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When Your Baby Isn’t A Baby Anymore

January 12, 2017

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I wrote this two years ago.

We had our first parent/teacher conference of the year with our younger son’s second grade teacher, and as we’ve experienced every year, we spend half our time talking about older son and how he’s doing. They all rememeber him so fondly. They all are eager (as are we) to see what great and extraordinary plans that God has for this amazing and extra-extraordinary 11-year old.

But something bothered me about this conference. His grades were all equally good. His enrichment experiences were also. His only poor mark was in handwriting, and her comment to that was “I’m not concerned. I know that he’s perfectly capable, he just isn’t choosing to do so.”

Finally, I voiced the words out loud that had been worrying me for months. “By this age, we knew that his brother was a builder, a creator, and inventor. His aptitude for construction and mathematics were already exceptional. But this one…where is he exceptional? He’s good at everything, it seems, which leaves me unsure of where to encourage him. What can I do to develop his passion, his talents? In what area is he truly exceptional?”

His teacher looked at me with 20 years of wisdom and learning in her eyes and just smiled wryly, then answered.

“Charm.”

I sat back and sighed. ‘Tis true, so true. The deadly dimples have bloomed into a full-fledged capacity for reading a room, creating humor, delighting crowds and generally charming the socks off of anything within a 20 yard radius.

This morning, as I exited my bedroom and walked down the hall after getting ready, I heard his voice from the dining room calling out to me.

“Mommy? Mommy is that you? Come see me! I have not yet seen your beautiful face this morning!”

His older brother muttered under his breath: “Nice one, Prince Charming.”

Was he charming me? By all means, yes. Did I mind? Not one iota. That boy is welcome to continue charming all and sundry, because clearly, this is HIS gift and talent and passion!

Let’s just all start (continue) praying that boy uses these talents for good and not evil. As I’ve said before, he’s either going to be president or an evil dictator. The jury is still out.

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And this, four years ago.

Lulled by routine and structure, we find solidarity for a time. Naively, I am caught off guard – still –  when the calm breaks out into storm and once again, my insurgents are rattling locks, testing boundaries, vainly searching for weaknesses. Or not so vainly…

I am reminded of the cunning creativity of the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park. Dinos that think. Or rather, out-think.

Do you ever get what you want by complaining? I ask, annoyed.

Yes. He says, looking me dead in the eye and smirking. I do.

And finally, this….five years ago.

Eyes bright.
Cheeks rosy.
Your little face, 
my own personal sunrise,
peeps over the edge of the bed. 
Eye to eye, 
nose to nose, 
you dimple good-morning, 
curl into my side.

More puppy than boy,
you never walk.
You gallop, frolic,
tumbling from point A to point B
hops, jumps,
climbing up, climbing down,
and it always ends with a race that you always win.

Physical. Tyrannical. Volatile, and lovable.
Determined, and forceful.
A tornado of emotion, one moment furious,
the next moment laughing,
easily cajoled out of temper
by a silly face or new discovery.

Animated, you never simply tell a story.
You illustrate with eyebrows and dimples, hand motions and volume.
Fearless yet fearful – the carousel still brings you to tears.
New faces, large crowds, or a doctor’s office,
and you bury your face in my neck.
On your own turf,
you are master and captain,
boss-man and president.

Happy, angry, laughing, tears, dimples, and temper.
My baby, my beloved, my boy, my last.
My sunshine.

Here we are, on the brink of ten.

Legs growing so fast I can barely keep him in jeans. His sweet baby softness has been replaced by muscles and sinews and lean, but yet….

The dimples are the same.

The smile, it’s the same.

The easy laugh and bent to perform, the same.

When he sleeps, the eyelids and wide brow, they are the same.

The angel kiss between his brows, that darkens when he’s upset or tired, ever the same.

Morning cuddles, hot skin toasted from the swaddle of blankets, the same.

The size may be different, but the baby within the boy, ever the same.

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The Perpetual Stranger: On Being Known

January 10, 2017

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Church has been a part of my existence since birth.

I was at church, cuddled and coddled and passed around, from infancy onward. In 43 years, I’ve attended just four churches as a regular participant. The one of greatest duration, the Campbell Church of Christ, has been my home and family for a combined total of 34 years.

I’ve left the Campbell Church twice. The first time, I was moving to New England – Maine – to be closer to my then-boyfriend, Gabe. I remember vividly the Sunday I left, voices lifted in worship trailing behind me as I slipped out mid-service through the side door for the airport.

