Friday, May 20, 2011

Ode to an old friend.

When I think of the two of us as kids, the first word that springs to mind is “dirt.”  We always seemed to be dirty, and barefoot, as one of your brothers reminded me today.  Old pictures of you and me, age 3, age 4, age 5…we look like members of the Little Rascals during the depression. Who were those raggedy, forsaken little ruffians?  Our moms were friends, our brothers were friends, and we were the same age, and the babies in our families…we were meant to be best friends early in childhood.  We played, and played hard, hence all the dirt.  I don’t remember if it was your brother or mine who coined the phrase, “Jane and Matthew, what a pair! Dirty face and dirty hair!”  Hey, the shoe fit. The pictures of us at that stage make me laugh, both of us in our 70’s bell bottoms, you with the blond hair and bright blue eyes, me with the dreadful bowl haircut and a freckled face.  We didn’t know what the future held for either of us, we just wanted to have fun.

Before I even got to your house, I remember the WALK to your house from mine.  Three houses south from my house on Michigan Ave.,  past the creepy one covered in vines that I never saw anyone come in or out of, around  the corner past the fence with the mean, yappy little dog.  I remember an older lady yelling at me for making her dog bark.  In retrospect, I’m terribly sorry, ma’am, for using the sidewalk.  A couple more houses down on Bell was the one on the corner that had a stone wall.  Across the street at the corner of Mar Vista, and one more house north, was yours.

I can see the steps to your front door, and the entrance to the living room.  We never spent much time in there and some of the furniture was covered in plastic.  At one point, when we were a little older, I remember being told one of the couches in there was called a “loveseat” and that made me embarrassed and curious, since I’d never heard the term before.  What was supposed to occur on that seat?  The next room was the kitchen/dining area where we’d sit sometimes and not do our homework.  Down the short hallway there was a bathroom on the left, and then your parent’s room.  Near the other end of the kitchen by the back door, were steps leading upstairs to two bedrooms and a bathroom… was that the attic at one point?  What else were your parents to do with FOUR boys?  Numerous sleepovers occurred in that upstairs room, a gaggle of boys and one unkempt, squirrelly little girl. Come to think of it, our connection with your family is probably a huge part of the reason I was such a tomboy…I didn’t really have much of  a choice.

Out the back door was this planet of backyard, or at least it seemed so to me at the time.  To the right was some sort of large room with huge windows, maybe originally intended to be a rec room.  As your brothers grew older, they each moved into this detached “apartment” of their own, somewhat of a bachelor pad since you could access it without going through the main house.  The cement in front of the garage was the site of water fights, chalk drawings, and army men battles.  Around the oak tree and around the garage, there was a shed on the left that held the washer and dryer, but it always scared me a little.  It was covered in ivy and the room itself was probably lousy with spiders, and I avoided it at all costs.  Beyond the shed was even more yard with another big tree and tons of space to play.  I remember sitting and playing in the dirt with you for hours, with sticks and strings and our hands.  I loved your house, and remember it vividly.  I felt I belonged there, I felt like it was mine too.  We played wiffle ball in the middle of the street.  My girl-ness was never an issue with you or your three brothers, but I do remember the one day there were some other boys playing, and one yelled, “Why don’t you go home and play with your dolls?” You did not join in the teasing, but you didn’t rush to my defense either, and I understand why.  In front of your other guy friends, you had to save face. I walked home, crushed, but also incensed!  Dolls??  Who the hell had dolls?  I never had or liked playing with dolls, even at my girlfriend’s houses.  When I was a little older, I asked for that decapitated Barbie head you could put makeup on and do her hair.  I don’t remember what sparked our motivation to do so, but the two of us ended up fully vandalizing and defacing that poor head.  It was as though you were saying, “Barbie?  Really? That’s not who you are!”  And it wasn’t, it never has been.

