Today is Just a Day

Mothers’ Day has always been a day of conflict for me. When I was a little girl, and my elementary school teachers would help us make cards and gifts to bring home for that special day, I always presented them to my mother, heart bursting with pride, hoping she would see how much I loved her by how much glitter I glued on the construction paper. Of course, my mother was an artist, a world-renowned artist. “Thank you, that’s nice” was the best I could hope for, and one raised eyebrow at my stick-figure drawings told me my artwork was not so nice. I recall most of my time with my parents filled with my yearning for a mom and dad like my friends’ moms and dads; parents who enjoyed their children and who wanted to be parents. My parents always reminded us that #1 all three of us girls were meant to be boys to carry on the family name, and #2 my mother was especially careful to let us know that she never wanted children (we interfered with her blossoming art career) but she did it to make our dad happy. My childhood heartbreak gradually hardened in my teenage years, into a resolve to find or make a family that would love me as much as I loved them. I stopped paying attention to Mothers’ Days because the only mothers I ever met who I wanted to thank, already belonged to other people like my friends. Oh, how I coveted their moms. My best friend Kirsten’s mom even let me call her Mom while we lived in Shanghai. For years, that gave me the greatest comfort.

Finally, I grew up and had the baby I always dreamed of loving. The moment our eyes made contact, I felt hit with a bolt of lightning; THIS was what I was meant to do, to be the most loving mother to this baby girl. Every single bad memory of my family took a back seat to my new priority. As a first time mother, I had very little to help guide me. Not only were my parents completely disinterested in being grandparents, I was quite certain any grandmotherly advice was useless, coming from a woman who never wanted her own children. As my baby grew into toddlerhood and her independence grew, little conflicts arose. Tempted to lose my temper in the face of tantrums or naughty behaviour, I always stopped myself with one thought, “What would my parents do?” A very twisted version of What Would Jesus Do…whatever the answer, I made a deliberate choice to do the OPPOSITE. My parents would have spanked a toddler who drew on the walls, spanked a child who wanted to wear her underwear on the outside of her pants, spanked a child who talked back. My father always told us that children were cabbages until they were old enough to carry on an intelligent conversation. I chose to learn about the concept of Time Out, let my child choose her own clothing, and learned how to use my words. I am sure it was much more frustrating and time-consuming to do it the long way, versus the shortcut of beating. But I have very clear memories of the leather belt with moons and stars cut into it, that would beat my bare legs and bottom until those moons and stars were imprinted on my flesh. I will never forget the fear and dread when my father would tell me exactly how many smacks with the belt I would get; most of the time in the double digits. I would know it was coming because if I talked back or lied or did anything wrong in my mother’s eyes, she would screw her face up in rage, point her finger at me, and scream, “Just WAIT until your father gets home!” And when I was a teenager, and the only thing I did was roll my eyeballs, as teenagers do, she didn’t even wait for my father. Her teacup full of hot green tea would come flying at my head. Maybe that’s why I became a goalie in soccer in high school; I learned to not flinch in the face of flying objects, to take the impact on my body, and to keep going.

As the years passed, the negative connotations I associated with Mothers’ Day slowly faded. Gradually, Mothers’ Day ceased being about my mother, a reluctant mother. I started to see that it was a day about any human being, man or woman, who CHOSE to care for another. My own children brought me homemade cards of construction paper, glue, and glitter, on the breakfast tray in bed. I have saved every one of them. My oldest, Emily, ever since she could write, has written silly poems and hilarious rap songs. I cherish every one of them. Even when I went into labor with my youngest, Simon, little Emily made colourful little posters to tape on the hospital room wall to cheer me on, “Laber is Fun!” I still have that little poster, misspelling and all. “Laber” isn’t all that fun, after all, but this family sure is. Last year, my husband cared for me and the children while I battled breast cancer; he became the best example of a mother I have ever known. I look around my life, and there is no more room for bad feelings on Mothers’ Day.

