Tag Archiv: mom

Maria Von Trapp, the 12th Dalai Lama and my Mom

It’s General Douglas MacArthur’s birthday too, but his name didn’t fit in the title.  This is for my mom, who taught me to write grateful lists . . .

Happy Birthday, Mom. I made your favorite cake for the kids. Blue icing just like the one I made you when I was seven.

On Death and Love

 

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November is a traditional time for remembering those who have died. Churches remember. Countries remember. As if on cue, entire northern climates cycle from life to death or dormancy.

On my walks I often see an older couple. They tend a grave with great care. Every day of the year, in snow or rain, hot or cold, they go to the grave. There is a bench, a bird feeder, and little lamps always burning. In winter, they keep a path shovelled to the grave. All kinds of animals come year round. Despite the location, it is a very lively place. At first I tried to figure what to make of it. Then I decided it wasn’t mine to worry about one way of the other. They’re just a part of the landscape now. I wave. They wave back. I keep the dog away from their spot.

Two years ago my brother was visiting with his kids. Something got it into our heads to visit my mother’s grave. We took the kids, all eight of them, with toothbrushes, a bucket and some soap, to tidy up the grave stone. It wasn’t morbid, it was pleasant. She would have loved them chattering and curious.

My mother was the first person I loved  who died. The first person I knew was the piano player from our church. Her name was Lois Olsen and we kept her dog while she was sick. She was as old as the hills. I was curious about the funeral, but hanging around a church with a dead body inside was too scary for me. My brother and I stayed at home. Watched from the upstairs window as the hearse drove up and her casket was taken into the church. Staring at a box that had the actual body of someone I had seen play a piano was somber and sad and fascinating.

When my mother died, I had the hardest time getting rid of her shoes. They were the wrong size for me, but all I could think was: when you’re dead, your family doesn’t want your shoes. It was a few years before I could bring myself to part with them.

I miss my mother. I grieve her loss. But much harder for me is to love her, not as a memory of how I did love her, but as a verb, now, in the present tense. To love her now is to say that just beyond my reach, she is still as real as I am. That, while neither of us can bridge the gulf between us, love can. In fact, it already has.

We love now as best we can across the chasm. Mothers. Friends. Babies not yet born. With tiny faith, our love claims: O death, where is thy sting?

And then someday –

Beet Red

 

I love beets. Pickled or plain they please me. I like the greens too. My husband professes a dislike for beet greens, a fact which I can’t quite get my head around. This winter, sing the bags upon bags of beet greens in the freezer, we shall find our way to his stomach by so many circuitous routes that when we are gone he will miss us. I smile knowing at some point he will read this and think himself forewarned. Determined do I rise to the challenge.

I did up beets for the freezer this week. Beets aren’t like beans, rinsed and tidy. Beets come with dirt and grit and infinite red juices. I can only wipe the oozing red pink from the counters so many times without remembering my mother over a boiling pot of pink.

It was Halloween, a definite NOT holiday for us. My mother the minister’s wife had helped the church get an All Saints Day party off the ground instead.  Kids were asked to go as a character from the Bible. My mother suggested I go as Lydia, the seller of purple, and promised to make me a purple tunic. By make, she meant dye a sheet and towel the appropriate color and wrap it around me. I can still picture us standing in the aisle at the drugstore reading directions on different colors of purple Rit dye.

At home in the kitchen, my mother stirred my sheet in a canning pot of water and dye, less than impressed.

That’s not purple, it’s beet red. Could have made this color myself for free, she said.

We dried the sheet and towel, and dressed me for the party. All along the way she muttered about throwing in a few beets for free and $5 for something that could hardly be called purple.

I didn’t mind the wrong colored garments so much as being twelve and wondering if I really belonged anymore at something for little kids, but being twelve turned out to be an advantage. The woman assigned to run the evening, leader of all games and parties, upon whom all eyes would be fixed at all intervals requiring direction . . . being twelve, it was hard to miss the horror in my mother’s eyes when they saw each other. My awkwardness changed to absolute delight as our host’s bright red lips and ample bedecked bosom jiggled over to greet us. A fifty something, slightly overweight church lady host, enthusiastically dressed as Rahab, the prostitute.  I gazed at her very fine impression of a hooker and felt glad indeed to have agreed to come. Thirty years later, I’m still slicing beets and smiling.

