Heat and It’s Effects on a Mom Brain

Mother Nature does own a furnace in Northern California, and on occasion She likes to crank it up as high as it will go, to make sure it’s in good working order. Sweltering August days can catch us off-guard, here in the land of perpetual outdoor air-conditioning. Today, as weatherfolk like to exclaim, was a scorcher. And, of all places, I was heading to my daughter’s soccer tournament, where I grumpily predicted being salty with sweat and continually on the move, stalking shade, partnered with my collapsible folding spectator’s chair.

My dread over my impending discomfort became my shame. After all, my girl was the one who would be in constant motion today, churning up dust in the heat like part of a galloping herd of adolescent mustangs out on the field. While I sat and observed, expending a meager amount of energy to perhaps fan myself and tip my water bottle. And maybe check my phone a few too many times, in an effort not to fall asleep in a heat coma. Shouldn’t I be more concerned about her situation? Damn Motherhood. Always crashing  my Pity Party.

The team plays two games today. The first game is at the crack of dawn, which, despite me having to wake up ridiculously early on a Saturday, is actually good, because it won’t be as hot. But of course, the second game is scheduled almost five hours later. It’s too far and traffic is too gnarly to drive home and back, so we’re stuck at the tournament all freaking hot day long. I am beginning to wish quietly to myself that I had never encouraged my three daughters in sports, ever. I know it’s just the heat making me think this way, but I’m starting to get irritated, thinking of all the glorious Northern California days we’ve squandered. Days we could have spent frolicking at the beach or on scenic hikes, that instead I have spent planted on the sidelines of a pool or a sports field. The pie chart depicting “how I’ve spent my life” has a disproportionately large slice of the pie devoted to “spectatoring.”

This negative line of thinking progresses along the old familiar trail to the whipping post, where I lament how I never do anything, really, to improve myself, or the world around me.  I feel like I majored in “perpetual observer,” with a minor in “giant consumer,” and now I’m doing nothing more than setting a subliminal example for my daughters to follow suit.

I mean, we pass the time, we feel as if we are productive because our calendars are not blank, and we’re always frazzeled, but what are we really doing? Why are my days so vanilla? Why am I already thinking of today and it’s numerous responsibilities as one more day I can check off that I’ve done nothing more than complete my motherly  assignments. “Damn,” I mutter, “my scroll is getting shorter and shorter. Before long I’m not gonna have any more days to put a handy dandy check mark by, and what will I have to show for it?”

So yah, it wasn’t shaping up to be the chipperest of days. I had gotten sucked down the rabbit hole that leads to feeling inconsequential. I hate that place and, like Alice, will try almost anything to extricate myself as soon as possible. Thankfully, motherhood involves a lot of soldiering. And a lot of hacks. I would compare myself to unfortunate humans in third world countries and I would dig myself out. I would slip back into Mom mode, before anyone noticed I’d been absent. I would remind my daughter to put on more sunscreen, complete with the annoying lecture on how freckles were actually skin damage. I  would weather the negative thought storm, as I’ve always done. I might feel like a footnote on a footnote on a footnote to the tenth power in the Great History of the World, but I did have three kids to raise, and I do indeed love them and care about cultivating their souls. I hoped that at least would add a paragraph to my obituary.

My daughter’s team wins their first game. The girls are exhausted, but pumped. Parents and players all go to a nearby air-conditioned restaurant and devour a hearty brunch. The team still has several hours before the next game, so they go with their coach to hang out in the shade. It’s kind of a team-bonding/resty thing, so, happily, I am relieved of any parental duties and free to do as I please for a while. Napping in my car is out, as it’s chic to sweat your ass off in a sauna at a posh spa, but not in the front seat of your Mom mobile. Conveniently the soccer fields appear to be near a paved pedestrian path, so I decide to go for a nice, pleasant power walk at high noon. I’m being very sarcastic here. But I remind myself that these temperatures are what it felt like at sunrise back on an August day in Austin, Texas, and I am, by nature of being born a Southerner, pre-wired to withstand extreme temperatures. Armed with a water bottle, off I go.

My location is Burlingame. I knew we were near the San Francisco International Airport as we frantically proceeded to our destination that morning, but we were late and I didn’t really know where I was going, and I was preoccupied cursing out my entirely-too-vague GPS, so my proximity to the airport didn’t really register with me earlier. My walking path takes me alongside the San Francisco Bay. And directly across the water from me sits one of the runways for SFO incoming flights.

