Mother’s Day, Served Cold and Rainy

I feel like I should tell you all about my first mother’s day as a mother. It was, however, fairly uneventful.

Last year, it was an absolutely train wreck with much crying in public. I remember it was a beautiful spring day with flowers in bloom and trees being… trees. I feel betrayed by the weather, because in my heart it didn’t feel like spring. I was missing my mom, conflicted about pregnancy, and unsure how I was going to do any of this without her.

This year, the weather again thumbed its nose at my internal emotions. Because this year, I was feeling okay. And this year, it was cold, rainy, and generally miserable.

There is a mother’s day tradition in my neighborhood– Lilac Sunday. The arboretum near by opens its gates to moms, dads, kids, and food trucks, and gives tours of the lilac collection which is usually in full bloom by this point. There is usually sunshine. There are usually people picnicking.

This year, it was a rainy mess, but we trudged on anyway. I mean, after spending a week in the rain with a 10 month old in Amsterdam, how much different could it be spending an afternoon in the rain with a 10 month old in my hometown?

Truthfully, not that different. Again Chick decided that strollers were for chumps and insisted on being carried. (You’d think I would learn…) This meant that one of us had to carry Chick, and the other one had to walk behind carrying an umbrella to make sure the Supreme Leader stayed dry. I felt like a Victorian manservant. (Note: That might be the title of my parenting memoir, were I to write one.)

After that, we came home. Chick and Mr. O napped. I went to the grocery store and made Chick’s dinners for the week. I won’t lie, there is a part of me that is extremely annoyed that those roles were not reversed. Then again, I got a few hours of quiet which was also a nice gift.

So there it was. Nothing too special, but then again I don’t think I wanted much more. What I struggle with is why. Is it because I don’t generally get amped about holidays? Is it because mother’s day represents one huge-festering sore, one part infertility and one part mom grief?

I do not cringe when I see pregnant women anymore. This is a fairly recent development- I would say that in the last few months I have had practically no twinges when friends or colleagues announce pregnancies. It feels like progress, something like acceptance of the emotional turmoil of last few years.

I now cringe when I see women with their mothers. I also cringe when I see women who would have been my mom’s age. Or who have her hair, which was once thick and black but gracefully turned salt-and-pepper gray.

This whole dead mom thing… that still aches. On mother’s day, and everyday.

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Mama Did it Better

The other day, my brother sent over a bunch of pictures from a trip my family took when I was three. These photos are all on slides (Remember those, boys and girls?) and as such have not been seen since that one time in 1984 when my dad rolled out the slide projector.

I don’t remember this trip at all. These photos did, however, serve two purposes.

1) Confirm that I was an adorable three year old. With the majority of the documented proof being on slides, this has often come up for debate.

2) Confirm that my mom looked amazing. When this picture was taken, my mom was 39 and the mother to three small children.

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I’m 37 with just one kid, and I look like an extra from The Walking Dead.

I wish I could call her and ask her what her secret was. Among so many other things.

 

Audacity

A few weeks ago, Mr. O and I watched Wild. (A big Saturday night for us now includes a movie that we may or may not watch all the way through. So far I’ve seen How to Train Your Dragon 2, Unbroken and now Wild, all in 20 minute increments. There is a lot of pausing when you’re also wrangling a 5 month old.)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the general plot, Wild is about a woman (Cheryl) who hikes the Pacific Coast Trail after her life hits the skids. By “hits the skids” I mean her mom dies, she becomes a heroin addict, and engages in otherwise destructive behaviors. The movie is really well done. Mad props to Reese Witherspoon. She did a beautiful job.

While Cheryl is hiking the trail, the movie flashes back to her past, to what brought her to the point where she is willing to hike 1,100 miles. A lot of it focuses on her relationship with her mom, which helps explain why her death was such an inflection point. Cheryl loses herself. Hiking the trail is what brings her back.

I had to find my own way out of the woods. It took me four years, seven months, and three days to do it. I didn’t know where I was going until I got there.

As corny as it sounds, I get this movie. I GET IT. These past few years have been just plain shitty for me, what with infertility, my mom dying and the resulting fallout from that. In the process, I’ve changed a lot. Not for the better, mind you. When I look back on who I was before, I really was fearless. Falling down didn’t scare me because I had so much faith in my ability to pick myself back up and move forward. I now know I can fall down — and just lay there devastated.

