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December 12, 2006:

My uncle and my brother both marked the time, the exact time – somewhere around 3:43 am.

We sat for a while with her, there in the darkness, holding her hands, holding her heart.  I could still feel her.  Still feel her.  Someone turned on the lights, blew out the candle, started doing the practical things.  Calling the mortuary people, calling my “Aunt” who had been my Mother’s oldest friend – the one who had  aided in my parent’s elopement, had driven her to the hospital to give birth to me, who now lived just upstairs.

It felt wrong to have all this stuff going on.  I stayed in the room with her, pulling up her covers so she might not get cold, trying to fully close her eyes.  They wouldn’t stay closed.  I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror and saw her looking back at me through my eyes.  I saw her eyes in the mirror, in my face.  I called my husband and told him, had him tell Kelsea.  She wrote the date and time down on a napkin and put it in a special scrapbook that she has.

My aunt came.  She put her arm around me, and I said, “I don’t want her to go.”  And she said to me, “She’s already gone.”  I did not know what I was going to do.  I loved her so.  We were such a part of each other.  I just did not know what to do.  As the minutes passed , her body looked less and less…occupied.  I could feel it, feel her soul moving away, as the minutes passed, drifting away, flying away, floating away, soaring away, farther and farther away, without even turning to say good-bye, just excited to be free and exploring.  Leaving me behind.

Things happened then.  My brother put ice around the back of her head to keep her brain cool for the Brain Autopsy Study she was a part of.   I knew it was still nighttime, the middle of the night, but time had become irrelevant.  I just remember again the light, the brightness of incandescent bulbs all over.  The night nurse had slipped out.  She had been hiding in the other bathroom for hours.  She never even came in the room.  She was afraid of dead people.  Everything just felt so surreal.

The funeral home men came, two of them, with a stretcher and a big plastic bag.  Somehow, though she wasn’t a big woman, they just couldn’t seem to manage her.  I don’t know why.  But I wound up helping to put my Mother’s body in that bag.  Wrapped in one of my sheets, one of my favorite sheets, that looked like a sandy beach with seashells on it, that we had put on her bed particularly because she loved those sheets too.  I could never have that sheet back.  That action was the worst part of this whole memory.  I should never have done that.

Then everyone left.  It was morning.  I called my best friend at work.  I started making calls to the people who needed to know.  It was horrible.   I heard her dear friend, whose wife I spoke to, explode with grief – “Oh, GOD!”, he said.  I let her go to him.  I lay down to try to sleep and I just cried.  Cried and cried and cried as if my heart would break.  But it was too late, it was already broken.

I thought about the morphine in the refrigerator.  I could do it.  Could do it so easily.  Just take the rest of it and follow her.  I wasn’t thinking about Kelsea.  I wasn’t thinking.  I was so consumed with pain, I didn’t feel like I could live.  I didn’t want to live.  I was tired and tormented.  I was mad with grief and exhaustion.  I wept myself to sleep.

Later, I told E-Bro about it, and he said he would kick my corpse if I did such a thing.  We started to pack up her things.  We went out to dinner.  We didn’t feel normal.  We were orphans now.  At least we had each other.

Now, four years later, I have come to have some peace with her death, but it has taken almost this entire span of time.  But it has happened.  I still miss her.  I know she’s still with me in her own way.

And I know, with all certainty, that she is having a marvelous time.

December 11, 2006:

You had slept.  I had only dozed, for the ninth night in a row.  I had gotten up a dozen times from the bed next to yours to check on you, to be sure you were still breathing, like a new nervous new mother does with an infant.  You would moan every so often.  When you awoke in the morning, you looked over at me.  “Am I still here?” you asked.  “Yep,” I replied, “unless I’m dead too.”  “Damn,” you said.

We talked then, about the pain, about how you wanted to go and were unsure why you were still here.  You asked me then, if I would help you go if you did not go by yourself today.  Which told me how much you were hurting.  We talked about how I would do it, with the morphine.  I would have done anything for you.  But I could not commit to killing you.  I said, “Let’s see how it goes today.”  I couldn’t say yes – but I couldn’t say no.

