Remembering My Mother

photo credit: www.wellhappypeaceful.com

* This post is being republished in honor of Mother’s Day and as part of poet Kellie Elmore’s Free Write Friday challenge:  http://kellieelmore.com/2013/05/10/fwf-free-write-friday-m-is-for-mom/.  Enjoy and Happy Mother’s Day!

A mother’s love is instinctual, unconditional, and forever.
– unknown

I do not recall a time when I did not feel lucky to have my mother. Oddly enough, when my brother and I were growing up, she was known as the meanest mom in the neighborhood because she was so strict. Rules were simple: make your bed every day (with hospital corners), clean up after yourself, do the dishes, and come when she called you in for dinner.  In fact, we had to say that we were coming or she would keep calling our names so that the entire neighborhood could hear her! Bedtime was the same time every night, even during summer vacation. It seemed quite unfair to be lying in bed while the rest of our friends were still outside playing at dusk!

But while my mother was strict, she never withheld her love and affection for us. She always paid attention. She was involved on various levels in our activities, whether it was being the church choir mother or a fervent supporter of our running. She included us in her dessert making forays. I loved her homemade frosting; most especially when she let my brother and I eat the frosting off the mixer blade. My mother made the best macaroni and cheese; although as a little girl I did turn my nose up at it. I cannot remember why, to tell you the truth! Perhaps it was because when I did, she always put aside a bowl of elbows with butter just for me. It was a smooth and creamy mixture made with processed American cheese, butter, elbow macaroni and milk. She would line a baking bowl with butter, place squares of cheese on the sides and then add layers of pasta, cheese and top it off with just the right amount of milk. Many of my childhood memories are steeped with the tastes and smells of my mother’s cooking. I believe it was one of the best ways to show us that she loved us. It was also a way that she could show off her creative side. As the years rolled by, my mother’s cooking evolved to fit the latest healthy cooking trends of the time (good-bye canned vegetables and red meat!). She also had an extensive cookbook collection from which she would talk about (in great detail) and experiment with her newest recipe. I am sure that my mother’s love for cooking and passion for food are the reasons that I enjoy them both. To this day, I still want to call her up and ask her for cooking advice. For me, this is one of the hardest parts of losing her; she was always on the other end of the line to give me tips -which started off as cooking and quickly segued to the real reason that I was calling her.

My mother’s other passion was her unending love for my father. This was consistently evident when we were growing up. She used to bring him his juice in bed in the morning and his beer at night! When he would be relaxing on the couch, she would often appear out of nowhere and jump on top of him and smother him with kisses. My brother and I would groan with the predictable response of “EEW!” of course. To the outsider, it would appear that she always catered to him. But my mother always said, “People may see what I do for daddy but they never see what he does for me.”  I know now that they always put their love for one another and their marriage first and foremost. I am certain that this is why my brother and I love like we do and believe in commitment (despite my own circumstances).

My mother came from the generation where women were expected to marry young and have children. Higher education was not a priority. But during my elementary school years, my mother was bored at home with my brother and me gone most of the day. So, she took a “mother’s hours” job as a cafeteria worker in the local schools.  It was a great way for her to use her skills and love for cooking and still be there for my brother and me. This was during the early 1970’s and many women were affected by the cultural shifts of the women’s movement. Some were returning to school, others divorcing or at least beginning to make small shifts in their marital roles. Years later, when I was a grown woman, she and I were talking about relationships. She said to me, “It took me 15 years to realize that I had an opinion in my marriage.” This was about 1974, just as the women’s movement was taking hold. Let me be clear, I am in no way claiming that my mother was oppressed- she was not. I believe that she, like other women (and men for that matter) was beginning to understand themselves outside roles as wives and mothers.

I will never forget the day when my mother received the news that she had been accepted as the payroll master in the Treasurer’s Department of our local state hospital. It was my birthday and I had just gotten a phone call saying that I was accepted at my #1 college choice. For some reason, neither my father nor brother was home that night so she and I went out for Chinese food to celebrate. We never had Chinese food before and I remember it as an especially good meal. To this day, I can even picture where we were sitting in the restaurant! My mother worked in that position for 19 years until she retired. She was beloved by the patients and was known for her compassion, attention and humor. Often, she was the only outside contact for these people and she made each one of them feel special.

