My Mother …

Apartment is cleaned up.  Laundry is going.  Coffee is on.  Running clothes are on too so that I’m motivated to workout after writing this, before I run off to work.

Life’s been hectic lately.  A good hectic at times and at other times, exhausting.  More emotionally than anything.  But finally feeling like I have a moment to sit and write.

I wrote most of last week about the mom’s in my life.  And while Mother’s Day has come and gone and this was to be my post on Sunday .. my 100th post .. I’m actually thinking my mom would appreciate that I’ve been trying to take care of some other obligations and things that needed tending to, before taking this break.  Plus, she’d appreciate, I believe, the fact I’ve done nothing but think about her and what was important to write about her now for over a week.

There isn’t a day though that goes by, I don’t think of her and wish I could pick up the phone to actually call .. she was and will always be the woman who became not only my mom, but also eventually my best friend.

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Those of you who are a daughter or who have one now .. can imagine it wasn’t always that way.

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“I don’t have to listen to you!  You’re not my real mother ..” I remember saying to her more than once when I was growing up.

I’m not sure what she ever said or expected of me that warranted that response.

But I remember saying it.  And regretting it then and now with everything I have.  How often we say things, especially as children, we wish we could take back.  Thankfully I had the chance to make amends for that and any other trouble I may have caused her in her far too short a life .. over and over again.  I did my best anyway.

And even though my mom isn’t here to walk me through how she might handle some of the parenting issues I am now blessed and challenged with .. I believe I have some wonderful insight, hindsight and foresight .. as my daughter tries to get away with some of the same.

🙂

Back to my mom.

I may be looking at this through rose colored glasses .. but I don’t think so.  And even if I am, I don’t care.

Here’s what I remember of my mother:

She went by A. Eileen because she hated her first name.  And she never wanted anyone to know it was Agnes.  But I kind of like it.  Family name.  She was born in Maryland but raised in Madison.  Her own father, Paul died while she was very young of tuberculosis.  She ended up with TB because of it.  Scarring her lungs as a very young child.  She was lucky to have survived, herself.  But it would eventually make her more vulnerable apparently, to the cancer that took her life.  She grew up in both a single parent home and when my grandmother remarried at one point, from everything I understand, in an abusive environment.  She attended Business College.  Met my father in a soda shop on Madison’s east side.  Married and moved to the small town of Poynette where she .. and they would live and work and raise our family, most of the rest of her life.

Our first home was tiny, but from what little I remember of it, she made it a home.  Totally 70’s decor.  Sweet flower beds around the house.  Lilies of the Valley out the front window I still remember the smell of them as they would bloom each spring.  A play set in the backyard.  She was always very proud of how things looked, including herself.  She wasn’t a workout queen.  But she was slender, always kept.

And despite the fact she wore little other makeup, there was always bright pink or red lipstick that went on.

She was simple.  Didn’t need much.  Her closet was minimal.  I stood looking at mine the other day and even now, mine is half the size it was a couple years ago (in part because I keep most of my work clothes now at work because I have no closet space in my old school apartment) .. thinking about how I would like to get down to a wardrobe the size of the one she had.  Life.  More Simple.  I love the thought.  And I am going through my own things little by little doing what I can right now to minimize.  (How and when did we as a society ever go from something four-feet wide being enough to closets the size of an efficiency apartment being the norm?)

She was a wonderful woman with an infectious smile .. and a laugh that seemed to be heard around every corner.  When she was happy.  When she was stressed.  When she would hear us say things we shouldn’t .. knowing the consequence was coming.

She was stern, yet vulnerable.  Beautiful.  Outspoken yet often quiet, introspective and kept to herself.  She was helpful.  Had great penmanship.  I love how she wrote her name.  Is that silly?  Whatever.  She was hard working.  Always wanting to pitch in to help wherever it was needed but knowing when it was time to rest and ‘just be’, as well.  She was all about family.  And community where she could.  Volunteering.  Getting involved.  But she was equally good at hiding out and tending to her own well being .. and that of our family.

