Tag Archives: Parenting

Katey

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When my daughter, Kate, was born…in the early morning hours of a wintry Wednesday morning, thirty-nine years ago…my life was in flux.

I had gotten married at eighteen and had my first child just a year later. I hadn’t thought much about what else I’d wanted out of life, but motherhood changed that. My choices affected my daughter, too, so everything seemed more important.

I thought a great deal about every parenting decision and worried over everything that might unduly influence my child.

Though I swore, when I got out of high school, that I never wanted to step foot in a classroom again, I had started taking night classes. I started with a craft class, then my mother-in-law and I took a vegetarian cooking class, then I found a writing class. It reminded me that learning could be fun, and paved the way for my eventual college education.

In anticipation of having a new baby, our family had recently moved from the raggedy little cold and unfinished lake cottage into a brand new townhouse. For the first time in my adult life, I was “house-proud.” I enjoyed decorating and entertaining and – yes! – even cleaning.

I had started challenging the status quo. I no longer embraced my mother’s deferential attitude toward men in general and husbands in particular. I began to see  reason in what the new feminists were saying. I asserted my opinion, both at home and in public. I wrote to representatives; I passed out petitions; I boycotted beef, then sugar, then all Nestle’ products.

I had learned to drive. I had started an exercise program. I was learning to cook Chinese food. I was becoming a discerning reader and a lover of good books.

Big changes were happening in my life!

Little did I know, the greatest transformation would arrive in the early morning hours of that wintry Wednesday morning on December 11th.

I didn’t anticipate how much Katey would  change my life.

I never guessed how much my heart would expand with love for her.

I couldn’t have imagined how she’d constantly surprise me with her ability to make me laugh out loud…yell in frustration…lose sleep from worry…and be grateful every single day for her.

Happy Birthday to Katey!

Sixty-One Blessings

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Last year, in honor of my sixtieth birthday, I compiled a list of the 60 most influential women in my life.

The list included family members, friends, poets, activists and authors.

I intended to write a blog about each person on the list.

I considered gathering recipes from each person, living or dead. I already have Emily Dickinson’s “Black Cake” recipe! My list, and the essays, combined with photos and recipes  could be assembled into a nice book, I thought.

In the course of the entire last year, I wrote three essays on women from my list: Mom (#1), Johanna Spyri (#38) and Emma Jean (#24).

That’s me, full of ideas…brimming with good intentions. My life is punctuated by unfinished projects!

Still, it was a good exercise, just writing the names. It caused me to think about who influenced my life, and how, and why.

For my birthday this year, I’m counting blessings.

First, two parents who loved their children and always did their best.

Five grandparents: four that I knew personally and loved; one that I was acquainted with only through her photo – always on display in my childhood home – and the stories my Dad told.

Ten siblings: I’m eternally grateful for every single one of them. Each one – even those that died in infancy – has helped to guide and shape my life.

Two daughters: by far the most heart-wrenching, soul-stretching, life-enriching blessings in my life.

Four strong, smart and handsome grandsons.

One charming, intelligent and beautiful granddaughter.

Three in-laws: father, mother and sister, who I’m glad to have known.

Seventeen nieces and nephews. And now their children…and their children’s children.

Other relatives: aunts and uncles and cousins.

Friends: I’m happy to say I’ve gained at least as many as I’ve lost over the years, and appreciate every single one.

Two sweet dogs.

Three one-hundred-year-old Maple trees on the north side of my house.

Six jobs. No, maybe seven.

Two vehicles: both in good running order.

One non-running vehicle that has served me well as a “garage”.

A fresh, unopened bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream.

My mother’s hope chest!

Seventy-five cookbooks!

Paul McCartney’s autograph!!

Almost one hundred birthday greetings on my Facebook page!

Cards and gifts from family and friends!

Phone calls from loved ones on my birthday!

Clearly, I should be much older than this.

Sixty-one is too small a number, for counting all the blessings in my life!

Happy Birthday, Jennifer!

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There were times, I have to admit, mostly during Jen’s teen-age years, when time seemed to slow right down.

A few mornings that I woke up thinking, “How long can this go on??”

For the most part, though, I loved being a parent.

I love it, still, though my daughters are grown and gone, with lives and families of their own.

And, mostly, the years have flown by leaving only memories snagged as the days rushed past.

The answer, I can say with certainty, is “Not long enough!”.

Happy, happy birthday to my beautiful daughter, Jennifer!

#1 Mom

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It happened when I was twelve or thirteen years old.

I was a gangly, shy and clumsy kid. My hair was too straight, my eyebrows too thick and my lips too thin. I had a pug-nose. I was flat-chested. Short. My feet were too wide. I was pigeon-toed. The Catholic school skirt length accentuated my skinny legs. My knee socks pooled around my ankles. Pimples were erupting on my chin.

A last look in the round vanity mirror before heading for the bus-stop was a new nightmare every day.

Finally, I’d had enough.

I rushed down the stairs, fueled by the indignity of the image in the mirror and all the angst of a melodramatic almost-teen-ager. I confronted my mother in the kitchen.

