“I haven’t slept in weeks,” the beautiful woman shared from across the blue covered picnic table. A mother to a 17 year old, a 2 year old and a 3 month old-all foster to adopted children. None from her body. However, in the blue bruises under her sleep deprived eyes and hair in need for highlights, the grays peeking through, I only saw a compatriot in the trenches of diapers and attitudes and messes.
It took many years before we saw an ultrasound from my husband’s sibling. They were told it would probably never happen, and yet it did. The fall will bring a miracle baby into our family.
My dearest manager at work became a step-mother to an 11 year old who has now grown into a handsome, successful young man. She humbly discounts her role in his life, but in the way he smiles at her, you know this is truly his mom.
My brother said he would never get married nor have a family. He insisted he was fulfilled with spoiling our children and pursuing with passion his career. Then she happened. And in two short years he married and will be bringing a baby into the family this fall.
My friend will be mothering her son’s girlfriend as she moves in for a time; bringing another woman into a house full of men. Last night I made her laugh so she didn’t cry at the enormity of the changes.
Too many friends of mine have had complicated and painful relationships with their mothers. One is spending this day removing freedom from her mother-in-law to save her from dementia. Another has posted a meme on how birthing a child does not make a mother, rather heart does.
For me, mother’s day puts pressure on old wounds of mothering failures. While healing is ongoing, it’s so easy to feel the pinch of things remembered through the haze of depression and anxiety.
I remember my mother and grandmother. Tough and tender, I never quite understood them until long after they were gone.
I received this as a mother’s day gift from my sparkly 2nd grader.
I spent the majority of the day in jammies sobbing over a maudlin Nicholas Sparks movie (the only one where no one dies). I called my dearest sister (in law) and talked babies and summer visits and teaching and all things wonderful.
We went to a superhero movie and out to dinner. At dinner I quickly grabbed my phone remembering we hadn’t called Joyce. Then I cried. Joyce is my mother-in-law who has been gone for 5 years. So real is her presence still in our lives.
This day has been one where I have been thinking of all the kinds of mothers I know. The ones still waiting, the ones who are walking through addiction recovery, the grandmothers who are mothering again because their own children are incarcerated or incapable. I’m thinking of all the women who mother children in their classrooms or youth groups or on the job; like Wanda, the office manager, who taught me white people under-season their food and how vanilla should be quadrupled in any recipe.
To all the mothers from whom I learn so much, I say thank you and pray for your hearts to be full and your blanket warm and your nap uninterrupted.
Would you share about the mothers of all kinds in your life? I would love to read about them.
I watched you standing there mere inches from your mother’s casket. Waiting my turn, I sat making small talk with the lady next to me. My hands shook in my lap, clasping and unclasping in a vain attempt at calm. I remember standing next to my own mother’s casket, not too long ago.
I watched you greet people connecting to them in their grief. Already you have mastered burying your own tears in service to keep things moving. After the 20th person shared with me the life my mother had without me, I buried my own.
I watched you check on your sister and brother, looking around your husband to care for them. At once you have stepped into this role of first daughter, now the mother figure. Soon, like me, you’ll host holidays using her china, setting the table the way she did. Our china is blue and the jello salad is always green.
Your shoulders slumped when you looked at your dad. He too was doing the best he could, stopping often to touch her arm or to shake his head in disbelief. You know, as I do, he is yours now. Yours to worry about and yours to care for.
Dear Dani, if I had more than a minute to walk through the receiving line swollen by friends from a life well lived, I would have said so much more.
I would have told you not to worry how your young daughter would remember how great she was. She will know because you will tell her. She will know because in you, she will experience the love your mother so freely shared.
I would have told you to brace yourself for the wave. The wave of grief which, at the smell of a fabric softener, the cut of someone’s hair or a song, will wash over you in a tsunami of grief. Some days, the wave is banished with a breath, others it will not be so easy.
I would tell you not to ask why her and why now. The answers won’t resurrect her life, only weigh yours down.
