Me and Mom

Me and Mom
Me and Mom.

Friday, 31 August 2012

This is it.   My last post.
It was supposed to be on the anniversary of mom's rebirth, also known as my 39th birthday, but like most things in my life lately, plan A did not materialize.  I took comfort in the fact that I had 25 more plans available to me and so I confidently moved on through alphabet.  It wasn't until I had hit the "LMNOP" landscape that it occurred to me I might very well need to move on to another alphabet altogether.

The past several months have been filled with changes; BIG life changes.  I am not talking about vamping the living room paint color or adding blonde highlights to my otherwise dark-chocolate mane.  I am talking about surgical repairs, liquid-diet recoveries, international uprooting, air shipments, sea shipments, invasive background checks, extensive health checks, family reunions, homelessness and intercontinental travel.......with a 3 year old.

I say this to remind myself that 30 different plans for finishing a blog is ok when your life is being lived on different continents and in different cultures.

As my family embarks on another adventure I am struck by the resiliency of life.  It amazes me and saddens me at the same time.  I am grateful for the forward motion that continues to propel us into  new and awesome opportunities, but I am still longing for time to respectfully stop and allow the world to once again acknowledge the loss of someone special.

And so this afternoon I am stopping my clock as I compose this last post.  This blog has allowed me to reflect and grieve in ways that were constructive and meaningful.  Thank you to all those who took the time, energy and thoughtfulness to read my words and make them part of your own story.  This has helped me immensely. 

And so I will close with a letter to my mom.

Dear mom,

I miss you. Still.  I miss so many things that it seems ridiculous to begin a list.  I mostly miss the feeling of your arms around me.  Even now at 39, I long to bury myself in the softness of your flesh.  It was there that everything in the world was made right. 

At night, when I am closing my eyes I try to persuade the universe into letting you enter my dreams.  I am not sure who the gatekeeper is in this situation. Do I need to send something?  Offer something to sweeten the deal?  Please let me know if there is something I can do to make your dream-presence more frequent (cameos will do but regular roles are preferred). 

Dreams are such a gift.  When you visit me it is as if we are meeting in another dimension.  I laugh with you, I eat with you, I talk with you.........and for a few seconds when I am re-entering this world we call reality, I feel you are here.

I know that I have made choices that are hard for you to understand.  Thank you for loving me anyway and supporting me even-though.  I love my life and I am happy.  I say this because it is true and because it is the most I can hope for my own son.  If he were to say these words to me I would feel great pride, joy and comfort.  I am hoping you feel the same.

I know what it is to be loved.

I know what it is to love. 

Thank you for showing me.

With you always,

Thursday, 8 March 2012


Damn grief.

I can't believe it's been months since I have posted. 


A  (Grand)father flew across a vast ocean, crocodile teeth were purchased, zoos were frequented, ice-cream was consumed in copious quantities, wine was drunk, Galliano was scavenged, black pepper crab was dissected, Thanksgiving arrived, a turkey was dressed and carved, family and friends celebrated, concerts were performed, conducted and attended, bird parks were visited, a half marathon was completed, celebratory beers were drunk, pizzas were devoured, goodbyes were said, a tree was decorated with a mom-star atop, glug and egg-nog were imbibed, Christmas dinner was planned, snow fell..... sudsy on the Singapore streets, presents were ravaged, carols were sung, a little boy drunk with Christmas fun passed out in his bed, a new year was toasted, new jobs were acquired, a 40th birthday was celebrated, a Valentine's tea party was had, a Bali break was enjoyed and now here we are.......


Months compressed into a single paragraph.  It doesn't work.

It's no good. 

Damn Grief.

I am actively restraining myself from hitting the delete button.

This is why I didn't write. 

What started out as cathartic became......well.....anti-cathartic.  Not quite destructive but definitely not helpful either.  Writing was tiresome, loathsome, a chore. 

A person compressed into single paragraphs.  It doesn't work.

My grief compressed into single paragraphs?  It doesn't work.

I see now that at the time I couldn't write.  It all seemed trite or cliche or something that I can't quite articulate.  Yes!  That's it!  Everything in the past few months has been something I can't articulate.

So I was left speechless.

Plus, I was lazy.  Writing means feeling and feeling takes energy.  I was drowning in apathy.....writing apathy.  I mean....did you READ the running record of the last few months?  I completed a half-marathon for God's sake!  So how is it that I could run 13 miles and yet, reflecting deeply about my mom seemed exhausting? 

Damn grief.

Then there's the little problem I have of feeling like she is still alive.  Not in the crazy-she isn't really dead-what body?-it was a hoax-she is living in Chicago-really!-she is out at bunco nite right now-sort of way.  More of a .......I don't get it. 

My brain gets it. 

Of course.

I mean I SAW her body.  I felt liquid oozing from her skin, I wiped fluid from her mouth, I listened to her beep and blip, I hugged her ballooning flesh. 

