Category Archives: Gratitude

“My mother, that’s who I mean…”

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“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.”  –Washington Irving

I love my mom. 

Writing about her proves a little harder than writing about my dad because I have always been a daddy’s girl.  On the other hand, I had quite a few years where, at best, I maintained a shallow truce with her and, at worst, was furious with her.  Perhaps that is every adolescent girl’s fate.  Perhaps it is the timeless Greek tragedy, the younger determined to tear down and defeat the older.  Perhaps these are just excuses.  The truth is, I said and did so many things that I now regret.  This shame is why it’s hard to write about my mom.  I didn’t have a life-long friendship, a close companionship.  I have guilt and deep, unquenching love.

I spent a lot of time angry at my mom.  I was angry because I had two little brothers.  I was mad that she babysat other children.  I hated that she was a dedicated teacher that loved her students.  I hated that (I thought) she had all the time in the world for every other child.  I wanted her to myself.  I can seen now how much I craved her affection and attention.  She was in no way distant or absent–it was just never enough for me.  No matter how present she was, I needed more.  To this day, I don’t know why.  I may have been a deeply unhappy child, lonely and unpopular, that just wanted someone to fill that emptiness.  Maybe my jealousies just got the better of me.  Whatever the reasons, I resented her.  I also burned with hatred for her rules.  She was so strict with me, lenient with my brothers.  She was unreasonable when I wanted to go out in high school, unwavering with her rules when it came to boys.  She wasn’t like the other moms who bent curfews and trusted their girls to make good choices.

Because she wasn’t like other moms.  She has lived a harder life than I will ever understand because she shielded me from it.  She struggled more through childhood than she let me.  Her family was unstable and fractured–she held ours together.  Her mom still works endlessly to support her children–she spent years at home so we were not alone.  She saw what drugs and violence do to people, and put up her iron walls to protect us from those evils.  She is a stronger woman than I ever knew.

As I’ve grown, I’ve understood her better.  My dad told me this time and again, but I now see how deeply she loved us, loved me.  She is not an overly affectionate woman, but I never went to school without a clean, ironed uniform.  My lunch was always full and fresh, my hair washed and combed.  Our home was clean and comfortable, our homework checked and complete.  Our birthdays were photographed and Christmases video taped.  She crocheted me afghans and sewed my bedspreads.  She stitched me Easter dresses.  And Christmas dresses.  And birthday dresses.  And Halloween costumes.  She found the perfect stocking stuffers and underwear.  She made dinner every night and birthday cakes, snacks for class and cookies for the fair.  We never went without. 

I would have prefered more cuddles and tender moments.  But I see as clearly as the keys beneath my finger tips that this was how my mom loves us.  This is how she knows to show her love.  She spent every last penny, every moment giving to us.  She gives things, does things, and makes things to show her love.  She doesn’t say it often and doesn’t talk endlessly about it, but she gives it. 

As I grow older, I see what this has done to me.  I send cards every holiday.  I send gifts every birthday.  I buy things that remind me of my friends when I see them.  I don’t regret spending money on others.  I am happy to run errands for them.  I bake for people.  I do for people.  I try to be better than she is about telling people how I feel, but without realizing it, I have taken on her generosity, the physical form her love takes.

Today, I love my mother just as much as I did when I was young, if not more.  I know more of her, have had more of her, and have been given more of her now.  I like to call her and talk about the television shows we both watch.  I like sending her websites to look at.  I like making her recipes myself.  But I also love making her laugh.  I like to make people laugh in general and want to be thought of as funny, but there is a pride that comes with making her laugh that no one else gives me.  I want to make her proud.  I know that there really isn’t a lot that is remarkable about my life right now, but there was a time I loved to call and tell her about tests or papers I aced, programs I coordinated, projects I completed.

I loved her so much more deeply when I was young than I realized.  My anger and pain eclipsed my devotion to her.  Now that age has tempered that angst, that love is clear and easy to find.  It courses through me, it crosses the miles, and it beats like the life blood she infused me with.  I wish there were no asterisk to our relationship, nothing that I want to forget, but the reality is that life and relationships are complicated.  I would rather not think about the monster that I was, the cruelty that she loved me through, and focus on the now, the true friendship that we have forged.  My mom may not be the easiest person on earth to love, but neither is her daughter, and we both overcome that.  I am so proud of her, so amazed by her strength and resilience, that “love” seems too small a word, my heart too weak to hold all that I feel for her. 

“All women become like their mothers.  That is their tragedy.  No man does.  That’s his.”  –Oscar Wilde

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All dressed up and nowhere to go

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“A father is always making his baby into a little woman.  And when she is a woman he turns her back again.”  –Enid Bagnold

I’m sitting in my stuffy room after school.  As Nickelodeon cartoons flicker from the old tv in the corner, I riffle through my closet, squeezing between the Barbies and shoes, making my way to the back.  I pull my Easter dress off of the hanger, hopping back out onto the carpet.  I pull the dress on, fluffing the sleeves that my mother painstakingly sewed, and toss my uniform aside.  Peeking from my door, I race down the hallway to the bathroom to admire my gown.  I comb my hair and make sure the bow is tied perfectly at my waist, and then sneak back to my room.  I hide quietly, listening for the familiar crack of the front door opening.  For no particular reason, with no particular plans, I sit and wait for my dad to get home from work.  Maybe it is because I think this is what a princess does.  Maybe I just want to wear my dress more than one day that year.  Mostly it’s because he’s my dad and he’s coming home from work.

