Grandma’s One Question

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Helping Grandma Rhetta blow out her birthday candles!

Last week my family crammed into my husband’s Prius for the 4-hour drive on Interstate I-70 to St. Louis to visit my Mom, “Grandma Rhetta.”  My kids are 16 and 18 and they insisted we make the trip because it might be the last opportunity for my daughter to see Grandma Rhetta before she leaves home for the first time to start college.  Although we have made this trip more than 100 times, my heart was full of pride and wistfulness over this visit, especially because the kids are nearly grown and Mom is very frail at this time of her life.  She is confined to her bed with only her imagination, visits from friends and family and the television to comfort and occupy her.  Sometimes a short visit with Grandma Rhetta is best, even though the grueling drive on the highway suggests a longer stay.

When people love one another, they willingly take time from their “journey” to be together.  As Mom’s health declines and my teenagers approach adulthood, their journeys are polar opposite.  Yet my kids keep wanting to go back and love their Grandma.  Even though it was a conscious effort by me to foster a bond between my children and their Grandparents, discovering that at the busiest and most self-centered part of their journey they choose to spend time with their Grandma Rhetta overwhelms me with joy and sadness (because I am perimenopausal now!).

We enter Mom’s world – her room – and she lights up with love and reaches from her bed for Isa and Mario.  Before each visit, she tells me many times to inform them she is expecting many warm hugs – and she gets them!  The kids adore Grandma Rhetta’s Southern accent and the warmth and charm it exudes.  Imitating her characteristic sayings has always been funny to them (in a loving way):  “My Stars!” and “Iced tay with lots of lemons!” are among their favorites.  Grandma Rhetta “southernizes” the pronunciation of Isa’s name (pronounced “Eesa”) so it sounds like “Eaze-a-Bella!”.

All those mornings at Grandma Rhetta’s kitchen table being lavished with her love and her special buttermilk pancakes mean something to Isa and Mario, and nothing thrills me more.  I’ll never forget the first time Mom visited Kansas City after Isa was born.  She rushed in the house after her long drive and, without putting her purse or keys down, walked straight to Baby Isa and cooed, “Are we gonna be friends?”.  Indeed they are.

For All the Milestones in Life, I Wish You This One Thing

Today, my precious first-born graduates from High School.  My God, wasn’t I just at her kindergarten graduation?  All of us parents share the same wistful feeling about time with our children – it goes by much too quickly.  She’s a healthy, balanced, focused, driven, joyful, beautiful and brilliant young woman now.  What more could I ask for? I must step aside and watch her grow.

If there is one thing I have learned from my recovery, it is there is no shame in starting over.  I do it everyday.  We all do.  The previous 48 years of “all or nothing” thinking really limited my growth and perspective and that hindrance ultimately led to a dependence which became an addiction.  Now I know.  To paraphrase the brilliant Maya Angelou famously, “Once you know better, do better.”

People ask me all the time, “How have you stayed sober?”.  The answer is simple:  each morning when I open my eyes, I thank God for another day of life and I commit to not drinking that day.  I have other things I do, and attending a 12-step program is not one of them.  I did for the first 12 months and decided I needed to broaden my resources and thinking, and have happily managed a workable – if not patchwork – program on my own.  I am enjoying life today instead of enduring it.

Here’s the point I want to make today:  you can change at any time and begin a new path.  My 18-year old daughter is graduating from High School tonight with beautiful dreams of her own.  There were days when she was very young when I would find myself in a heap of laundry and tears on the telephone with my oldest sister saying, “I can’t even take care of myself.  I am so afraid and overwhelmed.”  But life marched on, didn’t it?.

The takeaway I want anybody reading this today to receive is this:

Never Be Afraid Of Starting Over

Perfection is an unrealistic expectation and illusion that does nothing but create resentment and discontent.  Wouldn’t you be happier saying you tried something and enjoyed the moment rather than standing still in perfect silence, terrified by the prospect you can never be perfect?  Motherhood taught me so many things, and especially raising such a determined little character as my daughter, Isabella Bernadette.  When she was 3 and just starting out hosting “play-dates,” I would be so desperate to please the other Mothers, I would constantly intervene and scold her, telling her repeatedly to “share” with the other children.  Her response?

