Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Role Model

Well, November is here, and as usual it has brought out my melancholy side.  I miss my mom with sharper focus in November, the month of both her birth and her death. But this November in particular, I've been thinking a lot about my fabulous mother-in-law, whose birthday was also in November. I wish you could have known her as well as I did.

She was an excellent grandmother, a breast cancer survivor, a fiercely independent widowed single woman, a terrific friend, the best mother-in-law, and an adventurous soul who was up for anything.

She tap danced. She swam. She shepherded tourists around the Smithsonian as a docent at the National Postal Museum. She read The Washington Post from front to back every single day. She hated to drive, but had the Washington, D.C. bus and subway schedules memorized; she used them as she attended theater productions and baseball games and art exhibits throughout the city. She looked forward to and excelled at the competitive sport of bargain-hunting.

More than this, after her retirement from the U.S. Foreign Service and a career during which she and her husband raised three children -- while stationed in places like Cambodia, Libya, Bangladesh -- she traveled the world all over again. She took cruises throughout Europe, Northern Africa, and Canada. She rode a zip line over the Costa Rican rain forest. She went on a safari in Tanzania -- sleeping in the most glamorous tents I've ever seen. 

And then she was diagnosed with a brain tumor, almost two years ago. She was told she had a "glioblastoma multiforme." Your Google search will give you all the bad news about this kind of tumor. And you've probably been hearing about this particularly shitty brand of cancer in the news recently. 

I want to say so many things. But mostly:

First -- my religion (which was my mother-in-law's  religion too) teaches me that God's ways are not our ways. This is sometimes (but not always) comforting when I consider the ways cancer attacks us. I watched it take control of my own mother, and then of my dear mother-in-law. And to tell you the truth, both times it took control of my life, too. 

But second, this sucky disease gave me a great and good gift, too. My beloved mother-in-law's illness allowed me to take care of her. It allowed me to be with her at her most vulnerable, and it let me take the most intimate care of her. Ultimately, this brave woman let me and her other children be with her as she approached that ultimate journey -- her greatest adventure yet! It's funny -- nineteen years ago, when my own mother went through a similar ordeal with similar grace, my friend Susan said to me, "her suffering is a gift." Which totally pissed me off. Who would want this kind of present?! It certainly has never been on my Christmas wish list. But she was right (as she usually is). I am grateful that I was able to love them in this particular way, in addition to all the other kinds of love I had and have for both of them.

This is a thing I've come to embrace partly because of my religious beliefs -- but I think that my non-religious friends might have experienced a similar gift. I consider myself devout, but I don't think this thankfulness really has to do entirely with faith. It also has to do with our deepest connections to those we love. And, while I have the deepest sympathy for those who think that this is not a death they should have to experience, I look to both of my cherished mothers as my examples and role models. There are many ways to die with dignity.

Finally, as is often my way, I would recommend a book -- for anyone whose family has gone through something like this, or is in the middle of it right now. Shrinkage, by Bryan Bishop, is a wonderful memoir of his (so far) successful battle against an inoperable brain tumor. I first learned of his story through his fiercely wonderful wife's blog, and have cheered him on ever since. He writes with honesty, grit, and humor, and anyone fighting cancer will find inspiration and hope in his story.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Rock the Baby

OK, so I went to Nordstrom today, and on my way to the escalator I walked past this contraption, which completely mesmerized me.  It's a baby rocking machine, and it comes with a speed control and an MP3 connection, so the mommy can play soothing music or white noise or French lessons.  The Nordstrom folks had a white noise recording playing; you can hear it above the jibber-jabber of passers-by if you turn up the volume on the short little video.

My first thought as I gazed at this very pricy baby accessory was: I have lived too long, if I live in a world in which we cannot rock our own babies any more.  But then I thought, now wait.  I used an un-motorized "bouncy seat" with each of my three urchins when they were younger; does that make me a bad mommy, or a good mommy -- or a bad mommy who at least had a chance to rinse a dish or two before she picked up the kid again -- so maybe I was a bad mommy with clean dishes?

This baby rocking machine had me re-thinking all of my life choices.

So then I got to thinking some more. This contraption is kind of like when I put the inconsolable infant sunny girl, strapped into her carseat, on top of the [empty] laundry dryer and turned it on.  The dryer hummed and vibrated, and the sunny girl was temporarily soothed, and I lay down on the cement in front of the dryer, in case the baby sunny girl vibrated off of it.  I figured she would fall on me, which would make me a great mommy -- or at least a martyr, which is the same thing.

It's also kind of like when the infant tall boy would not shut up could not be soothed, so I loaded him and me into my little two-seater Honda CR-X (God, I loved that car), and off we went into the night.  I drove completely around the I-495 beltway that circles Washington, D.C.  That's sixty-four miles. Y'all, I did that more than once, and at the time it felt like a great solution: the tall boy slept in his carseat, I listened to a combination of oldies and talk radio, and no babies were thrown out of any windows.  A win for everyone.

The mommy gig is a tough one; you all know this.  And any help an infant's mom can get as she juggles her baby, her toddler(s), her groceries, her hormones, her laundry,  her intertwined love and angst, and her latte is help she should welcome.  Once, when I was trying very hard to pay for groceries and the newborn girl in charge had had it (she has been in charge since Day One -- believe it), a lovely woman said to me -- as I struggled to gently bouncy-bounce my screaming, hungry infant and find my checkbook and appear as if I was fine with the milk leaking from both of my breasts -- "I don't want to offend you, but would it help if I held your baby?" People, I could have kissed her.  Maybe I did; that whole post-natal era is a bit of a blur.

So my conclusion? Rock your babies the best way you can.  You are a great mom. You were a great mom.  You will be a great mom.  Being a mamma -- especially a new mamma -- is hard as shit. We deserve all the help we can get.  And in the middle of that "what am I doing?" moment, don't let anyone (including a snobby Nordstrom shopper) make you feel bad.

We're not rocket scientists. We're better -- we make rocket scientists.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Small pleasures: it's red, y'all!

So here I am coming out of blogging seclusion, and it's to share the fabulosity of this awesome red stapler. Because so often it's these small little pleasures that make my day better. 

And yes. I've seen Office Space. I still love my red stapler. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

You be the judge

Who can tell me what's hilarious about this picture? No, It's not that my Christmas wrapping paper is still at the ready as we all turn to face the sun, wearing our traditional and festive Vernal Equinox garb. That's just sad.

But look a little more closely. As I was shoving a pile of laundry out of the way so the vacuum could have a path, I glanced down at the cover story of this magazine (which I think was slipped into my bags as I was leaving the fabulous mother-in-law's place one night -- because she is never one to drop a hint when she can roll it up in a magazine and swat your behind with it).  People, I almost fell over laughing.  Or maybe it was crying.  I can't remember which.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Christmas!

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men."

Luke 2: 13-14

Happy Christmas, my friends!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Las Posadas!

Here is a fabulous video of a Las Posadas procession that took place in the Olvera Street marketplace -- the oldest part of the city of Los Angeles (it was established in 1781).  Las Posadas is a Latin American custom that re-enacts the journey of Joseph and Mary as they searched for a place to stay; the procession focuses on the words, "there was no room for them at the inn."

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Our Advent story today is about the response of a rejoicing earth to the birth of the newborn King. Throughout the world, the animals respond to the miracle they sense is coming.  Song of the Stars, by Sally Lloyd-Jones, is a beautiful story, that reminds us that Christmas is the time when we celebrate the birth of the King of all creation.