I sit with crumpled brown paper book covers making my legs itch.  Binders surround me and my eyes feel heavy.  Frantically trying to finish homework before Letterman’s Top Ten, I scribble on the couch across the room from my father.  He turns on Sports Center and I continue to work, procrastination becoming a familiar foe.  He turns the volume down and begins to tell me about whatever game is being recapped.  And about his day.  And that leads to stories about college, or childhood before cable, or the years when I was too young to be up this late.  Then it’s movies he loves, the books they remind him of, the art classes he once took.  Some stories are old, ones I’ve heard a dozen times.  Others are new, adding a new dimension to this man whose known me since I was an amorphous cell cluster.  Some are favorites I love each time and others I tune out as I continue work.  Only now do I realize what a sacrifice that was, staying up so late and getting up so early, working so hard and forgoing his rest to talk with me. 

I’m hot and tired and sore and hiking the longest trail I’ve ever seen.  I want to cry and shower and be anywhere but here.  He laughs along with the boys in my class, leading the hike with them while I lag behind with my friends, hating the camping adventure.  I hate them for being with him, hate him for wanting to be with them.  I hate this trip and the nettles that scratch legs and everything.  Then he drops back, slowing himself down, leaving the guys whose company he’s enjoying, and brings up the rear with us.  He’s a favorite chaperone, and enjoys the time with the class, and decides to lag behind.

I head out to visit him at a conference.  With no work, I have nothing tying me to the city so I head out.  He has sessions to attend, but we walk through the town and find a restaurant to enjoy dinner.  We talk about our weeks, what I like to drink, my brothers, the people around us.  We venture through a park, posing with the statues we find there, snapping pictures in the chilly drizzle.  We watch a marathon of Lock Up, laughing and riveted by the documentary of our prison system.  We go to dinner at a museum, he networking and me perusing the exhibits.  I put on a dress I bought a year before but never had reason to wear.  I want to look professional for the executives at the conference.  I want to look business-like, or fashionable, I’m not quite sure.  I just know that I’m still dressing up for my dad, simply because his work day is done.  I am always a daddy’s girl.

“Delicious Autumn!”

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“Fallen leaves lying on the grass in the November sun bring more happiness than the daffodils.” –Cyril Connolly

This afternoon I had the pleasure of meandering through downtown with a good friend and nothing to do.  We wandered, talked, took in our city, and simply savored the day.  It was gray and breezy and as close to Fall as we get.  I love the season of Fall.  It’s understated, milder than its neighboring seasons, and one that not all areas get to enjoy.  I miss it.

Spring gets most of the glory.  It is the beginning of life.  Days grow longer and temperatures begin to rise.  The chill of winter fades away and green floods the earth.  Summer is the fun one.  It’s free and exciting, no school or worries.  It’s about water and travel and lazy, late nights in the cool hours of the day.  Winter gets a bad rap.  It is dead and dark, but it is also about celebrations: Christmas, the start of a new year.  It, in its own way, is about life as well.  Fall doesn’t get the attention it deserves. 

I love the gradual chill that creeps in as Fall takes hold.  It starts with a breeze, with scattered clouds in the afternoons.  Suddenly it’s dark in the evening and cool all night.  Sweaters emerge from their hiding places and blankets cover beds.  Grilled cheese and soup replace snow cones and iced tea.  As leaves crisp and fall, it seems that the season brings about death and an end to fun and long days.  On the contrary, Fall is about life, about what we work and live for.  Harvests come in.  What was once a seed, a hope and work, is now fruit, sustenance, results.  Our expectant patience is rewarded with abundance.   

Fall is filled with memory.  I can smell the sweet, freshly cut wood delivered to our home.  Still sticky with sap and bark, we piled it up for the winter.  I can feel my hand fill with the strings and seeds inside of our jack-o-lanterns as we cleaned them out.  The first crackling fire glows at my back as its heat penetrates my pajamas, drying my hair after a warm bath.  The rush of a cold wind across my face brings back lunches outside during school and changing leaves bring home to me.  I can hear the rake scraping across the grass, gathering the crisp leaves.  They scratch as we jumped into piles of them, the smell of them crumbling in my hand.  Fall is childhood more than any other season.  It is togetherness.  As darkness comes faster and faster, more of our time is spent together.  More hot dinners bring us around the table.  It’s the excitement of school beginning, the adventure of Halloween, and the anticipation of Winter.

 As much as I love the experience of Fall, or perhaps the memory of it, I also appreciate that it has a place in the cycle of the year.  The winds and rains would not be as welcome if Summer were not so brutal.  The red leaves would not draw my eye if green were not so rich before.  Crops would not be ready to gather if they had not grown and matured through the rain and heat.  Fall puts the other seasons into perspective.  In the cold darkness, we remember the warm sun.  The empty branches create space for Spring’s buds to grow.  I like the Summer best during the Winter.  And it’s the other seasons that make Fall so sweet.  It’s not as severe as the Winter that follows, kinder than the Summer that precedes it.  It is the older sibling of Spring, somehow wiser, slower, more deliberate.  It has more restrain and grace than the excited and eager Spring.  It is part of a cycle, balancing and offsetting the other seasons.  In the city of 73 degrees and sunny, I miss the beauty of four distinct seasons.  However today, for a few hours, Fall wandered the city with a couple of friends.

“It takes some cold to know the sun/  It takes the one to have the other”  –Jason Mraz