On Mothering…

Carol_WastilaI miss my mother. Back when we were children, on Mother’s Day my sister and I prepared Mom her breakfast in bed. Being kids we were up early; by the time we barged into her bedroom, beaming over our toast and coffee and dandelions plucked from the lawn, mom was likely entering REM sleep. A part-time nurse, she worked nights in the ICU, so those days we didn’t see her much. She received her RN degree; back in the day, the only training needed to be a nurse. She loved her job—her patients, her colleagues, the work itself. Until the field became saturated with surgical approaches and advanced degrees. She left her profession, edged out by a work environment that had gone touchless long before the arrival of our pandemic.

Not effusive with her children, I suspect nursing was one way mom mothered. Mom wasn’t one to take us clothes shopping or for manicures or fancy lunches; she wasn’t one to dedicate a day to baking holiday cookies with her daughters. Mom wasn’t huggy or kissy, and declarations of love were reserved for Christmas Eve card openings and quiet conversations. Many friends had involved moms, and I was jealous of them. Others friends had absent, neglectful, and abusive mothers, which made me grateful for mine.

I grew up vowing if and when I had children, I would involve them in my life. Together, we’d jump in puddles, explore forests, make gingerbread houses, read books, write plays, have tea parties. We would hug.

After being a mother myself to two children, after working full-time through their childhood, I have come to wonder if my mom’s lack of interest in doing things with us was exhaustion. Did years of being the primary breadwinner, working nights in a demanding job, doing all the usual-but-taken-for-granted mom things– grocery shopping, cooking meals, housecleaning, PTA meetings–tired her down to the bones?

Because I know that fatigue. A physical, emotional, and spiritual tiredness that hums through me, day after day, year after year. I wish I could hug my mom, tell her I get it, get her, I appreciate her, and I love her.

Which she must know. Just as I know she loves and loved me. I always knew that.

Mothering is the hardest job. It never ends, even when your children grow into adults and launch their own lives. It’s a job that has only gotten harder, I think; today’s world does not look kindly upon those trying to create calmer, softer, sweeter lives. I wish for all mothers to find some quiet, some space, some time to nurture themselves, today and every day.

Happy Mother’s Day, and peace…

Birthday Musings During a Pandemic

Light_SanJoseI took the day off from work to celebrate my presence on this earth for over fifty-something years. But now the rush to enjoy the time off doing nothing leaves me stymied, almost paralyzed, by what to do. Today is the one good weather day for the next few days so I want to be outside as much as possible. To write. To garden. To just sit.

Today I feel the absence of my parents. My son, off to get a half-dozen donuts, intuitively knows this is how Pop-Pop, my father, would celebrate. My mother would call me this evening, sing happy birthday in her raspy voice. As a child, we would celebrate my parents’ birthdays by traveling to the Outer Banks, where we’d do nothing and everything, let the sound of air and waves and birds and singing sand carry us.

Stuff I took for granted until donuts and songs were no more.

I can still remember days I’ve lived like they were yesterday. Most memories involve the sun: laying on the grass in Chapel Hill as my boyfriend of the time (an expert in William Blake!) snaps headshots; half-sleeping in the hammock in our first Maryland house to the murmur of lawnmowers, radios from passing cars, the gentle buzz of cicadas; light slanting through the patio window onto the living room floor of my first apartment in Chapel Hill, the blue, blue living room rug, our only furniture a beanbag and raft. The sun up North had a different, whiter quality: I remember tea parties on my friends’ Brookline balconies, wandering the Boston Fens, my grandparents’ trailer in Brookfield and how the air always smelled of fresh-mown hay, the coolness of morning belying the hot summer haze that arrived by afternoon. I remember another garden, inspecting broken earth, waiting for asparagus tips to surge through the cracks. The way light and air carry the song of the ocean—in Maine, Hatteras, Dewey Beach, Cape Cod—constant, the earth’s heartbeat.

I long for that song.

Yesterday the season’s first hummingbird touched down on the Miss Kim lilac, then the half-opened pink rose. Mom’s spirit animal, telling me she was thinking of me, checking in on the kids, making sure everything is all right. Is it all right? Other than the sense of the world coming to an end (a bang? A whimper?), we are okay, Mom. We muddle through this new normal as only humans can adjust—one moment at a time. I am relieved you experience the earth’s current crisis from beyond the clouds because this thing would’ve killed you—if not the actual infection but the fear of it.