There is lore I don’t remember, such as the story of me being so jealous that all of you boys could pee standing up in the backyard that I just dropped my pants and went for it one day.  I don’t recall this event, but all things considered, I’d bet that actually happened.  One time when we were a little older, you were over at our house and we were arguing, God knows about what. Actually, I was probably the only one arguing. I was around ten by then, and entering my moody stage, which I’m all too familiar with now since I have a ten year old girl of my own.  You weren’t sure what to do with this new side of me, you only had brothers. I remember, as my mother does, you saying, slightly exasperated, “Do you want to fight or do you want to play?”  It was simple to you, and you weren’t having any of my theatrics. We played that day.  Come to think of it, we never fought.  You just didn’t have it in you, it was as though you didn’t see the point of meanness or fighting.  There was some good natured teasing, which we both did, about both of our middle names and that kind of thing, but never anything that was ever actually hurtful.

When we were ten, my mom was involved in an organization called CALC (Clergy and Laity Concerned), and they were having a convention in Tennessee.  It was decided that we would drive there one summer, in her Toyota Tercel.  I was so glad to have your company on that crazy, insane drive!  Along with my mom, was an intern of hers, named Todd.  Todd ended up marrying my sister years later.  Todd had an interesting habit of singing to himself almost constantly, and it wasn’t always a tune you could actually follow…can you kind of hum and mumble jazz?  That’s the best way I could describe it, and he does it to this day at times.  That summer though, during my moody 10th year, I thought it was going to drive me completely insane.  We were trapped in this tiny car, driving across the country with this odd young man who wouldn’t stop mumbling jazz.  Thank GOD I had your company!  I remember we attempted to camp, and my mom quickly discovering that you can’t really camp in the South without a tent like we could in California.  Within minutes, we were all being eaten alive by mosquitoes and had to sleep in the car that night.  We stayed in a few motels, and I believe that was my first time staying in a motel because I remember being fascinated that we didn’t have to make the bed.  We laughed like crazy when we went through a town called “Bucksnort.”  That was the funniest thing we had ever heard, and just the word would put us in stitches. Who in the world would think that was a good name for a town?  For years following, we debated which state it had been in, I said Oklahoma, and you said Arkansas.  We didn’t have the Internet then, but I’ve checked. We were both wrong, it was in Tennessee.  At one point on the trip, we were staying with friends and I heard you quietly crying at night.  I didn’t want to embarrass you because I knew you didn’t want anyone to hear, but my mom heard and asked if you were okay.  You missed your mom.  You were always such a sweet, sensitive soul. It was also around this period of time, shortly after I believe, that you lost your father.  I didn’t know what to say to you.  Oddly enough, I remember the dress I wore to the funeral.  I had to borrow it from one of our housemates since I was on the tall side for my age and because as an avid tomboy, didn’t own a dress.  I was sad for you, for all of you, but what does a child say to another child who has lost a parent?  Looking back, I’m just glad I was there.

The early 1980’s brought in a flood of new technology that blew our young minds.  Your family acquired the most amazing thing I had ever seen in my life…the video game Pong. A game you could play on the television!  And you could control it with dials you held in your hand to make the lines on the screen move!  It was incredible.  Then came Pac-Man, but we had to go to arcades to play that.  We spent a lot of time and quarters in those arcades, Pac-Man, Centipede, Frogger, and Donkey Kong were amongst our favorites.  We went to Catalina Island one time with my mom, I can’t remember if it was a day trip or a camping trip, because we did both.  On this particular trip though, I don’t think either of us saw the light of day.  On a beautiful, glittering day on this lovely island, we were slaves to Avalon’s video arcade.  The sun hurt our eyes when we finally emerged.  You also had the very first cable TV system, which was an enormous box that sat on top of your television, and was called “ON” TV.  There were movies on it, but there weren’t channels like there are now.  Heck, I’m not even sure remote controls were out yet, we still had to change the channels on a dial by hand.

As we grew older, we started to drift a little bit.  You went to Catholic school, I was in public school.  We started to have different friendships.  However, we still remained pretty tight until middle school.  Around the age of 11 or 12, I got a new “stereo” for Christmas and it had to be assembled.  It had a turntable of course, and may have had a tape deck.  It also had two huge speakers, and you came over to help me figure it out.  I remember fumbling with two pieces of plastic, not being able to figure out what the hell they were for.  I tried to put them together like a puzzle, that didn’t work.  I tried to attach them to the stereo itself somehow, that wasn’t it.  You very calmly watched me as I struggled trying to solve this mystery and you said, “This is kind of like watching the monkeys at the zoo when they’re trying to figure something out.”  Nothing could have been more funny, or accurate.  I remain, to this day, totally and completely spatially impaired, and I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard your voice saying that when I’ve been struggling trying to figure out how to put something together! I can't even fit my shoes back into the shoebox in the right way so they'll both fit without several tries. Those two plastic pieces ended up being stands the speakers were to rest upon, but you were the one who eventually put me out of my misery and figured it out.

