Category Archives: mothers

Not knowing is a place I don’t like to land in. I know with my rational mind that there’s really nothing I know for certain, nothing I have or own that is for mine forever, guaranteed, not even relationships. I can discuss the theory of this quite beautifully at some dinner party or with a friend. But being in it again, as I am now, is distressing. How I long for security. How I long for permanence. How I long for knowing. I don’t know what to do about my mother, who has Alzheimer’s. Continue her living with family or move her to a facility? I don’t know what to do about my career, whose heartbeat I can’t find these days. I am Tennessee Williams’ cat on a hot tin roof, my mind pacing, jittering from one thought to another, searching for solutions, searching for a hold I know isn’t there.

I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

That’s Rilke. And here’s another suggestion: Friend, don’t let the world run you crazy. The world ain’t even honking at you. You just think it is……..

What do you do when you don’t know what to do? Be still, I guess. Be still and valiant in the unknowing….

 

 

heyer

A dull week for me; most of it spent with me sick, something I seldom am. I kept myself occupied by opening Georgette Heyer, the originator of light little comedies of manner set often but not always in the Regency period in England. She has been widely copied, but too few write these little frothy escapes as well as she does because most lack her sense of humor and assured plotting. She makes fun of the pompous, the proper pleased with themselves, and the pious. She understands youthful folly and enthusiasm. She understands yearning. There’s always a handsome, unattainable hero; there’s often an older young woman (late twenties) who is quite happily unmarried. Or the heroine is young and impetuous. At their best, her stories are delightful to me. At their worst, they are contrived, but I don’t mind. I like the way she characterizes spoiled beauties, managing mamas, and lazy older men.

Only 2 of her romances have an ounce of reality…..one in which there is an arranged marriage and almost real heartbreak. Another in which the lady who takes the hero’s heart is unrestrained enough to break it over and over again in spite of his sterling qualities. The first time I read these 2 stories, so many years ago, I wasn’t certain I liked them. They were just outside the very neat boundaries of Heyer’s stories. But I notice that I’ve done the same, woven in a seasoning of reality into the fiction I write, so that in some ways, I’m quite unsafe to read.

What about you? Who is your go-to when sick or in need of rescue from life? Why do we like what we like?

motherlode

Like many woman, I’ve had many jobs. I’ve been a local magazine editor. I’ve run a small department within a university. I’ve done freelance writing. I’m a novelist. But there’s one job that gave me a satisfaction that went soul deep, and that was being a mother. When I was in the midst of it, I was harried, behind schedule, and just trying to keep my head above water managing my household and, at times, my job. Now that it’s over–not that I’m no longer a mother, but rearing young is over–I look back on it with a different perspective. What a sense of loss I felt for a long time. And why? Because it was really, really hard. Why would I miss that? Because it was so rich, too.

I’ve decided the loss was about my sense of purpose (unexpressed or even realized when I was in it). It was so clear and so grand. I had these young beings to keep alive, from bringing them food to getting them to birthday parties. It was nonstop, and it was difficult, and it was, well, grand. A purpose bright and clear, like knights in quest of the holy grail. I felt useful. I felt needed……A good mother rears her young in such a way that they fly off without too many backward looks while she prays their little wings will hold. And if the wings are strong, then a good mother sits alone and begins to understand the complexity that was once hers and makes new purpose, yes, but nothing with such a scale to it…..What about you? What’s your experience in this?

Hit this link and then hit LISTEN and hear a bit of that complexity……….

On another note, I’m not quite over media whiplash. The froth and frill of the royal wedding. Love, marriage, the gown, the kisses. Oh, hopeful fairytale. Then to wake up to Bin Laden’s face huge on the front page and the same endless media over how he died. Seals. Helicopters. Bullets. Burial at sea. What a contrast. It felt like more than my psyche could take in. Once upon a time, information took time to get to you and came in the form of someone telling you or your reading it. Now, it pounds around you like huge drums 24 hours a day…….I don’t know what I think about that. Is it just that I knew a world in which TV only had 3 channels and there weren’t computers, much less phones and i-things? Don’t we need some kind of refuge from the noise? I guess we must make one or become the pinball in a giant machine that propels us from one point to another with no purpose other than making certain we’re listening……….And I’m reminded that death is part of the world we live it. Perhaps that’s what really bothered me……….

love stories

There are three love stories around me…..

Second Grandson, 15 months, has fastened onto a white bear with a soft, soft fur and dangling legs and arms. He carries the bear around everywhere, tries to share food and water with it, wants it in the crib at night for sleep. He talks to it in the not-quite understandable burble that is definite conversation,  has all the tonal inflections and facial expressions of  conversation. It makes my heart glad that his little heart is large enough to love something tenderly already, to take care of it, to need it……

Second Cat has a cat’s fishing pole with a hodgepodge of old ribbon and who knows what that I’ve fastened on the end when the feather died a grisly death. Now there is a definite hierarchy in our house. First Cat decides who gets on the bed to sleep with us, and it is seldom Second Cat. But I’ve been noticing that Second Cat stretches out in the hallway nearby, and in the morning, the fishing pole, which had been propped up against a corner, is under her. She often brings the fishing pole with great yawls for us to play with her, and she keeps it by the food bowl, where both cats keep all important toys, so I know fishing pole, whom I call Baby, has importance in her life. But it struck me the other day that she was sleeping with Baby because she wasn’t allowed on the bed with everyone else. She might not have us, but there is always Baby.

Finally, Mother, who has Alzheimer’s, has a white long-haired chihuahua named Zoe. Zoe goes with Mother wherever she goes, and Mother shares food and kisses with her all the time. Zoe will stand guard while Mother putters around and will come to fetch one of us if Mother is too long out of sight. How Mother loves that dog, frets and fusses with her. Mother knows the dog’s name when she doesn’t know any of ours. There is real caring between them. I feel like Zoe is a little animal spirit sent to oversee. It gentles me on days when I don’t feel gentle.