I am grateful my children are with me. They make me feel less alone than I really am. They have good hearts, and my heart, which has been overfull these past two years, has difficulty expressing the comfort and care they need. They are growing resilience just as I am growing spinach and lettuce and, soon, tomatoes and cucumber and squash.

Today is my birthday. A day like any other. How will I spend it? Musing, I think, and remembering. Grasping at good memories, turning them over like shells collected at ocean’s edge and placing them at my ear to hear their music, expressing my gratitude, and then, returning them to their rightful spots.

Stay well, and peace…

Enduring Christmas

stockings2019I never wanted to be one of those people who endured Christmas. But this year, the days before Christmas felt like a race through quicksand. True, work slammed me for a solid two. Plus, I’ve moved to the City after living in the County, a place so familiar I could drive it in my sleep. But in Federal Hill, I’m still exploring. Where to buy a tree? presents? and will someone please tell me why there isn’t a nearby post-office? And my life’s still in boxes, with most of the Christmas stuff still packed and stored in the Scary Dusty Cellar.

I am, of course, clearing my throat. The above represent mere inconveniences, mere challenges to shipping out the cookies and cards (I did not), getting the presents bought and wrapped (I did, on Christmas Eve), and immersing myself into the spirit of the season (Bah. Humbug.)

Here is the elephant under the tree: This is the first Christmas in 57 Christmases that I haven’t spent with my mother. And the tenth Christmas without my father.

And I miss them terribly—a huge hole in my heart, a hole made larger by the acute understanding Christmas will never be the same.

No more driving to North Carolina to Grandma’s house, one kid riding shotgun, the other in the back napping with the dog. No more making batches of apricot pistachio biscotti ahead of time. No more Cook-Out on arrival (Cheerwine floats, golden hush puppies, oh my). Or cribbage with Mom at the kitchen table while watching Jeopardy after dinner. No more gathering in the living room, all four grand kids (my sister’s two plus my two—they are grand young people now) while Mom sat like a Queen in her recliner, handing out gifts one at a time. No more baked spiral ham and Mom’s mac-n-cheese (the best, she threw in some Velveeta) for Christmas Eve, the kids in the kitchen, the older people in the dining room. No more Christmas Day, a quieter time, the morning spent chatting with Mom in her sewing room and, then, breakfast and more coffee in the kitchen, watching the birds peck at the suet, talking or just sitting there, being.

Just a few traditions I miss. Simple things that mean even more now that I can never experience them again.

But the part I miss most about Christmas is the gathering. The gathering for purpose—to be with loved ones. And this is the quicksand that’s sunk me this season—grief, in many forms, but mostly with this loss of gathering.

At my age it’s hard to start something new, but that is what this Christmas is about: new traditions. I’m not sure what those traditions will look like—I’m still grieving, still unpacking all the boxes in my house and heart—but so far they include old rituals (biscotti and sugar cookies, a live tree, crab cakes for Christmas dinner) and new ones (stockings hung from the fireplace mantel, chili for Christmas Eve, gift-giving on Christmas morning rather than eve). At some point, when I least expected it, the spirit of Christmas crept quietly into my house and decided to stay awhile.

And now, the day after Christmas, I find I have more than endured this year’s festivities—I enjoyed them. Because as long as Christmas includes my children, their loved ones, and my sweet Bella, then it always will be Christmas.

What old traditions have you shed or lost? Which new ones have you adopted?

Peace…

When Life Hands You Lemons… Be Thankful

Yellow Lemon in the handLike many of you, I’ve had a challenging year. A separation, a divorce, two moves, a sick child. A ‘new’ old house which makes me wish Bob Villa made house calls and I’d won the lottery.

My mother died.

Those of you who know me well see how these events have worn me down to my bones. My symptoms of grief and overwhelm include fatigue, irritability, apathy, anxiety bordering on panic’s edge, and (most concerning to me) difficulty in giving a damn—about anyone and anything that extends beyond my narrow perimeter of home and hearth.

I don’t like the new me.

I need a re-do.

This realization came to me last night (actually early this morning, as my neighbor’s car alarm blared through the dark) that I am a lucky person. A fortunate person. Yes, life’s been hard. Life IS hard. I’ve had my fair share of crap. But it’s all in the framing:

Lemon: I left my home and husband of many, many years. It was hard to move to a rental, deal with the landlord from Hell, make a home, not once but twice, for my kids.

Reframe: This was my choice. I learned a LOT. My kids call me home. I breathe easier, on so many levels.