As the years went on, we lost touch somewhat, but would see each other at various events, like your brother’s wedding or parties for mutual friends of our mothers.  I heard you’d graduated high school and joined the Army. Many years passed and I heard you’d moved to Fresno and were going to college.  I was proud of you.  A few years ago, I heard that you’d gotten married and was so happy to hear that you’d found someone to spend your life with.  Last year when my father died, I can’t even express to you how much it meant to have you make the effort to come all the way down to Pasadena for his memorial.  I wish I’d had the chance to thank you more than I probably did.  Before that, I have no idea how many years had passed since we’d actually seen each other in person.  Maybe 15 or 20 years had gone by, but you made it, you were there for our family.  And you were the same sweet, good natured person I always knew, without a mean bone in your body.

When I received the email from my mother last Monday that you’d died suddenly, I didn't want to open it.  I could only read, "I'm sad to tell you that Matthew..."and my heart just stopped. I was praying you were in the hospital, or had been in an accident, nothing permanent.  It didn’t seem possible, you were only 40. I was still at work, and I opened the email and burst into tears, and my head was swimming.  What happened, were you sick?  Thank goodness you and your wife didn’t have children so they didn’t have to experience losing a father young, as you had to.  Then I felt badly that you hadn’t had children because your wife would be alone.  Oh my God, your mom…your brothers!  This can’t be happening.  You were a constant, a presence in my life that was always to remain, even if we rarely saw each other.

Today at your funeral, I got to meet your beautiful wife and her family.  She and I clicked quickly, and she told me about meeting you and how you were so nice, she thought you had to be too good to be true.  So she’d test the waters, asking you if it was okay if she went out with her guy friends.  Your response was "sure."  She remained in a state of semi-disbelief, that you could be such a genuinely kind, sweet, and happy person. This didn't surprise me at all, but it did make me smile.  That was you.  The person you were at 6 was the same person you were as an adult. She also told me that you used to carry Cheez-Its around in the pocket of your shirt, which made me burst out laughing.  Some things never change.  I thank God she got to spend the last ten years with you, and the last five as your wife.  You were a lucky man.  I was touched beyond belief when both she and her sister knew immediately who I was as soon as introductions were made.  “This is Matt’s Jane!”  That nearly killed me, with joy and sadness. I was amazed that you held me in such high regard.  I love that you remembered me as being such a huge part of your life as much as I remember you to have been in mine.  Today, it was incredibly hard to see your family in such pain and shock.  It was the weird, mixed feeling I had at my dad’s memorial…I was so happy to see everyone, but my dad was gone.  I was so happy to see your family, my second childhood family, but the circumstances were incredibly tragic.

In the last couple of years I’ve been doing a lot of thinking…about life, getting older, and losing people.  I’ve fully accepted that life is an incredible gift, and no one knows how long we have.  I’m so saddened that your life ended so soon, Matt.  It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.  At the same time, I feel so blessed to have had you in my life, during my childhood, and to have been “Matt’s Jane.”  I wouldn’t have been the same person without you.  The question you asked me all those years ago has a different meaning to me now.  I can still see your sweet round face with your ice blue eyes rolling slightly as you asked, “Do you want to fight or do you want to play?”  Thank you, Matt.

I want to play.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Education in California. REALLY???? You should be ashamed.

I'm just plain heartsick right now, I don't know another way to explain it.  For all of us in our school district, we've known that things have been bleak for some time now, although it appears to get worse and worse every year.  Last school year we all had to take 9 furlough days, I know other districts had to take more.  We also dealt with layoffs, increased class sizes, and virtually no resources.  In a way I didn't think it could get worse, but it has.

