Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mama Mia

Today is Mother's Day, a time for celebrating one of the most difficult jobs anyone could possibly have and the many women who, in the process, open their hearts entire gulfs wider than most do to offer their vulnerability, their wisdom, and their love to someone they will worry about for the rest of their lives. I am not yet a mother, but I spend a fair bit of time thinking about what kind of mother I will be.

And I hope that I am able to approximate a small percentage of my mother's talent at being Mom. 

When I was a child, I used to lie in bed at night and vividly imagine a scenario wherein parents were nominated for "Best Parents Award" by their children.  In my reverie, I gave a speech, extolling the virtues of my parents and the many reasons why they should win the award.  As fantasies often play out, my parents won. I was PROUD to have such loving parents; the fantasy (still a vivid memory) is testimony to that pride. 

So much of this is thanks to the woman who took me to my gymnastics and ballet lessons, who walked the long oyster-shell lane to meet my school bus each day, and the woman who agreed to play adult Wendy to my childhood appearance in our school production of Peter Pan.  And of course the woman who, with epic consistency, can butcher the words to almost any song but remain beautifully in tune while enthusiastically singing along to the radio in the car.  Seriously - other drivers waiting at a red light have been distracted by my mother's ardent devotion to the 80's love ballad and watched with a combination of humor and fascination as she earnestly belted out Celine Dion, nailing every fourth or fifth word... maybe....on a good day.  Really, there is so much to love in someone with so many talents.

My mother was a full time mom for most of our childhood, and while she made it look easy at the time, she worked incredibly hard to bring us stability, routine, and a sense of self from the moment we were born.  She did so many things RIGHT, from instinct and from what she knew was best for her daughters, all of us very distinct individuals with sometimes very different needs.  Television was permitted on very rare occasions, and not only did I learn to read at an early age, but as a result it was (and still remains) my favorite past-time. While most children feasted on bologna sandwiches at lunch, my lunchbox was packed with healthy foods like raisins and whole wheat bread (this was rather forward-thinking when I was a child).  She believed in "less is more" and so although we had scheduled activities as children, we also had free time, a luxury that few of today's children seem to enjoy.  Naps were permitted, reading outside for a couple of hours was encouraged and writing poetry in the middle of the night (while not completely endorsed) was deemed alright because it was a creative outlet. In sum, my parents agreed that they would not shape us to be something we were not.  We were permitted to be ourselves, another novel concept on the brink of extinction among too many parents today.

My mother did hold us to certain standards though, and for that I am eternally grateful to both of my parents.  The Golden Rule ("Do unto others as you would have them done unto you"), to which she often refers, was the guiding principle of my parents' parenting and our sense of what is right and what is wrong.  We were taught to treat others with unwavering kindness and the benefit of the doubt.  We were counseled not to judge others, and to be open to all cultures, faiths, and lifestyles.  Rudeness was anathema.  A sense of entitlement of any kind was viewed as shallow and selfish.  The absence of compassion in our interactions with others was simply not tolerated.  At a very early age, I was taught the basic principle of kindness that both of my parents embody to this day. Thank goodness for this.  Thank goodness that my parents' standards embrace moral courage and character, and that my mother patiently explained these things with love and hope for our bright futures.

She has always held herself to very high standards as a parent.  From the earliest reaches of my memory, birthday cakes were a big deal.  On the year of my fifth birthday, my mother, seven months pregnant with my younger sister (and thus donning TWO birthday hats) painstakingly made me a Wonder Woman birthday cake. Hours before the party, I leaned too far into the cake while inspecting it and fell into the golden lasso. All too familiar with my lack of grace, she sighed and redecorated the cake.  And then played host to some twenty-odd five year olds who jumped off the deck into her impatiens, swung upside down from the bars on the swingset, and wreaked general havoc.  It's a wonder my sister wasn't born early. It's a wonder too that my mother didn't go postal. But pictures of her from that day depict a beaming, beautifully pregnant MOTHER, whose love for her daughter was forever a cause for joyfully picking up those rose-colored glasses and seeing things through the eyes of a child.