This morning, for the first time, I woke without my husband and my oldest child on Mothers’ Day. Markus is out in Seattle, working hard to make a new home for our family to move to next month. Emily is in Phoenix with her best friend to celebrate her graduation from university. Feeling slightly sorry for myself, I opened my eyes to find my two younger children, Hanna and Simon, holding a tray of breakfast and a coffee in a Love Cup. “Happy Mothers’ Day, Mama, we love you!” A feast of eggs and kale and onions, and their happy faces beaming at me while I ohh’d and ahh’d. Simon told me, “My gift to you is that I am going to scoop poop in the yard and mow the lawn!” And they both promised to help me clean the house for company tonight. That’s a minor miracle right there. I opened my email, and there was a letter to me, from my Emily. Not her usual funny rap or poem, this is what she wrote:

“Hi Mama Bear!

This isn’t my usual rap, because I felt that I had a lot to say that wouldn’t be very easy to rhyme. It’s Mother’s Day! You’ve gone through three “labers,” none of which could have been all that fun. You’ve raised one semi-adult who has so far managed not to perish out in the real world, one sassy teenager who loves to shock us all with her rebellion and independence, but who will one day undoubtedly shock us with incredible success, and also one hilariously weird boy who has the exterior of a hardened thug, but who’s insides are filled with love and an amazing sense of kindness. On top of all of this, you work hard to maintain the most beautiful marriage that I have ever seen.

When I was first processing that you had been diagnosed with breast cancer last year, they were some of the scariest feelings I’ve ever felt. First off, what kind of universe did we live in if someone as caring, sweet, and undeserving as you could possibly be dealt an early entry into Heaven? I realized we had all taken you and everything you did for us for granted; something I still sometimes catch myself guilty of. You are the only constant I’ve had in my entire life and I’ve literally known you for forever. How am I supposed to ever be expected to navigate through this stupid world without you to call and complain to? Without you to cry and scream and vent to, without hearing your 100% honest advice on something as small as what to buy at the grocery store, all the way to making life-changing decisions that I’m too weak to deal with on my own? That’s why when you were diagnosed, I never really considered it an option that you could ever disappear from my world. Nothing was strong enough to take you away from me, because you are mine and I couldn’t let that happen.

This was a very idiotic and naive approach to your newly discovered cancer. Because I wiped away this possibility, I did not embrace the seriousness of your illness, nor how important it would be for me to move back home. Even when I finally did, I look back and see how little I contributed to the family, how much more I could have done to lessen the burden of your surgery and healing. I know I can’t make that time up to you, but I am sorry for being a noob.

I have so many amazing memories of times we have shared. Obviously we have had some really bad times, horrible screaming fights and sometimes deafening bouts of silence. You’ve said before that you have blocked out most of your negative memories from your childhood, because they were too painful to keep around. But I think that the reason I remember less of the bad and all of the good is not because the bad is so bad, but because the good is so great. You and Papa have given us such an amazing life, full of the most love and laughter out of family I could ever imagine. I love when we’re all out for dinner, and half the conversation is purely brought-up memories that make my mouth burst out with laughter, and my heart burst with all the love we all share.

You are the coolest, funniest, most welcoming and biggest hearted mom (and person) I have ever known or even heard about. Even without ever meeting you, my friends give you rave reviews. I’m so sorry it took me so long to realize that I chose the best possible person to not only raise me, but to be my very best friend. I love you the most and I hope you always know that.

Happy Mother’s day Mama!!

Love,
Emmy”

Mothers’ Day is not a happy day for many people. But I believe you do not have to settle for what Life dishes out to you. If you can survive to adulthood, you can make the changes you need to find happiness. Leave the bad behind, or if you choose to keep it in your heart, use it to make your life better. There are some shitty moms out there getting some pretty damn good love from children that deserve more. Stay strong, kiddos. There is love out there, and it doesn’t have to come from your bio mom. If you can’t find it, you make it yourself. The more love you make, the more love just bubbles up and overflows.

This is it. I am here. I made it. I am the mother I always wanted, with the children I always wanted, in the family I always wanted. Dreams do come true. Happy Mothers’ Day to those who can, and I wish a Future Happy Mothers’ Day to those who will make it so down the line.