The quality of the day changed after that talk.  It felt like when you’re getting ready for a journey – which you were.  We were down to just the orange sherbet now.  I would slip a little between your dry lips  (no amount of lip balm seemed to keep them moist for long) and you would smile this blissful little smile.  We talked about the little blonde daughter that you had never had, that one time when you had an early miscarriage, and how she had always haunted you, and not in a nice way.  How you had longed for her (I tried not to be jealous, not to feel like somehow I hadn’t been daughter enough for you.)  How you could see her hovering around now, still being mean and angry.  We had banished her together, you and I, me finding the words to help you forgive yourself for not having her (as if you had had any control over that) and us finding the words for you to use in talking to that spirit, to tell her that her behavior was unacceptable, just as a mother would talk to a obdurant child.  That seemed to ease you greatly.

You needed the morphine – just small amounts – more often.  More people came and went.  We talked about your excitement about whatever came next.  And we talked about your biggest fear – fear that my Father would be mad at you when you saw him on the other side, that he wouldn’t have forgiven you for something that you blamed yourself for, something that I know he never blamed you for, no matter what words I used to try to convince you otherwise.

More people came and went.  I remember the quality of the light of the day, just as I remembered the quality of light on the day the Kelsea was born.  It was a slow, gentle light, lingering and warm, but clear in its waning, fading in beauty, dipping and deepening into dusk, then darkness.

We talked and talked.  You were getting…frisky? Cocky?  Rambunctious?  You were talking about getting up to the Pearly Gates and kicking St. Peter’s ass.  I never did know where that came from, but more power to you.

You wanted to see one person in particular, but he had had surgery that morning and couldn’t come.  You had something she wanted to tell him, but you finally decided that he already knew.  And you let it go.

[As I was writing this, I noticed my reference’s to my Mother changed from “you” to “she” about this time, a sign of letting go, perhaps.]

The hospice chaplain came.  I spoke to her out in the hallway, and couldn’t help but cry.  I didn’t cry much the last few days.  Mother didn’t want me to cry and so I didn’t.  But Jodi, the chaplain was so genuine, it was impossible not to let some tears flow.  I told her that she needed to talk, that there was something she needed to find peace around, before she could let go.  After Jodi left, she was calmer – she had found a certain peace.  I never knew what was spoken between them.  It didn’t matter.  It only mattered that she had released that last burden.

Things felt like they happened quickly after that, and then slowly.  Jackie, her home care nurse, came to visit.  It made her so happy.  “It’s my angel,” she said.  She always thought that way about Jackie.  Jackie too took me into the other room and told me that it was her time.  “Have you noticed that smell?  It’s the smell of death,” she said.  “I know that smell.”  Jackie was a big, beautiful, joyful, compassionate woman.  She told me that she’d tell the night nurse what to do, about preparing the body, that I shouldn’t worry.  She hugged me.

As the afternoon faded, she started to fade.  She became less lucid. She wasn’t talking so much.  She was hurting more.  I was slipping the small dropper of morphine between her lips more often.  I was the only one who could give it to her. I felt like her pain was in my hands.  It was getting late.  We sat with her, my uncle and brother on one side, me on the other.  She had stopped talking long ago, her eyes were closed now, her breathing slowing and labored. She would groan and twist sometimes, and I would give her another taste of the morphine.  I did not know if she was hurting, but I could not stand to think she might be, and couldn’t tell me, and I was doing nothing to ease her pain.

The waitress at their favorite restaurant called, and told me to light a white candle in front of her, and encourage her to go toward the light.  We did.  We sat and talked quietly.  We sat in silence.  We sat through the night.  E-Bro went to rest of a while.  It was calm.  I could feel her struggling to leave her body, as if her very spirit was working hard to let go, to get out, to be free.  Finally, somehow, we could tell her something had changed.  Maybe it was her breathing.  Something.  My uncle went to get my brother from the couch.  We sat again, the three of us, encouraging her to go.  I stroked her hair, whispered to her, kept my hand on her heart.  It slowed.  Her breaths came farther and farther apart, more and more shallow.

Until they stopped all together.

[These three days are always hard for me, especially coming at this time of year that I love. And so, over these next three days, I will be reposting what I lived during these days nine years ago. I did this three years ago as well, and find sharing my experiences and memories comforting and cathartic. I find it interesting to reflect on how my feelings about death have evolved as I have aged. But that’s for another post.]

With thanks and apologies to Eugene O’Neill for the post title.

[The next three day’s postings are my memories of the day before, the day of, and the day after my Mother’s death four years ago.  This is a difficult anniversary for me, though it seems to ease each year.]