I liken what’s happened to repetitive stress injury, like my IT band strain from a few years ago. This is a really common running injury, so much so that it is often referred to as “Runner’s Knee.” On a day to day basis, I was fine. But over time, tiny stressors on my body resulted in a full-on strain that made it painful for me to walk. I remember vividly when I knew there was a problem. I went out for a 5 mile run, and 2 miles in I was crying on some stranger’s stoop because I quite literally couldn’t move. Months of PT later, I was okay. But even to this day, my IT band will give me drama if I’m pushing myself too hard, too soon.

That experience taught me the difference between “Ouch” and “Holy shit.” Emotionally, I’ve hit “Holy shit.”

I’ve changed. In real, tangible, not-great ways. I’m not trying to fix myself, to “go back” to who I was before. But I would like to find ways to live my life with less fear. Of not being afraid to fail.

I kept telling myself what I need is a BHAG. In office speak, that stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Like hiking the Pacific Coast Trail. Only not that because I’m not insane. I need to fix a target and aim for it. It doesn’t even matter to me if I make it. I just want to TRY. I want to want to try.

I’ve spent the past few weeks thinking about what this BHAG would be. Learning to bake bread? That seems too tiny. Running a marathon? Honestly, I don’t have the time for that right now. Every single idea I have seems too small or leaves me bored.

Moving to the other side of the country?

Now that feels about right…

When I was writing my mom’s obituary, I started off with the usual “Mom was born in Point A, died in Point Z.” This is how all obituaries start. I remember thinking my mom would never have guessed that she would end up where she did. Not that I thought she’d be disappointed. Just that when she was a kid in her small town, I don’t think she fathomed every where her life would go. You see, even if an obit tries to summarize a life by Point A and Point Z, I knew about all the points in between. Her life was full, even at times adventurous.

I need more points in between.

That feels big and audacious.

The Things We Carry

So I’m working on another post. It’s a little bit lofty and gnarly, and I have to wrestle with it a little until I figure out what point I’m trying to make.

In the meantime, I’ve been reading little bits and pieces from the interwebs about grief and loss.

(I know, I just had a BABY. I should be over the moon with my darling little boy, and sharing posts about how he is the apple of my eye, cherry pie, cake and ice cream. He is all those things. But I get to talk about those things whenever I want because people want me to be happy about having a baby. They don’t want to hear about how I’m still struggling with losing my mother 10 months ago. They don’t want to hear about how sometimes I cry at the sight of my kid because I know my mother will never meet him. This is, for better or worse, what anonymous blogs are for. Sharing the unsharable.)

Anyway, I’ve been reading stuff about grief and loss. Not in a formal way. It’s been what I’ve gravitated towards. Other new moms want to read about how to get a few hours sleep. I want to read about how to be sad. That seems unfair, but whatever… that’s just what the Universe smacked me with, and I’ve made peace with that.

A friend of mine from high school had a stillbirth several years ago. She was devastated. She continues to be devastated, even though she went on to have another beautiful, healthy, living child. She is open about the fact that she still mourns, and this to me is the bravest thing. It’s so “uncool” to be publicly sad, and I love that she tells everyone to screw themselves by openly talking about her grief.

The other day she shared this blog post, which included this nugget of wisdom:

Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.

HOLY shit, yes. I’m tired of people telling me that losing my mother will get “easier.” It hasn’t. Why should it? It doesn’t get easier to lose someone you love, to lose a life you loved, or a dream you had. There are some things that don’t go away. You have to learn to sit next to them and respect that a part of your heart will always hurt. Always.

The next bit of grief-related inspiration comes from a quote round up of Cheryl Strayed. (Ironically, my big gnarly post is also vaguely Cheryl Strayed related.)

If, as a culture, we don’t bear witness to grief, the burden of loss is placed entirely upon the bereaved, while the rest of us avert our eyes and wait for those in mourning to stop being sad, to let go, to move on, to cheer up. And if they don’t — if they have loved too deeply, if they do wake each morning thinking, I cannot continue to live — well, then we pathologize their pain; we call their suffering a disease.

