Mother is Scared, But…

This summer I felt my first earthquake while sleeping in a teepee. A loud boom erupted in the distance. My first thought was that train cars were connecting on the railroad on the other side of the Jefferson River where I was camping, but it didn’t make sense that railcars were active in the middle of the night. The mountainous landscape was dry and sparse, a synchronous description of the activity along the wide river’s valley.

The earth rocked beneath me—really deep beneath me. Later, I would learn it was a 5.8. Zipped inside a puffy sleeping bag, I shook like a cocoon in a breeze. I sat up and said, “Earthquake”. It was more of a statement than a warning. My two daughters, and Charlotte, our French exchange student for a month, formed three-fourths of a ring on the ground and I wanted them to know the cause of the rattling. For them, I wanted to pretend that I wasn’t afraid.

I was, of course, very afraid.

I waited for them to respond. Aileen, my oldest daughter, twisted her head to look at me.

“Did you feel that?” I said, probably a little too emphatically. My heart was racing. The other girls hadn’t moved.

Aileen nodded, sleepy-eyed. I waited for her to react appropriately, to tuck her head beneath her arms or something like that, to show that she was just as scared as me.

“I have to pee,” she said.

I groaned inside. Then came the dreaded question.

“Will you go with me?” she said.

I wasn’t excited to go to the outhouse in the middle of the night with my sixteen year old, but I did it anyway, because I knew she was afraid. A mother intuits her child.

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Teepee, Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park, MT

My sleeping bag completed the fourth part of the ring. I had taken the girls to Lewis and Clark State Park for a night under the stars. The next day we would tour the caves that snake through the depths of limestone rock like secret passageways to a hidden world. It was supposed to be an adventure, and with a bright waxing moon in the sky it would become a night-day mix-up, a transversal of daylight’s stretch stopped within the gaping mouth of limestone that continued to a nighttime world.

I walked with my daughter to the outhouse. Rain began to fall in quiet, little drops on my shoulders. After we climbed back into our sleeping bags, two aftershocks waved through before I was able to fall asleep. Meanwhile, the rain pinged the canvas walls with a softness that only happens in summer. Lightning flashed overhead.

It wasn’t perfect. I was afraid of entering the caves the following day. Despite knowing I had no reason to worry about a teepee catastrophe, I imagined being deep in the caves during another earthquake. The worst part was that I imagined bringing the girls to their doom.

After an unrestful sleep, I had to make a plan in the morning. Do I go? Do I not go? Do I let them go without me? Certainly, they were old enough.

But what if they were inside the caves without me and an earthquake struck?

While waiting for hot water to boil on a propane burner, I chose the ultimate job required of parents–—I sacrificed. A hiss formed the background noise while I consciously solidified my life’s prerogative: I was willing to die for my children.

Like the fourth arc in the ring of life, having a clear initiative transcended the fear. I felt complete. I wonder now, how many times have I initiated out of fear rather than love? How often have I disappointed rather than embraced? Is it really that hard to sacrifice?

That morning, with the hot morning sun burning our skin through our shirts, I walked into the dark mouth of the cave with my daughters. It was day. It was night. I walked into the cave with my daughters because it was the right thing to do.

After Mother’s Day

Sunday was Mother’s Day. I had an appropriate celebration: breakfast in bed (Nutella crêpes, coffee, a banana, a glass of freshly-cut lilacs), gifts, cards, and dinner with the family at a nice restaurant. We ended the day by sporting goofy faces, of course, for a family selfie.

Some days, it is hard to believe I am a mother. Our daughters are teenagers now, more independent than I  was at that age. Sometimes, I feel as if they could live just fine without me, but that isn’t true. They need me for large notions: moodiness and friendship struggles, college plans, identity approval, and character building. (I don’t tolerate diminishment. This is the singular area where I am quick to scold.)

My mother and I shared texts on Mother’s Day, wishing each other a happy day, telling each other I love you. It was an appropriate interaction. Except my mother sent it as a group text. On a text that I wanted for myself, she included my sisters, one of whom is not a mother. My older sister doesn’t know the challenges of motherhood, nor the reason it was inappropriate years ago to set her large purse on top of my daughter who, at three months old, slept in the car seat while we ate lunch. How do you explain worth to someone so ignorant?

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My older sister replied to my mother with gushy flowers and hearts. It reminded me why I am uncomfortable around my birth family—they are, in my opinion, still children, perhaps the same emotional age as my daughters, but probably not quite. With family, as a mother and a daughter, I am eternally stuck in the middle. One family is age-appropriate, the other is not. Navigating the polarity of emotional terrain comes either with a reward or a struggle. Flowers and hearts from children has a different meaning than flowers and hearts from adults.

I know now that mature love makes the difference. Timeliness makes a difference. As a teenager, I wanted my mother to tell me I was smart, worthy, special. I wanted her to love me as much as she loved my sisters. Instead, I felt ignored, insignificant, betrayed. She simply wasn’t emotionally situated to give me the love I needed.

But she tried.

