Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Mother of a Day

I am going to make a statement that is bound to strike my readers as politically incorrect. Even shocking. It is simply this: I hate Mother’s Day. I have hated it for years – even the years before my mother died, but especially afterward. I thought having my own kids would make me like it, but no … not really. I guess I basked in the glow of my first Mother’s Day, but since it was little over a month after giving birth, I pretty much attribute that to a chemical rush of happy hormones. 

It’s probably got a lot to do with expectations. Thinking that just because the calendar says it’s Mother’s Day, our children will not just flood us with cards, gifts and flowers, but will be stricken with some sudden mea culpa moment when they will prostrate themselves at our feet, beg our forgiveness for all the times they tore our hearts out, and promise to strive harder to reach the pinnacle of perfection we expected for them on the day they were born. 

On the flip side, there is the hope – quickly dashed – that our relationship with our own mother will magically be healed by the simple act of bestowing a Hallmark greeting upon her. All the years of tears and disappointments, all the fights and harsh words, instantly erased – abracadabra!  And in my case, where even that slim chance of reconciliation disappeared in the sudden chill of an October night in 1978, the regret over what will never be … assuaged only somewhat by the knowledge that it never really could have been anyway.

So today when everyone is posting pictures of flowers and verses of sweet poetry and trite syrupy sentiments on Facebook, I won’t be participating. All I’m offering is this rather cynical, negative blog post. (You can thank me after you get over the sugar hangover.) It’s not that I do not have any appreciation for the wonderful, difficult, usually unsung job mothers do. I am one, after all. It’s just that I don’t think one day is enough to encompass the joys and the sorrows, the highs and the lows, the intricacies and the ambivalence of how it feels to bear the name “MOM.” 

What’s the answer? Hallmark doesn’t know. 1-800-FLOWERS doesn’t know. And I certainly don’t know.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Ghosts of Snow Storms Past

It was Christmas Day 1966 in Brooklyn, NY. For me, that meant getting up early, opening the gazillion gifts under the tree that – as an only child – were all mine, then getting into the car and picking up Nana and Baba, my maternal grandparents. This was tradition. This is what we did. Every Christmas for my whole, entire nine years of life.

But when I looked past the glittery, foil-wrapped packages and out the living room window, I saw an incredible sight: snow. And an awful lot of it! In fact, from the whispered voices of my parents in the kitchen, probably too much of it to allow us to pick up Nana and Baba.

A wiggly worm of fear started crawling its way into my Christmas joy. Surely it was not possible that this … this … white stuff … could ruin our family tradition! Could keep us from the people we loved!
My father walked outside to survey the situation. I pulled on my red rubber snow boots and awkwardly followed after him in the deep snow. He shook his head slowly. We didn’t have a snow-blower. (I’m not too sure anyone had a snow blower.) And the snow was up to my waist. But surely Daddy could fix this … Daddy fixed everything.

Gently, he stated the unacceptable: that we probably wouldn’t be able to pick up Nana and Baba.
My Christmas was ruined.

Well, OK, if Daddy couldn’t fix this, then I would, damn it! (I may have said “damn it!” in my head, but I’m sure that as a good Catholic girl, I didn’t say it out loud.) I marched resolutely into the garage as quickly as the snow would allow, which was not very quickly at all, and I grabbed my baby snow shovel, and I started to dig. And I dug and I dug and my Daddy laughed and told me to stop but I dug and I dug and I dug. And my breath came out in big steamy puffs and my face got cold and red and my toes and fingers got cold and numb and I dug and I dug and I dug some more. And when I stepped back to admire my handiwork, I saw that I had barely scratched the surface. This white stuff. This white SHIT (which of course I also did not say) had ruined my Christmas. Was ruining my Christmas. Would continue to ruin my Christmas.

Daddy gently took away my baby shovel, and I dejectedly returned to the house.

I do not remember what was inside those glittery, foil-wrapped packages. I do not remember what we ate for dinner. I just remember my bitter tears of defeat.

I’m not sure if what happened next took place that day or the day after. But Mommy and Daddy had found a solution after all! The minute the buses were running, we threw Nana and Baba’s gifts into shopping bags and trudged our way down the street to the bus stop. We had to take two different buses to get to their house, and the 10-minute trip probably took us a couple of hours in the snow, but we got there. Christmas was saved. Different … but saved. The people who made it Christmas were together. The snow had not won this game!

I never felt the same about snow after that Christmas. Although I admire it and respect it, I still hold a resentment toward it. You will not ruin my joy. You will not alter my plans. You will not keep me from the people I love.

I remembered that yesterday as I shoveled – this time with a small aluminum shovel probably not much bigger than my baby shovel had been but much more effective – and my husband shoveled and ran the snow blower and cleared out our driveway from three feet of record-breaking snow that had fallen the night before. And when we stood looking back at what we had accomplished, backs and shoulders sore, my 9-year-old self smiled and thought, “Here we come, Nana and Baba! We won another round! Nothing will keep us away!”

For information on the “Donner & Blitzen” storm of 1966, follow this link to the Old Farmer’s Almanac:

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Reflections on a New Year

[Note: I have made a personal promise to myself to start handwritten journaling again, which I refer to below. This is a transcript of that journal entry.]

Another New Year! I’m beginning this one with no voice. Third day of laryngitis, which is driving me bonkers – though I have discovered that, like singing, if I speak from my diaphragm instead of my throat, I can get a lot more sound out. 

I was feeling better last night, but then we had the world’s worst experience at China Pavilion and I got upset and raised my voice – and soon lost it again.

