Tag Archives: mothers

Mother’s Day

(as featured on BlogHer)

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The other day I was wondering about my great-grandmother and the land she came to Illinois to Homestead with her husband and eight kids.  I have a photograph of the family in my office, all seated in their finest clothes around a buffalo hide rug.  Mid 1800s.  She looks like she could kick your ass if you were good enough for an ass kicking.  If not, she’d just turn her boney Yankee shoulder to you and you would understand for the first time what it is to be on the receiving end of disdain.  I wanted to know about my mothers. Especially this one.  I wanted to know what she was like outside this photo.  If she had a soft side.  I was wondering about the farm she’d left in Manchester, Vermont.  If she ever looked back.  And I was wondering about the china tea set that somehow made it to my china cabinet in Montana a hundred and fifty plus years later, along with a caned birds-eye maple chair…and if she’d like me to use them more often, or take care of them differently, or better yet, I wanted to know the story about them.  How she chose what she chose to make her covered wagon crossing from Vermont to Illinois.  I was wondering how I can serve her memory.  Mostly, I was wondering if I have her in me.  If I can look at my life like chapters instead of a tower of blocks that add up to some sort of art in the end.

So I called my mother.

My father is dead. This was his side of the family.  But my mother is the sort of person to marry it all—not just the man.  I’ve traipsed through cemeteries all over New England and Illinois with my mother in search of my ancestors’ resting places on both sides of the family.  She calls us “cemetery people.”  I never knew what that meant.  Now, in middle age, I think I do.  It means that we hold our deceased in story and artifacts and we don’t let them go.  We firmly believe that we need them.  We believe that they are in our lives holding us from a mystic zone that might be called Heaven.  (We are also Heaven people.)  My mother actually prays for our deceased ones.  And asks them to protect us.  Like we go God both ways.

“They left in a covered wagon for central Illinois because the land was rich and they didn’t rotate their crops in Vermont so the soil wasn’t any good,” she rattles off like a memorized soliloquy from the phone between bridge and altar guild.  “I have some of their letters if you want me to Xerox them and send them to you.”

And suddenly I am in a panic.  She’s in her 80s.  She’s vibrant and frankly looks better than I do after a rough Montana winter…but like she says, “Nobody cares about you quite like your mother.”

She’s always telling me how sad it is for her, an only child, to accomplish or experience or suffer something, and not be able to call her parents anymore.

“They thought I could do no wrong.”

Suddenly, I am imagining that day for myself and I dread it.  It will be a claustrophobic feeling:  I need my mother.  She’s not here.  There is quite possibly no one who has the answer to my question left on earth.  There is quite possibly no one who cares about my little story or my little panic or my little woe.  Who do I call?  A friend?  It would sound too needy or too braggadocio.  A child?  Children shouldn’t bear your emotional burdens.  After your parents pass…who is strong for you?

I called her the other day to find out about my great-grandmother, and ended up learning all about my mother.  I asked her questions instead of just monologuing about my life and my victories and problems.

She talked about the view from her bedroom window in Chicago’s Whitehall hotel.  “The Water Tower.  I believed it was my fairy princess castle.”  There is a newspaper clipping I’ve seen of her as a white-gowned debutante with Buckingham fountain behind her and the Chicago skyline.  “Virginia Aldrich has the City of Chicago in the palm of her hand.”  I always loved that my mother was such a beauty.  I haven’t told her that.  There is so much I haven’t told her.  (And I have to add here that when I asked her to send me a photo of her as a young woman…without letting her know what it was for…on top of the fact that she was packing to go to a fundrasier in Washington, she sent me this LOVELY photo of herself.  She is so loyal that she took the time in her nightie which you can see reflected, to do this for me, having no idea what I’m up to.  You can see it in the reflection and that is such a metaphor for who she is to me.  May we all have mothers like this.  Busy, in our nighties, who pull through in the eleventh hour for our daughters and sons…)

So, in honor of my mothers, and Mother’s Day, I’d like to tell her now.

Mom, I love the way you like to dance with abandon.

I love that you are a flirt.

I love that you have a big laugh.

I love that you love to skip.  I am sorry I stopped skipping with you when I was a teenager.

That’s Mom in the bottom left!

I love that you love Gran Marnier soufflé.

I love that you give things up for Lent and stick to it.

I love that you never missed one of my school plays, and even drove the station wagon from Illinois to Connecticut to see me in Guys and Dolls and The Fantastiks.  That would
not have happened without you.  Dad wouldn’t have made that effort.

I love that you always make the effort.

I love that you know what time my flights leave and track them until they land.

