Forgiving a Mother Who Never Asked

Mother’s day is a hard day for my husband. His mother passed away several years ago due to complications from the chemotherapy she was receiving for the treatment of breast cancer. It damaged her heart to the point that she needed a heart transplant. The attempted transplant was not successful and a mechanical heart was implanted. She suffered several strokes shortly after and died within a week of the surgery. Her untimely death is not the only reason that Mother’s day is hard. It is a tough day because he has had to learn to forgive a person who was not sorry.

A mom of two boys by the age of 17, she missed out on the normal experiences of a teenager in the mid 60’s, and often told her sons this. She frequently left the boys with relatives, dumping them off for weeks at a time. It is testament to the poor living conditions that he had with his mother that the days of living with grandparents and a few times with an aunt and her partner were some of the best times of my husband’s life, and the people he credits for giving him some semblance of a normal childhood. She was mentally and physically abusive, and had some of the things happened in this day and age, the boys would surely have been removed from her care. The addition of a stepfather and later on, two half-brothers did not help the situation. The younger ones were favored but even they didn’t escape some of the abuse. My husband tried to run away multiple times and ultimately left for good as soon as he turned 17,  joining the army with his mothers written permission.

Seven years later, when I joined the family, things had only improved marginally and although my he never complained about his upbringing and rarely said anything negative about her, I could see the situation clearly.  She was not a big part of our lives through the years, and her death only bothered me because of the grief that it caused my husband. He mourned her passing even when he was handed a letter at the funeral, written by her before she entered the hospital to await her transplant. The letter was not the apology that I initially assumed it would be. It was a list of his shortcomings and the hardships she endured in her selfless attempt to raise him and his brothers. I watched him burn the letter that night, and I saw him cry. There would be no absolution, no explanation, nothing that said “I did the best that I could.”

Yet, he misses her, especially on her birthday and Mother’s day. Maybe he misses her good points, she was beautiful, and witty, and at times, generous. But I think he misses most, something he never had. A relationship like I have with our son. I wish that he had with her the easy friendship that I have with our boy. The shared jokes and favorite TV shows, the ease with which he shares things with me that sometimes I don’t really want to know. I wish that my husband had that with his mother. I wish he had a lifetime of sweet memories of her instead of the painful legacy she left behind. I wish that she had left a different letter. I think he just misses having a mother, good or bad. He loves her and has forgiven her, although she never asked for it.

It is a strange thing to behold as a nurse, and as an observer of human nature, how children love their mothers. Selfish and abusive or unfeeling and negligent, these things do not prevent a child from having the desire to be with his mother. They long for them, and call for them until suddenly they don’t. Until finally, the child is old enough to protect himself from the pain of rejection. The heart hardens and a wall develops. A wall that a future partner will spend a lifetime trying to knock down. A wall that a mother, nearing the end of her days, lonely, and with a lifetime of regret, could dissolve with a few words… “I love you, I’m proud of you, and I’m sorry, I did the best that I could.”

Afterword: I almost didn’t post this piece. I asked my husband to read it because I wanted to get his permission since it is his life, and his story. He told me initially that is was alright to post, but I could tell that it made him sad. He doesn’t want his mom to look bad. I actually had a different title in the beginning, and some unkind comments. We talked about it and I changed some things. Tines, thank you for letting me share with others a small piece of your amazing, crazy life.

More Precious than Jewels

She is far more precious than jewels. Proverbs 31:10

This is the face of a mom who has to go to work. Her daughter wants her to stay home but she has to go. Her mouth smiles but her eyes do not. She has her keys in her hand, her purse on her shoulder and she has had to ask for favors from family and friends to watch her daughter because it is nearly impossible to afford daycare and because her evening and weekend work schedule does not allow her to send her daughter to one anyway. She cries as she drives and she thinks about that sad face. “I can’t do this,” she says aloud. But she is doing it. She works in a busy emergency room where she will see good moms, with pinched, worried faces. Mothers whose children have high fevers or a broken arm. She will also see a few bad moms. Selfish and rude, with coarse voices and a hardened exterior, they will sneak outside for a cigarette or demand to know in a loud, disruptive voice, “what the f#@$ is taking so long?”  But those moms are few and far between. Many of the  mothers are single and many are like this mom; trying to get by, struggling to raise kind, productive citizens on boxed macaroni and cheese. This is a picture of my daughter, She is a single mom. She is one of many, many women who are doing it every day, even though they feel like they can’t.

This is to the mom who drops her kids off at daycare after an early morning wake-up call in which the first thought was that you are going to go to bed early tonight for a change instead of basking in the one hour of alone time you have all day. A morning spent changing diapers, feeding the cat, asking, then telling, then finally yelling at your preschooler to get her shoes on in between trying to make yourself presentable for work and then suddenly remembering that the baby has a well-child checkup mid-day and you will have to get out of work early. You drop them off in a rush, but the baby clings to your legs and puts up his chubby arms for you to pick him up. You smile and remove him, give him a kiss and tell him that you love him, and leave him with his caregiver. You cry on the way to work and think, “I can’t do this. ”  But you are doing it.