December 10, 2006:  I don’t remember what we did today.  Probably not too much but talk – and laugh.  Uncle George and E-Bro were with us now, but strangely I don’t remember them being there.  I only remember us.  Over the past week, we had spent nearly every moment together, waking and sleeping.  I probably took a walk once and went out to the store a couple of times.  I took showers alone and went to the bathroom alone.  But you didn’t.  It was as if we were merging, merging for the last time.  Looking back now, I see that that wasn’t a good thing, but it wasn’t something I could control.  We had been so very close for so very long that our separateness was, for most years, only a matter of a few degrees.  In the last days, those few degrees simply vanished.

You had started asking for the morphine towards the end of the day.  Not much, but you’d never needed it before.  I can imagine how much you must have been hurting to make that concession.  You always hated painkillers, hated anything that made you feel out of control of yourself, unlike yourself.  It didn’t seem to affect your clarity, but it did seem to ease your pain.  I remember your pain.  It was in your bones.  When you would move sometimes – or sometimes when you were still and it was so bad that it would make you move – your face would grimace in this expression that was indescribable.  You would hold your breath until it passed.  I hated to see you in pain.  I encouraged you to take the morphine.  After all, we knew you didn’t have much time left – why spend it in pain?  But you wanted to spend it being present.  I admire that.

You had stopped eating by now, but today I could still get a few Dibs into you.  Water.  Your beloved orange sherbet in little tiny spoonfuls.  It was sunny, and the light slipped through the slats of the blinds in gentle patterns, changing throughout the day, as sunlight does.  You never asked for me to open the blinds or asked to look outside.  Looking back, that surprises me, as you so loved nature.  But you were focused on the world inside your three rooms, the world that encompassed the people you loved most, and the small things you had around you that you treasured.  The rest of the world didn’t matter anymore.

People came and went, people you’d known for years and years who loved you so.  You always thought of yourself as being alone, as not having many close friends, but so many people felt like you were THEIR close friend.  You were very comfortable with that, with all of it, and with being alone.  I suppose that’s the mark of a person truly happy in herself.  But today, people came knowing that they were coming to say goodbye, even though nothing had been said. I left them alone with you, and they usually came out of the bedroom and started to cry, and I would thank them and comfort them as best I could.

Everyone brought food.  You weren’t eating.  I couldn’t eat, except late at night, when I couldn’t sleep.  I would eat weird things in weird amounts, knowing I just had to get something, anything, into me.  It wasn’t comforting.  It was a random necessity.  That had been going on for a week, my eating like that.  Ever since you really stopped eating.  For me, that was the beginning of my thoughtless, mindless eating habits that have added so much weight to my small frame in the last four years.

I don’t remember doctors coming.  I don’t remember even talking to the doctors.  But that must have happened. Mustn’t it?

In the afternoon, you took a nap. As always, I stayed beside you for most of it.  I would go do little things, make phone calls, shower, clean something, constantly checking on you.  When you woke, I took your hand, asked you if you had a nice rest.  You said yes, and looked at me strangely.  I chattered at you, you responded politely, still looking at me in that odd way, patting my hand.  Then you said, “Who ARE you?” And I reminded you that I was your daughter.  Your eyes cleared, you looked relieved, you laughed at yourself as you recognized me.  I felt a chill that I did not show.

I had been so wrapped up in caring for you.  For months, I think, I had been flying across the country every weekend to be with you.  Your death became my life.  We had always been close, except for those nasty teenage years, but especially since Kelsea’s birth.  We had talked every day.  After the last diagnosis, we talked three or four or five times a day.  In the mornings, to be sure you were okay.  If you were lonely.  If I was bored.  If you went to the doctor.  In the evening before bed.  If I was scared.  If you had some piece of news.  We talked so much because we knew that soon we wouldn’t be able to talk at all, not in the same way.

And you were so happy to have the three of us there.  You loved us so.  That night as we were going to bed, you felt it was going to be your last night.  You said goodbye to me.  You told me to tell Kelsea that you loved her.  You reminded me that the car keys were in the little bowl on the half-wall by the kitchen.  Yes, ever the Mother. And you went to sleep.

But it was not your last night.

This image was taken this spring at the University of Oregon in Eugene, a piece north of Roseburg where the shooting at Umpqua Community College took place this morning. I felt it represented the emptiness that many souls in Oregon may feel tonight, and the ordinariness of a space in a college campus that can change from peaceful to terrifying in an instant.