She preferred my dad do the cooking, she’d do the dishes or get us to do them.  She and my dad both worked hard.  And in turn, expectations of what we could do and how we could pitch in as a team were high.

Especially as we got older.  Older .. interestingly enough, meaning probably my dear daughter, about the age you are now.

During the summer and on weekends especially, mom wanted a clean house.  With or without company coming.  We were expected to keep our rooms clean, have the laundry done and folded, vacuuming done, floors scrubbed with a rag – not a mop, have the lawn mowed, weeds pulled, the garage swept out, toys put away and whatever our other jobs were, done.  We were expected (ahem .. encouraged strongly if we ever wanted money of our own, ever) to work on top of any of that.  We mowed neighbors lawns.  Had paper routes.  De-tassled corn.  Babysat.  My first ‘real job’ I’m pretty sure was at the flower shop/convenience store in town, where my mom would go everyday for her Pepsi and Hershey’s candy bar for a break from work.  It was right across the street from her office.

Work.  Then play.

Which we were given a lot of room to do as well.

(I had written a bunch about that, but thinking I’ll save that for a post all its own.  The importance of play.  And another .. about having a job when you’re young.  Both are so important, I believe.)

In having many expectations of us, we were also given a lot of freedom to mess up.  Figure things out on our own.  And reap the rewards of being good and doing well, earning trust.  Or suffering the consequences of not making wise choices.  And grounded.  For like .. most of my high school years.  All were gifts that helped us both grow into the people we’ve become.  Like us or not.

Travel.

Mom loved to travel.  But hated to drive (flying wasn’t an option back then on a budget).  And she was terrible about reading maps.  One of my fondest memories though is of her, wherever we would be, in the passenger seat with the map.

My dad would say to her, ‘Where next?  Where do we turn next?’

“Well, I think .. here,” she would say.  And she would almost instantly start laughing.

“You think there?!” my dad would say getting frustrated.

We ended up in places we should not have been traveling on more than one occasion because she would break down in a fit of laughter and tears and not be able to even read the map.  Ultimately ending up in the drivers seat while our dad tried to navigate us out of a mess.

I hear her laughter everyday ..

.. as I glance at the photo I took of her on one of the last road trips we would ever take together.

We were in Montana.  And while at this particular moment we weren’t lost, we were laughing.

The photo reminds me each day of her simple nature, her appreciation for life and finding beauty in the everyday little things, for exploring .. but also in coming home again.  And in being with family.

Love and miss you.

“Let there be more joy and laughter in your living” – Eileen Caddy

(A quote not my mom, but apparently another wise Eileen.)

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Birth Mom …

(Been kind of a nutty past couple weeks .. and I haven’t had a good chance to sit to write like I’d like.  Such good intentions last week, especially.  SO playing catch up yet on the final two posts from my week of talking about my Moms.)

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I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know that I was adopted ..

I just always knew.  From the time I was a very little girl.  My parents wanted me to know that someone loved me enough to have me – and at the same time, know that it was in my best interest someone else raise me, because it wasn’t the right time or place for them to have that job.

At a very young age, I believe I came to realize just how fortunate I was, that I found the family I did, that I was even on this earth, and how painful a decision that had to have been to make.

I knew at some point, I would want to meet her.

If nothing else, to say thank you for the life I have been blessed with.

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“I’m ready to look,” I said to a friend who worked for the State Adoption Agency.  It was probably 11 years ago.  And my own mother was dying of cancer.

It wasn’t long, I got a call back.

“They’ve been waiting for you,” my friend says .. “Her parents still live in the same home they did then.  It didn’t take much to find them.”

I wasn’t ready at that point for many reasons, to make the call.

So I wrote a letter.  I told her I would be in touch when the time was right.

I wanted so much for the two of them to meet, my two mothers.  The one who gave me life.  The other who gave me a life .. and if I was ever to meet my birth mother, I wanted her to know my mother-mother, the woman who had raised me ..

