Saturday, August 1, 2015

She and He

My mom, separately from being my mom, was the kind of woman that I love.  She was rarely the most physically beautiful woman in the room, but she was always the woman with that intangible something. It was one of the most interesting things about her to me because it didn’t have to do with what she looked like, it had to do with who she was at her core.  

Four years ago today my mom was on life support and in a coma.  Erin and I had a few days left before we had to make the really hard decisions.  It wasn’t looking good and then something magic happened.

My mom was married three times and none of them was to the love of her life.  But she had a love of her life.  And that relationship is where every single one of my big, romantic, sometimes silly ideas about love came from.  Their timing was always off.  Always.  My memory fails me sometimes but it is amazing the detail in which it recalls some things.  The chemistry they had was palpable.  You could feel it when you were in a room with them.  I was 6 and I felt it, I find it hard to believe that anyone was unaffected by it.  They both had big, glittery, personalities on their own but together they shone like the sun.  Their energy made the air hum. Some of my best childhood memories are with the two of them. My clearest memories.  I can make a decent argument against the questionable judgement that resulted in a slow dribble of the wrong men being foisted on my brother and me.  But not him.  He fixed a lot, especially for me.  Bad timing and sad ending aside, it was a privilege to watch them ebb and flow over the years. Before I tell you what happened four years ago today, I will tell you, briefly, what happened over thirty years ago.  I am not privy to many of the intimate details of their relationship.  What I have, what I will carry forever with me, are the pieces I saw, the pieces I felt and the things they have both graciously shared with me over the years.  Their relationship initially ended, my mom said, years later, because he was younger, he didn’t yet have kids, he was intensely selfish and arrogant (sorry, you know how much I love you).  Eventually she met someone else.  At some point he did get married and have kids, but I don’t remember if it was before or after what came next. When I was 10 my soon-to-be Evil Stepfather asked my mom to marry him.  On that day he showed back up, heart in hand, wanting to make it work.  It was too late she said.  She got married.  When I was 17 my soon-to-be-ex Evil Stepfather got caught cheating and said he wanted a divorce.  He showed back up, on that day.  I don’t actually know what happened after that because I was 17 and self-involved and because it wasn’t my business in any case.  The point being, they have come in and out of one another’s life in mysterious ways, with mysterious timing for decades.  It wasn’t always happy, it wasn’t always sad.  It was always magic.  Always.  And you can take what you want from it but to me it is essential love story.  It might not always work they way you wanted it to, it might not always be picket fences and diamond rings but it is always, always, every single solitary time better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all.

Back to four years ago.  My mom is in a coma and I’m sure she’s not going to make it on this particular day at this particular hour. I’ll feel differently momentarily, that’s the thing about a drawn out death, you have the luxury of time and your hopes and fears come at you in terrifying and beautiful waves pulling you under and letting you surface just long enough to catch your breath before they take you down again.

Of course I’m in communication with him; he’s happy, he’s married again, but the love of his life is in a coma.  Of course I called him.  Of course he came. I don’t remember where he came from, I remember it was hours of driving and I think he was on his motorcycle.  He came and there was a point when I didn’t think he would be fast enough, when I didn’t think he would get to say goodbye.  It became my sole focus, keeping her alive until he got there.  And she did stay alive.  I don’t know if I’ve ever been so glad to see someone in my entire life.  I just thought, “If anyone can save her, he can.”  I think she had been in the coma for 3 days or so at that point.  I had begged and pleaded with her to come back, I had my kids beg her.  I shamelessly used Aidan as please-come-out-of-your-coma-bait.  Nothing worked.  I told her she could leave, that it was okay to go and then I would put my head in her lap and beg her not to abandon me.  No doctors really had any hope except for the one who had known her. And here’s the thing about my mom and me; we were in some ways incredibly similar people and other ways not at all.  If I were in her position, I would want the love of my life to come, I would want him to be able to say goodbye.  I would want the same if the situation were reversed.  I have my own bad-timing-love-of-my-life and if he was in a coma there is nothing in this world that would keep me away from him. Nothing. I am softer when it comes to love than she ever was; I’d like to say I’ve evolved further than she had but it’s entirely possible that I’m just more stupid. So I made a decision I knew she would hate because I didn’t have anything else to lose.  I thought if he could help maybe I would get her back and if he couldn’t, at least, he would get to say goodbye.  She would have killed me for letting him see her looking so horrible, so weak, so on-death’s-door.  I didn’t care. He sat down and started talking to her.  I sat in a chair, closed my eyes and cried.  I wasn’t really listening to what he said, just the tone of his voice, the sadness, the love.  When I opened my eyes  his head was down and she was looking right at me.  

