Sunday, February 27

my existence can't be kept in a box

Good news: after a week of a tube down mom's throat and a painstaking wait for lower intestinal noise, it's finally happened. The bowels have gurgled, bubbled, and, um, "relaxed" and proven that they recall how to work properly after a week off. Today, the tube came out. Mom's got a slow recovery ahead of her but the important thing is that she is recovering. I've spent time with her each day since my arrival last Tuesday and have had the joy of seeing her come back from the dead. And, believe me, last Tuesday she looked like shit.

(Lost? Find back story here.)

Tomorrow I have the rare opportunity to bond with her as only mothers and daughters - women - can do. I get to help her beautify herself and find the comforts therein.

And I get to love her in a way that she has never let me before - in a personal, intimate manner as a caretaker.

While my mom's been laid up in hospital, I've been looking after my 85 year-old legally blind step-dad: shuttling him where he needs to go (mainly to hospital and home), helping around the house, lending an ear and comfort as much as I can, and otherwise filling in for my mom. None of it has been too enjoyable - with the exception of the housework. (shock!)

And it's not because I'm not my mom. It's because I'm not my mom.

I have often wondered, even after years of healing on my end, why there has always appeared to be this great divide between my mother and I; why we can't exactly bond; why we can only be so close and why sometimes we feel so far removed from one another.

After a week of day-to-day dealing with my dad, however, I now see what's in that great divide.


I could never make the choices she's made. I could never choose to live the way she chooses to live, to love the way she chooses to love, to lose so much of herself.

She does it all for him. Because that's all he'll allow her to be.

This is what I've known my entire life. (They married two days after my first birthday.) Now that I'm here at their home, at this age, years-removed from this experience, I can look at their relationship with much less subjectivity. I'm no longer part of his target.

I don't know how better to sum up my step-dad than to say he's like a five year-old except ten times louder and outside of my jurisdiction - and he's smart, charming, and loving until he's suddenly overwhelmingly not. He has numerous "rules" that he boxes himself in with; rules of how everyone should think, act, say, feel, or do anything. He has rules for everything. Any behavior outside of his "box" is just unthinkably appalling and very very wrong.

You can imagine the abrasiveness that I've been up against these last few days, especially since I've had years to create an existence outside the box. In the last seven days, I've gotten the opportunity to be immersed in and re-experience my childhood relationship with him from a completely different perspective. This time I have tools, weapons, protection. This time around, his box doesn't equal my existence.

Tools, weapons, whatever - having those makes this no more enjoyable. To an extent, one of the tools has been a fading memory - I had forgotten what it was like to live in a fishbowl and have all my actions questioned. This week had kind of just brought all that right back to the surface though... it's not been fun, the constant "I guess you just do things differently" said in a condescending (rather than a-ha!) tone. The persistent "are you sure?!" after I've clearly stated information. Or how about the "and when do you think you're going to do this?!" - "this" being anything that isn't waiting on him to tell me what to do. 

I can recall an array of moments growing up where I was warned by his escalating temper, voice, and presence that I was outside his box, that I wasn't following the rules. My mom, however, has adopted these rules and fit herself into his box - most likely to enable herself to co-exist with him, and, I'm certain, because that's what we do when we love someone, no matter how it constricts us. Walking on eggshells, sidestepping cowpies, and scrambling to put out my dad's raging fires has become what she does in everything that she does.

Case in point: from the ICU bed, writhing in pain, she's struggling to exert herself enough to tell me, visitors, the nurses, everyone that "he's jealous" if anyone else takes care of her, spends time with her, talks to her.

That. I can't do that. I can't live in that box.

Friday, February 25

unexpected "vacation" (cough)

The following was blogged Tuesday morning, my apologies for not getting it posted sooner. Bear with me; there is more to come in the next few days...

With the dawn of each new year and especially when spring approaches, I get quite antsy to be out. And by "out" I mean out of here. I sit down with the calendar, all giddy inside over the year's potential, and plan trips - day trips, overnight trips, weekend trips, and the ever elusive actual vacation. Most of the time, the place that calls to my soul (and to which my soul responds the loudest) is the ocean. I came to the realization two years ago that I need to be near water; that it is an array of things to my soul that I can't even begin to put into words.