My mother loved her grandsons and they were equally crazy about her. We were so blessed that my parents lived close by. My sons always knew that both my parents loved them and would be there for them. I remember being in awe at the immediate love that my mother had for her first grandson (my oldest).  I learned that love has the power to span generations when my mother became a grandmother. And when I became a mother, I also learned the fierceness of a mother’s love. My mother helped me to become a good and then a better mother as the boys were growing up. She would also remind them of how much I loved them. During his teen years, my youngest son was rebelling and giving me a hard time (this was also when the divorce had taken place). After she was diagnosed with terminal cancer, he and I took a trip to see her. She and my son had a chance to spend some one on one time together. They talked of many things, not the least of which was how much I loved him. She also reminded him that he only had one mother. It was to be the last conversation that they would have and it proved to be powerful. Because of it, my son began to make his journey back to me.

My mother kept me strong. During my divorce process, she was consistently available to offer sound advice and words of encouragement. She never allowed me to give up or give in. Better still, she was absolutely thrilled when I began dating the man that was a member of their local running club. She had subtly played matchmaker some five months before we took the plunge and was ecstatic when we made it “official”. Some three weeks before she died, she told a friend that he was her “parting gift to my daughter.”

As I sit here today, I know my mother would be proud of me. My sons are on solid ground and well on their way to becoming well rounded men. I have landed on my feet and have developed the confidence to make my own decisions that will allow me to have a solid future both financially and emotionally.  She would be equally proud that I am finally a budget conscious fashion diva! My mother had a wonderful sense of style and for years I didn’t catch on- I was a blue jeans and sneakers (or boots) type of gal who wore no make-up. I can see her saying “I always told you that you were beautiful.”

On Saturday , November 3rd, I headed down to Tampa Bay to help with the fourth annual Purple Stride race that helps raise funds for pancreatic cancer research. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cancer killer and the least funded (2%) of all cancers. The race in the Bay area was the brain child of my mother whose hope was to participate in it before she died. Unfortunately, she did not make it. I know that she would be happy, however, to see how much the event has grown over the years. Through the leadership of my father (who serves as race director) and the dedication of others, fundraising has grown from $45,000 the first year to a goal of $140,000 this year. Friends and family ran and walked for team Patty-Me-Girl.

Though my mother is gone from this earth, I feel her presence within and around me every day. Sometimes I find myself saying the things that she would say or even acting like she would in certain situations. I definitely see myself in her. And that is a very good thing!

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The Not So Sunday Blues

“Sunday is the golden clasp that binds together the volume of the week.”
― Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Today I was driving with two friends from church to work on an organic farm that grows fresh vegetables for local food pantries and homeless shelters. We were part of a small Sunday afternoon group that was helping a staff member put the gardens to bed for the winter. On the way over, we talked about the day, this day of the week in particular. We shared our angst about Sundays as the day that brought us the most anxiety. Commonly, this is a day that draws us inward; we think about the week ahead of us with dread.

Growing up, Sunday night was the night that I had the most trouble falling asleep. I hated school when I was young; I would have rather been home with my mother. At times, I would fake being sick in order to avoid hopping on the bus in the morning. My parents were well aware of my anxiety and did their best to provide a combination of comfort and tough love. My father was especially sympathetic. I have vivid memories of him coming to my bedroom to talk with me. He also sang songs-“Goodnight Irene” and “You Are My Sunshine” were standard.

As I a college student, I do not recall any feeling of Sunday blues short of the fact that it was a major study day. But upon entering the real world, dread reared its ugly head again. Then, after I became a full-time mother, it abated once more. I remember thinking, “Wow, I don’t have to deal with Sunday nights anymore!” (A small part of me thought this was one of the bonuses for staying at home with the kids.) It really felt like a relief.

