mothers and daughters

Gifts

 

2015.12.24

 

This is Judith and her beautiful friend Prima.

For years Judith and I have crossed paths during Saturday runs along the Barton Creek Greenbelt. We wave, exchange a few friendly words, and sometimes stop to pet her aging greyhounds, who always trail behind as she darts swiftly over roots and rocks.

Judith is perpetually bright and smiling. She applauds my running group for making time for friendship and fitness, and we beam at her praise. Everything about Judith radiates joy and light. In the summer she wears tiny bun-hugger shorts that are smaller than anything my fit, 40-something-year-old friends and I sport in public. She rocks these shorts. My friends and I all agree on two things: Every run where we see Judith is a good run, and we all want to be her when we grow up.

I shot this photo on the morning of Christmas Eve when I was running with two friends. We had not seen Judith in a while and immediately noticed that she had only one dog with her. We stopped to talk and she shared the story of her other dog’s final days and the beautiful, loving send-off she gave him. The conversation shifted toward the heaviness of grief and how every new pain can revive buried ones from the past. She was philosophical and open, and clearly at peace even amidst the heartache. We stood there under a canopy of oak and juniper, soaking up this beautiful human as she poured out her heart to three women she has only known at a distance.

It was a powerful, intimate moment that lasted maybe 10 minutes.

After gathering ourselves and wiping our eyes, we went our separate ways. I couldn’t shake what I was feeling, though. Judith had stirred something in me on this sacred day. I wanted to bottle it somehow, and I immediately regretted not asking to take her photo.

We ran on for several minutes until I convinced my friends to turn around early and try to track down Judith. At a minimum, I needed to tell her something. If I were lucky, she would let me take her photo as well.

We caught up with her eventually, and if she was surprised to see us she didn’t show it. Swallowing a lump of emotion, I told her that today, along with being Christmas Eve, was also my Mom’s birthday. “In honor of her memory, I always look for beautiful moments on my Mom’s day. And you are that moment, Judith.”

We hugged. I tried not to cry. It was both awkward and completely natural. It felt like everything vulnerability should be: uncomfortable but affirming. It was the perfect start to a day in which I always reserve time for contemplation and memories.

For as long as I can remember I have sought out the Judiths in my life. I learned this from my mother. In fact, everything I know about seeking beauty and joy came from my mom. These were her greatest gifts to me.

When my mom was 38 years old, she was diagnosed with a chronic, progressive form of multiple sclerosis. A year later she was confined to a wheelchair. Her future held decades of emergency room scares, ICU visits, near-misses, and too many physical losses to catalog. She spent the last 10 years of her life in bed, relying on a ventilator for every breath.

And yet. Even with her limitations and losses, my mom radiated serenity. She found pleasure in every bird that visited the feeders hanging outside her window, or in the backyard wind chimes singing with the breeze. She exhausted libraries of their audiobook collection. Long after she lost her ability to speak, she could tell you with her eyes that she loved you.

Throughout her life, doctors, nurses and therapists marveled at my mom’s attitude. Over and over we heard, “There is just something so resilient and positive about her.” She saw beauty in most everything. I have no doubt she would have seen it in Judith.

It’s been 5 years since my mom died, and the sharp edges of grief have softened. I think I’m finally accepting that even if I can’t walk with her in my daily life, I can carry the lessons she left me. I can seek out beauty and joy and light. I can embrace--and if necessary, chase down--the Judiths in my life and tell them how they make my world brighter. What a gift indeed.

 

 

 

Show Your Work: Possessions

I’m trying something new that’s inspired by a writer/artist whose work I admire. Austin Kleon is the author of Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work, both simple and genius manifestos for the creative life. I keep his books on my desk the same way some people keep their therapists on speed dial. I find his words both inspiring and grounding. In his latest book he advocates showing some of your work in progress, as opposed to fully formed, as a way to boost creativity, move past mental blocks and ultimately get your work Out There. By bringing people along for the ride, you and your audience will both see your work in a new light.

The idea of posting my incomplete thoughts doesn’t necessarily come naturally to me, but I’m giving it a whirl. I’m giving lots of things a whirl lately, because it seems to be that kind of year for me (Did I mention I humbled myself enough to aquajog?? I digress.)

So I’m embracing this idea and will periodically highlight miscellany that's on my mind or projects on my horizon. Incomplete but still interesting. We will see where they take us!