The second time was seven months ago, ironically, for similar reasons. I was moving back to New England – New Hampshire – with my husband of 18 years, Gabe, and our two sons. I posted this the week we left:

For nearly 40 years I have been nurtured, loved, supported, and a few times, carried by, the imperfect, authentic, and compassionate people who make up the Campbell Church of Christ.

We leave here with heavy hearts, knowing we will never find another family quite like this one, but hopeful in the belief that God will provide us with another imperfect, authentic, and compassionate group to walk beside in this next chapter.

Thank you for showing interest in me when I was an awkward and angsty teen.

Thank you for carrying us through loss, illness, disappointments, even death.

Thank you for cheering me on through 16 years of school.

Thank you for welcoming me back as a newlywed, for enveloping my new husband into the family.

Thank you for getting us through the early years of parenthood, three moves, endless hands to help remodel and haul and landscape.

Thank you for so many hot meals on the darkest days.

Thank you for mothering me when I was motherless.

Thank you for loving my boys, for offering childcare and education that loved them and taught them and nurtured them.

Thank you for the sacrifice of literally hundreds of volunteers, for years of VBS, and camp, and Christmas programs, and so much more, just so that my kids would feel connected, inspired, and engaged.

Thank you for your transparency, for your willingness to grow and change and refine.

Thank you for the worship. Every last note, every a Capella, every keyboard, and every guitar, for four-part harmony, and Great Songs of the Church.

Thank you for looking past our flaws and failures, for empowering each of us to see ourselves as He sees us.

Thank you for all the unconditional, grace-filled love.

Never once did we ever walk alone.

We are grateful.

Upon arriving in New Hampshire, we set about promptly trying to fill that emotional and spiritual void. With open minds, we pulled into a new parking lot nearly every week, little white churches with charming New England steeples, optimistic and hopeful of what we’d find within the clapboard walls.

But we didn’t find Campbell.

Sunday after Sunday, I sat in a strange pew in a strange building, trying to warble along with songs that are somewhat familiar, looking around and seeing no mortal soul that I have ever met before. Sunday after Sunday, different strange buildings and different strange pews, but the same stranger – me – every time.

Many of those Sundays, I sniffled and gulped through the service, trying to keep myself from all-out sobbing.

I was not prepared for this schism, this painful extraction from my spiritual kin. It was agony. Longing for, but not fully understanding why, the gift of being known.

To be known – to walk into the room, and like it or not – be enveloped in bear hugs. Pestered over weekday duties. Anecdotes offered. To see faces I’d known for decades or more.

I was a daughter of that church. I even remember my first Sunday there, it was June, and my parents had just moved to the area from Blacksburg, Virginia so that my dad could attend graduate school. We slipped in the side door then, late, a bit lost, and my uncle, who was working for the church at the time, jumped up from his seat to envelope us all in a giant hug.

From that point onward, it was home.

I knew how to welcome the stranger, but I never learned how to be one.

And thus, every Sunday for the last several months, my heart cracks wide open in these places of worship. Weeks have turned into months and I’ve found that what I used to anticipate I have begun to dread. Another Sunday as a stranger. We would stay with one church a while, a few weeks in a row, trying to find a place for ourselves. The people we met were reserved, but kind. Good people, who loved Jesus.

But it wasn’t Campbell.

Even still, we’ve been blessed by the experiences of all those different churches. We took the opportunity afterward to talk with our boys about how they felt and what they experienced. Some things were very unusual to us (much to his horror, my 13-year-old inadvertently took a cup full of wine instead of juice in one communion service). In another setting, my 9-year-old noted that he was the only child in the entire service — a good indication that it wasn’t the family-oriented body of believers we were looking for.

And as so many have said before, there is no place quite like Campbell. I knew this when we left, but I didn’t fully understand.

In hindsight, I would have lowered my expectations on finding a new church right away. We should have simply attended and visited with no intention of deciding, not for several months anyway, allowing ourselves – or rather, me – time to grieve the loss. Time to fully accept, head, and heart, and soul, that we would not ever have exactly what we left behind, but we would find a family again. Realizing that wherever we go, community is what we make it out to be. It won’t be easy, to rebuild, but it is possible.

 

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Friday Favorites – New Hampshire Edition

January 6, 2017

Good morning, friends!

I’m going to try to be better about blogging more often. It’s a goal this year, but I’ve said that before. Let’s just see how it goes? My life has changed so drastically in the last six months – from full-time working mom to stay-at-home freelance writing mom. Not to mention, moving from one coast to the other. I’m still sorting out routines and priorities and what’s going to happen next.