This is to the mom whose six-year-old exhausts you with requests to play Uno, Barbies, and hopscotch. “Read to me, watch me, play with me” is her battle cry. You go to the bathroom to get a minute to yourself but the door bangs open and in she comes, asking to make cookies with you. You need a break, an hour alone to not talk or smile and to please no one but yourself. But there is no one to relieve you, and you feel guilty for wishing you could be alone. “I can’t do this,” you think as you get out the chocolate chips and she pulls a kitchen chair up to the counter so that she can “help.” But you are doing it.

This is to the mom whose teenage son is angry with school and with life. His music is loud and his hair is long. His friends are questionable and his girlfriend is sullen. He stays out past curfew one night and you do not sleep and instead, frantically text, call, and social-media stalk him and his friends to determine his whereabouts. You wonder if you should start texting other parents or maybe call the police, until finally, two hours late, he stumbles in, the stench of rebellion poisoning the air.  You know that you should wait until the morning, but you are tired and relieved and angry all at once, so you yell at him and he yells back. Your sweet baby boy punches a hole in the wall and in your heart and then slams his door while you think to yourself, “I can’t do this.” But you are doing it.

Mom, this is the hardest task you that will ever be entrusted to you. You won’t be sure of yourself and you will always feel guilty. There will never be a time when you think,  I’m doing a damn good job. You will always worry, wonder, and at times wish it away. As a single mom, the full mantle of responsibility rests on your shoulders. You are the good cop and the bad cop, the yin and the yang. You have no one to bounce ideas off of, to tell you when you are being ridiculous or to support you with an end-of-discussion Dad voice warning the whiner to “listen to your mother.”

It is a struggle: financially, mentally, and emotionally. There will be days when you feel confident and in control and nights when fear, the friend of darkness, pins you to your bed, paralyzing your body and stimulating your mind.  But when the sun comes up, and your phone alarm goes off in the morning, and you roll out of bed swearing that you will go to bed early tonight, know this: You are strong and beautiful. Your strength comes from adversity and your beauty comes from every challenge that you have faced along the way. These hard times are polishing you and preparing you for the day when your babies are grown and they show you off  like a young woman shows off her engagement ring. “Meet my Mom,” he will say, diploma in hand, his face alight, “I couldn’t have done it without her.” On that day, you, in a green dress, tissue in hand, standing back to let your baby have his moment, will be brought forth and your worth and brilliance will be on display for all to admire. You will finally know what your children have learned and what we bystanders have always known; that you are precious and that you did a damn good job.

 

What it feels like to be a Nurse

#1 Most trusted profession? According to Gallup’s annual poll, nurses have ranked highest in honesty and ethical standards for 15 consecutive years. Today is National Nurses Day and this is what it feel like to be a nurse.

You work 3 days a week (unless you feel guilty that everyone is working short-staffed and you pick up an extra shift) but during those three days you see only your co- workers and your bed. Everything and everyone else cease to exist.

Returning home after a 13+ hour day, you have learned to ignore piles of dishes and laundry and force yourself to get to bed ASAP because in a few hours, you will do it all over again.
Friends and family say to you, “wow, you have a lot of time off!”

Your first day off after two or three shifts in a row is a day of catching up on laundry, not on sleep.
At any given moment at work, your feet hurt, your back or neck hurts, you are probably hungry, and you may or may not have had a chance to go to the bathroom since you got there.

You optimistically bring a lunch everyday but sometimes don’t have time to eat it.

You are really good at nodding and smiling, but your nurse friends know the truth. Sometimes, you only have time to exchange glances, but that’s all you need to feel better.
Your long hours make you depend on co-workers to switch shifts or come in early for you so you can rush to your child’s basketball game or concert in your scrubs.
Saltines and graham crackers? Yes at work. Never, ever at home.
Someone else’s bowel movements; Cheered, charted, reported and discussed. Weird? Not to us.
Same with urine, sputum and vomit.
Walks, talks and pees in the toilet is a wonderful phrase to hear during report.
Ditto with alert and oriented.
Speaking of report, giving to and getting from the same person a few days in a row can make your whole day.
Admission is a dirty word.
So is quiet.
Holidays and weekends and nights. Enough said.

Donuts from Drs, chocolates from patients and cakes for birthdays can cause a stampede in the break room.
When you are off, random medical emergencies in which you must take action, seem to happen frequently around you, although you try to avoid these situations like the plague.
Regarding the health of your children, you are one of two ways: certain that every headache is brain tumor and every stomach ache is appendicitis or shrug off every complaint with a “you’ll be fine.”
Among your coworkers, you know who is the best at different tasks like a difficult IV start or putting in an NG tube so you trade tasks or beg them to come along for “moral support.”
You have uttered the phrase, “I absolutely HAVE to get out on time today because I have to do X, Y and Z.” It doesn’t happen.
After a long day, when your spouse says, “how was your day?”, you say “fine” because to even begin to tell a non medical person everything you did and saw seems exhausting.
When you do feel like talking, usually when eating, your spouse abruptly ends the conversation with a hand up and a “please!”, when the word diarrhea makes its appearance.

No subject is off-limits with your co-workers and they know everything about you.

Wolfing down a meal with another nurse is the perfect time to discuss bodily functions. or lack thereof.

You think maybe you have seen it all, until the next strange things comes along.