We do not help them: we tell them that they need to get help.

Now that just about gets at the root of my problem with how we experience grief. For every time a person says “Time heals all,” I hear “Your grief makes me uncomfortable. Let’s talk about this in a few months when you aren’t weepy anymore.” Or “You’re weak if you still feel sad. It’s your fault you aren’t over it yet.”

Suck it.

In the olden days, there was an etiquette to how you mourned. You dressed in black for months or a year. Then you would slowly progress into somber colors until you got full access to the color wheel again.

As much as that sounds ridiculous, I kind of get it now. Most people don’t go around mourning my mom. I would venture to say most people who know me don’t even think about my mom that much, nor would I expect them to. She wasn’t their mother. But she was mine. I feel her loss acutely every day.

I wouldn’t mind wearing black so that people might think “Riiiiight… Her mom died. Maybe I should be less of an asshole to her today.” 

I wouldn’t mind wearing my sadness every once in awhile.

Now is the Spring of My Discontent

How does a pregnant woman who has just lost her mother celebrate Mother’s Day?

Denial. Denial, denial, denial.

It’s worth noting that we were never a “Mother’s Day” family. Breakfast in bed, flowers from the back yard, and a homemade card. That would be it. Of course, this was how most holidays were celebrated– everything was pretty low key. It’s almost like we were Jehovah’s Witnesses…

I have been dreading Mother’s Day. Not in my usual “Damn Commercialization!” sort of way. In a new, exciting “I hate all people who have mothers” sort of way. This sounds crazy, I know. But in the same way that you secretly hate all pregnant women (or used to) I now secretly hate all people who have living, breathing mothers. Lucky me, there is a whole holiday dedicated to celebrating this relationship which I sorely miss! De-light-ful!

So I decided to pretend like none of this was happening.

In a weird and unfortunate scheduling snafu, Mr. O planned a vacation with his cousins for this week, meaning I would be by myself on Mother’s Day. He freaked, offered to change the tickets, but honestly, I didn’t care. I miss my mother every single day, and I didn’t see how this one would be any different. I’ll just cry a little more than usual, and that is no reason to incur change fees.

Still, it did seem like nice excuse to do whatever I wanted, so I mapped out what my day would look like. It started with a long walk in the arboretum near my house.

I wear black on the outside, because black is how I feel on the inside.

I wear black on the outside, because black is how I feel on the inside.

The arboretum has been my sanctuary in many ways. When I’ve lost jobs, suffered personal defeats, or just needed to clear my head, it has been the first place I go.  I’ve been running there almost every day for the past two years, and I’ve seen it change in all seasons. It’s kind of like an old, trusted friend. I can lose myself in this space, and it always seems to reflect where I’m at.

The winter where I live was brutal this year. I actually welcomed it because it gave me a perfect excuse for not wanting to leave the house. After my mom died, I would go for runs in the arboretum. It was freezing cold, the trees were leaf-less, and everything seemed gray and barren. Striped down. And exactly how I felt. It was a place where it was okay for me to cry and run and lose my breath– and keep moving because if I didn’t I would literally not be able to feel my face. Even as March approached, it looked like winter here wouldn’t end, and this didn’t strike me as a problem. Rather, it felt fitting.

Why do trees have to be such assholes?

Why do trees have to be such assholes?

But here’s the thing about seasons… they are temporary. I may have wanted winter to last forever, but Spring is always just around the corner. On this particular Sunday, Spring wasn’t just around the corner– it was in full effect, and RELENTLESS. Birds frolicked from branch to branch, and bush to bush. Flowers were everywhere. Trees which up until a few weeks ago reflected my emptiness were now full of adorable little green leaves bursting from their ends.

I have never wanted to start a forest fire more.

Instead, I cried on a park bench. I have become, by the way, an expert at public crying. The key is to not give a shit what anyone thinks about you. Should someone give you funny looks, fling the mucous which you are producing in abundance in their general direction.

After I collected myself, I headed back home for a spot of breakfast then to my prenatal yoga class. It seemed like a way I could “celebrate” Mother’s Day without actually doing any celebrating. Hell, I would have gone anyway– it just so happens that my class is on Sundays.

