Sunday, May 13, 2012

On mothers, and my mother in particular

I just finished Joan Didion's book Where I Was From, a book discussing the complexities and contradictions of California identity, the development of Orange County and a nearby community in Long Beach, and her own family's history of wagon-crossing the country.  What I didn't expect was for the final section to become personal, settling on the loss of her mother.  Didion says, "It would be a while before I realized that 'me' is what we think when our parents die, even at my age, who will look out for me now, who will remember me as I was, who will know what happens to me now, where will I be from." 

Her questions hung on me like wet crepe paper as if I were hearing that mothers can die the first time.  Ben's mother died nearly two years ago.  Several of my friends -- most of them male -- have lost mothers.  I watched, from afar in many ways, both my parents lose their mothers.  But somehow, I haven't really entertained the thought of losing my mother.  It's unlikely that I wouldn't have imagined my way into Didion's questions given how quickly I imagine the worst and the vivid morbidity of those imaginings.  But I haven't, or hadn't until this week.  

The morning after I finished Didion's book, Annemarie sent me a blog entry that was meant to be comforting -- regardless of how insufficient you feel after perusing pinterest or reading others' blogs, when it comes down to it, your children just want you: your smell, your texture, your arms, your voice -- but there was a middle paragraph about the author's mother, at 70, being hit with dementia.  The blogger says, "What I really meant was, 'I miss being able to talk to you, Mom.  I miss lying on the grass while my children make a hopscotch and savoring our long phone conversations.  I miss you remembering all those secrets I used to tell you.  I miss you asking me if I'm okay.  I miss seeing you read books and hearing you sing while you do the dishes and having you drive out to my house without getting lost.  I miss you remembering how much I need you.'"  Echoing Didion, she names the joint-memory and side-by-side living that is lost when a mother is lost. 

Today, on Mothers' Day, I am on my bed (bed retreats, you know) reading Kelly Corrigan's Middle Place about "that sliver of time when childhood and parenthood overlap.  One day you're cheering your daughter through a swimming lesson or giving her a pat for crossing the monkey bars or reminding her to say 'please,' and the next, you're bragging to your parents about your newest trick -- a sweet potato recipe, a raise at work, a fix for your ant problem.  It's a giant Venn diagram where you are the only member of both sets."  (29).  And isn't that it?  Until this week, I've been basking in the middle place of unshakably being both mother and daughter.   

Living here in my parents' house for the last six weeks of transition, I have soaked in the company of a mother, my mother.  We can push each other's buttons, certainly, get impatient and contradict each other, yes.  My unresolved insecurities about identity and self can trigger in her presence when my 3 year old, 14 year old, and 35 year old selves collide -- all so fully known by us both.  And our wiring is different, our approaches to daily tasks, to planning trips, to how we feel our way through the world, but what's mattered these last six weeks has not been our differences.  

What I've felt, and probably wouldn't have articulated without these three writers, is that through these weeks, my mom has known.  She has known when my eyes shine glassy mid-conversation, and I turn the other way and change the subject.  She has known to send a text at 8:50 after I dropped Silas off at school and am silently crying driving Eden to preschool.  She's met me on the floor of the pantry -- the "situation room" since my parents build this house when I was 16-- and let me pour my fears out there.  She's seen my eyes ringed with tiredness and has wooed the children away with stories of foxes and you tube videos of fanciful instruments.  She's known what it's meant when I've bought a bag of meyer lemons from the store, when avocados and mangos relentlessly appear on our joint grocery list, when I sink inside myself and don't surface for a while.  

Though I often disregard it, assuming that my self-discoveries trump all outside observations, my mom has been paying more attention during much of my development than I have.  There have been several times over the decades when she's named a little piece of me I hadn't put words to, and suddenly, I was illuminated, seen.  When Eden was a baby, she verbalized what I'd only known by instinct: my home-love, how I create homes where I am, gather people I love together, insist when we're far that we overlap together in some repeating location that will grow familiar enough to equal a "home."  And she's right, I love home.

Tonight driving home from a big family dinner, squeezed between Silas and Eden in the backseat of the car, all they wanted was for me to tell them stories about themselves -- of the nights they were born, of finding them at the kitchen table covered in syrup, or covered in lipstick or covered in Vaseline, of finding one of them stuck under a bed or sitting behind a chair playing with power cords -- and Silas belly-laughed listening in a way he seldom laughs at anything.  They loved hearing their own stories.