Dates

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My troubles started when I was six. Our family had spent the summer in Colorado that year. Before that, my mother said, I was happy go lucky and lighthearted. After that, things were not the same. It was a mystery to her the heavy quietness that was now me.

That fall, the bold and brave self that had eagerly trundled off to kindergarten, was afraid to leave my mother for too long. I would get to school and dissolve, unable to stop crying with how much I missed her. A few times I was sent home. Other times, I stayed, crying. I can remember the teacher shaking her head, while I buried my head on my desk and sobbed. I remember the desperate aching of needing my mother.

I banged my head and ran all the way across town from a birthday party to get home to my mother. I left a sleepover at a friend’s and refused to return. Nothing was wrong, except I missed my mother so desperately, I had to be home. My mother was embarrassed, but I was immovable. Calling the neighbors was one thing. Quitting school was another.

Out of the blue, I was picked up from school one day and taken on a date with my mother. Just us. To a real restaurant. I had a hamburger and a milkshake. My mother watched me eat. That’s all I remember. Eating my hamburger and sipping my milkshake, talking to my mother while she watched me.

Things improved. In grade two, I had an angel of a teacher. We moved the summer before grade three and I fell apart again. My mother walked me to the outside of my new school. We said goodbye, I walked into the school and down the hallway. A little later I ran out the door and all the way home. I couldn’t do it. I needed to be home. My mother decided it was date time again.

Maybe her dates with me didn’t fix the broken things, but those minutes of being all that mattered helped. (My mother was still swearing by them, recommending them to other bewildered parents when I was an adult.) I took Girl one out of school two weeks ago. Chicken fingers. Coconut Cream pie. Then back to school. I try to keep an eye on all of them, not for anything big, just to see who needs it. Eventually, I get them all whether they need it or not, then I start again. They love it, and I do too.

It was a good thing my mother taught me. I’ve decided it doesn’t apply to just kids or crisis. Everybody needs to feel seen and heard. Here’s my prayer for today:

Dear Lord, may I see my neighbor’s brokenness and be willing to watch and listen – with hamburgers and milkshakes of a sort. May I not turn away because I cannot fix it. May I whose tears were not forgotten, faithfully remember the tears of others.

Yet Love

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When my mother got cancer, I was very matter of fact. All was well until the tests said otherwise. I listened to poor prognosis and small chances of treatment.  I was very careful with my hope then. I treated it like oil, where there’s a limited supply, everybody wants it, and the price keeps going up. I didn’t want to use too much.

My mother was the opposite. She worried most at the beginning. Once cancer paraded out of the closet with tests and labels, she was ferocious in hope. Doctors had no right to say she might die. She would not until she was good and ready. She painted her toenails red and wrote a poem about how if she died, she’d go out with ten little flags waving: this one did not go willingly. Don’t worry, she would tell me. I can feel it. I’m going to get better.

She didn’t. At least not how she was expecting.

I was told last week that I probably have Raynaud’s phenomenon. It is generally harmless, involves very cold feet, hands, and nose, and is caused by spastic contractions of blood vessels. When it does cause complications, it is treated with blood pressure medication.

Seems unlikely, I said when the doctor suggested it. No one in my family has it. I doubt I have it. (The apple did not fall far from my mother’s tree.) Then I went home and read about it. Honestly, the information is not that troubling. Except that I was troubled. This last year of fussing to get my iron and hemoglobin levels up, now a “phenomenon.” Really? Phenomenon sounds ridiculous. Can’t it just be a disease, a disorder, even an affliction? But no, I’ve got a phenomenon. And not just one of them.

The other phenomenon is what happens when you inherit, “damn the torpedo,” genes from your mother and paranoid, “don’t count on health or life,” genes from your paternal grandmother. She died at ninety, but even at fifty, it seemed as though the threat of the Lord’s call to home hung like a knife in the air above her head. Maybe I didn’t see it, but she sure could.

