Day 280/365 The Wind (A Flashback)

Early morning, September 22, 2017…

Standing on my front porch with a warm cup of coffee between my palms, I assess the damage. Strong winds from a tropical storm off the coast have been lingering for days. The street is littered with small branches, and leaves torn prematurely from the trees. Trash cans are overturned in the street.

“Distress is the wind spirit of transformation” he’d said, when I had told him how I was feeling the day before.

As the wind whips the hair around my face, his words seem eerily prophetic.

I brace myself for the day (…weeks…months) ahead.

I have known of her diagnosis for less than two weeks. She kept it from us all, wanting to soak up the rest of the summer without being weighed down by sad and pitying expressions on the faces of her children and grandchildren. She still insists on keeping it from the kids. She doesn’t want them to worry.

“Mom, where are you?” I hear a small voice call from inside the house. Ruby peeks out the door and then steps out onto the porch. “Is it going to clear up today?” she asks.

Not today,” I reply.

“Are you okay?” she asks, searching my face.

I force a smile, “Of course I am! We’d better go, or we’ll be late.”

Moments later we arrive at the bus stop. I hug the girls, and watch as they climb onto the bus and find their seats. I smile and wave as the bus pulls away, suddenly aware I’d been holding my breath.

I exhale loudly.

I stand there in the parking lot, feeling raw and exposed to both the howling wind and the fearful anticipation of what lay ahead. I would be driving Mom to her first chemo treatment this morning.

I turn and see him standing there beside his truck, watching me…waiting to offer a hug or a few words of support. He’s one of the few people who knows of my mother’s diagnosis.

As I walk toward him he asks, “How are you?”

“Fidgety.” I say, looking down at my shaking hands.

We lean into each other. He wraps his arms around me. I try to relax into him, but it seems an impossible task. I step back to look him in the eye. “This is going to be hard,” I say. He nods, “I know.”

I notice we are holding hands. I realize don’t know if I grabbed his hand or he grabbed mine, but it doesn’t matter…neither lets go. I am grateful for this moment of comfort. I lean into him again, and he wraps his arms around me once more. I want to hide here, sheltered from the wind…and from what lay ahead.

Hours later I find myself sitting beside Mom in the infusion center…another loved one hooked up to hanging bags, tubes and wires. I startle every time the IV peeps…flashing back to January in the ICU with Dad.

In some ways it’s harder to sit beside someone who is conscious. I didn’t have to pretend to be brave or strong or optimistic while sitting beside my dad. He couldn’t read the fear and sadness on my face, nor hear it in my shaky voice.

I know I need to dig deeply for my inner strength…for her and for myself.

“I’m tired of feeling like a perpetual damsel in distress…”

That’s what I’d said, as I was telling him about my mother’s cancer diagnosis, right on the heels of grieving the loss of my father a few months prior.

“Distress is the wind spirit of transformation…” he’d said.

And so it is.

Day 253/365 No Words

Chemotherapy is the oddest thing. My mother didn’t feel the slightest bit sick until they started trying to cure her…until they started pumping her with poison to make her well. I spend time with her almost every day, but sometimes (more and more often) I don’t know what to say…

Everything I say seems wrong.

If I am happily talking about things I’ve done or plans I’ve made, that feels wrong. She isn’t getting out much these days….certainly she isn’t planning trips or buying concert tickets.

When I find myself complaining about my ordinary, day-to-day woes, their triviality hits me.

My problems are small.

I suddenly feel small.

Insignificant.

Helpless.

Sometimes I just sit quietly. I listen. I know that just showing up is much more important than finding the right thing to say. Nothing feels right at the moment, and no words will make it so.

Perhaps (I hope), ‘I love you’ can be heard the loudest,

when it’s quiet.

Day 238/365 The Elephant Revealed

“…and so I start chemo next week,” she said, exhaling.

My heart started racing the moment she told me I should sit down. Then it all became a blur of words like “tumors” and “biopsies”.  I struggled to bring this information into focus – to process what she was saying.

She has cancer.

