Mother’s Love

affection baby barefoot blur

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When this shelter-in-place began, my oldest son volunteered to do my shopping. I’d text him a list of what I needed and he’d pick it up along with his own groceries, and leave my supplies outside my door. And that worked well for the first week or so. But, recently, news would suggest that people his age, and especially smokers which he is, may be just as vulnerable to this virus as me – a healthy sixty-nine year old. So, I’ve decided to do my own shopping from now on. Once a month, if I can get my list organized that well. Early morning senior hours. Straight home to put my clothes directly into the washer on the hot water cycle, and get in the shower and wash my hair and every inch of my skin.

On one of my morning calls to my mom who, at ninety-one, lives alone about two and half hours up the coast from me, I told her of my new plan.

“Wear gloves and your mask,” she instructed.

“Well,” I said, “I would if I could, but since I have neither, I will just not touch my face and hurry home to wash everything when I’m done.”

Mom called two hours later.

“I sent you a package.”

“What?”

“It’s just an old mask and a package of disposable gloves I’ve had for years.”

“Well, thank you.” I said. “Wait. How did you get that mailed without leaving your house?”

A long pause.

“I have to go now.” Her voice was firm. “The cat wants out.”

And I was holding a dead phone with tears in my eyes.

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What Dreams May Come

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I have not been sleeping well. My bedtime routine is now an hour long relaxation routine. A hot, steamy shower. Lotion. Clean panties and soft t-shirt. Stretch out on the bed and relax into a thirty minute body scan. And, last and as my nightly dessert – a chapter in Clarissa Pinkola Estes The Dangerous Old Woman on Audible read by the ultimate grandmother, the author herself.

And still, I wake every hour, heart pounding, a dream slipping below the surface. Last night the dream came close enough for me to scoop up into a net of consciousness. All night, every night since news of the pandemic began weeks ago, in this reoccurring dream, I have been scrolling through computer data, searching each highlighted red or blue link, searching for magic to save me from the slow, painful, horrifying death threatened by this virus. Every click leads to more and more branches of information, like a great tree whose limbs stretch ever upward into the night sky, or perhaps like the buried roots of the grandmother tree reaching deep underground into the muck and dirt, gathering rich nutrients and life-giving rain filtered through layers of rich humus.

In the dream I am not seated in my comfortable chair in front of my computer screen. No. None of that. I am physically caught up in this information tree, moving along each tiny hair root and living, stretching path. In the dream, I know the magic to save me is here. I know, just as clearly, that the wrong turn will lead to me to the virus itself and to death. If I stand still, do not move into any of the highlighted links, I have no hope of finding the magic. But if I follow the wrong link, I will die.

No wonder I wake each hour, chest tight, breath caught in my throat.

I think I know part of what the dream is telling me. Like all humans, I search for answers to make sense of my world. I seek control. And right now, this is an overwhelming, perhaps an impossible, task.

The quarantine itself is not a particular hardship to me. I enjoy my own company, I have a giant dog who is a better listener than either of my husbands generally were, and I have a good many precious and valued friends and family members with whom I touch bases each week. I am not alone. On-line courses, books, television, and puttering in the garden keep me from being bored. I live in an area where getting out and walking while following social distancing restrictions is entirely possible. If all else fails, and this is a last resort, I put on music and clean my tiny house. It’s just big enough that cleaning gives me something to do without ruining my back.

It’s not the quarantine that bothers me. It’s the fear of dying. And not just dying, but dying alone and painfully. This fear is good in that it makes me careful. But the dream tells me my imagination has embraced far too tightly this image of this horrible death.

So, tonight, instead of my nightly body scan, I will spend a half hour envisioning myself and my friends enjoying each other’s company over a meal, or walking at the beach or in the woods. I will imagine myself and those I love, well and whole and safe from this virus which will have been defeated by science and by love and by the goodness, the god, in my human family.

