Sunday, May 26, 2013

Even though

Even though she is well into her cronehood,

now that it is full blown spring
                with birds of all kinds waking up at 4:30 in the morning
                and the daffodils fading and tulips taking their place
                and the lilacs just breaking her heart with their tiny lavender blue flowers
                and, oh my god, their fragrance!

she finds it hard to remember and believe in Winter.

As she moves around the kitchen in the very early, still dark morning
                with the birds outside the window in raucous, noisy celebration of the coming dawn
                and the cats fed their special, early morning canned food,

she realizes that she has a great life.

She washes and puts away the custard cups with their little lids.
She used them yesterday to take sweet, pale yellow custard
to the women in her writing class. 

The eggs for the custard came from her own lovely hens
and the yolks were a stunning orange work of hen art. 

She is inordinately grateful for the heavy glass custard cups and the little lids
and the hens who give their eggs for the custard,
and the elderly, old lady cats who live with her. 

What a privilege to share her home with people of other species 
and to be able to afford to well care for these creatures.

Today she understands why old people move slowly.
Every joint hurts them and they move very consciously to avoid the pain.

And even though she can scarcely believe in old age for herself,
she feels it moving in.

But she appreciates the gifts it brings as well.
She doesn’t worry much any more about how she is perceived.

She knows that she knows many things just from having hung around for so long.

She trusts what she knows.

Yet, even now, when spring comes full blown,
she finds it hard to remember and believe in Winter.

Veda for The Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, May 20, 2013

Pomp and Circumstance Again

It’s the season of Pomp and Circumstance and mortarboard marches.  Time of big transitions.  Of mothertears in the laundry room when you find your son’s soccer jersey from 8th grade in a random basket of un-sorted clothing and simply cannot believe the strapping young man leaning against the car down in your driveway was ever the little boy who cried on your lap because the other boys on the team had already started their growth spurts and were getting more field time. 

It’s the season of roving graduation parties, beer kegs, recitals.  Endings. Bright beginnings.  For some parents it can be a “Sunrise Sunset” moment.  “Is this the little girl I carried/Is this the little boy at play/ I don’t remember growing older/when did they?”

For our graduates, it’s more of a jumble of things.  I personally don’t remember enormous sentimentality at those turning points in my own life.  I was ready to move on and less interested in milking the sniffly moment. 

 My older daughter graduated from her small liberal arts college last weekend with a Psychology degree, a sense of accomplishment, and tears in her eyes. I imagine she felt the significance of the day with a lump in her throat for what has been an academically rigorous, socially intense, culturally diverse, mind and heart expending four years.  My guess is she feels a glimmer of the significance the passage, but like many of us, won’t realize for a long while how her liberal arts education has taught her to live in and think about the world around her. 

I’m not on anyone’s list to make a graduation speech, but I do have some wishes for my daughter as she moves further out into the world.  If I had a son, I’d wish these things for him as well:

            1. Try to remember that you already have what you need inside of you. You were taught to look both ways before you cross the street, to trust your gut when in discernment about the kindnesses shown you by strangers, and to know the basic differences between right and wrong.

            2. You can choose to view the glass as half empty or half full. The way you choose to think about your life and your world will influence your overall happiness to the end.    You’ll especially need to remember this a lot as you move toward the middle of your life and beyond. You always have a choice. 

            3. It’s your road. Stay awake at the wheel and follow the signs that lead you to your passions, to work and relationships that feed and sustain you. 

            4.  Remember that you are loved.

            5.  Tell the truth. Be kind.

            6.  Clean up your messes.

            7. Sing, dance, keep a journal, beat a drum.

            8. Remember all your teachers, the good and the bad. You learn from all of them.

            9. Go to the woods often and breathe deeply. Do not forget to be a good steward of this earth.

            10. Love the ones you’re with.

So.  It’s that time of year.  Time to pause and be reminded of the best wishes wise people have bestowed for centuries. Good luck graduates. My hippie mama wishes are pretty simple. Go forth and make a better world. 

BLR for the Poplar Grove Muse

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mother's Day Reflections

Last month, my mother had open heart surgery to replace her failing aortic valve. At 77, despite having lived a life of healthy moderation in all things as an early-adult-onset diabetic, she battles the ravages of rheumatoid arthritis and diabetic complications and is suddenly as frail in body as she is tough and resilient in spirit.

She had a bad hip break 25 years ago, with attendant complications, and her orthopods have been into her hip no less than four times. Yet in the past weeks, she has humbly admitted that she “had no idea what MAJOR surgery is like.”

On this Mother’s Day, I recognize that I have also been humbled by her major surgery. I feel I have a sudden, intimate understanding of how incredibly fine and transparent is the veil between life and death.

I am also humbled, in retrospect, that I had once thought I understood when friends were facing similarly heart stopping moments of being forced to contemplate the tenuous purchase we, and our loved ones, have on life. I thought I understood, thought I was saying the right words, but I now realize I had no idea what the experience was like, what I was talking about.

Both my siblings were with my mother and father for the surgery, and I knew they would update me promptly about anything that developed. However, I heard nothing for a long time, and then, a very long time, at which time I realized how deeply, deeply anxious I was, waitingwaitingwaiting for news that my mother remained on this side of the veil with me.

Fortunately for us, not always for others, her immediate outcome and longer-term prognosis were good. But I remain newly awakened to a better understanding of how the world is utterly transformed when one’s mother is no longer in it.