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My daughter is now in college in Washington State, and even a state away, this kind of tragedy is too close to home. Having lived in Colorado during the Columbine shooting, when Kelsea was very small, I found that too hit close to home as well, simply because I had a child who was just starting school. Letting your child go to a place that is supposed to be safe, and then realizing that there is no such thing anymore, elicits a level of deep, maternal, instinctive, protective fear. I won’t get started on the dynamics I have had with my daughter of wanting to protect her, because that’s a very long story, and that’s an area in which she has always insisted on making her own decisions. I know exactly what her decision would be in an incident like today’s. She would be the one running in to stop things, not the one running out to safety. And that’s a fact I have to live with, that she would give her own life to save another person’s.

As a residual from Columbine, and listening to her talk about some of the attitudes at her high school, I was always a bit angsty about a school shooting there, but I thought that feeling would pass when she went to college. Apparently, I was wrong. I know though, that worrying does no good, and helps no one. I have no control over the actions of others. I can only put a white light around my daughter 1399.9 miles away every day and every night and hope it makes a difference.

Tonight, I say prayers for and send white light to those parents, students, and friends whose lives changed forever today. And for my friends in the Bahamas and North Carolina, to keep them safe from the ravages of Hurricane Joaquin.

Quote of the day: “She was asleep in her freshly made bed. I can’t explain how relieved I felt for this simple mercy. She was here and safe on clean sheets.” — Laura Anderson Kurk

Daily gratitudes:
Mr. Man
The hope that a new doctor will help my pinched nerve
Work
Seeing things before they’re gone
Working towards our future

My darling daughter starts her senior year in high school tomorrow. It’s a strange thing. I remember being her age so vividly, and now I am seeing it from my Mother’s perspective. Athough Kelsea is different than I was at 17. It is so hard to comprehend her leaving home in a year. Perhaps for me, since she has not been with me full-time since I left ex-Pat’s house, and since I have always worked so much, and therefore seen less of her than your average mom, it will be a little easier. But the closer we get to the day she leaves, the more that feels like an untruth. I am so grateful that I did not miss these last years with her – yes, that was an option when I was under the spell of deceit in my previous relationship. I would not trade where I am now in my life with her – and with MKL – for anything. Not for all the islands in the world.

As she looks to the West for her future, I see her future through the strands of my own memories. New friends, first loves, that sense of freedom and power that comes from being truly on your own for the first time. Philosophy discussions. Term papers. Dorm food. Calling Mom for instructions on laundry and cooking. Walking to class on cold wet mornings. Learning a new city. Finding your way.

And I see her past. Standing at the sliding glass doors with Tug, bobbing up and down as her Daddy came home. Feeding her in the bar sink at the beach house. Her wearing her little pumpkin suit on her first Halloween. Coaching her on her first word. Playing restaurant. Teaching her to ride a bike. White blonde hair in summer. Finger painting. Blowing bubbles. Bathtimes. Reading all the Harry Potter books together. Mother-Daughter trips. Cuddling in thunderstorms. Jumping waves. Hugging next to horizons of sunflowers and darkly phosphorescent seas.

A long time ago, there was a country song by Suzy Bogguss about a girl going off to college and how her mother felt. Even before I had a child, that song made me cry. When the time comes to pack up my girl and set her free for parts distant, I suspect I’ll be playing that song a lot. (And you may see a few more sentimental posts on this blog.)

I have always said that there is an invisible silken strand that connects a mother’s heart with her child’s – my heart with her heart. She spoke that back to me a few weeks ago, and I was surprised and moved that she had heard me say it, had remembered it, and felt it too. The first time I experienced the strength of the strand was when ex-Pat took her to a family reunion. She was five years old. I had to stay behind to work. I felt so strange the whole time they were gone. She and I missed each other, and the strand stretched all the way from her heart in California to mine in Colorado. Stretched fine and thin, but as strong as ever. Perhaps even stronger for the distance.

I will treasure the days until she leaves, rejoice with her when it’s time for her to go, and cherish the strength of the strand.

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Topsail Beach, North Carolina.

Quote of the day: “Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it’s yours.” — Ayn Rand

Daily Gratitudes:
That I was glowing today
AAA
Always carrying a book with me
MKL
Clawfoot bathtubs

December 12, 2006:

My uncle and my brother both marked the time, the exact time – somewhere around 3:43 am.

We sat for a while with her, there in the darkness, holding her hands, holding her heart.  I could still feel her.  Still feel her.  Someone turned on the lights, blew out the candle, started doing the practical things.  Calling the mortuary people, calling my “Aunt” who had been my Mother’s oldest friend – the one who had  aided in my parent’s elopement, had driven her to the hospital to give birth to me, who now lived just upstairs.