If you’ve ever flown into SFO, you might have, on occasion, had a descent onto one of these airstrips I mention, which jut so very far out into the water it looks as if the pilot has grossly miscalculated the landing and you’re about to have to use your seat cushion as a floatation device.

Just as you’re wondering if those little  yellow margarine tubs with oxygen tubes attached will drop from the ceiling, and why no one else around you appears to be concerned about an imminent water landing, the airstrip, suddenly, in just-in-the-nick-of-time, cinematic glory, reveals itself beneath you. I had a perfect observation point, and I felt I knew exactly what mild panic every first-time arriving passenger to San Francisco was feeling as their plane began it’s descent. I chuckled at the memory of my own.

Most likely due to the heat, another quirky thought struck me as I became mesmerized watching these massive jets land, one right after the other, one plane perfectly synchronized behind it’s predecessor, approaching in frighteningly rapid succession:  this was reminiscent of a beautifully timed symphony. A symphony I would have titled something like, “Life in a Nonstop World.” Note the clever pun there with the flight analogy.

Although the weather was fair and sunny, the heat of the day created a high cloudy haze that prevented me from seeing any approaching planes until they were almost close enough to open their landing gear. I pinpointed the spot in the sky where each new plane would appear, and watched in fascination as, like a factory assembly line, a new plane “popped out” in rhythmic succession. Every 90 seconds they emerged in silence. Moments later I could hear the roar of their jet engines as the sound caught up with them as they touched ground.

“Life in a Nonstop World.” I feel like my own life, despite it’s ordinary-ness, moves at a remarkably fast pace, but apparently the whole world does too. And it took the simple act of viewing an airstrip from a distance on a hot summer’s day to pull me out of my own Private Idaho and make that fact sink in. Our modern world really, truly, does not slow down. “Where are all these planes coming from?” I wondered. The progression of arriving airliners was as regular as a heartbeat. I found it fascinating. And, almost unnerving how it never appeared to let up.

I marveled at the precision. All so perfectly timed. So meticulously directed. One dawdle, one goof and mayhem could ensue. My focus turned to the air traffic controllers and the responsibility they must have at an international hub like this one.  I was overcome by the enormity of their task. Each of these planes was filled with beating hearts. There was no time for these jet directors to daydream at their desks, no time to do a little online shopping, return a quick call, enjoy a coffee or make a hair appointment. They had to remain laser focused and on point, or the beautiful transportation symphony would get all distorted mighty quick. Such responsibility suddenly floored me.

I mean, I had thought about air traffic controllers before, but only in terms of “I hope they bring my plane down safely.” Not how the barrage of arriving planes seemed endless, and how everyone’s skill sets dovetailed so seamlessly.

I wondered if the air traffic controllers were ever bored at their job. It’s human nature, once you have done something umpteen million times, to get kind of blase about it, like me and the soccer game. I hoped these guardians of our very future were the exception to the rule. I hoped they were superior human beings, who somehow ascended above boredom and urges to glance at their cell phones. And then I noted that I really never knew anyone, or knew anyone who knew anyone, who was an air traffic controller. A mystery occupation. Did they not get out much? I had no good stories and no good rumors. Nothing to base my musings on, to give my imagination any direction to fill in the blanks. They were indeed unsung heroes. A footnote on a footnote on a footnote… I’ll bet no one had ever published a “Sexy Air Traffic Controller”calendar, let alone sent them a thank you note.

Air traffic controllers, the maestros of this winged orchestra, really didn’t have any choice. They simply couldn’t allow themselves to feel bored or inconsequential. They had to show up for every single shift with the alertness and intensity someone like myself might bring to the job only on their first few days.

At the end of every shift, I hope they fist bumped for having done something important. I was filled with both admiration and envy. Every 90 seconds these nameless saviors were doing something monumental as they brought each plane safely to the runway, averting disaster. Even brain surgeons and fire fighters or Gandhi and Oprah Winfrey can’t say that. Every 90 seconds. I hoped that maybe at least once in 90 years I could do something this heroic. So heroic and yet, to look at all the approaching planes, so commonplace.