This week, Randi decided to do something a little different. Instead of our usual meditation on intentions for the practice, blah, blah, blah, we meditated on motherhood. This shouldn’t have surprised me– I was in a prenatal yoga class on MOTHER’S DAY after all– and yet my first thought was “Motherfucker, do we have to do this right now?!”

Part of the meditation was to think about the emotional connection that mothers have with their babies while carrying them. Just like they get nutrition from our bodies to grow, they also feed on our emotions and our state of mind.

“Well, my child is screwed because I’ve been an emotional train wreck since January.”

What am I teaching this kid? Am I teaching them to be sad all the time? That seems like a depressing legacy (literally and figuratively.) Just as I was about to burst into tears at the idea that I’m harming Chick by crying all the damn time, I caught myself. Rather than teaching Chick that life is painful and terrible and morose, perhaps I’m showing them how to love deeply and completely. While this can be painful and terrible and morose, it can also be such a gift.

The truth is that I’m not ready for Spring. I’m still hurt and sad and angry, and I’m not ready to give that up. Yet there is something comforting in knowing that eventually seasons change.

Where’s the Pause Button?

Last  week, I flew back home to help with my mom’s memorial service. Nope, no one’s idea of a good time, but it had to be done.

In the days leading up to the trip, I tried on a few dresses to wear to the service only to realize not one of my black/grey/appropriately somber outfits still fits. Thanks to ballooning boobs and a fine little pooch I’m working on, I look either like a porn star or… well, pregnant. And I really didn’t feel like being on display any more than I would be.

Lucky for me, my sister is a clothes horse. She picked out four different outfits me for that would call too much attention my burgeoning belly. In fact, I think she really liked it. Not only did this rely on one of her true gifts (i.e. the ability to look fashionable in any circumstance,) it gave her something to do that was not altogether depressing.

Over the first several days I was there, we spent time pulling together items for the memorial. Pictures, mementos, books… things that represented who my mother was. This, by the way, is one of the hardest things to do. Try rummaging through your house and distilling the essence of who you are into one cardboard box. We ended up heavily weighted toward her Puerto Rican side. There is a part of me that wonders what she would have picked out for herself. After all, she was in the US for over 50 years. Her life was so much more than the place she was born.

Still, this is a big part of who my mom was to us. She waved that Puerto Rican flag high, figuratively and literally. I suppose that’s what these services are all about- who that person is to those they leave behind. Because realistically, few of us are around to plan our own memorial services.

The memorial itself was… um… weird? Is it okay to say that your mother’s memorial was weird? Well, it was. And here’s why.

You may recall that my mom knew I was pregnant before she died. She was so incredibly happy, and of course told EVERYONE about it. Her doctors, nurses, staff, visitors… So what if a whole bunch people knew about my pregnancy early?

This is easy enough to say when I am hundreds of miles away, quite another thing when I’m attending my mother’s memorial. I would say about a third of the attendees knew I was pregnant, resulting in some pretty awkward conversations. While my father, sister, and brother all got the requisite “I’m so sorry for your loss” stuff, I got “Congratulations!”

Do you have any idea how strange it is for people to be congratulating you when your mother just died?

Not just for me, but for approximately ⅔ of attendees who had no idea I am pregnant. One person, the mother of a high school friend, whip around and was HORRIFIED when a nurse came up to me and congratulated me. I wanted to turn around and say “No, this is totally okay. Trust me.” But then I thought “Fuck it. I am not responsible for other people right now.”

My mom was very active in the Spanish-speaking community in our town. All the little old latinas came out of the woodwork to pay their respect to my mother. And let me tell you, this is a very chatty bunch of ladies. (Sorry to reinforce stereotypes, but GOOD GOLLY are they gossipy…) Consequently, they all know I am pregnant. There was hugging, kissing, crying, and more than one offer to be my child’s “abuela.” Then more crying. And more kissing. On both cheeks.

After it was over, we packed it all back in the car and drove back to my father’s house. (How odd that it is just his house now…) Later that night, I sat in bed feeling overwhelmed. Tired, sad, but mostly emotionally exhausted. When I get like this, I don’t know what to do because ALL THE FEELINGS. A full meltdown is imminent.

