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[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.

Kelsea left for college early on Saturday morning. In my characteristic parenting style, when she and ex-Pat came to pick me up, I gave her what I thought was Immodium to calm her nervous stomach. It turned out to be a sleeping pill. Oops. But her stomach did calm down, and she was relaxed for the flight, and she now has another story about what her Mother did to her. Let’s see, there’s the finger guillotine incident, the asparagus incident, the Icy Hot incident, the smoke detector incident, the birds at the zoo incident, the numerous incidents at Camp Lejeune…I could go on and on. At least she will have some classic tales to tell her children, and she knows what NOT to do.

It is hard to watch your only child leave for college, a strange feeling, buying a one-way plane ticket and sending her off on her own. I know she’ll make her own mistakes, experiments, and have her own heartbreaks. I know she’s smart and level-headed, wiser than her years, and ready. That’s the thing. We spend our years with our children nurturing them, helping them discover themselves and their limits, and teaching them how to be independent. As my friend Beth put it, giving them their wings. That doesn’t make it any less heart-tugging to watch them fly away. I miss her. She misses me, which is nice to hear. We’ve got Skype set up so we can see each other’s faces, and I can see her in her now-natural habitat. Classes start on Thursday, and she gets to go throw with some Ultimate players that day as well. She’s talked to the fire department about starting training. She’s got it more together than I did at her age, and I’m so immensely proud of her. I can’t wait to see how she continues to grow and evolve. We are all beautiful works in progress.

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Bellingham, Washington.

Quote of the day: “Sometimes love means letting go when you want to hold on tighter.” —  Melissa Marr

Daily gratitudes:
Sunflowers
My chiropractor
The last day of summer (a bittersweet gratitude)
My little workhorse of an air conditioner
Soft pillows

You might have to look closely to grok this image. My words today feel like an interesting side dish to the picture.

When I was walking back from lunch with MKL today, a young man catcalled at me out of a car window. Now mind, I have just turned 53 years old, and I was not dressed provocatively. I found myself with a quick succession of thoughts that went something like this:

“Wow, that’s flattering. And at my age. Wait, no that’s not flattering at all – that’s rude. Where is my feminist side? Don’t parents ever talk to their sons about not yelling at women on the street [mind flashes to recent videos of a woman walking through New York with someone recording men’s responses to her and the video of reverse behavior with men facing hootsand catcalls from women]? Don’t most parents teach their sons to respect women? I was just totally objectified, and yet it doesn’t bother me. Why not? Because that young man did nothing to define me or who I am or how I feel about myself.”

Hmmm. Strange reflections.

Strange Reflections
Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Quote of the day: “It’s not my responsibility to be beautiful. I’m not alive for that purpose. My existence is not about how desirable you find me.” — Warsan Shire

Daily gratitudes:
The small herd of black yak we saw driving up to Steamboat
That my truck has four wheel-drive so I can get through my own alley that the utility company has turned into a mud pit
That Jess at Half-Girl Half-Teacup has raised my consciousness – a young woman wise beyond her years
That Mr. Man is acting a bit more like himself
That MKL loves me

The mantra of my tribe is that Depression Lies. You may recall a post a few weeks ago about a young woman who committed suicide, a friend of my daughter. I have thought of her often, and of the culture in which our teenagers grow to adulthood (as if any of us every REALLY become adults – I still maintain that we’re all just playing at being grown-ups, and some of us are just better at it than others.) I would never blame a parent for a child’s suicide. I have nothing but the utmost, heartfelt compassion for what they must feel. Since I have personally contemplated suicide and self-harming behaviors since I was young, I feel I want to share my perspective on it now as the parent of a teenager.

It’s very difficult to judge your own capabilities as the parent of a teenager. You think you are encouraging your child to work harder, to achieve more in school, and somehow she interprets that message as “I am a disappointment to my parents,” even when you are conscious of telling your teenager how proud you are of her. And if a teenager is suffering from depression, that sense of being a disappointment becomes not just overwhelming, but seemingly unconquerable. Sharing those same feelings with their parents just makes teenagers think that they are even more of a failure, that their parents won’t believe them, or won’t understand, and their world starts to spiral out of control, through behaviors such as excessive drinking, cutting, or drugs, and sometimes with unthinkably horrible consequences – such as choosing to end their own lives.

I have consciously tried to not push my daughter too hard in school, and she has been an excellent student since kindergarten. And yet, in her eyes, I am constantly nagging her about her homework and her grades, despite the fact that she has proven to me that she’s got this – she’s proven it by her grades. These difficult few months, combined with the fact that she’s taking much harder courses in her senior year, two of her grades aren’t aligned with what her grades usually are.