It felt wrong to have all this stuff going on.  I stayed in the room with her, pulling up her covers so she might not get cold, trying to fully close her eyes.  They wouldn’t stay closed.  I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror and saw her looking back at me through my eyes.  I saw her eyes in the mirror, in my face.  I called my husband and told him, had him tell Kelsea.  She wrote the date and time down on a napkin and put it in a special scrapbook that she has.

My aunt came.  She put her arm around me, and I said, “I don’t want her to go.”  And she said to me, “She’s already gone.”  I did not know what I was going to do.  I loved her so.  We were such a part of each other.  I just did not know what to do.  As the minutes passed , her body looked less and less…occupied.  I could feel it, feel her soul moving away, as the minutes passed, drifting away, flying away, floating away, soaring away, farther and farther away, without even turning to say good-bye, just excited to be free and exploring.  Leaving me behind.

Things happened then.  My brother put ice around the back of her head to keep her brain cool for the Brain Autopsy Study she was a part of.   I knew it was still nighttime, the middle of the night, but time had become irrelevant.  I just remember again the light, the brightness of incandescent bulbs all over.  The night nurse had slipped out.  She had been hiding in the other bathroom for hours.  She never even came in the room.  She was afraid of dead people.  Everything just felt so surreal.

The funeral home men came, two of them, with a stretcher and a big plastic bag.  Somehow, though she wasn’t a big woman, they just couldn’t seem to manage her.  I don’t know why.  But I wound up helping to put my Mother’s body in that bag.  Wrapped in one of my sheets, one of my favorite sheets, that looked like a sandy beach with seashells on it, that we had put on her bed particularly because she loved those sheets too.  I could never have that sheet back.  That action was the worst part of this whole memory.  I should never have done that.

Then everyone left.  It was morning.  I called my best friend at work.  I started making calls to the people who needed to know.  It was horrible.   I heard her dear friend, whose wife I spoke to, explode with grief – “Oh, GOD!”, he said.  I let her go to him.  I lay down to try to sleep and I just cried.  Cried and cried and cried as if my heart would break.  But it was too late, it was already broken.

I thought about the morphine in the refrigerator.  I could do it.  Could do it so easily.  Just take the rest of it and follow her.  I wasn’t thinking about Kelsea.  I wasn’t thinking.  I was so consumed with pain, I didn’t feel like I could live.  I didn’t want to live.  I was tired and tormented.  I was mad with grief and exhaustion.  I wept myself to sleep.

Later, I told E-Bro about it, and he said he would kick my corpse if I did such a thing.  We started to pack up her things.  We went out to dinner.  We didn’t feel normal.  We were orphans now.  At least we had each other.

Now, four years later, I have come to have some peace with her death, but it has taken almost this entire span of time.  But it has happened.  I still miss her.  I know she’s still with me in her own way.

And I know, with all certainty, that she is having a marvelous time.

December 11, 2006:

You had slept.  I had only dozed, for the ninth night in a row.  I had gotten up a dozen times from the bed next to yours to check on you, to be sure you were still breathing, like a new nervous new mother does with an infant.  You would moan every so often.  When you awoke in the morning, you looked over at me.  “Am I still here?” you asked.  “Yep,” I replied, “unless I’m dead too.”  “Damn,” you said.

We talked then, about the pain, about how you wanted to go and were unsure why you were still here.  You asked me then, if I would help you go if you did not go by yourself today.  Which told me how much you were hurting.  We talked about how I would do it, with the morphine.  I would have done anything for you.  But I could not commit to killing you.  I said, “Let’s see how it goes today.”  I couldn’t say yes – but I couldn’t say no.

The quality of the day changed after that talk.  It felt like when you’re getting ready for a journey – which you were.  We were down to just the orange sherbet now.  I would slip a little between your dry lips  (no amount of lip balm seemed to keep them moist for long) and you would smile this blissful little smile.  We talked about the little blonde daughter that you had never had, that one time when you had an early miscarriage, and how she had always haunted you, and not in a nice way.  How you had longed for her (I tried not to be jealous, not to feel like somehow I hadn’t been daughter enough for you.)  How you could see her hovering around now, still being mean and angry.  We had banished her together, you and I, me finding the words to help you forgive yourself for not having her (as if you had had any control over that) and us finding the words for you to use in talking to that spirit, to tell her that her behavior was unacceptable, just as a mother would talk to a obdurant child.  That seemed to ease you greatly.

You needed the morphine – just small amounts – more often.  More people came and went.  We talked about your excitement about whatever came next.  And we talked about your biggest fear – fear that my Father would be mad at you when you saw him on the other side, that he wouldn’t have forgiven you for something that you blamed yourself for, something that I know he never blamed you for, no matter what words I used to try to convince you otherwise.