Lately I’ve been thinking about stuff. As in, possessions.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, we recently moved into a small rental so we can remodel our house. The move required  extensive purging and methodical packing. The goal was to pare things down as much as possible, store most of our belongings, and live for 6 months or so with only the basics. Now, I realize that “basics” is a relative term and we all have our threshold for needs and wants and everything in between.

For us, that meant ALL the Legos stayed, because nobody could decide how to divvy them up. Almost all the books were stored, knowing that between the library and the bookstore, stories would keep coming into our lives. Bulky things like the large Kitchenaid mixer were happily stored, and have already given me an excuse to avoid baking things from scratch. We packed half our dishes, every single vase or decorative item, and most everything that was hanging on a wall.

I have long subscribed to the philosophy of only keeping “what you use or what you love” so our home was already pretty lean. Now it’s anorexic. Part of me finds it liberating to live with only the basics, but it’s strange not to be surrounded by at least a few material things I love. Of course, we've got our people and our pet so life is good...our home just feels different right now.

Last week I ran across this video by filmmaker Gemma Green-Hope, who created a short film after her family sorted through her grandmother’s belongings. It’s a lovely tribute. My favorite quote is, “I wanted to show her to myself.”

That video got me thinking about the things my mother left behind when she passed away three years ago after a long illness. She had battled multiple sclerosis for nearly 30 years and had spent the last 10 years of her life supported by a ventilator. The "basics" in her life are relative too. My mom's life was extremely simplified the last few years, but required unfathomable amounts of medicine and complex supplies to keep her comfortable.

A couple months after her death, I helped my father clean out her closet, which in some ways seemed frozen in time from when she was first diagnosed. I wrote about it at the time, but until yesterday I had not re-read that piece in years. Of course it brought back a flood of emotions...just in time for Mother’s Day. It’s amazing how your own words can come back and catch you off guard. I lived and breathed that experience, but still it seems like another me altogether.

During the clean-out, I also photographed some of the little things I uncovered in my mother’s drawers. There were no big surprises...only small moments of nostalgia or grieving. There were a few questions that would never be answered: Why did she save this but not that? Why was this recipe tucked in with her jewelry? There were also some heartbreaking juxtapositions. I had been in her closet hundreds of time and grown numb to all the medical supplies that filled her shelves. But seeing them through the camera lens changed everything. Suddenly I saw not just the life-sustaining tubes, but the neighboring sweaters that she hadn’t worn in 10 years because she hadn’t left her bed, much less her house, in all that time.

By now I’ve sorted through her treasures and kept a few things that mean something to me. When our house is finished, I will unpack them once again and find a new home for them. The photos...I don’t know what I’ll do with them. But I’m sharing a few of them here. Showing you what’s on my mind. Seeing where it takes me.

Thanks for seeing with me.

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Thanks to everyone who entered last week's giveaway. The winner of the Moms Are Nuts book is NaDell. Enjoy!

The club

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When I originally offered to help with my daughter’s first book club, it was as a simple show of support for my 7-year-old bookworm. Flash forward 4 years and nearly 50 books later, the club has become one of the most valuable volunteer gigs of my parenting career.

Our group was started in 2nd grade by a friend whose daughter devours books as quickly as mine. We had 15 or so girls, a wide range of reading levels, and an abundance of little-girl energy. We experimented with a few formats and settled on a simple model that continues today: Monthly meetings last 90 minutes and include, in this order, book talk, snacks and outside play. Over the years, as the basic model holds steady, our discussions keep growing and changing along with the maturing girls.

In 2nd grade we read classics like The Secret Garden and Matilda alongside Judy Moody and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Third grade introduced us to authors Wendy Mass and E.L. Koningsburg. By 4th grade, the girls were eager for more complex, coming-of-age stories and we found those in books such as Escape Under the Forever Sky and Cornelia and the Audacious Escapades of the Somerset Sisters. The Book Moms got to vote too, and because we had all grown up with Judy Blumes on our nightstands, we insisted on Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. That book led to our longest and liveliest meeting to date. We started by encouraging the girls to get all their giggles out (Because c’mon “We must, we must, we must increase our bust!” is still hilarious.) By the time we all finished talking we had covered friendship dynamics, religion and the tricky business of growing up.