You learn to accept anything, odd requests from patients, OCD behavior from other nurses, mood swings of physicians, and try to accomadate them all, as they also accept your quirks.

You live in fear that you will accidentally cause a HIPPA violation.
Because of HIPPA, your spouse has probably said to you, “xxxx said they saw you at work. Why didn’t you tell me?!?”

As a nurse, you have been punched, kicked, sworn and spit at. You have also held hands, cried with, hugged and even kissed strangers. You have been called a bi*%# and an angel in the same day. You have truly loved and disliked certain patients but have treated both the same way. You have loved and hated your job. You have cried and laughed. You have seen births and deaths. You have seen tragedy and triumph. You have seen people at their worst and their best. You have been at your worst and at your best. Your co-workers are like siblings. You are proud to be a nurse.

Happy Nurses Day.

Bullies and the Lessons We Learn

Minutes ago I read a blog post from a woman whose teenage, autistic son was made fun of at a mall by a group of teenage girls. She said that as far as she knew, he had never been made fun of before and that this event broke a thirteen year streak for them. She wrote that chances are, one of them will grow up to have a child or grandchild with a disability and that she hoped that they would not remember the incident if that child is bullied because they might not be able to stand the pain. I’m sorry that this happened and would not wish that any child be bullied, those with a disability and those without. I am happy for her that her son attends a school whose peers do not make fun of him and that a some small saving grace is that when she turned to confront the girls, her son “probably would not have understood much of our exchange if he had been listening anyway.” I am thankful that my children do not have a disability, but they have been bullied anyway and they were painfully aware of it all.

Not only have both my children been bullied, but my husband and I have been bullied as well. Given the fact that 100% of my immediate family has been bullied at one time or another, this must be extremely common. Of course this is not right. It is not good. It is painful for the children and heartbreaking for the parents, if they know. I never said anything to my parents, what would be the point? My mother is meek and mild and would have offered unhelpful advice such as “Just stay away from them,” and this is not something I would have shared with my father. My husband took care of his own bullies and the bullies of the less courageous kids with his fists, an effective but not recommended remedy. My daughter’s bully was small, but mean as a snake. She pulled the chair out before my daughter sat down and laughed when she fell on the floor. She teased and laughed at her so much that in the third grade, suffering from panic attacks, my daughter could not go to school for a while. My husband and I tried different tactics to combat this pint size tormentor. He offered my daughter 20 dollars to punch the girl in the face and it’s a testament to the desperation of the time that I secretly hoped that she would, even though I outwardly discouraged it, as a mother should. She wouldn’t do it. I tried calling the school and the parents but gave up on that idea when I didn’t get anywhere. Finally I decided that this girl was really just a little girl who was in pain, so we started praying for her every night (we both balked at this, my daughter outwardly and me inwardly) and invited her to a Awana, a weekly Christian based children’s ministry where the kids play games and earn badges for learning bible verses. The girl surprisingly agreed and ended up coming with us every Thursday night for years, sleeping over once a week on a cot in my daughter’s room. This arrangement actually worked but it was not an easy time for any of us.

My sons bullying experience was shorter but considerably more violent. He was taunted at the age of 12 by a 14 year-old indigent with a striking resemblance to my son, both blonde haired, blue-eyed with a slight build. I wondered then and still wonder if he noticed the similarities and the heartbreaking differences. This boy was brought up by an allegedly abusive, alcoholic father. I’m sure he never felt cherished and loved a day in his life and maybe because my son looked something like him, decided to take it out on him. It started with threatening my son in school and online, progressed to yelling threats about bringing brass knuckles to school while following him home, and ended with this kid waiting outside of his classroom, and while my son’s head was turned, knocking him out with one punch and climbing on top of him, punching his face the whole time until one of my sons friends pulled him off and the teachers finally heard the commotion. The kid was suspended, although many teachers favored expulsion and the bullying stopped. Shortly after that, the boy went on to high school and we didn’t see him again until one day, my husband came home and told us the story of his own interaction with the troubled kid. The story goes like this:

My husband was in the garage one day, when he heard the sound of a dirt bike, zipping up the road. He came out of  the garage in time to see what appeared to be teenager riding my son’s old dirt bike. We live in a small town and this was the only one of its kind in the area. We had recently sold it to a friend for his son after our son had outgrown it, and just the night before, the man had called my husband and asked him to be on the lookout for it because it had been stolen.  My husband, an adrenaline junky, and adventure lover, jumped in his truck in hot pursuit of the kid and followed him until he saw the kid turn off the road and in to a field. He pulled up in time to see the boy drop the bike in some high grass and duck down. Undaunted, and now sure that this must be the stolen dirt bike, he got out of the truck and walked through the field until he saw our old dirtbike and the bully, now 16 years old, cowering in the tall grass. “Get your a*$ up,” my husband said, “and help me load this thing into the truck.” The kid jumped up and together they loaded the dirtbike into the back of the truck, “I’m not going to say anything about this” he said, “but you leave my son alone.”  The kid stammered and mumbled something, probably surprised and relieved that he had escaped both a beating and a summons. My husband drove off and gave the dirtbike back to the grateful owner but kept his word and did not report it. We never saw or heard from him again. That kid is 22 now and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if he is prison somewhere but I hope he isn’t. I wish him well because I know that his bullying came from a place of insecurity, jealousy and anger as it often does with bullies.

