Passing the Baton

Linda1Christmas this year was a two-day celebration of giggles, cries of surprise, gift-wrap flying and for me at least a bit of nostalgia, a sense of melancholy even. I am uncertain why it was so poignant this year, why I felt so off centered and incomplete, but this year was off for me. This year I felt slightly disconnected from those I love, from the celebrations, from well from all of it. For some reason this year, despite being in the middle of it all for two days I simply felt isolated.

I admit there have been things on my mind. There have been some additional stresses in my life lately that have been weighing heavily on me and causing me some anxiousness; usually this wouldn’t change the pleasure I take in my family, especially my children and grandchildren. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy them either, truly, I did, my grandchildren are a treat and though it is a bit overwhelming now and then, I am fortunate in the women my sons married and the extended families they brought with them. We are the true American family, extended and expanded through multiple marriages. What makes us a bit different I suspect, is we have managed to keep ex’s close and engaged, thus children continue to benefit. Yes, this sometimes makes it strange, but it works.

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But back to the strange sense of sitting above it all watching rather than participating this year. Maybe it was simply so many of the traditions I grew up with were absent and I finally noticed, finally really missed them. Perhaps, it was the rest of my family was missing; all of my siblings some of whom I haven’t seen since my father passed away five years ago, my wonderful heart mother having passed only ten months earlier. With their passing, something went out of us all I think and we set aside some of the traditions we had all made fun of but in truth had cherished. Certainly one thing we lost was our sense of family, our bond. Even while still mourning my beloved parents, I mourn that loss just as much I think.

My cousin / siblings, don’t blink your eyes so quickly I am after all from Texas we do things strangely down here. Yes, my father married his sister-in-law and no it isn’t incest (my brother asked). 65.justloveyouIt was a match of the heart, a true love match after they had both been single for many years, her after being widowed and him after divorcing my mother. They had known each other for more years than they had been married and divorced combined. We all cheered their marriage and they brought us together as adults and created a large and loving family, though perhaps a bit on the odd side sometimes. We were a loud, loving and rambunctious clan. My heart mother welcomed all of us, along with spouses, children, step-children, partners and friends to Hearts Home with open arms. But Christmas time was the best time of all.

Christmas Eve, where we all dressed up in our finery. The women in satin, velvet and lace with make-up and hair done and high-heeled shoes. The men in suits and ties, if you had to wear jeans they had to be your Sunday-go-to-Meeting best. Children were even put in nice clothing for the evening. The Christmas Eve meal of so damned much food and so many types of cookies and candies, all of them homemade with love. The most important parts of the evening, the Eggnog toast, where each of us made a toast that we spent days thinking about and some man in the family always toasted the women in the family and all the other men groaned because that was going to be their toast. The reading of the Christ Story by my heart mother and the youngest grandchild and finally the singing of the carols which always ended with Jingle Bells, always and we all had bells on ribbons which we rattled at appropriate times.

I should add here, most of my family could not sing a lick. The singing of the carols was like fingernails on a chalkboard to even the most untrained ear, but it was tradition and it was fun. We all groaned, we all whined, but we all did it and we all had fun.

Gift giving was a managed affair, of course, we spoiled slightly any children but we did not exchange gifts between adults. There was an assigned name; you bought one gift outside of your spouse or significant other. Your gift could not exceed $50. Then we had the White Elephant gift market, all children under 18 left the room and the ruthlessness of the adults came out. This was a terrible and hysterical part of the night. Draw a number, pick a gift and open it. Better hope you got a high number, or your spouse got a high number. The higher your number the better your chances of getting something you want out of the pile of gifts in the middle of the floor. During each round, each gift can only be exchanged one time, so once you open your gift look around the room at the other gifts that have been opened, want something else? Take it and give them what you have, they then look around to see what else has been opened; if they want something else (other than what you just took from them) they do the same. It is a ruthless game! There were always some really good gifts and some really stupid gifts. We had such fun.

At the end of the night, we played games. Usually board games until we were tired. Though sometimes we played billiards and sometimes cards. Adults in one part of the house and young ones in another.

My eldest playing pretty princess with his youngest cousin

My eldest playing pretty princess with his youngest cousin

Christmas day was more relaxed though we had the morning presents for the children under the tree and the big family dinner in the afternoon. It was always Christmas Eve that was special for me. It was always that night that set the tone. I loved Christmas day because we were all together, comfortable and talking, playing games and spending time. But it was Christmas Eve that held so many traditions, even before Hearts Home, even as a child some of these traditions were already part of how I thought of Christmas.

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I suppose as new generations take over the celebrations they create their own traditions. This year I think I just missed the old ones.

What is Love, My Version

Linda1How do we love? What makes our hearts sing, our skin tingle, our knees weak? What makes our hearts soar, how do we love?

For the past couple of weeks I have been thinking about the question of love, is there really different kinds of love, different types of love? I have written about love before here and here, mostly I took a rather pragmatic view, even while talking about what I wanted from love and from life. I have had some time to consider love, some time to watch love at work in my family and elsewhere in the world. I have also watched what it means when we extract love from our world, when we fail at love, when we fail to include love in our lives on a daily basis and it is heartbreaking.

Love is incredibly selfish, this is my first conclusion; yes, I said it Love is an incredibly selfish emotion. Even while we expand our heart to include others, even while we open our arms, our homes, our circle of trust it remains a selfish emotion. Let me explain what I mean by this statement. When we love, we want, not just for the other person but also for ourselves. When we love, whether it is an individual or something other, something more amorphous something intangible that simply opens our heart and defines us as human and with compassion and empathy, we still want something, some recognition of self. No matter what love is for us, it is at least in part, selfish.