My first thought was not relief that she was awake.  My first thought was “she is going to fucking kill me.”  Seriously, that was my first thought after my mom woke up from a coma.  I’m not proud of it, but it was the appropriate thought.  If you knew my mom, you understand.  I rushed him out of the room in my panic.  After spending an entire night praying for his speedy arrival I wanted him a thousand miles away at that moment.  He stayed as long as he could, he spoke to her, mostly while she slept.  When he left to go home I was filled with so much hope, I had my mom back.  The doctors were amazed. Her condition turned around quickly and I think, within 24 hours, she was off the ventilator and breathing on her own.  

This isn’t a happy story in the traditional sense, my mom lived only another 12 days.  She and he; they did not get a fairy tale, but they got a goodbye.  Erin and I got to see, first hand, the magical ways in which love conquers all and he gave my mom back to us for a very important 12 days.  This story isn’t about my mom dying, it’s about how my mom lived, about how hard she loved.  This story is about magic and love and fate.  It’s about the decisions we make and the decisions we avoid that change everything forever.  This story is about timing and chemistry and biology.  It’s about connecting and feeling and deciding to be brave.  Love is complicated and overwhelming and often too much.  But in the end it all comes down to love. 

 Did you have it?  Did you let it in?  Did you give it?  Was it worth it?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Oxygen Mask

Gentleness.  We are naturally gentle when we pick up things that are smaller than ourselves, things we perceive as weaker than ourselves.  If we pick up a baby chick, or a baby, we are gentle.  Why are we not more gentle with ourselves?  It sounds a little corny, but it is true.  It’s not possible to love others fully if you do not love yourself. I am no expert but I imagine that extends to everyone; your family, your friends, your partner.  I’ve spent much of the last three and a half years thinking about how to be enough for everyone in my life. And here’s the thing; it is not possible.  At the end of the day there is this, you must be enough for yourself; nothing more, nothing less.  When you are enough for yourself, you can take care of those you love, you can allow yourself to be loved in return.

I love to fly.  I find flying exhilarating; it appeals to the risk taker in me.  Which is to say, I am not really a risk taker at all, flying, after all, is safer than driving, but I digress.  Like everyone, I tune out when the flight attendant begins her speech telling me things I already know….except, the last time I flew I found myself listening.  

In the event of a decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.

It’s an important message. Basically, it boils down to, if you don’t help yourself first you will be ill prepared to help the people you love most.  Isn’t that all we want?  To help those we love most?  I was armed with a list of what I wanted, it wasn’t big but it was everything.  1) I want to help the people I love.  2) I want to love myself; I want to enjoy myself. 3) I want to be open to the possibility of …..possibility.   

So began my journey.

My mom died…
In the event of a decompression…

My marriage unraveled and I decided to save myself…
an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you.

I crawled out from under the wreckage and stood up…
To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you.

I began to believe in myself again.  I trusted myself, I was gentle with myself, I gave myself some slack.  It was not easy; it was necessary…
Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally.

I remembered how much I used to like myself.  I remembered my value, I learned my own worth…
Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask.

I am in a place now where I can be what my children need me to be….
If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person.

I don’t do small.  My personality is big, my heartbreaks are big, my triumphs are big, my loyalty is big, my love is big.  It’s really big, sometimes it is too big for people, it scares them.  Sometimes it scares me.  Being brave isn’t not being afraid, it’s being afraid and moving forward anyway. I’m brave.  I own it, it’s an integral part of who I am.  It’s been a journey to realize that big is okay.  I used to feel bad that I was too much.  Someone recently told me,  “A lot can be a good thing”.  I am a lot.  You don’t have to like me, you don’t have to love me.  I do.  I’ve worked hard,  I’m taking this moment and owning it.  I am me.  I am exactly enough.  I am open to possibility; I’m wearing my oxygen mask, now I can help you with yours.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Happy Birthday Sami!

This lovely, young woman has been a part of my life since she was 7 years old.  It seems like minutes ago and lifetimes.  Being her aunt and friend have been one of the great joys of my life.  It has been my honor and pleasure to watch her grow up; she is unique and beautiful and kind.  Her soul has always been older than her years and I love hearing her thoughts on the world around her.  I am in awe of her independence and her ability to figure it out on her own, I'm very proud of her.  I don't get to see her as much as I used to and our last names aren't the same anymore but she is my only niece and I absolutely cherish her.  Happy birthday, Sam.  I love you very much.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

You Are Exactly Enough. Happy 9th Birthday!