Initial pink slips went out to employees in our district who would possibly be laid off in March.  Many were rescinded, but today, a number of teachers I work with and consider friends got the final notification that they're out of a job.  There are a lot of factors that go into deciding who gets laid off, but seniority is one of them.  The irony here is that some of the most talented, dedicated, and effective teachers ARE the newer ones, the younger ones, the ones with tons of energy and enthusiasm.  This is not to say that I don't know a number of fabulous teachers that work their asses off too, but are on the older side and have done it for longer.  But allow me to describe some of the teachers I know of who will be out of a job as of June 30th.  A teacher who worked  SO closely with me on a particular case that she and I were talking and texting after hours and weekends, just to keep each other informed about this child.  A teacher that decided that starting an after school tutoring group would be a great idea, and who implemented it...for FREE.  She herself, has a large family and children of her own to take care of, but is so concerned about our kids who need help that she was willing to volunteer her time.  Another is so crazy, active, and dynamic that his kids can't take their eyes off him.  He's creative, bright, and inventive, and pretty much defines thinking outside of the box.  Another teacher, who no matter what is going on, can make me laugh until tears stream down my face.  This is such a waste of incredible gifts and talent!   In addition, we're losing numerous secondary counselors.  How is that going to work?  We all know that our kids in middle school and high school don't need any guidance or TLC, right?  Not with the average age of girls becoming sexually active at 14 or so, not with kids just smoking weed on campuses with no regard to rules, or meth becoming a regular past time, not with school dances beginning to resemble porn movies.  They'll be just fine.  Right?

Truly legislators, WTF??? 

Some may think I'm grandstanding a tad, and that I really have no right to be so angry because I still have my job. The truth is that I am  protected as a school psychologist, because we're tied to special education and federal mandates.  But I'll tell you what...there is no way I will be able to do my job as well, or as effectively without these talented people in my midst.  Nope, not possible, not without the support of these amazing people.  I have never worked as hard in 14 years as I have these past two years, and I truly believe part of the reason is I've been trying to rise to the level of the dedication of these teachers. I'm blessed with two children who appear to learn fairly easily, at least so far.  However, I'm so concerned about the kids who struggle...and it's going to get worse

There are some delightful people in our society who appear to feel that teaching is a piece of cake, a "part time job".  One particular schmuck on Fox news claimed his mother was a teacher for 20 years and was done with her day at 2pm, and he remembers shopping with her the rest of the day.  (sidenote to my right wing friends, this is one schmuck).  On his show, Jon Stewart, the source of all good things, showed the clip of him saying this and replied, "Hmm.  My mom was a teacher and I have vivid memories of her bringing work home, and she worked her ass off.  Maybe YOUR mom was a shitty teacher."  I can't express how much I loved that statement.  For that schmuck, whose name escapes me, I challenge you.  Take a trip up to South Sacramento and just make a one day attempt to teach in an elementary school.  What will you do when a 3rd grader tells you to "fuck off"?  What will you do when you bring this to the parent's attention, you're accused of racism?  Or, even better, take a trip to the other areas I've worked in South Stockton.  Good times to be had there.  Go ahead, work in the school that was smack dab in the middle of the projects, and it was common knowledge that when it began to get dark, you LEAVE.  Why?  Because a number of people who live there get their kids off to school (or not), sleep all day, and then wake up and start partying.  This is not a stereotype, this is a true story I got from a parent who was working her  ass off to get her own children out of that environment.  How will you deal with the parent who tells you sadly that she can't afford a new pair of glasses for her son who is damn near blind and rides his bike to school, only to see her drive off in her brand new Escalade?  How will you respond when you ask a 2nd grader what he'd like to become when he grows up and he confidently replies with a shrug, "I'm just gonna sit on the couch and get my check!"  Go ahead, Sir Schmuck, give it a try.  Then there are the schools in the wealthier areas, I'm sure that would be a relief, correct sir?  Well, those parents have lawyers, and they aren't afraid to use them.  Any lack of achievement by their child is your  fault, and they will email you every single day  without fail, sometimes several times a day to make sure their precious Johnny is receiving the lion's share of your attention.  To hell with the 25 other students in the class, NO other child is more important than their darling Johnny, who more often than not is a totally spoiled hell raiser.  How easy and "part-time" is this job now, Schmuck?