This year, the 5th graders read hefty and adventurous novels like Wildwood and books by repeat authors so we could compare and contrast the stories. Through the magic of old-fashioned networking, we paired up with In This Together, a girl-focused publisher, and were given advance copies of a book, plus the chance to skype with its author. Katherine Rue, author of the new Carly Keene Literary Detective series, spent 30 minutes with us discussing her mystery book, and it was as if we had a rockstar in our midst. During the author Q & A, my favorite question came from an astute 10-year-old: “Is Carly Keene a nod to Caroline Keene, author of Nancy Drew?” These smart girls don’t miss a thing.

Over the years, we’ve tried to teach them how to fairly discuss a literary work, and how to appreciate a story’s features even if you didn’t adore the whole book. But our main goal has always been much simpler: to give them a safe space to talk about books. No multiple choice questions, no right or wrong answers, no grades. The other moms and I have become pros at the Curious Nod and the Noncommittal Hmmm. “Good point! Why do you think the author wrote it that way?”

Though our membership has shifted a little over the four years, the consistency of the group has been a solid thread throughout their elementary school years, which I now realize was so critical and grounding considering the size of our large public school. And if I ever doubt whether the girls enjoy book club, I will remember this: When the 5th graders were assigned in class to write their own obituary, one girl described how, after becoming an artist, surgeon and best-selling author, she retired and “spent time painting and attending book club with her childhood friends.” Is there any better testament than that?

As for me, it’s always been about more than just great books. The books, and the book club talks, have become launchpads for continued conversations at home. I’ve found that it’s nice to know who Katniss is, but it’s even better to know Cornelia, Prue and Calpurnia, and why these characters made such an impression on my daughter.

The success of the book club also reminds me to be the kind of mother I want to be: the kind who follows her child’s lead and lets her child’s passions dictate how she spends extracurricular time. The kind of mother who happily handles the logistics and structure required to make things like book club happen, knowing that it always takes some legwork to support any kind of valuable experience. The kind of mother who, after all that active doing, is then able to sit back and just listen. The kind of mother who isn’t intimidated by letting the girls, and their conversations, unfold organically from there.

I will need these reminders for the teen years ahead. If the 5th grade chattering is any indication, we are nearing uncharted territory as the girls find increasingly complex books to fill their growing minds and insatiable appetites.

I don't know what the coming years hold for my daughter and I, but I do believe that books will help us survive it. I’ve promised to be there, as long as she will have me, reading along beside her.

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Updated on 8/19/14

Want inspiration and tips on starting a book club for your own child? I've got a couple posts to help you out...

The Club pt. 2 and Boys Allowed

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Speaking of books and moms...I am thrilled to be giving away a copy of Moms are Nuts, a hilarious collection of essays about having a mom (not being a mom). It features an outstanding ensemble of writers, including Emmy winners, magazine editors, comedians, TV personalities, bestselling authors and social media superstars. Get ready to laugh and to give thanks that your own kids haven't found a publisher for their stories. Yet.

To win a copy of the book, leave a comment (about books, your awesome mom, or whatever is on your mind) and I will pick a random commenter on Monday 5/5 at 5pm Central Time).

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The I.O.U.

2014.02.ZenGirl-1 "Mom, I love you. And I'm sorry if I'm being annoying right now."

Actually, you're not being annoying at all.

"Well then I will apologize for the future times when I'm annoying because usually when that happens I don't much feel like apologizing."

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Need more zen in your life? Subscribe here! And if you were a subscriber before, please resubscribe...not everything transferred during my site's makeover. Thanks so much, y'all!

The intern

2013.10.13.dailylife-2519Overheard at the office... Mom, I'd like to discuss my terms and conditions.

Meaning...?

Meaning even though I'm an exceptional daughter, I'm doing this for extra money.

$5 an hour. Mostly filing, sorting, labeling, that sort of thing.

What about sick days and vacation?

You're a freelancer, sweetheart.

Dang.

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Thank you?

photoMom! I love that new shirt! Thanks, sweetie.

You know Mom, I love how you dress. And I love that you aren't too pretty to be a Mom. I mean, all frou-frou and what not. Your style is...what's the word I'm looking for?

Cool?

No, that's not it. Give me a minute...