Unfortunately, being bullied is all too common in childhood and sometimes even for adults, in the workplace. For the four of us, I think it has made us stronger. My daughter and I are alike in that we often speak for those who cannot speak up for themselves, she and I and have both been described as “feisty” when the situation warrants it. My son and husband always stand up for the underdog, individually, and on one memorable occasion, together, taking down and subduing a crazed, dangerous man (but that’s a story for a different day). These experiences were not pleasant when we went through them, and as a parent I wish they had not happened. I wonder though, if we would have turned out differently if we had not had them. I want this mom to know that although her son was made fun of for the way he ran, due to his disability, quite likely he would have been bullied at some point in his life even without his disability. Children are made fun of for the way they dress, how they talk, if they are too skinny or too fat, where they live, and for being too pretty or not pretty enough.  This is the sad reality of childhood. There is no right or wrong way to deal with a bully (I think we tried them all), and girl bullies and boy bullies are very, very different. But what we did learn is that families need to stick together, that you cannot allow anyone to push you around and if you can, stick up for those who can’t stick up for themselves.  Finally, try to show kindness to the bully because they may not have seen it at home and they are hurting too. You never know what seeds you may be planting in their lives that may grow into flowers later, when the soil is more fertile. To the mom at the mall, your children are lucky to have you and you are doing a great job.

 

The Heartache of Bipolar

I wrote this piece about bipolar disorder after watching an episode of Shameless on Netflix. I could identify so strongly with the family and also with the character, that I had to write about it. My husband is bipolar. I know that there are some people who prefer the term to be “has bipolar” rather than is, but this is who he is, the good and bad. You can’t shake it off like a stifling hot coat or wrap yourself in it when you are cold. It is who he is and it is who we are. Courage and tenacity are the requirements to survive, love and acceptance are needed to thrive. Bipolar can be beautiful and exciting when experiencing the “up” side. There is creativity and generosity and fun there, but also risk and danger.  I wanted to write from his point of view as well as mine. I wasn’t sure if I captured his side of it and asked him to read it and then I went to bed, When I got up, I saw that he had added two paragraphs at the end. It is honest and real. It is written from the low side but I don’t want this to be depressing. I want the reader to know that a person with bipolar does not choose this life, and they suffer so greatly when they can’t be who their loved ones want them to be. But that is not the end of the story. There is help. There is no cure, but there is relief. If you love a person with bipolar, or you are that person, you are brave, you are strong and you are not alone.

 

What if you felt dead inside, although you were still breathing? What if you felt so dry that you thought that your bones could wither and die? What if your child’s laugh felt like nails on a chalk board? What if the sounds of breakfast and of your family preparing to face the world, melted the small amount of courage that you had left. What if the sound of the birds chirping was an assault to your ears and the sun seemed to mock the darkness of your spirit? After all, the sun is up and you should be too, both your body and your mood. Everyone else is, it has been a cold, snowy winter and a rainy spring. But now, summer is here, people are happy, why can’t you be one of them? They come out to wash their cars, walk their dogs and barbecue with friends. But not you. The pain in your body joins the pain in your mind, crippling you. Your bed is safe and the world is not. The weight of responsibility sits on you like a ton of bricks, it overpowers you. You can’t breathe out there. The air is too fresh and the light too bright. Darkness is the place to hide, where for you, wrapped in your blanket cocoon, in your darkened room, solitude is the only safe place in this world. But the price of security is shame. You wallow in your guilt, you wear it like a chain draped over your shoulders, crushing but reassuringly familiar.

 

I see you there, in bed, wrapped up, nothing sticking out but your head which faces the wall. I know that this is a “down day.” I know that you will not get up today. I know that you will not take the kids to the playground and to get ice cream and to play outside all day like you promised yesterday, because that was yesterday, an “up day.” I hear the kids downstairs, letting the refrigerator door bang open and the bowls clunk together as they get cereal while watching Saturday morning cartoons. The sun is out, and they are ready for their day of fun. They argue about what they will do with you first. I know what will happen when I go down. “Where’s Dad?” they will say, disappointed to see boring Mom instead of fun Dad. “He’s not feeling well,” I’ll say. “Probably it will just be us today,” my voice will be light and bright but they will not be fooled. “OK” they will say, turning their faces back to the TV, no longer questioning why. I will turn up the emotional barometer to extra happy to combat the rapidly declining moods, sun or no sun. But. before I face them and spend the day making it up to them, I go to your side of the bed. You have tears in your eyes, you have the saddest face I have ever seen, at least since last time. “I’m sorry, I just can’t” you mumble. “It’s ok” I say, “you will feel better tomorrow.” You nod because you know that this is true. I know that you are grateful for the steadiness of my moods, neither high highs or low lows. I know that you will wrap yourself in sadness and guilt all day, It would be cruel to say the obvious; that this is not fair and that I never planned on being at the park all day and that I have tons of laundry to catch up on and would it be too much to ask to give me a freaking hour alone to read a book or take a nap for God’s sake? My only consolation is that I know that you would never choose this. You have told me more than once that at least I can get away from you when you are like this, that you can’t get away from yourself. I also know that if there was a choice between you and me having this disease, you would choose it a thousand times so that I wouldn’t have to feel the pain of darkness. I give you a kiss and tell you to rest even though I know a hundred days would not make your exhausted soul feel rested. But, we are a team. We are one. When you are down I am the half that is up and when the buoyancy of your mood threatens to carry us all away, I will be an anchor and bring us back to earth. I do this because I love you and because I promised to be there in sickness and in health and because I know that joy comes in the morning. Tomorrow you will probably be “up” even though it will rain. You will roll around and wrestle with the kids on the floor. You will play games and make omelets and clean the whole house. You will not feel the pain that yesterday, made you feel like you had been “run over by a truck.” You will be fun and exciting and everyone will forget the darkness of yesterday. Just as it is impossible to remember the chill of winter while basking in summers warmth, so it is with Bipolar. The lows make the highs even sweeter. But today is not that day, today you are down, so I will be up. I put on my sneakers and my happiest face and off I go.