This year saw many changes, blossoming of new love, maturing of loves already in progress, coming to peace with love lost and finding new family members to embrace and celebrate.

This month I was privileged to see love at work in my extended family, more than once I spent time in the presence of love and was uplifted. This made me consider what love was when we simply wish for good things, when we are simply part of a larger circle and we aren’t trying to make it about ourselves. There is something wonderful, when we are simply there and part of it. This month, my youngest son married for the second time, this time it truly was a celebration of love, a coming together of families and friends and it was joyous. I watched my son and new daughter take their vows and my heart expanded, not just to include her but to include her children, her parents, her siblings also. I realized with this marriage, my circle to love had grown and my heart simply stretched to include them all.

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Holiday time is always interesting in my world. For many the holidays can be stressful, it is no different for me and mine. Last year, of course saw my marriage fall apart and at that point, I thought I could never look at this time of year without sadness again. Indeed, last year was difficult but with the love and kindness of many people I got through it and realized just what family really is, what it means to be cocooned in warmth for no other reason than for being me. I wrote about last year here, I learned a great deal about compassion and love and it stuck.

Family gatherings mean extended family with in-laws, multiple generations and of course with us all the ‘by marriage’ and ‘step’ relationships. We are the classic blended family; marriage has expanded our families with steps, in-laws, new grandbabies and all sorts of other people to love. My oldest son married a young woman with a boisterous and loving family that exudes warmth and has taken me in, embraced me as if I was one of their own. When I was most in need of a place to land, somewhere to feel safe her family gave it to me and continue to open their homes, hearts and arms.   This Thanksgiving my oldest son and his wife hosted family Thanksgiving for the first time, great food, great wine and lots of laughter. Again, I was reminded why love lifts us up, love has no boundaries and no timelines. We can not see each other for months, yet pick up where we left off; laughter and hugs without stinting and whispered, ‘how are you?’ with an arm wrapped around shoulders letting me know I am both welcome and cared for.  I must admit, I needed that moment of quite affirmation.

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Finally, the latest addition to my personal extended family; a new half-sister. Discovered a couple months ago, she is only a couple of years younger than I am and like me had been given up for adoption. I think she is the only one of my first father’s children he was unaware of. I won’t tell the entire story here, today; suffice to say she is a delight and I am so pleased to find another sibling. I think with all my full, halves, adopted and steps this takes me to twenty-four. What an amazing and strange mix we are what a fascinating world we live in that siblings can find each other through a random DNA test.

The famdamilySo what is love? What I am discovering, it is impossible to define. Love is selfish and selfless all in a single breath. Love is the greatest expression of compassion any of us can show to another. Love is our greatest gift, it is the one thing we have that is entirely ours to give and entirely free if we choose. Love fills our silent spaces while at the same time allows our silences safely. Love lifts us up, beyond ourselves and above ourselves. Love encourages us to do better and be better than we believe is possible. Love heals us and allows us to reach out and heal others.

What is love? The Hell if I know, but I know I would be lost without it.

Oddities and Grandma’s Wisdom

LVal_2010The world is burning and Nero fiddles from the balcony and we, the peasants are dancing in the streets to a song we barely know and have long since forgotten the steps to. Now and then though something occurs to us, something leaps out and bites us on the ankle, perhaps a memory of days past when things were simple and life didn’t break our hearts. For me, despite some folks in my family were crazy as hell and honestly didn’t have the sense the Good Lord gave a gnat, some of that time was time spent with one of my grandmothers in South Texas.

Valentines Liquor Store 6903 - 3-69-45

My Granddad’s Liquor store

I didn’t see a great deal of her, didn’t spend much time with her because my father and grandfather didn’t see eye-to-eye, this is mildly put. My grandfather was a mean son-of-a-bitch, he was a bigot and a card-carrying member of Racist-R-Us, if he didn’t have white sheets hanging in his closet I would be shocked. Because of my olive skin, dark hair and dark eyes my grandfather regularly called me a spic, papoose and even nigger; frequently asked my father why they didn’t return me where they got me since I was obviously not White and they never should have adopted me. My grandfather gave me my first drink of whiskey and my first cigarette when I was eleven years old, said he could prove I was an ‘injun’ if I got crazy with firewater. He and my father got into a fistfight on that visit, though it wasn’t just over this it was part of it.

Back to my grandmother, she was mostly a good South Texas Lady. How she ever tolerated my lying, cheating polecat of a grandfather for more than fifty years is beyond me, but she did. When I was seventeen I spent two weeks with her while she was recovering from surgery, it was the most time I had ever spent at one time. During that time she imparted her lifetime of wisdom, she made me laugh hysterically and often, she made me question her and my own sanity. All of this while we sat at the dining room table over coffee and cigarettes, my grandmother by the way smoked like a chimney until the day she died in her 80’s.

Here is the wisdom of my very Southern Grandmother and some of my thoughts about that wisdom.