I mean, seriously

Things that are "RIDICULOUS" to a precocious 10-year-old girl:

• Dad standing outside the shower telling me to hurry up. I am hurrying! • Every single boy in the 4th grade. Except maybe two of them. • In that Backyardigans episode my little brother watches, the Olympians are playing basketball when the sport wasn't even INVENTED until like the 1890's • Bedtime rules on school nights • That Mom and Dad always know when I sneak candy • Peanut butter • Girls who go nutso over 1D. I mean, I love their music but really? • My brothers and all their wrestling • Pirates • When I can't stay up as late as I want to read. It's reading! It's educational! • With the word moist you pronounce the t, but with moisten you don't • Crying and whining totally works for my little brother • Watching Star Wars for the bazilliionth time because my brothers got to pick • I can't have a playdate today when I NEVER EVER see my friends • Pancakes without bacon • Mom's no-soda rule • That one lady on Design Star • Mom and Dad telling me not to nitpick • That casual attire doesn't always means Nike shorts and a T-shirt • People in the world who haven't read the Harry Potter series a million times • Pretty much every pair of clean socks in my drawer

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You likey? This is the third in a mini-series. Check out the ANNOYING and BORING things here!

10 Truths About Hosting Your Daughter's First Slumber Party

1. If tears are not shed the week before the party, you aren’t trying hard enough. If your daughter is old enough for a slumber party, you are experienced enough to know the emotional build-up to any birthday is a tragic, unavoidable reality. This is particularly true for monumental celebrations (Hello, remember your 40th?)  and especially brutal when a party warrants you to kick the husband and boys out of the house and invite a pack of girls to arrive in their place.

2. Everything must be perfect and fabulous. Chances are, you and your daughter will disagree on these definitions, but often that can help bring on the necessary pre-party tears. (Win win!) Stand your ground, wherever it may be. (My personal strategy is to fall somewhere between “Yes to the 12 kinds of sprinkles but No to the rented photo booth.”)

3. You will need a wingwoman. Preferably someone who complements and balances you out. Someone who can apply makeup, make impromptu microphones out of aluminum foil and spatulas, laugh loudly with you, and repeat quietly, “It’s fine. It’s fine....”

4. Speaking of makeup, you will need to stock up on new kits and sharpen your application skills. The natural golds and browns that fill your bathroom cabinets will have no place at this party. There will be two kinds of girls: those who want the dark, smokey eyes and those who want the bright, colorful ones. Watch out for the girls who pick the smokey eyes. Danger lurks in the shadows.

5. When the party is in full swing, there should be plenty of thumping music, but no lectures. Make peace with that right now. Even if you think you have an open mind about your daughter’s taste in music, nothing prepares you for the moment when a favorite (uncensored) song comes on and every girl belts out bitch without missing a beat. (Insert your wingwoman: “It’s fine. It’s fine....”)

6. The dancing will be silly and fun and campy for approximately 12 seconds, until a few girls (always the smokey-eyed ones) will whip out their best gyrations, hair flips and pouty looks. You will shoot photos, laughing casually and then uneasily. When one girl’s hip-shaking move turns into a come-hither, crawling-on-the-floor maneuver, you might need to leave the room and pour yourself a glass of wine. No shame in knowing your limits. (“It’s fine, it’s fine....”)

7. It is usually around this point of the party that the flash-backs/flash-forwards begin. Every moment from middle school and high school will come rushing back to you. Every sleepover, every awkward cotillion party, every Lucky Star line dance. You will see The Breakfast Club stereotypes appear before you and you will instinctively know which girl jumping on your hearth, or lounging on your couch, or contriving her body on the floor will be the Molly Ringwald, the Ally Sheedy, the Anthony Michael Hall. The future is now.

8. As the evening comes to a close, you will have to abandon your Fun Mom facade for your That Mom uniform. You might start with, “Ok, girls, seriously time to go to sleep...” and then move to “If I come out here again...” but at some point you likely will find yourself standing silently in the dark, arms crossed, hovering over a pile of sleeping bags, your mere presence threatening even the slightest giggle. If you get here without tears, you will know you have arrived. You have earned yet another Mom Badge. Wear it proudly until morning.

9. The day after is always The Day After. Both you and your daughter will be hungover like you haven’t felt since 1993. Sleep deprivation, sugar overload, post-party depression, you name it. Consider this a mental dehydration that no amount of gatorade or grease can cure. The only guaranteed solution? Trash TV and time.

10. With time will come recovery. Just like the days and weeks following childbirth, you will forget the pain and enjoy a simple nostalgia. You will wonder what the big deal was after all. Enjoy the delusions for a while because next year, mark my words, the party will be omigod even bigger and better!!

