymoon) I have so much hope and joy and gratitude that love does exist and continue among times of loss.

And that is the gift that my daughter and husband, with their Christmas wedding, have unexpectedly given to me.

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The Age of Sensible Shoes

I’m no Carrie Bradshaw, but I do love shoes. And I even enjoy shoe shopping. Or at least I used to. But this weekend I realized that I have reached a new low, literally, in my shoe wearing career. Is it the end of the sexy high heel for me?

My daughter is getting married next month. I have my dress, a burgundy red flowing number with a bit of cleavage (she approved this) and a bit of a trailing hem. It calls out for high heels. At least a few inches high. And because it is a Christmas wedding, perhaps a little sparkle.

I have tried on a few pairs and then tried to walk in them. And I just can’t pull it off the way I used to. And even if I could walk in the bejeweled strappy stilettos I am drawn to, they hurt my feet! And I am not willing to make the sacrifice of pain for beauty. So I will have to go low. And probably even wide.

More than a decade as a yogi, walking around barefoot whenever possible, has allowed my once average feet to spread a bit. And pitching all my none-too-petite body weight forward into a pointy toe box leaves me feeling like Cinderella’s step sister, forcing her fat foot into the glass slipper. Well, that dainty Cinder-bitch is welcome to the shoe and the wimpy prince.

But what the hell are my feet going to wear to this wedding?

I’ve always thought that God assigns each women a set amount of time to wear high heels, and I have used mine up. My earlier career mandated the wearing of sexy high heels eight hours in a row. I’ve had my time. As an early childhood teacher, there is simply no need to wear those type of shoes. And my love life has been rather sparse for the past decade, so no date shoes reside in my closet. I am not only out of practice, I am totally out of sexy shoes.

I need to make a purchase!

My daughters indulged me this weekend as I visited them and we shopped near Seattle. We searched in vain for the perfect shoe, even visiting a specialty shop named Only Wide Shoes when we realized how difficult it is to find wide shoes on the shelves. But the shoes in that store looked like they were made for dowdy old ladies. I passed on that.

At Payless I lusted after a four inch stiletto encrusted in glitter. My daughters snickered as I took a few steps and almost face-planted in the aisle. At Nordstroms a nice salesman showed us the only shoe in the entire store that came in a wide width. They were a velvet black…loafer. No way. They were also over a hundred bucks.

So I’m back at square one, with no shoes. My plan is to order a bunch of shoe options online that offer free returns and hope for the best.

Sigh. Getting older requires a lot of letting go. 

But, let’s get some shoes….

 

 

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