You aren't ready to hear this; some of it you won’t understand because you’re nine.  Much of life is impossible to understand.  It won’t get easier, it will get harder.  It’s important to me to say this to you now.

Right now you think I’m the funniest, smartest, most beautiful woman in all the world.  Part of you will always think that. Someday part of you will want me to shut up more than you’ve ever wanted anything in your entire life. Part of you will be in awe at how seemingly together I have it when you are falling apart.  Part of you will hate me.  Part of you will see me as a failure and part of you will see me as the real deal.  Part of you will always want to curl up in the triangle that exists between my elbow, my chin and my breast….the first spot you were ever held in; you will feel like this until the moment you take your last breath.  Sometimes you will feel these things at the same time and it will confuse you; I know this because I am a daughter too.  Good bad or ugly I will be the standard to which you hold yourself for your entire time on this Earth. You will be your own people, you will make your own mistakes, you will go off on your own, you will have staggering successes, you will run back to my arms and somehow, no matter what happens your sense of self will be forever entangled with mine.  

I want to tell you something that my mom didn’t say to me until after she died….I want to tell you now when you’re little.  I want you to know it every moment of your life.  My mom felt it, she thought it, but I wish she would have said it sooner.

You are exactly enough.

What you are today, what you were yesterday, what you will be tomorrow and the next day and the next day after that is exactly enough.  You are enough on the days when you’re emotionally throwing yourself on the ground like an over-tired toddler and on the days when you are high on the fumes of your personal accomplishments; on both of these days you are just perfect.

I want you to know what I knew growing up; that if I needed my mom she would be there.  I will be there. I’m not just a mom, I have a life.  I have people and things that are important to me that have nothing to do with you but when you need me I will be there for you.  I won’t always be perfect, I will say the wrong things and do the wrong things but from the time I read the little positive sign on the pregnancy test I have always tried to do the right thing for you.  Sometimes I’ll screw up, sometimes I’ll get mad, sometimes you will.  We will fight, we will rage and we will figure it out.  I promise that I will respect you even when I want to strangle you.  I hope you will do the same.  

I want you to know that I will be okay with who you are at the core of your being.  I am okay with who you love; boys, girls….it does not matter.  I will be okay if you want to work at McDonald’s for your whole life; if it is what you are called to do, if it gives you joy, then it is okay with me.  Even if your sister and brother are world renowned brain surgeons and you want to join the circus, I will be okay.  I promise I will figure out a way to be okay with who you are even if who you are is a Republican.

I want you to know that I will always be with you.  I am serious.  Nothing will separate me from you; not time, not space, not death.   My mom is with me every second of every day and I will be with you.  You will carry me with you everywhere you go, you cannot get rid of me, you cannot lose me. I am part of you and you are the very best of me.

I want you to know that every single day I love you more.  Every day I like you more.  I watch who you are becoming and I am floored that I have front row seats to this amazing show.  You are an amazing, beautiful, kind person.  This letter is to  both of you; you are sisters, you are identical twins, you share a lot….you share me.  But I see you both as people.  I see who each of you are and I do not compare you.  You both hold equal but separate space in my heart with your brother.  It is not possible for you to understand the depth of my love for you until you have your own children but I love each of you with every fiber of my being.  Happy 9th birthday Grace Lilly and Olivia Rose, it is absolutely my pleasure and honor to know you.

You are exactly enough.

Love, Mom

Friday, October 31, 2014

29 Halloweens

A million years ago today (okay, it was 29 years ago, 29 is nearly a million) I sat in the basement of a house in Arrowhead, a little neighborhood near where I grew up.  There were three of us girls as far as I remember.  We watched scary movies, I hated them then, I hate them now.  I know we watched Nightmare on Elm Street, I don't remember what else.  I'm sure I had no idea how that night would inform the rest of my life. I am no longer friends with the girl who lived there....but the other one, well the other one is possibly the definitive relationship of my life.

At the time she was the wild one (she would want me to tell you that that switched at some point....she's very good, I'm the wild one).  She had minimal parental supervision, she was worldly and she knew things I'd never even heard of...and I was knowledgeable for my age.  With her I would have my first drink, my first joint, my first lesson in....(I totally scared the crap out of you, didn't I?) let's just say I learned a lot from her. She influenced my taste in music, in art, in movies, in books.  I would literally follow her anywhere and if you know me, you know I don't follow.   