Now, I can articulate my needs. My mother is trying to meet them, really trying. I hope when my daughters are adults that I will continue to try to meet their needs. Being heard, feeling heard, is how a woman feels loved. It is so much larger than hearts and flowers.

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Do you agree? How do you feel loved?

 

 

 

Words: On Trump, but Mostly My Dad

Politics are not my thing, but a little nagging voice inspired me to write about Trump’s disparaging comments about women. Saturday night, with my laptop on my lap and a glass of wine (from France, of course), I sat down and let my fingers type their way through the messiness to find meaning in the words.

What Trump said out loud wasn’t shocking to me. Nor had I placed him on a pedestal high enough to induce feverish anger. To me, the news was as blasé as hot dogs for dinner.

But I was unhinged about something. The words poured out Helter Skelter crazy with no sensibility to them. The slant finally began to drift toward my father.

Ah yes, my father.

He had been in town last week. Knowledge of his proximity had rendered me into a weak-kneed, vulnerable scaredy cat. My heart raced at the first phone call. I did not answer.

My dad, father to three girls, was known for the opposite of exquisite praise. Fed up with bickering, he would say, “Good God I wish I had boys. One punch and it’s over.” Then he’d shove a triple decker of Saltines with cheese in his mouth.

His method of parenting: insult. He swallowed food. I swallowed anger. As I grew, the words inside me built from Shut up to I hate you! Of course, I never said any of these out loud. Well, maybe I did. Yes, I did. But nothing answered the eternal burn of his influence: What’s wrong with me?CircleRocks

As it is, I love my father. I recognize the gap left by unmet needs that made him violent and explosive, drunk and unpredictable. Still, in his presence I waver between the woman who deserves respect and the daughter who yearns to make her father proud.

I have no say in the latter. I never did. Growing up, my sisters and I were present and vulnerable to his needs—the needs we should never have had to shore up with our innocence. His words diced us into shards just as a fist punches. The pain wasn’t visible, but the scars will last a lifetime.

My father’s words speak of the culture that raised him. He had no say over it. It is forgivable.

But I couldn’t summon the strength to answer the phone the second time he called. I was afraid he would avoid the conversation I need with him. I was afraid I would cave in to his needs and avoid it too. My love for my father is courageous and raw, wild and stray. I no longer want to feed it, but I can let it run.

I know this hurts him. People are wild, we hurt each other. But we can stop hurting with words.

Words make all the difference.

Words: Coffee Talk*

If we were having a cup of coffee right now I would tell you my husband is cooking Chicken Parmesan for dinner tonight. I’d say I love it when he cooks because I’m not much into cooking and it sometimes turns me stale.

If we were having coffee right now I would tell you how my book is progressing. I’d say I had a major meltdown at 3 a.m. one night and tore apart the book Writing and Selling Your Memoir because I hated that it made me feel incapable of the task. I’d share the following snippet of writing I have since come up with.

Mom told me the first time she laid eyes on Dad, he was the most macho guy she had ever seen. He dazzled her with his black hair and green eyes. And that mustache! She knew at once he would be the man she would marry. When I asked how she could be so certain, she said, “I just knew.”

Mom and Dad were married in a friend’s living room in January, 1970. Mom wore a short gray dress with long sleeves. Their wedding photo revealed a terrifying, joyous occasion. Mom’s broad smile and stylish cropped hair, so typical of brides, clashed with Daddy’s restricted grin. A clock on the mantel behind them evoked a curious omen. Doomed or eternal? Mom and Dad’s marriage was both. They wore the prospects on their fingers-Mom with a gold band, Daddy with none.

Six months later, my big sister was born.

If we were having coffee right now, I would look in your eyes, hopeful I can write this book.

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Drum Coffee is great.

If we were having coffee, I would ask how your world is going.

*Response to Day Eleven of Everyday Inspiration

 

 

 

Words: On Childhood*

I should have written a diary. Forgive me for fearing my sisters might find it, which is not to say I had little ability at hiding keepsakes of my inner world. Rather, it is that I excelled at disguising my world. This tactic evolved gracefully, slowly. By adulthood, infused in a concealed version of life, my secrets remained hidden, especially from myself. For this, I must ask my own forgiveness.

It is easy to look back at childhood and see the triumphant casualties of my family, memories emblazoned with red. The pendulum swing through the years leaves me yearning for the moods wedged between childhood’s climactic and sullen moments. How difficult it is to dredge up the gray-timeless hours spent adhering stickers on notebooks, building forts, reading Snoopy, and chasing boys. I want to see the tomcat fumble in the dark. Summer days spread before me like an ocean of time. I rejoiced piecemeal discoveries festooned with tinsel and dust. I want to feel her smallness, expand into the world with thin arms, listen to footsteps with greater importance than my own.

There, I might find recourse in laughter, or perhaps on the duct-taped seat of a bicycle I pedaled nowhere and home again. I would smell anew the lilacs of spring. Time diffuses spirit. Diaries capture it. Maybe, just maybe, mine will visit once again in the walls of my written story.IMG_3465

 

*In response to Day 3 of the 20 Day Challenge One word prompt: Secret