    1. Never go out without lipstick.
      1. I try to remember this one, sad to say though I carry at least two tubes I rarely remember to smear it on my lips.
    2. Never go out without your hair done properly and don’t ever leave the house with curlers in your hair.
      1. Well, yeah now that I am growing my hair out my stylist has taught me how to wield a blow dryer and a brush, I am getting pretty good at it actually. Five days out of seven I do in fact actually somewhat successfully do something with my hair. Previously not so much, but I think my grandmother would be proud. There was a time I followed her rules much more closely and was a good Texas girl with the mantra of ‘the bigger the hair the closer to God’.
    3. Always wear a hat, this protects you from the sun prevents freckles and in your case dear stops you from turning so damned dark.
      1. Yeah, well thankfully we have sunscreen for this now. I own hats and wear them now and then, but this is for show not to protect me from the sun.
    4. Don’t wear pants in public, unless you are gardening they simply aren’t attractive and those jeans the girls are wearing now are terrible. Wear skirts or dresses, women should look like women.
      1. Okay, I don’t know what to say to this one, does anyone? Pants are my go to wardrobe choice most days.
    5. Always wear foundations, honey you need to wear a bra.
      1. Is there anything sexy about the foundations she was talking about and still wearing when we had this conversation?
    6. Wear high-heels, your legs look better in high-heels.
      1. This is the one I entirely agree with, wear them, collect them, even sometimes salivate over them.

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    7. Wear stockings, only floozies go out bare legged.
      1. Come on, I live in Texas where it is sometimes +105 for days at a time. Suffering for beauty is one thing but this takes things just a little too far.
    8. Do not ever get drunk in public, it is fine to have a drink at home but never get drunk in public.
      1. This is one we should all agree with. Nothing more to add.
    9. Marry where you love. Don’t let other people stop you not even your Daddy.
      1. Great advice from a woman who married “down” and was disowned by her parents for her choice in spouse, I often wonder if she ever regretted it.
    10. Be kind to others, kindness will always get you further than ugly.
      1. I have always tried to follow this.
    11. Don’t move with the crowd, they will push you over the cliff when you get to the edge.
      1. Isn’t this the damned truth.
    12. Honey, don’t compete with men they don’t appreciate a woman that can beat them at their own games and don’t need their noses rubbed in it all the time.
      1. Well, this is the truth and yet sometimes there is no choice is there?
    13. Don’t raise your voice in anger. Speak softly, force them to listen to you.
      1. It took me years to understand this one.
    14. Stop marking your body up, those tattoos are for bad girls and sailors.
      1. My grandmother hated my tattoos. I wonder if she would have changed her mind. At the time she said this too me I had two small ones on my back, now I have eighteen and many are sizable.
    15. Don’t let your past hurts color your world, live. You are young and your life is ahead of you.
      1. I try to live by this one. I knew what she was telling me at the time and we had many long talks about forgiveness and letting go at that table over those two weeks. It took me a very long time to absorb this lesson. I am grateful to her for it.

Those were the truths of my grandmother. It has been a very long time since I have thought of her or those conversations. Someone who is special to me and brings me a great deal of happiness reminded me today of these conversations, of wearing skirts instead of pants, of girdles and oddly of what it means to be feminine without losing who I am as a woman. I am grateful for the reminders and for being able to step outside of the world for a minute.

I hope you enjoyed a glimpse of my grandmother and her wisdom, I surely enjoyed the memory.

Because we should all have memories that bring us back around this is dedicated to someone I love.

Mother’s Blessings

With the babies all growed up

With the babies all growed up

Mother’s Day is a strange one for me, tangled relationships up and down generational lines. I always approach this day with trepidation, always have even as a child.

I have three mothers, two of them have passed away.

I have two sons, yet no children of my own body, I am forever grateful to their mother, my wife-in-law for the generosity of her heart in sharing them with me. They hold me firmly anchored in the future.

I have, somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty-four siblings and some of them are my cousins. Many of these relationships are troubled by the tangle of maternal relationships.

Reading those words, I suspect people wonder how all this came to pass and why I am not more psychotic then I am. I have written about my relationships with my three mothers before, all of the history is available under various series in this blog if your interested I am happy to provide links for you to explore in the comments section, just ask. For Mother’s Day though I want to take a different tact, a more positive one with regard to each of my mother’s and their contribution to who I am.


 

The Mom's & I

The mother who raised me, who I have always referred to as Mom or my Second Mother; who adopted me, perhaps unwillingly after suffering multiple miscarriages. We had a troubled, even sometimes violent relationship during my childhood and through my early teens. Our personalities were like sandpaper rubbing together, despite living in the same house from the time I was three days old we never found common ground, not even in our memories.

Mom and I, San Marco Square, Venice Italy 1965

Mom and I, San Marco Square, Venice Italy 1965

Truthfully we shared only two great loves, my father and my younger brother and these would act as wedges between us rather than bringing us together. It was a difficult relationship, for both of us to navigate even as we steered into our very separate adult lives. Ultimately I chose to limit my interactions with her and she seemed to be happy with this choice, as she made no attempts to mend what was shattered between us. My mom passed away this year at nearly 94 years of age. She suffered from acute Dementia and her body finally failed her, I was there in the end. Her passing has driven a wedge between my beloved younger brother and I, someday perhaps we will heal it. What my First Mother gave to me even through our troubled relationship was this:

  • A progressive and independent view of the world, one that she was outspoken about and frequently argued with my father about who shared many of her views but not all.
  • A love of books and reading, she gave me my first book and taught me to escape into the worlds of the written word. I have never lost my ability to lose myself in the pages of a book my first true love.
  • The love of travel and the appreciation of the antiquities of history. As a child we trekked Europe and its castles and museums. She bought every guidebook, every memento offered and saved them all for years.
  • Manners, I learned manners in her home. It wasn’t all from her, my Southern bred paternal Grandmother certainly influenced some of this, but much of what I learned were European manners and I learned them from her.

