Friday, July 29, 2022

Eulogy for Mom (August 10, 2019)

Not that long ago, Mom remarked that she lived for weekends. It’s a sentiment many of us can relate to, but one might wonder, “Why would an 87-year-old woman live for weekends? At that point in your life, isn’t every day the weekend?”

If you think about it, though, it really isn’t that hard to understand. Friday night,  my husband Dan would pick her up after work and bring her to our house, where we would enjoy a quiet evening of take-out and Netflix. The weekend would end with us gathering together either at my sister Katie’s house or ours for Sunday dinner. Again, nothing fancy, just three generations gathered together to share food and conversation.

You see, it wasn’t actually the weekend that Mom lived for; it was family. 

And that shouldn’t surprise any of us, for Mom devoted her whole life to family. She lovingly raised five children and played an essential role in the raising of her grandchildren.  Dan and I had already moved to Rocklin when Jared was born, but Mom was there waiting for us when we got home from the hospital to calmly reassure me during those first days of motherhood that all the strange newborn sounds he was making were perfectly normal. She adored her grandchildren and gladly spent many hours taking care of them, feeding them, and crawling down the hallway playing cars with them. 

Throughout our lives, Mom was the one constant in this crazy world. She was always there when you needed her. On holidays, you never had to wonder what you were going to do. Dinner was at Mom’s at 2:00. Want to bring a date? No problem. Everyone was graciously welcomed and made to feel right at home.

Mom didn’t like conflict and was pretty good at keeping her opinions to herself. She would let us screw up on our own, support our decisions no matter how stupid they were, then quietly welcome us back when we realized our mistake. But she did have good advice when we were willing to listen. My favorite was what she told me at my bridal shower. Everyone was asked to give their best advice for a happy marriage. The first words out of Mom’s mouth were, “There will be days you will hate him.” Not exactly what I was expecting her to say. (By the way, Mom loved Dan, so this was in no way a reflection on him.)  Fortunately, she didn’t stop there, and went on to explain that those feelings pass and you remember again why you married in the first place. Mom was pretty smart. Dan and I have been married 21 years now, and there may have been a time or two when we realized just how right Mom was.

I read an essay recently about motherhood that reflected on the sacrifices mothers make for their children, sacrifices that often go unnoticed. The author begins by lamenting the fact that she feels invisible having sacrificed the person she once was for the sake of motherhood. After reading a book about cathedrals, she concludes 

As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible mothers.


I’m not sure my brother, sisters, and I could be considered “great cathedrals,” but when I read this, I thought about Mom and all the sacrifices she made for us. I’m sure there were times that she felt unnoticed and unappreciated. But the thing is, I don’t think she would consider any of the things she did for us as sacrifices. In her mind, they were just the things that mothers do.

My son Jared just turned 17 and begins his senior year of high school on Wednesday. When I was his age I couldn’t wait to move out and get away from Mom and Dad. Of course, now I can’t remember why that was. I obviously had it pretty good, but I guess I longed for the freedom and independence that seems so tantalizing at that age. I couldn’t wait to get away, and yet that first year of college my long distance phone bills averaged $200 a month because I was constantly calling Mom. I learned pretty quickly that freedom and independence aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, and sometimes you just need your mom.

And it’s both frightening and comforting to realize that never changes, no matter how old you get. I wasn’t - I’m not - ready to live in a world without my mother. But I know that while I may not have been ready to let go, Mom was. When she was in the hospital the last time and found out that she had fractured a vertebra, she asked what did it matter, she was just an old woman and Dad was gone and he wasn’t coming back. When I protested that she still had us, she responded that she loved us all very much, but we had our own lives to live. 

Even though she was willing to let go, she was still worried about the ones she would leave behind. Katie was with Mom when the chaplain came to visit her a week before she died. When he asked if there was anything she wanted to pray for, she had one response: my children. With Mom, her first concern was always her family.

In the book, “Cry, Heart, but Never Break,” the figure of Death looks kindly at a group of children who have just lost their beloved grandmother and says, “ Cry, Heart, but never break. Let your tears of grief and sadness help begin new life.” There have been many tears these last few weeks and I know there will be many more in the weeks and months ahead as we come to terms with the fact that our mother, our grandmother, the woman who has always been there when we needed her is no longer here. And while the tears will reflect all that we have lost, may they also remind us of all that we have been given, so that we may continue to live and laugh and love the way Mom would want us to. May we find comfort, too, in the one thing that meant the most to Mom: family.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Endings

Today brings to a close my seventh year of participating in the Slice of Life Story Challenge. Each year, it seems, I learn something new. 

As I reflect today on this year's experience, it seems only fitting to be writing about endings. Endings were my biggest challenge this year. Sometimes the endings flowed naturally. Sometimes I knew how a piece was going to end before I even knew how it would begin. More times than I was comfortable, though, I sat and stared at the computer, wondering what on earth I was going to write to wrap it up. I'd type a sentence, backspace it away, and try something else, which often ended up being erased as well.