Zen Parenting

Tomorrow night, my angel will adjust her wings and fly toward something she has been dreaming about for six years. The first time I took her to The Nutcracker, I shrugged off the "you're taking a 3-year-old to do what?" comments, pulled out our holiday finery and loaded up my purse with peppermint bribes. She made it almost two hours before needing a mint and has been hooked ever since.

My Doodlebug is an unusually disciplined student, and I often wonder how her life will play out, what she will pursue, and how I will help shape the person she becomes. We parents can only do so much, I know, but yet we can do so much. A little food for thought as our children twirl and leap toward their futures...

Happiness is Contagious

If you always compare your children’s abilities to those of great athletes, entertainers, and celebrities, they will lose their own power. If you urge them to acquire and achieve, they will learn to cheat and steal to meet your expectations.

Encourage your children’s deepest joys, not their superficial desires. Praise their patience, not their ambition. Do not value the distractions and diversions that masquerade as success. They will learn to hear their own voice instead of the noise of the crowd.

If you teach them to achieve they will never be content. If you teach them contentment, they will naturally achieve everything.

We all want our children to be happy. Somehow, some way today show them something that makes you happy, something you truly enjoy. Your own happiness is contagious. They learn the art from you.

~William Martin’s The Parent’s Tao Te Ching

On Being Nine

Last week my oldest child, my only daughter, my Doodlebug, turned nine.

The event was met by the usual sugary celebrations, giggling girls and adorable handmade cards. We pulled out the red You Are Special Today plate and reminisced about all eight birthday parties that came before. Then we stretched the bedtime rules so I could tell her the long version of where I was and how I felt the moment she came into the world and made me a mother.

And it was almost exactly how we spend every birthday around here. In the best sense of the word: routine.

Yet, there are significant changes brewing. With the dawn of this last single-digit birthday, I am seeing glimpses of a fresh, uncharted era.

My daughter, she is growing up. She is proudly developing skills and talents to call her own. She is building trusted and loving friendships. She is becoming a delightful conversationalist and confidante.

She is also mastering the eye-roll, testing boundaries, and nit-picking my every statement like an over-eager law student. There are moments when she makes it easy to believe she will become a teenager in only a matter of years.

Though she saves her most brazen attitudes for home, my daughter is learning to speak her truths outside the nest. One day she mentioned talk of Popular Girls at school—that cringe-worthy phrase that I knew would come up eventually—but she matter-of-factly explained that she had no interest in chasing that label. She was a Smart Girl, she told me, and quite happy to stay that way.

Last week, as 8 years turned to 9, she started embellishing her signature with Amazing preceding her name. So now anyone who reads her letters, nametags, notebooks or artwork will know how amazing she is. See, there it is. In writing.

And I totally get it. I have been exactly there.

When I was nine, I took to signing my name Elizabeth the Great. Just like my daughter, this signature adorned every piece of paper I touched. Apparently my teachers condoned it. My mother, she encouraged it. That year Mom pulled out her sewing machine and made me a turquoise denim jacket. Down one sleeve, in colorful iron-on letters, she put Elizabeth. Down the other: the Great.

Let me tell you, I wore that jacket with gusto.

A year after the turquoise jacket was born, my mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. We would soon find out that her condition fell into the worst possible category. Her disease would be steady and irreversible. There would be no remission, no turning back, no magic bullet.

By the time I was 11, my mother was confined to a wheelchair and quickly losing her sight. She retired from her roles as Book Club Leader and Girl Scout Mom. My father's job moved us 300 miles across the state.

Somewhere in those couple of dark and foggy years, I outgrew the jacket and dropped my Great alias.

And along the same time, I shed some of my boldness. My steadiness and self-confidence wavered. Who can say if this change was all circumstantial or if I just realized there was a world beyond my own ego. Perhaps maturity would have shined its light on my bravado regardless of my family life. I don’t really know.

I do know this: 30 years later, when I think about my moments of personal power, I think of being nine. I think of that jacket and my audacious nickname. I think about how I owned my story and the image of myself I wanted to create. Even amidst the rules and expectations set by loving and devoted parents, I was once a 9-year-old who felt like she could do and be anything.

I am fast approaching my 40th birthday, and even still, every time I try something new or take a leap of faith, or need a jolt of self-confidence, I call upon my 9-year-old self. I wrap myself up in the memory of a girl strutting around in a turquoise denim jacket, brandishing her nickname and all the power it promises.

So here is my hope for this year, as my daughter begins her ninth year and I leave behind my thirties…I will find a symbolic jacket to share with her. I will tell her that yes, I believe she deserves her Amazing nickname but most important, that I’m glad she believes it herself.