“I CAN”T go to school!”, I wailed, “I’m TOO UGLY!!!”

My mother glanced around the table at the babies to feed and bathe and the small children to dress and get ready for school. She probably thought of the one hundred other chores and obligations waiting to fill her day. She looked at the clock, which told her my school bus would be arriving at the bus stop across the road in less than five minutes.

She said, “Well, you can’t stay home FOREVER, you’d better just get out there.”

Well! I huffed and rolled my eyes and slammed out the door and went to school.

At the time, and probably for about twenty years afterward, I thought of this as a perfect example of the absolute height of bad parenting.

Where was the encouragement? Where was the support? Could she not have thrown me a bone? A little compliment? A hug?

I never forgot it.

Eventually, I started noticing how much I used it.

When a really bad, unrepairable hair-do made me want to drape all the mirrors and never go out.

When I embarrassed myself with a stupid action or remark, causing me to want to hide from the world.

When a relationship’s end left me feeling unlikeable.

Whenever I felt intimidated by a situation, the words going through my head were my mother’s words.

Last year, getting ready to give the eulogy at Mom’s funeral, I glanced in the mirror. My face was puffy and red from crying; my eyes were slits. Sleep deprived, sad, preparing to speak in public in borrowed clothes and too-tight shoes, I worried about how many ways I could mess up this one opportunity to honor my mother.

I heard her voice.

“Well, you can’t stay home FOREVER, you’d better just get out there!”

I laughed out loud.

In anticipation of my sixtieth birthday, I compiled a list of the 60 most influential women in my life. My mother made the top of the list for a thousand good reasons. This is only one of them.

This year, I left a job I’d felt pretty comfortable in for the last ten years, and went back to working as a server in restaurants. It had been a few years since I’d worked as a waitress, and I felt pretty rusty. I was a good thirty years older than most of my co-workers.

My first day, I stood in front of the mirror. My thinning, gray hair was already coming loose – in a not attractive way – from the twist I’d pulled it into. My face wrinkled when I practiced a smile. My pot belly sent the little waitress apron out in an odd direction.

With all the angst of a melodramatic almost-sixty-year-old, I thought, “I CAN”T go!”

And there were Mom’s wise words, still influencing my life.

So, I got out there.

Focus

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Yesterday, I paid attention.

Nothing else was changed.

I watched and listened and focused as I went about my daily activities.

I walked the dogs. I stopped along the path to listen to the crows as they flew up, complaining at my presence. I paused near a patch of St. John’s Wort, to watch the  bees bumbling from flower to flower. I admired the way Clover noticed every movement in the woods, and how Rosa Parks was completely tuned in to whatever Clover was doing. When Rosa found a cool spot for a rest, I waited with her.

I worked in the little gallery in town. I greeted customers, talked about the artists and their work, commented on the weather. I answered questions, had a chat and made a few small sales. In between customers, I read a magazine. Nothing different, really, except for my level of awareness.

I bought some groceries, went to the library and ran a few other errands.

I picked beans and cleaned them and steamed some of them to go with my dinner.

Another walk with the dogs, a few chores, a couple chapters of a book and then bed.

It was an ordinary day, the first of August.

Last year on August first – though she didn’t know it at the time – my sister, Sheila, was living the last day of her life.

Sheila was staying at the family home, taking care of our Mom, who we knew was living her last days. She slept on the living room sofa, just a thin wall and a few steps away from Mom’s bed, so that she’d hear her call if Mom woke in the night.

Sheila’s boyfriend was usually around. He was good for moral support during this hard time. He’d grill Sheila a steak, and insist that she take a break to enjoy her dinner outside in the fresh air. He’d often sleep on a cot in the back room, and have coffee with her in the morning.

My sisters had worked out a detailed schedule, so there would be at least two of us there through most of every day. There were issues of Mom’s care that took more than one person, meals to prepare and medicine to dispense. Mostly, though, it was so that no one would have to be all alone, during such a sad time. The plan was that I would complete my work week, then leave the island to be down there…for the duration.

I called Mom on the first of August. When we lost the connection, I called Sheila’s cell phone to make sure everything was okay. Mom had dozed off, but Sheila and I had a good chat. Because we’d all gotten in the habit of calling or stopping in whenever we could, Sheila spoke to most of her siblings and several nieces and nephews that day. She had several chances to visit with Mom. She had dinner with two other sisters and they took advantage of the opportunity to talk with each other while they ate and tidied up. I think my sister, Cheryl, left the house about 11PM. Sheila sat down at the computer. She wrote a couple e-mails and sent a few friend requests through her “Facebook” account. I’m sure she checked on Mom again before she lay down on the couch.

She never woke up.

When my sister, Robin, arrived early the next morning, Sheila’s boyfriend was on the phone with 911, and desperately trying to revive her. The ambulance was on the way. Calls were made: Brenda waved her husband in from the lake; Amy came to the house; Cheryl arrived in time to follow the ambulance to the hospital. I can only imagine the desperation as the reality of the situation came clear.