Last night my husband added this….

This is the life of someone who has to deal with a bipolar person. It isn’t pretty and it is such a burden. I am bipolar, and I pray for a good day. I am alone but aware of my surroundings. I want to be accepted even though I can’t accept myself. I fail at most things, in my eyes. I am never proud of myself. I see wrongs and try to help others, even though I can’t help myself. If you need anything, I’ll try. When I’m up it’s because I’m trying my best to put on a good act, even though my mind is a battlefield. The woods seem quiet but the sounds are loud. I know what is true, but never seem to find the truth. I feel that the bad things that happened to me, even as a child, are my own doing. I want to mature but feel that is a pipe dream. I love my family, and know they love me too. We have some fun times, and have created good memories, along with the bad. I will clean your feet with humility. I will jump off a building for you. Even though I can’t comfort you, I cry in sorrow when I can’t do what’s right. I long for acceptance, but never earn it. I feel the pain I cause, to my core, and I am riddled with guilt. I want to give up but feel loved. This is my battle and I have drafted people in my life, to this war. It seems so easy to give up, until I see the love around me, but I will never be free of guilt, it has haunted me since I was a child. I have a battalion of guilt, that will never leave my mind.

The good things in life, for me? My wife. She is beautiful in every way imaginable! She is there in my lows, and picks me up. She loves me unconditionally, totally unwarranted, in my view. My children and grands, are my lifeblood. Without any of them, I am dead. It’s hard for me to see any positives, of who I am. I know they must be there somewhere, but I can’t seem to find them. I wander in the dark woods, even though I have a light to show me the way. This is bipolar; anguish, pain, guilt, worthlessness, self-destruction, and a trail of tears because of my selfishness. You’re welcome to join, but beware, it’s no fun. I love my wife and regret all the bad I have caused. My attempts are minimal and despicable, to make her happy. I can never repair the past, and can’t guarantee the future. I don’t think I’ll ever be who she wants me to be. I couldn’t do it for my Mom, or my children, so it is a dream she will probably never see. That’s probably true, but I hope not the truth. That’s all I have.

My father’s “number four daughter”

My name is supposed to be David. My parents. at least my Dad, having already had three daughters planned on having a boy. I’m sure it was a bit of a disappointment when I was born without a Y chromosome but if it was, no one ever said so. Quite the contrary, at least as far as my mother was concerned, this made things much easier. She knew a lot about raising little girls and since none of my sisters had yet hit 13, “the most challenging year” for a girl and for her parents, according to my mother, she probably figured it was smooth sailing. Ha! As for my two oldest sisters, they were happy that they had a living doll to dress and to cart around. They did too, they took me everywhere. This also meant, coming from a family of readers, that they now had an “Amy”, for their March sisters, and a “baby Grace” for the Ingalls girls. That was fine for Meg, Jo and Beth but I never liked being snotty Amy and Grace? She was so insignificant that she was barely mentioned except to say that she caused everyone a lot of grief when she wandered away and got lost on the prairie. If anything, I would have rather been plucky Jo or tomboy Laura, and this is why my Dad and I got along so well.

My sisters could tell you a different story about their father. By the age of 24, my Dad, within a years time, became the father of “Irish twins” and the guardian of two teen boys, my mother’s brothers, who, when their father died suddenly, were left orphans. Partially because of these circumstances, my sisters were raised by a very different father. When I came along, he was in his 30’s, the boys were away at college and having had 10 years of fatherhood under his belt, he was more patient and ready to play with me. Also, since a son was not likely to happen, he treated me like one, and I loved it.