Lesson: I can’t afford to get stressed anymore. It takes too much of a toll on me mentally, spiritually and now physically. If I have any goal in 2013 it is to take positive steps toward alleviating stress. They may be baby steps, but they have to start somewhere. I must walk before I can run.

It’s hard to start journaling in longhand again. It feels so slow. But slow, I think, is what I need. I hope to maintain this discipline, though if history is any indicator, I won’t. It’s like those fatties who start gung-ho at the gym in January and are back in the candy aisle by February 1.

The New Year is always a time for looking ahead and planning to “change the things we can.” But mostly this New Year, I pray for the wisdom to know the difference.

2012 was a good year until the fourth quarter when it all unraveled. But truly it is a fallacy to try to compartmentalize a full year into one neat package. Each day, each event, has the potential to be good or bad. As my friend Don says, “Thinking makes it so.” And yet, there is such a thing as pure evil, and we have seen that in recent weeks.

In past years, I believe we humans have collectively exercised a certain degree of magical thinking around the New Year – that at the stroke of midnight, the bad stuff of the year gone by would be washed away and the freshness of a New Year’s potential would take its place.

This year, I don’t feel that. Instead, I sense a collective relief that 2012 is over, but only a tentative hope that 2013 will be different.

Were there fewer fireworks last night or was it my imagination? Were there more tears, or was that my assumption? Is there less optimism, or is that my fear?

I have adopted one phrase for the New Year in lieu of my usual list of resolutions, REVolutions or goals. That is to spread peace and to live joy. How those are accomplished is up to each of us.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Another Rent in the Fabric

The two days started in eerily similar ways: taking a walk, chatting with a loved one, complaining about the petty annoyances of everyday life. Soccer practices at inconvenient times. Christmas dinner with a slightly dysfunctional family. The minor frustrations of life that seemed like terrible dilemmas at the time.

Even the weather on those days was similar, though one boasted the bold blue skies of a waning summer and the other the cold crisp promise of the coming winter. Finishing the walk, grabbing some water, stretching our legs, heading back to the routine.

And then the curtain was torn.

And the following hours were spent mesmerized by the media frenzy, in shock over the depths of human depravity, and deeply questioning how it could come to this and how we could ever recover.

Before and after. Then and now. Defining lines in the continuum of time.

After that first day – 9/11/01 – I had hoped that I would never witness another rent in the fabric of normalcy. After the second day – 12/14/12 – I realize that the cloth may be irreparably tattered. 

What I know for sure is that the things I complained about, whined about – okay, bitched about – during my early-morning walks both days are insignificant irritations I would gladly reclaim as the worst problems in life. I wonder what the families of both sets of victims were grumbling about the morning before they kissed their loved ones goodbye for what would be the last time. Perhaps that pain is the one that resonates most with all of us: things left unsaid – and worse, things said that now can never be undone. 

We hear all the time about “living in the moment” and cherishing each day. But how many of us do it? I know I will write this today and probably kvetch about something stupid five minutes from now. It is human nature.
I did not personally know the victims of either 9/11 or the Sandy Hook school shooting. But they are all our families; they are all our friends; they are all our children. We all want to help yet feel helpless. There are no words, no actions, no way to change the past. But we can make today count. We can cherish the normal day.

I’ll end with this poem that I found years ago … when, at least to my mind, there were many more Normal Days.
Author: Mary Jean Iron

Normal day, let me be aware
of the treasure that you are.
let me learn from you, love you,
bless you before we depart.
Let me not pass you by in quest
of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
let me hold you while I may,
for it may not be always so. one day
I shall dig my nails into the earth,
or bury my face in the pillow,
or stretch myself tart,
or raise my hands
to the sky and want, more
than all the world, your return.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Hooray! I'm Done!

Hooray! I’m Done! – Books 51-52

As I closed the back cover of Book # 52, I breathed a great sigh of relief: My 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge was officially finished. I had managed to read one book a week during 2012. And although it was an interesting adventure, I will not be repeating it … nor will I be upping the ante by doubling my intake to 104 books in 52 weeks. I did it. I’m done. Now I will read for pleasure as I always have!

So here are my final two books of 2012:

Book # 51: Someone to Watch Over Me by Judi McMahon
This book bills itself as a “novelized memoir” – which made it especially intriguing to me. I’ve always wanted to fictionalize my life, and in my younger days I often wrote stories featuring myself and my friends in a variety of escapades, some of which were frighteningly similar to reality. This book was obviously self-published – and not edited very well. Nevertheless, there was something compelling about it that kept me interested in the main characters. Perhaps it was the fact that they grew up in New York during the same era as I did and faced many of the same personal and professional challenges. Or maybe it was just because I wanted to see what awful typo would come up next: like spelling the purple dinosaur’s name “Barnie” a number of times … or the Egyptian president’s “Anwar el Dadat.” Then again, we WERE warned that it was novelized. 

Book # 52: Catch Me If You Can by Frank W. Abagnale with Stan Redding
I love-love-loved this book! And I also loved the film by the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. I’d seen the movie a couple of years ago, but somehow the fact that this consummate con man was only in his late teens/early twenties when he perpetuated his crimes had escaped me. This was one of those books that had you rooting for the “bad guy” unremorsefully! Most, if not all, of the capers he pulled would be impossible to get away with today (I think) but reading how he managed to forge, con and smooth-talk his way around the globe was – as the cover blurb states – “dangerously inspirational.” For a fun read, I highly recommend this one.