I will pray that she holds on to her rising confidence and learns to shape it into something creative and compassionate. I will hope that no matter how her life changes, that the jacket I give will fit her long after nine.

Wishes

A recent cleaning frenzy uncovered more than just old toys and dried-up markers. I found some musings from my budding writer, written when she was 5 or 6 years old.   

I don't think I have to explain how these flip-flopped my heart. I will say this: I have a few wishes of my own for my sweet girl.

I wish that your every wish comes true, Doodlebug, and that you never stop dreaming and never stop striving. You will go so far, I just know it. And someday, when you climb that rainbow, I promise to be right there beside you, smiling as big as the sun.

Infestation

For the last few months we've been dealing with a series of fun household issues that happened in exactly this order:

1.) a Mama possum decided to sublease the crawlspace underneath our house, without asking first. She moved in just in time to nest and give birth to 5 babies. 2.) We hired some nice gentlemen to relocate this family to another home. These men swore that "home" was not a euphemism. 3.) We never heard from the family again, but they were gracious enough to leave behind a farewell gift: fleas. 4.) Our hyper-allergic, 13-year-old dog became infested with the farewell gift. 5.) I lost my ever-loving mind. 6.) We had the entire house and yard bombed with who-knows-what. 7.) We sighed with relief and got back to our lives. Until...Zoe the dog got an awful stomach bug and we learned that she was, once again, covered in a shitload of fleas.

That brings us to yesterday, when I had to pile all three kids PLUS a geriatric, flea-riddled, diarrhea-prone dog into the car to make a trip to the vet. Imagine my enthusiasm! Once home, and with $200 worth of advice and pills, I had the following conversation.

"Mom, is Zoe going to be ok?" Doodlebug asked.

"Yes, she will be fine. It's just a stomach thing and we've got the pest guys coming out again tomorrow."

"Is this our fault, Mom? Did we not take care of her well enough and that's why she's sick?"

Isn't she a little young to feel mama guilt??

"We are doing the best we can, sweetie. And no, it's not our fault--this just happened, that's all. A series of unfortunate events. Think about it...is it my fault every time you get a sore throat?"

She smiled.

"Doodlebug...the words you're looking for are "No, of course not Mom!"

Sorting

The delicately beaded mother-of-the-bride dress, worn especially for me, stays.

The two others, still dangling tags and dashed hopes, stay as well. The hand-sewn rainbow sundress, thin and frayed from years on the beach, and the red and green zippered housecoat worn every Christmas morning, must remain too--though none of these will ever be worn again.

My mother’s shoes, sharing space with thousands of dollars worth of life-sustaining medical supplies, will be passed along with little nostalgia.

I will keep the once-purple college sweatshirt, now paint-splattered and faded to an almost gray. I will save an embroidered suede bag that looks carefree, even though that’s not a word I would have ever used to describe her.

Most everything else I pull from the racks and stack atop an old sheet spread across her bedroom floor. I gather the corners and knot them into a bundle as I did every year as a nomad college student. I repeat this for the skirts, the blouses, the sweaters, the dresses, the coats. My father retrieves bundle after bundle, beating a path from bedroom to garage until his truckbed is full.

The volume is staggering. I can tell that my mother stopped cleaning out her closet when she got sick, all those 30 years ago. Perhaps holding onto everything offered some normalcy as her world shifted so dramatically. If these items gave comfort then, they give only stinging sadness today.

I have done this final clean-out before. Years ago, on a tearful autumn weekend, I gave away every onesie and every burp cloth. I tossed all but one pair of tiny leather booties. I kept the homecoming outfit, the mini college jersey, the First Birthday attire. I shipped off every last bottle, blanket and board book with resignation.

There were to be no more babies. But then, a year and a half later, there was.

And from the moment his heart beat across the flickering screen, he was stunning and redemptive and completed our family in a way I had not dared to imagine.

But that memory is hardly like today. Today I sit in my mother’s mostly empty closet and realize that there will be no new memories, no surprises, no redemption. I realize that the only possible life coming from this closure will be my own rebirth as a daughter and mother.

I inhale deeply and exhale with slow and measured intention. This is women’s work, I know.

Even in a haze of grief, we mothers and daughters can steady ourselves. We approach these watershed tasks knowing full well that something, anything, can bring us to our knees in pain. We may ache longingly or regretfully. We may feel cheated and furious. We may feel utterly alone in the heaviness of the moment.

