Hey Mom

Hey Mom,

It’s such a beautiful day today and I know how much you love warm sunny days and taking every opportunity to spend your time outside during them.

One of my earliest memories is sitting on the back step watching you with clothespins in your mouth, carefully hanging all our whites out in the sun so they would be dry by noon, and the line ready for all the heavier clothes to dry in afternoon heat.

You always seemed so much happier outdoors. It was like the sun soothed you, and the fresh air somehow carried your many worries away with the breeze. You would find any excuse to be outside the house, whether that was coaching baseball, spontaneously deciding the house needed repainting, or just sitting in a lawn chair in the evenings, having coffee with the neighbours or my friends as we grew old enough to take part in adult conversations.

While going through your things, I spent a lot of time picking through pictures in a box- snapshots in time of you as a child, and teenager. Formal shots lined up in front of Grampa’s stunning flower beds, and silly shots of you being at the lake with your Mom.

Those pictures made my heart ache for some reason. I never knew that carefree you, with the ear to ear grin. I wondered at what point in your life that apparent sass left you and the more somber, reserved you appeared.

Was it Dad and the price you paid for loving  a broken man like him?

Was it the weight of carrying all the responsibility for keeping us all alive, as the only adult in the room?

I so wish I could have magically traveled through time just to spend one day with you back when your smile was like that and your eyes sparkled with fun and mischief. If we could have somehow been contemporaries, living in the same time and place- would we have been friends? I think we may have been, you know. I see traces of myself in those pictures of you. I had that same trust in my eyes looking at you, as you had looking at your Mom. Not crystal-clear and evident in a quick glance, but there if you spent the time analyzing the snapshots closely.

Definitely there, Mom.

We always struggled, you and I, but always came back together, after a time out- a cooling off period. You would just suddenly call like nothing had ever happened, and I would respond back in the same vein, our problems buried instead of resolved.

You never apologized once for any disagreements or arguments we had. I felt so overpowered by your opinions and beliefs that I could feel myself shrinking in your presence, fumbling, stuttering for the words that I could never seem to find in order to  defend myself or my choices, or my actions.

You were right in the end about oh so many things, Mom, and I should have listened to you and followed your advice. I certainly became the queen of cutting off my nose, to spite my face, now, didn’t I? I can hear you laughing right now at me dusting off that old gem. I still use “gallivanting” and “jack of all trades, master of none” on at least a monthly basis, though, so your words didn’t totally fall on deaf ears. I heard you even when I was pretending not to.

My boys adore you, Mom, and did from the first time they looked into your eyes as infants and felt your overwhelming love for them. Your most uninhibited and loving moments were your moments with my boys. Mark and I would laugh about how you transformed into a woman we didn’t know at all with them. The woman who would give potato chips on the side rather than vegetables with a sandwich. The woman who actually cut the crusts off the bread for the picky eater, or who suddenly thought Popsicles and Freezies were suitable main courses for that same picky eater, while simultaneously coaxing Flintstones vitamins into him.

Watching you with my children thawed something inside of me, Mom, and made our relationship better than it had ever been in the past; closer, more authentic and honest. I would frequently ask your advice and heed it, knowing you knew better than I did and had raised children to adulthood, while I was still a novice. It was suddenly me, rather than you, coordinating time with each other. It was me calling you you crying and scared about how high a fever could go before it was an emergency, and it was your calm, soothing voice I clung to for dear life, as you explained all the times you had sat up yourself with feverish babies and children during the night hours.

Showing up at my door after working all day and insisting I hand the colicky, screaming baby over to you so you could walk with him, which allowed me to take a shower and get out of my pajamas at 5 P.M. Reassuring me that he hadn’t stopped crying for you because I was a horrible mother, but had just cried himself tired and that he sensed my fear, so kept reacting to it. Then you told me to grab my purse and go for a walk or a drive- to go away for an hour or two and leave you with him and his brother. God, if you only knew how much that hour provided me with the strength to come home and start it all over again. I cannot even remember if I thanked you properly for that or not and that dismays me now. Thank you, Mom- your help made me such a better mother than I could have ever been on my own without your sage advice and counsel.