She’d known for a month. She’d gone to all the tests and consultations before telling any of us. She didn’t want to ruin the summer, she said. “You had so many fun things planned. Why would I want you to spend the month worrying and waiting for test results? Besides, it would have ruined my summer too…all the sad, worried faces.”

“Mom, I can’t believe you’ve been going through all of this alone.”

“I wasn’t alone,” she said, “Your father was with me.”

I crumbled.

Initially I was angry at her for not telling us right away, although I soon realized I probably would have done the same exact thing. We’ve all been through so much. She wanted to spare us all until she had all of the facts – a plan of action, answers to the questions.

I wasn’t angry at her. I was just really f’ing angry. Period.

When is enough, enough? Can’t we cry “UNCLE”?

It had only been eight months since dad died from a heart attack.img_3696 My parents met when they were fifteen. Twenty years ago he had a heart attack, and she had breast cancer. Obviously they both survived that time around, but now…it was all lining up too eerily. I couldn’t help but think that maybe they are simply a matched set, meant to be together. It is a thought that is both romantic, and terrifying.

Not her, too.

However…

The thing about my mother is, she is one of the strongest women I know. If she sets her mind to doing something, she will find a way, from moving an enormous piece of furniture she has NO business moving on her own (because she couldn’t wait for my father to get home! Lord, no!), to starting her own business, to standing up to a bully neighbor.

When it comes to cancer, she is already a survivor. 

If she doesn’t believe she is ready to leave this Earth, I have to believe she isn’t going anywhere. Not without a hell of a fight.

So, we have our weekly “date” at the infusion center, she and I. Every single week she tells me to just drop her off and go home…or to the mall, or something (the chemo infusion takes 3-4 hours).

The thing about stubborn, strong women is that they tend to birth other stubborn, strong women. So of course I insist on sitting there with her, whether she likes it or not.

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Mom, I can’t do this for you (not that you’d let me), but I can do it with you.

We’ve got this.

 

Day 97/365 Dirty Girls

You may not know this about my mother, but she always has worn the tool belt in the family.  That’s right, when my brothers or my ex-husband have needed to borrow a tool – say, a bandsaw or something along those lines – they’d call and ask my mother, not my dad.

My mom tells the story like this – when we were little she and my dad bought a swing set for us kids – an assembly required, big ass swing set.  My dad was a busy guy.  He worked full time but also served on many boards, and was a town councilman for a few years. He did not have a lot of “free” time – you know, big-ass swing set assembly kind of time.

So the swing set sat out in the yard in pieces for I’m not sure how long. One day, my mom’s friend, Polly, came over. Talk about bad ass.  Polly did (and still does) it all.  She asked my mom what the deal was with the un-assembled swing set.  My mom explained that we were all waiting for my father to have the time to assemble it.

“Why the hell do you need him for that?” asked Polly, incredulously.

Why indeed?

So my mom and Polly dragged out whatever tools we had at the time (the collection of which has grown considerably since my mom started asking for power tools for birthdays, etc.) and they put the big ass swing set together themselves.

This was when a lightbulb went off in my mother’s head…

I can do whatever the hell I put my mind to doing.

So she bought a book titled something like “How to Fix Just About Anything” and she started doing things like wiring, plumbing, tiling floors, refinishing furniture…

One day I came home to a crashing noise upstairs.  As I climbed the stairs and started down the hall, I realized the sound was coming from my bedroom.  I walked in to find her in my closet, blasting a hole through the wall with a sledgehammer. She peeked her smiling face through the jagged hole in the sheet rock like Jack Nicholson breaking through the bathroom door in “The Shining”

Heeeere’s Mommy!

She sweetly said, “This closet is just taking up space in your room.”

“Oh.”

I mean, what does one say in that situation?

Um…thanks?

The girls and I went over to make dinner at my mother’s the other night. She knew we were coming, and the girls ran out of the car into the yard to find her when we arrived. There was evidence of her hard work everywhere (fresh mulch, yard tools…) but she was nowhere in the yard. I could see Beau getting a little nervous. Since my dad died six months ago, she is always worried that my mom will be soon to follow. (I like to blame this kind of paranoia on my kids, because of course it never is a worry of mine.)