Teachers do NOT go into this profession to have extra time off, and sure as shit don't do it for the money.  They do it because they genuinely care about the future of our kids.  And right now, California is chipping away, fairly rapidly, at our children's access to fabulous teachers.  Supplemental programs?  Drama, GATE (which I had my own child tested for today when there was no logical reason to), art, know, those things we looked forward to as kids?  GONE.  It's all about test scores now, and this is not the fault of the teachers.  There was a recent quote that stated California "ranking 49th out of 50 states is an indication of the state's deteriorating educational status in recent decades."  This is an excerpt of "California at the Edge of a Cliff" by Thomas G. Mortenson.  But wait...Californians are supposed to be offense to any other states, but we're worse than, let's say, West Virginia??  Are we in Bizzaro World?  Isn't California the home of Stanford, Cal, UCLA, and Cal Tech??  How is this happening?  Well...perhaps, just perhaps, it may be due to the fact that we're axing awesome teachers, and narrowing the scope of what they can teach until it's as thin as a frayed, uninteresting thread.  It's criminal.  Our children are the ones who will suffer the most, and it's dreadful.

My dear, late father taught high school speech and debate for 37 years, and is no doubt quite disgruntled by these turns of events.  He made a difference .  At his memorial, older men would approach me and tell me that he kept them from killing themselves, getting hooked on drugs, and helped them become lawyers and lobbyists.  They graduated before I was BORN.  Now tell me how unimportant teachers are!  My own favorite AP 9th grade teacher made a tremendous impact on me, and initially I couldn't stand her.  I wanted to take regular English, I didn't feel like working that hard, but she refused to sign me out. You, dear Mrs. Ivory, wherever you are, taught me how to write and started my love of literature, which is a huge part of my soul now, at 41.  At the time, I was 14.  I remember watching her acting out the death scene in Hamlet with total horror...what a freak! Well, I love you, freak.  And I also love Ms. Hayes (3rd grade), may she rest in peace.  I love Mrs. Patterson (6th), Mrs. Ivory (9th), Mr. Moore (12th)...all of these individuals helped shape who I am. 

I am saddened beyond what I can express that I will no longer have the honor of working alongside these angels who sacrifice so much for our babies.  To my dear teacher friends who are facing this dreadful injustice...please do not think you haven't made a difference or are unappreciated.  I SO admire you, because I couldn't do what you do.  I don't expect this to be comforting right now, but I do believe that when one door closes, another opens.  I hope the one that opens involves children, because you are all gifted, and please follow your passions. My thoughts, prayers, and unwavering support are all with you.

California, wake up.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy Mother's Day

My mother is a very complicated person. It’s interesting the kind of perspective you get with time and age. She and my father’s divorce was final when I was 4, and she gained an independence that I think had been lurking in her for years, just waiting for a chance to emerge and be put into action. She is frighteningly intelligent, probably the brightest person in our family, a family of pretty damn smart people. She will scoff at this, but I really do believe it to be true. My mom is dedicated, passionate, stubborn, set in her ways, and will NOT be moved from her opinion. She’s a role model for SO very many other people, I can’t even count all of the people who have approached me over the years to tell me how inspirational she is, how much she’s helped them, and how lucky I am to have her as a mother. There were times that was a little bit difficult for me to reconcile…my mom doesn’t always connect in an outwardly emotive manner towards the ones she truly loves, her children and her family. It’s taken me years to understand and realize that just because she doesn’t express her feelings in the same way I do, or at length in the manner that I do (I am my father’s daughter), doesn’t mean that those emotions aren’t there. And it doesn’t make her love me less, she’s just shown it in different ways.

As my mom kind of got her “sea legs” as it were, she discovered the things that she felt passionately about. Justice. Peace. Fighting against having the MX Missile tested in a section of Nevada in which the Shoshone Native Americans lived. Talking about it now, she tells me how absolutely terrified she was at that time, and she truly believed we wouldn’t live to see adulthood. The Russians had the bomb, it was the height of the cold war, and she was truly scared. But instead of staying home and just staying blindly afraid, she did something. She demonstrated. She joined (and helped found?) an organization called CALC, Clergy and Laity Concerned. No one can organize like my mother when she’s got a bee in her bonnet about something. She worked really, really hard. From my perspective at the time, I felt cheated. She wasn’t home much. She made sure I had what I needed, but I wanted her time and attention and there were times when that just didn’t happen often enough for me. Now, I went with her on trips that had to do with her mission…when I was ten we drove all the way to Tennessee to a convention. I saw a great deal of the country. I got to take a childhood friend with me. Not exactly a vacation, but looking back now, I wouldn’t have changed it. However, perhaps that’s where my aversion to extremely long car rides stems from.

