Tag Archives: children

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day…

To all of you who have birthed and raised a child whether alone or with a partner, to those of you with stretch marks and bellies that will never be as firm no matter what exercises you do, whose sleep patterns and priorities are forever changed; thank you.

Every year, I think of my mother, who had no true memory of her own mother. She told me once that she tried all her young life to remember her. Robocop, the movie, has a scene when the cop-made-Robocop- returns to his former family’s home. He says “I don’t remember them, but I feel them.” When I told my mother about that scene she waited a moment, her eyes filling with tears and she said, “Yes, it was like that.”

In my fifties I began to know her as a person. She wasn’t a good mother. Not by today’s standards, not by anyone’s standards. She did nothing (I thought) to protect us from my father, the kind of predator we read about every day but knew nothing about 50 years ago. She didn’t encourage us to go to college; she clung tenaciously and foolishly to religion as the answer to all life’s problems.

As an adult, I realized life threw more at us than we could usually process at once. Think about it. Most of us figure things out after the fact. Some of us are lucky, and can use what we learn to make progress in our lives. Some of us aren’t so lucky and we learn far too late to avoid the pain.

My mother was a gentle soul. She was not prepared for my father, or the twenty years of pregnancies. She was timid, and she feared my father and society in general. She feared being laughed at, being ostracized, being left out. She grew up a tenant farmer’s daughter who never had the stability and security most of us take for granted. She lost her siblings and her mother before she was old enough to understand what she was losing. In school, she was bright, but it wasn’t enough. Being smart is never enough for truly poor people. Maybe you get lucky and some rich person takes you on as their project, but it didn’t happen for my mother. It didn’t happen for me or my siblings.

We grew up with a mother who loved us, but when my father’s figure darkened the doorway, she was reduced to a fearful child herself. We did the best we could and some of us grew into pretty responsible adults. Some didn’t. Most didn’t, actually.

For me, my mother became a human being to me in the last few years of her life. I forgave her all the failings she had accumulated in my list of “what I didn’t get.” In the end, she also forgave me for the snotty way I treated her on so many occasions. I loved her more, before she died, than I ever did growing up. I was in my fifties then and had learned none of us makes all the right decisions. None of us is the perfect mother, wife, partner, employee, or person. I’m still trying to forgive myself.

Every year, on Mother’s Day, I think about my mother’s soft voice, about the hundreds of things she did right, about all the wonderful gifts she gave me. Instead of all the ways she failed me-and there are many-I remind myself that she did the best she could with the few, and limited, tools she had. I remind myself that no one does it all right. She gave me a few gifts-my love of reading, writing, gardening, animals and life in general-that make my life joyful and rich.

Her smile warmed us when we bounced in from school. She laughed at our silly childhood jokes, hugged us at night and I never once felt my mother didn’t love me. Even when my father was making my life miserable, he was making hers miserable, too. I saw her as trapped when I should have seen her as a savior, yes, but never did I see her as loveless.

I wish, with all my heart, I could have helped her before she died. I wish, with all my heart, I could have made her understand that I loved her, that we all loved her, no matter what. I think she carried the guilt of our childhood with her right up to the minute she died, in pain, from a perforated intestine.

I know my mother is dead. I don’t think she’s “up there” watching down on us…or any of that stuff. I think she’s dead, so there will never be a chance for me to thank her for anything, ever again. There won’t be a chance for me to say anything to her, ever again.

What I can do is what people always do on holidays like this. Tell people who do have mothers to appreciate them, whatever their faults. Oh yes, whatever their faults. This is a huge thing I’m saying here. It took me most of my life to appreciate my mother. She allowed my father to abuse his children. And he abused us in every possible situation. You’ve heard of it, he did it.

And I hated her for years. Yes, I did. My quiet, timid mother. And she knew it. She took my sarcastic remarks, my snotty comments, like the beatings she once took from my father. I was in my fifties-did I mention that?-before I even began to understand her life.

So if you’re having a tough time with your Mom, acknowledge it. Own it. Then get over it. Look at your responsibility for yourself. She didn’t love you enough? Maybe she didn’t. So love yourself enough. She made you pull tricks for her boyfriends? OK, then don’t keep her in your life. Get counseling. Stay away from men-for as long as it takes to build your own self respect. Thank your mother for giving you life, for a chance to live, but don’t expect her to become someone she isn’t. She won’t. Breathe in the air around you, experience life and keep moving forward.

Every year on Mother’s Day I think about Mama, and the hard, mostly sad life she led. I think of her trying to find joy in the birth of her children in spite of the fact that she wasn’t sure how she would feed them. I remember her showing me how to make biscuits and meat loaf and tea. I remember her making me let the turtle go, “He lives in the woods, Kathy, he won’t be happy in a box.” I remember her words, profound even now, that taught me empathy: “How would you like it if someone did that to you?”

After everything is totaled up, she gave me more than she deprived me of, and I am grateful. If she were here now, I would drive the five hours to the shitty little town where I grew up and I’d hug her and tell her I love her. I’d sit with her and we’d talk about whatever she wanted to talk about. Or not. I’d see her graying, thinning, hair and the lines beginning to deepen along her face. I’d look at the skin on her hands and remember how they stroked my face when I was sick and smacked my butt when I sassed her.
None of us is perfect, mothers included. We’re human and we need to remember that, while we can. Forgive while you can, love while you can.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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Process

paisley.snake
I listened to a song “The Climb” recently and it started me thinking. (After I stopped laughing about the singer, someone so young and privileged I doubt they have a clue about a real climb. Anyway.

I thought longer and harder about “the climb.” What does it really mean? Is life a climb? A process? Is that why so many people are so miserable when they don’t get what they want immediately (including me?)