One day I was so frustrated, I posted on Facebook, "Looking for an ending. If anyone has any to spare, please send them my way. I've got a deadline!" Several friends and family members offered suggestions, which didn't really help me out with my piece of writing (I never did come up with an ending I liked for that one), but their suggestions lightened my mood and got me thinking.

One friend shared an old standby for elementary students: "And that's my story. I hope you liked it. The End." I laughed when I read it because it was all too true. How many stories had I read with exactly that ending? Whenever I encountered it while I was grading assignments, I would groan out loud and wonder why they wrote such a terrible ending. Weren't they paying attention when I taught them about writing conclusions in class?

Wasn't I payimg attention? Because here I am with 242 published blog posts and I still have trouble occasionally writing a satisfying ending. Why is that? 

It's really no great mystery. Each piece of writing is unique. How you conclude a piece depends on so many different variables and those variables change from piece to piece. It's no wonder that students fall back on something they know, something that gets the job done. 

For the first time, it occurred to me that as painful as that particular conclusion is, these students at least recognized what a conclusion was and that their piece of writing needed one. More practice and studying how experts do it will give them the opportunity to do better in the future. But, as I can attest, it most likely will always be challenging.

And that is one of the things I love about taking part in this month-long challenge each year. It reminds me just how difficult writing can be. That even experienced writers have bad days and struggle to find the right words to put their thoughts together. Even experienced writers are tempted to slap "The End" to their story just to be finished.

It is this renewed perspective that I bring back to the classroom each year. Knowing that the struggle is real. Knowing that when you care about what you're writing about, you're willing to work harder on it. Knowing that every piece isn't going to be perfect, but there is good to be found in each one. Knowing that endings can be hard, be they in writing or in life, but invariably they lead us to a place where we can begin something new.



Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Bear Hunting


 

Last summer, like a lot of people, my husband, son, and I began to get a little stir-crazy. (My younger son, not my older one; sometimes I wasn't sure the older one actually knew there was a pandemic.) My younger son and I had been home since the schools had closed their doors in mid-March. My husband, a grocery store manager, had been working extra hours and under rather insane conditions, what with all the toilet paper hoarding and all. We decided that what we needed was to get out of town and go bear hunting.

It was mid-July, when the temperatures in the Sacramento Valley can get pretty unbearable. (See what I did there?) An escape to the cooler temperatures of Lake Tahoe were welcome relief. Actually, just being in the car heading out of town was a relief. I didn't really care where we were going as long as we were going somewhere.

We had a good idea where we could find some good bear hunting. We had seen many of them gathered across the street from our favorite pizza place in South Lake Tahoe, so that was where we headed first. Sure enough, there were what seemed like hundreds of the them standing around, like they were just waiting for us to show up.

My husband, son, and I walked around, looking for just the right one. Finally, we found one we could all agree upon. He was about the right size and he had a sweet little grin on his face. He looked like he would be pleasant company. I was a little hesitant at first, though, about the sign he was carrying. "Go away," it said. I had imagined something a little more welcoming . . . like "Welcome" for instance. But my son convinced me that this was the one. Once I thought about it, I came to appreciate the humor in it.

My son decided that we should name this bear Jeff. So, we put Jeff in the car, fastened his seat belt, and headed back home, thoroughly satisfied with the success of our bear hunting trip.

All strapped in, ready to go
It's been almost a year now since Jeff came to live with us. We brought him in to hibernate for the winter, but now that the weather is warming he seems quite content in more natural surroundings. 

Jeff seems to like his new home.
I think we can all agree that 2020 was a pretty messed up year. But there were some bright spots and one of them for our family was Jeff.


Monday, March 29, 2021

Dear Mrs. Regan

The plan was to not look at work email at all during Spring Break. That lasted for about one day. Checking email is a bit of a compulsion for me, I admit. I regretted not having greater control last week when I discovered a notification of a Covid case at school. Yesterday, however, I came across this gem in my inbox that reminded me of why I love teaching.

Mrs. Regan I don't like the way my writing assignment is going on making a yummy lunch. I decided to do a new one on making a yummy breakfast. I have a pretty good Idea in my mind. I only have one question though for the topics related to the main idea: do you have to describe the topic or put the ingredients?

There is so much I love about this, aside from the fact that during Spring Break a third grader was actually thinking about an assignment we began a couple of weeks ago. 

First, there's the "I don't like the way my writing assignment is going." Ironically, I was working on my own piece of writing when I read this, and I didn't like the way mine was going either. In class, this student had dissolved into tears while planning her writing, so not liking the way it was going was a bit of an understatement. To me, her comment shows honest reflection and a real commitment to her writing.

Next, I love the way she boldly states, "I decided to do a new one." She doesn't ask, she tells. This is a writer who has identified a problem and knows how she wants to solve it. More importantly, she feels empowered to do so.

Finally, I love the statement, "I have a pretty good idea in my mind." This shows me that she has begun to think through her writing in her head and feels confident about what she wants to say. 