For now, during this time of being home and homesick, my mom is, again, remembering for me and telling me my stories until I laugh.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

at the morning table

We have to leave for school in about twenty minutes -- this is our morning lull that we have every day, and yet still somehow our departure clamors with get-your-shoes-on-NOW, and we arrive without time to spare.  I am working on that.

A tiny chickadee is nibbling at the feeder at the window.  He's small enough to nest in my hand.  The morning is sunny and cool -- still and crystal clear, the sun against smooth trunks of trees.

Last week we seemed to have crossed a bridge, or at least the kids did.  After bringing his blankie to school for two days, Silas stopped tucking it in his bag, and there have been no more morning tears, not even on Monday.  Relief.

Eden learned to swim in the last two weeks with Ben and has proved to be fearless, wide-eyed and smiling, even under water.  I tense and become frantic every time she treads her little way to the wall -- the ferocity of mother instinct is almost psycho.  Ben's been pretty patient.

As I sit here, wishing for a cup of coffee, the kids are playing downstairs and have been for nearly an hour.  It's as if they've craved each other's company in the midst of all this transition.

The list of paperwork to-do's in my notebook for the house is getting a little long...  Today we'll go visit the walls and rooms again, and for the first time, really, I will try to envision our furniture and family living there.

It is now shoe-putting-on minute, so off we go to usher in another day -- they keep coming.  I'm already twenty weeks pregnant as of Tuesday, halfway there, and had my ultrasound yesterday.  At one angle, for just a moment, we could see a face that looked like a little baby's face with Silas's nose opening and closing her mouth.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Cacophonous Morning

Maybe going to bed at 8:30 simply earns one a 5AM wake up call, but the insistent tweeting and chirping of dozens of birds on the other side of the window glass helps, too.

So here we are, May.

The landscape makes me believe we've been here longer than a visit.  The heavily blossomed red buds and crab apples that lined the streets when we arrived, leafed into green weeks ago.  The tulips, dogwoods, and azaleas have come and gone.  Now rhododendrons raise clustered blooms, and the poison ivy grows along the floor of the woods.  The leaves that shush the world on windy days have darker broader faces -- the landscape is moving into summer.

We continue to find our way, mostly through ourselves, to be patient and allow for unexpected soft spots, and to figure out what we need.  Today Ben and his high school friends are having a "work from home day" -- all coming over here to work in the basement, probably tell a lot of stories, and crack open beers at lunchtime.

I think I have to start putting on full armor Monday mornings.  I keep thinking we're past the sharp point of transition because Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays are all easier, but Mondays press the resent button and surprise me.  This Monday, all the way up the hill to school, Silas said things like, "I wish we didn't leave California.  I wish I still went to Mariners and could play with Charlie and Jack and Quinn.  I don't like this school," and when we said goodbye, he gripped my arm, his little face trying to be brave while his wide eyes brimmed with tears.

Monday afternoon, a brighter time of day, Silas and I brainstormed what he could do to make going to school and especially saying goodbye a little easier -- what could he bring, where could I say goodbye to him (he said whether it's on the curb or at his classroom door, "I have tears in my eyes" -- stab!), who could take him to school, what could we draw on his hand?  He decided to try tucking his blankie into his bag -- yesterday was day one of this, and his report was that it was SO good, and he visited it throughout the day.

My "blankie" seems to be cooking.  I haven't figured out how to map out enough time to write as I'd like or even to art journal, so to satisfy the craving to work with my hands and make something, I cook.  My parents gets a CSA basket on Fridays -- that sometimes has bread, cheese, and jam in it, too -- so I have played with ramps, mustard greens, flowering herbs, and currently have a bok choy (suggestions?).  Never in my life until we moved here have I eaten soft-yolked eggs, but now I eat them on buttered toast most days.  Last night I went so far as to try poaching one -- bon apetit made dropping a raw egg into a "whirlpool" of boiling water in the pot sound very easy -- and Silas was mildly horrified at the scrappy shredded result.  We fried eggs instead.  Chopped strawberries and crushed vanilla cookies over ice cream, caramelized pineapple slices, pistachio-citrus pound cake, smoothies, many cups of tea, and hopefully one of these days, some time to write...