Mom, without her hearing aids in, was unaware of the horror that was going on just a few feet from her bed.

When I received the call at work at 9AM, I thought it was about Mom. “It’s not Mom,” Amy said, and I couldn’t think where that information could lead. “Sheila. Sheila died.”

We didn’t learn the cause of her death until later that day. Sheila had a stroke, probably about 2AM, and was gone long before the first attempts to revive her.

Sheila was young – only 55 – and in good health, as far as she knew. She was strong, purposeful and doing important work. She had no warning.  We had no time to prepare.

I mourn Sheila’s death to varying degrees all through the year. Some days it seems sadder, or more poignant than others. I always miss her.

On the first of August, Sheila had no idea that she was living the last day of her life.

Some of us get warning; some do not. I don’t know which is better.

To honor Sheila, I am trying to live each day fully aware, as if it were my last.

Because I can.

And because it could be.

David

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I woke up early this morning in a fog of sadness and worry.

I assumed it was my job situation. Everyone has been helpful, kind and sympathetic. Still, it’s stressful to change jobs, hours, type of work and method of payment. Today, I had three people to talk to about supplemental work for the summer. I also had to go back to my old place of employment, to pick up my final paycheck. Coming onto the first of the month, bills were coming due.

Sleep was impossible; I got up and made coffee.

I wrote a couple checks, in anticipation of my bank deposit. I looked over my day book, trying to memorize my schedule so far. What I really needed, I decided, was a purse-sized calendar that would show me a full week – or even month – at a time. I know I have at least two…but where? The file drawer – not the one with actual hanging files in it, but the other one…with stacks of miscellaneous papers – was the obvious place to start. I started working through the layers.

The warranty papers for my new phone,  I filed correctly. The stack of hand-made paper samples went to a drawer in the studio. A stack of photos diverted my attention for at least a half- hour. Christmas cards, purchased on sale and never mailed, went into my new correspondence drawer, where they will – I hope – be remembered next winter. A scrap of wrapping paper…the fat, county phone book…a map of Michigan…my page-a-day book from 2010…

I have kept a daily planner for at least twenty years. I keep track of my work schedule, hours worked and tips, if any. I keep track of the medicine dose for my dogs. I used to have a “to-do” list, but it suits me better to jot down jobs as I finish them. I get the sense of accomplishment without the angst. I have a master list of goals in the front, and a wish-list in the back. I keep a Christmas list in there, and write down gifts as I buy them. At times, I’ve kept a food diary. I always keep track of steps and/or miles walked, plus any other exercise I fit in. Letters written, phone calls made, visitors to my home are noted. Book and movie recommendations, and quotes from books and magazines are in there. Photos and letters are sometimes tucked in the pages…”2010,” Now there’s a distraction!

At first glance, nothing much had changed. A couple things could be checked off the wish-list, but the goals were pretty much in tact (note to self: choose easier goals!) I flipped through to today’s date.

Oh.

I drew in a breath.

My brother, David, died on June 29th, two years ago.

Too young. Too soon.

Ten years younger than me, David and I had little in common…

No, that’s wrong, though I say it all the time. I always have.

It’s true, we had many differences. David was loud. Sometimes crazy. A big tease. He was a party-er and a big drinker. He worked, but not steadily. He never saved. Other than a short stint in Texas with two of my sisters, David always lived in the family home. Dad was generally mad at him: Mom did him no favors by being overly generous and protective of him. I was second to the oldest; David was second to the youngest.

Still, we had the same parents and the same brother and sisters. We grew up in the same big, rambling household. We attended the same church and the same schools. We shared many of the same memories, both tragic and joyful. We shared the same dark sense of humor, that caused us to laugh at the most inopportune times. We were family.

He was born on a Sunday morning in September. Dad came home and gave us the news, then packed us up to go to Mass. In the excitement, he forgot to give us dimes for our collection envelopes. When the basket came around, Dad just dropped in a few dollar bills. I taped the pink collection envelope, stamped with the date, into my scrapbook, as a memento of the day my little brother was born.

I rocked him to sleep, helped to entertain him, babysat for him and helped him with his homework. I watched him grow up.

As adults, David helped me move a couple times. Beyond that, I saw him at holidays or other occasions when I visited my parents. Sometimes we’d have a little chat; sometimes he’d join in board games or cards with the rest of us. He always impressed me with his memory and wealth of knowledge. David was always good for a hug.

David wasn’t a big part of my life when he was alive, so I’ve puzzled over why I miss him so much now that he’s gone. David was pure energy. Like a firecracker – or a lightning bolt – his presence seemed to change even the quality of the air around him. I think sometimes it’s not so much that I miss David – though I do – but that I miss the world the way it was with David in it.

I have a photo – not found this morning – that I took, at age sixteen, with my brand new Kodak Instamatic camera. We were here on Beaver Island, on vacation, on the beach at Iron Ore Bay. David had stripped down to his underwear, and was headed for the water: hands in the air, arms every which way and legs at a dead run. I caught the moment when both of his feet were in mid-air.

That’s the image of David that I hold in my mind.