My mom-mom .. wasn’t sure it was what she wanted.  In fact, I know it wasn’t what she wanted.  I still remember one of the only conversations we had about it.  The two of us had just left one of her chemo appointments.  Things weren’t going well.  And we were sitting in front of Babcock Hall about to go in for an ice cream cone.

“I just don’t want to do it,” she told me through tears.

I never brought it up again.

While I am sad there never was that connection, I feel even worse about what I believe the reason why … out of fear she would lose a piece of me or perhaps even all of me, if I ever made that other connection.

I knew that would never be the case.  No one could ever come close to replacing my mom-mom.  But I also knew, nothing at that time, or perhaps ever, would ease her mind.

…..

My mother passed.

My birth mother stood in the back of the church and cried.

We have since spent some wonderful time together.  Talking.  Crying.  Getting to know each other.  Reminiscing about my life and hers .. since that day she let someone take me from her arms and put me into someone else’s.  I stood up in her wedding.  I have met her siblings (my aunts and uncles).  Spent time with her kids (my siblings).  Her parents (my grandparents).  Seen a couple births.  Deaths.  Dropped my daughter off with her for a sleepover with her cousin who she adores and is the exact same age as ..

Had some regrets I haven’t had more time with her.  But most importantly, appreciation for the time we have had.

I love her dearly for the incredibly tough choices she (and her mother) made.  Choice or perhaps better said, what was expected of her.  Life since then, I know, has been tough on her.  And she, tough on herself I believe for having let me go.  I know she never wanted to.  But when you are 16 .. and at that time in our society, the early 1970’s .. keeping a child wasn’t something many looked upon favorably.  I was told out of several other pregnancies in her school and class at the time, I was the only child born that year.

There are no words I can ever say that will fully encompass how grateful to my b-mom for my life.  And the life I’ve been given because of her sacrifices.  But I try.  With thank you’s and I love you’s, as often as possible.

And I know deep down, even though they never met, the woman I will always know as my mother, the woman who raised me.. most likely feels the same.

Best Friends Mom …

I was five, I think when we moved into the house that I eventually grew up in..

I knew there were some other kids in the neighborhood .. and my brother and I were excited to explore.  The neighborhood.  New friends.  The woods behind our house.  The rope swing over the pond.  The sewer treatment plant (that at the time, didn’t have a fence around it).  Disgusting, I know.  But at that age, the dirtier, tougher and grosser we could be it seemed, the better.

We had a blast.  It was small town living at its best.

Growing up, I would almost always choose hanging out with the boys versus just about                                                                                                                                    any girls.  I don’t ever remember anything different.  In part, because there were just fewer girls.  But I wanted to play football or baseball, golf, run and jump and build forts and climb trees, bike everywhere I could and go into that one old house we all thought was haunted and our parents told us never to approach.  Not just walk by and wonder.  There was no playing dolls.  In fact I still remember having to apologize to a girl in the neighborhood we first lived in because I ripped the head off one of her dolls.  I’m not sure I meant to, it just happened.  I think.  I had little interest to sit around and watch tv.  Or be giggly and put on make up and talk about boys.  No thank you.  Not at that time.

And the one girl who lived just a few doors up the street, closest to my age, felt exactly the same.

In getting to be fast, best of friends with Amy ..

I also became very close to her family.

Even her brother who used to site me in the eye of his slingshot, chase me home, hide in the woods knowing I was heading home to scare the bajeezus out of me, lock me out of their house if he knew I was coming or once I got in, not let me leave.  And then find a way to put his underwear over my head.

Perhaps I got close to their mom, Peggy, because she felt terrible for me and it was out of pity over all of that.