This is my new strategy......I attempt to remember the most horrible and horrific moments of her death in hopes that the pain will dislodge me from my disillusionment......much like the person who pinches himself awake from a bad dream.  The more pain the quicker the release. 


It's not working.

Damn grief.

I still feel like she is in "our" kitchen getting dinner prepared, cursing at the expensive oven that would always break down, and sipping a bit of white wine.

I feel that if I picked up the phone and dialed the number right now she would answer.

I did it.  I called.  Of course she didn't answer.  No surprise there.

My brain gets it.

It did ring though.  I actually got excited to hear her double hello.  It was always a statement/question greeting......."Hello.  Hello?"  This prompted much teasing from me but still didn't affect her peculiar (okay mom! eccentric) answering habits.

Then I got the ubiquitous, "Sorry.  The number you have reached has been disconnected or is not in service anymore." 

I'll say!

Damn Grief.

Last week I was sick.  While my physical self was at battle with god knows what, my emotional self decided to take advantage.  It strategically moved all troops to the font lines for some serious purging.

I couldn't stop crying, remembering, "wanting my mommy" for lack of a better expression.

My subconscious was elated with this sudden chip in the armor and decided to bring out the big guns.

Well, if this was war then I'd use my own survival tactics.  I decided to distract myself with a good novel.

I chose one (unbeknownst to me) about boy whose father dies in 9/11.  Damn subconscious.

I finished the novel and chose another.  I wouldn't give in.  This one (unbeknownst to me) was about a mother AND father who die.  Damn subconscious.

Fine.  If my subconscious wants to fight dirty I can fight dirty.  So I take off for a 3 day relaxing get away in Bali.  On the plane I decided to lose myself in a movie.  I chose "The Descendents" which, (lets all say it together now.....unbeknownst to me) was about a woman who is on life support and the consequences that ensue.  Damn!  Damn! Damn subconscious.

***insert note**** I strongly advise the reading of all synopses and the viewing of all trailers before choosing any reading or video material.......especially when grieving. 

I decided I was done with novels and movies for the duration of my get away....... subconscious won THAT battle.  We disembarked, elbowed our way through crowds of over-weight tourists and sketchy touts until we found our transport.  We arrived at our hotel bleary but excited.  The receptionist handed over our key cards and informed us that we would be enjoying our stay in room 318.

Seriously?  318?  As in........ three........eighteen..........?


Thursday, 3 November 2011

Mom's Playlist

I was jogging one steamy Singapore morning listening to my playlist when a song came on that immediately reminded me of my mom.  The next 3.43 minutes were exhilarating, nostalgic, heart wrenching and beautiful. The song conjured up so many memories and emotions it was hard not to press "continuous play" and morph my playlist into entirely one song played 15 times. 

This gave me an idea.  I began to list several songs that reminded me of my mom or that I connected to my mom is some significant way.  I am not sure she would pick these songs to be on her playlist, but for me, they are songs that will be linked to her forever.  I have posted the playlist with links to audio/video clips on the left hand side of the blog post.  My hope is that readers will enjoy reading the post as much as they will enjoy listening to the recordings.  

Don't Go Breakin My Heart - Elton John and Kiki Dee (1976)

I am sitting in the back of our Chevy Tempo two-door coupe.  It’s forest green with a black vinyl roof which, according to my dad,  “was all the rage then” and it sported an overhead 6 engine. I don’t even know what this means but apparently it’s supposed to be important or impressive or perhaps both.  This was my parent’s first real car. They paid around $2,800 to drive it home. $100.00 down and $86.00 a month for 3 years.  It was ours.

Today Mom is driving while Elton John and Kiki Dee belt out their devotion to each other. Do you remember this song? I couldn't have been more than 3 or 4 but I distinctly remember my mom doing the dance-drive as she motored us through Lombard, IL. The radio was a 1970's classic with rectangular push buttons and ginormous tuning knobs. Elton calls "When I was down...." and Kiki responds "I was you clown" as mom shimmies and shakes in the driver's seat (fully belted I hope.) This song is like an injection of happy serum for me. I am immediately smiling and wanting to dance. Maybe it's duet synergy at it's best, maybe it's the snappy beat or maybe it has nothing to do with the actual song. Maybe it's the memory of being 3 years old, surrounded by love, safe, happy, free of responsibility, devoid of worry and watching my mom express a love for the moment.

God Bless the U.S.A - Lee Greenwood (1984)

My mom cried. She cried at fireworks. She cried when she heard the National Anthem no matter how horrendous the rendition. She cried when she saw a flag or recited the Pledge of Allegiance. It is safe to say she cried at all things patriotic. It is not a big surprise then that years ago, maybe as many as 2 decades ago, she began decorating her house with a flare of patriotism. Where Amish inspired paintings once hung and faceless dolls once perched, various American-esque arts and crafts now dominated the house. It was not uncommon to eat off a red plate, drink out of a blue glass and spoon your dishes from an array of serving ware proudly donning stars and stripes. Flags had infiltrated our home on all levels. From cookware to clothing one could not escape those three tear-jerking colors.