When I was in high school and my 20’s, our relationships had its highs and lows…we did have lovely times carved out for just the two of us, since my siblings were both out of the house by the time I was in high school. We went to see the ballet on a regular basis, which is one of the reasons I adore dance so much today. The American Ballet Theatre, The Joffrey Ballet, and the Dance Theatre of Harlem. That was our special time together, and we did it once or twice a year. One year, just by pure luck, we got front row seats to Giselle, put on by the American Ballet Theatre. Then over the loud speaker, it was announced that the lead dancer that night had been changed, and would be danced by….Mikhail Baryshnikov! In the front row!! I can’t remember how old I was, 15 or 16, but I believe we both squealed. That was one of those nights I will never forget. She would have been closing in on 50 at that time. When that beautiful man came out and danced the lead, and the entire audience audibly gasped at each leap, I looked over at my mother. She had the exact same expression I did that night. Wonder. Giddiness. Awe. She looked so young that night. She looked like me. We also took one day each year to play hooky and went to Catalina Island for the day. We’d walk around Avalon, eat a lovely lunch, sit on the beach and relax…sometimes we’d fish. These were awesome things she did for and with me, and I don’t know if she knows how fondly I remember them now.

When I began high school, she had a calling. In addition to working full time, she joined seminary in Claremont to become an Episcopal priest. At the time to me, it seemed like it came out of nowhere, but my mother always had a deep spiritual life, I just didn’t really know about it. I remember long timelines, written on butcher paper taped up to the walls for her to memorize. I remember her having to learn to read the Bible in Greek. In short, she busted her ass, I don’t even know when she slept. There were nice evenings when the house was quiet, we’d light a fire, she would make homemade bread (which I can still smell and was so good it just needed a little butter and it tasted like cake), and we would sit in the living room together and study to classical music. This didn’t happen as often as it might have, as my high school grades will attest to. But when it did, it was lovely. Calm. Peaceful. And we were both working towards something, together. It felt good.

However, as is the case with most teenage girls, I didn’t feel like my mom had the foggiest idea who I was, and I knew for a fact she didn’t know what I was up to. Sneaking out…drinking. Drinking a LOT. Ditching class like it was my job. For some of this time, we had housemates, people who lived with us, renting out the available rooms. There was communal money for food, and it was kept in a red Chinese silk coin purse in a drawer in the buffet in our dining room. My best friend and I would often ditch school, run home, grab a $20, and go have pizza. We never bought booze with it, because we had another way to acquire that for free. I’ll leave that story out for now. My mom also didn’t really understand the things that were important to me…growing up in the 80’s in Pasadena, I was into makeup, clothes, jewelry…girly crap. Well, as a matter of fact, I’m still into makeup and clothes! It’s just part of who I am. I think she was baffled, and as a result, would sometimes let some snide remarks fly, and my sister, 8 years my senior, would often join in. I wasn’t innocent either though, and there were a lot of arguments.

I wrote a story a long time ago that I need to find. When we were growing up in Pasadena, we had roaches in our kitchen. Disgusting of course, but seemingly, oddly normal at the time. When we’d enter the darkened kitchen and turn a light on, the whole countertop would scurry. I would scream like the girl I was…my mother, unruffled by my theatrics would give me a quick eye roll, and then charge in with her teeth clenched, smacking as many roaches as she could get to with her bare hands. I would watch in a combination of horror and admiration…there really wasn’t much she was afraid of, truly. She was the spider killer. She was the person who set the rat traps in the basement. Years later when she was ordained, I walked up to the altar and she put those same hands on my head and gave me a beautiful blessing, and I felt it. The same hands that could wipe out a dozen cockroaches with pure ferocity in about 30 seconds. When I left home, I would often become hurt by my mom’s lack of contact with me. She wouldn’t often call me at college, send me care packages, or letters to just check in. It made me sad. I once brought it up to her and her response was, “You have my phone number.” Ouch. When I would get her on the phone, she didn’t want to hear about my life, she wanted to talk about her parishioners, and their children. I wanted my mom to be interested in me. But you know, not all moms are created equal, they aren’t cookie cutter, nor are they meant to be. It’s taken me a long time to recognize and accept this, and it really is okay. She does not like large, fancy gatherings. At my college graduation, she split before she ever saw me in my cap and gown because she was afraid of missing her plane…turns out she had plenty of time. At my wedding, she told me she was going to take off, and I asked her if she’d stay just a little longer so she could see us leave. She said no and left. It hurt my feelings. Through the years, I have truly felt like these things meant she didn’t care about me, or like me particularly. I understand now that it’s not the case…she absolutely loves me. She just does it differently than most, and shows it differently than most.

