Tag Archives: Mothers and Daughters

Road Trip

rainbowWe left on a Saturday morning, the traffic light and the clouds dark. My 17-year old daughter rode shot-gun with the snack bag standing ready and a few CDs she recently uncovered like artifacts from my past, Billy Joel, The Stranger and David Gray, White Ladder. We were leaving Rhode Island up 146 North to cross a few state lines and visit my father and brothers in Syracuse. Barely 30 minutes into the trip the wind kicked up and shook the car like a dryer filled with sneakers, and a dense unforgiving rain began.

My daughter sat upright, ignoring the pillow and blanket in her lap she was hoping to use. Cars slowed and a siren screamed and we pulled over and back into the lane again while Billy Joel sang about Brenda and Eddie. We moved slowly and talked about possible colleges, ice cream, our dogs, and a little family dirt on my mother’s side. When we got to the firetrucks and police and the flashing lights, there was someone on a gurney getting wheeled into a rescue, and a vehicle, not unlike our own dark grey SUV, was upside down and rocking slightly, debris circling it like an ancient ruin.

In Syracuse we took my niece (5 years-old) and nephew (almost 10 years-old) to the Wild Kingdom, an odd zoo housing alligators and a white tiger and a giraffe and goats. In a glass room I watched my daughter and niece attract small parrots with peanut butter and seeds on popsicle sticks, their arms and shoulders covered with birds – powder blue, yellow, green and white – a feathery blur. Then this – a baby kangaroo wearing a child’s pull-up, left alone in a small caged area with a sign out front saying $10 for a photo with a baby kangaroo. I wanted to set it free, complain to the owner, write an op ed piece, tell the two college-age students in their Wild Kingdom shirts and badges to stop flirting and pay attention to that  poor kangaroo. But I didn’t. I walked past with my mouth slightly open and my heart jittery and caged.

On the way back to my brother’s house, I saw a dead deer on the side of the road, her head twisted, her eyes unforgiving. My daughter in the back seat was keeping her cousins entertained and I was relieved she didn’t see the doe. At least this one thing she didn’t have to see.

Then was my father, his thick fingers curled like a crustacean, his crystal blue eyes bloodshot without sleep, his gate slow and sloped. He won’t see a doctor, won’t have any blood work done, won’t take any medicine because he thinks all the medicine my mother took gave her the cancer that killed her. So he eats potato chips and cookies from Costco’s and waits to die.

On the drive home my daughter told me she had a boyfriend. Her first. It started raining again. Black clouds entwined with silvery sunshine threw shadows on trees and bridges and jagged rock that had been blasted open for the road. I knew the boyfriend, a kid among her gaggle of friends I had chauffeured around to parties, movies, Gregg’s Restaurant for chocolate cake, school stuff. Now she has her license so those day are waning. On to different days. Is she ready? Are any of us ready?

We are talking about the boyfriend and she sees a rainbow up ahead. It grows larger as we twist around the highway and move into a range of hills and spotty rain and then she says, It’s on the road, It’s right in front of us. We’re driving through a rainbow.

And we were. The colors came out of the sky, bounced on the road and up to the windshield and followed us along for a mile or two. Water splashed from under the tires catching iridescent colors. We were laughing and shouting and repeating madly, we’re driving in a rainbow. And for a moment we shared something pure and real and almost miraculous. On the road again.

Window
Night from a railroad car window
Is a great, dark, soft thing
Broken across with slashes of light.
                               Carl Sandberg

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April Showers Bring May Showers

cats

This month has been a meteorological cat fight in Rhode Island. Rain and more rain. Hot humid scorcher of a day where you show those pale legs because who cares in this heat, followed by why did I put all the sweaters away, followed by a shit load of grey rainy dreary damp my-whole-body-aches days.

And for someone who already hates the spring (don’t judge), this weather is reeking havoc. The smell of wet grass and things growing and the sound of birds crazily chirping and neighbors hammering and mowing and greeting one another and the density of it all. The thick labor of coming back to life then retreating then coming back again. I’m exhausted.