Maybe that is why in Jr. High School my mom would ask me and my best friend to sing this song over and over again. We happily obliged because we were 13 and we were the musical axis which allowed the earth to spin. We had just polished our harmonies and bringing someone to tears was just what we needed to convince ourselves that a recording studio was in the near future. Mom never let us down.

Got Along Without You - Teresa Brewer (1952)

I had never heard a recording of this song until I started writing this post.  My mom and I used to sing this as a duet.  I loved singing in harmony like some kids love collecting stickers or stock piling silly bands.  You can never get enough.  You are never satisfied.  You keep asking "one more?" or probably, in my case, demanding "one more!"  She sang that song so many times with me I am surprised she wasn't driven to drink.  Her voice was lighter, delicate and more suited to the soprano melody.  My voice was deeper, lower and I definitely enjoyed singing the alto harmony.   For me, this song is about car rides, lounging in summer pools, waiting in lines and all the other ordinary, routine activities that can possess a day.  We would often pass the time crooning this tune together.  Now I sing it as a solo and something is definitely missing.

Morning Has Broken - Cat Stevens (First published 1931; Cat Steven's recording 1971)

This song was played at an Easter Mass when I was a little girl. We were visiting my Aunt, Uncle and cousins who were then living in Wisconsin. I think I was in Kindergarten but perhaps I was a bit older. Regardless, I was young, but the memory is still palpable. It was the first time I heard the song and I thought it was beautiful. It represents Easter for me and how my mom made holidays like this one so special. We caravanned to dairy country, hunted for our eggs outside in the morning dew, modeled frilly frocks, bonnets and white gloves down a runway known to all others as the church's central aisle and we feasted on baskets of candy clearly forgetting that gluttony is one of the seven Cardinal Sins.

Old Time Rock and Roll - Bob Seeger (1979)

Ok. Quintessential pop culture. Remember? Risky business? Famous scene.....Tom Cruise in his underwear lip-syncing, air guitaring it and shaking his booty. If you don't know this one you were either NOT born yet or you were being held against your will in a Siberian prison camp. I don't particularly like this song but my mom did. Alot. Too much. Mom had her own Tom Cruise moments, albeit she wore slightly more clothes. She'd be shuffling through the house armed with Windex and a roll of paper towels (ammunition with which she was ALWAYS fully locked and loaded). The radio was religiously tuned to WGN and occasionally if us kids were lucky they would play some music. As soon as you heard the initial, descending chords of the piano you knew what was coming. Bob Seeger's, "Just take those old records on the shelf...." would be accompanied by mom's hip-shaking and sashaying around the house. The Windex that was once a fire-arm was now a dance partner. 

This was also a favorite of hers to dance to at weddings. She and my dad REALLY new how to dance. No, I mean REALLY. Not this two people standing near each other kind of interacting as they try to rhythmically move to the same song. I mean holding each other, communicating with your partner, twirling out, reeling expression of love whether it be for a person, a moment, or merely the song itself. My mom knew how to dance and this song inspired her to grab a partner, windex bottle or husband, and show us how it's done.

Christmas Carols - Pick one. Anyone (Timeless)

Mom loved carols and from the day after Thanksgiving until New Year's our air- waves were saturated with holiday hits. Christmas was the perfect time to press the play button and anything from classical orchestras to pop divas to nostalgic crooners were a possibility. She particularly liked when my sister or I would agree to plunk out a few tunes on the piano and our living room became the unplugged version of a family Christmas. 

There were stages in my life when I loved this. Why stop at the piano? Violins were dusted off, bows were tightened, rosin was applied and new levels of seriousness were adopted. Soon, additions to our family meant new musical opportunities as well. They came with trumpet cases, guitar picks and drumming kits, making the possibilities of our instrumentation dizzying. However, other periods in my life met the holiday musical madness with less luster. I can remember several years answering my mother's request with dramatic sighs and over-active eye rolls. I refused to be the woman at Von Maur studiously seated at the baby grand delivering the Musak-like soundtrack for department store shoppers. Only my baby grand was an out-of-tune upright and I had to make up most of the left hand because the sheet music was too difficult. Someone really needed to tell me to get over myself! 

Luckily, that phase was short lived and I have now inherited my mom's love for Christmas "cheese". No, not the kind that comes on a platter amidst uptight crackers and pretentious olives, but the kind that oozes out of stereos, ipods and yes, my very own piano. 

You Can Call Me Al  by Paul Simon (1986)

My sister and I got along well growing up.  We rarely fought, we played well together and we felt a need to protect and help each other as we ventured out into unknown territories.  We reminded my mom of our harmonious family dynamic often and pointed out how we lived a life free of sibling rivalry, hoping it would score us points in whatever parent-child contest we wanted to compete.  It didn't work.  We still got reprimanded, scolded and consequences ensued.  Our offense was usually laughing.  No, it's not a typo.  Laughing was responsible for most of the trouble my sister and I seemed to attract.  We argued vehemently in our parent's court that this was a ridiculous infraction.  Most kids are fighting, drinking, experimenting with drugs but we are .......laughing? Where is there a house law against laughing?  Most houses are in NEED of more laughter.  We were scrupulous and unrelenting in our defense.  Of course, it didn't matter.  Not when the opposing lawyer is also the judge.