One very cold night, as I was waiting for a ride at a bus stop, we talked about it on the phone, both of us in tears. I realized what she needed to hear – and what I told her – was that SHE was not the sum of her performance in school. That she is an amazing, intelligent, compassionate, talented, beautifully unique human being, and that’s what matters. Not – at this stage of the game, as she is trying to find her future – how well she did on a Calculus test. I told her I didn’t care about her grades anymore. And I meant it. It seemed to take some of the pressure off, and I am truthfully telling her now that I am proud of her when she is trying her best, and proud of her no matter what. I remember what it was like at her age, struggling with workloads, priorities, time management, work, socializing, and just trying to figure out my future. Remembering that is great help when your teenager is in the same place.

I have not chosen the “friend, not parent” role, though we are friends. I tell her when I need to say “mom stuff”, like having a conversation about the availability of drugs when she goes to college, and the dangers of drugs now versus what was out there when I was her age. I know she’s done things that I don’t want to know about, even though I thought she was telling me everything. She wasn’t. That happens when teenagers are trying to find their path to independence. We, as parents with seemingly open relationships with our children, need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that this will happen, and short of locking your teenager in her room for four years, the only thing you can do is be supportive, vigilant, protect your child-woman as best you can, arm them with as much information as you can, and hope that, if they do not feel they can share with you, that they can find someone trustworthy to share their feelings and confusion with.

My daughter was fortunate enough to have a counselor at school who, while she often gave her the same advice I did, was not me. She is a stronger and wiser soul for having had that counselor at her disposal, and having made that close connection. I was sad to see politics make her counselor leave the school just as so many students were recovering from their friend’s suicide. But that is the way of the world, and at this age, there is no sense in sheltering our soon-to-be-adults from it.

I’m probably rambling a little. I’m trying to help with my words. I’m hoping some parent will see themselves in my words, and think about what they are pushing their child to do, how they are pushing, why they are pushing, and have an awareness of how their child might be perceiving what the parent thinks of as gentle pushing. Let’s try to see our teenagers as more than just students or ultimate players, but who they are, which is so much more. We can offer guidance, but not make the horse drink. We can offer to listen, but cannot expect to be told the whole truth. We can be aware of signs of depression, but must understand that we may not see it.

These are the people we love more than anything else in the world. And as my mother always said, we are all doing the best we can with what we have at the time – both us as parents, and them as teenagers. Let’s just hope it’s enough to keep our children here in this world, instead of thinking that leaving it is the best or only choice they have.

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Kelsea and I are on our annual mother-daughter Labor Day trip. She’s now able to cross another state off her list – Utah. I’ve been here before but never spent a night, so I guess now it can really count.

Our first impressions of Utah:

It’s dark. Really, really dark. Of course, it is night.

Right after the “Welcome to Utah” sign, was a sign for the “Trail Through Time”. If it hadn’t been so dark, we would have taken it. And it made me think of Dr. Who.

Shortly after that sign was a sign that said “Eagles on Highway”. What?! No!

Followed thereafter by towns with such intriguing names as Cisco and Yellowcat. None of which offered any services. And were completely dark.

Utah has very nice, smooth roads. Truck kept zipping up to 85 all by itself.

The shift in energy when we passed from Colorado to Utah was tangible. Not unpleasant, just different. Perhaps I will be able to put it into words after a bit more time here.

We know we were driving through someplace magnificent, but that darn darkness prevented us from seeing what it was. It reminded me of when MKL and I went to Monument Valley – when we arrived at night, we had no inkling of what beauty we were missing.

 

In the course of our seven hour drive from home, we avoided running over a coffeemaker and a pair of gym socks, and did not see any chupacabras. I have been up for almost 40 hours now, and so it’s time for me to go to bed. Photos tomorrow.

 

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

On this Mother’s Day, most of which I have spent with Kelsea doing pre-college stuff, snuggled up on the couch, on this wet, slight snowy day, I am reminded of how much perseverance starting, nurturing, and living a life takes. For all of us. I hope you have all had a happy Mother’s Day. For those of us who are without our own mothers now, it is a blessing to know that we were so loved and that the stars are the lights in our mothers eyes still, glowing as they watch us.

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Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Quote of the day: “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 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

Daily gratitudes:
Blankets
Fixing my own printer
The first cricket (though he might be frozen by now)
My darling daughter
A day at home

 

I am on the bus this morning, and I get the following text from Kelsea:

“So they think our school is gonna blow up.”

The world stops for one split second.

I call her.

She doesn’t answer.

The bus is speeding away down Highway 36 and I am thinking how I have to get off and get to her, to her school. Totally impractical. What am I going to do, run there? I’m twenty miles away.

I call my ex to ask him what’s going on, and he looks online and finds that a suspicious device  – pipes, wires, and a battery – was discovered on a bus and brought into the school by the bus driver. The school staff took it back outside and called police. The students have been moved into the auditorium and the gymnasium.  I tell him to go to the school. He tells me not to worry and goes bowling.