My First Mother, who gave birth to me and without ever seeing my face gave me up for adoption I owe much too, certainly my life. But, more than my life, there is much she has given me since I met her when I was twenty-five. My biological (First) mother and father married after I was born and went on to have five more children, thanks to this I have true siblings, people who I share DNA with, who look KrisLogar Weddinglike me and who in many ways I share common traits with. I grew up thinking I was alone in the world, there was no one like me, no one who would completely understand me. Certainly I did not look like my ‘family’, I did not think like my ‘family’ in many important ways. Suddenly at the age of twenty-five I faced not only a mother and father but siblings as well, all of whom I shared common DNA with, all of whom looked like me and in strange ways, acted like me despite sharing no common history. I don’t want to paint this reunion story as if it was hearts and flowers, as if it was easy. Certainly all of us had challenges to overcome as we tried to come together, to understand each other. Truthfully we were estranged for nearly ten years, only now in the past three beginning to re-discover balance and a loving acceptance of our mutual flaws. What my First Mother has given me that I am so grateful for:

  • First and forever, an understanding of where I come from at a very deep level. Having felt so isolated my entire life, never knowing what or who I was this was such a gift. Now, when I look in the mirror, I understand what contributes to what I see.
  • My resilience, my strength. After meeting my mother, listening to her life stories I believe we share a common spirit, something she passed to me to insure my survival even as she released me to a world she couldn’t protect me from through my life.
  • My siblings, all of them. Though I don’t have close relationships with all of them I am nonetheless grateful they are in the world. Perhaps someday we will see past egos and angst and make our way closer.

My Heart Mother (aka Step Mother, Aunt), the love of my Second Fathers’ life (aka Daddy) was perhaps one of the greatest blessings of my adult life. Certainly she was the greatest blessing of my Daddy’s life and I will forever and always be grateful to her. I have written about their marriage, the strange relationship and her end elsewhere, I won’t repeat it here, suffice to say she was a fabulous woman I still miss her. What she gave me in the years she was married to my father:

How I always see them Just Loving Perfectly

How I always see them
Just Loving Perfectly

  • She returned my Father to me, she reached across wide chasms of misunderstanding and hurt and taught us to talk to each other and listen. There could be no greater gift in the world.
  • She taught me hope, even when everything was horrible when I was willing to give up and just stop, when I hurt everywhere she sat with me and talked about how much I was loved, how much she loved me and she gave me hope, she was helplessly hopeful that I would walk, that I would go dancing, that I would live, that I would have the life I wanted, that I would love. She never gave up hope.
  • She taught me about beauty, when I felt fat and ugly and terrible about myself as I learned I might never do things I loved again, she told me the story of myself as a child when I thought I was an ugly duckling in a family of tall blonds. With her thick Texas drawl she stared me deep in the eyes and told my how all my cousins hated when I came to visit, how I was so ‘exotic’ and ‘beautiful’ I put them all to shame with their beanpole common looks, then she laughed and told me now I looked the way I was supposed to look, like a woman.
  • She taught me about unconditional love, as my father descended through Alzheimer’s, as his once brilliant mind disappeared she cared for him without wavering. She protected him and loved him with constant attention, even as her own health was failing. When an accident took her life, my father followed her a short eleven months later.

Each of my mother’s hold me tethered to a strange history but have also cut strings and released me to find my way. I am finally grateful for their sometimes-unwitting guidance and certainly grateful for their loving direction.


 

To all the Mothers out there today, Happy Mother’s Day. So we don’t forget until they are returned;

http://theobamacrat.com/2014/05/11/a-special-mothers-day-blessing-for-the-nigerian-mothers/

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Spring Sprung Famdamily

Whatever or however you might celebrate today, Happy Day (Easter or otherwise). Me? Oh, I am just going to clean my house, do some laundry and go for a walk eventually, maybe to the lake. Perhaps I will take my camera and see if the recent rains have raised our water up at all. Maybe I will see if our Bluebonnets are out, who knows there might be something worth taking some shots of this time. I know I have some small buds on my Lavender out back and my fruit trees are starting to bloom also, it is a sure sign Spring might finally be here to stay.

Anyone who knows me knows I do not like being cold. Truly, it is simply not my favorite thing, I like heat all and any kind of heat. I want to be warm, always. The strange thing about this entire issue of being warm, I do not like heavy clothes. I want to be warm without layer upon layer of clothing. I suspect this is why I like living where it is hot most of the time and why when I vacation my favorite destinations also tend to be, well shall we say on the warm side. I am simply warm blooded; I even like food on the spicy side of the flavor wheel; if my eyes water and my ears burn a bit I am happy.

So all this being said, Spring it seems has Sprung and I couldn’t be more pleased. Hell I might even pull the shades and do a bit of a happy dance through the house. I will have to pick something to dance too though; I will put my pick at the end of this if you like you can dance along.

Well, all this being said I am really only sharing my joy and happiness at Spring Time possibly being here to share some fun times with you. I know I don’t often do this do I? Yesterday though I spent time with my sons and their families and my wonderful wife-in-law. We took a slow train ride from Grapevine to the Fort Worth Stockyards and then wandered the Stockyards followed by dinner. Not the day I might have planned for myself, but when you have small children, well it actually worked out well, for the most part.

Pictures from the train ride, strangers and famdamily.

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I must admit the stockyards are a people draw, a great place for people watching. What a strange collection. I wonder why it is people immediately feel the need to throw on their cowboy boots, even if they have never worn a pair in their lives before.

Pictures from the Fort Worth Stockyards, street scenes and famdamily.

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Finally, we all piled into our respective cars and made our way to Uncle Julio’s, a fabulous and popular local Tex-Mex restaurant with a great menu and spectacular Margaritas. We were all sufficiently starving by the time we arrived and so enjoyed great meal and those of us old enough, enjoyed a libation. During the day I discovered a new Tequila which I will be adding to my bar (Herradura Anjejo), it is a magnificent sipping Tequila for those of you who have a leaning in that direction.