You have always, always, been there for me, along every stage of my life and I know I have hurt you over the years, as our children always do.

I remember the way your face fell the day I looked at you incredulously when you commented that we were best friends, and I let a lifetime of feeling oppressed by you colour my response to your perception of our relationship.

I remember your trying to comfort me following Dad’s death, and my pulling away from you, and suggesting in my grief that I would be just fine and that your attention and comfort would be better received by Mark, your favourite. What an utterly bitchy, mean thing for me to say to someone reaching out to care for me.

I know you understood and forgave more for it. But I also know I had a part in taking some of your shine away that day forever.

Every December 20th for 42 years, the first thing I heard was your not so great voice singing happy birthday to me either in person or over the phone line. That makes me smile and feel so loved and wanted, Mom, and always will.

In the time since 2006, I now have to purchase purses, pillows and my own underwear, which has turned out to be a colossal pain in my ass. I know that makes you laugh, as well, and I am sitting here laughing with you.

It provides me with so much comfort that you and Mark can talk daily now, as you were always so close, but makes me sad that I only have this one day in the sunshine with you.

Sitting in the sunshine here with you now, I see you raise your face up towards the sky and close your eyes, much like you did another time we were sitting together outside towards the end of your life.

I watch the worry lines fading from your face, and suddenly you are once again that sassy, beautiful young girl outside and away from the walls that surrounded you most of your life.

I reach over and take your hand in mine, put a soft kiss on your cheek, and whisper to you that in spite of the many times you doubted it, I always loved you best and realize now that I would not be where or who I am without you as my guide.

XOXO

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jack of All Trades

Following my accident, while being transported by ambulance, the paramedic asked me who they could call to inform them about my situation. Even in the depths of my pain, I knew I could not give them my Mother’s number. She could not have survived a long distance phone call like that.

My older son was at my home, but there was no way I was going to allow him to get a call from a stranger telling him that his mother had been in a horrible accident and struck by a freight train. I couldn’t bear the thought of his 13 year old psyche taking that kind of hit.

So, I gave them my brother’s number. He was tough, and while I knew he was irresponsible in numerous ways, I also knew he knew better than to just call my mother on the phone and drop that kind of news on her. He lived in the same city as her, so could, at the least, drive to her house and inform her in person, which he did.

Unbeknownst to me until months later, at the exact time I was beginning my trip to the hospital, my brother and my son were chatting to each other online.

When my brother got the call from the RCMP, he hung up the phone and then chose to relay the information to my son that his mom had been in a horrific car accident. Hit by a train. Not likely to survive. Then closed the chat by adding that he needed to go tell Nan about it in person, cus she couldn’t handle that sort of news over the phone.

My son then apparently jumped on his bike and flew over to his father’s house, three blocks away. As he was turning into the cul de sac , he spotted his dad pulling out of the driveway with his 11 year old brother in the passenger seat.

He jumped off his bike while it was still in motion ( remember having that skill as a kid?) and screamed at his dad to stop.

This 13 year old child (man), then had the emotional maturity to tell his little brother to go in the house as he had something important to tell his dad.

I can’t tell you with absolute certainty what my ex husband felt in that moment, but I can guess, based on the look on his face when I woke up in the trauma room and saw him looking down at me.

“If she dies, I’m going to have to raise these boys on my own.”

“I can’t believe she did this to me.”

” I wonder if she was still paying the life insurance policy?”

“I hope I’m not on the hook for a funeral-we were separated. For all I know, she’s seeing someone else already!”

He looked scared shit-less, for lack of more flowery prose. Absolutely terrified.

And seeing his face like that gave me the strength and will to fight through the pain and continue living.

Because I knew he was at the core a very unemotional and intellectually barren man. I had been married to him long enough to know all the reasons why.

In the beginning, he told me all of his sad stories of his childhood.

I shared not much at all, to be honest. There simply wasn’t enough room within our relationship for anyone else’s pain but his, and I was OK with that. I was already such a skilled enabler and codependent that I was the perfect girl for him.

The time was never right to open up to him, and I quickly learned to watch his expressions and those big blues, for signs of boredom or distaste.