In truth, it wasn't typical laughing.  This was decibel breaking, uncontrollable, belly-aching spasms of silliness.  Once we started we couldn't stop and it only escalated until our bodies were doubled over in pain and tears were streaming down our cheeks.  By then, we were addicted to the high and just about anything could set us off into a relapse of greater and, I'm guessing, more annoying proportions.  This song was one such catalyst.

It was the 1980s and we were on a road trip to see the American West.  The Dodge Caravan was our home for the next 3 weeks and my sister and I carved out our spaces in the back seats.   We had the typical car activities packed and ready to go; puzzles, cards, drawing supplies, books, snacks, etc.  We really didn't need anything at all.  Our most popular road trip game was backseat dancing and our favorite song for this was Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al".  We had moves for all the verses and choruses.  We arm-rolled, thumb danced, clapped, head-shaked and performed any other move you could comfortably execute from within the confines of your seat belt.  It was glorious, silly fun.  I am sure we got a little out of hand and the front seat patrol darted around several times with looks and words of warning.  I don't know if I remember that dance routine but I KNOW I remember how to laugh..........that's really all that matters.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Our Michele

The following post is based on an interview I had with my grandmother (my mother’s mother) several week ago. I called her after coffee and breakfast had commenced in Singapore and after dinner dishes were carefully put away in Chicago. I imagined her sitting in her floral duster with a cup of tea steeping on the table and some biscotti crumbs littering her saucer. She spoke easily and comfortably as I posed the questions and I could tell she was eager to talk about my mom. I decided to write the entry from my grandmother’s perspective as it seemed to flow better in first person. The post is based on her interview answers and I have interpreted feelings and events where I saw fit. She has read the post and has given it her blessing so I feel it is authentic and possesses integrity.

Our Michele

I will never forget the day she was born. It was a Sunday and her birth was easy. She wasn’t even 5lbs and it felt like a miracle. “Don’t sound so crazy,” declared my sister “everyone has a baby!” But of course I wasn’t everyone.

I never thought I would have a baby, but after two years of marriage we were pregnant. This was 1949 and everything was different in the birthing ward. We found ourselves at Loretto hospital in Chicago where husbands were prohibited from entering the delivery room and where nuns called the shots. “Sister, I think she can have some pain meds”, suggested the doctor on duty. “No! She can wait!” commanded the nun. Shots were definitely being called.

I remember the woman next to me screaming and writhing about with pain. “If you would stop this and relax you would feel better,” retorted sister-in-charge. This brought on a monologue of swearing that would rival the likes of a gangster rapper. I was embarrassed.

Despite nuns tramping in their bossy boots and patients targeting them with expletives we soon had our baby.

Mother’s intuition told me that we were having a son and we had prepared to name him Michael after my husband’s father. It was evident that intuition cannot always be trusted as I swaddled my little girl. Michele, the female version of Michael, seemed the most natural alternative. In later years, when I saw the headstone at my father-in-law’s grave site I was surprised to see that his name was actually spelled Michele, the Italian spelling for Michael. She was named after her grandfather and she was Our Michele.

If the delivery was easy the homecoming was a bit more of a challenge. She was small and treated us to 6 months of colic. It was a revolving door of formulas but we made it through and our reward was in sight. Michele was a good child. She left the bottle early and practically toilet trained herself . We only used cloth diapers and she hated to be wet. She would want to be changed incessantly and soon grew tired of the constant diaper drama. She practically trained herself. Yes. I am repeating it again because in 85 years of living I am sure this sounds like a case of faulty memory or time-lapse embellishment. It’s not.

Michele developed into a bright and beautiful little girl. She walked early and by 3 she was adventuring around the corner to buy milk from the neighborhood grocer. It was a different time. A time when your community was extended family and watching your little girl from your kitchen window was enough. She soon took a liking to shopping and mothering her younger sister. She gave in often, especially when baby sis was sick. She did this not out of desperation or frustration but a need to help and to protect.

Soon her adventures bloomed into more than just trips around the block as fashion, friends, dating and travel began to take center stage. She jetted off to Europe after High School and returned with gorgeous English frocks. Furthermore, her hair-capades have become somewhat of family legend. She was known to leave the house in various wigs or regularly return home sporting a surprise cut. Once she arrived from the salon with such a short crop that her father questioned if she had actually paid for the cut. When it was revealed that she explicitly asked for this specific style her father just shrugged and walked away. A similar short “do” shocked her future husband who was picking her up for a blind date. “Her hair was so short I thought she might have been sick and had to undergo surgery!” he exclaimed. “I was a little worried my buddy set me up on a sympathy date!” he added. On yet another occasion she was sent home from Immaculate Heart of Mary, her High School at the time. The infraction? Hair-ratting. Enough said and yes….even though the nuns donned their habits everyday, they really wore the pants there as well.