I love that you read every single thing I write and I love knowing that you will read this.

I love that you told me to go to Italy for my junior year in college instead of Vienna.  I loved that you cried about it, knowing what cloth I am cut from.

I love that you go to church.  That you value community service and volunteer endlessly.

I love that you have your own business and are good at what you do.

I love that you gave me a solid foundation and did not make crazy in my life.

I love that you don’t watch a lot of TV.

I love that you are a good friend to many.

I love that you aren’t wasteful.

I love that every single time I call you, and ask what you are doing, you give an exhilarated sigh and say what you are doing.  Which is always a lot.

I love that you don’t “sit around and eat bon bons all day” and never would.

I love that you made us read aloud a Bible passage every night at dinner.

I love that you made us say Grace.

I love that you made us wear shoes at the table and learn where all the utensils are supposed to go and to say, “are you finished” instead of “are you done” and taught us to Remove from the right and Serve to the left.

I love that you made us take piano lessons.

I love that you were never late.  Never.  I am usually five minutes late.

I love that you sang to me and read me stories when I was little.

Where all the snapdragons and pansies and pink roses grew.

I love that you had me take horse-back riding lessons but told me that it would be too pressured a life if I got into competing in the horse world.  You were right.  I was not cut out for that kind of pressure.

I love that you framed my childhood art.

I love that you love pink roses and snapdragons and yellow pansies.  I love that you made little arrangements of them and put them on my bedside table.

I love that for someone who sure does know a lot of influential people, you aren’t a snob.

I love that you wear the same sweaters in 2017 that you wore in 1950.

I love that you love yourself.

I love that you love me.

At my hometown book signing– look how happy we are. Wow.

What a class act.

Happy Mother’s Day.

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Long Ago: Community Entry #6

A time to work...a time to listen.

“When I am writing I am far away and when I come back I have already left”

– Pablo Neruda

Further stepping into the wilderness of Montana and the wilderness of writing this week.  If you’d like to create haven for your creativity…come to a Haven Writing Retreat here in Montana. June and September retreats are now booking.

Please enjoy this powerful entry to my “Long Ago:  Community” series/contest.  Submissions close Feb. 1.  Winner announced mid-Feb.  Thank you to all who are sharing and reading and commenting.  We can build community from far and wide.  yrs. Laura

Chosen, bAnnette Baesel

I was twelve and stood in a sky blue coatdress feeling very small among somberly dressed adults at the edge of my father’s open grave. A slim silver crucifix lay on top of the simple oak casket. An only child, I stood with my small hand nestled inside my mother’s. She trembled from the cold wind that blew out of the March sky and the grief that had come from nowhere into her life descending like a twister from a Midwestern sky. I felt lonely and afraid yet at the same time comforted by the strength and love that flowed from the family and friends who gathered around my mother and me. These people stood around us like an army ready to do battle in our names. They were the promise that we would survive.  This circle of guardians was a reflection of the life my parents had created for themselves, a life filled with decent, fair-minded people who, just like them, treasured and nurtured true friendship and supportive love.

Years before that day at my father’s grave, there was a half-moon high over our rose-colored, one-story tract home.  It was a warm Californian summer night. I smelled orange blossoms from the small grove down the street, mingled with the heady aroma of gardenias from our neighbor’s well-tended yard.  I was five years old, small and skinny. Mom and I waited at the side gate while Dad drove the long, pink Oldsmobile into the garage. His teeth flashed white in the dark as he smiled and walked towards us. Mom took my hand in hers. We walked into the backyard and I heard the gate clang shut behind us.  My entire universe was within my sight, my parents, our tidy backyard with the big leafed mulberry tree, the light from the kitchen window, and the brilliant starry sky.

We walked out from under the spreading branches of the mulberry tree.  Mom sat down on the top step leading to the back porch of the house. She gathered me up into her arms and looked up to the sky. “Look at all the stars, Annie,” she said. I obediently looked up at all the twinkles. She continued, “You know, you can make wishes on stars? And sometimes they come true.” I nodded, liking the idea quite a bit. With a bit of a hug and a kiss to my forehead she said, “Your Daddy and I wanted a baby for so long.   We wished and wished for a little girl.  Finally one day, a little star was given to us…you.”

After twelve years of marriage and trying to conceive, they adopted me, a three-day-old baby girl. Mom would tell of crying tears of joy the entire seven miles from hospital to home, saying, “Oh, Jimmy, she is so beautiful.”  When they got to the house, she ran to the bedroom to undress me and to stand arm in arm with my Dad staring at the miracle of a beautiful, naked baby on their bed, their own child.  That sense of being chosen shaped much of how have I lived my life. Our close-knit family was comprised of people related by blood and people my parents chose to make family. They knew to nurture all those relationships like prized orchids. They took nothing and no one for granted. So when I stood next to my father’s grave with  my numb and bewildered mother I was a little less afraid because of the presence of all those that stood with us, stood for us.