I used to laugh at her, but now I don’t. I get it. Paranoia feels logical and crazy both. Low iron, Raynaud’s phenomenon . . . they’re not fatal. But underneath it all, I’m afraid of dying. Since my mother died, part of me is looking over my shoulder trying to figure out when to duck. Healthy living and optimism do not save you or she’d be here painting toenails with my girls. But neither does anything else. Life and death arrive on their own terms with or without our permission.

I’d give up the ghost, but I see it as plain as writing on the wall right now: the details of unknown are messy, but the goodness of the plan is guaranteed. My fear vs. my lack of control unnerves me, but it’s ok. It really, really is. I fear. I doubt. Yet Love. Always and forever, abides.

Dishes and the kitchen sink

View from kitchen sink . . .only a month or so away!

View from kitchen sink . . .only a month or so away!

We got rid of the dishwasher a few years ago. A friend of mine was anti-dryer and anti-dishwasher. The idea rubbed up against my pioneer worship issues and started making music. The husband put his foot down about the dryer. (I was welcome to hang clothes out all winter for the rest of our lives, but the dryer had to stay he said.) I won on the removal of the dishwasher.

He was right about the dryer. There are months I don’t have the emotional energy to hang clothes. I like doing clothes where it’s warm and toasty, even though the flick of that little dryer start button sends most of Hydro One (local power monopoly) and their extended families to University with our monthly contributions. Our support of Ontario’s economy via the energy sector is no doubt appreciated.

And I was right about the dishwasher. Loading a dishwasher, unloading a dishwasher . . . it’s nothing but rinsing and stacking and irritations about which way the silverware point. Dishes is life with background music. Kid’s doing homework, practicing their instruments, creating plays, and bar room brawls without the drinking. Done together, dishes are the best conversation of any day. Alone, dishes the day’s best thinking. Water, soap, and the things we eat from being taken care of, handled gently, and put away for another day.

I don’t know what I think of renewing wedding vows. I can’t see ever doing it. I think I do it most every day four or five times. These are our dishes, these are our counters. This is our home and we’re taking care of it. It matters because you do, and they do, and I do. Amen.

Not perfection. Not every speck in every corner of the house pristine. Laundry, by edict of God, has never once been finished. Any time you think you’ve done it, is only because you didn’t get low enough to find the dirty underwear under the bed, or think smart enough to find the dirty socks in the sandbox. But stray forks can be done up in seconds. Dishes can be finished –  at least for a few hours.

In winter, the yellow gloves come out to save your cracking hands. Spring finds the window looking out on new lambs. Lilacs. Apple blossoms. Wildflowers. Sagging clotheslines. Browning grass and trees. Bare wood. Snow. Repeat. Perhaps if there wasn’t a window over the sink, I’d feel differently, but I don’t think so.

In another life, around kitchen sinks, my mother and I laughed and solved the world’s problems. Here’s to hoping she looks down now and again to see the really good stuff, like Girl two pleased as can be when I put dishes on her job list. Standing on a chair to dry and climbing up the cupboards to put away a bowl if I’m not looking.

Concessions

My favorite but not the top vote getter

My favorite (I’m crazy about trees and wind) but not the top vote getter

 

I am not a picture person. I don’t naturally reach for a picture or ask to see pictures of other people’s children. Most of all, I am uncomfortable with pictures of myself. I have grown up enough not to hide when people take pictures of a group. (Maturity aided by hurt feelings of more than one event where I spent time wondering why no one included me in any of the pictures only to realize that someone had been me.) Despite growth, I have been reluctant to post a picture and my minor forays into electronic communication never include a tidy little avatar, real or sketched.

Read the words, I want to yell. Who cares about a picture? Wouldn’t it be more interesting to only know my voice? Pick whatever height, weight, skin, hair, face that pleases your imagination. I’ve told you I’m a woman, are imaginations so challenged of late that the rest fails to be adequately filled in as it suits?