At 14 Michele went to work in a pastry shop. She was an artist at decorating the pastries and wrapping the desserts, a skill she would perfect over the years. Her family has been known to poke fun at her over this. If you ever baked with Michele you knew that the frosting, drizzles, sparkles, and sprinkles were most important and had to be applied with painstaking delicacy. We resorted to calling her meticulous but in truth this was often a euphemism for annoying. Clearly, her exquisite bakery skills could not be abandoned even when it came to family cookie day. It has also been said that she kept the Raimondi’s Bakery shop counter the cleanest it had ever been. Another skill she would transfer to her own home and use to drive her loved ones insane. Gift wrapping brought on the same love for detail. Everyone knew which present was from Michele because it looked as though it had been sent directly from the department store.

At 16 she was punching her card at JC Penny’s with her girls. She was a hard worker and the friends she made were connected to her for the rest of her life. In fact, some of her closest friends before she died are those she romped around with on the elementary school playground. That kind of friendship is rare.

Boys came and went as easily as the hairstyles and she had no interest in committing until she was ready. “Don’t call me to meet him till that boy comes around more than once,” warned her father. Clearly, she dated like she wore her wigs. Lets try it on, have some fun, but I’m not committing to anything serious at the moment.

More than anything it was evident that Michele was dedicated to her family. We lived next door to one grandmother and shared our home with her other set of grandparents. She’d graciously endure her grandpa slurping down his raw egg every morning and she’d politely listen to his lengthy stories. I am not talking about light- hearted fairytales or star-crossed folklore either. I am talking some heavy stuff like Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”. Michele thought he was making up the epic poem until she came across it on her own in Humanities class. Even throughout high school she shared a bedroom with her grandmother, an act of kindness I can’t see today’s teenagers signing up for, at least not without a lot of drama and a long list of negotiations.

And so as I celebrate highlights of Michele’s birth and childhood I remember that it is October again, Michele’s birthday month. I am reminded of her very first birthday and how she stuffed that big cake into her little mouth, Dressel’s whipped cream cake, our family’s favorite. I miss her everyday. I shop at Caputo’s alone now when I used to stroll the aisles and wrestle the deli counter with Michele. I don’t stop at Panera for a post-Caputo’s-shopping lunch because I used to with Michele. I think of her every single day and I look forward to the day we are reunited. Happy happy birthday to Our Michele.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

57 Days

There is a jar at the end of my bed. It is bursting from within. It is so stuffed it must waddle through the house commiserating on its discomfort, much like my own self after sliding my chair from the Thanksgiving Day spread. So I tell the jar, "Suck it up! Have some peppermint tea, rub some yu -yi oil on your belly, walk it off, unbutton your pants for god's sake but stop complaining! You did this to yourself!" But it's a lie. I did it.

It has been 57 days since my last post. Seeing the numbers there, the 5 with its bloated belly and the 7 with its deliberate stance (much like a military salute in my opinion), brings on a wave of nausea. How did I let the jar get this full? It is so full of excuses it simply can not hold another and I have no choice but to either get a brand new, empty jar or begin to write again.

I haven't wanted to write. Simple. Stated. Done. I could have summed it up with one simple phrase rather than continuing on with the countless others......"I'm too tired", "I don't feel well, "My son needs me", "Blah blah blah." The truth is I just haven't wanted to go there. The thought of clicking keys made my head spin and my fingers felt as if giant weights had been suspended from my knuckles. Every letter was a labor. Every word a feat of great strength. Too hard. So I would close the laptop and open my novel instead.

So what has changed? I have no idea. Really. Tonight I picked up the computer and I wanted to write. So I did. Simple. Stated. Done.

Many events have transpired in the past 57 days. While I have been feeding my excuse jar my Dad sold the house. On Sept. 18th, exactly 6th months after mom's death, he packed up his Subaru and drove out of the Chicago burbs and straight into the Arizona desert. Therapists often talk about 6 months being a pivotal turning point in the grieving process. Typically, one is more able to move forward around this time. I am imagining his car driving confidently into a desert sunset as the blue two-storey sheds a small tear in the rear-view mirror. He has a beautiful new home and he is ready for beginnings after so much time and energy has been devoted to endings. Chapter One: An Arizona Autumn. I can't wait to read the rest. I am so proud of him.

Unfortunately, the last 57 days has also brought great heartache. One of mom's best friends was diagnosed with brain cancer and a very close friend of the family lost her husband in a boating accident. I am saddened and disheartened by these events. I don't know what to say. Perhaps it is enough to just share.