As a place to begin, because it is Friday, here are some of my favorite things that I’ve grown attached to recently.

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Bogs Boots

Reviews on these are apparently mixed, but I love being able ot just step into them on my way out the door to walk the dog or meet the bus. Who has time for laces? With black leggings, they are almost classy. They are SO warm, my toes are never cold. Which is a thing. Cold toes. Who knew?
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The Packable Puffer Coat

With the consistency and weight of tissue paper, one would not imagine this could possibly keep a body warm in freezing temperatures but oddly, it does. So much more convenient for getting in and out of the car – I can literally stuff it in my bag when it gets warm indoors. I despise the bulk and weight of heavy coats, especially while driving or running errands. This is one of my favorite winter purchases, ever.

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Cloche Hats

I have never, in my life, been one for hats. They don’t suit me, and a knitted beanies even less so. Maybe it’s the short hair, or the long neck, I don’t know. I never really needed to. In CA, I skiied in a headband. It was California! But these, I can wear, and my ears stay warm. Which is a thing. Cold ears. Who knew?

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Sweater Fleece

It’s a sweater. It’s a fleece. It’s warm, and perfect for days when a coat is too much, but a sweatshirt is too little. And the long length – keeping my backside warm is now also a thing. Who knew?

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Sneakers

Since I no longer work in an office, I’ve very few occasions to wear flats or heels anymore. When it’s not a slushy mess outside, I’m in clogs or sneakers. My pretty point-toed darlings are lined up in the closet sadly gathering dust, but my sneaker collection continues to grow. These are my latest purchase, thanks to end-of-the-year discounts and a nice gift card from friends. Cons look rididulous on my wide feet, but these are just as cute. Without the clown-effect.

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Warm Boots

When the occasion demands more than Bogs or sneakers, these are my absolute favorite purchase of last winter. They are warm, they are waterproof, they have a lug sole. Which is a very high priority in shoes, these days. Flat soles are disastrous on ice and snow.

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This afternoon we are off to a most charming outdoor skating rink (and for me, one of the best places on earth) at Strawbery Banke, a marvelous musceum of colonial and early American homes clustered together in a corner of Portsmouth.

And puhleeeeeeze, if you are out there, and still reading, leave a comment, won’t you? Let me know you were here!

Warmly,

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Lessons From Hawaii: Fear(less)

April 19, 2016

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When my oldest was a toddler, he loved the water.

At every opportunity, he’d run full-tilt toward any available body of water – pool, puddle or lake. He didn’t care that he’d sink like a stone, unable yet to swim, shoving me away with a “No, Mama! Let go!” Fearless and unafraid. I, on the other hand, lived in mortal terror until he learned to swim around the age of 5. Waterproof, finally, for the most part.

My youngest, however, was not born of the same bent. He was not the daredevil his brother had been. He tried new things carefully, often reluctantly.

Many times I questioned whether I was empowering him by forcing him into the new, or scarring him for life.

He was happiest to play on the steps of the pool, bundled into floating devices, ever unwilling to move into deeper water. Swim lessons were a chore, often ending with my cherub-cheeked toddler stubbornly sitting on the sidelines, refusing to get his feet wet.

Eventually, the boy did swim, but it was a slow process. As we booked our first trip to Hawaii, I prepped him that he’d have to work hard all summer to be ready for the water adventures awaiting us in the islands over winter break.

Deep inside, I was worried.

I booked our family on a snorkeling boat out of Maalaea Harbor, but anxiously questioned the crew should he be too fearful to spend much time in the water. In front of the boys, I was all bravado and excitement about our trip, but in my heart, I was worried.

The ocean is a big and scary place. Jumping off a boat into open water, the bottom of the sea visible, yet still 40 feet away, was daunting for me the first time. How would he respond? My baby, the fearful one…

As we suited up for our first plunge, we laughed and joked and prepared ourselves with fins and gear. But deep inside, I was worried. He, arms and legs poking from his wet suit, the snug fabric a counterpoint for scrawny limbs, goggles large upon his little face.

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Upon our turn to enter the water, he took his giant step  without hesitation. But then, turning back toward me on the ladder, huffing in panic through his snorkel, refusing to look down.

I slipped into the morning-chilly waters and pulled him away from the boat. His eyes were wide, his breathing rapid, white-knuckles gripping my hands as I tread water in front of him.

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It is impossible not to feel small in this vast blue expanse. Just tiny creatures ourselves, bobbing like corks, unmoored, untethered to anything but each other.

