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I just spent the last week sitting Shiva for my mother. Shiva is a Jewish custom of a 7 day period of mourning after an immediate family member’s funeral. It is an opportunity for people to come and express their feelings of the loved one, to speak of comfort and wishes to enjoin us all to be comforted among all the mourners of the world, and to listen to the mourners speak of their memories.

We stayed together, my father and siblings, to mourn my mother. The house flowed with people bringing us into multiple rooms to accommodate the number of visitors.

Many of the visitors came for the sake of their friendship and relationship with specific or certain members of the family. While my siblings have family roots going back in this city for more than 50 years, I am the Canadian who arrived ten years ago.

Some had no idea who I was and the oft repeated question was “And you are?” in the singsong voice and finger that points and moves in a circle trying to identify.

I am the one who can remember things from when I was three, but whose brain is currently wrapped in cotton. I am the one who cannot stop talking, but desperately wants to. I am the one who is self-censoring because I think that no one wants to hear what I have to say, but there are so many thoughts scrambling through my cotton-wrapped brain and mush-filled mouth.

Each child has memories and each grandchild has stories. There are acts of kindness that we never knew my mother enacted and piles of confetti and cards waiting somewhere to be sent. Family brunches await the motherless children to honor her memory and pretend that we know how to go on right now.

Visitors told us to be strong for ourselves, for our father, for each other. I simply don’t have the energy for that right now; I can barely imagine how I will drive myself to work tomorrow for the first time in a week. Strength is not an emotion that even registers right now. However the current list includes: regret, sadness, confusion, bone-aching tiredness, appreciation, loss, grief, self pity, and missed opportunities. To be grateful that the loved one is no longer suffering is a truism, but not sufficient to cover the unfaltering truth that she is gone. So full of life, how could my mother really be gone? She may not have always liked me (I was rather complex), but she always loved me. She had lessons to teach and advice to share. She had a positive, wondrous attitude about the world, nature and the delight in a singing bird. She cared for me and my children when we could not care for, or about, ourselves.

There are so many stories to tell from so many sources. A lifetime of positive actions had to be filtered into a eulogy that could not contain an iota of what she represented to others.

There are no replacements, similes, or metaphors sufficient to this time. There are endless choices of words that cannot express, or define, who she was in this world and who she may be in the next. There she comes and here she goes. She is a ship in the night, a soul in the shadow, a fountain trickling in the distance, and a ray of sunshine through colored leaves. She is the jingle of a chime, the sculpted sides of a tulip, the bunny skipping through the reservoir, and the delight in a child’s eyes.

She is my mother who is never more and never-ending. She is missed and I am her child. That is who I am.

anne taintor put my needs last

With Mother’s Day approaching, I am getting so much mail about gifts to buy, how to celebrate, and things to do with Mom. As we are in the transitions with my mother and grandmother, I empathize with others that are unable to celebrate on this day.  Ultimately, through good and bad, no one loves you like your mother.

I come from a long line of very strong women; I have even given birth to a couple.  The stories and memories that we share of our lineage bring smiles, tears, and laughter – especially to others who don’t have to deal with all of the other baggage! But the inventive sense of humor, creativity, and independence that each lived gives us strength when we need it.  It reminds us that they have not really left us, but remain alive in our hearts and minds with each memory.

Men may be the hunters and gatherers, but it is the mothers who cut the crusts off the sandwiches and make sure that everyone has exactly the same number of cookies.  Mothers can spend 12 hours in the warzone with toddlers, but when Dad walks in, he gets all of the attention. Motherhood is not always fair, sometimes fierce, often fractured, but it is an elemental love so deep and strong, that we persevere.

My mother gave each of us the legacy of family through stories, journals and photographs that she has researched, collected and created for us to acknowledge and remember family members that we did not get to meet face-to-face.  She grew up without grandparents, aunts, uncles or cousins and therefore worked very hard to make memories, create family occasions, and document them with pictures and souvenirs.  We grew up with developing fluid in our veins. We knew that if it happened, Mom had a photo of it.  We have had more “natural” posed photographs than some, but we knew it was, and still is, done with love.

