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The Motherless Mother: A Series, Part IV

February 8, 2016

The following series are excerpted form a chapter I wrote about the experience of having children without my own mom by my side, where I had always envisioned she’d be. Huntington’s Disease didn’t allow that, and it affected me profoundly as I navigated the muddy waters of parenthood alone, bereft, and vulnerable. 

To those of you new to this blog, thank you for stopping by, for commenting and sharing your stories. There is hope to be found in community, and together we’ll continue the fight for a cure, continuing to choose hope over despair.

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A wise friend has a theory on friendship—you can be a salmon, swimming upstream, forging your way, seeking out friendship and connection, or you can be like the day laborers who stand at the entrance of the hardware store parking lot, waiting to be wanted, needed, or chosen.

Me, I was another breed altogether, running from friendship and connection because it burned where I was already raw. If darkness is merely the absence of light, then the person I was then was the absence of Mom. I didn’t know how or who to be without her. Forging new friendships and filling the voids felt like betrayal—an acknowledgement that she was really and truly gone. Living up to her memory, or at least the memory I manufactured of her, was all I knew to do: trying to find my perfect, glossing over cracks and wounds that would not heal with time, hiding the mother orphan inside who still was missing her mommy.

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“We should get the boys together to play sometime!” She smiled so easily, as one does who is used to smiling at everyone, and often.

I managed to pull up one side of my face in response before I let it drop, alongside a non-committal “uh huh!”

Yeah, right.

She was so pretty and sweet and pure. She had the kind of gentle motherhood that you see in print ads.

Rochelle was the living embodiment of the mom I thought I was supposed to be.

She was my mom. Perfect.

Her blonde hair was always blown out and neatly straightened. She carried a Coach bag, but it didn’t seem pretentious on her. She was composed and generous with her friendship.

So I snubbed her.

I evaded her attempt at friendship. What could we possibly have in common? I worked. She did not. I was a terrible mother. She was perfect.

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I knew with such certainty that we could never, never be friends. Without one, single, solitary bit of fact in my fiction, I wrote the story of her life, and it did not mesh with my own.

She gave up, after a time, had another baby, and moved away.

But now, I wonder. Was she lonely? Was her poise just a front? Was she as bewildered and scared by motherhood as much as I was? Was she tired of being alone at home all the time, desperate for friendship, longing for connection?

Did she see in me a soul mate, someone with whom to relate her boy-mom worries, hopes, and fears?

I’ll never know. I was too busy making up her mind for her about whether or not she and I could be friends.

How many friendships have I lost? How many kindred spirits have I missed? My working-mother shame was blinding and pervasive, solidly planted on the foundation of bitterness that had brewed since my mother left us.

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Come back later this  week for the next post in this series. Thanks for reading! 

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The conversation continues!  See the boymom life in full Technicolor.  Join me over on Instagram.

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The Motherless Mother: A Series, Part III

February 4, 2016

The following series are excerpted form a chapter I wrote about the experience of having children without my own mom by my side, where I had always envisioned she’d be. Huntington’s Disease didn’t allow that, and it affected me profoundly as I navigated the muddy waters of parenthood alone, bereft, and vulnerable. 

To those of you new to this blog, thank you for stopping by, for commenting and sharing your stories. There is hope to be found in community, and together we’ll continue the fight for a cure, continuing to choose hope over despair.

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When Colin was three months old, I joined the ranks of Working Mothers and returned on a limited schedule as Director of Client Services for a Silicon Valley advertising firm. I juggled the guilt of leaving my newborn in daycare with the heady rush of wearing makeup and heels again. I loved the dichotomy of both roles. Whatever the day brought, the next day would be different. If clients were demanding and critical, the next day would be spent in yoga pants nuzzling the sweet-smelling neck of my boy. If he was fussy and colicky all day, the next day would bring silence and solitude as I drove to work and played with grown-ups instead of Baby Einstein.

In those early days I was unable to ask for help. I did not know that I had permission to do so. I thought I was supposed to have all the answers delivered unto me the day I delivered my son. I had no mother of my own to tell me otherwise. Somehow I never was able to find the manual the stork should have brought, and I began to falter. Lack of sleep, rocking a feverish baby at midnight, tap-dancing through client meetings and calls from daycare … no one else was struggling with this … were they? Colin, fair skinned and rosy, with pale blue eyes, began developing strange rashes on his face and legs. They would bloom rapidly, from nothing into a scaly, angry rash that covered his face within hours. The daycare would call, certain he had developed some horrifying communicable disease; I would drop my work and race to pick him up. The doctor assured us these rashes were benign and harmless—eczema. “He has sensitive skin” we were told and had to be content with that. Except that our cherub was walking around with a frightening scaly rash covering half his face. It looked awful, and I somehow felt responsible for being unable to stop this from happening. We began limiting his diet and pursued allergy testing. I sat in sterile waiting rooms while he, wearing nothing but a diaper, sat on my lap watching cartoons after two dozen tiny needles full of allergens were pressed into the petal-soft skin of his little back. All negative. No allergies, just rashy, sensitive skin.