As we grew up and away, I watched my mother grow too.  She went back to school, and became a nurse, graduating a mere few days after my graduation from college.  She has spent her whole life - at home and at work- caring for others, something she does exceedingly well.  Her patients may as well be her children; she is not afraid to correct a doctor, question a dosage or advocate for more immediate care.  Now a grandmother to three, she still makes cakes, including the Emerald City, Dora the Explorer, brown sugar pound cake, train cakes at Christmas, and even desserts that avoid dairy and wheat.  She attends recitals and she pulls out my old books for my niece.  She is never tired of loving. 

When I left my husband, when I was diagnosed with Lupus, and whenever I need an ear, my mother has always been at my side.  She hasn't judged me.  She has picked me up and put me back together again so many times and in so many ways.  She has gone to doctors with me and I've seen her brow furrow with concern when I cough or seem stiff from joint pain.  But she puts a smile on her face, brings me a glass of water, and reminds me to take my fish oil.  She has watched as I fall in and out of love again, and she has cried with me as I sometimes struggled to find my equilibrium. When I succeed at some small thing, she exclaims, "Well, hot damn!" and when I tease her (which is frequent), she laughs until she cries. What a gift it is to have someone always there to hold your hand and soften the blow when you fall.  She planted dahlias for my wedding at my parents' home last summer, tending to each blossom with all the love she feels for her three daughters.  With her bell-like laugh that can erupt at any moment, she has shared the gift of laughter with me, and has taught me that laughter is medicine, a tonic for the soul.  She has told me to "buck up" when I needed some tough love and a gentle reminder of how blessed and beautiful my life is.
In so many ways, she has made it so. 

Monday, May 3, 2010

The shopping cart

Damn you, internet. Damn you for forcing me to confront one of my secret obsessions-hobbies-"issues":  the online shopping cart in spring time. Anyone who is an avid gardener can empathize with the heart-wrenching pangs that the spring garden catalog induces in one. It is lethal.  It is cruel. And for the past decade or so, it has been online.  

I love springtime so much that at the age of ten, I wrote a poem about it.  And drew illustrations with pastels of flowers, tree branches, robins' nests (the latter has a prominent, if somewhat overly saccharine role in the poem).  I love it so much that I confess to being one of those annoying individuals who exclaims at every lavender sunrise, every weeping cherry, every new sign of life in my garden.  Hyperbole, you've met your maker.  And she happens to love to garden.

Now that I once again have my own garden, I devote a sizable portion of my mental energy to thinking about it.  It is a living, breathing thing, my garden - and I can easily lose at least 20 minutes of a morning staring at a single euphorbia and wondering if it shouldn't be a little to the left. And oh look!  It has another set of bracts! How brilliant. I  should have ordered a few more...and I need something blue (caryopteris? baptisia?) to off-set the lime green...and crikey, there's that spot there that practically weeps for a mock orange.  Should it be a double or single blossom?  And if I get a mock orange, maybe I should just throw in some of those gorgeous near-black pansies edged in white...

(When I was in first grade, my homeroom teacher, Mrs. Boardley, had a teacher's aid stand by my desk and tap on my shoulder when I daydreamed out the window. I'm just saying: I come by this naturally)

There is much left to be done in my garden, and the spring of 2010 is devoted to the front beds.  Easy-peasy, one might think. But I've done a half a dozen variations of what the front beds (which now, on May 2nd, boast a rampant case of morning glory and very little else) should look like.  I have performance anxiety when it comes to the front beds. Plain and simple.  After all, they are the first things one greets when approaching our house.  Do I go all architectural?  Colorful? English cottage garden? Japanese Zen?  Monochrome?  


To date, I have roughly $2300 of plants in different "carts" - none of which, mind you, are a) the perfect front bed combo, b) affordable, and c) thus, not so much a reality. Fortunately, I collect seeds from my plants each year.  And I love to divide iris. And 
the unthinkable happened: I found a kind of hosta that I actually like and it happens to have really taken a liking to my garden.  So the front beds will be cobbled together with pieces of what is already here - a generative process, actually.  Which in its own way, is much more satisfying than the shopping cart.