And maybe it was the heat working some tricks on my brain, but I think I had a revelation at that moment. That unending, rhythmic progression of airplanes, literally from out of the blue, led me to compare them to the challenges each and every day brings.

You know those challenges never seem to end. You can’t always see them coming and you can’t hear them, but you know, you KNOW they’re out there. Headed straight for your runway. You get one safely landed, take two breaths and the next one comes right on it’s heels. You can’t just say, “Aw screw it,” because then you are wrecking the whole symphony.

I guess this is what it means to “grow up.” We learn we must engage with our planes. We finally realize they are just going to keep coming at us, one, right after the other. We have to communicate. We learn to use our own internal radar. We must bring them down safely. It’s just what we do.  And the pressure is enormous. But we build skills. We have to take care of ourselves so we can be ready for the bombardment. As parents, we try, like on the 70’s TV show Star Trek, to lock the plane in a tractor beam, if such plane involves anything to do with our children. Every single one of us has these planes coming at us that we must quickly figure out how to guide. We can’t let ourselves get bored. We can’t ignore the symphony.

So what do we do with this analogy? Our lives are like busy airports and we are the superhuman conductors that constantly hold catastrophe at bay. Sounds like a recipe for a nervous breakdown. I wish I had answers. It would make for a phenomenal essay right now if I could suddenly provide succinct solutions to life’s unrelenting barrage of issues and problems. Maybe I’ll make a cartoon out of this runway analogy, and every plane will have a different life problem as one of it’s logos. Instead of Lufthansa, one would see “Alzheimers.” Instead of Aer Lingus, one would see “Addiction” Instead of United, “Empty Nest.” And then we might see a plane with “Trump Pence, Make America Great Again” and obviously that Doomsday Machine needs no re-naming.

My point in all of this being, it’s impressively, mesmerizingly beautiful when it works. Beautiful on the outside, watching from the walking path. Beautiful that our world can be so busy, so advanced and so precise. We have come so far from cave dwellers, pilgrims and pioneers. Inside, the air traffic controllers’ tower likely looks a lot like the inside of our brain: Chaotic. Tense. An onslaught to the senses. I picture many screens tracking many planes. But all stations are alert. Prepared. Proactive: Grace Under Pressure.

I can’t say I went back to my daughter’s second soccer game a changed woman. I remained salty from the heat and still had no grand plan to redirect my life after being so moved by the orchestration of airliners. Yet it did occur to me that this day might be different from all the rest. Because you can’t “un-think” something once you’ve had a big revelation. It’s like the first time your kid looks at the sunset and says “Hey, that’s the same color as my blankie.” And you will never again look at an orangey-pink sky and think of anything other than a tattered, crocheted coverlet.

A challenge appears in my life and I now picture a flight path, with an airliner approaching. I say to myself, “You can do this. You can land this plane.”  And somehow, it happens. Then I’ll take two breaths, brush the hair out of my eyes and scan the entry point in the sky for the arrival of the next one. This symphony, “Life in a Nonstop World” is inside each and every one of us. I want my part to be beautiful, pleasing, skillfully executed, even if no one ever realizes my contribution. The melody, my melody, will reveal itself to me when the time is right, in perfect synchronicity with the rest of the performance.

Allow the confidence that comes with acknowledging your ability and experience in landing your planes to nurture your very soul. Somehow it seems more important to safely land a real plane full of real passengers in real time, but don’t forget about that symphony.  Sometimes it’s just as critical that our carpool of kids arrives at the destination safe and sound. It’s equally important that we guide and land our own metaphorical planes at our own inner airport. We can’t wait around for any recognition of our contributions. That might not ever happen, so it must come from within.

Confidence. Confidence. Confidence. It’s the magic elixir that ignites our dreams. Your own inner SFO is a beautiful, functioning place.  Take a moment, in your control tower, to marvel at what you actually orchestrate.

Meanwhile, across the choppy waters of the San Francisco Bay from the busy airport, there is a soccer game starting. My heat induced delirium is now receding, my water bottle is empty and my collapsible folding chair awaits me, on the sideline.

 

 

 

 

Before There Were Selfies

In the “Olden Days” of my youth, before there were smartphones, people rarely took selfies. It was too big of a gamble, since you never really knew if the faces were framed correctly. And, we only had 12 to 24 shots available to us on a costly roll of Kodak or Fuji film, so it was best not to take chances.