Now, of course, I work full time and am once again battling those blues just like everyone else. As I stated in a previous post, Sunday afternoons were once some of the worst hours of the week for me. In particular, I recall the winter of 2011 to be an almost depressing time. We had an overabundance of snow that rendered the roads hazardous for weeks. For the first time in my life, running or walking became impossible because the streets were unsafe. My snowshoes were broken and my cross country skis were gone (I had sold them at a yard sale). I also had an under-abundance of money; so I had no social or shopping distractions to while away my time. What a great recipe for the blues!

However, time and money can certainly bring about a change in attitude. I have fewer money woes these days. The gift of time and God’s grace and mercy certainly have been a positive factor in the lessening of the Sunday Slump. I enjoy my faith community and am actively involved in its youth program.  Worship is an uplifting and intellectually stimulating experience. Our community welcomes everyone regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. It is a place where love reigns; it is another area in my life where people are genuinely happy to see you.

Some of you may be asking, well this is only one part of Sunday, what about the rest of the day? As you know, my oldest son is in college (just about an hour or so away). Last spring, he requested that we make Sunday dinner. For those of you who are old enough, this was once a common cultural practice after church on Sunday-usually at a grandparent’s house. But I am sure that my son got the idea from the TV show “Bluebloods.” The final scene ends with the extended family saying grace and sharing a Sunday meal and conversation. In any case, I was happy to oblige and we were often joined by his lovely girlfriend and his brother. Well, I am happy to share that it is now a standing ritual in my house-even in the summertime! Many times, my son and his girlfriend will come down for church in the morning, help cook the meal and/or study. Sometimes they even stay overnight. My youngest, a working man himself, will often do his laundry or watch the Sunday football games. Lately, his girlfriend will drive over and join us.  I love these days; they are quiet and comforting. Just last week, the five of us had a picnic supper of pulled pork and coleslaw as we watched “The Princess Bride” (probably for the 10th time or more). It was, after all, the 25th anniversary and my youngest son’s girlfriend had never seen it!

Today was different, of course. I spent the afternoon outside working.  It was a perfect autumn day: sun, wind, big white/gray clouds. We didn’t have Sunday dinner due to conflicting schedules. Instead, because it was Family Weekend at my son’s college, we drove up Saturday night and had our “Sunday dinner” at a restaurant. No matter, though. My day and evening were not dominated by angst. And this is how Sundays need to be. We all have obligations tugging at our time and energy. (And for those of us in northern climes, there are now endless leaves to be raked!) Moreover, I realize that Sunday meals together will not last forever. The boys will eventually live independently and get married; I may move. Who knows? But the point is simple: Do your best on this day to bring yourself joy and satisfaction and, most of all, take time to be with those you love. The “blues” may very well disappear!

How Yoga Saved My Life

 Do you know what it feels to have the light of love surround you when all the darkness falls away?

Dave Matthews

I love yoga. I love the practice. I love the challenge. I love the sense of feeling grounded as soon as I hit my mat. I am so grateful that it has become a part of my daily life-especially when I am not on my mat.

I was having lunch with my graduate school friends about four years ago when the conversation turned to the topic of hot yoga. Two of my friends had gone to a local studio and were sharing their experience with us.  They turned to me and said, “Trackstar, you’ve got to try it! It is right up your alley because it is so intense!”

Unfortunately, my friends could not remember the exact name of the place. They knew the city where it was located, however, so I began my search. Picture the journey: a rainy, cold and dark November evening in an area that was completely unfamiliar to me. I began having second thoughts when much to my surprise, I arrived at an old house. The studio resided in the basement. I gave it a try that night and then another.  Somehow, in spite of the fact that I liked the experience, something about the studio did not feel quite right to me. In a later conversation with another of my graduate school friends, she shared that she knew of another hot yoga studio in a different part of the city. Maybe this was the one my other friends had spoken about!

The minute that I walked through the doors of the studio, it felt as if I was home. Immediately, the place gave off an aura of warmth and welcome.  Something inside of me understood that this community was a place for healing.  Up to that moment, I had been running twice a day in order to alleviate the stress related to the finality of my divorce process. Well, I wasn’t feeling better at all; I knew that I was risking injury with my current regiment.