So that's where I usually try to focus my trips - some tropical (hahahahahahahahahaha..... sigh) locale with some body of water. Very few trips actually translate into visiting any form of water, unless, of course, you count gutter streams and ditch rivers, in which case my trips are usually full of them. And for any of you out there thinking, "well, why don't you just head on over to Lake Mead if you need water?" - you folks can cram it. That place does not count as a body of water. I mean, really, have you seen Lake Mead? <shudder>

As my planning continues on and monies dwindle, I get desperate and begin to refer to humidity as a "body" of water. (Yeah, I know, humidity versus Lake Mead? Look, I've only had four cups of coffee so far. Give me til about number eight.) Typically, making it to any water (in all it's loosely accepted forms) only happens tow or three times out of the year. With the exception of last year - somehow I managed to squeeze in five watery locations spanning the width of the nation. It was glorious, to say the least. (insert angelic singing)

But today I'm embarking on a trip whose destination only gives hints of water (through our now well-defined and well-accepted form of water known as "humidity"... at an average of maybe, cough, 5%) and this particular trip was in no way planned. (Yeah, I'm reaching here to call this a "tropical vacation". There's nothing wrong with delusions.)

Early Friday morning my mother, who lives with my step-father (who is very "dad" to me) in another landlocked state, fell ill and went to hospital with severe lower abdominal pain. Once way-too-hastily-imho discharged with pain meds, she returned to hospital not less than 12 hours later with the same pain now magnified. By Sunday night she was in emergency surgery to remove a lower intestinal obstruction. By the grace of God, her condition has improved and she's in better spirits. And by "better" I mean compared to having a huge knot in one's bowels.

My dad is doing well. But that needs explaining. He'll turn 86 this year, is blind in one eye, can't see out of the other (okay, can barely see out of the other), doesn't drive (oh, thank God, right?!), and lives 600+ miles from the nearest relatives.

So that's where I come in - and not simply out of doing the daughterly duty but also out of common sense, logic, human compassion, whatever. As a child, my mother relayed stories of how absolutely stubborn her mother was and how much it just drove her nuts. I know my mother and I know she's taken my grandmother's stubbornness and perfected it. Knowing her typical behavior (and isn't this where I insert that "God bless her" phrase to make me feel less guilty about what I'm going to say next?) she'll stay in hospital until she gets herself to an "acceptable" amount of healing and from that point on pretend like she's completely cured, pushing herself, ignoring her body, in order not to be a burden to anyone, especially my dad.

Noble. But stupid. (I say that with love. Maybe.)

My dad will, as time has dictated repeatedly, exhaust himself trying to pick up the loose ends, fill her shoes while she's away, and otherwise "function" - without the love of his life around. At 85. With two "ungood" eyes.

That's part of my point in going. I suppose if the two of them were the same age (on the younger side of the age difference, mind you - my mom is 62) then maybe I wouldn't feel such an urgency to be there as soon as possible. (He called Sunday night. It's Tuesday morning and I'm waiting to board my plane.) And not that I wouldn't still come out - but it wouldn't be under stress from my side of the boxing ring. (read: who wants to watch someone elses two kids for a week? read: those two kids' "other" mom. oh, thank God.)

I've blogged repeatedly about the importance of us mothers taking time to get away, time for ourselves. This wasn't exactly what I meant. Okay, it wasn't at all what I meant.

And yet, here we are or I am or whoever. (Sucking down that sixth cup...) I am going to be away from my children, my daily duties - my normal stresses and road blocks... so I'd be foolish not to bring along my drawing pad, pencils, portfolio, and laptop - my "work space". There's not going to be a "work time" opportunity like this presenting itself anytime soon so... (and, yes, yes, yes, I hear you. I said I'd get my art posted... I'm gettin', I'm gettin'!)

So I'll focus on helping to heal my mother, my father, and, I suppose, in some sense, myself because art is always healing. And we all know just sitting around here doing nothing once responsibilities are met isn't something my brain will be able to do without spiraling into spontaneous combustion.