April is supposed to be the cruelest month but May’s been vicious as far as I’m concerned. I feel slow and fat and foggy and nervous and hesitant and insecure and just not up for it all. Coming out of the cave. Jumping through metamorphic hoops to face sunlight and cookouts and mosquitos and overgrown tomatoes that burst on the vine and tics on the dogs and my ugly bare toes and vacations I never take.

And then there are days when I catch a whiff of childhood so strong it takes my breath away. And there’s Mother’s Day, and my mother’s birthday, and the fuchsia rhododendron blooming in my yard that I know she would love. She loved spring. She loved planting and pruning and coaxing the dead back to unruly brilliant life.

May will always be my mother’s month, and while some will be rainier or hit me harder than others, I know I will get through it. I know May will end and June will begin and I will start over, planting, pruning, coaxing, in this blog or a notebook or some ratty old short story, tweaking and cutting and adding words. We didn’t always have a lot in common, but we both needed something to quell the demons, self-made and otherwise.

There are only a few days left – it’s Memorial Day weekend and that has certainly taken on new meaning for me. They are promising sun and warmer weather. They are promising that this too shall pass. Am I ready? Never. But it’s okay because I face it anyway. Come. Get me. Spring.

“In the motion of the very leaves of spring in the blue air there is then found a secret correspondence with our heart.”  -Taken from Mary Oliver’s Upstream who took it from Shelly’s On Love

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It’s a Cold and It’s a Lonely Hallelujah

chipsForgive me Father, for I have sinned. It’s been six months since my last blog post.

Not that I have anything to write about.

I suppose I could rant about  Donald Trump but if I get started I won’t stop.

I could talk about this book I just finished that was the saddest story I have ever read. So well written you should run out and get it now. But so heart wrenchingly sad I can’t possibly recommend it. But the writing…I know, why did I even bring it up? Ok, A Little Life, but don’t blame me if you can’t get through it.

I could talk about eating clean. I want to eat clean. I bought a Prevention Magazine guide to eating clean in the check out line at the supermarket the other night, alongside a bag of sour cream & onion potato chips. I felt a little dirty buying the chips. I ate half the bag reading the magazine.

I could talk about the fact that The Good Wife is ending or that Elizabeth Keen is dead or that I really don’t like what’s happening to Callie & Arizona on Grey’s, but then you would realize that along with my dirty potato chip habit, I watch way too much television.

I could tell you about my daughter’s chorus concert this week. The auditorium looked like a bare threaded pair of suit pants on an old man. The solos lovely, pure, off-key here and there, heart-in-throat adolescent angst and glory. These sung by seniors – a farewell tribute. My daughter, only a sophomore, doesn’t have to face this yet. Doesn’t have to take the rose at the end of the concert and have something announced about her future in front of all of us expectant adults – the college they are going to next year where 30% will drop out, the majors they have chosen that 80% will wind up changing. Those 3 kids who were announced “still undecided” looked a little embarrassed but I clapped hardest for them.

Or maybe, since it is Mother’s Day, I could talk about what this day is like for us mothers who have lost their mothers. My mom died almost 5 years ago at the young age of 75, and I still have Mother’s Day cards in my bedside drawer that I bought for her. My mom would have loved my daughter’s concert, although she didn’t visit much. One of the things she said to me when I was taking care of her at the end (and she said this in a flat tone as she was taking some of the last steps she would ever walk) is that she loved me more than I would ever know.

But I knew. I knew all the dynamics that made it hard for her to show love and approval to me. I knew she didn’t understand me and my choices. I knew she was jealous of me in my youth, and later felt I could do better on so many fronts. I knew she chose other people over me – to visit, to listen to, to share her love. And I knew she knew I was angry at her and unforgiving.

We are all a mess of good intentions gone bad and repeated tiny heartbreaks balled up with hope. I miss my mother like my arms have been taken away, like I’m wandering the streets of the place I grew up and no one recognizes me or even speaks the same language. I can’t stand that she left so soon, before we could figure it out just a little bit more.