The last 57 days ushered in another milestone. My mother's 62nd birthday. On October 9th we celebrated her birthday with friends here in Singapore. My friend's 5 year old daughter curiously inquired as to where the birthday girl was. "Is your mom dead?" she innocently asked.
"Yes." I replied, "but we will still celebrate with her spirit."
"Will there be cake?" she asked.
"Of course."
"Will we sing?"
"Absolutely." I stated. And that seemed to settle the matter. It can be anyone's birthday with a heartfelt rendition of Happy Birthday To You and espresso-fudge- banana cake ( AND carrot-walnut AND chocolate-hazlenut).

So how DO you celebrate your Mom's 62nd birthday when she has gone off and adventured into the afterlife.
Step 1. Run a 10K race in her honor (Congrats to my husband who completed his first 10K).
Step 2. Have a Cosmo party with close friends (Mom's favorite drink....ehhemmm...ONE of them).
Step 3. Eat a delicious meal (Chinese steamboat for us!)
Step 4: Sing, blow out candles WHILE making wish, and eat cake.

Repeat all or some of steps as needed.

It was a wonderful day and and a lovely party. I think Mom enjoyed herself. I know we all did.

My last present to you is that I am writing. I hope 57 days does not elapse again between posts but who can see the future? The best I can do is to say I have written now.

Simple. Stated. Done.

Happy Belated Birthday Mom

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Ashes Ashes We Won't Fall Down

The alarm buzzed twice and I hurriedly grabbed the phone.  6:00 am had come too quickly and the blackened sky confirmed that not even the sun was ready for the day.  The house was still except for the percolating of the coffee maker and the soft, rhythmic breathing of my nephew upstairs.

The comforting aroma of a fresh brew began to waft through the living room enticing me to get moving.  As objects before me came into focus I could hear my sister shuffling through the kitchen. This was THE morning. The one we had been waiting for, the one we came here for and, honestly, the one I was somewhat dreading.

Sis and I exchanged our good mornings in hushed voices so as not to wake the others.  Then we poured our java and tip-toed to the front door.  We headed out onto the large, wooden porch over looking the ocean.  The moon was hidden and the sun was still asleep making it hard to tell where the ocean ended and sky began. As far as I could tell the sea and sky were one.

The air was refreshingly cool and the birds and insects had commenced their morning symphony.  We sat slurping our coffee and listening to the hypnotic lull of the tide. It was a beautiful morning. It was perfect really.

We had all decided to caravan down to St. George island, a used-to-be-annual summer destination for my parents and one we had frequented as a family.  Over the years they had rented several houses on the island and the one my dad chose for this summer event was one they had stayed in before.  It's blue wooden siding had faded from years of sun exposure and the nails in the deck were rusty from relentless ocean spray and the taunting of tropical storms and hurricanes.  "It's exactly the same," Dad stated matter-of-factly and with a trace of relief as he turned the key and led us into the main living room.

The mauve and perriwinkle floral couches would make their 1980's decorator proud.  As would the oversized bamboo dining table with glass tabletop. It would be perfect for gregarious family meals, late night card games and a few Gallianos with my dad.  I loved that everything was the same as when my mom had stayed here, except for a few updates of course.  Now a DVD player graced the entertainment system and the house was equipped with wi-fi, ubiquitous and necessary for a successful rental today.

My dad showed us exactly where my niece had learned how to crawl.  His finger pointed to a spot on the carpet just a few feet away from the sofa.  It was hard to believe she was now 7 and an accomplished gymnist.  In a way, this place was the start of her motor mania and so we all breathed in the air of nostalgia, memories and the reality that even though some things were exactly the same many things were so very different.   

My mom loved the beach.  She relished the languor that filled her days of sun-soaking, bathing in salty pools, consuming her latest novel and gazing at her family.  She enjoyed moving slowly and I often thought that the turtle could be her sister soul, a fitting choice since the sea turtle is famous for laying eggs on this very stretch of beach.  Furthermore, after a bit of research by my sis, we discovered that sea turtles are symbols of mother earth.  Their shells represent heaven and their under shell the earth.  These beings are nurturers, protectors, patient and steady.  All of these descriptors scream Michele.  She loved to be in her shell, comfortable, safe and familiar.  That is also the world she created and perfected for her family.

So perhaps it is because this beach is the home to a symbol of the primal mother, fertility, wisdom and
strength.  Perhaps it is because my mother loved spending time here. And perhaps, most importantly, it is because she specifically stated this was to be the place where we spread her ashes.  This indeed seemed like a most fitting and perfect place to bring her one last time and forever.

So we swigged the last of the morning cuppas and I headed in to wake my dad.  My dad was not spreading his ashes but he wanted to be with us when we set ours free. We gathered her cremains along with our courage and we shuffled out onto the boardwalk, down the rickety steps and out onto the beach.

I had a few things I wanted to say to mom in private and so I wandered down the beach a bit to have my chat. I won't recount what I said except for a quote I read to her.  It is part of a letter written by a 19th century poet, Rainier Marie Rilke.  A friend turned me on to his writing in college and these words have always rang with poignancy in my ears.
It is as follows:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart
and try to love the questions themselves...
Do not now seek the answers,
which cannot be given to you because you will not be able to live them.
And the point is, to live everything.
Live the questions now.
Perhaps you will then gradually,
without noticing it,
live along some distant day into the answer.