Pictures from our night of waiting and dinning.

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Last but not least of all, my friend Christ Hanna of Posture Studios, did another spectacular job and I want to share with you some of the pictures he took of the newest addition to my family. I am so pleased with how these turned out, think my new grandson is so angelic (never mind if his parents aren’t getting sleep). I encourage you, if you are in the DFW area or are planning to be, give Christ a call; he is wonderful and continues to be my hero.

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Now to what I will be dancing about the house too, you can use your imagination as to what in and how.

 


Lexicon: Wife-in-Law

She and I were both married to and divorced from the same man. She is the mother of my sons. We share a common bond, we love our sons, want what is best for them. We have been part of each other’s lives for better than thirty years and are friends. There is no term for the relationship we have, this one fits.

Small Joys

The holidays are finally over; I can only say I am grateful.  I found myself tearful, often.  In fact, more often than not, I found myself stepping out of the room so I could have a good cry.  How badly does that simply suck?  I wrote a different post for today, I decided I would post it tomorrow, today are my holiday stories.

Small stories of things that didn’t suck.  Stories proving the world will continue to spin and I won’t fall off, there are good people in it.

My favorite store in the entire world (other than DSW and Neiman Marcus Outlet) is Central Market.  I drive nearly twenty miles out of my way to shop at Central Market because it makes me happy.  This day 686px-FlowerShop_ShangHaiStreet_HKsolidified my love forever.  It was the day after DB took flight and I was feeling battered, barely hanging by my fingernails and certainly not up for pleasant banter.  I wanted fresh flowers to brighten my dismal mood and my dull table.  Wandering aimlessly, I picked from the individual bins when a woman slightly younger than me asked if she could assist, apparently she didn’t notice the storm cloud over my head.  She persisted though, silly girl, asking again if she could help and suddenly out of my mouth came the stupidest thing, “No, you can’t help me.  My husband of fourteen years left yesterday without a word, without good-bye or fuck you and all I want is some stupid flowers because nobody else will ever buy them for me again!”  I stared at her dumbfounded by my inability to act in a socially acceptable manner; she stared at me likely for the same reason, really who does that?  I found myself crying in front of a perfect stranger in the middle of Central Market.  With compassion and kindness, Maryam squeezed my arm, helped me make a beautiful bouquet and talked to me.  When I was done, when I made my way to the checkout stand with my groceries and my flowers she walked over and told the checker, “The flowers are on Central Market today”.

So I cried twice.  I hugged her for her kindness and reminding me there are lovely and compassionate people in the world.  Two days later I wrote a letter to Central Market telling them how much her gesture, her kindness and her empathy meant to me.  Yesterday, I saw her again and told her in person while we made another beautiful bouquet.

Other things that don’t suck, my children and their partners, my Wife-in-Law, my grandchildren and the family of my daughter-in-law all of whom made this holiday season bearable and sometimes even joyful.  Friends who have reached out to me throughout this season with short notes and telephone calls, just to check in and see if I was okay, friends here in my virtual world leaving me their e-mail address and talking to me, letting me know I wasn’t as alone as I felt.  You all just can’t imagine how much that means; when I see your notes, my spirit is lifted.

Another story from the holiday season, because family stories are important.  I spent Christmas Eve and morning at the home of youngest son and his marvelous partner, they are truly perfectly matched, the love that fills their home, between them and her children is addictive.  My wife-in-law was also visiting from Seattle (I adore her) and so Christmas was a happy time, despite the bittersweet undertones; she

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is going through her own challenge with her marriage also falling apart around her head, her husband notifying her on the very same day as mine of his intention to end their 30 year partnership (assclown).  Needless to say, she and I were challenged in our joy, but she and I were with the sons we loved, were also with each other and oddly, both take great pleasure in our company.  So between Moscow Mules, a perfect Mexican feast cooked by our children, watching our grandson open presents and planning for a future without our husbands there was laughter to be had.  I suggested my much-loved WIF come live with me; I find I have a significant amount of room now.  For some reason our sons find this idea ‘strange’, their mothers living together; she and I laughed uproariously at their discomfort!

Christmas morning found me awake long before the rest of the household, the first pot of coffee long gone before anyone else stumbled out of bed.  Wrapped in flannel and love, awaiting the arrival of two little girls and one more round of gift-wrap madness we spent our morning quietly chatting over a superlative breakfast cooked by my son (who knew).

Christmas day found the WIF and me at the home of my eldest sons in-laws; this is something of a tradition for the big holidays.  I am so grateful for the invitation and how I have been embraced by this large and loving family, it is a gift.  Theirs is a blended family that has blurred the lines by love, it is spectacular to witness and each time I am invited to their home I am awestruck by the immensity of their love, compassion, humor and this time their empathy.  It never surprises me why my son loves his wife; she comes from a family that understands commitment and love.  It never surprises me why I use to tell him he needed to marry her or I was keeping her when I see her with her family.

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This time though, well it was a bit overwhelming and I was brought to tears.  This, this was what I had wanted for myself.  This love, this commitment; this is what I wanted for me.  This is what I failed to build and this failure tore at my heart.  At one point during the celebrations I found myself walking outside simply to cry, just a moment of pure alone tears but it wasn’t to be because these are kind and loving people.  One of them saw me walking away and followed, without a word just followed and with a touch; a simple hug let me know I wasn’t alone, then with a bit of humor pulled me out of  my black cloud and back into the loving embrace of family.  I am so grateful to her for her empathy.

So those are my Christmas stories 2013.

