Wind in Her Hair

There’s a picture I’ve always loved of my second daughter running, when she was just a toddler, in our side yard.  Her hair is just like white dandelion fluff, blowing back in the wind of her joyous, headlong rush,  which has always made me think that a good American Indian name for her would have been “Wind In Her Hair.”  Something about the picture just speaks to the heart of her spirit, her true identity.  She has always held a unique position in our family, and we would all be lost without her.  In so many ways, she anchors us all together.  Like me, she has always needed routine (something hard to come by in our family!), and like me, she loves reading and books.  We’re both deeply domestic, love animals (not that that particular trait is unique to us!),  but unlike me, she excels at teaching young children.  They give me the heebie-jeebies.  I love them when they’re my own, but in large groups I seem to cause them to freak out and start jumping up and down and screaming.  Before you can calmly whisper “hush up,”, she will already have them sitting quietly on the floor with their legs crossed waiting for instructions, which she will then issue in a calm. yet authoritative, voice.  It must be magic.  I definitely don’t have it.  Maybe you could have given me a room full of middle or high school age “singers” and sooner or later  I would have worked them kind of like a lion tamer, but that’s not at all the same sort of magic.  I admire that in her.

She’s not perfect – who is?  But she’s really good.  And she tries very, very hard.  Always has.  And I still see that little girl in the picture when I look into her eyes.  She’s still looking out at me.

War and Peace Mother-Daughter Style

I love, love love my mother.  She is the sort of person that will inspire “would you believe it” stories for generations to come.  She weighs barely 100 pounds and stands 5 feet tall.  It is dangerous to interpret “small” as “weak”, however.  She is anything but.  Her opinions are many, absolute, and iron-clad.  There are no 50 Shades of Grey for my mom……not in any sense of the word.  The universe is divided up into two camps–right and dreadfully wrong.  On the right side–Republicans, Tide detergent, red shoes, homemade bread, Israel, decaf weak coffee, Ronald Reagan and G.W. Bush, Fox News, the Midwest, farmers, red meat, Protestants, guns and gun owners, John Wayne, terriers, American-made products, maps, women in dresses, McDonald’s, Christmas cards, Buicks, potluck dinners, Clinique face cream, black and white cats, rocking chairs, the King James Version of the Bible, fleece robes, Celtic Woman, handwritten letters, visiting friends in nursing homes.  On the wrong side–Democrats, liberal Christians, ERA laundry soap, NPR, Japanese cars, smart phones, any popular music, orange cats, Coca-Cola, alcohol, Obama, the entire Mideast (see above for exception), Taco Bell, China, strong coffee, New York City, pets inside the house, obesity, eating out too much, Time magazine, and……too often…..me.

Go ahead and ask my mom about me.  She will launch into a litany of my awesome awesomeness.  I am beautiful, have a beautiful home, have beautiful children, am amazingly successful at my job, an extremely talented musician, a gifted public speaker, compassionate, and I love Jesus.

Now spend a day with us.  I will be wrong in more ways than you ever imagined possible.  We go for a simple drive in the car–she has me drive her car.  I put my drink in the wrong cup, in the wrong holder, don’t brace it up with wadded napkins the right way.  I pull out of her garage at the wrong angle which makes me turn too much to miss the curve.  I take the wrong road to get to our destination, causing us to lose upwards of 20 seconds (she lives in a town of 4,000).  I don’t know how to get to where we’re going (I have never lived in this town).  I don’t remember the people who speak to us there.  I am not dressed warmly enough, I must give her the car keys because I might lose them while we’re out of the car.  I hit the remote to lock it only 1 time, not 2 times so that it will beep.  I get the wrong kind of bread/milk/lotion/nightlight bulb.  I don’t beat my scrambled eggs with the mixer, I use a peeler for potatoes instead of a sharp paring knife, I put the knife back in the drawer before I let it dry on the counter long enough, I use sugar instead of Splenda, I don’t know to spray the shower with the daily cleaner, I change my sheets when she meant to leave them on the bed, I pull the car too far forward in the garage which (she demonstrates) causes her to turn sideways when walking in front of it.  I leave the mashed potatoes lumpy, I let my children have a tattoo/dyed hair/piercings (they are 28, 24, and 21….the 15 year old is still in my control– and call their grandmother all the time and send her cards and texts and she adores them beyond belief).  I don’t manage to make my son get good grades.  I wear pants to church, I often clean my plate, I drink Diet Coke occasionally, I have an espresso machine, I listen to NPR and watch PBS, I don’t have guns and don’t much like them, I live in a city.