“Maybe it depends on what it is you’re seeking,” says Tonya, one therapist I spoke with. “When you have unrealistic expectations, you set yourself up for disappointment.”

“So what are realistic expectations?” I asked, searching for definitive answers.

“If you don’t have a degree in Business Administration, and no actual working management experience, it isn’t realistic to apply for a CEO position in a Fortune 500 corporation,” Tonya explained, “But if you’ve made an effort to educate yourself beyond just acquiring a degree, pursued a specific career goal, then you can use that to show your unique initiative when you apply for a management position. You have to make decisions about what you ultimately want-not just more money, and all right now.”

“OK, I see how that applies to job seekers, but what about happiness?”

“Happiness isn’t a destination, its part of the journey, like sadness, frustration, hunger, joy, anxiety…the journey of life is a process.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that you can’t have everything you want right this minute, and that’s not a bad thing.” Tonya smiled as she explained.

Savor the process, another person told me. He’s an artist and is working on something all the time.
“I don’t worry about how long it takes me to finish a painting,” he says, “I like the feel of the brush on the canvas. I like mixing paints. I like stretching canvas. I love the process. If you don’t love process, you’re going to be frustrated with most things in life, I think.”

“Think about process in everything,” a new mother told me, “I get up in the middle of the night to a crying baby, a terrible odor. I never get a ‘thanks for my bottle, Mom,’ when I stumble into my baby’s bedroom at 2am. I listen to his wails and I’ve learned to identify the difference between ‘I’m hungry, I’m wet, I’m lonesome and what’s going on out there?’ And I love it all because I accept the process. My other child, my 5 year old daughter, helps me prepare dinner, change the baby, plant vegetables, feed the cats… and no, it isn’t as fast as I could do it myself, but she’s learning to be a person, not just a creature that needs entertainment! She drops things in the kitchen. and we clean it up together. I don’t have to have everything perfectly aligned, or just so. My children depend on me to teach them how to be independent, responsible human beings. Nothing significant happens in an instant. I make myself stop occasionally, even when I’m changing a diaper, and consciously acknowledge what I’m doing. That’s how I figured out what process means.”

So now, I am actively catching myself “in process.” I don’t try to hurry up and get dinner on the table. I cut the vegetables and boil water for tea and think about what foods taste good with what other foods. I experiment. That also means I miss a lot of TV. On purpose. Life is not TV. I’m watching and listening, I’m paying attention. Process means paying attention. It’s interesting, this idea of process. It makes almost every activity more interesting, more meaningful. It also reduces stress because I’m not panicking.

I even manage work better- I’m paying attention to what I’m doing, not thinking about what I have to do next. At first, I’m slower because it’s a new behavior, but I eventually become faster because I’m focused. And I enjoy everything a lot more. At the end of the day, I feel a sense of accomplishment rather than feeling that I hadn’t done enough. Process means there will always be more to do.

This week, make a conscious effort to stop what you’re doing-whatever you’re doing-at least once a day and really pay attention. Listen to your wife, husband, children. Really listen, don’t try to formulate answers while they’re talking. Look at the color of their hair, the way their mouth shapes the words. At least once this week stop and experience the process of life, of living. It’s over much too quickly.

I’ll Fly Away

The play “Along about Sundown,” is a homey musical about Bascom Lunsford, the famous song catcher and music festival promoter in the Blue Ridge Mountains. An aging Lunsford told the stories of his life punctuated with folk songs, accompanied by the other players on traditional mountain instruments. A steady rhythm beat on the stage and the audience, myself included, happily clapped, and tapped our feet.

One song, “I’ll Fly Away,” was an old hymn I recognized from my childhood. I thought of Mama singing in church, and around the house as she worked. Once, she sang it softly to me when I lay sick in bed. Her clear, sweet voice soothed me.

Now, I suddenly felt weak with regret for not understanding what the song meant to her. I heard the words as I sat in the darkened audience, the promise of joy and hope for the time when the singer would fly away, after death, to the reward for life’s travails. The enormity of my mother’s suffering hit me, as it has so many times in the past few years. I heard her hope in the song, the Great Promise.

As tears gathered in my eyes and my throat tightened, I understood how much that song had helped my mother get from one day to the next. With so many children to be responsible for, the Great Promise helped in her daily struggle. And she struggled for everything. Everything. Rent, food, shoes for us. She struggled with Fear, fear of my father’s disapproval, of her neighbor’s disapproval, of God’s disapproval. She struggled to get us fed and clothed. She listened to us cry and gave us what comfort she could, for we all feared the same boogeyman. He lived with us, held us in the omnipotent power of Head of Household. He could do with us, to us, anything he wanted. But she carried the responsibility of it.

I choose to get up every single day. I know it, I am conscious of it, and I am open about it. How would I feel if I had little ones clinging to my skirt? How would I feel if I realized, too late, that I had nowhere to go, no one to call, no one to help me? How would I feel if I realized, in my secret heart, my cognizant heart, that I was in a corner with no way out and children who depended on me? Would I sing about a time when I could fly away? Or would I just fly away?

I can fly away today if I choose, and so I choose to go on, to experience one more day, plan one more art project, write one more story, hike one more mile. I think I am being strong, that I am fighting, struggling, and that I am brave. I am not strong, or brave. I am alone and, yes, I choose every day to experience life. It’s not a hard choice. It’s just me, after all.

My mother was brave. After all the years I spent being angry, resentful, questioning why I didn’t have this and that, I see now how very brave my mother was. I see how much she loved us, how hard she gripped that Hope and Promise so she could get through another day, taking care of us. She did the best she could. Her best will be the level of love I try to emulate. Because I am alone, my life is quieter, calmer, saner, and yes, easier. I don’t regret being alone. I don’t regret not having my mother’s life. But only now do I understand how much she loved us. She didn’t fly away.