“I want to share with ME!”

Don’t we ALL?  Who can argue with the brilliant logic of a 3-year-old little girl?!

The thing is, we all have to learn to be our own cheerleaders and personal life coaches.  Instead of looking in all the wrong places (e.g., malls, catalogs, bars, escapes), the answer can be found within.  I guess I was too skeptical, cynical and afraid to trust myself.  I know better now, so I am doing better.

Girlfriends are like Quilts

Oh, Girlfriends!  How would a woman survive life without them?  They come to our aid before we even know we need to be rescued.  They understand our innermost feelings and needs in the deepest way.  They refrain from judgment.  Like Momma Bear protecting her cub, a great girlfriend will work wonders in your life and expect nothing in return.

I reach for my Mom’s handmade quilts every single day of my life for comfort.  Tattered and ragged, sometimes I drag my favorite one like Linus, as if the quilt could make me invincible.  Magical powers sewn into every square, crafted and pieced together by my Mother’s hands with abundant love and the greatest of hopes for a life well lived.  I literally can cover myself in her protection any time I want.  The girlfriends who have sustained me through life’s toughest challenges are exactly like my favorite quilts.

In this picture, I am in the most miserable physical pain you could imagine.  I had been laboring for over 2 days with my first child and was waiting the last few hours before heading to the hospital to begin the terrifying birthing process.  I am sitting on a heating pad because I have lovely back labor.  And draped across my knees is the “Cotton Boll” quilt my Mom made for me more than twenty years ago.  “Don’t machine wash this,” she cautioned.  “It will fall apart.”  Nope.  This thing might as well be made of kryptonite.  Virtually indestructible.  Just like my ties to my girlfriends, one in particular, my Pammy.

Pam took this picture of me when she delivered a beautiful Wendy’s lunch of french fries and a Frosty.  She had had her daughter the year before, I had been her “birth coach.”  I did not even know I needed her to check on me that day, my mind was swirling with nesting details and anxiety about the future.  I am sure we laughed about the indignity of the last day pregnant – I was hobbling around, grunting and moaning in my hugeness.  Pam’s presence was comforting, though, and nothing really needed to be said.  There was history between us (at the time we had been friends over 10 years, thinking we knew everything about life, love, family and careers!).

We both moved away from Kansas City for many years and hardly stayed in touch, but fate reunited us a few years ago, and we have both returned HOME:  to Kansas City and our friendship.  I can look at her and imagine what she is thinking and we both erupt in raucous laughter!  We have the comfort of each other’s company and support and a very long history of experience together to sustain us.  Friendship is, indeed, a joyous thing.  As a woman grows older, the comfort of a close girlfriend is one of the greatest treasures she can have.  Nobody knows us better or would go farther to show us who we are when we are lost.  And midlife, I am discovering, is a bit of a “curious wonderland” where one can get very lost, indeed.  I am finishing the intensive Mom phase and looking ahead to the second act (actually, it has begun, I am just in denial).  Pam helps me laugh away the embarrassment of my arthritic hips and knees when I try to get up gracefully from a restaurant chair.  She will be there with me, locked arm in arm, for the second act, and there will be laughter, joy and comfort.  And I am one grateful woman of a certain age!

 

3 Things I got Right (and 7 I didn’t) in Motherhood

My Dad used to say with a great deal of disdain, “Anybody can procreate.”  The underlying meaning, of course, was that very few could raise children correctly.  All I really ever wanted to be was a Mother.  More than an archeologist, disc jockey, journalist, lawyer, nursing home administrator, speech therapist, French teacher, occupational therapist, florist or anything else – I have always “just” yearned to be a Mom – a really good one.

I always knew one absolute truth about Motherhood:  If I was going to model my maternal style on my own Mother’s legacy, I had big shoes to fill.   She managed to keep a clean house and serve three delicious squares every single day for 7 children (we won’t talk about emotional upheaval in between!).