“This is my number four daughter”, he would introduce me to other adults, hands on my shoulders. I think he was proud of having four girls, and that I sometimes acted like a boy. My first memories are of watching football with him. The Dallas Cowboys, his favorite, back in the glory days of the 70’s when Tom Landry was today’s Bill Belichick and Roger Staubach, today’s Tom Brady. “Touchdown!” he would cry, leaping from his chair, causing me to look up from pushing the little truck he made me, the one with the little wooden wheels and popsicle sticks that made the sides of the bed, perfectly fashioned. He patiently explained the game,  the downs, and safety’s, field goals and extra points during commercials for Pabst blue ribbon beer and cigarettes ads, imploring us to “come to where the flavor is” with the ruggedly handsome cowboy. We also watched boxing, which I loved, and sometimes the Indy 500, which I didn’t, because I thought then, and still think, that it’s incredibly boring and the only thing worth watching is when someone crashes and then you feel guilty for getting excited. We played a lot of catch and watched a little baseball and he called me “Kiddo” and “Sport.” He gave me my own pocketknife when I was 5 and we spent time shooting. I liked to hang out with him in his shop in the basement while he worked. He had enormous machines down there, metal and woodlathes, jig-saws and bandsaws. Never one to worry, he allowed me to “dust” the jagged teeth with a clean paintbrush and sweep the metal curlicues on the floor. We didn’t say much, we just were together. Sometimes, I would aloud read to him from whatever book I was reading at the time while he worked. He was subjected to Ramona and Beezus, The Little House on the Prairie series, Nancy Drew and Trixie Beldon. He never complained. Sometimes, I would stop in the middle of reading with questions that had bothered me all day, “which is worse, a heart attack or a stroke? Is a tornado worse than a hurricane? Who is Dow Jones?” He always, always knew the answer. When I went to summer camp, he wrote to me twice in one week, much to the chagrin of my oldest sister who said that in 4 years at Wellesley, he never wrote. He attended every farm league baseball game I played in (my town was too small to have a softball team, so the girls played baseball) and agreed with me when I quit Little league because the coach insisted I throw with my right since I batted right, even though I had fielded like a leftie for years. As I got older, he attended every field hockey game and track meet, both winter and spring, each time bringing me a Skor bar because I was superstitious like that then. He sent flowers to the school when I came in first in regionals and again when I placed in states when I was a freshman, with a card that read, “the ‘kick’ is back” . He taught me to drive a stick shift and made me practice on hills when he learned I was going miles out of the way in my 1979 Honda Accord to drop my boyfriend off so that I wouldn’t have to stop at a red light on a hill.

But then it changed. I had a licence, my parents divorced, and my mom and I, my sisters having long since married and moved away, moved to an apartment in town 15 miles from where my father lived. I quit all sports in favor of cigarettes and parties (it turned out that my mother was 75% right about the 13 thing, my worst year was when I was 16), I didn’t have time for my dad, although he had always had time for me. I didnt make the effort that he had. We talked once in a while and I know he missed going to my events, but he never said so. The years passed and now he is a “snow bird”. He and his wife travel south each winter to avoid the ferociousness of the Maine winter. We see each other occasionally and talk on the phone sometimes, as today,  when I called to wish him a Happy birthday. “hellooo,” he answered heartily. ” Happy Birthday! How does it feel to be 79?” I asked. “Great! Who is this?” “It’s your number four daughter” I answered. He knew me then and we chatted about future plans for celebrating when he returns to Maine in May. I know just what we will do. We will have pizza and cake. We will talk about guns and sports and memories on the deck as we swat away mosquitos and the years. We will take the jeep to the sandpit and shoot as we have always done, his number four and my number one. Happy birthday Dad.

Updated Version: ( I finally had my) Scrambled eggs and the “Mom Experience”

 

See, what I mean (see below if you haven’t already read this)?

 

I really can’t describe the feeling of disappointment I felt this morning, when I pulled into my mother’s driveway and saw that her car was gone. I sat there for a minute, car idling until I remembered what time it was. It was only 8:30 am and I realized that my  76-year-old mother was at yoga, or bobbing around in the pool with her gang of Barbara’s, she being one of the three of them. There are other ladies who workout in the pool, often at the same time as she, Gloria’s and Ruth’s. Pleasant 60 and 70-somethings who bounce around to the strains of Fergie and Lady Gaga, while discussing last nights elimination on Dancing with the Stars and the happenings around town and in their families. My mother has become quite dedicated to her workouts, going faithfully three to four times a week. This, coming from a woman who once told a physical therapist that she wasn’t opposed to exercise “as long as it doesn’t make me sweat.”

I knew she wouldn’t be home for a while, so, I turned the car around and left, feeling quite sorry for myself. I had driven to her house to await the results of a chest x-ray, ordered by my PCP after she listened to my raspy lungs. By the way, if someone says, “Ohhh, that’s not good” when they have a stethoscope in their ears, and on your chest, it’s not usually a good thing. Having been sick with the flu for the better part of the week, I have not had much of an appetite, but I had a sudden hankering for my mothers scrambled eggs. Well, not just the eggs. I was looking for the whole “Mom experience,” I might be a mom and a grandmother myself, but I don’t think anyone is ever too old to be mothered. I had already seen in my mind’s eye that she would look up happily as I came in the door, one of the few houses that I don’t have to knock. She would smile and say “why, Sue! What are you doing here so early?” then not waiting for me to reply, she would continue,  “I was just making some scrambled eggs and I’ve made too much, why don’t you sit here and eat with me? Would you like coffee? How about some orange juice?” The whole time she is talking, she would be pouring coffee, popping bread in the toaster and serving up a generous portion of scrambled eggs with the efficiency of a waitress, which she actually was, before she went to nursing school. They would be light and fluffy with cheese and bacon and chives in them. She would butter the toast (seriously!) and slice it like a triangle because it tastes better that way. A little dish of fruit would appear, strawberries and grapes and bananas, “just cut up this morning.” Blowing on the eggs, I would tell her why I was out and about so early, while she sat across from me, eggless, with a second cup of coffee instead. Listening while I talked, she would notice that my coffee was gone, and she would replace it while we moved on to other matters, things that made me angry, small details about my children and granddaughter, the happenings on Survivor last night and what my sisters were up to. The whole thing would take less than an hour, at some point I would have received the results of my x-ray by phone and would leave to pick up my prescription. I would have gone home with a full belly and a big head, compliments having been tossed at me like rice at a wedding. This was the “Mom experience” I was hoping for. Who but your mother, wants to hear a story with you as the hero? Who else actually loves to hear you brag? Who else could be so undoubtedly in your corner when you are wronged and yet still caution you to not lose your temper and be too brash? Moms feed you physically, emotionally and spiritually. You strut out of their house, fluffed and puffed, as confident as a two-year old that you are loved.