She is the only unconditional love in my life aside from my children and my brother.  We do not always get along.  In 29 years we've had fights.  Our first big fight...I have no idea what it was about...I remember she started to leave my house with a kind of finality I didn't understand.  I yelled something along the lines of, "Just because I'm mad at you doesn't mean I don't love you."  I'm pretty sure it was definitive for both of us.  For her, I believe, it was the realization that some people won't leave you no matter what.  For me, it was the realization that her history, her past told her that people leave, I wasn't going to be one of those people.  She was the first person that I ever chose to love of my own free will.  While our relationship has never been romantic or sexual, I have learned more about functioning healthy relationships from ours  than I have ever learned from another person or relationship.
This is significant; she is pregnant & miserable & she
NO IDEA what she is doing but she loves me.

She is the best person I know in real life.  She is kind and honest and funny and so, so smart. She is a hard worker and has been with her company only 9 years less than we have been best friends. When she smiles her entire face lights up in a way that makes it difficult to turn away.  She is beautiful and brave and forgiving.  She is my hero.

We have delivered one another's babies, we have buried people we loved, we have lived through broken hearts and broken promises and bouts of one or another of us being bad or absentee friends. We have taken road trips, we've gotten tattoos, we have rescued one another from our mistakes (Well, for sure she's rescued me).  We have camped in tents and slept in truck rest stops, and stayed in fancy hotels and trailers with fleas (really, we did that).  We've taken babies out of the country without passports and without guarantee of re-entry and...boys, so many boys along the way (that might have just been me). We've hitch-hiked and flown and driven and biked to one another.  One of us has basically used all of those methods in one crazy day and arrived just in time to deliver a premature baby (that was her).

I have no idea if I will spend my life with a man I cannot live without, I don't know if that is where my fate lies.  What I do know is that she will be my best friend; my very best friend until the moment I take my last breath.  I know that she will always be there for me, eventually; even when she's mad, even when she doesn't agree.  I know that she is my family in an absolutely tangible way. I know that I am very, very lucky and I am incredibly grateful. I love you to the moon and back.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Feminism Is Not A Dirty Word. I Promise.

I have kids, I adore them, there are three of them.  In general they think I’m fairly cool. The 17 year old probably a little less than his 8 year old sisters, but I’m pretty sure he would still tell you I’m the funniest adult he knows in real life.  A large part of my identity is “mom,” I am incredibly proud of my kids and of myself as a parent.

I am a daughter.  My mom is no longer here and yet her daughter I remain.  

I am a woman.  I like a variety of things.  The list of things I like is long, here are some; books, movies, George Clooney, glitter, an apple pie that I've baked, Orange Is The New Black, my friends, my family, good food, incredibly tall and expensive high heels, corsets, anything black, aqua things, plants, bacon, creativity, small and dark dive bars, anything well written, beer, smut of any sort, General Hospital, Harrison Ford, music that makes me feel, historical romance novels, porn made for men, long bubble baths, make up, buttered popcorn with lots of salt, Game Of Thrones, John Oliver and sex. I’m pretty sure I would still like most of these things if I was a man maybe not General Hospital and George Clooney, who can say?

I make a little money planting things in gardens for nice people.  I hope I make the same amount I would make if I was a man.  

I am a writer and a storyteller.  Words are a huge part of who I am, they are how I navigate my position in the world, how I communicate, how I let people know how I am feeling.  I can’t be totally sure, of course, but I’m fairly certain I would still be a writer and a storyteller if I was a man.

Last night I was a MTV Video Award watcher, I know, I’m too old, I don’t care. Actually, I didn't think MTV showed videos anymore, who knew?  I love award shows. My favorite part of the night was this:

I know, it's like I just said a dirty word, like that would ever happen here. If you missed it, it was an amazing performance. She sang as a woman in love with her husband, as a woman wanting sex, as a mom lighting up at the giggle of her little girl, as a powerful woman, as a boss, as a full-on 100% committed feminist; you can watch it here

The definition of "feminism" according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is;


 noun \ˈfe-mə-ˌni-zəm\
: the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities
: organized activity in support of women's rights and interests

That's weird, it doesn't mean angry, crazy woman with PMS and lots of body hair? Strange. It sounds harmless. If Beyonce, Queen Bey, can be a feminist maybe we can too. Maybe your husband can be one, your son, your father, your daughter, your mother....maybe you.

I am a feminist, I believe in equal rights for men and women. And, you know what? I'm certain I'd still be a feminist if I were a man.

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