How can she apparently disapprove of everything about me but adore me.  I don’t know.  I’m pretty sure she does, though.

Why does this matter tonight?  Because she had open heart surgery last Monday.  Because she’s 78.  Because the weekend before the surgery was one of the worst times I’ve ever had with her, and I could barely feel sorry for her because she was so awful to be with.  Because I overreact to her, just like I did when I was 13.  Because I’ve been in the hospital with her for a week, away from my home and family and job, and she’s driving me crazy.  I’m pretty sure I’m driving her crazy too.  She behaves better with everyone than with me, yet wants me.  Because she’s not recovering very well and I don’t know what lies ahead.  I’m not ready to plan her funeral.  She is beloved by hundreds of people and is a surrogate mother/grandmother to battalions of women, girls, men, and boys in her community.  She is complicated.

My mom should have been born in the Old West.  She’s a cowboy through and through, really, without liking horses.  She likes men in charge…strong, doubt-free men who carry guns and crack wise while helping ladies through the mud.  She likes it when John Wayne spanks the female lead, then kisses her.  She could shoot 20 bad guys in a fight without flinching or losing any sleep, and still organize the first town school in her spare time.  I don’t know anyone like her, which is a sentiment echoed by everyone who knows her. Revisit the list of “wrong” things and then understand that, if any of those “wrong” people were her neighbors, she would help them in every way they needed, bake them a cake, love their children, and correct their mistaken beliefs at every turn.

My mom’s heroes are Billy Graham, John Wayne, and Ronald Reagan.  Rock Hudson, her former crush, became problematic for her, but she still likes his movies.

I am confused, scared, guilty, grateful, compassionate, angry.  Am I the only one?  Maybe I’m the same about her as she is about me……I dislike many of her beliefs and opinions and most of her inflexible “this is how I do it!”  I hate having to turn around to go the way she wants to go, despite the fact that turning around actually makes our trip longer.  I hate being corrected at every turn.  I love love love love love her, though.

Goodbye With Grace

You are boarding the plane.  My phone buzzes in my hip pocket as I supervise a final.  It’s not like I didn’t know you would actually have to leave.  It just wasn’t exactly final until I received the text. And it’s not like New York is a world away. We have cell phones; email; I could finally figure out how to use Skype, for goodness sake.

But you’re not here. Not in my house. I can’t hear your breath when I peek in your room at night. I can’t kiss your sweet cheek and I can’t watch you while you’re laughing with your brothers and sister about nothing and everything. I will set a place for you and then, remembering, put the dish away.

Yes, we’re very different. No, we wouldn’t do well living together indefinitely. You are every bit as opinionated as I am (“bossypants” indeed!). We can drive each other crazy.

But I love you. I loved you when you were only a thought, a worry, a very difficult thing to explain to my parents. I loved you when you were a chubby-faced baby with white peach fuzz sticking straight up out of your head. I loved you when you cried, when you smiled, when you slept. I loved you through the silly fashions, through the anger, the shouting, the tears. I loved you when you couldn’t stand the sight of me. I haven’t drawn a breath in 27 years that wasn’t filled with love of you, and I don’t suppose I ever will.

So I miss you today. Go safely. May your pilot be well-rested. May the city be kind to you when you arrive. May you have work offers waiting. May you stop to remember the One who gifted us with this love and this time together.

I love you. When you’re so far away from me, that’s all I have left. I can’t love you with my arms, with my smile, with a delicious dinner….but I love you. Go with joy and hope in your heart, and the courage that comes with knowing there are people who always wait for you to come home.