I told her that I loved her. I told her it was ok to go. But I wish I told her I forgave it all. I wish I said, I understand you. I understand.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms out there trying, hoping, loving. It is practically impossible to get it right. There will books written about you. My Name is Lucy Barton, for starters. It is impossibly sad and beautifully written (another one!) and about a mom and a daughter and I think you should read it. Elizabeth Strout is my hero.

So many times I come back to this blog and promise to write more and then wind up at my default of silence. So no promises today. Just a few words. A few book recommendations. And a shout out to my mom. XO

 

 

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For You, Mom

A year ago today my mother died in my arms. I’ve posted about it before (see Still Here) so I won’t go on. But here are some excerpts from a short story that give you some sense of her. The tense is a mess, and it’s a bit of a hodgepodge without the rest of the story. I have other stories and other excerpts that show a different side of her–complicated, depressed, withholding, cruel–but today this is the part of her I want to share. To remember.

SHADOW DREAMS

Every night, my mother dreams. Sometimes it is nothing more than an abbreviated version of her daily routine. Running to Agway for mulch. Picking up milk and butterscotch cookies at Munroe Dairy. Reading the newspaper while my father nods off watching Murder She Wrote. Sometimes, she dreams in shadows. In these dreams there are objects floating over her that she cannot actually see. They are distinguishable only by the black shapes they cast at her feet.

“I had another shadow dream last night,” she says at the breakfast table one Saturday morning. “It was an avocado‑colored Amana refrigerator. Double doors.”

“How the hell do you know all that from a shadow?” This is my father. He sounds like he is talking to a Jehovah’s Witness or a used car salesman.

“I just do,” she says.

My father claims he has never had a dream. I tell him this is impossible and explain the four stages of sleep to him. I say, you probably just don’t remember them. But he is adamant.

“I never dream,” he says, pulling a package of Marlboros out of the pocket of his shirt.  “Your mother’s the dreamer in this house.”

***

During my first year of graduate school I spend Saturday mornings with my parents.  My mother and I sleep late, but my father is up by five.  He lets the dog out, makes a pot of coffee, reads the paper, makes a grocery list, goes to the bakery.  I wander into the kitchen around ten, just as my father comes through the door with a bag of fried apple dumplings, or poppy-seed sweet bread, or sour cream blueberry crumb cake.  He smells like stale smoke and fabric softener and sweet morning air.  I make another pot of coffee and peek into the waxy bakery bag.

My mother joins us in the kitchen by ten thirty.  Her body is round and soft, but her legs are wiry, like a bird.  She puts a kettle of water on the stove for tea, then stands next to where my father sits, surveying this week’s bounty.

“Look at all these goodies,” she says.  “Oy, Franky, what are you trying to do to my girlish figure?”

My mother thinks she was Jewish in a past life, so she says “oy” a lot.  She pats her stomach fondly.

“This wasn’t here when I married you,” says my father, but he pats her stomach fondly too and turns to cut up bite sized pieces of his breakfast to feed to the dog.

My mother tells us stories about her students—this one asks too many questions, that one doesn’t apply herself, another is pregnant and abandoned by some no account boyfriend.

My father bangs at the window to frighten squirrels away from his bird feeders.  The feeders sit high up on poles he threaded with battered garbage can tops meant to block intruders from the special sunflower seeds he buys at Agway.  He is trying to attract cardinals.  The squirrels look up at him for a minute and then continue.  They climb the pole and pull themselves onto the circular metal barriers like Olympic gymnasts.

My father looks at me and shakes his head.  Then he talks about my brothers—how they should or shouldn’t spend their money, what they should or shouldn’t do for work, why they never should have moved out of the house.  He asks me what’s wrong with them.  He thinks because I study psychology I can solve all the family problems.  I shrug my shoulders and reach for more pastry.

And then, my mother tells us her dreams.

“Last night I had a dream about Jim Deitrick,” she begins.  “You remember, he stood up for your father at our wedding.  Everyone thought I had a crush on Jim because I kept looking at him in Sister Jeffrey Anne’s Chemistry class.”

She waves her butter knife at me.

“Jim was a big shot basketball player, so they assumed I liked him, but it was your father I had my eye on.  They sat right next to each other.”

