After completing two trips to the high school and two trips to Target today, all before 9:30 a.m., I found myself in the car, singing, “This is just how I’d hoped my life would go!” I was being ironic. This kind of morning is not at all what I thought my life would be like, back when I was young and life was ripe with possibility. However, the experience did open my eyes a little. I have realized that what we need in this country right now is a musical devoted to the humorous and painful life of the at-home mom. I don’t have a title yet, but here are some titles for songs that I think would work:
Tears in the Dishwater
(When You Say Bland) You’d Better Mean Delicious
A Letter From the Teacher
A Small Dose of Prozac
There’s Poop Where?
Dog’s Haircut “What should I think, when the bill makes me blink, and I see the dog’s haircut cost more than mine?”
If God’s a Woman, She’s Got a Quirky Sense of Humor
I envision all music genres used here. “Tears” could be a ballad, “Chardonnay” kind of a boozy waltz. “Bland” I see as a powerful rock anthem. I keep hearing “A Spoonful of Sugar” when I think “A Small Dose of Prozac,” so it is good that I won’t be writing these songs myself; I’d only get into trouble. Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland and their Hollywood-cast pals would put on a show to raise money to save something or get something…I don’t know the details; that was before my time. My point is our musical could raise money, maybe for therapy! Or a retreat that moms on the edge could take turns in. I’m flexible. I’ll help with the writing and the set design, and I don’t think we’ll have to worry about refreshments; someone will bring cookies or muffins. Are you in? What job do you want?
Growing up is hard. It is hard when you are a little kid and that stupid shoelace doesn’t make any sense at all. It is hard when you get a little older and simple childhood friendships become complicated by hormones and competition. It is hard as you step into your own life as an adult and possibilities are supplanted by realities. Later on, as the invitations to weddings and baby showers decrease and the Caring Bridge notifications increase, the high price of aging really hits home.
This week I have had the pleasure and horror of being with my mom and her husband, Rae, at their home in Colorado. It has been pleasurable because I don’t see them near as often as we’d all like, and it is nice to be here and be a part of their lives. It is horrible because my mom is in her second week of recovering from a mastectomy, and despite the fact she is doing fabulously the whole cancer ordeal is ugly. In fact, because she is doing so fabulously I am in the position of having to follow her around and insist she sit down once in awhile and stop hauling out heavy pans to cook in. I am prepared to tell her that if she starts to mow the lawn, I am leaving. Rae has been experiencing a variety of vision problems and while he isn’t totally blind, that wouldn’t be a far leap. So far this week we have had to talk about emergency contacts and financial issues and the kinds of things that raise the specter of (please, Lord) far distant conversations about assisted living and ultimately, funeral arrangements. These thoughts turn back onto me; I am not sure we have an updated will.
There is a lot of living left to be done, but we really no longer have the luxury of ignoring the business of dying. This is hard. This particular growth spurt has brought growing pains just as real as the ones of childhood and adolescence. But like learning to tie shoes, to cultivate lifetime friendships and to make the most of life’s realities, learning to prepare for the inevitable brings rewards. There is comfort in having addressed the kinds of things you have control over, and acknowledging the things you can’t control takes a little of their power away. This time of frank discussion brings the opportunity both for tears and for an increased appreciation of the time and gifts we have right now. Love is constant, but we keep changing, and will do so until that final day our own growing is done.
(P.S. I had to use this lame title so I could post and get up to stop my mother from folding laundry. Otherwise, I am sure I could have come up with something much cooler.)
My sister, Kerin, and I were talking about the practice of writing when upset. Kerin blogged on the Caring Bridge website last year while she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer, and she told me that when she was angry or freaked out, writing on the blog helped her sort out her thinking and calmed her down. While I have also found that writing helps me find clarity, I have never once been happy that I’ve sent out something I’ve written when upset. Never. I rant like a crazy person when I’m angry and when I’m scared I’m a self-pitying mouse. Emotional strain is helpful to feed and inform my public writing, but when the heat of the moment is driving, I’d better be working in my diary. Journaling is like spewing out the bad stuff: depression, anger, and fear. Post-purge is where I can assemble the framework of the facts, the impressions and the appropriate level of emotional temperature. I just run blazing hot or icy cold initially and I have to let the tap run awhile before I have something I can work with.
This week things played out differently. It was a stressful week in general, which tends to lower my threshold for an emotional spike. Then my mom called with the news that she was just diagnosed with breast cancer, an invasive type that looks like the one my sister spent a year battling with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. We hope that Mom’s hasn’t spread as far as Kerin’s had but until her surgery, we don’t know. She’s 700 miles away. For three days I couldn’t write anything. I think I was so overwhelmed with helplessness and fear that I couldn’t work up a single thought even to scribble privately. As I am moving through the steps toward accepting all this I am feeling calmer. I am trying to temper the apprehension with hope and faith. I am seeking practical applications for my nervous energy. I am taking naps and trying to restrain myself from self-medicating with alcohol and carbs. The workouts continue. Significantly, I am ready to start putting words down on paper again. Because after the ground crumbles underfoot, it is time to climb out and start reassembling.
In the meantime, prayers for Mom’s full return to health are appreciated.
I went to a free creative nonfiction class at my local library last night and it was a blast! It is so exciting to sit down and listen to an instructor who has been through the ups and downs of the writing and publishing process and who had lots of great tips on ways to practice the subtleties that make the difference between telling the facts and telling a story. Our instructor’s name was Kate Hopper and she has a memoir coming out this fall entitled Small Continents about having a premature baby, and how the experience transformed her life and family. Below please find something I wrote for a class exercise, and I just want to say that my mom isn’t going to be featured in every blog post I write, but I hope she likes this one better. Thanks for stopping in!
My mother brought the party with her wherever she went, but never more so than when she went to the nursing home, the Good Samaritan Center, the Good Sam. She’d get out of the car, dragging us reluctant girls along, smiling and bouncing up the sidewalk on her high heels, past the wizened old men on the bench who waved their fly swatters playfully at her backside as she went by. “It makes their day,” she shushed us when we complained.
Inside, she glowed in her bright dresses and shiny jewelry, catching the gazes of the shrunken people shuffling in the corridor or sagging against the fabric bands that held them upright in their wheelchairs. As we smothered in the heat and smell of extreme old age—scented powder, urine—she moved among the residents like a movie star or beauty queen. She took the quivering hands they held out to her and called them by name, smiling, always smiling, as she listened to their breathy mumbles. “Shirley, I can’t imagine what happened to your hairbrush, but we’ll ask the nurse about it,” she assured one. “Oh, Harold, what wonderful news! I am sure you will have a great visit when your daughter comes.” We all knew the score. The daughter wasn’t coming this week just like she hadn’t been there any of the other weeks. That was why we were there.
When we reached the piano in the rec room, my mom pulled the sheet music out of her bag and began the parade of hits from thirty, forty or fifty years before: loud, lively music evoking dances, parades, better days. Heads lifted, eyes gleamed; flowers turning toward the sun.