My father’s death at age fifty-two following heart surgery was unexpected.  My mother was cast adrift.  She was suddenly without her smiling Jimmy,her anchor, her light-hearted partner. She was a single mother with only a part-time job and large medical bills. She was faced with sleeping in an empty bed for the first time in twenty-five years.  She was stunned, angry, and afraid.  Our community of family and friends supported us in ways I only fully came to appreciate later as an adult.  They sheltered me from just how badly damaged she was until I was old enough to understand.

Through gestures and actions both small and large they got my mother through the first couple of years helping her find herself and her direction. She gradually regained her smile and found a new path into the future. Our community of loved ones kept laughter in our lives, even at a time when it seemed hard to find something to laugh about. These were conscious, deliberate decisions on the part of our family and friends.  They chose to support us, to remain as close as we would allow, to help us remember the good times, and face the bad times.

Thirteen years ago, with the support of my adoptive mother, Maxine, I made the decision to search for my birth family.  Unlike some, I was not looking for the “missing piece,” as I have never felt incomplete or discarded.  Rather, it was the simple importance of family connection and community that drove me to search for my birth family at the age of forty-three.

With a few facts my mom remembered of the circumstances of my birth, I found my older half-siblings, a sister and a brother. Despite the passage of years and circumstances surrounding my adoption, our coming together was immediate, intense, and joyous.  There were long late-night phone calls, even longer emails and letters, and the sharing of many photos.  My birth mother, Betty, was relieved to find out that the daughter she had to give up was safe, loved, and happy. Yet she was not ready to meet me. I understood. I was content with the relationships that I was building with my siblings and the eight nieces and nephews that I acquired almost overnight. I believed that time would take care of the rest.

Eventually, my birth mother and her second husband made the long emotional journey to my home. We shared many secrets, shed tears together, and began to forge a relationship.  When several years later, I planned a visit to California to visit my adoptive mom, my birth mother emailed me to say she was ready to meet my mother.

A Christmas tree stood in the corner of the common area of the senior apartments where my adoptive mom made her home. Good King Wenceslas was playing on the stereo system and the scent of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies floated through the air. Mom and I held hands while we sat nervously on the small love seat next to the fireplace.  We saw the car pull into a guest parking space.  Mom could not wait. She rose with remarkable speed given the arthritis in her knees and walked outside.  I stayed behind a few steps. Betty walked across the small palm-lined parking lot towards my mom, followed by her husband a few paces behind.  Under a big blue Southern Californian sky my two mothers embraced. They stood with their arms around each other looking into each other’s eyes. Betty said in a whisper, “Thank you for taking care of her.”  My mom gently responded with tears on her cheeks, “Thank you for letting me.” It was the intersecting of two worlds, two lives, through me. My sense of being chosen was never stronger. I had been, in fact, chosen twice. Once by my adoptive parents when they chose to make a family with me, and now a second time when my birth mother chose to reconnect completely with me, my mom, and my family.

The following years brought a sad, slow decline in my adoptive mother’s life as she battled poor health and dementia.  As heart wrenching as it was, she and I never doubted the love and connection we had with one another. Nor did we ever feel abandoned by our pieced-together family that surrounded us. We navigated the unwelcome and unchartered waters of her last few years by the light that shone from the many lanterns lit by our loved ones.  In her last days in hospice, we were surrounded by pictures of her beloved Jimmy.  I would sit holding her hand like I had so many times before. We listened to the Big Band music of her early days with dad.  Long after she could no longer speak or perhaps hear I would talk of memories, of family, and of friends. At the end, as it had been in life, it was the family we chose to create that gave us the strength and courage to fight the battle and face the unknown.

She died in the middle of the night.  When I left her for the last time, I walked out under a star-filled Florida sky not unlike the one she and I had sat under so many years ago back in California. I remembered how once upon a time she had wished upon the stars for a little girl. Now, it was me looking up to the stars in thanksgiving and grief. It was me wishing on the stars for her safe passage. It was me giving thanks to the stars for choosing to bring us together. As I walked to the car, I knew that family waited for me at home to wrap their arms around my aching heart with love and support. I knew that I would grieve. I would heal. I would grow stronger. I would remember. I would remember that I was chosen.