Deep down, in the dark place bitterness dwells, I squirmed with conviction—if Mom were here, none of this would have ever happened.

Bereft, abandoned, and motherless, I slipped deeper into the dark of my own disappointment.

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Come back next week for the next post in this series. Thanks for reading! 

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The conversation continues!  See the boymom life in full Technicolor.  Join me over on Instagram.

Like this post? Subscribe to receive future posts via email or a quarterly newsletter that positively glimmers with good stuff. 

The Motherless Mother: A Series, Part II

February 1, 2016

The following series are excerpted form a chapter I wrote about the experience of having children without my own mom by my side, where I had always envisioned she’d be. Huntington’s Disease didn’t allow that, and it affected me profoundly as I navigated the muddy waters of parenthood alone, bereft, and vulnerable. 

To those of you new to this blog, thank you for stopping by, for commenting and sharing your stories. There is hope to be found in community, and together we’ll continue the fight for a cure, continuing to choose hope over despair.

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As we set about being a family of two adults and one child, I realized quickly that two plus one does not actually equal three.

Two plus one equals six-hundred and forty-seven. I couldn’t stop to think about how different this was from the way I envisioned it long ago. Noticeably absent was my mother by my side. She wasn’t there to show me tips and tricks she had learned as a mother herself. Me, teaching her about all the new gadgets and baby gear, marveling that she was able to survive motherhood without a video baby monitor and a Boppy.

The reality was very different.

Within a week of his birth we were alone, figuring it all out for ourselves. We named him Colin. He was downy and precious, but like every infant, the boy had lungs and used them. Post-partum insomnia, something the books failed to mention but a very real and not so terribly uncommon manifestation of PPD, set in. “Sleep when the baby sleeps!” the old ladies at church would tell me cheerfully, patting my cheek. I wanted to punch somebody. The baby slept fine. He was a dream, really. He quickly adapted to a schedule and woke with sunshine on his face. But for me, sleeping became a demon I dreaded. Trying to sleep and failing was an exhausting, humiliating battle.

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It took me a month to call my doctor, so disillusioned with myself that I felt a complete failure.

Failure at breastfeeding—that didn’t work out well either—and failure at sleep. She prescribed sleeping medication, told my husband that he was now on duty for the 11 p.m. feeling, and sent me to bed at eight o’clock.

I woke the next day at 6 a.m. and immediately began to cry with relief. If you had told me when Colin was just two weeks old that I would, someday, sleep eight straight hours, I would have told you that you were lying, and I might have kicked you in the shins.

I could not stop to think about my mom. Remembering was too painful, the scab of her loss too fresh. Memories plucked at the wound, and before long it bled; I simply did not have time between diapers and laundry and breastfeeding to be able to process that kind of pain. She was not here. What was evident was her absence, the void she should have filled, a gaping black hole that took everything with it including the light. My loss became a veil through which I saw the world, tinged and tainted by my grief.

As I carefully tried to adapt to the new role of motherhood without a mother of my own to call upon. I convinced myself that I had been raised by the perfect mom, and therefore, I had to be the perfect mom. Never yell. Never cry. Never fight. Never make mistakes. I focused only on her serenity, the ease with which she mothered us.

Motherhood, to my surprise, was not easy, and I wasn’t adapting well. Frantic to live up to the ideal I remembered, I found myself alone and shivering, in the shadow of the pedestal I placed her on.

Nothing was easy, nothing came naturally to me, except perhaps anxiety, fear, and worry.

I was exceptionally good at those.

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Come back next week for the next post in this series. Thanks for reading! 

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The conversation continues!  See the boymom life in full Technicolor.  Join me over on Instagram.

Like this post? Subscribe to receive future posts via email or a quarterly newsletter that positively glimmers with good stuff. 

The Motherless Mother: A Series, Part I

January 29, 2016

The following series are excerpted form a chapter I wrote about the experience of having children without my own mom by my side, where I had always envisioned she’d be. Huntington’s Disease didn’t allow that, and it affected me profoundly as I navigated the muddy waters of parenthood alone, bereft, and vulnerable. 

To those of you new to this blog, thank you for stopping by, for commenting and sharing your stories. There is hope to be found in community, and together we’ll continue the fight for a cure, continuing to choose hope over despair.