Well, it turns out she was just in the shower. She emerged a while later and announced, “You know it has been a good day when you have needed to take two showers.”

(Meaning – you got good and dirty.)

God, I love this woman.

And so, whenever I fix things, use tools of any kind…whenever I do something myself that I initially felt I might need a man to do for me…

I think of my mother.

When my girls dance in the mud, create, invent, repair, risk…

I think of my mother.

I know they will be strong women,

Brave women,

Women who are not afraid to put together big ass swing sets.

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Day 95/365 Burning Questions

I was really looking forward to my children’s summer vacation this year.  I had it all planned out…

A lot of my work is actually done online – responding to and sending emails, accounting, managing schedules, marketing, etc. There also needs to be someone physically there in my office, overseeing things and handling things on site as they come up. I have set things up for the summer so that there is always someone physically there in my place. That way, I can come and go from work somewhat freely, do a lot of work from home, and spend time with my kids.

Sounds perfect, right?

A week into summer vacation and I’m already learning that working from home is not as easy as it sounds! I definitely maxed out on the number of times I could hear “Mama?” today, whilst trying to concentrate on work.

I feel awful saying that.

I know I am so lucky to have two beautiful children calling me Mama, and someday I’ll miss them constantly vying for my attention. I know, I know, but…

Can we please just ration out the queries?

My children did get some important questions on the table today though, like…

Would you rather eat poop flavored ice cream, or ice cream flavored poop?

This is an important question one really needs to carefully weigh before being unexpectedly thrown into a situation in which there is no time to give this proper thought.

Okay, here’s the truth…even when I’m not a work, my business is my third child. A piece of my mind and my heart is always there, from the time it opens, until the time it closes. I have the most wonderful people working there, and I am incredibly grateful for that. Nevertheless, I am ultimately responsible for everything (meaning not that I do everything, but that if anything were to go wrong, it falls on me). This is something I never take lightly.

So, it seems impossible to give the amount of attention I would like to give to each of my [three] children…and yet, here we all are, about to spend two and a half months together.

We don’t get to ease into it either – it’s just hereBOOM 

(…and then it will be gone…whoosh…just like their childhood – I KNOW!).

I feel so incredibly blessed to have the flexibility that running my own business affords me. I’m just saying (whining?) that it isn’t entirely easy.

The hard thing about doing work at home is not only the difficulty in concentrating, but it is feeling as though you are ignoring your kids, brushing them off, and maybe even getting annoyed when they really need to ask important questions.

For example, my ten year old asked me if I would play a game with her.  I said, “Yes, give me a half an hour of uninterrupted work time and I will play a game with you.”

TWO MINUTES LATER…“Mom, do pirates wear underpants?”

Ummm?

(Yes, I gave her the hairy eyeball, and we laughed.)

My kids are eight and ten, old enough to understand when I’m trying to do work – but they are still kids!  They want my attention, they have short attention spans and they can’t help but feel like they are being ignored…and who likes that?

So, how do I survive a summer of being a full-time mom and a business owner?

First, I have to give myself a break. I cannot “take the summer off” to be with my kids. I just can’t. I am a provider. It is my livelihood. It is my responsibility. It is my third child.

When I get frustrated about snapping at my kids after the 100th “Mama?” inquiry while I’m just trying to finish this one thing, I need to let myself off the hook.

I am lucky enough to be able to give them A LOT of my time.

We will need to find a rhythm. I will need to do some work at night. I will need to lean on my own “Mama” to help me (thank GOD for her) and a couple of dear friends. Sometimes, my children will have to wait for my attention.  Sometimes I will be distracted.

Sometimes I will simply close the computer and say YES to the board games, YES to the endless queries…YES to being present with my beautiful girls.

I hope someday they will look back on their childhood and realize how hard I worked to orchestrate this beautiful life we live. I hope they will remember that we spent our summers together, and not that I sometimes dragged them to work with me, or shoo’ed them away before giving them the answer to their burning questions.

Which are, by the way…

No, I don’t believe pirates wear underpants…and definitely poop flavored ice cream.

New home office which I reclaimed from the dog. Sorry Louie.