Sunday, December 13, 2009

Eulogy: part 2

Continued from part 1 (November)

Maybe she thought she didn't do anything special enough to need a funeral. Maybe she didn't want my mom to have to go to the expense. Or maybe because she'd lived long enough to see all her sisters, brother, parents and two loves die--she had just accepted that this was the next phase of her life and like she'd said, she was ready.

But still, I wish there had been that one last piece placed into the puzzle of her life--for me. I don't know if it would have been as much to say "goodbye" as to say, "I will never forget you."

That last time I saw her I knew it would be the last time and so there was this urgency. How do you encapsulate into a few words what has grown in your heart over a lifetime? She was propped up in the hospital bed she now spent every day in, just a few feet from a stranger in the next bed. This crazy, synthesized Christmas music was playing too loud in the halls. An alarm went off at the front doors as two orderlies grabbed an old woman as she tried to escape while crying, "Why can't I just go outside, I just want to go outside!?"

Seriously. It was too much for me. And there was my Baba. Just another old person waiting around to die. I wanted to take her out of there. I remember she told me, "They keep the lights on all night long."

I was desperate to tell her what I had known--with complete certainty--my entire life; that I loved her--just because she was my Baba. That she mattered to me and those little things she did, they were part of me.

It didn't turn out to be the deeply touching moment you are imagining. The crazy music, the women in the next bed staring and smiling at me--and me speaking really slow and loud--really loud. But I told her.

It was only about two months later, that she died. A day just like any other.

When my mom came to see my new baby boy--she brought me the last box--her engagement picture I'd framed for her one Christmas, the charm bracelet that had jingled around her wrist, the tiny blue pill box.

It has been ten years that I have wrestled with giving her a proper "goodbye". Her name was Lucy. Three years ago I named my daughter after her. Someday I'll get to tell Lucy about the woman I named her after. And now this is the second part of that "goodbye"--to put into words all the thoughts and memories of her that I have taken with me.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Truth About Me

It is easy to judge someone's spirituality from the outside--I know, 'cause I've done it. I did it a lot, especially when I was doing all the things "good Christians" are supposed to do.

Someone wouldn't be at church for a while, wouldn't come to an event, wouldn't volunteer for whatever--and I'd think, "hum, they must not be doing well." (I hate even writing that. But it's the truth.) I could even deceive myself into thinking that my only thoughts were of genuine concern--but really, it was a judgement--and I'd already decided--yes, they were not doing well or certainly they'd be "here" or "there" or signed up for something by now.

Now I am that person.

Don't misunderstand me. I am not saying "doing things" or being involved at church is bad. ( Judging those who are involved is just as bad as judging those who aren't!) I am just sharing something God showed me about myself.

It was not pretty. It did not feel good.

He showed me what was in my heart--the truth behind my thoughts. The truth behind my motives. It wasn't harsh. It was simply like I stepped in front of a large mirror and finally saw all that was there--not just a part. I remembered thoughts I'd had about certain people and conclusions I'd made--all on this scale of my works on one side and theirs on another--yuck!

I saw that all my life I'd been climbing this ladder--to obtain some position--whatever it was. To be liked, to feel good, to be important--the right crowd, the right boyfriend, the right sorority--and now here it was again--a different name but the same thing.

A question that has lingered in my head for five years now has been, "If no one were ever to see or recognize me for anything I ever did again--except God--would it be enough for me?" Just for Him and no one else. Led by His voice not by obligation or guilt. Led out of love for Him.

I am free in this place. Free to be myself--not who I think I should be. Free to respond from a true and honest place in my heart.

I don't ever want to go back. I have a healthy fear of ever falling back into that place again.

I know the truth about me. God has always known--and He still loves me--

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Disease

Sometimes, the hardest part of being a mom--for me--is just being still, being present in that one particular moment. To just sit and play with my kids. To stop whatever seemingly urgent task I am doing and just look them in the eye and listen. It's like I get sucked into this tornado of cleaning, folding, phone calling, emailing--and I can't stop.

It's my disease.

In my mind I tell myself this lie that says, "today I have to do this but tomorrow. . ." But the next day comes and it is a new pile or mess or errand. And most times even if I am physically sitting there, my eyes are scanning the room and mentally creating a list of what needs to be done all around me.