So I’ve developed a process which normally clarifies things for me. I stop what I’m doing, take a deep breath, and clear my mind. I ask myself what is really bothering me, and typically something boils to the top. This time, one thought rang loud and clear in my head.

I want to put this pregnancy on pause.

And I laughed.

Keep in mind I had just spent a week taking care of other people, specifically my father who has an unrelenting need for support and love right now. There is no room for what I need. This isn’t an unusual dynamic in my family in crisis mode. Admittedly, I also don’t ask for what I need. After a lifetime, I just assume that people won’t help me when I need it.  Normally, I can make this work- I bury what I want and act like I cool with “Whatever”. This gives the illusion that I’m understanding and easy-going.

And yet… I know I can’t do this anymore. I need things in a very real, primal way right now. I need naps. I need breaks when I get out of breath. I need a lot of fiber, because I’m still fucking constipated. More over, I need to space to cry and feel sad. Not feel other people’s sadness, but my own aching sorrow.

Fact: There is no pause button for pregnancy.

Fact: There is also no pause button for grief.

Acts of Granola

Since my mother passed away, I have been downright shocked by the kindness and support that has come from everywhere. Some people knew my mother. Some only know her through my vivid stories about her. I’ve heard from childhood friends who have such touching memories of her. I’ve heard from friends who I haven’t spoken to in years. And of course, I have heard from so many of you.

I’m back at work this week, and one of my coworkers left me a huge jar of exquisite homemade granola and the following note:

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Some might think granola as a gesture of sympathy strange, but honestly I adore it. it’s a small token of kindness, and I will take it in any form it comes.

I’ve been fixated on this idea of kindness lately. Not only because I’ve been on the receiving end of it so much lately, but because it is a trait my mother intentionally and persistently taught me to value.

One of my strongest memories is from when I was 14. Oh, that awkward, weird age… I was stuck between being a child and scrambling my way toward adulthood. It wasn’t pretty. But adolescence rarely is.

Along with school, I was a dedicated Girl Scout. At the time, I was riding high in my troop. I was a patrol leader, and generally liked by all the girls. I had two best friends who were the appropriate mixture of responsibility and mischief. There was one girl in the troop, Scarlet, who didn’t enjoy my same social standing. If my adolescence was awkward, Scarlet’s was ten fold. She was overweight and pimply. She had frizzy hair, and a desperate need for braces. Worst of all, Scarlet was aware of all of this and tried, perhaps too hard, to overcome it. She was too eager to please anyone, which is the first and deadliest way not to make friends with teenage girls.

At some point, I was telling my mom about Scarlet. How she was a little weird, no one wanted to hang out with her or wanted her in their tent on trips…

“Then you have to show her kindness. You have a responsibility to be kind to her.”

My mom went on to explain that I was a leader. The older girls respected me, and the younger girls looked up to me. More importantly, I was a human being and so was Scarlet. We are obligated to be engaged in our world and community, and extend people every ounce of compassion we have.

Obviously, I thought my mother was out of her mind. But then again, I was 14 and she was suggesting social suicide.

I would love to tell you this story ended with Scarlet and I becoming best friends. This would be untrue. All the superficial differences aside, Scarlet and I had nothing in common and didn’t get along. But from that day forward, I always made sure that there was room for her, that she had someone to talk with, that she wasn’t forgotten or left out.

My mother loved the outsider. In fact, it wasn’t unusual for me to come home from school to discover a new face at the dinner table. Perfect stranger or not, we welcomed them to our house, and showed them warmth and hospitality. I don’t mean to imply that she pulled people off the street– she had an open heart, not a delusional mind. But if someone was new to town, low on friends, or had no where to go on Thanksgiving, there would be an extra setting at the table.

A warm meal, a jar of granola, or a comment on a blog. These may be small in the grand scheme of things, but they accumulate. They make us feel less alone. Knowing that someone cares takes the edge of things in life that are hardest.

I started this blog because I needed to let out all the frustration, disappointment, and deep sadness I felt at being infertile. I never expected anyone to read it, and certainly never expected the support I’ve received from all of you.

To those of you who have offered your sympathies, I’m so appreciative. I’m sorry if I haven’t always commented directly. Know that I am grateful beyond words.