Mother’s Day inspires no end of sappy, sentimental observances. Year in and year out, we know we should honor and celebrate our mothers on this day, and we want to, but it is often harder than one might think to do something nice for the one who is used to doing all the doing.

I know I have been guilty of being difficult to honor. I like my morning cuppa to be just a certain way, strong and well steeped before adding in just the right amount of milk. Hearing the husband and children messing up the kitchen in order to bring me a breakfast in bed I never asked for, can be a trial.

However, several years back, I relaxed my standards, and finally found myself able to accept the gifts offered, exactly as they were presented, feeling loved and honored by the gesture, pure and simple. I joke about how long it took my husband, once he became a father, to understand that you don’t have to be hungry to accept the plastic food offered by your tiny daughter; this seemed like such a no-brainer to me, but he grew up in a very different household from mine (and is a guy). I too have my areas of slow-learning.

I truly feel like I learned nearly every generous, open-hearted, humble, kind response I am capable of from my mother. (The rest I believe I learned from my beloved spouse.) She has been endlessly patient and kind with her children, and everyone else in her universe, for that matter. When, in handling my daughters, I struggle with impulses that undermine the parental behavior I aspire to, I try to channel my own mom. And unlike many mothers of story and sitcom, her patient parenting never came with the added burden of guilt (although she is a Lutheran) or resentment, criticism or comment. She has simply been there, teaching by example and offering her love unreservedly.

We each have only one biological mother. Many of us are also blessed to have “other mothers” who offer different kinds of support, nurture, encouragement, modeling, example, at various times in our lives. I am grateful to my mom for bringing the whole array of motherings into my life in her single person, and for bringing me into life. And I am deeply grateful to have more time to share with her in this messy, beautiful, imperfect life. 

Mary for The Poplar Grove Muse

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Tornado Alley

            Six years ago my son and I were living on the beautiful Mendo-Noma California coast. I was a teacher's aide at a small, friendly mountain school replete with redwood trees and cougars. My son was 19 and about to start his second year of college.  Life was good, or at least, good enough.
            But then we both got swept up in our own separate tornadoes of unpredictable, uncontrollable events.  With the help of my kind and benevolent older brother, I landed here in Bloomington, jobless, homeless, and hopeless.  Quite a different situation from my first time arriving in Bloomington in 1969 as a naive and enthusiastic very "fresh" eighteen year old entering Indiana University ready to try my independence, balance my own checkbook, and learn everything there was left to learn.
            While I was training for my new job and camping out at McCormick's Creek State Park in the insufferably hot July weather, I got a distress call from my son whose stormy predicament had landed him in Chicago.  With the kindness and generosity of my younger brother this time, I was able to gas up my little 1984 (older than my son) Toyota truck, pick up my son at the Greyhound Station in Indianapolis, and feed him a big generous meal on our way back to McCormick's Creek.
            We lived a couple of weeks at the park making friends with the baby raccoons who came right up to us after dark. We carefully parceled out our dollar packages of hotdogs and buns to last all day, and on my birthday, July 28th, I received my first paycheck, a partial one of only $25, but what a great birthday present. We splurged and celebrated by eating off the dollar menu at McDonalds. 
            As soon as I was receiving full paychecks, my brother helped us out with a deposit and first month’s rent, and we moved into a two bedroom trailer with air conditioning and two (hallelujah!) bathrooms.  Soon after that my son found a job and we began our pick-yourself-up-dust-yourself-off-start-all-over-again- lives.  Our jobs were low-paying and stressful; we worked, and worked, and worked in a strange land where the slamming hot summer sun never knew the sweet cool kiss of the ocean's breeze, and there were no tall stately redwood trees to shade us with their ancient wisdom and calm us with their quiet endurance.  All our friends were back in California.  All we had was the determination to make the best of a bad situation.
            My son had to forego college for a year so he could eventually qualify for in-state fees. I know this was a big bitter pill for him to swallow, but I don't know if it was bigger than having to move back in with his crotchety, ill, and menopausal mother. I've never had the gumption to ask him. I do know I struggled daily with the as yet undiagnosed, life-threatening disease I was harboring that left me feeling every day like the weakest elk cut from the herd by a ravenous pack of tireless, relentless wolves who were constantly nipping at my heels as I ran and stumbled, ran and stumbled to keep from being pulled down.
            One hot sweaty late afternoon in August my son trudged through the door after a hard day's work at the restaurant and stood, wooden, exhausted, defeated in the middle of our tiny living room/kitchen unable to take even one more step. I started to ask him "How was your day?", but I stopped myself. I knew how his day was, and he knew I knew. So, instead, I asked, "Can I do anything for you?" Drooping and dejected, he said, "Yes, you can hold me up. But I have to warn you that I'm not moving from this spot for the rest of the day."
            I knew from previous experience that his six- foot- two inch solid frame folded over my five- foot- two inch weakened frame would cause ever increasing pain in my back and shoulders if I were to offer myself up. But I didn't hesitate. I pushed myself out of my squeaky goodwill rocker and lumbered over to stand in front of him. He folded himself onto my neck and shoulders as I attempted to surround as much of him as I could with my short, soft, motherly arms.
            We stood there for an eternity, quiet, still, wordless, in the eye of our tornado and held on to each other for dear life. 

all through the fierce storms
dogwoods have bloomed and remain
tenacious beauties

Malu for the Poplar Grove Muse