When I entered the studio doors, I was also coming to grips with my mother’s diagnosis of Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. In essence,  I was a broken person. I had nowhere to put my dual grief. One of the things that I remember from that period was the amount of time I spent at the studio. Essentially, whenever I wasn’t out running, I was there. It became a chief focus: go to work and go to yoga. I am sure that I took care of other mundane tasks; after all my oldest was applying to college and I had to pay bills, take care of the house and put food on the table. But I was drawn to the practice because I knew that is where I needed to go in order to move through my pain.

I have memories of hard work, sweat and tears during that time.  Hot yoga takes you to a different plane; it peels back the layers of toxicity and negativity that invade your psyche. The beauty of the practice is that while space is shared with others-sometimes just inches away-it is profoundly private. I could let go and no one seemed to notice. When my mother died just 70 days after her diagnosis, I sought the solace of my mat.  My time on it became a divine experience and I am not afraid to say that I felt my mother’s spirit during many practices. I was also grieving the loss of an 18 year marriage; I was beginning to understand that the practice was an avenue for me to move forward into a new life.

Time marched on and I found myself talking endlessly about yoga. When finances got tight for a period of time, I practiced twice a day at home. My sons knew how much I loved yoga and conspired that Christmas to buy me 2 classes.   I remember seeing them with their heads together, engaged in deep conversation while we were buying our tree on a cold December night. Apparently, they were discussing my gift! For my birthday in the spring, two more classes were purchased followed by a Mother’s Day excursion to the studio for more. My youngest attempted the drive himself the day before and got lost!

The studio became another supportive community for me. I cannot begin to explain how each of the instructors helped me to become a more whole person. They are gifted people who have the ability to tune into the needs of their clients. They helped me heal and become a more confident woman. I will never forget the day that Elizabeth came up to me after a session to pay me a compliment. She said that I looked different in the practice now from what I was at the beginning. When I shared my story with her, she said that she could easily see that I was happier.

Yoga is an integral part of my life. It helped me become a better, more peaceful person. It helped me to realize that the ending of my marriage was a gift. It helped me to enjoy a healthy loving partnership with a beautiful man.  When I first entered the studio doors, I walked in darkness, now I walk in light.

Namaste

Transitions

A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are. Embrace the change, no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you’re in and take advantage of it.

~Nikki Giovanni

This morning I woke up and the temperature in my room was a bracing 56 degrees. Despite the forecast of frost for the night before, I was determined not to turn on the heat yet. October 13 seemed too early to cave in to a little bit of chill. I must admit it was slightly uncomfortable, but I knew that I was going to my Saturday hot yoga class within the next hour so I bundled up in my hoodie and made my morning coffee.

Upon returning home a few hours later, I noted that the house temperature had fallen to 53! “Oh gosh, I said to myself; I‘ll just take a hot shower, put the bathroom heat lamp on and then make a decision about turning up the temperature.” Well, dear readers, my decision was made for me when much to my surprise, I was visited by my oldest son’s girlfriend and three of their friends! They noted immediately that the house was cold and, not wanting to be rude, I obliged and turned on the thermostat! (My thanks to Jenn for helping me reprogram the one in the living area).

I suppose some of my resistance to turning on the heat is due to economics and conservation. In reality, however, it is more than that. I know what’s coming! Cold and darkness are just around the corner. Now, do not get me wrong, I love the changes in seasons. I do not mind the cold for the most part. And I love a good snowstorm because I believe it cleanses the air. But short days and long nights are awful.

I have always found the latter part of fall and early winter to be a time of anticipation; a time of waiting for something new to happen. Right now, though, this month is really a time of transition.  We are raking leaves, putting lawn furniture and hoses away, reorganizing the garage so the vehicles can be parked there during the cold and snow. We’ve taken out the window air conditioners, shut off the outside pipes and brought out the fleece blankets.