Sadly, with out my “mom experience” to feed me, I turned the car to McDonald’s for hot cakes, a disappointing second but the only thing that seemed about as comforting as her scrambled eggs. I felt sorry for myself for only a minute, as I remembered how many of my friends, and my husband, who have lost their mothers, my mother herself lost hers when she was 13. I am grateful for our texts and visits, our lunches out and for an occasional breakfast at her house. I am thankful for her and for the example she has set for my sisters and me, and also, for her scrambled eggs.

How it feels to be three

I actually wrote this piece last year, on a Facebook post. It was one of the reasons I decided to start a blog. There is so much to say when you have a preschooler in your life, Facebook cannot possibly contain all the material that a child provides.

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If you could remember back to when you were three, you might remember how terrible it would be to not be able to find a Cootie body to match your beautiful red sweater. You might remember raging against the impracticability of Milton Bradley’s color choices of either pink or orange when clearly a simple red would be a much more popular choice. You might remember being so angry with the unfairness of Cootie and life that you were tempted to throw the offensive pink body at your beloved Noni, particularly because she is taking a picture of you at that moment. You might remember instead, being so vexed that you scattered Cootie body parts in utter frustration. You certainly would recall how your Mama made you clean them all up; every last Cootie head and foot and antennae. You would surely have turned your anger on your mother at this point and might have even cried out, “I’ll never eat Noonies again! Never! Ever!” , when asked about having your favorite dinner of buttered noodles. But, if you know anything about being three, you would also know that as quickly as the winds of fury descend upon a household with a three-year old, they also depart, leaving in its wake a sweet, smart little girl and a grateful, exhausted family.

Please stop asking your kids if it’s OK (it’s not always OK and it’s not supposed to be)

I know, that title is rude and presumptuous and kind of know-it-allish. After all, I’m not a Child psychologist (although I did take psych 101 and developmental psych in nursing school soooo, there’s that…), a teacher or an expert of any kind. What I am, is a mom of adult children and since the saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20”, I  have a pretty clear vision on the subject. At least I do now, I certainly didn’t then and God forbid I ever find myself in the position to have to raise another one, I would surely revert back to legally blind status.

It’s just that when you are in the throes of child rearing, the tantrums, the homework, the last-minute projects they “forgot” to tell you about, the sleepless nights and harried mornings, it’s all you can do to keep your head above water. Any unexpected event, a feverish child for instance, Now what? You can’t stay home from work today. Daycare provider is calling it quits, effective in two weeks? NOOOO! Suddenly, you are no longer treading water, you are starting to go under, grabbing on to anyone you can, a spouse, your mom, a friend to help.

And so, when the workweek is over and the worries are few, at least for a couple of days, it feels good to take the kids to the movies or the zoo or the playground, They are having fun, you are doing what you feel parents should do and all is well. This where I see you. I am here, at the playground  too, with my granddaughter while her mother is at work. You look tired, overburdened. You are carrying a coffee, a phone, an oversize designer bag on your arm and your child’s jacket that he has tossed off because he thinks it has hindered his ability to run fast. You catch him as he runs by and this is what I hear you say, “Hunter, let’s put your coat on OK?” Hunter shrugs free and off he goes like a blue blur, not concerned at all that it is 50 degrees out and his little arms are bare. But you are. You chase after him with the jacket, he runs away, faster than ever without his coat.

Now,  that’s all I can hear, parents everywhere, asking for it to be OK. “Brayden, we can only stay for a few minutes, OK?” Brayden gives no response and takes off as fast as Hunter, who still does not have his coat on. “Ainsley, I said come here right now, OK? It’s time to go!” one mother call ineffectually for her daughter while Ainsley is busy chasing both boys, having no intentions of leaving right now. Another woman leans over to give her daughter a kiss, “have fun, I love you, okaaaay?” I can see and hear all this because my attention does not have to be on my granddaughter, Bean at all times, since her grandfather is with her. She is attempting to cross the monkey bars, hand over hand, while she swings her feet, clad in bright pink “puddle boots” to propel her, Papa is standing below her with a smile on his face, ever ready to catch her if she slips.