But I’m pretty sure it wasn’t.  Peggy was just kind of, like some of the others I have mentioned the past couple days .. mom to all who knew her.  The door was always open.  Food or a meal to be shared.  Drinks in the cooler.  There was always time for a late night chat.  A hug.  A phone call.  A walk around the block.  An invitation to join whatever it was the family was doing.  Always.  I loved her and still do so much that at times, I believe my own mother felt very slighted.  Because Peggy was in many ways to me a resource I wasn’t sure how to completely find in my own mom.  Someone I could talk to about anything.  Not feel I was revealing too much or be judged.  Or who would ground me for any of it.  There was just always sage advice.  A kleenex.  Understanding.  Empathy.  Love.  Laughter.

And Cheetos.  There was always great junk food in the cupboard up the street .. stuff we rarely had at home.  (A tradition much to my daughter’s dismay I now carry on.  Very little junk food ever in house.)

I would usually stay to a point where – we knew the phone would ring.  And when it did, we would all look at each other and say, ‘my mom’, and chuckle.  Sure enough, my mother would be on the other end of the line, when she could have shouted up the street, saying .. “Ten minutes, honey.  You need to be home in ten minutes.”

I hated leaving, always.  And still do.

Peggy and her beautiful family have always made me feel at home and been home to me as much as I have a home anywhere.

And because my parents sold our home years ago .. when I get back to my hometown, which isn’t often enough ..

Main Street in our small town

I find myself mindlessly, always pulling into their drive.

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So much has happened recently I want to write more about but I don’t want to say too much.  What I do want you to know is the difference you have made in my life.  My time here.  That I am reminded everyday of the importance of time together and family and good health and paying forward so many blessings like time together and laughter, a door always open and so much love to be shared..

I love you dearly.  So many do.

I think I may go today and buy Cheetos for the neighborhood …

Cowgirl Hall of Fame ..

I was assigned a story my first summer working as a reporter in Missoula, Montana:

Head to an area about 3 1/2  hours southeast of town, called the Big Hole Valley and catch up with a group of riders on that particular year’s leg of the Chief Joseph trail ride.

Courtesy:  West Yellowstone News

http://www.westyellowstonenews.com/news/article_2a8c9da8-cc3b-11e0-8016-001cc4c002e0.html  (Photo above courtesy:  West Yellowstone News)

And since I was going that far away, yet it was still in our viewing area, I was to come up with a couple additional stories to film while there.

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“I’m looking for Sheila,” I called and asked for the woman I had been reading about was a famous hatter from that area.

http://montanahats.com/category/newsworthy/

“Hang on just a minute,” I remember a woman’s voice on the other end of the line.  I heard the woman call for her.

“This is Sheila,” I’ll never forget the deep, slow and deliberate, sweet yet strong voice that answered a few moments later.

“Sheila, my name is .. ” and I went on to explain who I was and that I was coming to her area to film another series of stories.  I knew she had made the Cowgirl Hall of Fame for her cowboy hat making.  Would she allow me to film a piece on her?  She happily obliged. We agreed on a time and day to meet.  And I believe from the moment I walked in the door to the hat shop that day, we have been friends.

Courtesy: Seattle Ray

Well, actually it was probably more over beer later that night and some dancing at the Antler Saloon..

But friends.

And then it somehow, quickly become more than that.  She and her husband at the time, and her daughters took me in, as family.  Not uncommon for Sheila.  The woman has wrapped her arms around many besides her own children, and made them feel like one of her own. We have visited as often as possible, since.  Spending a lot of weeks and weekends together, a few holidays, moves, weddings, deaths, a graduation, nights around the fire, new babies, a divorce, another wedding ..

You know what I mean, just life.

A lot of life.

And while I’m not sure what Sheila has ever gleaned from me ..  I have at times, besides just enjoying every single moment I’m able to spend with her, leaned on her hard.  Even lately.  She has always been there for me, usually giving me the straight shoot, calling me out on anything necessary, helping me set upright again and always move forward with a better perspective for having spent any time with her.  Teaching me new things.  And some old things I need to be reminded of, like, sometimes it’s important to slow down and appreciate this life.  I tell her, usually in-between laughs, I try and appreciate it too much, which is why I’m always so busy.