The oral history that passes from mother to child brings our ancestors to life. It creates memories and journeys to share with our own children. It is a reminder that mothers will do what they have to do in order to care for their families, and others, in a world that does not always stop to notice.

My great grandparents had to move from one country in Europe to another in order to find work and financially support their growing family.  My great grandfather went ahead to seek work, while my great grandmother waited in another country with my grandmother and her brother.  She waited until my great grandfather was settled and he was ready for them to reunite.  Each European country was tied up in its own borders, paperwork and bureaucracy.  It might be necessary to move families, but they did not make it easy and did not want to take in immigrants to swell the ranks of the social services.  My great grandmother did not let one such border crossing officer utilize his power to keep her from entering the country and beginning a new life with her family.  She was told that the paperwork was not cleared and that she could not enter the country. So, like the clever, strong woman that she was, she told her children to sit down and wait at the crossing, with the nice border patrol, while she went to find her husband and clear up any misunderstanding with the necessary documentation. 

My great grandmother was allowed to enter with her family and belongings.

My grandmother was very frugal, as was my grandfather, who carefully measured each portion and calculated every penny of their combined paychecks. In the 1950’s, my grandparents traveled to Europe, by ship, with my mother and her brother to see what was left of the lives that they had been forced to flee.  There simply was not enough disposable income for lavish meals after the expense of the tickets and the limited income they were careful to protect.  Grandma traveled with a large black purse, a seemingly bottomless trapezoid, which opened and closed with a clicking snap.  She carefully planned for their modest needs and traveled with cans of tuna.  At each restaurant where they were able to eat, the bread basket was placed on the table along with the cutlery and linens.  Each time that the waiter turned around, Grandma would swoop the entire contents of the bread basket into her large black purse, and pleasantly request more rolls.  The family dined on tuna sandwiches throughout their journey.

My mother, undaunted by her own strict and occasionally domineering mother, was unfazed at times when she sought independence.  As a teenager living in New York, my mother dreamed of cozy cottages and country climes.  She had seen a wooden rocking chair and wanted to purchase it for her room.  My grandmother felt it was unnecessary and impractical in their modest-sized apartment.  My mother was told that she could not get it. Those are fighting words for my mother.  She purchased that chair and brought it home, remarkably, on the New York subway system.  Through many incarnations, and paint colors, that rocking chair has traveled through several moves across the country and today sits in her home office. 

My mother does things on her own timetable and doesn’t let the seemingly impossible stop her. Where I am punctual, my mother found the concept of time to be more fluid. If we were supposed to be somewhere in five minutes, that was enough time for her to put on nail polish before we headed into the car.

When I was a teenager, my family moved to New Orleans for a number of years. Mom and Dad had to acclimate to the weather, so hot and humid compared to our New England winters, and become accustomed to a brand new way of life.  Both of my parents worked and had to figure out how to maneuver in their new environment while trying to find their way around the city.  In the days before Mapquest, and the difficulty in driving in the city while holding a large paper map, it was necessary to remember the minimum number of routes to arrive at your destination. On one shopping excursion, my mother had missed her turn and did not know another way to get back to the Mall.  As I was a teenager, fresh from driving lessons and my license still warm, I told my mother that the sign said “No Left Turns.”  My mother’s steely reply:  “Wanna Bet?”

How can we turn out any other way than strong, determined, caring, and possessing a wit and absurd sense of humor?

We are teachers, doctors, cooks, and personal shoppers. We are chauffeurs, social planners, bankers, and the butt of jokes.  We are tired, despairing, frustrated, elated and proud. We can be examples or warnings.  We are mental health counselors on call 24 hours a day. But wherever we are, and wherever they are, we are forever Mothers.

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Thank you for stopping by! It means more than you know.
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