But then, we gather ourselves up. We quiet our minds and whisper gently to our hearts. We continue with the sifting, the deciding, the separating. Because despite the ache, we trust no one else to do this sorting for us.

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Remembering

I didn’t need a reminder that my Mom is gone. Not even a friendly reminder. Especially not a friendly reminder from an automated email system telling me that “Mother’s Day is coming soon! Order now and save!” I didn’t need this same cheerful email to remind me that last year I bought the “Hugs and Kisses” bouquet of purple irises and red tulips. After all, they were my signature Mother’s Day gift: a vibrant and energetic collection that screamed springtime. There was nothing subtle or forgettable about this annual bouquet.

I didn’t ask for the reminders, but there they are in my inbox, making sure I haven’t forgotten anything about my Mom or her place in my life. I read these messages and want to shake my computer shouting, “I have not forgotten ANYTHING, you fool! You stupid, stupid fool.”

If someone were to ask me how long it’s been I would need only a minute to calculate that the long, surreal January night was exactly 10 weeks and 3 days ago today. Weeks and days…the last time I counted time in weeks and days I was cradling a newborn.

Like the bizarre way the clock can simultaneously stand still and race forward when you are raising babies, so does it move when you have lost someone dear. It was only moments ago…It was a lifetime ago…I will never ever be OK…Life is somehow still marching on.

I find these contradictions surprisingly grounding. They tell me that I don’t need a clock or a calendar to remind me that time is not what it seems, or that life is too short to be fearful and too long to be unhappy. They remind me that even though time erases moments, the important ones are indeed unforgettable.

The understudy

I was cleaning out a pile of papers yesterday and found a note I had jotted down after a conversation with Doodlebug. It was dated 2009, when she was 6 years old.  I remember we had been cuddled up reading It's Not the Stork, which I bought after her repeated and increasingly detailed questions about the birds and the bees.

"Mom, the sex part is kinda weird."

Yeah, it's a little weird. You're supposed to think it's weird because you are a kid, but when you grow up you'll think differently.

"What about younger grown-ups...you know, who aren't married? Do they think it's weird?"

They are thinking about it (um, a lot) and some (ok, most) of them are having sex. We will keep talking about this as you get older, but right now you should know that sex is a very special thing that people do when they are old enough and in love.

"Well I'm definitely going to do it someday because I want to be a Mommy."

And you will make a great one, sweetie, because you are so loving and big-hearted. You take such good care of your brothers and cousins.

"And because I pay attention to everything you do...so I'm learning to be a Mommy."

(Gulp) That makes me want to be the best Mommy I can be.

"Good, then I can be the best too."

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Speaking of parenting skills...I had the privilege of hearing Brené Brown speak last night about the gifts of imperfect parenting and I was completely blown away. Truly.  She was engaging, funny and wise. I am still trying to absorb everything I heard and can't wait to dive into her new book. I swear, even if you're not a parent, she has something to teach you.

There are so many things...

I feel like I've lived a thousand years in the past week. In the early hours of Wednesday, January 26th, my beautiful mother passed away, surrounded by family. We have spent the last several days crying, hugging, laughing and honoring the amazing woman she was.

Somehow in the midst of this, I wrote something for her, and on Saturday stood on wobbly knees to share it with a standing-room-only crowd at her childhood church in Quanah, Texas.

I'm sharing it with you here. But first, a few favorite photos of my Mom...

1950. Age 8, the same age as Doodlebug is now. They have always looked so much alike. *

1966. Quintessential cake photo. I love that smile. *

My classy Mom was also very adventurous. *

Her favorite place on earth. (And my favorite photo of my parents.) *

1971. Apparently she was so happy to have a daughter that she wore pantyhose and a dress home from the hospital. *

1973. I love this photo, even though I look like a professional wrestler. Look what my poor Mom was dealing with...three kids in 3 1/2 years! *

1976. She was always the picture of calm, no matter the situation. *

1997. Three generations. What a beautiful day. I was so happy to have them both there. *

Christmas 2002. Holding Doodlebug, her first grandchild. *

Thanksgiving 2003. Sharing a moment with my wonderful Dad. *

There are so many things you should know about my mother.

You should know that my mother drew her deepest strength and peace from her faith. From a very young age, she walked to First Christian Church by herself every Sunday. She and my Dad were married in the original church off Main Street. And when the new building was completed 35 years ago, she insisted on having an oak tree shipped in and planted out front.