He was and is an incredibly selfish man.

A man who keeps an internal list of who owes him and who he has helped in the past. For someone with that kind of memory of wrongs perpetuated, he has no side of the ledger where his trespasses against others are tallied.

He is the judge and jury of everyone he has ever met or interacted with his entire life.

He once wrote off his favourite nephew for borrowing $ 400.00 for a hungry wife and babies and not paying it back. It didn’t cause him to go hungry, or take on extra hours at work, or even cut down on his daily 6-pack, but it ate him to the core.

To the core.

Any time that particular nephew is brought up in conversation by someone, he just has to share that story with everyone, and I find THAT more distasteful than the act of not paying someone back that you borrow money from.

I have a PhD from the esteemed schools of Shit Happens and Hard Knocks.

I get how you can start a day with great intentions and end it with the covers over your head and shaking inside at how much shit has flown down the hill your way and knowing you won’t have the strength to deal with any of it until the next day.

My ex husband, father of my children, has always been such a dichotomy to me.

I began seeing him shortly after my father died suddenly. He was 27 and I was 17.

He was big and strong and loud and fierce in appearance. He had the bluest eyes I had ever seen in my life.

He liked to drink and he liked to fight. He had boxed for years semi-professionally and missed all that action, I guess.

What he saw in me, I really don’t know, and he wasn’t the sort you asked silly questions like that to.

I asked him once about 10 years into our marriage if he loved me. It was while we were laying in bed together in the dark, waiting for sleep to take us, and I spontaneously asked him.

His response was a loud sigh of displeasure and then he said ” That’s a stupid question. I’m here, aren’t I?”

I never asked again.

Another time, after watching a segment on the Oprah show, I closed my eyes and asked him what colour they were. We had been married about ten years by then, and he guessed wrong.

He also shared with me that he has read 2 books in his entire lifetime and both times, they were mandatory assignments in school.

Oh- and he doesn’t really like music.

I tell these anecdotes not to disparage him, but rather to give the most precise examples I can recall from our relationship in order to best describe him to someone who has never met him.

I truly believe that my children are the reason I survived that accident but I must give Jack his due, as well.

There was no fucking way I was leaving those two amazing, intelligent, loving boys in his solo care…ever.

I knew he would damage them in ways they would never recover from. Not from anything intentionally done, but by his negligence and lack of ability or sense.

He would forget them, or their needs, or give to himself first, as he always had.

They would receive the scraps and there was no way I could allow that to happen to them.

They would have figuratively been like two small trees drying out and bending until they snapped from lack of water and the nutrients they required in order to continue to grow and thrive.

Their roots would be weak and rotting from the inside.

They would never survive strong winds or sunless days.

They needed me to provide for them in those ways, and I believe the fates knew that and allowed me to survive for that reason.

While they were fixing all my broken pieces in the trauma OR following my accident, my sons were in a quiet room (rooms in hospitals where they hide people who are likely going to receive bad news and they can smother the sights and sounds of grieving) with Jack and another family member, and my older son shared with me years later that his father kept muttering , ” she won’t survive this, she’s a goner, it’s just too much damage.”

Apparently to the point where my son snapped and screamed at his father that I would, in fact, survive. He pleaded with his father to stop saying those things he knew were not the truth.

As I was being put back together in a state of nothingness, that little sapling of mine was railing against strong wind, rain, lightning, locusts and the mighty oak, Jack!

You already know who was right and won that one, don’t you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Adam

Twenty nine years ago tonight at about this very time, I felt the beginning stirrings of my first-born son inside me.

He was signalling me that his time had come. We would be meeting soon.

I performed the necessary silly tasks that every expectant mother- to- be performs, hair washing, leg-shaving…giggling at my then-husband’s nervousness and teasing that I really looked just fine and should likely just “sit quietly” and wait.

I kept getting up to answer the cries of “trick or treat!” at my door. Handed out candy and smiled at little princesses and firemen on my doorstep, knowing that in the future, I too, would be doorstep begging for free candy with my little one inside me.

After my Mom showed up and assessed the situation, and following a call to my Dr, we three headed off to the hospital.