No selfies and no where to post them. Except maybe on the fridge, three and a half weeks later. No rush of immediate gratification from emoji-loving responders. We were often forced to rely on word of mouth to tell our stories. So when something exciting happened, it helped to be a darn good teller of tales.

One of my favorite stories from my childhood involved Sarah Engman, a friend and classmate in elementary school, and her mother, Carol Ann.

Sarah and I had been fast friends since the third grade. We later began the familiar and awkward “drift-apart” dance in middle school, perfected it by high school, and in the years following had almost completely lost touch. Despite the distance, Sarah and Carol Ann reached out to me twice, after the death of my father, who Sarah later claimed had always been like a father to her, and again twenty years later, after the death of my mother. After Carol Ann’s passing three years ago, which I only learned about through Facebook, I attempted to return the kindness. For it is truly a gift, after the passing of a parent, to reminisce with someone who once knew them well. Who is likely to recall a long-forgotten incident or a humorous anecdote that Time has somehow swept under your cranial rug. Often, it’s simply a delightful comfort to know your loved one has made an impression on someone else’s heart. That you are not the only one missing them, or thinking of them from time to time.

It would probably surprise Sarah to learn that I often think of her mother. And, being a mother myself, who often feels invisible, especially when my children are socializing with their friends, this revelation would probably surprise Carol Ann even more. Carol Ann Engman, divorced and devoted mother, cooker of meals, coordinator of entertainment and taxi of children, made a significant impression on me. Curiously I am only now identifying it, almost 40 years later.

When we are young, we don’t actually realize that someone is making an impression. It’s just done, bonk, like a wax stamp on that deliciously soft and malleable, PlayDough-like child brain. Today, to take this impression and study it is a little bit like dusting off  a rare and intricately detailed fossil.

Carol Ann Engman was a single mother,  but never dated. She didn’t need to, because she was deeply in love. With Telly Savalas, the Greek actor who played a lollypop-sucking, badass detective named Kojak on television. Nowadays I would say he was definitely sexy to a thirty-something divorcee, but Sarah and I couldn’t believe she was crushing on him because he was bald, before bald was in. At sleepovers, we were not allowed to utter a word while Kojak played on the television. There was no Netflix and there was no Season 3 on DVD, so if you missed one “Who loves ya, baby,” you missed a lot, and we were properly shushed.

Here’s where the story gets interesting. One day, Carol Ann announces to Sarah and her older brother Charles, that for their summer vacation, they are DRIVING TO LAS VEGAS in their green station wagon to see Telly Savalas, live and in person, performing in his show at the MGM Grand.

I was dumbfounded, and consumed with envy, for many reasons. First of which, my family NEVER took vacations of this epic magnitude. We either visited family or we stayed at home. Period. Secondly, no family members lived anywhere nearly as exciting as Las Vegas. I had only  seen Las Vegas in photos or on television, and I wasn’t completely convinced it even existed. Third, there was never, never, and I mean ever, a Hollywood star sighting in Shreveport, Louisiana. The famous pianist Van Cliburn’s mother lived there and, I kid you not, this was the pinnacle of stardom in our small southern town, in 1975.

To Shreveport folk, movie and television stars were like unicorns. We heard rumors of their existence, and saw them on the television, but no one I knew had ever had actual contact. And here was Sarah’s mother, Carol Ann, announcing they would drive 1,400 miles across the desert to see one in the flesh.

I tried not to think about how crappy my summer was while Sarah, Carol Ann and Charles were away on their trip. No snap chat stories, no Instagram, no Facebook posts, I could only guess at what they might be doing. It seemed as if they were gone for an eternity.

Like a house cat, I likely acted aloof upon their return. But I was soon suckered in the next time I saw Sarah. The first words out of her mouth were, “You’re not going to BELIEVE what happened!”

Sarah painfully drew the whole story out, beginning with the details of their excruciatingly long car trip from Shreveport to Las Vegas. 40 years later it occurs to me: the drive alone is a very cool, very ballsy thing for a sheltered, shy, divorced mom of two kids to do by herself in 1975. Add to that the fact that she wasn’t content just to watch her Telly on the telly, she wanted to see him in person. This is just not that big of a deal nowadays, but back then, it was huge. Women, moms, just didn’t give in to their whims like that. No GPS, there were no cell phones if your car konked out on the highway. Everything about this idea reeked of adventure. Dangerous and brave, it made my heart pound with adrenaline.