Lemon: My child’s tick-borne illness. What more to say? Any parent with a sick child worries. And worries. And worries.

Reframe: She graduated from high school a year early, is at a nearby university, and she’s doing… good. She is growing, learning, creating her social family. She wears her new independence well, which is the most I want for my children.

Lemon: My new house, a 1900 row house perched on the edge of Federal Hill Park and the Inner Harbor, is a classic money-pit: new roof, rebuilt chimney, HVAC x 2, failed boiler, water damage. As soon as one thing gets fixed, another takes it’s place.

Reframe: I can afford this home and its repairs. Many do not have homes. Many cannot fix their leaking roofs or rotted floors or failed heating systems. Best of all, my son helps me with the physical and emotional demands of caring for this old house.

Lemon: My mother died.

Reframe: Still struggling with this reframe. I miss my mom, every day, especially around dinner time when we’d have our daily chat. I miss my father, too; their marriage was a model few couples achieve. But I’ve come to believe my anger and regret and ennui is grief, not yet manifested. And that is my challenge—to accept and express grief in my loss.

I’m tired of getting sucked down the vortex of negativity. Again, this has been my choice. my early New Year’s resolution: to face life’s challenges, accept them, and work to fix them, without the accompanying stink of pessimism.

So dear friends, please, when you hear me whining about crazy contractors and home-buying remorse, when I provide excuses about why I am not present in your life or haven’t done what I said I would do, when I remind you more of Eeyore than Winnie, please, please, please, whisper “lemon” in my ear. Ground me to gratitude. Because I have so much to be thankful for if only I remain present to my life.

And I’m happy to reciprocate. Because we sure could use a happier universe.

Happy Thanksgiving. And peace…

In Memory

ef7f00c0b73dafc9ef29c5d977e3c1b6IN MEMORY

What separates us from the animals, what separates us from the chaos, is our ability to mourn people we’ve never met ~David Levithan

The day dawns in perfect blue,
shocking canvas of contrast: planes
fly black against far-flung heaven.
Even unbelieving prayer
muttered with quiet breaths
cannot foretell or forestall stains

that gouge ground, splinter sky, stain
steel, scuttle lives, exhale blue.
All implodes in hydraulic breaths
screaming through city and plain:
common words, sacred prayers
lip-synched by animals heaven

sent from hell to create their heaven
marked by a golden crescent—stain
of a singular god and prayer.
Cloaked in polyester blue,
costume of the West, they board planes
inhaling, exhaling, one breath

comingling with all breaths,
lifting as one to make heaven
on earth, to be done, in the plane.
It is foretold, on pages stained
sepia, older than time, blue
ink and red seeping on prayer.

Father, mother, children—pray
ancient songs with soft breaths.
But God cannot hear in this blue
twilight. Sing who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name, thy love stained
by unseen portents. The plane

is a steel-bound casket, the plane
pulses with souls insistent, prey
trembling, flesh and smoke-stained,
metal-wrapped in dragon’s breath.
The meek, the blessed, to heaven
will float ashen to brilliant blue.

Blue sky trailed by white plane flumes
mark a heaven all pray exists;
God’s breath stained by metal and fire.

***

I wrote this sestina over a decade ago, and keep revising and tweaking, yet it remains a mere homage to this day I will never forget. We will never forget. Today, every day, do something positive in honor of all souls who have lost their lives to violence. Peace…

The tragedy of being a mother

rhubarb-pie-ck-630152-xlMother’s Day.

Eh.

A day that stems from commercialism—all those smarmy cards, the overpriced bouquets, the sold-out brunches. Although the sentiment is nice—celebrate our mothers. Celebrate motherhood. Celebrate the often thankless task that comes from being a human with the miraculous ability to procreate.

Here’s my take on motherhood. It’s an honor—a privilege—to care for another human being. My two children are the diamonds that flank my emerald. I would die—and kill—to insure their safety. My task as a mother changes as they age. Their birth entails their feeding and swaddling and changing and burping. By toddler-hood, we give them their first nudges from the nest: bikes with training wheels, kindergarten, play dates. We let them fall, then pick them up and reassure them although life is scary, they will survive.

To those newbie mothers of infants and toddlers, don’t believe anyone who says that children ‘get easier’ once they hit their teens. Yes, there are no dirty diapers and no strollers—teens can feed and clean themselves. But the heart gets involved in unfathomable ways, and your children will break that vessel again and again.