More people came and went.  I remember the quality of the light of the day, just as I remembered the quality of light on the day the Kelsea was born.  It was a slow, gentle light, lingering and warm, but clear in its waning, fading in beauty, dipping and deepening into dusk, then darkness.

We talked and talked.  You were getting…frisky? Cocky?  Rambunctious?  You were talking about getting up to the Pearly Gates and kicking St. Peter’s ass.  I never did know where that came from, but more power to you.

You wanted to see one person in particular, but he had had surgery that morning and couldn’t come.  You had something she wanted to tell him, but you finally decided that he already knew.  And you let it go.

[As I was writing this, I noticed my reference’s to my Mother changed from “you” to “she” about this time, a sign of letting go, perhaps.]

The hospice chaplain came.  I spoke to her out in the hallway, and couldn’t help but cry.  I didn’t cry much the last few days.  Mother didn’t want me to cry and so I didn’t.  But Jodi, the chaplain was so genuine, it was impossible not to let some tears flow.  I told her that she needed to talk, that there was something she needed to find peace around, before she could let go.  After Jodi left, she was calmer – she had found a certain peace.  I never knew what was spoken between them.  It didn’t matter.  It only mattered that she had released that last burden.

Things felt like they happened quickly after that, and then slowly.  Jackie, her home care nurse, came to visit.  It made her so happy.  “It’s my angel,” she said.  She always thought that way about Jackie.  Jackie too took me into the other room and told me that it was her time.  “Have you noticed that smell?  It’s the smell of death,” she said.  “I know that smell.”  Jackie was a big, beautiful, joyful, compassionate woman.  She told me that she’d tell the night nurse what to do, about preparing the body, that I shouldn’t worry.  She hugged me.

As the afternoon faded, she started to fade.  She became less lucid. She wasn’t talking so much.  She was hurting more.  I was slipping the small dropper of morphine between her lips more often.  I was the only one who could give it to her. I felt like her pain was in my hands.  It was getting late.  We sat with her, my uncle and brother on one side, me on the other.  She had stopped talking long ago, her eyes were closed now, her breathing slowing and labored. She would groan and twist sometimes, and I would give her another taste of the morphine.  I did not know if she was hurting, but I could not stand to think she might be, and couldn’t tell me, and I was doing nothing to ease her pain.

The waitress at their favorite restaurant called, and told me to light a white candle in front of her, and encourage her to go toward the light.  We did.  We sat and talked quietly.  We sat in silence.  We sat through the night.  E-Bro went to rest of a while.  It was calm.  I could feel her struggling to leave her body, as if her very spirit was working hard to let go, to get out, to be free.  Finally, somehow, we could tell her something had changed.  Maybe it was her breathing.  Something.  My uncle went to get my brother from the couch.  We sat again, the three of us, encouraging her to go.  I stroked her hair, whispered to her, kept my hand on her heart.  It slowed.  Her breaths came farther and farther apart, more and more shallow.

Until they stopped all together.

Day 3 started too early for Kelsea, but what are mothers for if not to wake their children in some annoying manner?

We partook of the too-expensive breakfast buffet at the Inn, and left loaded for bear (oh wait, that was Day 2). Well, we left, at any rate, excited because today was the day we got to see it: Mount Rushmore, aka, the Big Heads.  Goats were dining on tightrope walkways in the air at Old McDonald’s Farm (we didn’t stop). En route, we decided that if we ever own a Jersey cow, her name will have to be Snooki.

Kelsea was keeping track of the disturbing death marker signs with little tick marks (just FYI, in this one day, we counted 27) as we headed through the Black Hills, unsure of what to expect from Mount Rushmore. Some of our acquaintances had said “Oh, they’re smaller than you think.” Others had said it wasn’t worth it, especially not with the crowds. Well, our first peek at the peak was pretty cool regardless of those misguided expectations.

Parking was only a minor challenge, probably because I made it so by debating if the EXIT signs on the structures REALLY meant exit, or if that was just a suggestion. The level-headed one told me not to be an ass – they say exit because they mean exit (and remember the “Road Closed” signs?)  Much to our delight, many, many (many) Mustangs were still in evidence, making a long weekend out of the Sturgis Mustang Rally.  Each got a “hey-ay” shout out from us.

I never knew I had a childhood dream of seeing Mount Rushmore until I fulfilled it by actually seeing it. It’s fabulous and don’t let anybody tell you differently. The Big Heads ARE big, plenty big, the perfect size, in fact.