Instead of absolute “perfection,” I have always aimed for a more realistic goal in my Mothering:  meeting my child where she or he was and lifting the goodness where I saw it.

In other words, I have been more of a “let love and joy lead”kind of Mom (similar to my vision of the Divine – never harsh or judgmental, always searching for the Light).

Now in their teens, I see my 2 teenagers’ experience of my Motherhood a little more objectively, and the 3 strengths and 7 flaws are glaringly obvious.  Here are the 7 things “good Moms” excel at that I really bombed:

  • Time Management Although we lived right across the street from the Library, my kids were always late to Story Time.
  • Potty Training  Instead of motivational charts, I employed begging and pleading, which never worked. My daughter begged me to make her a chore chart when she was about 6 and, out of frustration, she ended up making her own!
  • Volunteering  I was my daughter’s Daisy Troop leader and those poor little girls never earned badges, it was just too much; I volunteered in my son’s kindergarten class and total mayhem ensued and I had to be rescued by the School Social Worker.
  • Animals and Kids I thought the kids should have a puppy after my husband’s faithful and well trained Labrador passed away; Tango, the Boxer, made our lives wilder and more unpredictable than ever – if we weren’t searching for her with slices of cheese to encourage a timely and safe return home, I was scolding her for ruining a new rug or bringing home cow skulls.
  • Singing No, not ever did my kids enjoy singing with Mommy.  Instead, they covered their ears and pleaded, “No!!!!!!,” but when Daddy started singing, they quickly became calm and content.
  • Nursing When my kids were sick, they wanted their Dad, the calm and steady soul.
  • Cooking One time, a culinary flop was so embarrassing, my 10-year-old daughter got up from the table and started making omelets for our guests.  When I burned the bat-shaped cookies my son wanted to take to school for Halloween, he hugged me and said “Mom, I don’t know anybody who could have done better.”

In spite of these 7 maternal failings, I think my kids learned alot from their experiences!  Fortunately, I managed to get 3 things right, and I think that is going to be enough to seal their future adult lives as positive and productive:

  • Compassion   I am literally beaming with pride even today. When I visit their High School, I am almost always approached by a special needs student who proudly introduces him or herself as my son or daughter’s “FRIEND.”  Somehow, I got this right!  To be kind to the vulnerable and marginalized is not always second nature, and I guess, through living with me, my kids learned to practice (without knowing it) compassion.  THIS and only THIS was my main goal as a Mom, and this job is complete.  Thank you, God!
  • Acceptance/Inclusion There were times my kids were invited to do “yucky” things but instead of avoiding them, both my son and daughter would usually go and then come home and innocently share something amazing with me.  Like the time my son was the only child who attended an unpopular boy’s birthday party and he came home and said, “Mom, did you know you can be 7 years old and STILL in kindergarten?!”.  Or many times I observed my daughter sweetly ask a newcomer something about themselves, with genuine interest and warmth.
  • Celebrate I may have missed a few “learning opportunities” in the positive discipline arena while my children were growing up, but what they did experience alot of was celebrations of all kinds:  the dog’s birthday; the first day the Christmas lights were on in our local park; the joint 5th and 50th birthday party of my husband and our son with the bouncy house; picnics and craft parties with Big Brothers Big Sisters; going to the movies with their cousins; giving Grandma and Grandpa gifts they bought at a truck stop on Interstate 70; taking the first rose that bloomed in our garden to a teacher; sitting on the front porch with our friend with Down Syndrome and eating a Sonic corn dog.  Building moments to celebrate love, life and joy have been regular parts of my 2 kids’ upbringing, and I already see my daughter cultivating that kind of funloving, life-embracing attitude with her friends.  

One thing I know for sure, when we did things at our house, we did them with GUSTO, and for that, I am proud.  I hope my 7 shortcomings are forgiven and that my teenagers continue to move forward in life with open hearts and loving attitudes!  We can’t all be champion chart makers…..