*************************************

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The day Colin, our first child, was born, my husband Gabe was at my side. My father and mother-in-law were in the waiting room. My mom, suffering from a neurodegenerative illness called Huntington’s disease, was living on Catalina Island. Apart from us all, in the contrived contentedness she had manufactured for herself there, she was happy. She didn’t want to leave the island. That was the best we could get, and so we left it at that.

The spot I had always imagined she would take, by my side throughout my pregnancy, at every baby shower, sat empty. We spoke on the phone from time to time. We’d talk of Catalina and the weather. She’d tell me of the people she would meet and the friends she would make. But we would never talk about why she was there and we were here and all that was so wrong, so broken. She would merrily say goodbye as if a loving wife and mother who moved to an island to escape the reality of her illness and family were a perfectly natural thing. I trudged through my pregnancy, elated and exhausted, and every day missing my mommy.

Huntington’s has been called the most devastating disease known to man. Imagine being in your 40’s and having Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and ALS at the same time.  Some patients are fortunate to endure primarily physical degeneration and some dementia. Others, like my mother, suffer cruelly from mental illness—paranoia, schizophrenia—while also enduring the spasmodic muscle contractions called chorea that twisted her face, her hands, and constantly affected her balance and ability to walk.

As I lay in recovery after a c-section, attended only by a disinterested nurse, I slipped under the surface of grief and drowned in it for a while. Why isn’t she here? My husband stood vigil with our baby as they checked him over from stem to stern, head, shoulders, knees, and toes. And here was I, completely alone on the biggest day of my life, gasping for what I had lost. The void of her presence yawning and draining the room of light and life. I wept violently, the pain excruciating.

The nurse never even raised her head.

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Come back next week for the next post in this series. Thanks for reading! 

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The conversation continues!  See the boymom life in full Technicolor.  Join me over on Instagram.

Like this post? Subscribe to receive future posts via email or a quarterly newsletter that positively glimmers with good stuff. 

Home Staging: The Brutal Reality

January 21, 2016

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It’s not all shiny floors and sparkly windows, this home-selling business. The pictures are pretty, but allow me to invite you into the dark reality underneath.

Our house is officially for sale and we are living in a strange, hotel-like museum. We’re allowed to sleep on the beds only if we make them every morning. Half the furniture has been removed, and I’m sharing a sock drawer with my 8 year old. Our few remaining personal effects are hidden behind closed doors, and every day when I leave for work I have to run around with a dust mop, the vacuum, and furniture polish to erase every shred of our existence.

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The place looks pretty awesome, but getting to that point was a feat harder than surmounting Everest.

We have a lot of crap, apparently.

The ideally staged home allows the potential buyer to survey the space without any distractions from personal objects, dirt, clutter, or anything that would prevent them from imagining themselves in that space.

Mind you, I am no hoarder. I make regular trips to the Goodwill, I keep my closets fairly organized, and I sort the kids clothing every season and weed out what doesn’t fit. Despite that, when you are trying to achieve this urbane, sanitized, hotel-like feel, you realize what slobs you’ve become.

You begin to notice things like the cat hair stuck in the tracks of the closet doors, or the hand (and apparently face?) prints on your children’s mirrored closet doors. The fingerprints on the door frames. The spot on the kitchen floor where the dog banks his turns with nails into hardwood.

The hard, lumpy, grayish substance smeared on your child’s wall, eye level with the bed. Dear heaven, is that….?! Oh, please no.

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Dirty socks everywhere you turn. Under the bed, in the couch cusions, beneath every piece of furniture in every single room. Do they plan this? Do the children calculate new places to leave them behind, or is it rather the socks themselves that migrate secretly in the dead of night, from room to room, seeking new frontiers among dust bunnies and stray LEGOs?

The sun-faded rug. The dated light fixtures. The crooked lampshades.

The inch-thick layer of dust on top of the bookshelves that you are too short to see, and thus, assume does not exist. But oh, it does. Does it ever.

Lo, how the mighty have fallen. We think we’re stylin’, and then realize….

We’ve spent the last 10 days furiously preparing our home for sale. I cleaned said closet and window-tracks with q-tips and a tooth brush. I emptied the kids’ rooms of superfluous toys (and hid their LEGOs). Cut them off to one blankie apiece for the next month. I packed away books, and toys and clutter. I removed art from the walls, we repainted, we retouched, we carpeted and pruned and mowed and trimmed, and painted some more. We hired professional housekeepers to clean, top to bottom and east to west, and then I cleaned it again.

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And again.

And again.

And again.

(When I told me 12 year old that he had to keep his room like this for at least two weeks, the poor guy nearly cried. “Neat” is not one of his spiritual gifts.)