Sometimes I like to see the picture of an author at the back of the book, sometimes I think it ruins it and I would have rather kept them exactly as I had them in my mind. Apparently, my views are not widely shared. A picture is not requested but required to even submit some other writing that I’ve done. Sigh. Procrastinate. Wonder if failed imaginations will rejoice if I have myself photographed in my lucky writing shirt, a blue plaid flannel? Somehow I know this is a bad idea.

I beg my friend to meet me at a nature sanctuary near her house with a camera. At least outside I don’t have to figure out what to wear. We spend exactly 5 minutes at the photo shoot. Me with navy coat and red hood showing, Me with just navy coat, Me with just sweatshirt. Despite cold fingers, my friend graciously offers to shoot more. I pretend to look around for another location for 3 more minutes and then pronounce the shoot finished. I can’t take any more of the pressure. Enough bending out where it feels a little dizzy. Time to get back down on the ground.

But which picture to pick? Requests for advice from six friends yielded almost as many responses. Luckily, many told me their second choice so I could at least manage a quorum. Final decision narrowed it to three. I’m sending one for my submission, using one for social media, and using the other for the About Me page.

This picture taking business has me thinking of my mother.  She would have known exactly what she wanted for a picture and been content doing it for ages. She has no doubt come  to peace with the fact that I never will. But she’s probably happy that I at least gave it a shot.

Cheering Out Loud

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Girl two often wakes up before I’ve finished the last mechanics of posting in the morning.  She wants to eat and she wants to snuggle.

What did you write your blog about? Girl two wanted to know as soon as we’d settled the time for breakfast.

I told people about us getting our hair cut, I said.

She smiled briefly then frowned, serious. Why didn’t you tell them we read, “The Mouse and the Motorcycle?”

She and I have been reading Beverly Cleary together. The story acts like a vacuum, sucking the other children away from what they are doing until we are many, reading about Ralph’s adventures in Mountain View Inn. “The Mouse and the Motorcycle,” arrived for Christmas. We often buy used books, but this one was brand new. Ordered in the mail. A chapter book, wonderfully illustrated, and owned by Girl two.

I got a note from a friend the other day. Not just any friend. A friend I had shared with my mother. At my mother’s request, the friend agreed to be a grandmother in her place, should my mother die. We consider it a kind of arranged adoption. Over the years, she has faithfully loved my children, invited us on vacations, offered free French tutoring and bought shoes. She also got it in her head to look out for me.

Normally, I’m not a fan of cheerleaders (I think it’s the pom, poms), but this isn’t like that. It’s just her. Always there. Always believing in what I can do. Always cheering. Most of the time it goes unsaid. But every once in a while, after a hard day, or a difficult time, I get a note. Hang in there. She knows I’ve got it in me to come out on the other side ok. She’s proud of me.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle reminds me of this. I don’t think Girl Two cares what I write about as much as she wants to know that I’m cheering.

Girl Two isn’t a baby anymore. She is a girl who likes chapter books and reads words to find where we are. She likes, “The Mouse and the Motorcycle,” and she has a lot of opinions about Ralph. “No, don’t do that, Ralph! . . . Good, Ralph . . . ” she cries out as I read. We are engaged readers, if nothing else.

Just like Ralph, Girl two cannot wait to grow up. And just like Ralph, she is doing it even when she can’t see it. A tip of the hat to Beverly Cleary. A hundred cheers for Ralph and Girl two.

I may or may not have to go with a cheering theme for a day or two now. But on my word, though the fig tree blossom not, and the yield of the olive fail, there will be no pom, poms.

 

 

 

Mom, me and Florence

Depiction of the real Florence Nightingale   http://media.photobucket.

Florence Nightingale, mother of modern nursing
http://media.photobucket.

My mother was a nurse. My husband is a nurse. I wanted to be a writer, a teacher, a missionary, a social worker, and run an orphanage. I never wanted to be a nurse, but have come to believe it to be part of who I am. My first nursing role was taking care of my mother when she was sick. She wasn’t a terribly good patient, but I liked doing it. It was a good way to say, I love you. Something that helped me with goodbye.