It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Any night is apparently the night to partaaay in these here parts…and my new neighbors seem to live by this mantra. We lived 5 years in a little house in Hawaii, and then moved to Banff to live blissfully in a 100 year-old cabin in the woods for 3 years.  It has been quite the adjustment to live in an apartment with neighbors below our floor, now.  You either get lucky in the neighbor department, or you get crazy people.  I don’t recall ever having a neighbor in-between, and I’m not feeling so lucky here.

In Hawaii, I had a balanced mixture.  To the left of my house, a lovely little family of 4 lived, with a gentle-voiced, traditionally raised Japanese-American Mom, a laid-back Dad, and 2 precious girls.  The first day we moved in, Sweet Lady was on my doorstep with a freshly-made plate of mochi to welcome us to the neighborhood.  Of course my family, being the circus act we are, let 2 year-old Simon open the front door.  Buck naked.  It was hot; we’d just moved there from the cooler central coast of California, AND he was potty training.  Needless to say, we nearly lost that plate of mochi, but caught it just in time.  It didn’t help matters when Sweet Lady later invited my kids over to play.  I looked out my window to see Sweet Lady and her husband frantically hosing down the mattress of a queen-sized bed in their back yard.  Then naked boy appears out of nowhere and buries his face in my lap.  Turns out, naked boy was caught standing on Sweet Lady’s bed, PEEING.  Not the best way to make a good impression, but we are now 8 years into our friendship and still going strong.

On the other side of the house, lived the Scary Family. Let me start by saying Mom is a Hot Mess, Dad is tired out Mr. Italiano Americano chef guy, and children are absolutely wacked out beyond belief.  I’m not saying Mom is a Hot Mess just because I was jealous…while we were house-hunting in the area, before buying the house, we drove by her on 3 separate occasions, jogging in her black bra and tight shorts, tanned skin gleaming, long blond ponytail swinging. Stunning from behind. Shocking to find you’ve moved into the house next to hers.  Yes, I would like my husband to say, “Wow” if he ever saw me jogging 6 blocks ahead of his car.  However, up close and personal, the tanned skin was actually saddle leather, and the blonde 5 o’clock shadow on her chin and the low voice when she began to speak, startled us a bit.  Turns out, Hot Mess is a former bodybuilder, and I don’t think steroids completely leave your system—even decades after taking them.  Or maybe she was still taking them.  Anyway, Mr. Italiano Americano may have worn the pants in the family, but Hot Mess definitely wore the jock strap.

I am a Live and Let Live kind of a person.  You could live next door to me and make love to monkeys, for all I care.  As long as the monkeys seemed happy, I would let you go about your business and I would tootle away in my garden.  The problem with living next to Hot Mess was that her part time job at the hotel (yes, she worked for my furry guy, which ended badly and then she had more reason to hate me) gave her much time to get into my business.  I wanted to dig in my garden, read my books, and enjoy the peace and quiet.  Every single time I stepped into my back yard, I heard the slam of her patio door, and then her manly voice would call out, “SUSAN.  SUSAN!  I need to tawk to you!”  I lost count of how many times I had to tell her, “My name is Sue.  Just Sue.  My parents were lazy and maybe the name should have been Susan, but it isn’t.  It’s just Sue.” To no avail – I gave up after 2 years.  After calling me over, she would proceed to lecture me on whatever was her topic for the day.  My family has a little tradition of saying “I Love you” and kissing each other goodbye every morning.  Then whoever is waving goodbye has to wave until the others can’t see you anymore.  We’re just too wild and crazy, I know.  Well, Hot Mess told me one day, after the family had driven off to work and school, “You need to stop telling him you love him.  You’re a freaking doormat.  Men want a little mystery.  I don’t tell my husband I love him all the time.  In fact, I hardly tell him. Ya gotta keep ‘em guessing.  He’s gotta know that THIS fine package could walk away at any time so he’d betta treasure me.  Ya know?”  God, I wish I could say she smoked cigarettes, because everything about her was so loathsome to me that it would have been absolutely perfect if she had been taking giant drags off of her menthol cigarette and squinting her eyes through the smoke while she was bitching at me.