My labour was typical and I handled it like a pro, according to my usually critical Mother. I remember it being a time I went deep inside myself and blocked everyone out. The only sounds I heard were my own breathing and the sound of the fetal monitor.

My Dr appeared at my bedside, performed an examination, looked a bit perplexed and left the room rather quickly.

My husband followed him out to find out what was going on. He was and still is a Nervous- Nelly type. I barely noticed either of them leaving. I was riding the waves and doing my breathing and content in the thought that everything was going as planned. Nature, after all.

Strange Dr. appears and tells me that he is the Obstetrician on call, and that my baby is breech. Asked me if I had had ultrasounds at all during the pregnancy and I told him no. Remember, this is almost thirty years ago and I was a healthy, 21 year old woman, with a very typical pregnancy and a regular family doctor overseeing it all.

Suddenly, he is harshing my mellow birthing experience and wanting an ultrasound and then wanting to try to “manually” turn my baby within me. As I found out later, this man had zero bedside manner, but brilliant clinical skills and experience.

After an excruciating ten minutes that felt like ten years, with his hands inside me twisting and pushing and rolling at my tummy from the outside as well, he told me he was going to have to perform a caesarean section and that judging by the fetal monitor, it  should occur ASAP.

Suddenly, all the lights are on in the room, I have nurses and anaesthesiologists poking at me, as well as a lab tech drawing blood for god knows what. They are telling my Mom and husband what is happening, and ushering them out and to wherever they stick people to sit and wait in agony while their loved ones are rushed to surgery.

I remember waking up in a pitch black room. It was utterly silent and I thought I had died. I was heavily drugged and felt horribly disoriented. So much so, that it took me a few moments to ever remember that I had come to the hospital to give birth. Too quiet to be a hospital. I felt pain in my stomach when trying to move and was just about to try and find a call bell or even move out of the bed ever so carefully, when I heard a sound that scared me so badly, I pulled the sheet over my face in an instinctual childish reaction.

The sound was that of a grown man in unbearable anguish crying somewhere where I could hear the pain echoing off the walls outside the door. I heard a quiet rhythmic thumping and sobbing..endless heartbreaking sadness spewing from within someone’s deepest places.

That man was my husband.

My son, Adam, was born Nov 01 1986 @ 0115 in the morning with no kidneys, which meant that his lungs did not develop. He survived inside me, but once born, could not live on his own. As I learned later, one of the biggest reasons these conditions are lethal is because if there are no kidneys or the kidneys do not function and make amniotic fluid, the baby’s lungs will not develop. The amniotic fluid is necessary for the baby’s lungs to grow and mature.

After he was delivered and prognosis shared with my Mother, she sat in the nursery with him swaddled in her arms, and simply rocked him until he died.

I was asked if I wanted to hold his deceased form in the blanket and I said no. When I tell others this, they are sometimes quite shocked and I see the looks on their faces. Expressions range from shock to sadness to bewilderment to distaste.

I never felt I had to justify that choice to anyone ever and I never have.

The reason I didn’t hold my dead, silent, still, son is not because I didn’t love him or want to hold him, smell him, touch him.

I knew in my heart if they tried to take him from me, which they most certainly would..I would shatter.

I would shatter inside to the point there would be no more me left.

I would fight and snarl and roar and scream and bite and HOWL if they took him from my arms like they took him from my belly while I was sleeping.

I had survived much already in my life, but I would not survive that.

So, I didn’t.

He was buried with my father on a gloomy grey day with just a handful of family present.

When my Mother saw the tiny casket coming, being carried quite easily by one man, she had to walk away, her sister holding her in her arms. She just could not bear it. I understood that, too. I really did and wished that I could walk away too and not see that. There is no sight in this world sadder than a tiny white casket. Nothing.

I have struggled to find the meaning in losing my first born son. Adam..the first.

I believe now that it made me a better mother to the two boys who followed.

Two more sons, the youngest, Nicholas, identical to Adam in every feature, according to my Mom and husband.

With my Mom and brother gone now, and my husband at the time now an ex-husband, I am likely the only one who remembers him at this time of year.

My first son, Adam Edward, always in my heart, where he is safe, warm and loved by his mommy.