I endured many details about the boring drive, the long patches of desert where there was no radio. They were forced to play guessing games. Every time it was Carol Ann’s turn, she would say “I’m thinking of a TV show, and it starts with K!”

“Ugh!! Ko-jak!” the kids would groan.

They finally arrive in Vegas. Sarah gets her first glimpse of a prostitute in broad daylight. “Mom says they’re also called ‘streetwalkers,'” she informed me.

They eventually check in at the then-luxurious and top-of-the line MGM Grand Hotel. This is another sticking point with me, as I hailed from a strictly Mo-tel family, and up to that moment had thought Ramada Inns were the bomb. Sarah and Charles head for the swimming pool. There are not that many children around, and Sarah and her brother are sick of each other, and looking for some new kids to play with.

Finally, they spy a couple of other kids, about their age. “Wanna have a raft war?” they ask.

“Sure!” the two girls reply, and soon the four children are engaged in all kinds of splashing and merriment, undoubtedly disrupting the besotted adults nearby, who are attempting to gently nurse their benders or escape the lure of the casino.

Soon, it is time to wrap up the play date. The kids decide to exchange names and room numbers, in case they can swim together again. “I’m Sarah Engman, and this is my brother, Charles,” Sarah offers.

“I’m Candace,” the other child responds. Then the Heavens part, and the Angels sing, and everything moves in slow motion,  as she serendipitously adds one magical, meteoric word:  “Savalas.”

The universe, both unforgiving and generous, decided to gloriously smile down upon Carol Ann that day. Rewarded her for following her dreams across the desert.

Young Candace Savalas was a kind child, and upon learning that the Engman family had driven all the way from Louisiana to see her father’s show, insisted Carol Ann come up to her father’s private suite with her, and meet him. Carol Ann was flabbergasted, but was no fool, so of course she did. Her bald hero was gracious and utterly charming, everything she dreamed he would be, and more.

“He kissed my hand,” Carol Ann revealed, and in all my years this is the closest I’ve ever come to seeing a woman literally swoon, even at the retelling.

There is no selfie to commemorate and validate the chance meeting of the mother Carol Ann Engman and the famous actor Telly Savalas. Only memories, and words. I can picture every detail as if I had been there myself. Carol Ann, you threw caution to the wind. You followed your dream and you were rewarded. I wonder how many times I have summoned the courage to take a chance, only because deep, deep down, in the crevices of my memory banks, I have this imaginary selfie of you and your handsome heart throb, cheek to cheek, smiling together.

 

 

Wait. What?

We are born into this world with a few rudimentary survival instincts, but the remainder of our time on this planet typically unfolds in a series of Wait. What? reactions to life’s various and frequent surprises.

The journey begins. If you gave birth in a hospital, after a few surreal “nice t’meetcha” minutes between newborn and mother, a nurse whisks the tiny cream cheese-covered body away for a first bath, “scrubbed down like an old pot,” as my husband liked to say to torment me. “Welcome to the world, darling baby,” we were just beginning to coo, when suddenly, “Wait. What? Where are you taking her??”

But we’re Mama Bears. We’ve read all the books and we quickly remember this protocol. Instantly we are barking orders at the baby’s father, “Hey, you there! Follow that baby! Don’t let him get switched up with any of the other babies in there. Pay attention! Watch carefully and MAKE SURE they tag the right baby!”

Meanwhile the poor infant is saying nothing but “Wait. What?” for the probably the entire first month of it’s life. And of course infants don’t have any words yet, so that’s what all the ear splitting shrieking is about. Yet soon enough, he begins to sort things out and realize, the breast means comfort and a full belly, the singsong-y mommy voice means my diaper will get changed, and the deep daddy voice means it’s playtime. And if I’m not happy with anything, anything at all, just shriek. This here, not too shabby.

But then, a disruption.  The infant’s first vaccination. It’s times like these I’m convinced kids learn to start distrusting their parents, and most adults in general. “Oooo, that shiny, pointy object coming toward me is surely just a harmless and mundane thingamajig that will entertain —Wait. What? God DAMN it, that hurt!”

Babies, of course, do not curse, but it’s always been a dependable comedic art form to capture their delightfully expressive angry or pooping faces and imagine what they would utter, if they could.