I drew him close to my face, blocking his view of the enormous crater rising from the sea behind us, and spoke quietly: “Just look down, baby. Just look down.”

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One’s first look at a coral reef through the clarity of a mask is an astonishing thing. Finding Nemo, just below the surface, glorious color and fish everywhere.

He shook his head, gasping through the tube, eyes frantic behind his mask.

I pulled him to my face, nose to mask:

“Put your face in the water, baby. Just look down.”

He hesitated a moment more, and then…

He plunged his face into the water.

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A split second later, he looked back up at me, pulling aside snorkel so he could speak, shouting one word before returning his face to the water.

“WOW!”

His delight lit him from within like a Christmas tree. He immediately fitted his snorkel back into his mouth, and kicked away from me, swimming horizontally above the coral, a yellow floaty belt all that differentiated him from the other swimmers around us.

That was the end of it. I chased him around awhile, grabbing the strap of his belt, just to hold him near me in the great blue sea around us.

At that point, the only fear left between us was my own.  My youngest child grew older in an instant, falling in love with the ocean and all that is within it, as I had done in the same blue waters many years ago.

The rest of the day we spent in the reef. We swam in Maui’s chilly spring water until we were blue in the lips, going down for a 20’ dive on regulators and air tanks suspended on the surface. He darted among the coral crags like a fish, still small, but fearless and splendid.

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I followed along behind, astonished at the experience of this blue sea and my entire family among amazing and wondrous sights hidden below the waves.

From time to time, we swam hand in hand, not because he needed me to, but because I needed him to.

His fears dissolved into the beauty surrounding us.

And mine? Well, I swallowed it along with a bit of saltwater. I could have kept him on the boat. I could have kept us all safely on the sand. But that extraordinary experience we shared together under the sea would never have been.

As usual, what scared me the most was the most worth doing.

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Lessons From Hawaii: Just Stop The Car

March 10, 2016

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Last month our family embarked on what was really, our first vacation ever.

There have been trips, of course, over the last 12 years. Trips back east, in winter and summer, that counted as vacations with fun times and family. But, ever since a misguided cruise to Alaska with a two-year-old….we’ve never really done the winter break/spring break/summer vacation thing. Every trip, every holiday, has been to see family, with side trips in between.

Thus, finally, we bit the bullet this year and bought tickets to Hawaii. In hindsight, now that we are moving east in June, it might have been the kids’ only chance to see Hawaii. It’s a long flight from California as it is. Ten hours of air travel from New Hampshire – not so much.

It was, as you might expect, paradise. Blissful. We loved every moment, and even the occasional bickering of our minions didn’t seem quite as obnoxious when there are palm trees in the background and fish tacos with mango on the plate.

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One evening after dinner, we returned to our condo to see a remarkably fine sunset in the making. Instead of going inside, we turned and walked across the road to sit on the sand and watch awhile.

As the sun approached the horizon, others trickled over the sand dunes, joining us along the beach. The kids played in the lava rocks at the water’s edge. Strangers asking strangers for a photo, our faces lit up by the fading, rose-colored light.

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I watched as a young guy in a rusted, open-topped Jeep stopped in the road. He was quintessentially Hawaiian. Pretty sure his name was probably Kimo. Huge, muscular, deeply tanned. He pulled off to the side, climbed on to the seats, a sat cross-legged on the roll bars, his chin in his hands. Just watching.

The sun finally settled into the horizon. Strangers around us, bonded over the beauty of the moment, said goodnight and drifted away. We gathered our sandy flip-flops to walk back across the street. Jeep Guy Kimo climbed down off his roll bars and into the driver’s seat, pulling away from the sand and went on his way.

On his way to somewhere, but not in such a hurry that he didn’t have time to stop and watch the sun set.

The image has stuck with me.

I want to live the kind of life where I always have time to pull off the road and watch the sun set.

I don’t think I’ve lived that way very often. I’m a hurried person, and I forget to stop and watch, most times. Focused on the next thing, the next task, the next check box, I don’t often…ever?…stop to simply watch.

Vacations are great that way….by removing ourselves form our workaday environment, we have the time to breathe and discover that perhaps what we’ve been settling for isn’t really good enough.

There are sunsets at home, of course. Through the window over the kitchen sink as I’m cleaning up the kitchen. From the rear view mirror as I’m driving to and fro.

Watching the sunset from my kitchen windows…not good enough. Next time, I will go outside and watch until it’s over, not while I’m washing up the kitchen, or driving home.

I’ll be like Kimo and stop the car.

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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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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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