“How do you remember such crazy stuff.  I don’t remember any of this.”  My father’s thick black eyebrows arch in disbelief.

“Never mind.  I remember.  Your father wouldn’t ask me out because of the rumor that I had a crush on Jim Deitrick.  After all, they were best friends.  There were rules in those days.”

“Your mother’s getting soft in the head,” he says, staring at her over the top of his glasses which have slid half way down his nose.

“Nonsense.  It took me three months to get your father to ask me out.  On our first date we went to Hyde’s for hot dogs and I knew he was the one for me.  So right after we graduated from St. Luke’s we were married.  Seventeen years old.  Imagine that.”

“You should have stuck with Jim Deitrick,” says my father.  “He’s making six figures with Chemical Bank.”

“I’ve got plenty of figure, thank you very much.”

My mother gets up to put her tea bag in a bowl on the counter.  She saves them for fertilizer.  They pile up for months until my father threatens to throw them out.

“What about the dream?” I ask.

“Oh, the dream.  Well, Jim Deitrick was driving down our street in one of those lawn mowers you can sit on, except it was really a Lazy Boy Chair.  Blue, I think.  And when he got to our house he waved and called out, ‘I’ve been to the Sistine Chapel.  Say hello to Frank.’  Isn’t that strange?”

“I’ll say.”  My father rolls his eyes at her.

“No, I mean I’ve always wanted to see the Sistine Chapel.”

“Well,” says my father, “It’s going to be awfully slow going in a Lazy Boy chair.”

***

My mother is talking about her old high school, St. Luke’s.  It is being torn down by the city because they’re building a supermarket and they need a big parking lot.  It is hard to hear her.  The wind is against us and it rattles our clothing like sails.

“Your father brought me home two bricks from the walls of the building.  Imagine that.”

And I do.

My father bends down in the rubble of the building, his glasses sliding down his nose, his knees stiff, his eyes tearing from the dust, a lit Marlboro cupped in one hand.  He picks up a brick and remembers my mother, her smooth creamy skin, her splash of red lipstick, her perfect dimpled smile.  He flicks away the half smoked Marlboro, picks up another brick with this now free hand, and in an instant, forgets.

***

I wrote this story years ago. It needs some attention, but unfortunately I’ve moved on to bigger more convoluted writing. A novel, that as my father might say, doesn’t know if it’s walking or riding a horse. On I go. But I miss her. More than I could ever have imagined.

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Mama Said There’d Be Days Like This

My mother believed in lotion. All kinds of lotion. Foot lotion, hand lotion, body lotion, elbow lotion, face lotion. Lotion for scrubbing away callouses, hiding wrinkles, minimizing dark circles, keeping out UV rays, softening skin, fading age spots. Pink, white, green, yellow, grainy, smooth, thick, thin, scented, lightly scented, unscented, whipped, churned, glopped, dotted. For my mother, lotion solved just about any form of human deterioration you can think of.

So I suppose it was no surprise when this June, a few weeks before she lost almost all of her ability to communicate and then shortly after died, my mother whispered to me, You have to take the Avon home with you. Your father will just throw it out.

So I did. I took home 3 huge cardboard boxes filled with Avon lotions. And after she died and my father decided to go through a few of her things, we found 2 more huge boxes of lotion.

If I stood on a street corner in Times Square for a week I couldn’t give away all that lotion. I didn’t want to take it all. It seems ludicrous even now, first to have that much lotion for any one person and secondly, for me, a user of CVS brand Lubriderm for chapped winter hands and shaven legs, of all people to take it. But, as the only girl, so it would be.

Some people inherit diamonds, furs, a summer home, a little IBM stock, perhaps an antique vaz or the bone china.

I inherited lotion.

When I took it I thought, I’ll just re-gift it to 500 of my closest friends or donate it to a women’s shelter or sell it on e-bay. But I didn’t. I just left it in the basement with the miss-matched Tupperware and empty shoe boxes and Christmas platters and the board games with missing pieces.