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sad woman

A week ago, I felt young. Well, not young exactly. The earth’s curve exposed my last sunset, but it was a good long way off. Today, that approaching sunset is brilliantly lit. A huge red sphere sinking into the sea, my feet already wet and salty at its edge. A week ago, I adhered to the recommendations to shelter in place so as not to endanger our vulnerable population — the old, the infirm, those whose immune systems are compromised.

Today, hunkered down in my one room house with Nickie, my giant, rowdy, loving dog, my son doing my shopping and running essential errands, I face a hard truth.  I may not get that last wisdom-filled twenty years on earth I counted on. A cold knot grows in my belly. The chances are good that I will survive this pandemic, but the virus has shown me my vulnerability and that will have longer-reaching repercussions than not going to lunch with friends or canceling that much anticipated vacation, or missing a performance at HSU Theater Arts.

Sheltering in place is not a big hardship for someone like me who can sit quietly most of a rainy afternoon and enjoy the antics of a common sparrow, someone who disappears between the covers of a book or into words flying onto a blank computer screen, someone whose favorite secret pleasure is an afternoon nap. For me, staying home is a logistics problem, not a psychological hardship. What is difficult is the realization that I am, in fact, part of the vulnerable population must susceptible to this virus, that I am not the strong, invincible old crone I believed myself to be a week ago.

Luckily I have lots of time right now to meditate on my new self-image, accept my limitations, if such a thing is possible.

What about you? How are you using this gift of time?

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Cake

 

birthday cakeFifty-four years ago, after a movie at the Eureka Theater, I became, for the first time in my life, somebody’s special someone. Since this was March in the Pacific Northwest, it’s likely we were obscured in thick fog, but in my memory there was a night sky brilliant with stars as we held each other and he asked me to wear his ring. The ring was borrowed and cheap tin, but that was then, and is now, of no importance whatsoever. As a symbol it worked just fine. I don’t remember the movie we had just seen. I know we were making our way back to his parent’s house and from there I would have either walked another twenty blocks to my parent’s home, or I may have called my dad for a ride. Neither of us had a car. None of that matters. I was fifteen. That seems unbelievable. But that has to be correct because seven months later, on my sixteenth birthday, we became engaged.

This rush to commitment wasn’t about sex.

Well, of course, it was about sex. We were teenagers.  And we were good kids, both of us fulfilling an emotional need in the other, and both of us well indoctrinated. He was Catholic. It’s-a-sin-to-sleep-with-your-hands-under-the-covers Catholic. My mom explained sex to me by revealing that it was the most extraordinarily wonderful experience in the world. And if I did it before I was married, it would kill my father.

The first time this boyfriend slipped his hand under my bra, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  Afterward, when I had caught my breath, I rushed home to make sure Dad was still breathing. I was relieved to find that my going to first base hadn’t killed either of my parents.

But I digress.

Back to the importance of today’s date.

Over the years I’ve accumulated a number of important anniversary dates, but this one, March 5th, is the one that is the most real to me. The first time another human being declared that I was the most special person in their life.

In just over seven months, I’ll be seventy years old, and once again, I find myself single. Widowed – a status which carries its own expectations. I miss having someone to nurture and spoil, and I miss being the one person who makes someone else light up when I walk in a room. Though one should never say never, I have no desire to be married again, but I could really go for a cake and a honeymoon. And a smile when I walk in the room.

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Ordinary Thoughts on Apps, and Beatles, and the Moon Walk

This week I turned off my cable TV. At $123 a month, it was simply too expensive for me. I purchased a Fire Stick and paid a computer tech to come to my house and set my TV up with Netflix, and Hulu. He told me I also have access to Amazon Prime, so I have that available on my TV, too. Most of you could install this system on your own and skip the hourly fee for the computer tech. At the best of times, my brain is not great with technical tasks. Right now, the installation of a couple of Apps was beyond my ability.

Now, I am adjusting to the change from programed Network television, to the ability to choose from hundreds of shows to watch at any time of the day or night. That’s a good trade off, right? Especially since my monthly fee for the necessary apps is right around $20. But I find myself missing my morning news shows, my inane sitcoms which I generally had on as background and almost always ended up seriously disappointed in myself for watching at all.