She also let’s me know when she thinks I’m doing a few things right. And she’s been telling me since meeting him last fall when we were in town for a visit and the 4H Rodeo ..

.. that the Cowboy in our lives is one of those things.  And, she mentioned she’s been saving up for a trip she hopes (and now knows), is coming soon.

Even when my own mother was still alive, I was so incredibly grateful for Sheila in our lives… but over the years, I have grown to appreciate the woman she is, the examples she sets and the time and love extended us all the more.

A Godmother ..

I want to be sure my daughter knows who the important women are in my life ..

And I am so very fortunate that there are many.

My mother, grandmother and great-aunt, who helped raise my mom.  They are now all gone.

For now though .. I want to at least say a few words about the various women who are my mothers, by different definition, or who have stepped into that role for me willingly or otherwise and are as close to my own mother as they come.

The days leading up to Mother’s Day, I believe, are as good a time as any to share those thoughts.

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godmother is a female godparent in the Christian tradition.

God parents are responsible in nurturing the spirtual growth of the child. The parents guide the child in day-to-day functions, but the God parent guides the child when it comes to their relationship with God. It is actually a very big responsibility and an honorable position to hold in the childs life.

Godmother may also refer to:

  • A female arranged to be legal guardian of a child if untimely demise is met by the parents
  • Godmother (cocktail), a cocktail made with Italian Amaretto liqueur and vodka

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(When you look at the word Godmother too many times it starts to look weird, doesn’t it?  Anyway …)

I don’t remember ever not knowing my Godmother.  She has been a part of my life always.  I don’t know how she was picked.  But I called her tonight, told her I was writing about her and asked if she remembered what that moment was like .. the moment my parents asked her to be my Godmother.

“Who is this?” she first said.

It’s been awhile since we’ve talked, obviously and at the very least, I learned my number isn’t programmed into her phone.  I feel bad about that.

“It’s me.  And I’m writing about you tonight.  Tell me about ….”

She laughed.

“It’s you? .. How are you?  I can barely hear you,” she said.  “What was the question again?”

Anti-climactic, I guess.

She went on to tell me that she and her husband, my Godfather were thrilled.  She said they had seen me, and were so excited to have been asked.

“We were thrilled,” she said.  “In fact, not too long ago, I came across the certificate that says we are your Godparents,” she added.

I asked if she might send me a copy, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it .. nor do I remember what the certificate we signed with my own daughter’s Godparents looks like.

Regardless …

I knew that if anything ever happened to me, she and her husband would be the ones to care for me.  That thought, by the way, used to scare the hell out of me.  Not that they, her name is Donna by the way .. Donna and her husband would care for me, but that they were there ‘in case something ever happened‘ to my parents.

They were always there with a good joke.  With an invite to dinner.  At school events.  In fact, Donna used to work at one of the schools I attended growing up, so I had quite a bit of time with her.  They are always there with a birthday or holiday card.  They have come to every major life event.  And many of the minor ones too.

A couple of months ago at an event in my hometown ..

No matter how much or how little we are in touch .. she, and they are here for me and my family.

I don’t know that I have ever spoken a word about God to – or with my Godmother though .. is that common for most, anymore?  In fact the last three times were were probably in church together were my baptism, my wedding and my own mother’s funeral.

Is the role of Godmother more symbolic anymore than it is about the traditional role?  Or has it always been that way?  I believe so.

(My own sweet child, I feel terrible I have no idea if you have ever had a conversation about faith with your own Godmother.)

Regardless, I am so appreciative of Donna’s constant presence in my life, and the reason why.  That she would guarantee I have a loving home if ever needed.

The peace of mind, to a parent, I believe is priceless.

And I would think, an honor to both the one asking that someone would say yes .. and to those being asked.

Thank you, Donna (and G).  Love you dearly.

And to the Godmother of my own daughter, love you for always being there for her too, more than you will ever know.

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Now about that Godmother cocktail…