I know that it is different for grandparents, we have our little blessing for such a short time that we often let her set the schedule. We play until she is actually ready to do something else and says so,  or until it is time to bring her home to her Mama, sweaty, dirty and tired. Hardly anything is off-limits and we rarely have to set them. That is why being a grandparent is so great, all of the fun, none of the culpability.

But you mom, wear a heavy mantle of responsibility,  I can see it and I remember what it felt like. Let me make your job a little easier for you. Don’t worry about pleasing the kids all the time. They please themselves., it is their job, not yours. Don’t try to make sure every direction you give them is well received, it wont be. Don’t bargain, wheedle and plead and end every request or declaration of love with “OK”. Give them a clear directive, count to five if you have to, and if they still wont listen to you, or do what you ask, go get your Brayden or your Ainsley and take them home. They will kick and scream. yes. The other moms will look at you, true, but they wont be thinking what you think they are thinking. And the grandparents? They will silently cheer you on for your bravery and for your foresight. I will even carry your coffee and designer bag so that you can hold on for dear life to your backbending, squealing Brayden.  It will suck, and you will wonder why every “fun” time seems to end in tears and why do you even bother. But, you will do this because, 10 years and a few sleeps from now, Brayden will be a lanky teen, with long hair and a short attention span. He will duck past you as you are making dinner and say, “Bye mom, Hunter and I are hanging out, he just got his licence and his dad said he can use the car.”  You will turn to him and say ” Be home by 11 and text me if you are going to be late and if anyone is drinking, you, or Hunter or anyone else, call me and I will come and get you, no questions asked. ” He will have one foot out the door, his face turned to the road while you speak, but he will look you in the eye for one moment and say “OK.” and his OK, will carry all the weight that it should.

 

Scrambled eggs and the “Mom Experience”

I really can’t describe the feeling of disappointment I felt this morning, when I pulled into my mother’s driveway and saw that her car was gone. I sat there for a minute, car idling until I remembered what time it was. It was only 8:30 am and I realized that my  76-year-old mother was at yoga, or bobbing around in the pool with her gang of Barbara’s, she being one of the three of them. There are other ladies who workout in the pool, often at the same time as she, Gloria’s and Ruth’s. Pleasant 60 and 70-somethings who bounce around to the strains of Fergie and Lady Gaga, while discussing last nights elimination on Dancing with the Stars and the happenings around town and in their families. My mother has become quite dedicated to her workouts, going faithfully three to four times a week. This coming from a woman who once told a physical therapist that she wasn’t opposed to exercise “as long as it doesn’t make me sweat.”

I knew she wouldn’t be home for a while, so, I turned the car around and left, feeling quite sorry for myself. I had driven to her house to await the results of a chest x-ray, ordered by my PCP after she listened to my raspy lungs. By the way, if someone says, “Ohhh, that’s not good” when they have a stethoscope in their ears, and on your chest, it’s not usually a good thing. Having been sick with the flu for the better part of the week, I have not had much of an appetite, but I had a sudden hankering for my mothers scrambled eggs. Well, not just the eggs. I was looking for the whole “Mom experience,” I might be a mom and a grandmother myself, but I don’t think anyone is ever too old to be mothered. I had already seen in my mind’s eye that she would look up happily as I came in the door, one of the few houses that I don’t have to knock. She would smile and say “why, Sue! What are you doing here so early?” then not waiting for me to reply, she would continue,  “I was just making some scrambled eggs and I’ve made too much, why don’t you sit here and eat with me? Would you like coffee? How about some orange juice?” The whole time she is talking, she would be pouring coffee, popping bread in the toaster and serving up a generous portion of scrambled eggs with the efficiency of a waitress, which she actually was, before she went to nursing school. They would be light and fluffy with cheese and bacon and chives in them. She would butter the toast (seriously!) and slice it like a triangle because it tastes better that way. A little dish of fruit would appear, strawberries and grapes and bananas, “just cut up this morning.” Blowing on the eggs, I would tell her why I was out and about so early, while she sat across from me, eggless, with a second cup of coffee instead. Listening while I talked, she would notice that my coffee was gone, and she would replace it while we moved on to other matters, things that made me angry, small details about my children and granddaughter, the happenings on Survivor last night and what my sisters were up to. The whole thing would take less than an hour, at some point I would have received the results of my x-ray by phone and would leave to pick up my prescription. I would have gone home with a full belly and a big head, compliments having been tossed at me like rice at a wedding. This was the “Mom experience” I was hoping for. Who but your mother, wants to hear a story with you as the hero? Who else actually loves to hear you brag? Who else could be so undoubtedly in your corner when you are wronged and yet still caution you to not lose your temper and be too brash? Moms feed you physically, emotionally and spiritually. You strut out of their house, fluffed and puffed, as confident as a two-year old that you are loved.

Sadly, with out my “mom experience” to feed me, I turned the car to McDonald’s for hot cakes, a disappointing second but the only thing that seemed about as comforting as her scrambled eggs. I felt sorry for myself for only a minute, as I remembered how many of my friends, and my husband, who have lost their mothers, my mother herself lost hers when she was 13. I am grateful for our texts and visits, our lunches out and for an occasional breakfast at her house. I am thankful for her and for the example she has set for my sisters and me, and also, for her scrambled eggs.