By preschool, these wise little souls begin to catch on. Life is full of ambush. “Wait. What? You are LEAVING me here? You actually expect me to hang out with these other nose-picking half wits all morning? And I thought this lunchbox was just another impulse purchase.”

Then elementary school. “Wait. What? Homework isn’t optional? I thought it was just for the Kumon kids.”

Summer. “Wait. What? Why did you sign me up for swim team again without my blessing? I already know how to swim. All we do is swim laps and the coach gets mad if I pretend I’m a mermaid.”

Middle school. “Wait. What? All my girlfriends act different when there are boys around.”

High school. “Wait. What? I don’t get my own car?”

My oldest daughter is now in the home stretch of her freshman year in college. I was pleasantly surprised last month when she announced she had applied for an internship, without, I might add, any parental threats or manipulation. For a brief time I was beginning to feel like maybe I could pat myself on the back for somehow instilling an innate sense of motivation and a solid work ethic.

Last weekend she was home for a visit. “How’s the internship?” I asked. “Wait. What? You quit? After one  week?”

Seems my daughter also had another Wait. What? experience of her own, once she found out there was no corner office and expense account, let alone a paycheck. “They literally had me doing bitch work,” she announced matter-of-factly. “Like making posters.” Apparently no one ever told her that “bitch work” and “internship” are synonymous.

There went my bragging rights. And, also, I was a little miffed that the term “bitch work” wasn’t coined thirty years ago when I was new to the work force, because it undoubtedly would have made my personal sucky job stories garner the most laughs at Happy Hour.

As we transition into adulthood, the Wait. What’s? lurk around every corner. Most we can recover from quickly.

But perhaps the biggest and most daunting Wait. What? moments of our lives involve death. Especially the deaths of our parents. Those can seriously stall your engine.

My mother was a gift. And no, I most certainly did not think of her this way during my adolescence and teenage years. But as I passed from my 20’s into my 30’s, and into motherhood myself, I realized then that she was superior Mom material, and I had been a fool not to have seen it all along. And now, twelve years after her death, I still have Wait. What? revelations about her. The latest is this:  “Wait. What? You mean we don’t even begin to fully appreciate, or truly understand our mothers until they’ve been gone so long you have to really strain your brain to remember the sound of their voice?”

Whatever it is that won’t let us see how amazing our moms are when we’re teenagers and twenty somethings is the same forcefield that prevents us from really, truly comprehending them till they’ve been gone for an eternity. I still have new revelations about my mom all the time. I guess that the less they are here to mother us, the more we start seeing them for the person they were to themselves, to friends and those who knew them. To see them as their given name, instead of “Mom.”

My mother did such a darn good job of being there for me my entire life, I assumed she would continue to do so until the day she turned 100. When she reached her late 90’s, then I would start worrying that her passing might be imminent.

She died at age 82. And, although her health was not great, I never expected her to die from a heart attack in the middle of the night, three days before I was due home for the Thanksgiving holiday. “Wait. What? We had holiday plans. We had holiday plans for the next 18 years.”

 

But here I go again, thinking only about myself. Her heart attack and impending passing was literally the ultimate Wait. What? moment ever. I wasn’t able to be with her when she died, but I hope that moment for her was filled with awe, joy and relief, the spiritual equivalent of waking up early, then remembering it’s Saturday.

 

 

 

If It’s in a Song, It Must Be True

How many times have our favorite song lyrics controlled our destinies? I know I listened to Duran Duran way too often during the 80’s, and, no offense to the fans, it led to some very poor choices, both fashionably and morally. Alas, I am not Rio, dancing on the sand — with my freshman fifteen and permed hair — no matter how convincingly the song had me believing I was an elusive, invincible vixen, beholden to no one.

I’m more thoughtful about it now, but I still allow song lyrics to guide me through this confusing and confounding hedge maze of life. When my oldest daughter left for college, all I could hear in my head were the lyrics to Closing Time by Semisonic. The irony is that the song itself is actually about Last Call at a bar, and hoping you hook up with someone worthwhile.  This is, obviously, an area of my daughter’s personal growth I prefer not to dwell on. However, there is one line of the song that has always managed to pierce me right in the solar plexus, causing the little squeezey feeling that secretes the emotional onion juice that makes my eyes water and my nose run:

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

Such an almost matter-of-fact statement, but why does it make me want to burst into tears? Perhaps because it really means that life’s path is taking on a new trajectory, and we were perfectly happy, or thought we were happy, with the old one. Some times we want change, and some times we don’t (which might explain why the Mounds/Almond Joy jingle became an ear worm) and some times we both want it and reject it simultaneously, as was the case when my daughter moved into the dorm.