I would tell you to forgive every fault she had and embrace every gift she was.
I would tell you so much.
As for now, dear Dani, know you are not alone. He is near the brokenhearted, He promised. From that terrible day until the day someone else stands by another casket, know you are not alone.
As my friend Beth said to me, through our tears as I shared my own mother’s passing, “Dear Dani, I can’t make things easier but is it enough to know I would if I could?”
I was raised Catholic. At 18 I became a charismatic/non-denominational nomad. 20 years later I am trying my Methodist on for size. I have a watercolor of Jerusalem in my office from a local artist who painted it for a Jewish prayer book. I am what you could consider a religious tradition junkie. However, despite my vast experience and research, I am not the person you want to sit by in church. I am naughty and a nun’s nightmare. (During our training for First Holy Communion, one such officious soul in a habit used her ‘clicker’ next to my ear repeatedly to get me to pay attention. I was giggling because the boy behind me kept passing gas.)
If there is a weird moment in church, I’ll notice it (or cause it). Once I was so overcome ‘by the spirit (or religious fanaticism…hard to tell) that I came to my senses under a table adorned with 3 foot high paper mache’ grapes which I thought were so funny I laughed until I lost my voice.
Lately, my favorite moments have been when I take my Father to mass. The last time I took him, a sweet soul in the front row answered every rhetorical question from the pulpit.
“We should seek Jesus with all we have,” said stately, dignified Priest Guy.
“Yes, we should,” said the sweet soul.
“Have you opened the door for the Lord? For he is knocking?”
“I’ll get right on that.”
I wanted to clap and cheer her on. Thankfully I did not.
This week, I took my Father to mass. I should have known it was going to be one of ‘those’ services as he decided to sit up front. Dad is on oxygen, can barely walk and has a broken volume sensor in his voice. It went like this.
“Daddy, how ’bout we sit here?”
“Nope, don’t want to be by those kids.” (Parents of said kids look our way as his voice echoed off the marble floors.)
“How about here?” Nope. Shuffle, walk, hack, shuffle. “Here?” Nope. Second row. Plunk down.
Behind us I could here the woman and her husband whispering.
“Should we tell her?” the woman said.
“No,” he replied.
“Really, I should tell her,” she insisted.
“No, dear, let her be,” he said.
This went on for about 3 minutes. Being the curious sort, and being in church, which somehow divinely gives me license to be a little left of center, I turn around.
“What should you tell her?” I blurt out.
“Your shirt is on backwards and inside out.”
Organ music swelled and everyone stood up. I ran to the closest door, which happens to be where the priest gets dressed. Probably the first time a bra was flashed in that room…or maybe not.
Later, as the ministers came forward to give communion to the several hundred parishioners, Dad says this in his faux-whisper.
“She should have changed out of her pajamas before coming up to the altar!”
Apparently, the lawyer in her ever-so-chic puffy pants did little for my father’s sartorial aesthetic. (In the interest of full disclosure, as she ascended the marble steps, I thought, “You go girl!” for her brave choice.)
The final moment which made my day was the choice to sing the Notre Dame fight song in homage to the members of the Notre Dame Club who were present at mass. I wanted to end it by shouting, “Touchdown!”
Another reason one should not sit by me, aside from randomly fixing my clothes and laughing inappropriately, is I sing. I can sing pretty okay. My volume is in proportion to the emotion behind the song.
This morning, I knew the songs so I sang them without reserve, without holding back, without fear. I just sang.
I sang because two of the songs were my Mother’s favorite. Along with a stubborn streak and a low tolerance for BS, my mother gave me the ability to sing. She had one of those high, lilting, whispy voices you had to lean in to fully appreciate. Her song was stilled three years ago. This morning I heard her voice, singing with mine, in my heart.
After one of those songs, my father wiped his teary eyes and said, “Beautiful! So beautiful.” He wasn’t talking about the pajama puffy pants. He was talking about me.