And I don't need to become my mom's roommate at hospital.

Though I've heard the hospital's gift shop is killer. No pun intended.


Thursday, February 17

She's FIVE, part two

Wanted to throw in a little birthday party picture. I picked this one for selfish reasons...

She's looking at me and smiling - which she did the entire time we sang "Happy Birthday" to her. I don't know what it means. Meaning wasn't important, though... I soaked up every single second of it. Sigh.

Tuesday, February 15

i've kept her alive for FIVE years

There's an award for that, right? I mean, it wasn't as though it was easy as pie to keep her alive for five years.

Seriously. Have you met my daughter?

This past Saturday my daughter turned the Big Five. Five, people. Five.

All sarcasm, cynicism, whatever aside, I am simply beside myself that 1) I even have a daughter, 2) she's been in my life for f-i-v-e years, and 3) she's the astoundingly amazing little person that she is and that I get to be her mother.

I remember the ride home from the hospital with my Hope, four days after she was born via c-section. (She decided to go breech three weeks before her due date. Thanks, kid.) I was riding in the backseat, next to where she was tucked into her carseat. She had finally stopped screaming - she started blaring as loud as a siren as soon as we put her in the carseat in the hospital room before we departed. Pretty sure she was begging the hospital staff not to let us take her home with us. ("Don't you know these people have never ever EVER dealt with a newborn before?!" or something to that effect...)

But, by time we'd gotten her to the car, she had settled down and, who knows, more or less accepted her fate. I, too, sat there in that back seat, silenced, oblivious to the world around me, not even aware that the car was moving or that my husband was excitedly chattering on about Hope.

I wasn't smitten with Hope the way my husband was. He was in love. I was in awe. Complete and utter awe. Speechless, dazzled, amazed at her and her little world and what her little world was like.

Pure. Free. Bright. Perfect. Full of wonder. Full of hope. So much hope.

I believe that most mothers (okay, and fathers) grow just as much from the time of a child's birth (and, I even dare say, conception!) as the child does. As parents we are the ones who are supposed to teach our children, to enlighten them. As much as I can only hope I've fulfilled my duty of enlightening and engaging my daughter in the ways of this world, I'm certain she's the one who has done the most teaching.

Just as her name is, Hope is spirited without limit, sensitive to the world and relating to it in every form (sight, sound, touch), free yet guided by her desire to experience life fully. She is whimsy and delight and she brings that to her world.

And that's what she has brought to mine. Hope has taught me to let go, to look beyond structure, to create, to enjoy, to believe. Because that's how she lives.

I'd like to say that most children are born this way but now being a mother of two, I know that not every child is born the same and that every child definitely has his or her own distinct and unique personality.

And though all children come into the world with that certain amount of unabashed curiosity and energy, this is where Hope differs. That curiosity, energy, determination and freedom is still going strong when the same force it had from the moment she entered this world. She endures with this combination of fuel, running on all cylinders and never choosing to run or live on less.

It's that strength, that unhindered endurance and ability to continually carry such optimism and wonder and confidence that has taught me the most. Because here's a little girl, who at the age of three received a nice two-inch gash in the back of her head (from a smooth slide, no less), bled all over the place, and then proceeded to tell the fireman that she was "done" with sitting on the counter and wanted to return to playing (while still bleeding profusely). And the next day, after having spent four hours in the ER (two of which were spent on that back board with her head strapped to it), she tells my sister "that was fun yesterday at the hospital."

Fun?! So maybe sometimes she's more stubborn than strong.

Doesn't matter. Hope is still the most amazing girl. And when she reaches that age where stupidity, I mean, hormones and a conscience set in, I'll be there to remind her of that beauty she holds inside, that strength, optimism, wonder, whimsy - that absolute beauty that makes her Hope. In fact, I'll be spending every day until and after those days reminding her. Because she is nothing less.

"February's child:      I reflect. I am silent. I sparkle. I praise.
                                                        I am peaceful. I notice. I wish. I amaze."