Now, I realize that this is just one out of twenty students. I'm certain the other 19 haven't given a passing thought to their writing or anything else we have been working on. But this one has. One out of twenty may not seem like much, but I'll take it. 



Sunday, March 28, 2021

Today


Today

I leave my worries behind

and follow a road winding west.

Where it ends

gentle waves break upon the sand.

A horizon, murky and uncertain, 

stretches above an ocean dressed in battleship gray.

My footsteps trace the water's edge

but it is a feeling of peace that washes over me

Today.






Saturday, March 27, 2021

Sweet Dreams

It seems like I've been having more than my fair share of bizarre dreams lately. Analyzing the one I had the other night, I think it would be fair to say that, while I may have managed to gain control over my stress during the day, it still haunts me at night.

My dream two nights ago began with some kind of meeting with the teachers at my school. None of the people in my dream are my actual coworkers, but I accept them as such.. I must arrive late, because everyone else is already sitting in chairs arranged in a semi-circle. I don't remember if I say something first, but a teacher a few chairs down from me looks at me and says, "You look like your whole body is falling apart." Ouch.

"Fuck you," I respond, standing up and starting to walk away.

There must have been some gasps because I recognize they are shocked by my response. Over my shoulder I call back, "When you say something like that, don't be surprised if you don't get a polite response."

I arrive at my classroom, which looks nothing like my actual classroom, to find a campus supervisor, who looks nothing like any of the actual campus supervisors at my school, watching my kids. I notice he and many of the kids have their masks pulled down below their chins. He speaks to me, but I don't remember what he says. I'm probably too distracted by the maskless faces around me.

Then, "Nick" walks in. He doesn't have a mask at all. When I tell him to put a mask on, he shakes his head. I ask if he has one and explain, like I have so many times in real life, that it's a rule that everyone wears a mask over their nose and mouth on campus. 

It is about this time that I become aware of a woman standing behind him. I recognize her in my dream as his mother although this woman looks nothing like his mom in real life. She, too, is maskless.

"How are you feeling?" I ask, aware that she has recently been sick.

She leans toward me and says quietly, "He has the cough Covid, but he's treating it with cough drops."

She has a big smile and she coyly shrugs her shoulders as if she's just shared the cutest thing ever.

I am horrified.

"He can't be here! If you have symptoms, and a cough is a symptom, you can't come to school," I say.

She doesn't seem to take me seriously and continues to talk about other things. I seem to remember at one point she pulls out a book and starts pointing to different recipes that she has tried. All the while, she is dipping her head and lifting one shoulder, then the other, as she shifts her weight from one side to the other. I begin to wonder if she's on drugs.

"You need to go to the office. Maybe I don't have all the information and they'll know the right questions to ask," I say. I doubt this is true, but I am desperate to get her and her son with the "cough Covid" out of my room.

Sadly, I don't remember what happened after that. And while my husband and I got a good laugh when I shared it with him in the morning, I'm really hoping my return to school after Spring Break bears no resemblance to this crazy scenario created by what must be a deeply troubled subconscious!



Friday, March 26, 2021

A Laugh to Start the Day

This morning I woke up around 3:30, sneezing. I got up, blew my nose, and hoped that would be the end of it, but no, as soon as I was back in bed, it began again. Why was I sneezing in the middle of the night? The random thought that a spider or some other creepy crawly had found its way into my nasal passages sprang from my all too vivid imagination. There was no going back to sleep after that. Not wanting to disturb my husband with the racket I was making, I grabbed my pillow and a blanket and headed downstairs.

It wasn't until just before daylight that I finally fell back to sleep. I awoke not much later to noises of doors opening and closing upstairs and to the sounds of cats doing something they surely needed to be scolded for. I was surprised, however, that neither my husband nor son had appeared in the kitchen. Thinking that maybe they were simply trying to let me sleep, I decided I had better go upstairs and let them know that I was in fact awake.

When I reached the top of the stairs, I could see that my bedroom door was open a crack. I figured my husband had opened it so Benny and Emma, two of our cats, could have a conversation. I was surprised, however, when a hand, most definitely human in form, reached out through the opening. I recognized it instantly as the hand of my younger son, Jack. He must have gone into my room to visit Emma and was attempting to play with Benny.

To be funny, I reached my hand in and quickly withdrew it. The joke was on me, though, as there was no response. I leaned over to peak inside my room. Sure enough, there was Jack sitting on the floor next to the door. His head, though, was bent down and he had his AirPods in, which explained why he hadn't reacted when I had reached my arm into the room. I reached in again, only this time I made a brain-sucking motion on top of his head. I saw him turn his head to the interior of the room as I retreated. I imagined he was expecting to see his father behind him. It must have been a surprise to see his dad still lounging on the bed.

"What?" I heard him mutter quietly, his voice imbued with utter confusion.

That's when I burst out laughing and revealed myself. Jack's eyes said, "How could you, Mom?" but the smile that could not be fully contained despite his best efforts said, "Well played, Mom. Well played."