I’m taking that moment and folding it in my heart forever. I’ll remember the inside out shirt, the thunk of his oxygen tank on the pew and the hideous orange pants. I’ll remember his cold hand in mine as I sang. I’m sure he heard her too.
On a break from holiday decorating, I clicked on news headlines. In Connecticut children died this morning in their classroom. A mother was shot as was her son, the shooter. An Administrator was gunned down while giving announcements. In a school. On a Friday. 11 days before Christmas.
Between tears all I could breathe was, “Dear Jesus help them.”
My last post was called Mother Mode . It dealt with being able to jump in, save the day and overcome all sorts of adversity. A tragedy such as what is unfolding before us in CT can never be overcome. Mother Mode and the highest safety standards for public schools wasn’t enough.
Sometimes in the face of inexplicable evil we are not enough. It’s a fact we seldom consider and never discuss. This frailty of our human condition. This life which is governed by autonomic responses (read: automatic with no real explanation why) to even breathe. This fleeting existence which, in the span of time to pull a trigger, can be ended.
It should humble us and cause us to recognize our need for a supernatural outpouring. For the families and community in CT an outpouring of grace, strength and peace. For those seeking answers and justice an outpouring of wisdom. For us an outpouring for loving abundantly in every precious moment those we love and who have been given to us to love.
Though I am hundreds of miles away, I want to jump in my car and speed to my little Christian school in the field. I want to embrace my sons and fold them into myself so that nothing and no one could ever harm them. I can’t.
Instead, I’ll pray for a supernatural outpouring. I’ll pray to be more the mother I was created to be and less the mother I think I should be. I’ll pray they get to live a long and messy and happy life full of adventures. I’ll pray to set aside the ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ and make time to play. I’ll pray for the other mothers, who will not get to rush to the bus and hug their babies as I will today.
When Mother Mode isn’t enough. God has to be. He simply does.
There’s always been a connection between food and love. In my life that connection has resulted in food being my drug of choice to numb the places where love was not so sweet. However, in this less/more/abundantly journey I’ve been thinking about food as a way of expressing.
Take this cake. It’s a GOLDEN cake with RED, WHITE and BLUE colors.
It’s something I made to celebrate the Olympics. We are Olympic nerds and watch every moment we can. In fact, we taped the men’s tennis finals so we could cheer our fellow Scotsman Andy Murray’s victory after church.
The cake was more than just a way to cool the Olympic fever in my house. It was a touchpoint for my remembering and celebrating my Mother.
Growing up we almost always had dessert. There was always a treat of some kind to wind down the day. I remember some dubious concoction called ‘fruit float’ which resembled the offspring of yogurt and jello with some very smushy berries. Then there were the homemade birthday cakes. Always 9 x 13 and always vanilla. They were served in their silver pans with a flourish.
I miss my Mom. The waves of grief crash far less frequently since it’s been over two years since her sudden passing. However, every now and then the tide sweeps in and I am again overwhelmed with missing her. I make myself remember her high pitched laugh, a rare occurrence for only the silliest of moments. Her quick wit and her no-nonsense, take no prisoners attitude. And I make myself remember her hands, always busy, always with perfect nails. I remember her hands patting my back for our last embrace just weeks before she was embraced in Heaven.
To connect with her, I sometimes take down her ancient box of recipes. Written in her perfect script (she had the most beautiful handwriting of any person I have ever known) were the tastes and memories of my childhood. I read each one and, as the waves take me out on a sea of melancholy, I kiss a card or two.
I couldn’t find the ‘Jello Cake’ recipe in the box. So I made it up from memory. She probably did too, all those years ago. Hers was better.
I’ll have another piece of that jello cake. It violates the ‘eat less’ part of this journey. However, the sweetness of sharing one of MeeMaw’s recipes with my family will make it a little easier to swallow the grief. It will also allow me to do something I failed to do enough of when she was here-love my Mother abundantly. All this in a yellow cake, baked in a silver pan and sweetened with memories.