The monument is laid out well, clean, accommodating, everything a monument should be. Even the soda machine in the ladies room maintained the theme.

The background museum is worth a stop, and I now regret not having stayed for the video, because we both have some unanswered questions. The museum had details on the sculptor, the heads, the presidents, and the area, as well as some cool giant photos.

The Avenue of Flags was a fitting entryway to the full-on views of the monument.

At the end of the Avenue of Flags, you come upon an amphitheatre with a fantastic view of the heads. It’s the prime viewing spot, if you are unable to walk any farther. We walked to the bottom of the amphitheatre (no one else seemed to do that) but declined to get up on the stage.

The Presidential Trail winds through the forest, a wooden walkway to give you a closer look at the Big Heads.

There was one little viewing hole. We stood in line for it, not knowing what we were standing in line for and double checking to be sure that people ahead of us in line were actually coming out, and it was not some sort of bizarre Big Head feeding tube.  Standing in line for an unknown reason made us feel slightly stupid, but we did it anyway.

Being us, we had numerous absurd observations about the Big Heads:

Kelsea: “George looks like he has a little something right there.” (Pointing to the left of his nose)
Me: “It looks like Thomas is leaning in, trying to tell him about it.”  (Thomas looked like he was kind of creeping on George.)

We cracked ourselves up with remarks about how rock-hard and sculpted they were.

Kelsea didn’t know that Teddy was wearing pince-nez. Teddy looked a little mad. We decided he felt kind of squooshed and didn’t like it.

Abe was kind of off by himself – not so snuggled up. We speculated that he was being treated as some kind of outcast.

Everyone had some spidery cracks through their faces.

We kept trying to get photos in which trees were sticking up presidential nostrils, but failed, and settled on the classic, “Add YOUR big head to Mount Rushmore” shots.

The trail took us to the sculptor’s studio, in which we discovered that the original idea for the whole thing showed much more torso and hands.  In the current version, only Abe seems to have lapels.

The studio exhibit also reveals the existence of the secret cave. Not a secret if you tell everyone about it, eh?

If you were unaware, the sculptor who was behind Mount Rushmore was Gutzon Borglum, the son of Danish polygamist immigrants.

Borglum most wisely thought that the Big Heads needed some explanation, and that said explanation needed to be WITH the Big Heads. So, he put a brief US history, and explanation of the Big Heads, carved on tablets, in a titanium box in a cave that is behind (or perhaps inside) Abe’s head. There were pictures of people doing the dedication.  But of course, the cave is off-limits to visitors and there is no marked or visible trail to it. Kelsea appropriately scoffed at my idea that they covered the trail with dirt.

The concept of the secret cave spurred much discussion between us, and seeing it is now on Kelsea’s list of life goals (which sounds a lot better than Bucket List when you’re 14).

Our dialogue ran along the lines of this:

Her: How do we know what he wrote on those tablets? What if he made up a whole bunch of stuff?
Me: We just have to trust him.
Her: What about now? Do they update what’s in there?
Me: I doubt it.
Her: Then won’t it seem like the world just ended when the history did?
Me: I’m sure there will be more records on earth than just that one.
Her: Who’s going to read it?
Me: I don’t know…aliens?
Her: How do we know they’ll be able to read English?
Me: They’re aliens. They’re smart enough to get here, they’ll be smart enough to figure it out.
Her: And why do we send up things like DVDs on space missions? Why do we possibly imagine that aliens have DVD players?
Me: Good, yet unanswerable question.
Her: What if aliens never find this place? Then the whole titanium box thing is pointless. So I should be able to see it.
Me: Well, maybe the survivors of the future destruction from the nuclear holocaust will find it.
Her: If there’s a nuclear holocaust, there won’t be any survivors.
Me: New survivors might evolve.
Her: They couldn’t. There’d be nothing left for them to evolve from.  And how would they know English?
Me: Look! A chipmunk.

Truly, our voices were slightly raised during this debate, and we got many strange looks.

All in all, it was a highly satisfying experience. On the way to our next destination, George presented us with a lovely profile.

Next stop: Crazy Horse, Boyd’s Antiques, and Custer State Park.

Kelsea (and Uber-Cool Will) graduated from eighth grade last week. 

This was a big deal, much bigger than I had thought. 

There was no graduation from eighth grade for me.  Not that I didn’t, mind you, just that they didn’t celebrate such things.  I was in a Pre-K through 12 school, so for us, it was just the end of another year.  The big difference was that we moved to the Upper School campus in 9th grade, but otherwise? Meh.