These same lyrics also reverberated in my head as I worked to close down my mother’s house, my childhood home, after her passing. Exhibit A for someone not wanting change, but getting it dumped in her lap.

A child growing up and leaving home is part of the Circle of Life concept, and while emotionally difficult, we all know we eventually have to come to grips with it. When confronting a painful reality that was not anticipated, I turn to one of my favorite Seal songs, Crazy, packed solidly, like nutrient-rich leafy greens, with healthy advice.

About a year ago, when I was in the middle of repeat mammograms, a biopsy and an MRI because of suspicious cells in my right breast, I was trying to act like my carefree pal Rio, but inside I was freaking out like a lost child in a clown museum.

For the most part I had it under control. The part of me who is an expert at plugging her ears and chanting “Blah Blah Blah” was behind the wheel most of the time. But then, there were the inevitable moments of weakness. I certainly wasn’t going to share my runaway fears with my daughters, as the last thing on earth I wanted to do was cause them any unnecessary worry. (Even though I will selfishly admit I thought about it, if only to see if they would cling to me like children again…and maybe…just maybe…consider the loving source of their clean laundry.)

And I wasn’t going share these fears with my husband either. I know he cares, but after two decades of marriage I know he also prefers to channel Spock at times like this. “Let’s not worry until we have all the facts.” Unfortunately, it’s the waiting and not knowing part that cause all the angst in the first place.

The lyrics from Crazy grant me the confidence to admit what I did next. And, as opposed to any potential life advice contained in Rio, I urge you, in moments of tortuous motherlessness, to heed them:

“But we’re never gonna survive, unless, we are a little crazy.”

One morning, I waited till the house was empty. I collected my two favorite framed photos of my mother, who passed when I was 39, and my father, who passed when I was 19. I set the photos side by side on a table and ceremoniously lighted a candle. I talked to their smiling faces, and wished, like in the Harry Potter films, the photos could move and wave and weep and blow kisses.

I confided to my mom and dad, out loud, how frightened I was. I told them how much I missed them. I told them how much I wished they could hug me right now and reassure me. I told them how I wish I had appreciated them more when they were alive. After so many thoughts and confessions came tumbling out,  I just basically sat there and cried. But oddly, it wasn’t a desperate, all-alone, woe-is-me kind of crying, if that makes any sense. Instead, it bolstered me.

I mean, I’m no expert. I have no facts about The Afterlife. I would like to believe they are with me still, but who, in the end, really knows?

I will say this. Going forward, I felt different. I felt strong. I stopped feeling panic. At times, like during my first radiation treatment, I still felt sad that they weren’t physically with me in the waiting room. But sad and scared are two different emotions. My parents had my back, from where ever they are.

I’m cancer free and my prognosis is excellent. Those were the only tears I shed during the ordeal.

I honestly don’t believe love dies.

Crazy can be a gift sometimes. Don’t be afraid to use it.

 

 

 

A “Motherless Shelter” a/k/a Exercise Endorphins and the Crazy Thoughts They Produce

My mother has been gone now for eleven years, five months and nineteen days. Before you assume I’m completely neurotic, allow me to explain that this is the first time I’ve ever tallied it to the day. But I was curious. And also a bit nervous about my first blog post.

Eleven years is a long time. Long enough to transform photographs of ourselves once deemed “hideous” into, “wow, why did I ever hate that photo?” Long enough, really, to assume I’d have all of my motherless issues behind me. And most days I have accomplished exactly that. Most days. But I can honestly admit, even after all of this time, time that has flown by at warp speed, time spent raising three vivacious, life-loving, Payback Time teenage daughters, there remain days when my bullet train jumps the track and my heart aches with longing to have my Mom back.