Yesterday, I sat down in Lucy's room and played restaurant. She would say "What u want? You want pizza?" After a few minutes of pretending to eat and sip my tea, I felt myself getting up--my thoughts completely shifted to the load of laundry I hadn't switched over. I had to snap myself out of it and tell my crazy-cleaning self, "no, you are playing now, remember?" I pushed my butt back into the tiny wooden chair and asked for some more tea.

See, crazy as it is, the hard part of having five kids isn't all the laundry or picking up--I can do that all day long-like a hamster in it's wheel going 'round and 'round. The hard part is to divide myself between five little people and give them a piece of myself that is genuine and present.

I can't tell you how many times people have told me, "You are so calm. You never seem stressed. That is why you can have five kids." I can tell you (and so can Steve) that that is a total lie. It is just the way I deal with stress--I go into task-mode and shut down emotionally. Translation: I get really quiet and clean like crazy. And more and more--especially after baby number five--that has been the mode I've operated in. And I hate it.

In my head, I know that someday when my kids think back about their childhood, they won't remember how clean the house was. But there it is staring at me, that crayon under the couch, that pen mark on the wall, that last cup in the sink.

In my heart I know what I want them to remember--how I was there--laughing, crying, playing. How I listened to them when they had a story to tell me--how ever long or short--how I was willing to act silly and be wrong sometimes and laugh at myself.

That is who I want to be right now. Not the lady in the background--with a sponge in one hand and a towel in the other.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Eulogy: part 1

My grandmother didn't want a funeral. That is what my mom said. And really I can imagine her saying that. She was a "don't make a fuss over me" kind of a woman. I can see her looking at my mom in the eye, with her "don't mess with me, I'm still your mother" look and saying, "Judith Irene, (she always used my mom's middle name when she wanted to make a point) I don't want a funeral when I'm gone." And so, one day, she was just gone. There wasn't a funeral, or an article in the newspaper, or little card with oil-painted Jesus on it with her birthday and death on it. Nothing. Just the last of her few possessions she hadn't already given to us, packed into a couple of cardboard boxes. I am embarrassed to say that I don't even remember the exact day she died. Just that she was 94 and she told me she was ready to go.

The last time I saw her was in the dim room she shared in a nursing home. She had lived in the house my mother grew up in until she was 89. The last 5 years she had spent in a retirement living home. And now, this was her last stop. With each move, the treasures she took with her became fewer and fewer. Now she had one shelf on the wall next to her bed lined with pictures of my mother, my late grandfather and my brother and me. She told me she was tired. She was ready to go.

That was ten years ago--she died right after my son was born--and still I am left feeling that we should have done something. My kids rabbit died and we had a funeral in the backyard--

And even saying that I realize it wouldn't be for her--but for me. To say goodbye.

The most vivid, wonderful, happy, normal childhood memories I have are of my grandmother. I called her Baba (the Yugoslavian for grandma) and everything about her was magical and mysterious to me. She was the daughter of immigrants, one of five children, twice a widow, a nurse. She was from a different time, when they used words like Chesterfield (sofa) and Highboy (type of dresser) and when you had your hair washed and set just twice a month. She never owned a dishwasher and still had a washboard she used to scrub clothes in the washbasin on her back porch. She used foreign words like "yetti" (eat) and "zube" (teeth). Her skin was baby soft and wrinkled as a prune, sprinkled with age spots--but I loved they way it felt and smelled--like tea rose lotion and Oil of Olay. Her once brown eyes turned blue-grey with cataracts but I still thought she was beautiful.

I spent almost a month alone with her each summer. She lived in a small, nowhere town that was in a literal time-warp. No movie theater, no toy store, no shopping besides the one Thrifty Drug store. The heat in the summer could be so unbearable that you didn't dare go outside until after dinner--and never without shoes. (Even now, if we have one of those blanket hot days, when the air feels heavy and still--I think of those summers.) There were few kids my age in the neighborhood--and yet, I loved to go and just be with her.