As my heart has broken.

Yet we are lucky, us mothers, because our hearts are as neuroplastic as our brains. Our heartbreaks mend, and sometimes those rents heal to make our hearts–and our relationships with our heartbreakers–ever stronger.

This day, my motherhood rests on a cusp. Both children live with me, both children will move with me to Baltimore. Both children are on the edge of jumping from their nests into college, serious relationships with others, jobs. I am less needed (though, I hope, not less loved).

From the day a child is born, the job of any mother—of any parent—is to move that child to independence. It is a tragedy to be a mother, because just as your child understands you and you understand your child, she is gone, being herself, perhaps being a mother.

So I watch my children from a slightly greater distance than a year ago. A distance that provides objectivity to observe my children as humans, and a distance that also protects my grieving heart.

Today is any other day. I will schlep my youngest child to various places, pick up another from the tire shop. I will grocery shop. I will walk my dog in the rain.

But I will mark this mother thing in one way–I will bake a rhubarb pie. Rhubarb is one thing I love, and that my mother loved (I’ve written about rhubarb and my mom here), and in making that pie I will commemorate myself and my mother for the love and heartache of our jobs.

Peace…

 

Home?

IMG_20190404_132057

My upcoming move to Baltimore overwhelms. There is the usual stress involved in wondering which items to bring, which to pitch, which will need to be purchased anew. There is excitement pondering the future of the garden, what will pop up from the soil, what needs to be pruned out and sawed away. There is the joy–and stress–of change, the excitement of a new palette to make mine. Color wheels and rugs and window coverings to contemplate.

And there is grief. Grief in packing up and leaving a town I’ve lived in for 18 years. The town where I raised both children, and the only town one child has ever known. Lea is filled with sadness; she feels unmoored, no familiar place for her to retreat to: her childhood home, her grandmother’s home, her Nana’s home, even her Aunt Diane’s home—all gone. Which makes me wonder—what is home?

Talking with Lea last night made me realize I also feel unanchored. Rootless. Too much change, especially uncertain change, makes me stressed and irritable. Like my daughter, I have no familiar place to return to, no place to plop my feet up on an ottoman and relax. We humans, like all mammals, have a need to nest. I want to surround myself with familiar comfort and I want that environment to happen instantly in the new house. I want it for my children, and I want it for me.

My mom’s recent death amplifies my sense of homelessness. I will never return to her house for Christmas or Easter. These were the times we traveled to North Carolina (this weekend, now, we should be in the car journeying South), the traffic between DC and Richmond filled with travelers commencing to family and the beach. But there is no family home to travel to, and my children are too old for Easter egg hunts with their cousins. So the grief also is of lost time, past time, of memories that will remain just that—memories.

Meditation helps me understand that home, like my thoughts, exists in past, present, and future. I cannot bring back my former homes except in memory, and I cannot know what my next home will be like next year, week, or day. And each time I find myself worrying and wondering about what home was and what home might be takes me away from what home IS now. This second. And this second.

So I will breathe, accept and let go, and try to embrace my home, whatever and wherever it is, now.

Peace…

POTS and Lyme: Sounds Like a Party

Except it isn’t. lime in a pot 3

In an earlier post, I listed the stressors that keep me from writing, sleeping, sometimes even breathing (because panic rises, a tangible smog, that chokes the space between lungs and throat). The worst is chronic illness. Not my illness, but that of my sweet, smart, talented, creative, and incredible daughter.

Because of her POTS and Lyme (which is often not just one infection but a clusterF*#k of infections), she suffers fatigue so debilitating there are days when her greatest achievement is moving from her upstairs bedroom to the downstairs couch. Her muscles ache. Her brain fogs. She misses school. She misses friends. She misses… a lot.

I could write a book on the impact of illness on her life, but she is the better author of that story. Instead, I will write my story: being a parent to a chronically ill child.

Where to begin?

First, every day is an adventure. I don’t know how to plan my day because my child’s sickness plays a fickle game. Even across the day, fatigue and depression and pain and anxiety ebb and flow. Anxiety is my morning caffeine: is she going to school? Is she going in late? is she going in at all? In turn: am I going to work? Can I go in late? What do I absolutely need to accomplish today? What CAN I accomplish?

Second, helplessness is a new, unwelcome emotion. Friends, you know me–I’m the ‘can do’ girl who works hard to get what I want. Well, I want a healthy, happy, productive daughter. I work hard to make this happen: research, medical appointments, trials of medications and supplements and diets. Not including her primary care physician, she has three physicians. A phlebotomist comes to our home to draw blood for tests. Some symptoms improve, others worsen, new ones pop up.