I’m fifty years old, born in 1964, the tail-end of the Baby Boomers. Like many in my generation, I have never been in any great hurry to grow up. So from time to time, I can honestly admit, I would love to be mothered every once in a while. And I got to thinking, during one of my daily runs with my two dogs, when I tend to do all of my best thinking — wild, uninhibited ideas that always start off with me as a lead singer in a band that plays B-52’s cover tunes to a wildly appreciative audience— outrageous scenarios that completely entertain me during the run, but are usually all but forgotten by the time I return home—

I had this one big thought and it stuck with me:  What if there was such a thing as a Motherless Shelter? You know, like a Homeless Shelter, only more like your childhood family room. A place we could visit when we were droopy, in need of comfort and mothering. A place whose very scent emanated tender concern mingled with a perfume older women wear but younger women deem too matronly. A place clean enough to eat off of the floor. A place we could complain and feel sympathy and understanding. A place where someone asked us a hundred annoying questions about our health and well-being. A place where someone held our face in their hands and gave us a deep, soul penetrating looking-over. A place where there was a refreshing freedom in releasing caged up secrets. A place so relaxing you would swear Ambien was piped in through the air vents. A place where you could viscerally sense that, without saying a word, you mean the entire freaking world to someone and they to you.

I never really thought I was lucky enough (or pushed myself hard enough) to enjoy the enviable and much-touted “runner’s high.” Instead, I am always acutely aware of how much farther I need to go before I can stop, how my feet hurt and how I would likely be so much more fit if I could just give up my evening Chardonnay. But despite all that, this mystical Motherless Shelter I’d created was sounding pretty dreamy and idyllic, no doubt thanks to the contributions of the few endorphins I managed to produce.

I pondered how many visits an eleven-year motherless veteran would actually need, while at the same time fell in love with the concept of offering it up to others who are nowhere near settled in their new unpleasant reality. Initially, after first losing my mother, I would have been living there. Over the years I gradually adjusted. I realized it was foolish of me to save her purse. She wouldn’t be coming back. It took me a long time to find the inner strength to do this, but eventually I forced myself to start carving out my new normal. Shelter visits would become less and less frequent, but still necessary on occasion.

So, I thought, why not create a virtual Motherless Shelter, by way of a blog?

My eleven year quest to define the new normal has been both tumultuous and tranquil. Traffic snarls and Friday Light, just as one might expect. Mother’s Day remains traditionally off-putting, like an ill-fitting pair of slacks, but at this writing it had probably been a few years since I had shed actual, drippy tears over missing my mother. But this year brought forth the breast cancer diagnosis. And let me tell you, any motherless soul who can face that news without instantly wishing they felt the firm and soothing grip of their mother’s familiar age-spotted hand in their own, should probably consider a career in the military, or a ghost hunter, or the lightbulb changer on top of a skyscraper, or any other profession that requires superhuman bravery.

My Motherless Shelter would be crammed with plush, comfy sofas, with plenty of mismatched throw pillows to hug on, and crocheted blankets that assure you if they can transcend the humiliation of being resourcefully crafted from the remnants of every ugly color remaining in the yarn box, then your problems are surmountable as well. One thing that can be found all over my virtual Motherless Shelter:  boxes of Kleenex. Because often, we go on about our busy lives and assume the tears have all dried up. But then something catches us by surprise — perhaps it’s a heated argument with our spouse or our teenager; perhaps it’s an uncontrollable urge to crow about an award you or said teenager won; perhaps it’s the desire to confide that the latest news from a doctor has you scared to death — and we realize, with a pang of startling sadness, that we’ve never stopped missing our Moms, we’ve merely been distracted.

It’s kind of weird for me to think I can still cry over my mother at age 50. By 50 we should have it all together, right? But also by 50, shit starts happening to our bodies that we never thought would happen, or never thought would happen yet. And it all feels like, right when bona fide adulthood should be coming together, instead it is all falling apart. And Mom, Mom could make sense of all this. But our shepherdess is gone, so we are forced to navigate on our own. And we will eventually  succeed. But it’s not pleasant. It builds that enigmatic something known as character, but so do wrinkles, and screw character. We’d rather just have our moms back.

And that, my friends, is but one example of why you will never be the same person, or live the same life, after you lose a mother. We never get over it, but somehow, we get on with it.

Note:  This post was actually written May 11, 2015. It has taken me 11 months and 12 days to muster the courage to hit the “Publish” button. Just in time for Mother’s Day 2016.