Her house was filled with treasures. They probably weren't worth anything but I can still see each one--in it's place. A set of three Siamese porcelain kittens, each posed differently--sat in a clear glass box on her television. The tiny stork figurine, whose long white neck and small head, bobbed up and down when you touched it. Her hand painted tea cups in the window and the piece of wood my grandfather had once found that looked like a sparrows head. Her golden pill box with it's blue-flowered marbled top, sat in the center of the kitchen table, next to the little ceramic turtle filled with saccharin for her coffee.

We did normal, everyday things together. She taught me to thread a needle and sew a straight stitch by hand and how to make a bed with "hospital corners". She showed me how to measure out dry ingredients for cookies and told me, "never double a recipe". She taught me to play Chinese checkers and took me to garage sales.

I put on great performances for her and her friends (I would never do this at home in front of my brother) and she helped me set up a "restaurant" complete with menus in her kitchen.

She'd tuck me in at night, hold my face with both her hands and say, "sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite".

For me it was a safe place. Free from the underlying turmoil in my own house. Here I could be a child--it was all I was expected to be.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

My Mid-life Crisis

I am having a bit of a mid-life crisis. I know, I am not that old--but if I do only live to be 80, then I am right on schedule.

Really, it is just lately, I feel caught between two desires. One, to be supermom--with the super obedient kids and super clean house (yes, you can drop in anytime) oh, and the super-cool outfit--and two, the overwhelming desire to just run away and be alone.

After twelve years of staying home, the prospect of someday having more than just one or two hours to do what I want--by myself--seems like a far off dream. And then I wonder, "what would I do with myself?" Who am I after twelve years of being consumed by these little people--and what did I used to do?

Sometimes I will have funny little memories about things I spent time on--pre-kids--like hand-washing my silk Victoria Secret's underwear and hanging it to dry. ( Oh, no need for that now--Costco's value pack of cotton briefs does just fine in the regular cycle.) Or how I used to visit the Gap day after day waiting for my favorite new item to make it's way onto the sale rack. Or just going out to eat--anywhere--during daylight hours--seems like a novelty. (Why pay to shovel down food as fast as you can while praying someone doesn't have a meltdown before the check comes?)

Lately, every time I get into the car without kids, I just see myself driving and driving and driving. It is not really where I am going. It is just that I can go. I can think. I can breathe. And then comes the question. "What do I want?" And really, that is the craziest part of the whole thing--because what else would I choose to do with my life? Would I want to be single or married without kids or some career woman? I know that if I didn't have my family that it would be the single desire of my heart--like being alone seems to be at times. Only it wouldn't be satisfied by one or two hours of being with some kids or visiting another family--like my being alone can.

So, I am caught now--feeling pulled at times between wanting that inconceivable "something else" out of life and knowing that what I have right in my lap is greater than anything else out there. And I have to wonder, do all mom's feel this way at some point in their lives? Do we all wake up from a sort of "diaper-changing induced slumber" to wonder "what happened to that person that used to be me?" Is this the point in life for me where I just do a bit of a self-adjustment? Re-aligning my "self" back towards my love of literature, and movies and music--where I had been obsessively focused on potty-training, discipline tactics, and sleeping through the night for the last decade?

So, maybe I am not "losing it" as I have seriously thought. Maybe this is a natural part of life-- another season. Maybe it is just that I can finally see beyond babyhood. Because, honestly, having five babies in 9 years can seriously convince you that it will never end.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

the beginning. . .

So, I said I'd never start a blog (to myself, that is) but here I am. That is how it usually works with me--part of me wanted to do it-- but stubbornly, I didn't want to be one of "those people". Anyway, here I am. Really this is for me--to quiet the constant dialog in my head.

See, I was supposed to be a writer. It was the only thing I was ever any good at--I always felt so depressingly average--except when I wrote. And one day, not too long ago, I realized that that part of me--that had been such a huge part of my identity, was gone. I know, not gone, but shelved--by me, in the name of motherhood and self-sacrifice.

Really that's a lie.

I stopped writing because all I had ever really written about was dark and painful. And honestly, I didn't think I could write about anything else. So, I stopped. I became a wife, a mom, a mom again and again--five times. And you know the rest. . .life and laundry and dishes and bedtimes and all the little things of life that sweep you up into it's rhythm.

So, we will see. I am anxious to get out these thoughts that at times drive me crazy--if only for me.