I miss that.

And it took me a while to figure out why.

Last night, binge watching the third season of The Crown, (the episode where the royal family gathers around the TV, along with millions of others around the world, to watch the moon landing) I realized what I miss about my former expensive, archaic, and limited television access.

I grew up with three channels. Weekdays, 4pm, while our mothers cooked dinner, every kid in the neighborhood watched a local show called The Mr. Bill show – cartoons and puppets, mostly.  In the evening, we all sat inches from the screen and stared at Life with Elizabeth (which my sister insisted was called Life with a Lizard Butt), Father Knows Best, or Leave it to Beaver. In junior high we pressed our books to our hips and hurried home to catch American Bandstand. For the most part, we sat in our individual homes, often alone, and watched these shows, but we watched them together. We were all in love with Little Joe on Bonanza. The morning after the Beatles sang I Want to Hold Your Hand on the Ed Sullivan show, every kid at George C Jacobs Junior High talked of nothing else.

The TV connected us.

This new way of watching television is less expensive, allows more freedom, and offers vastly better choices. But, I miss my morning tea with Gail King. I miss smiling as she throws shade at one person or another. I miss wondering how that’s playing in the living rooms of Arkansas or Texas or Idaho or my next door neighbor. I miss knowing that a whole lot of other people are shaking their heads at the same lame joke on some sitcom, or smiling as Stephen Colbert or Trevor Noah hit the nail on the head.

I miss the sense of community the limited choices of programed television provided for most of my life.

I feel better having traced my sense of nostalgia, but I’m keeping my apps. I may be leaning backward, but my feet, and television, are now firmly planted in the twenty-first century.

 

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Elegy

My creative spark, long dormant, is reaching toward the light. I am not sick, but rather I offer this to you as a celebration of life, of my life in particular, and in the joy and surprise each day gifts to us.

011 bb cover stump

Do not seek for me among the dead,

But, rather, among the living.

Do not trace your trembling finger along cold stone

And mourn for my warmth.

Rather,

Look for me where redwoods weave roots and reach into the heavens,

Where homeless curl inside burnt stumps left by long-dead loggers,

And children pump their feet to the sky and lean back hard

Against their own joy.

Look for me in the blush of a Cecil Brunner,

the shine of a raven’s wing,

And the soft green of a spring fiddle head.

Look for me in the cow elk who lifts her head beside a fog-shrouded lagoon,

And in the glorious smells of wild fennel, and marijuana,

and the black stink of the bay at low tide.

And look for me always

in the salmon who batter themselves against all odds

to reach the clear waters of home.

 

 

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In Time of Loss

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Winter wind shakes the gnarled fingers of barren trees at a gray sky.  In a few months, those same trees will bud and then burst into bloom, send forth new growth. In the depth of personal loss, we are often reminded by those who seek to provide comfort that joy does, in truth, cometh in the morning. Happiness, these good folks tell us, will return just as spring follows winter. But, this comparison, as it pertains to the losses that come with aging, is a false equivalency.

A more apt image of this particular loss is that of a wildfire that burns everything in its path. Of course, life does indeed return to the burned over forest. But that new life, that change, looks very little like the trees and underbrush, the layers of life that built upon itself for hundreds of years to reach the exquisite complexity which was reduced by flames to wet ash and destruction.

If we live long enough to feel the slowing down of our bodies, to watch friends leave us through death, or insanity, or addiction, or illness, we may come, then, to the understanding that our lives are rich in the ash of loss. Wildflowers flourish after a fire precisely because ash is such fertile soil for new, delicate growth. Our lives, like the burned over forest, looses complexity as we age. But when we have sufficiently mourned for our favorite shade tree, grieved for the den where the rabbits nested each year, cried for the loss of the sword ferns our grandmother always loved, then we may find pleasure in the feathery leaves of the poppy, the soft lavender of crocus, or the pale green of a fiddle head amongst the gray of loss.

 

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