Making of Me

What if someone asked you today to define yourself, all that is you, who you are and what makes up the core of you. Could you do it?

One of my favorite bloggers, Rebecca “Sweet Mother” Donohue, did just that the other day in her three hundred and fortieth post (I am half way there and in awe of this number), What Made You (#340)? Her post got me thinking, even as I read and sometimes giggled I was thinking about what made me what I am. Rebecca asked a question, “What made you?”

My answer to her question was simplistic, it was also the only way I knew to answer on someone else’s blog, it was this.

My history forced me to make the best of me. My future forces me to see what is possible for the rest.

I look at that answer I think, what does that really mean? Big picture, little picture all of us are cobbled together from so many different experiences, so many different sensory inputs and so many  choices we make through the course of a lifetime. What really sticks?

So, I thought to myself, I want to take that answer and expand it. I want to try to pick apart what is important and trace the roots back to what made me.

scan0028My Parents Made Me: all of them, each in their own way contributed to how I view relationships both inside and outside of family. Most people only have one set of parents, I have three and half sets each individual added to who I am over my lifetime. Of course, my biological parents contributed my DNA but more than this, when I met them in my twenties they gave me a sense identity. My adoptive parents showed me the world and expanded my opportunities, they also taught me survival instincts and unfortunately hate. My adoptive father and my heart mother taught me the most important lesson of all, don’t settle for anything short of real love. My heart mother made me more compassionate, she taught me to see others with empathy and to forgive shortcomings, she taught me to heal.

Travel Made Me: exposure to the world made me, it broadened my horizons from a very early age. Travel made me more willing to accept what wasn’t exactly like what I had at home and even welcome what020 Venice San Marko 6504 was different. World travel made me look for adventure, excited by new stamps on my passport and miles in my airline bank. Travel wiped out the jingoistic attitude we Americans so often have that cause our “Ugly American” reputation worldwide. Travel seeped into my blood and spirit at a very early age, I have had a passport since I was six and never let it expire. Travel taught me there is wide-world out there that think and do differently than me.

Dance Made Me: as a very young child, I was Pigeon Toed, drastically so. I wore really ugly corrective shoes (when anyone could get me into them). Finally a doctor suggested Ballet might help to correct both my posture and my Pigeon Toedness (is that a word?). Off we went, beginning Ballet at barely five (5), even before I saw my first Nutcracker Suite. I was lost forever after, even when the teacher hit my toes to point them out. I was lost, linda2even when she cracked my knees to bend them properly. I loved dance I specifically loved ballet. I loved the discipline of it. I loved the movement, I would move furniture in the living room and dance when no one was home. I would practice form in my bedroom using the window as my barre. Dance taught me self-discipline and beauty.

The Men in My Life Made Me: not telling who or how many, not important. The men in my life both those I married and those I didn’t made me who I am. This is true whether we ended well or on the other end of the spectrum and ended nightmarishly. The men I have chosen to partner with over my lifetime have taught me enormous lessons about myself, life, forgiveness and obviously love. Whether those lessons were how to walk away and rebuild or how to love someone who failed me, all of these lessons made me. There was a time when my heart was set behind a steel door, the key was in a bottomless sea and I had no space in my life for love, no patience for fools in love. Over time, the men in my life including brothers, fathers, lovers and husbands have taught me better and thus made me who I am today.

The Women in My Life Made Me: I have been mostly fortunate in my friends, blessed in the longevity of my friendships. The women in my life have enriched me in more ways than I can ever say. Though cautious in who I let in I have been uncommonly privileged; when I am unlucky even then, I have learned lessons I apparently needed at the time.  All the women in my life have made me, from mothers, sisters to heart sisters, friends and mentors.

The Convicts in My Life Made Me: sounds strange doesn’t it, for nine years I have walked a road I never thought to walk, speaking about what happened to me twenty-one years ago to offenders. Speaking in a program intended to teach Empathy to Offenders based on the experiences of real victims, like me. When I started down this path, I was so angry still my fury was white hot I could not imagine how I was going to stand in front of a room of Convicts and not lash out. I made it through that night and many more since then. I have expanded speaking to Juvenile Offenders in the Sex Offender program, because it is important. How do they make me? Because they have stories, because their humanity exists right alongside mine and I have learned compassion and empathy as I stand up and tell my story and listen to theirs.

There is more that went into the making of me, I know there is more, some of it terrible.

  • Violence made me. I have let it go, I will not allow what was done to own my future.
  • Rape made me. I have let it go, my past does not own today or my future.
  • Pain makes me even today, it does not own me though.
  • Divorce and abandonment made me, it does not own me it does not convince me of my worth.

Writing makes me today, I am learning a craft I thought I had no talent for but I am finding my voice and my heart in it.

What makes you?

Letting go of Animosity

Last week I was in Seattle where both my mother’s live, what a strange twist of circumstance and fate that is. Originally my trip was planned so I could step into the role I have always played so well, the one I am so expert at, Bad and Evil Daughter to my second mother. The plan was for me to move my second mother from the apartment she had lived in for 28 years to Assisted Living, all in a single fell swoop.

The strategy was laid. The deposit was made on her new apartment in the Assisted Living place; it is literally two blocks from where she is now. It is a nice apartment, frankly nicer than where she is living today. The movers were arranged for and the time agreed. Her home care support was notified so they could start preparing her, reminding her she was moving. My second mother has dementia, her memory and cognitive skills on a scale of 1 to 5, five being the best, are approaching two now.