About three years ago, we had a dreadful, ugly falling out. I really wondered if our relationship could ever be repaired. At looking back over the things that transpired that weekend, I can pinpoint SO many things that I could have done differently. The root of so many of my problems with family members has come from me scrambling like a manic lunatic to please everyone else, doing things I don’t want to do, agreeing to things I disagree with, and just working myself into such a lather, staying silent, and then exploding. To the other people, it seems out of nowhere, because they aren’t mind readers, nor should they be expected to be. I exploded at my mother after plodding along, and not speaking up. Her feelings were truly hurt, but again, emotions and expressing them are areas that were difficult for her. So she really lashed out at me, and I was really messed up about it for a long time. However, since then, things have changed dramatically, and for the better. I set my boundaries, and they’re clear as day from the get go. If I’m asked to do something I don’t want to do, guess what? I say “no” instead of seething inside and giving myself a damn ulcer. And my dear mother, now in her 70’s has been nothing but sweet and supportive of me since we reconciled. It seems as though each year that goes by, it gets better. She’s told me I’m a wonderful mother (!). She’s told me I’m a talented writer (as she very much is). She’s backed me up in times of pain, helping me to put things in perspective. Once she’s spoken her mind though, she’s done….she doesn’t kick it after it’s dead like my dad and I did. She tells me she loves me, is proud of me, and knows I’m doing God’s work with the kids I work with every day. Granted, it was awkward when I got the phone call my dad had died, and she was visiting at the time. I just retreated into an odd zone in my mind…but mom just appeared somewhat flummoxed and paralyzed. Looking back, I feel bad for her position. It was as though she knew she should do or say something, but was just stuck, and was probably really concerned about possibly saying the wrong thing. So her nose started to bleed. She’ll probably maintain it’s because of the dry air up here, but she’d already been here for a couple of days and was fine. I believe her nose bled at the news that the father of her children had died, and not knowing what words to say, her body reacted instead.

So while not perfect, (and whose mother is, really?) I have learned so very much from her. She is strong. She follows her passions, and is supporting my writing, even though I warned some of it might hurt her feelings. She’s somewhat awestruck that all three of her children have successful marriages. She adores her grandchildren. And from a very young age, she truly did teach me how to care about people who had less than we did, and how to demonstrate that. I was too little to remember, but she told me that when busing started in the early 70’s, we made signs that said, “Welcome!!” for the black kids who were coming over to our neighborhood school, while some people were actually there to protest them coming. I was bused over to a school in a predominantly black neighborhood for K-3rd grade. Pssst…guess what? They’re just people! Equality, justice, fairness, and love for ALL people, regardless of race, money, sexual orientation, or religion…these are all things that my mom taught me. Dad did too, but mom was more active, more passionate, and more deliberate. Did her passions take time away from me as a child? Yes, they did. She may have done things a little differently if she could go back now, I don’t know. But the lessons are still there, and they stuck. And they are the ones that I am trying to teach to my own children, particularly my daughter who is old enough to understand. THIS is why we sent money to Japan. THIS is why I have never allowed myself to be mistreated by a man, nor will my daughter. THIS is why we’re becoming more involved and my 10 year old daughter is volunteering (appropriately) with an organization our church is involved in, rescuing and housing girls who have been trafficked for sex. THIS is why my children pray every night for people who have less than we do. Sure, we’re the parents, and we’re teaching them these things, and church helps. But that sense of justice, and what’s truly right and wrong, I get from my mother. And I don’t think I’ve ever told her that.

Thank you, mom. I love you. I'm proud of you. Happy Mother’ Day.