I am sitting on the bus holding the top of my head to keep it from flying off. Moving the students into the auditorium and the gymnasium puts the entire school in two places, so that if someone truly is evil, they can just blow up those two places where they know students will be sent in the event of just such an emergency. My imagination is colliding with thoughts of Columbine and New Town.

Kelsea calls me from the auditorium. She is fine. She is seeing her friends. She is overjoyed that she won’t have to take her algebra final this morning, because she wasn’t ready for it. She too wonders why they’ve just put everyone in two places instead of evacuating them all. She says she will stay in touch. I tell her I love her.

I know my daughter. She will do anything to save others before she saves herself. She has always been this way. Her future career choices reflect his attitude. It is something that, as a mother, I just have to live with.

But I do not want to be one of those parents whose child does not come out.

I sit on the bus and try not to panic. I have never really felt this way before.  All these feels are swirling around inside of me: fear, panic, anger, anxiety, that feeling that I will do anything to get to her, and do anything to someone who hurts her. I feel a desperate helplessness as this bus takes me farther and farther away from my baby girl. Tears well up and I try to stifle them. Yes, helpless. I have always known how much I love my daughter, and how I am so blessed by having had her in my life for any time that the Great Spirit chooses to grace me with. But I never really had a glimpse of losing her. Not even a glimpse.

One of my friends at work calls this “catastrophic thinking.” I know I have this unfortunate tendency, inherited from my father. It’s a hard one to control, especially as a mother.

Half an hour later, I get a text from her.

“So it was a science fair project. Awkward.”

I spend the rest of the morning feeling like I am coming out from being underwater, trying to ease the tension in my neck, trying to return to a sense of normal.

I hope that kid who misplaced his science project gets an A. He certainly taught me something about myself today.

Her Love

I watch your heart break from a distance
And there is nothing I can do.

Not.

One.

Thing.

When you were small,
I could cuddle you
And make you giggle
And kiss your tears away
And you would be all better.

Now, my touch at the sight of your tears
Makes you angry,
And the choices you never made
Are making you hurt.

It’s a pain we all go through.
You’ve seen it near break me.
And when it happens to you,
You think no one can know how you feel.

But we do.
We all do.

That doesn’t make it any easier.
I wish it did.

I so wish
I could.

I don’t think this is quite the right title for this post, but I’m struggling with how to express myself this time.

I am lonely for my daughter.

I am not generally lonely. I have a wonderful fiance. My niece is a great roommate. Thunder Cat is a good snuggle companion.  I have friends (if I ever reached out to them). But the loneliness of a parent for a child is a unique animal.  And the sense of missing a family unit is sometimes quite poignant – another kind of loneliness.

I have always been the one in the family who worked.  My ex was always the stay-at-home parent, even when I didn’t want it to be that way.  I missed a lot of Kelsea’s day-to-day growing up. I tried to make up for it by spending as much time as I could with her when I wasn’t working – except for the solo vacations to try to save my own sanity.

Now Kelsea is a teenager. We are going through the to-be-expected separation period. She spends most of her time with her friends. We still  have some small time together, but she stays at her Dad’s most of the time, because he’s closer to school, and getting her there doesn’t work very well with my getting to work. Some people say I should push to have her stay with me more, but that’s just not how we operate. We talk and text every day. She will be driving in a few months, and is so looking forward the her freedom. I remember that from my own teenage years.

But I miss the kid stuff. I miss our dedicated play time together. I miss our “famous chats” and our reading and snuggles and watching trashy TV and talking about anything and everything. I guess this separateion from the parent is a normal thing – just what happens when teenagers grow up. It must be preparing everyone for that day when they leave home and forge their own life, the one that you as a parent have been readying them for since the moment they were born.

Once you are divorced, and one parent is not with the child as much any more, the sense of a family unit dissipates like a wisp of fog. Gone also are those dreams you had, of being the proud parents seeing your child off to various milestone events, or attending school plays hand-in-hand. I am wise enough to realize that those visions, like many others I had, were more fantasy than lost reality – I know that by looking at the reality of my life within my marriage for almost 20 years.

Maybe I miss dreams that I never had a chance of fulfilling. Then again, I was always trying to fulfill those dreams on my own, even in my marriage, and not as part of a team. My ex and I, in hindsight, were never a team, never partners. That feels sad.

The tragic events that have happened recently in Colorado have made me all the more sensitive about how precious my daughter is, and how quickly someone dearer to you than the moon can be snatched away forever. In the blink of an eye.

I know Kelsea misses me sometimes. I know I miss her often. I know she sees the texts and Facebook messages I send her daily, even if she doesn’t respond, so she knows that I’m thinking of her always. We still have our mother-daughter traditions (she loves traditions) and we still carve out time for special things. But the days of being her best playmate, of her sitting on my foot and clutching my leg when I had to leave the house, those days are gone. And I miss them.

I loved spending what time I could with her in her childhood. It was like having my own childhood all over again.

I guess we all have to grow up. Eventually.

Kelsea with the whole world before her.

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