I was going to spend my Labor Day weekend moving my second mother into her new Assisted Living facility. It isn’t what I wanted to do and I approached this task with much trepidation, some resentment and frankly some fear. Anyone who has read Broken Chains knows the story of my relationship with my second mother, the time leading up to this weekend had been filled with a great deal of soul searching and angst. I landed in Seattle Thursday night though and made my way to the hotel with some peace in my heart. It would all be fine, my brother was convinced all the pieces were in place and everything would be fine.

Well, maybe not so fine. The movers, who were supposed to arrive at 9am on Friday morning, arrived at 7am instead. Was I confused? I am certain I wasn’t, in fact I had the move confirmation right there on my handy CrackBerry, right there in green and lime green, 9am. Nevertheless, let me rush across the bridge to and get things moving. When I arrived at my second mom’s apartment, no one was there but her and she was still in bed sound asleep. You cannot get a 92-year-old woman with dementia out of bed and tell her, “come on old woman it’s moving day!” This is simply not the way things work, hell this approach wouldn’t work for me and I am significantly younger. It took her nearly 20 minutes to realize who I was and that I was there, in her apartment.

We talked about her move. She was genuinely confused and resistant to any thought of moving. She doesn’t remember falling and has remained on the floor until her home aid comes the next day. She believes she can continue to live independently and that she is not a danger to herself. She doesn’t remember that she forgets to eat or that she has bouts of incontinence. We had the same conversation at least seven times in the space of an hour.

I called my brother in Korea, it was 3am there but I did not care because I was doing this for him. He didn’t want to be the Bad and Evil Son. We had gone through this with our father who had Alzheimer’s, my brother didn’t understand how bad it was, how horrific the failure was. My brother couldn’t face the failure of our fathers mind. Now we faced the same issue, he didn’t understand or couldn’t face the failure of our mother; she said ‘yes’ but did not retain the information.

I sent the movers away agreeing to pay for their time. I sat with my second mother and continued to talk about the move, about what she needed to make her comfortable with it. I wrote on her White Board, “You Are Moving to Ballard Manor”. I gave money to her favorite caregiver to buy moving boxes so she could start sorting some of her personal things when Veronica was with her, it helps her to feel in control.

I will never hear from my second mother the words I spent my entire life wishing to hear; never will I hear any of these;

Mom and I, San Marco Square, Venice Italy 1965

“I love you”

“I am sorry I hurt you”

“I understand”

Despite my original trepidation, anger and fear going out to Seattle to be the Bad and Evil Daughter, I am glad I went. Although I don’t think my mother knows this, we made peace. She is at the end of her life and I realized in sitting with her over the days I was there, despite it all she deserves my protection and care. For her humanity, for the fact that she was so greatly damaged as a child and was unable to heal throughout her long life she deserves my protection and care. I came away knowing I would always have a small hole, but it was one I could fill by preserving her dignity.

To the other side of this trip, the time I didn’t know I would have I filled in a way I hadn’t originally considered. Early this year I had reached out my first mother, we hadn’t spoken in several years and at the urging of one of my siblings I opened the communication door again. I wanted to repair old wounds and re-create a relationship with my first mother; we had a rocky start the first time. With this in mind, well I just picked up the phone and called asking if I could come to Vashon Island for to visit.

Ferry to Vashon Island

Why not? Surprise I am here!

One visit turned into two, they were both wonderful and peaceful. We were both I think changed in some fundamental ways by life and our experiences. We were both different and the same, but both ready for a different relationship with each other. For me, it was easier to internalize ‘this is my mother, blood and she did what was best.’ I had always pragmatically thought so, but my emotions had overruled my thinking and I wanted to lay at her feet so much of my pain, even when I didn’t realize I was doing this. I can’t speak for her, but at least on the surface she was softer though I worry for her health.

The bonus visit was with one of my siblings, a younger sister! I learned something on this trip, though in my head I have always known. I have this large extended family, some of whom I keep up with at least within the context of social media and some of whom I rarely talk to at all. I think we do ourselves such a grave and terrible disservice by losing sight of the bonds that tie us together. We don’t have to love one another, but at least for me given my status as an adopted child I want at least the chance to know who I love and whether I can love you before I let go entirely.

If you are confused by my references to mothers:

First Mother – my biological mother

Second Mother – my adopted mother

Gentle Shackles

My second mother is 92 years old, that is a lot of years to live. For most of the past twenty-five years she and I have been estranged, or maybe a better description of our relationship is distant. I acknowledge she exists, at Christmas and on her Birthday I send a card, flowers and a $100 gift certificate to Nordstroms; she rarely ever remembers to thank me and I have long since stopped caring.

My second mother has spent the better part of the past forty years telling anyone who would listen what a miserable daughter I am. I have never defended myself nor attempted to correct her version of the truth, except with her. Ultimately I stopped trying to correct her and stopped looking for an apology.

I have covered all this before, I apologize if some of that seemed redundant.

As the day grows closer to her move to Assisted Living,  I realize I will have to get on a plane and take on the role of ‘caretaker’ to a woman I have, at best, a difficult relationship with and conflicted feelings for. I am still dancing around some very difficult and delicate realities. Initially I thought I could just deal with the checkboxes of what needs to be done; you know make a list of what it will take to move this woman from one place to the other. As anyone knows who has had to undertake moving an elderly parent it isn’t easy, there is a ton, a lifetime of emotional baggage. You can’t just swoop in and say to them, ‘come on old woman time to pack it in, we’re heading over to this strange new place where the nice people will take care of you.

This is especially true when you are talking about me and my second mother, we barely speak, barely know each other and I am not at all certain she trusts me.