I vowed to live my questions as best as I could and I hoped that she was finally getting some of her answers.

I walked back over to my sister and dad and we slowly opened our urns.  The sun was higher now and the sky was flooded with a gorgeous palette of pastel chalks.  It was windy and the surf was frothy beneath our feet.  The ashes were in a small bag which opened easily.  We sprinkled them over the ebb and flow of the tide and the wind took them briskly in her arms and carried them further than we could imagine.  

I was surprised by how thin the ashes appeared and how little of them there seemed to be.  Another reminder of how the largeness of a life is not captured in the physical but in the spiritual.

We hugged, we cried, we stood strong and proud and then we began our day.   

I love that part of her is in the ocean flowing into other waters and onto other lands.  It's not symbolism or figurative language. She literally is Mother.  My mother and now mother earth.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

An August Labor of Love

From one mother to another, from a daughter to a mother, from grandson to grandmother.  I have been wanting to capture this experience in my own way for some time now and my mother's recent birth was the impetus to do so.  Thanks mom for the inspiration.

July 31st, 2009

And so our tale begins......

My good friend arrived back from her summer holiday and she looked stunning.  Fresh little haircut, fun (little) dress, sexy not-so-little heels and a suitcase full of little stories.  She looked radiant and light and....little.  I realize my obsession with the littleness of things, but at the time it was understandable.  Everything in my life at the moment was big, REALLY big and nothing felt like an exception, especially my belly.

We talked and dined over some homemade "Pasta Putanesca".  I have to chuckle over our perfectly fitting menu choice.  "Whore's style spaghetti!" It foreshadowed the BIGNESS that was ensuing by reminding us of the actions that started the whole BIGNESS in the first place.

We were off to a symphony concert and the whole time my belly sang.  Only it wasn't good singing.  It stammered, croaked, groaned, and groveled.  It added an entire embarrassing, uncomfortable libretto where none was intended.  All I could think about was how I knew that damned "Whore's Pasta" would come back and haunt me.  Consider me haunted.

August 1, 2009

The next day I still felt funny.  It was only now that I considered the pasta wasn't to blame and that perhaps......perhaps?......

I put a call into my marathon trainer (known in other circles as my doula). She suggested going about my day and just observing.  It could be race day or it could indeed be "Whore's Pasta" revenge.
And so we went about our day....
Breakfast?  Check.
Phone calls?  Check.
30 minute swim? Half a check.  I couldn't finish and I was mad.  A wave of anger washed over me and the self-talk commenced. "Come on! Ten more minutes!  What will you do in the race?  Finish line. Finish line."  But no cheer leading was going to help push this body across the chlorinated depths of the Anchorvale Community pool.  I was done.  Of course, if I had future vision I would have known that conserving all the energy possible was the most appropriate race strategy at this time.  But no one has future vision.  No one.

So onward we marched through the day's parade.
Foot reflexology? Check.
Starbucks coffee? Check.  Decaf.  Calm down already.

By late afternoon the pressure in my belly was more intense but still not to any alarming proportions.
We decided to take in a movie at the cinema and after a few types of the keys our tickets were purchased and we were on our way.

On our way.  Yes we were.  As we pulled out into traffic the sensations in my belly intensified further, but what to do?  If it was the real deal it would continue with popcorn and Hollywood hotties just as easily.  But once we arrived at the cinema it was clear that Hollywood would have to wait.  No, I didn't have a baby in the Ang Mo Kio Hub cinemas.

We had purchased our tickets for the wrong date.

Call it fate, a subconscious intervention or a life ring thrown from the waters of the universe.  Whatever it was it was a good thing. We had a real feeling now that this could be the day.  Race day.  The birth day.

We foraged through the grocery store for provisions anticipating what could be a long night ahead.  My husband plucked fruits, grabbed snacks and filled the cart while I braced myself against confectionery displays and freezers of processed foods.  These were full on surges..............right?  I was pumped and confused and surprised that labor hadn't begun with the clarity and circumstance of a siren.  More like a party horn that keeps getting stuck between toots. 

My husband put another call into our trainer. "Go into the shower and see if things slow down a bit.  It could still be a false alarm" she advised.  But then she heard me through the phone starting the primal, guttural birthing sounds that begged confirmation.  Yes. The toot has become a siren. 

So I was running my first marathon and I had probably crossed the start line hours ago.
I stayed in the shower for a bit letting the warm water soothe my taught and tired belly.  I remember with each wave of pressure I would feel a surge through out my body.  I would breathe in with the wave and as it crested these powerful, energized moans would direct the energy out and forward.  We had practiced all of this in training.  The breathing, meditations, affirmations, birthing sounds to keep loose, but this was training up about ten notches.  It was fantastic.