Yet, as I think about this particular month in this particular year, I am beginning to recognize that we are all going through a transition on a more personal level as well.  (I think that I have always been aware of it too. )  It was something that was simmering in the background of day to day situations for sure. And, as usual in family life, it manifested itself in a conflict. The details are not important; what is important is the fact that my sons and I were able to put into words where we were in our current stage of life and how and why we were feeling that way. My oldest son is a college senior; he is talking about and making plans for his job prospects in the spring. My youngest son returned home full time eight months ago after living (mostly) with his father for his high school years. He is an apprentice tradesman putting in his time working and going to night school in order to further his career. While I work full time, I am also busy carving my own path. I no longer need to raise my kids. I can now pay more attention to my personal and professional life, carving out more time for exercise, creativity and love. When the dust-up was settled, it was clear to all of us that our individual independence was deeply important to us.

The problem is that neither of the boys is financially independent; they need to live here for a period of time. Rents in our area are the same as a monthly mortgage payment- a challenge for any young person who is making a decent living. But how do we live together as adults without one or two of us feeling too much responsibility for the upkeep and organization of this house and yard? How do I balance my need for help with their need for privacy and independence without getting resentful? How do they practice maturity and responsibility when I leave for a weekend or for a longer vacation?

I confess that I-at times- am frustrated, impatient and even angry with the current transitional situation. I had very much gotten used to and enjoyed my own space and routine. But when my youngest needed to come back (he had been spending more and more time here anyway), I could not and would not say no. He is extremely respectful, polite and grateful. He tries his best to help and take care of things. He certainly is responsible for his own laundry (I trained them both nearly eight years ago). He pays for many of his major expenses. He tries to cook. Unfortunately, he has gaps in the practice of balancing work, home and a social life. I daresay that it comes from the “bachelor” lifestyle that his father exemplified while my son was with him. Now we need to make up for lost time without it zapping our energy and negatively affecting our relationship!

My oldest, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. He has always been this way, more naturally organized, etc. He also became more keenly aware of the load that I carry with this house when I went away for 15 days this summer (my youngest was cognizant of this too and was completely overwhelmed by the daunting tasks of maintaining a home, grocery shopping and housework!). The older brother’s take charge persona conflicted with the younger brother’s more laid back attitude.

In my conversations with friends and acquaintances alike, I have noticed that all of us are currently undergoing some major shifts in our lives. My youngest son’s girlfriend recently made a significant decision regarding her education. A good friend of mine lost a job she loved and had to move. Her current living situation does not allow for her to spend any private time with her fiancé.  Plus, they have four jobs between them!  Others that I know have gotten new jobs or have recently become re-employed after a two year job search. Some are facing serious health problems with their loved ones and need to make life-altering decisions. A high school senior that I know is learning to advocate for herself in regards to her own health care as well as her future. Good friends are separating after decades together.

As I sit here and I write this today, I pray that I can embrace this transformation. I hope that the shift and the “waiting” will bring all of us enlightenment, continued patience, and a solid future where we can fully be ourselves and remain rock solid as a family.

Unplugged

It is only when we silent the blaring sounds of our daily existence that we can finally hear the whispers of truth that life reveals to us, as it stands knocking on the doorsteps of our hearts.  – K.T. Jong

Yesterday I enjoyed a late lunch with my sweet love and another couple at a restaurant that had a strict no cell phone policy. (They also had a child behavior policy, which, in my opinion, was both honest and bold-good for them!) It was the first time that I had seen one specifically spelled out in a place of social interaction. Often, if I attend a meeting, concert, or lecture, an announcement is made regarding electronic device use.  More often, the request is rudely ignored. But not here! The lunch was delicious, the conversation deep and humorous and the only background “noise” was the appealing beat of Cajun music that befit the restaurant’s cuisine.

Up to that moment, I had (coincidentally) been pondering our culture’s “digital addiction” and its effects on our overall ability to communicate, concentrate and socialize with one another without the nearly constant interruption of a ringing cell or a buzzing text message.

