Sunday, May 31, 2009

Big Brave Mama

Cooper, my almost five year old, is starting summer school tomorrow. We have to be there at 7:25 a.m., but may not arrive until after 7:10 a.m. No supplies needed. Breakfast and lunch will be provided. It ends at 2 p.m.

That's it. That's all I got. No other details were sent, but yet I'll be dropping Cooper off there tomorrow and wishing him well. I'm nervous, really nervous. I would never admit that to my five-year-old, but I'm saying it to you. I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing!

I don't know what door to go in. I'm not even sure what classroom. No activities have been outlined. How many recesses? It there one class of kindergarten or two? No teacher name given. No credentials.

Will the kids be kind or kind of mean? Will Cooper be overwhelmed by a new school, a new classroom, a new teacher and new friends? Will he suck on his fingers? Will he find the bathroom? Will he be happy? Will he learn well? Will he fit in? Will he know what to do in an emergency? Will he listen?

I want so much for my children. As babies and toddlers, I just grab it for them and we keep moving. This is finally something only Cooper owns. It's where his journey takes a slight curve from mine. Exciting as it all may be for him, I'm scared what the world will be like for him without me controlling it. I'm hoping better. I'm hoping just as bright. I'm hoping for a grand adventure.

One foot in front of the other tomorrow. Big smile. No tears. A brief hug, if I'm lucky. I am, after all, the mother of a kindergartner now. It's time I started acting like one.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Irene's Story

My great-aunt Irene turns 81 tomorrow. I'm not sure what I'm going to be like at 81, or if I'll still be on this earth, but I hope I'll have some fire left in me when I get there. I've always wondered how Irene has stayed so youthful, so energetic, while others have aged more or passed away sooner. This is her story (as I've come to know it).

Irene is the oldest of five children, born to German parents on a farm in Freeburg. Two of her siblings are dead, including my grandmother. Growing up on a farm, you had to work hard to survive. She worked the fields, she helped with the kids, she cleaned. When her mother finally died, she left all the farm land and it's contents to the oldest male. The daughters got nothing.

When she finally married in her 20's, she moved into town with her husband and worked at a factory. She drank. She smoked. She caroused. At 26, the doctor's removed a tumor in her womb, but for a few months they weren't certain if it was a fast-growing tumor or a baby. She mourned for a long-time that this choice was taken away from her.

When the drinking got bad enough that it also turned into fighting, she quite drinking all together. She went to mass on Saturday nights. She decorated her home with trinkets and things not found in a farmhouse. She became a widow, twice, because of cancer.

She only washes her face with Dove soap. Her garden is the nicest in town. She cleans like crazy, drinks coffee day and night, smokes, and is the first to help out when people are in need. When I was born, and my mother was still undecided about adoption, Irene volunteered to keep me and love me. She bought all new baby clothes for me even after she knew I would never be her daughter, or live in her home.

She used to give me Wrigley's Spearmint gum, my own five-piece pack, when I would come to visit. You could drink soda or coffee in her house, no matter what your age. At the parish picnic, she's worked the BINGO stand for the last sixty years. But she stopped going to mass when the misconduct was rampant and it hit too close to home. You don't hurt kids, she'd say, end of story.

No matter what our story, I guess the secret might be the fire within us, the passion that keeps us moving forward instead of looking back. It's what keeps us young. She knew that. Still does.

Friday, May 8, 2009


It's almost Mother's Day. I start drifting down memory lane about my own mother, and her mother, and, of course, the mother before her. I even ponder my own short stint in the motherhood arena, unseasoned as I may be.

On my desk, I have a bulletin board of photos -- all women in my family, all interesting photos that make me look at the world a little different. Here is what I see.

My Mother, 1965.
Black and white photo. She is standing in the front yard in her shorts, huge sombrero, ugly stuffed bear with a lei in her hands, and white loafers. She is entertaining the world. Her comical smile makes me laugh. Only six years old, she doesn't know yet how much hurt there is in the world. Happiness resides within her.

My Grandmother, 1972.
Wearing a flowered dress with pearls, she stands in the corner of a room. Body stiff, she is smiling. One light bulb hangs bare above her head. Her smile looks forced, her eyes look sad. I want to wrap my arms around her and hold her. Why is it so hard to let go of things that weigh us down, such as bitterness, hatred and regret?

My Mother and I, 2003.
We have our arms around each other, looking straight in the camera, on a sunny day. Our smiles are exactly the same. I'm squeezing her tight. It's hard to tell who is the mother and who is the daughter. For most of our lives, this identity crisis on traditional mother-daughter roles has been a barrier between us.

Me, 2005.
Only my head is above water. I am hanging on with one hand to a black inner-tube and the water is rippling around me. This was my first weekend away from our new baby. It was also my first dip back in the soothing water after motherhood. I have a ton more questions, but the photo is snapped in mid-sentence.

These are my inspiration photos -- the photos that remind me, I guess, that we're all human, including mothers. We make mistakes. We mess up our lives. We even mess up our kids' lives. Some of us put on sombreros and dance to survive, while others build walls that no one can penetrate. Some of us hold on tight with all our being and big ole' smiles, while others just barely have their head above water.

The only thing we have in common is God's unfailing love for us. Oh, and of course, the fact that we're all in this together....ready or not.