 

 

 

 

 

City Pups Immersed In The Country

I don’t know about any other gals, but 19 years ago when I said, “I Do,” I didn’t give one darn about whether the Handsome Groom could drywall like a champ, or, on the more basic level, even fix a leaky faucet.  Does anybody?

I married him for his intelligence, wit and that mysterious Half-Latin machismo that got me so stirred up at our first lunch date my calves literally burst through my pantyhose – and he didn’t mind!!!!

Then things started to break around the house.  ALOT of things.  In conversations with my husband about what needed fixing, I started to feel like Emily Newhart and her adorable, book-smart, practical Bob.  bob-newhart-show-suzanne-pleshette

Fortunately, my lawyer husband had plenty o’ handy clients who were good-hearted and just a phone call away.  Problems solved!  At least some of them.  I learned that certain men who are genetically challenged in the handy department are also – well, to put it bluntly, pretty lousy GRILLERS, too!  We had our share of well-intentioned dinner parties where the guests walked away wondering, “What the hell was that mystery meat I was just served?”.

It was fine, though, we lived in the city and any deficiency of the homemaking sort (I am neglecting to tell you that I, the “Pumpered” Princess, as our Argentinian cousin lovingly  refers to me, am completely worthless around the house) was easily solved by finding a “service.”

In 2002, now with two babies, our perfectly appointed household “rescue team” went away because we moved to…..and I shudder to say this …… THE COUNTRY!

Mike with kids on 70th  “Goodbye, City Life – Green Acres Here We Come!”.

In Southern Kansas, a fellow knows how to do many handy things – to infinity.  We bought 34 acres – to do what with, I am still mystified.  But there went “Brender and Eddie” while their city friends waved goodbye…..

My husband immediately traded in his BMW with lovely seat warmers for a bright red F-150 pick up truck.  Perfectly Appalling, Right?

“What are you going to do with a pickup truck?” I calmly inquired one day.  Oh, his eyes lit up with wonder as if he had seen Jesus himself as he replied, “You know, haul shit and stuff.”

Okay.  That’s fine.  We can do this, my Inner Diva told me – we can rise above our pathetic City Helplessness and conquer the untame land of the heartiest souls on Earth known as…...KANSANS.  Yes, that very special place where people throw parties to, of all things – burn their land!  The place that was once referred to by a City Transplant not terribly unlike myself in the 1800’s as “The land of grasshoppers and drought.”

Soon, our lives became an adventure and our completely privileged and helpless demeanor became a source of entertainment for the locals.  One time I was advised to seek advice from the Farmers at the local “CO-OP” about our barn swallow problem.  These awful creatures build mud nests on your home then sit atop your roof (because they basically own you at this point) protecting their young.  “How do they protect their young?,” did I hear you ask?  By divebombing the eyeballs of any threat.  So, I put my signature red lipstick on and drove to town to this apparent shrine of intelligence, the Co-op.  I was told to tape plastic snakes near the nest of the barn swallow and assured that my problem would soon disappear.  What I would give today to hear those farmers’ howls as I left from the Co-op on a mission to the local Dollar Store in pursuit of plastic snakes.  The joke was on me:  it did not work.

Finally, exasperated by our complete incompetence, I suggested we do something as a family that would be good for the community.  We were matched with a Little from the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.  He visited every Sunday.  Success!  And you know what? My sweet husband and son were the kindest, most patient souls with this lost little boy.

Mario with BrysonThey spent endless hours playing together and our Little did not mind one bit that we were weakling city pups – he really enjoyed us!!!

Fortunately, for me, our time in the land of awe-inspiring sunsets had an end – because I am just a girl who needs the comforts of a city.  George Lopez once said, “I need to get back to horrible crime, terrible parking and great Chinese food!”.  But we did have a lot of laughs, and I grew to accept my husband – and his adorable, quirky, country-wanna-be self.

We did what we could to “work the land” we bought and had some memorable bonfire parties in the canyon behind our home.  But, alas, the city beckoned us back.

And now “Bob and Emily” are back where they belong – laughing and reminiscing about the times we had trying to be RUGGED INDIVIDUALISTS.

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