We all need things to love and fuss about, don’t we? We need to feel cherished and to cherish in return. I often write about kinds of love in my novels. My conclusion is: tenderness is best. What’s your love story? What’s your conclusion?

tuesdays

It’s our usual day. She dozes on the couch most of the morning. I dress her for our outing. She’s as fragile as cracked glass, gasping and moaning at the putting on of socks, befuddled at the pulling up of pants, completely lost at the pulling over of a shirt. She can still tie her shoes.

We go out for lunch. It’s what we do on the Tuesdays when I visit her. It’s also become one of the ways I most see her decline: the inability to choose a utensil, know what a straw is, cut her own food anymore. She jabs at what’s on the plate and then opens her mouth, and it is a gamble that the food gets there. She has no preferences about what to eat, though she won’t eat what she doesn’t like. She couldn’t tell me if she did have a preference. It’s been a year or more since she’s collected enough words together to make meaning.

She still laughs. She still smiles. She is still more beautiful than any woman her age. She is willing to do what I ask if she understands it. That’s where I fall down so often, thinking she’ll understand. I’m always exhausted by my lack of acceptance as to what has happened and is happening to her and by my expectations, always too high.

Later, I make dinner, keep an eye on her as she does her rounds, from hall to dining room to den and around again. She walks carefully, so carefully, often reaching out to the wall or a chair. She runs her foot along the creases of the joined tiles. She doesn’t step, she shuffles.

I put her in pjs early, sit in a rocking chair, emotionally battered by our day, by what I see. I always try to prepare myself. I remind myself of her decline, but I am never, never ready for it. And so my mood dips in the afternoon. I hate myself for its dipping.

Are you tired, I say, more to make conversation than anything else. So often there is silence between us. She can’t talk, and I seldom chatter, but chatter is what is needed these days, a light ongoing constant from the only one of us who can do so, but I’m bad at it. She looks at me. She answers with stunning clarity: You’ll never know how tired I am.

It’s the first sentence I’ve heard in over a year. And before I can even respond, she’s back to her shuffle through the hall, the dining room, the den.

I sit where I am in shock. Yes, everything is hard for her, isn’t it? Moving, dressing, eating, getting up and down from a chair, walking, recalling, associating, living. All hard now.

I must remember this, I tell myself. But I won’t. I’ll be as surprised and upset next week as I am this week. Later, I think of the poet Mary Oliver:

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

 

The family of things….her place in it and mine, her despair and mine, her love and mine…………….

karen blixen

Mother and I were watching Out of Africa, or I was watching and Mother was dozing. It was the scene where Denys has died and Karen  is about to throw clods of dirt into the grave, and my mind went tumbling back to my friend Robert’s death last summer, to our throwing dirt on the grave, to how long it had been since I’d been to a funeral, to how final the gesture is, an extraordinary gesture that puts what has happened into sharp focus. And then I was thinking about Karen Blixen and how amazing her life was. Do you know her? Isak Dinesen was the writing name she gave herself and I’ve read  two of her books of short stories, Out of Africa and Shadows in the Grass, and many of the exquisite overvoiced lines of the movie come from those stories. The stories are discreet, but her life wasn’t. Or maybe that’s the wrong paint color. She didn’t live soundlessly, in the box decent women were supposed to lie (and are still supposed to lie, for that matter). She loved a nobleman who didn’t love her back, married his twin brother for a title and security and who knows if spite was in the mix, went with her husband to Kenya to raise coffee, contracted syphillus from the philandering  husband, started a school for native children, refused to stay home and knit when war came, and loved an English nobleman’s adventurer son, Denys Finch Hatten. I didn’t like Out of Africa when I first saw it, thought too many dramatic moments were crammed into the story, so that it was all drama, without valleys, but I was intrigued by her, and I read her biography and her letters, and I learned the director had recreated what truly happened to her….that her life in Africa had been full of drama and full of real life, loving hard, loving badly, hard work, doing what she wished when society around her disapproved, failing, losing her health and home. I cried some tears from a seldom visited place in me for what the ending of the movie brought up–she began another life as a writer, but she had to say goodbye to a life and people she loved to do it–anyway, I cried from a place that was deep and that it hurt to cry from. And my thought was, the fragility of love and life, the smoke and mirrors of it, it can’t be grasped and held tightly, love itself does live, die, change, transmute, and I thought, to everyone young, be tender in your love, be courteous to one another, revere the sweet green…..

To Japan: faith and courage and may all the gods watch over you…..

A science fair for my granddaughter’s school’s third grade: hilarious: brilliant: horseshoes with springs so horses run faster; bandages with art on them so they look prettier; mechanical dogs for people who have dog allergies; a goldfish crackers’ cruncher so you can put the crumbs in your milk…..need I say more…..America is in good hands……..and how was your week?

shepherd

They tell me she’s using the pillow that hung from a cord on her doorknob as a purse these days. That, and the zipper case that holds her Bible. Since the pillow has a Bible verse on it, the news comforts me a little….I like to take it as a sign that the Lord, whom she always believed in, is looking after her. She likes to have both of them with her. They have a wheelchair for her on excursions. It tires her so much to walk very far now. Otherwise, they tell me, she’s healthy. I’m on a kind of sabbatical, so I won’t see her until August, when I return to Houston. I left her easily, the on-going changes in her having made me tired and impatient. The Lord is my shepherd, says the pillow. I hope so. And I need some shepherding, too….

Do you have a family story, maybe lovely, maybe not? What an interesting and often exacting conundrum life is….