You should know that my mother was generous with her heart. She shared a love with my Dad that is so rare I’m not sure there are words for it. He says he was able to care for her simply because she loved him so much. That love gave him the strength and devotion to honor their marriage vows every single day for 44 years.

You should know that my mother was a beautiful and loving mom. She read to us every night. She taught us to be open-minded. She encouraged us to be more than just siblings, but also friends. She wanted us to laugh and learn and find people we would love for our entire lives.

You should know that my mother welcomed people into her life. If you met her, you were a friend. And if you were a friend, you were a friend for life. One of her favorite times of year was when the flood of Christmas cards and photos arrived. She cherished the annual updates from so many of you.

You should know that my mother was kind and warm. She adopted every stray cat that came within 20 feet of our house. When she finally allowed dogs into the family, they seemed to arrive in pairs, until she eventually had more animals than kids.

You should know that my mother loved to learn. She loved books and language and history. She loved stories and she loved to see new things. Her beautiful eyes sparkled with a joy and curiosity that we now see every day in the eyes of her grandchildren.

You should know that my mother loved nature. She was happiest outside, in the sunshine, near a field of wildflowers or with her bare feet on a sandy beach. She had a keen eye for seashells. She loved everything about the ocean—the smell, the breeze, the warmth, the sand. All of it.

You should know that my mother was gracious. When she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 30 years ago, she took the news with a steady determination. Her family, her friends, her doctors, and her nurses will all tell you that she never once asked “Why me?” Instead of focusing on the things she couldn’t do, she celebrated the things she could do.

When she lost her vision, my mom started ordering books from the Talking Books Library in Austin, and from then on there was always a steady stream of recorded books arriving in our mailbox. I am not exaggerating when I say she listened to thousands and thousands of those books on tape.

When she became more and more debilitated, my mom lost many of the simple luxuries we all take for granted. But she met each and every loss by redefining the phrase “quality of life.” She found joy in the birds and windchimes outside her window, the conversations at her bedside, and the “I love you’s” from my Dad.

You should know that my mother brought out the best in us. She had to depend on so many people in her life, for so many basic things…yet everyone who knew her has always said that she gave them much more than they ever gave her.

You should know that my mother was well loved. That she will be missed. That she will never be forgotten. That she left a beautiful legacy of family and friends. That she will live forever in our hearts.

You should know that every time I see a field of Indian paintbrush or a gentle surf along the shore, I will turn my face toward the sun and feel her warmth and her love shining down on me.

We need a family thesaurus

I'm not the only one who is at a loss for words these days, but this time it feels perfectly amazing.

"Mama, I love you so much.  I love you...well, I don't know the right word.  Maybe there's not a word.  Mama, I just don't think there's a word to describe how much I love you."

And I don't think there's a word to describe how lucky I am.

*     *     *

Self-portrait

Today is my 1-year blogiversary. That fact alone warrants a little self-reflection, but the larger truth is that there are overwhelming things going on in my life right now, and the reflection they deserve is so enormous that I am feeling swallowed whole by the responsibility.

And I don’t want to talk about any of it.

I am sitting here at my computer, wondering how to acknowledge my first year of blogging but I mostly want to dig a deep hole and ease myself down into its depths.

I have built my marriage, my parenting style, even my career, on communicating, sharing, talking it out. But now the very last thing I want to do is open my mouth.

My tribe of friends and family, so generous and caring, wants to shoulder some of my pain. But I am holding things tightly and protecting my heart. What is there to say, really? Anything I share will be both too much and not enough.

I am a relatively private person, but somehow I’m also a person who thrives on connecting with others. This contradiction has carried over into my writing career, as I struggle with the conflicts between needing to connect and wanting to protect. Lately the pull from each end has never felt greater.

So today, in honor of this blog's birth and in the spirit of reaching out, I want to peel away one layer and tell you something important.

I am losing someone I love. Not just someone, but my Mom.  And even though I have been losing pieces of her for many years, it doesn’t diminish the pain that is now devouring me, eating me alive from the inside out.

And there is nothing and everything to say about it.

This week I read a wise and beautiful piece about grief and how it is work done alone. I am grateful to this stranger for putting to words the power and pain of this experience. And I’m grateful that my own tribe is waiting nearby with ropes to toss down when I’m ready to climb out of my hole toward sunlight.

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