My mother’s lifelong love of nursing didn’t translate into a degree until I was in my twenties, but to me she was always a nurse. Some of my warmest childhood memories are of her nursing me when I was sick. I often had terrible sore throats. During one particular illness, where I was dizzy with an especially painful throat, a bell was found so I could ring for help. That silver bell became my special privilege for every sickness thereafter.

We weren’t an overly physical or affectionate family. We practiced humor more than touch, but sick meant my mother sitting on the edge of my bed, running her fingers through my hair. She would wipe my head with a cool cloth, feel my neck to see if my glands were swollen, listen to my endless thoughts and questions. When I was sick, my mother belonged only to me. Our family troubles were a fuzzy dream. My mother was present then in a way that allowed me to let go of all that. Her fretting about me set everything right. If we went to the doctor, I believed it was to get what my mother had already figured out that I needed.

It has been difficult this fall to get the kids healthy and keep them there. This weekend we cancelled everything, but at the end, everyone was closer to beating the extremely tenacious hacking cough that has plagued us.

Monday morning, girl two arrived downstairs with cheeks blazing and a sore stomach. Boy two was looking cadaver like, still not hungry, and exhausted after 12 hours of sleep. My partner in crime felt lousy as well.

Boy two is better now. Girl two spent most of Monday night throwing up so was fit to go nowhere Tuesday. It was slow going but at least her stomach had settled. The waiting game of, “who is next or is it done?” has begun.

I wish I could tell my mom that I take kids heads off over stupid things (wet boots kicked off in the wrong place, toothpaste spit dried on the sink, doors shut loudly), but I get up fifteen times in the night to clean up puke, rub backs, and wipe heads gently without any effort at all. That I always want them well, but I cherish the exhausted moments spent beside a fevered head, whispering soft words, and running my fingers through their hair.

 

 

Decisions on Hair

Long narrow face with long hair

Long narrow face with long hair

The kids haven’t had a haircut since before school started. It’s been two months since my last hair cut. It’s not a movement. I’ve been feeling cheap, and they’ve been wanting shaggy. Hair is not something I have a lot of opinions about. In fact, very few of my hopes and dreams have involved hair. Only one really. I wanted to grow my hair quite badly once in order to be a real Indian brave. My mother pointed out that I was only qualified to be a squaw. The fact that I am a girl has at times proved troublesome to me, but I ignored her narrow vision of my possibilities. In my dreams, I was already running barefoot in my long hair and loin cloth, bow and arrows in hand.

I have a grade four picture to prove that by the times I was nine, my hair had grown at least a little bit below my shoulders. When I was ten, my mother met a woman who had once been a model. I have since realized that this kind of person can be dangerous. My mother saw stars and a woman with qualifications.

Fifty-Something former model declared that my hair was all wrong for my face. There was a formula. My face was long and narrow. I needed short hair. My grade five school picture notes the change. Sometimes I would look and the mirror and try to see my face the way she saw it. This thing now bearing a description seemed deserving of inspection.

The next summer my face spoke to Fifty Something again. Straight hair did not suit. She could hear my long and narrow face saying, “permanent.”  All school pictures from there on are identical give or take an inch. I did not change my hair again until I was in my thirties, at which point I finally stopped getting permanents.

My girls admire extremely long hair. The only strong opinion I have about hair is that it shouldn’t be in your food when you are eating. I have therefore kept them in bangs against their wishes, until now. My boys have grown tired of the tidy cuts I like. So yes, my children’s hair desires landed in lock step with my budget cut backs this fall. We are all looking a little shaggy.

“I’m taking everybody in this week for a cut,” I finally say.

“Mom, please, no . . .please, please, please . . .”

“It’s cheaper this way,” whispers my wallet.

Their hair has been bugging me for weeks now. Friday, I finally snapped, but not the snapped where we finally get our hair cut.

We’re not going to the hair dresser. Any of us. The guy with a job can see his barber. The rest of us are growing our hair.

I expect mine in particular will look fairly awful, but I would rather have tried it than not. Before I cut it short again, maybe I’ll stuff a few marshmellows in my cheeks and see if it makes any difference.