I birthed in our bedroom.  The room basked in soft light and was filled with soothing Feng Shui music.  My husband lit a combination of mint oil (for nausea), lavender oil (for relaxation), and one other whose name eludes me at the moment, but it's purpose is to hasten labor (we needed alot more of that one).

Integrating the surges was easier than I thought and I know it was because we all committed to a rigorous training schedule.  I kneeled on the floor hugging the birthing ball, I kneeled over the bed, I hung on my husband, I was in the shower, in the tub, squatting, sitting on the birthing stool.  We had strategies, for every mile we ran, for every hour that passed. Strategies.

I am most amazed at the animal woman I became.  I felt possessed and overcome with primal instinct.  As labor progressed, my surges naturally intensified.  With each rush of energy my hair would swing wildly, my eyes rolled back into my head and all sorts of tigress groans and growls were released.  I had become someone else during those surges and I liked her. 

Then it was over and I was back, asking for water, smiling, the tigress was never there....only to be brought back again a few minutes later.

My body was amazing me.

My husband and our doula ran a marathon too.  They never stopped rubbing my back, putting pressure where I needed it, giving me support, offering me strategies when I was too focused to remember.  They listened patiently and indulged my diva demands when coffee was prohibited due to it's nauseating aroma and lyrics were verboten due to their distracting nature.

We all had been running for hours.  For sure we had passed the halfway mark and the doctor had come to confirm our progress.

3 cm..........what the????

Not to worry.  I started this race knowing that I didn't care about my time.  Crossing the finish line is all that mattered.  So our feet hit the pavement....again.

August 2, 2009

The doctor had some racing strategies of his own.  He broke the waters which were still intact, hoping to hasten our pace.  The warm liquid came out less forcefullly then I had imagined.  Not a gush but a gentle release.

It was noon the next day.  I know this now but I didn't at the time. I had no sense of time.  The world had stopped except for the little room on Seletar Terrace.  I was progressing but still at a slow jog. Yep.  I am a distance runner......never been a sprinter.

The doctor suggested that my bladder was full and blocking passage for the baby.  I didn't feel like I had to urinate...........until he said that.  Now it was all I could think bad I had to pee. The doctor inserted a catheter and he manually stretched my cervix some more.  He said to try pushing but I couldn't.  We hadn't trained to push.  We practiced "breathing the baby down."  I felt surprised and unprepared.  The verbage had me mentally stuck at mile 20.

Team White swooped in with the support.  My husband held me, rubbed me, let me hang from his neck and as I squatted through the surges he lovingly offered his hands for me to squeeze into rubble.

Finally the tsunami of the surges began.   I didn't know what to do with the energy.  It would rise up from my pelvis with such strength and intensity I felt I was relinquishing all control. I think that was the point. There was no containment.  I was just there for the ride. The waves would explode out of me from all directions.  Squatting seemed to slow down the waves and lessen their intensity so I kneeled over the birthing ball or hung my arms around my husband's neck to keep the surges strong.

The baby's head was still not crowning.  I couldn't believe it.  The force of those surges would have sent a baby clear across the room for sure.  The doula thought the baby was turned inefficiently so we labored in different positions, assisting him in turning.  The doctor aided by pushing hard on my belly, manually moving the baby down.  Only 2 more cm to go.  Mile 24 was under foot.

The surges were stronger yet so I began standing.  The baby's head would poke out and then get sucked back into the birth canal like he couldn't decide if he wanted to come out or not.  Or maybe it was my body that couldn't let him go.  Whichever it was, the indecision was beginning to frustrate me.  We were so close.  Finally a huge surge began from the depths of me, it felt like something heavy being pushed up through my bottom, my core.  There was so much energy I thought my body was splitting into pieces, many glorious pieces.  I looked down ready to see his head and shoulders hanging between me, but was only the head.  There he was.  Just a head hanging between my legs.  It sounds so comical now.

At the same time the surge was bursting forth I heard an eruption of another kind.  A deep, rumbling was rolling in from outside and I knew at once it was our friend's Harley.  He had come to deliver dinner and I was wondering which beast would win the roaring war. Me or that hog.

I was nervous about the next surge as I heard that the shoulders were the most difficult to pass through.
As the energy began to well up there was nothing to do but ride the wave.  This was it.  The final mile. 
I was splitting in two.  Yes.  I was sure that two halves of me would cross that finish line.  But I didn't break.  I became whole.

He was here and we named him August.

It was amazing to me how seconds after the most powerful waves surged through the room, now there was nothing but serene waters.  I felt I could run a marathon.

In 21 hours the three of us had crossed the finish line.  Only this finish line was the start of a much longer journey.

August (n) is the eighth month of the Gregorian calendar and it means (adj) inspiring reverence or admiration; of supreme dignity or grandeur; majestic. (Syn) Magnificent, resplendent, impressive, honorable, monumental, venerable and brilliant.

That is what this birth was to me.

It was anything but proverbial.  It was august and it was ours.  

Happy Birthday August Kristopher White