But this doesn’t change the what has to be done or the reality of our situation, I am still left with the hard part. It also doesn’t change that underneath my somewhat tough exterior I am mushy, I have compassion and I am even likely a kind person (please don’t tell). My second mother is old, she has a touch of dementia and from all reports she isn’t doing all that well mentally. I feel sorry for her. My brother left this too long, he should have insisted she make this move two years ago but he didn’t. Now it is left to me because he can’t get home from Korea soon enough. At the end of the day I suspect I will wind up the bad guy, the one with the hard job. Funny I have always been the ‘bad’ daughter and her biggest disappointment, now I will be the ‘evil’ daughter the one who packs her off to assisted living potentially ‘against her will’. He will swoop in a few weeks later and pacify her and listen to her complaints, commiserate even; but it will all be done. Everything will be as it always has been.

I know this is the right thing for her. She cannot continue to live alone, she is not safe. I think there is something I am supposed to learn from this, perhaps some forgiveness I am supposed to achieve in this process, some softening of my hard-heart. Some peace I can gain, I hope so. Two weeks ago I was very angry and had a very difficult time with the situation I was left in. The more time I have the more I am able to find some peace in myself, though I haven’t yet figured out why this is left to me.

My brother hopes I will finally stop hating my second mother, he doesn’t understand I haven’t hated her in decades, I simply find a relationship with her to be toxic and not in my best interest.

My brother also doesn’t understand if I didn’t love him I would not do this. My true compassion is for him. I think I know in my heart, he left this so long because he couldn’t do this it is too hard. My big tough Special Forces Iron Man brother can’t do a little thing like move an old lady for her own good.

So one more time I am going to go be the bad daughter, the evil one. I think I am actually okay this time. Maybe my chains are finally falling away gently.

Chaining the Past

My second mother is 92 years old. That is a great number of years to live in a bubble of your own sanctity, wrapped in lies of your own making. For very close to twenty-five of those years we have been on less than good terms, not entirely estranged but certainly not a normal mother-daughter relationship either. Those that know my mother think she is charming, funny a thoroughly likable woman; they do not understand our estrangement and blame me. This is true whether they know both of us or only her. This is also true whether they are family or just friends of my second mother. Those that know me intimately or have read the rest of the Broken Chains series, may have a slightly different view of my nemesis.

My second mother has a touch of dementia now; her body is beginning to fail. She has lived alone since her divorce from my father nearly forty years ago, the next stage the end stage of her life for her to be safe and comfortable she needs to in a place where there is help. This has been a battle between my brother and me, one we fought once before when my father’s health was failing.  Oddly, that battle had the same lines in the sand; with him saying there is nothing wrong and me saying there is and we can’t fix it. The difference this time is my brother is the only one close to our second mother, he had a different childhood than I did, lived in a different home I think.

I have been enraged for weeks now, but finally this weekend my rage hit a wall of secrets I have held and I discovered the batting I had wrapped around family so everyone could pretend there was nothing wrong. Already by Saturday I was hurt and angry with my brother for placing me in the center of ‘taking care’ of many of the issues surrounding my second mother and her care, move to assisted living and finances. I kept asking myself, why is this my problem? I realized I had to let go of the question, I was not doing this for her, but rather for my brother yet still I resented it and could feel my hurt and anger building with each phone call that failed to acknowledge my life was different from his.

SATURDAY PHONE CALLS FROM THE BLUE ETHER

Ring-a-ding-ding

My second mother has a sister, I actually like her a great deal always have. Perhaps this is why I have always kept silent. My oldest cousin was the first ‘Hippie’ I ever met, she was my idol, she died young and it was tragic. My other two cousins are not tragic, rather they are classic East Coast overly entitled judgmental twits, this is especially true of my youngest cousin; let’s just call her Snobbery.

Snobbery has interfered more than once in the care of my second mother. She and my brother have argued over this issue. This time apparently she sent an e-mail to her mother, my brother and friends of my second mother laying out what she believed was right and proper care. I was not of course included in this communication. My Aunt, not realizing I was not included picked up the phone and called me, it wasn’t a call entirely out of the blue so I did not think anything of it until these words came out of her mouth:

“Snobbery is unhappy that you and your brother haven’t acted on her recommendations, I thought we should discuss them.”

I didn’t know what she was talking about of course, had to ask. She told me and finally after nearly forty-five years of protecting my second mothers secrets gave up. First though I told my Aunt that her daughter Snobbery was simply an interfering Bitch and should mind her business unless she planned to pay for her recommendations.

I made my eighty-eight year old Aunt cry. It wasn’t my intention to do so; truly, I had intended to let her go to her grave never knowing anything. Why would I break my silence after all these years? The problem was I simply found I was worn down by the judgment of everyone who knew me, everyone who was supposed to be my family who had decided I was ‘bad’ and I was ‘evil’ and I was ‘ungrateful’. My Aunt tried to excuse Snobbery for her decision not to include me with;

“Well you don’t take care of you mother, you ignore her and her needs. She must have thought you were better left out of it.”

Really? I do that and it must be for no reason at all that I am just that mean!

I don’t know that what I did was the right thing. I certainly didn’t spill it all; only some of the doors were opened so my Aunt could peer inside my heart and discover that there might indeed be reasons for my choices.

More broken chains and I find I am bitter, angry even shattered that so many of my relationships remain tainted by this history of pain. By my choice to keep secrets. To protect those who did not earn my regard or deserve my protection.

Shattered

These past two weeks have been tough; my soul feels as if it has been rubbed with sandpaper the constant grinding polishing until it weeps salty tears onto my heart. My heart in turn feels torn between my love for my brother and my need to distance myself, from my second mother and our history. Just when I think I am done with this the universe spins and the answer is …..

NO…not quite yet

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