Anyway, for some inexplicable reason, she hated Sweet Lady.  It was odd, because her Psycho Son was known to do really fun things like locking Sweet Lady’s girls in garden sheds and torturing small animals with the knife collection that Mr. Italiano Americano supplied (“My BOY.  My boy is a MAN and real men have GUNS and KNIVES”).  If anything, Sweet Lady should have hated her.  No worries, though, that ended up happening soon enough.

Hot Mess was very much into her Chardonnay.  So much so that she had a rendezvous with an entire bottle of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay every single evening.  It HAD to be Kendall Jackson – she was sooo proud that she could call herself a wine snob.  For Kendall Jackson, no less…go figure.  On some days, depending on how Psycho Boy was acting out, her evenings began at 3pm.  The neighborhood kids would play outside on the cul-de-sac, and she would sit on her back patio and sunbathe.  And drink.  And drink some more.  Psycho Boy had a little sister who had the misfortune of sporting a little black moustache.  Moustache Girl was Hot Mess’ PRECIOUS and God help you if you scorned her mustachioed Precious.  Moustache Girl liked to drive her battery-powered hot-pink Barbie Jeep all over the neighborhood, doing her best to run over every child she could, screaming and cackling.  Sweet Lady’s girls and my younger daughter Hanna (who later earned the nickname Assassin, but that is another story) would ride their bikes around the neighborhood and do their best to avoid becoming Barbie Jeep road kill.  One evening around 5, when Hot Mess must have been down to the bottom of her bottle of  oo-la-la Kendall Jackson Chardy, Moustache Girl went running to her mommy to scream that all the girls were SO MEAN cuz they wouldn’t play with her.  Sweet Lady and I are standing in my driveway chatting, watching the kids play, and Hot Mess comes tearing out of her house, resplendent in her animal print bikini, boobies bulging, her diaphanous genie-pants billowing, and her words slurring spectacularly.  She heads straight for the girls, yanks them off of their bicycles, and starts screaming, “YOU little girlz are bitchezzz.  BISHHHEZZZ!  You are NOT allowed to play with each other ever again – ever!  How can you be so mean to my baby?  She juz wanz to drive her car for Chrissssesake!”  You should have seen Sweet Lady morph into Protecto Mom in 2 seconds flat.  She runs over, plants herself between our girls and Hot Mess, stands up straight and tall and starts shaking her finger in Hot Mess’ face.  All I knew was that I was too scared to put myself between those two women, for fear that Sweet Lady would scratch out my eyes and Hot Mess would punch me in the face.  But I used my words, convinced Hot Mess to return to her bottle, and hugged Sweet Lady until her adrenaline rush had calmed down.  Desperate Housewives had NUTHIN’ on us, let me tell ya.  It was like I lived for 5 years with the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.  The scale finally tipped when Hot Mess was so horrible at work that my husband had to ask her husband to find a way to convince her to quit before she got fired.  Then venturing into my backyard got so unpleasant that I had to buy 2 dozen poplar trees to plant along the fence line so we could enjoy our time out there without the acidic looks and snide comments floating over to us.

Wait.  I started out by complaining about my current neighbors.  They are CAKE compared to Hot Mess.  Now I just need to shut up and calm down about their cigarette smoke coming up through the heating vents, their complaints that my children talk in the morning on their way to school…yeah, children talking – outrageous, right?  I need to be thankful that we live above them, not below them.  I need to be thankful that I can look out my windows at an unobstructed view of Lake Mildred and the Rocky Mountains.  I have no mochi and I have no Sweet Lady, but I also don’t have to hear, “SUSAN.  SUSAN!!!!! I need to tawk to you!”  And Kendall Jackson Chardonnay?  You have been replaced by Blasted Church Hatfield’s Fuse.  Cheers!

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