Then, a few weeks ago I came across a random box that hadn’t made it downstairs. I opened it. I pulled out colorful tubes and svelte looking jars and the promise of miracles in 5 easy steps. I found AM Solution and PM Solution, and I thought, hell, I could use an AM solution and a PM solution so I twisted a jar open and scooped out a white thick silky glob and I tried it.

And suddenly, like Jim Carrey in The Mask, I was changed. I felt a softness, but a strength as well. I felt protected, concealed, a little more sophisticated, wiser even.

I felt my mother.

And I hadn’t felt her in ages. I hadn’t dreamt about her or talked about her much or even really believed she was gone most times. But pulling out that box, using her lotion, looking for that AM Solution, brought me to a place of serenity and forgiveness I had yet to experience with regards to my mother. It didn’t last very long. A flash really. But now everyday I wear it. I don’t always think of her when I put it on, but many times I do.

I’ve come to realize my mother’s lotion was her secret weapon against the harsh realities of life. Like Green Lantern’s ring or Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, it helped her overcome insurmountable obstacles everyday. Cooking my father another meal, eking life back into a ragged house plant, haggling a good price for a box of used books at a garage sale, checking on her blood sugar, watching her children leave, forgetting the cruelty in her own mother’s voice, trying to understand her son’s addiction or her daughter’s sexual orientation, going to church and praying for forgiveness, passing up a second helping of bread pudding, paying her QVC bill, smiling, laughing, judging, raising her eyes to the heavens in hope for one more day.

Now I wear the lotion. As though it can ward off Kryptonite or evil or bring my mother back. Once more. To hold me. To let me know, finally, I was loved.

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Still Here

I suppose for once I have a legitimate excuse for abandoning this blog.

I was watching my mother die.

About a week before my last blog entry my mom was diagnosed with cancer. It was unclear at the time just what kind it was because they could not identify the source. I went to stay with my parents for a week and attended innumerable hospital and doctor visits, until finally we were told it was pancreatic cancer and she had 2-3 months to live.

Someday I will write about it. I will tell you about my mother-her strength and kindnesses, her stubbornness and guilt, her anger and love. I’ll let you know how she grew into her role as a 75 year-old woman with grace and humor, finally letting go of most of things that were haunting her and choking her spirit–healed by gardening, swimming twice a week, lunching with “The Red Hat Ladies”, separating from her children, QVC, and a realized dream of seeing the Sistine Chapel.

I will also tell you how the cancer weakened her beyond recognition,  aged her body 20 years in 6 weeks. How she lost so much weight that the skin was just flapping around her bones, the muscles gone. How her face was the only part of her that was still her. And though at times she looked so sick it was astonishing, other times her face was almost angelic. I will talk about my father, how he held her hand, asked her if she wanted to fool around, told her how beautiful she is, stroked her cheek, called her a pain in the ass. How he completely fell apart, questioning his God, his religion. Raising his fists to the heavens, tearing at his hair, whispering over and over, “Bring her back to me.”

I might even tell you what it was like for me, to live with my parents again for weeks at a time, saying all the right things, folding sheets, washing the bathroom floor, rummaging for paperwork they never signed and getting them to finally sign it, eating food I never eat at home just to make them happy, talking to hospice nurses and relatives I haven’t seen since I was 10, making funeral arrangements, sorting through 50 pounds of Avon products, washing dishes, helping my brothers cope.

I will tell you about the final days–giving her morphine that my father wouldn’t give her because it wouldn’t make her better, changing her soiled clothes and bedding, cutting her underwear off her because I could barely move her by myself when my father threw his back out, dabbing her lips with water when she couldn’t swallow, holding her hand and saying she was a great mother and grandmother, because dying simplifies relationships. Telling her she could go when she was choking on her final breaths, her eyes glazed over and staring off into the unknown, my father begging her to stay while I told her she could go, we would be ok, there was nothing to worry about anymore.

I loved my mother dearly, fiercely, irrationally. Someday I will tell you all about it. For now, I’ll just say that I’m back, I am writing, and when the numbness wears off I will be wailing and crying and shaking my fists to the heavens for a damn long time.

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