Believe me, I am not against any of the newer ways that we can talk, gather information and stay connected to one another. Without advances in technology, I would not be writing this blog!  Moreover, I like my cell phone. It is not a “smartphone”, however; texting and talking are enough for me! I remember when I first got one. I was 42 and had received it as a birthday present. I wanted it for emergencies only. It was the post 911 and lock down era and I thought a phone was necessary. In truth, I was lucky to have it because I got a flat tire on the way home from work just two days later!  One call to AAA and the problem was solved quickly.

I also like the Internet for various reasons. Besides listening to NPR on the radio, it is the only way that I receive world, national and local news. I love reading the newspapers but I do not have it in my budget to pay for delivery. And, for me, most television news has seriously strayed from true journalism and factual reporting. Now, it is nothing but sound bite and crash and burn nonsense interrupted every three minutes by five minutes of advertising.  I enjoy having access to different sites where and when I am ready to read the news of the day without feeling that my intelligence is being insulted. I also love, love, love online banking and bill paying!  I am a better money manager as a result!

Email, of course, is a terrific tool as well. It helps me communicate efficiently with work colleagues and stay in touch with the  people who I socialize with in my hometown and through my volunteer work.

Still, there are inherent problems with staying “plugged in” day and night, seven days a week – now referred to as 24/7. Where do we draw the line?  For each email, text message or voice mail, there is almost an instant obligation and expectation of a response. Whatever happened to the dinner hour, bedtime, or weekends?  Think of the  oxymoron “working vacation”. WHAT? There is no such thing! If you are working, you are not on vacation!

CNN recently reported on “digital addiction” and the interviews provided an interesting insight as to how we function (or not) because of these advances. Reporter Brandon Griggs featured three “smart phone addicts” and how they use their device for nearly everything in their life. He stated that the phones are time capsules of our lives, dominating our work, our social  interactions, our purchases, our travels, our passions and our guilty pleasures. During the course of one week,  one woman reported that she sent 256 emails (part of it was work), 34 updates and comments on Facebook, 18 “likes”  and 93 “reads” of same. She also spent 9 hours of that week surfing the net. Additionally, she played games, checked her bank account and listened to audio books and voice messages. Another young  man reported that he was a “happy addict” but also stated that he could only go a few minutes without checking his text messages. He became anxious, depressed and even began to get sweaty palms if he forgot his phone at home. Without it, he says that he feels cut off from the world.

And never mind the physical health problems that doctors and physical therapists are seeing!  Doctors are now treating “Text Neck” (think of how you hold your head while looking at a screen) in increasing numbers-most especially in teenagers who now (along with 8-12 year olds) spend an average of 7 1/2 hours a day using entertainment media.

I do not consider myself in any way close to being addicted to my phone or the Internet. But it was this summer that I began to understand my need to break free of others’ expectations that I would  be available to answer emails,texts and phone calls regardless of where I was on this earth.  Having gone through a long divorce and an even longer post-divorce process, I was always in a state of digital alert for communication from either my attorney or my former husband.  I wanted and needed to break free from the unhealthy mind-set that had been dominating my existence for the last few years.

My summer vacation to the West Coast was definitely the impetus for this change.  I needed to free myself from the emotional responsibility for every possible scenario that might happen while I was away. So, I set up boundaries. Simply put: Don’t contact me unless it is an absolute emergency! I would not be checking emails, surfing the net, calling or texting.

Frankly, I had grown weary of the distracting factors that I felt were impeding the forward movement in my new life. I was just plain fed up with allowing another person’s agenda to interfere with my peace of mind. By making this decision, I was freeing myself of the idea that I was accountable for everyone else and their needs.

Now, I no longer have that sense of urgency that used to rule my life on a daily basis. I have learned that things have a way of taking care of themselves in their own way and in their own time. Becoming “unplugged” is liberating. Too many people in this world today spend their time looking down, their face basking in the glow of a screen.  We lose our perspective this way. ( Literally, people are not even watching where they are going! )

Unplug yourself so you can plug-in to see what’s in front of you, plug-in to see what’s above, plug-in to just BE.