So I was approaching Kelsea’s end of eighth grade as I had approached my own – just the gateway to another summer.  I had no idea how wrong I was.  I’m still unsure if it’s a big deal because she’s going to a different school – high school – or if it’s a big deal because times have changed and we now feel the need to make a big deal out of everything that our kids do as a part of being human and semi-adult, from coming in last in a competition to helping a duck across the street.

But a big deal it was, and I was proud to be a part of it.  All the girls in her class dressed up.  As you’ve probably been able to tell from my talking about Kelsea, she’s about as far from a girly-girl as Abe Lincoln is from Diana Ross.  So when she told me she wanted to wear a dress for graduation, I thought she was kidding.  She wasn’t.  And she didn’t just wear a nice short-skirted party dress like every other eighth-grade girl.  If she was going to wear a dress, she said, she wanted to do it her own way and make a statement.  Thankfully the statement wasn’t this:

or this:

No, she wanted to express her own sense of style.  So she wore a floor length dress, and her long hair down, and she looked gorgeous.  And she only tripped on it once on her two trips up to the platform (that would be her dress, not her hair).

The continuation ceremony was looong – almost two hours.  There were the requisite number of inspirational speeches about “what school has meant to me” and “taking the next step into the journey towards adulthood”.  One excellent student speaker told an embarrassing story about her mom from when she was in high school.  I surely hope she discussed this with her mom beforehand, otherwise the poor woman no doubt wished she could sink into the floor.

One of the 90 students in Kelsea’s graduating class had succumbed to cancer shortly after the beginning of the year.  The staff acknowledged her and her parents who were in the audience, and that brought tears to my eyes.  They acknowledged all the veterans among the parents, which I thought was a nice touch.  And at diploma time, when the principal said to hold applause until each row had received their sheepskin (or cardboard, as sheep are scarce these days), we were a poor audience and refused to do so, but came to an unspoken compromise by making a coordinated single clap for each student, with a more robust chatter of applause after each row.  I thought it was hysterical, but I would get distracted, and clap off beat, which was rather awkward.

Kelsea had straight As, so she was on the President’s Honor Roll, which included a certificate signed by Barak Obama.  She and I both wanted to wet the ink to see if it was a genuine signature, but we resisted.  My niece, who works in the governor’s office, also gave her a personal letter from the Governor, congratulating her on her achievements – that one really was a genuine signature.

And as for Kelsea, she is so relieved to be out of middle school that she said she almost wishes summer was over – she’s that eager to start high school.  I hope it lives up to her expectations.  She used to love school (in elementary school) and she just loathed middle school, even though she did well.  But for now, she just wants to sleep as late as she feels like sleeping.  I, for one, will let her do so – though I may be the only one who will let her do so.

I am so proud of my lovely girl.  Watching her cross the stage with poise and joyfulness was a wonderful experience.

So I guess it is a big deal after all.

Happy Easter!  Kelsea and I spent the waking hours of the morning watching the bunnies outside her bedroom window.  Our own personal easter hoppers.  There were three adults and one baby bouncing around the yard with their little cottontails.  They sat there zoning.  Or noming grass.  So cute.

Then Kelsea went off to a day of church and family festivities with Uber-Cool Will.  His Grandma made her an Easter basket, which makes her very happy.  “It makes me feel like I have a grandma again,” she said yesterday.  I did a dip with maternal inadequacy, feeling like maybe his family is taking her with them because they think I’m a heathen, hippie, unsuitable mom, but I let it go.

And as she was leaving, an ophthalmic migraine started.  Do you know what those are?  They’re not real migraines.  They are these weird visual things that happen when, for some reason, the arteries behind your eyes spasm, blocking blood flow to the optic nerve.  I’ve been getting them for about three years.  Not too often, but occasionally.  Fortunately, they don’t usually predict an actual migraine like the auras that migraine-sufferers experience.  Now that it has passed, which took about half an hour, I have a little headache, but nothing too bad.  I HAVE had full-blown migraines after these little episodes, so the not-knowing when I’m having the ophthalmic migraines is pretty nerve-wracking.

When you’re having an ophthalmic migraine, the world looks like this:

Or like this:

Yes, weird, geometric edged lines or holes in your vision that move and grow.  Talk about a bizarre Easter present.  To go on top of everything else that I haven’t talked about yet.

Off to work on the Bungalow.  Happy Day, all.

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