And there are days when I feel an abject failure because I. Cannot. Fix. Her.

Third, worry thickens my brain. I cannot think. At work, many days I go through the motions. When my head clears, I research her conditions; I have become expert in traditional and alternative treatments for Lyme and POTS. Worry thickens my heart–I am not the friend and colleague and mentor I want to be. I cannot absorb other peoples’ problems, mine overfill my reservoirs. My inability to listen and hear others saddens and frustrates me, and adds to growing guilt I do not give enough. Worry and guilt wake me up too early every morning, and I lie in my bed until the roaring train in my head forces me out.

I write all this not for sympathy but for understanding. Why I am absent. Why I am not proactive in friendships. Why I am so quiet.

I need to do my work, because the only thing I can fix is my reaction to my now. Because I am a ‘can-do’ woman, I need to make sure my oxygen mask is in place so I can be there for both my children, my work and writing, all the people who grace my life. I have a toolbox, with lots of tools, which I have begun to haul out:

  • Exercise: I aim to get over 50,000 steps a week, but that’s not enough; hence, Planet Fitness (I hate to waste money, so I try to go at least once a week). I found a muscle in my upper arm, a real benefit.
  • Meditation: Every day, remember to breathe. Remember to come to my senses.
  • Yoga: Two birds (exercise AND meditation) with one stone.
  • Support: Yeah, I have a therapist. She listens to me vent, helps me strategize. But I need more, so I am looking for someone trained in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) to help me achieve radical acceptance of my every moment.
  • Medication: Nope. Don’t do antidepressants any more. But I do supplement my brain with GABA (for anxiety), and 5-HTP and l-theanine (for depression and sleep and brain fog).

I focus on my health so I can function. So I can live a better quality of life. So I can be compassionate to others, especially my daughter. To respond out of love and not fear, always.

Self-help is so important, even when we’re not challenged but larger-than-normal life. Tell me: what are your oxygen-mask facilitators?

Peace…

4 out of 10

stress-4Stress is ubiquitous. These days, perhaps, more than ever. My online friends’ posts have virtual worry lines; my in-the-flesh friends’ uniforms consist of pinched faces and slumped shoulders. Reasons for stress are major and minor, and some wear us down like a river makes a canyon with their constancy. Others are mere annoyances, gnats buzzing in our ears, but these are the stresses that often shoot us over the edge.

There are many ‘top stressor’ lists (when I googled ‘top life stressors’ I got 8.62 million hits), but one decent summary revealed these:

  • death of a loved one
  • separation or divorce
  • getting married
  • starting a new job
  • work place stressors
  • financial problems
  • moving to a new house
  • chronic illness or injury
  • retirement
  • transitioning to adulthood

Since May 1, I’ve been the lucky recipient of 4 of these challenges. Not to mention lots of lesser stressors (e.g., crazy landlord) and those wholly out of my control (e.g., #45 and his mayhem-making minions). No wonder my heart feels like it is pounding out of my chest, sleep is an elusive friend, and I cannot focus on things that typically bring me joy. Like writing.

So here are my bad boys—separation/divorce, work place problems, moving to a new house, and chronic illness. I’ll be writing about each major stressor, how it affects me, and what I’m trying to do to help myself cope, in subsequent posts. But meanwhile… how the heck are you? Which of the above (or add your own) stressful situations are you currently experiencing?

Peace…

 

Why I Marched

March_DC_3024-18_3

Because I am sickened by the violence in our nation.

Because my first reaction going to a theater is: how close am I to an exit?

Because I want to support the future of our world–our young people–who need our help to better their world.

Because last Thursday Jaelynn Willey was taken off life-support after a fellow student shot her with a semi-automatic Glock in Great Mills High School not too far from where I live.

Because I want to be part of the change.

Because violence physically, emotionally, and spiritually kills everyone who is a victim–and everyone who knows a victim.

Because those who commit violence suffer physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Because guns should not be easier to obtain than an animal from a shelter.

Because my daughter asked me to.

Because children can no longer be valued less than the right to bear arms, especially since the intent of the 2nd Amendment is to protect.

Because there are better ways to resolve conflict than violence.

Because people are dying.

Because people are afraid.

Because my daughter is afraid.

Because I am afraid.

Because.

Because.

Because.