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Filed under Blog series-- Long Ago: Community, My Posts

For Mother’s Day

For all the mothers out there, this is for you, but especially for mine.

From my Huffington Post blog

My mother always says, “Once a mother, always a mother.”

Growing up, I never really liked the sound of that.   I thought it was sort of Bates Motel.  What would I want with a mother breathing down my neck when I was an adult?  Telling me what she thought about my hair or my outfit.  Giving me unsolicited advice about my relationships or my scruples or my religious orientation or my politics.  Staying up until I got home at night and yawning the next day from worry and lack of sleep.  It sounded like trouble.  Wasn’t adulthood all about freedom, after all?

Her own mother used to take me aside and say, at age ninety, “I’m worried about your mother.  She works too hard.”  I’d stare at her in total confusion.  How was it possible for someone to worry about my mother?  She was the one who did the worrying in the family.  We were used to it.  Having someone trumping her worry felt…awkward.  Sort of pornographic or something.  I didn’t like to think of my mother as naked as that.  Vulnerable.  Human.  I didn’t like to think about her as anyone’s little girl.

What I didn’t realize was that my mother’s worry made me feel safe.  It gave me the confidence to be thankless for having a doting mother in the first place.  It allowed me to be reckless with that relationship.  I had a friend whose mother didn’t seem to worry too much about her and I loved the way it looked from the outside.  She got to have unchaperoned girl/boy parties.  She got a car when she was sixteen.  She got left alone.  I wanted to be left alone, not dragged to church and made to be a lay reader.  The mothers of lay readers were dorks.  I was so not a dork.

“I’m praying for you,” I’d hear over and over through the years.  Those words stung.  They felt condescending.  Like I was some fallen angel who needed help with her wings and my mother was some sort of mystical seamstress.  I could sew my own wings thankyouverymuch.

“Call me when you get there,” she’d say all through my childhood and into my adulthood.  I’d roll my eyes, but still, I’d call.  Whether or not I’d admit it, it felt nice to have someone keeping track.  Especially as my wings expanded more and more and took me farther and farther away.  Secretly, I liked knowing there was someone out there paying attention.  But there came a time when I stopped calling my mother when I “got there,” wherever there was.  It seemed juvenile.  Co-dependent.  Not that much different from when I’d stopped telling her that I’d had a bowel movement.  I remember that exact second as I got ready to scream it across the house in my usual fashion.  Why did she have to know this piece of information?  Gross.  I knew my way around prune juice should I need it.  That was my business.  Just like arriving safely from a trip.  She didn’t need to know my every “move.”

You can see where this is going, can’t you.  Yep, you guessed it.  Now…I’m a mother.  And now I’m praying for my children.  And now I worry about their regularity and whether they got “there” safely.  And now I need a mother worrying about me worrying about my children.  Because the truth is…no one cares about you quite like your mother.  I’ve spent the last few years traveling for business and I never know exactly where I am when I wake up.  But my mother does.  “I’ve been following you on Facebook,” she’ll say.  “I’m sorry about the pillows at the hotel in Pittsburgh.”  Which is her way of saying, Could you please send me your itinerary.  I worry.  But still, until recently, I resisted.  I resisted my way all through canceled airplanes and seven hour layovers, ten events in twelve days and 4:00 wake up calls and so many strangers and so few hours with my husband and children…until I just wanted to break a little.  Come apart and cry and rest my head on an understanding lap.  But I’m a grown up.  Grown ups don’t cry because they’re tired and miss their pillow.  Grown ups have big important work to do on airplanes with laptops and Blackberries and printed out Mapquest directions and self-important roller-bags.  They don’t need their mommies.

“I was on the phone with the airlines all day yesterday tracking your flights.  I can’t believe they re-routed you to Detroit.  Thank God you weren’t in the tornadoes.  I wish you’d send me your itinerary so I could know your exact flight information.” 

You hedge.  This is not her burden to bear.  You are a grown up, damnit.

“You must be exhausted, darling.”  And deep, old tears well up.  You are exhausted.  And you think:  are my husband and children tracking my air travel debacles?  And you say, “Actually, I’d love to send you my itinerary, Mom.  Thanks for keeping track.  It means a lot.”

You’ll admit it here:  it feels good knowing that someone is praying for you.  It feels good that wherever you are, there is a person paying attention.  Braving 800 numbers.  Making it their job to know that you “got there safely,” even if they stay up late and yawn all the next day.  You’ll be the same way with your children, even when they’re adults and have kids of their own.  Because you know now for sure:  once a mother, always a mother.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.  Thank you for caring.

From my Huffington Post blog

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