We planted trays and trays of annuals to add color to the barren winter landscape. (I lost count after 30.) I spent hours ruminating the right color pillows to make my tired family room furniture appear fresh and funky. I haunted clearance aisles for amazing deals.

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(Side note: that wreath on the front door? Perfect, isn’t it? Yellow was exactly what I was looking for. Found it at Pier 1. Love their stuff.

It was $.98.

Yes, you read that right.

I’m still riding that retail high….)

I reorganized the kitchen cupboards and cleaned out the fridge. Those pretty towels in the bathrooms? My kids were ordered not to touch them under pain of having their toenails pulled out.

This is not bringing out the best in my personality. The kinder, gentler side of Mommy is being held-hostage by a Clorox-wielding crazy person who can spot dirt, dust and dog hair from 50 yards.

(“You did not just spill milk on that new carpet. YOU DID NOT!”)

I’ve had better moments.

Even more mundane but necessary when your home is about to be filled with strangers, I packed up all the prescription medication, and made sure the kids’ gaming devices and our laptops were safely hidden away.

Here’s where we ended up. You tell me….does it have that “nobody lives here, but you sure wish you did” feel?

I guess we’ll know in a week or so.

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I’m working on a home staging checklist, with tips I’ve assembled just from scouring MLS listings online and from my own experience. Have a tip or trick to share? Please leave it in the comments!

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The conversation continues!  See the boymom life in full Technicolor.  Join me over on Instagram.

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Life, Death, and Dreams

January 7, 2016

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In my dreams, my mother is still alive.

Almost like she had never gone. She figures into my midnight fantasies in a profoundly normal way. Sometimes we fight. Sometimes I find her annoying. Sometimes, she is simply there, as if she had never left at all.

Long ago, Mom used to tell me that she made her grandmother promise to come back and haunt her after she died. My great-grandmother, Velma, had been more of a friend than grandmother, and the two were inseparable until Velma finally moved on at the age of 97. Velma was not afraid to die. “Good riddance!” she’d huff. And then she’d laugh, a contagious burble of sound, somewhere between and giggle and hoot. A deeply spiritual and prayerful woman, Velma seemed to have a finger on the pulse of heaven. If anyone could convince God to let her take a jaunt back to the physical world, Velma could.

Funny thing, I almost believe she did. On one visit, toward the end of our time together, Mom became tired and overwhelmed by the lot of us. It was Mother’s Day, and we had brought the kids, who were still toddlers and turning everything into a jungle gym. She began to fret, asking to return to her room.

“I need to talk to Grama,” she said, turning her face to the wall.

Velma had been dead five years. But mom mumbled away like she was there with her in the room.

Mom died just three months later.

Perhaps it was Velma there with her, in that cramped hospital room.

Perhaps she kept her promise, after all, providing comfort and stability to mom’s fractured mind when nothing and no one else could.

Perhaps my mother visits me, too, but in my dreams, figuring into them in such a way that it is as if she never left. We fight and bicker as mothers and daughters do, and we are together.

As if she had never left.

 

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The conversation continues!  See the boymom life in full Technicolor.  Join me over on Instagram.

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A New Year, A New Objective

January 5, 2016

Blacksburg, Virginia

Sunnyvale, California

Mallibu, California

London, England

South Portland, Maine

Gorham, Maine

Fremont, California

Campbell, California

Somewhere, New Hampshire

The list is really not very long. My husband’s would be twice as long. Considering the first 18 years of my life were covered by only the first two locations. The second half has been a bit more diverse. My life, it appears, has been book-ended by the east coast.

So you see, it’s not such a surprise we’re headed back.

It’s a new year, and this blog has been woefully neglected. I’m thankful for those of you who choose to follow, and care about the words I have to say. So here’s a heads up. I’m not going to be writing anything fancy for a while. Book ideas, article pitches, they’re all going on sabbatical while I live the next six months in the present.

When Huntington’s Disease was looming overhead, I felt this insane panic to be A Writer. I was terrified that I, The Person, would soon be lost to dementia and thus everything that needed to be written or said needed to be written or said NOW.

With that urgency gone, I find it’s time to sit back and look the whole story over again. The last two years, I’ve been telling my story for my sake. For the next six months or so, until we’re settled into our new home, I’m going to be thinking about how I can tell my story for your sake. How can what I’ve experienced benefit others?

This blog began, years ago, with just the bits and dabs of a boy-mom life. We’ll stick with that for now, and I’ll share the adventures of moving, and parenting boys, and yes, shoes, once again. Or rather, boots. Warm boots. Really warm boots….

Happy New Year friends. I hope yous stick around for this next chapter.

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The conversation continues!  See the boymom life in full Technicolor.  Join me over on Instagram.

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