Tag Archives: mothers and daughters

Feeling Settled

18 Aug

I’m not even sixty yet, but lately I’ve experienced a weariness that reminds me of how I felt after giving birth. It’s my own fault—I spend way too much time worrying about other people’s problems—mostly those of my elderly mother and my four grown children. I have this ridiculous habit of immediately making other people’s problems my own.

The other day, I mentioned to my daughter that I must be a serious empath, and she gave me a look. You know that look—where your kid thinks they know more than you?

“Mom,” she said, looking me squarely in the eye, “Maybe you’re not really an empath. Maybe you’ve just spent your whole life thinking that it’s your job to fix everyone.”

Woah. My kids are definitely smarter than I am.

Growing up in a dysfunctional alcoholic family, I honed my role as middle daughter/worrywart/peacemaker at an early age. On my little shoulders, I carried the blame for the chaos and drama that permeated our family, thinking that if I did everything right, I could fix it—and life would finally feel settled.

Settled. What does that even mean?

My eighty-five year-old mother (who lives with us) recently spent three weeks in the hospital for a massive abdominal infection caused by diverticulitis. She had to have major surgery, and for a time we were worried she wasn’t going to make it. Coupled with the stress of possibly losing my mom, I had to take care of her three Dalmatians. In the flurry of getting Mom the care she needed, she neglected to tell me that her thirteen year-old Dal, Fiona, was supposed to be taking daily medication for arthritis pain. Seeing the rapid rate at which Fiona declined, I seriously thought I was going to have to call the vet to come put her down. Imagine having to tell your mother that her precious dog died while she was in the hospital! Eventually we figured it all out, and with her meds, Fiona is back to her old self.

“Okay,” I thought, “Fiona is good—now things will settle down.”

The day we went to the hospital to pick Mom up and bring her home, I was optimistic that we had made it through the hard part. But no. Ready to leave, with of her belongings stuffed into plastic bags, Mom began vomiting. It turned out that her intestines were not functioning properly (a common hiccup that occurs early on with this type of surgery, but Mom’s symptoms came much later in the process.) She ended up staying another four days in the hospital.

Definitely not settled.

Mom finally came home and is now miraculously regaining her independence. “Yes!” I thought, pumping my fist into the air, “Back to normal! Now I can finally settle down and relax.”

Not quite. More changes are on the way in the Mireles household. One kid is moving out, two more are moving in (along with two more dogs and a cat!) Household projects are in the works—the chaos ensues.

Life is always offering us lessons. There will be no settling down around here for the time being—and this is definitely something I need to learn. The truth is, I need to recognize that feeling settled is not about having peace and quiet, but it’s about feeling supported. Feeling settled is having your grown kids around to hug you and tell you it’s all going to be okay. Feeling settled is watching the reaction of my mom’s dog see her for the first time in three weeks. Feeling settled is making a face and laughing while changing my mother’s colostomy bag.

Feeling settled is accepting that I AM NOT IN CONTROL.

So I’m just going to stand up tall, hold my arms out wide, and try to catch all the good stuff that’s being thrown my way.

Here’s one example:

Inside the Green Box

24 Oct

green package

When I was six years old, there was a package under the Christmas tree which I was absolutely sure was for me. It was wrapped in green and yellow striated tissue paper and had no ribbon or bow. Frugal and uninspired, my mother never made a fuss when wrapping presents, even making her own gift tags fashioned from white index cards—cutouts of Christmas trees with her looping handwriting in green marker indicating the recipient. For some reason though, this particular green box had no handmade tag.

My parents weren’t big believers in promoting the idea that Santa brought us presents on Christmas Eve—their 1970’s pseudo-hippie philosophy prevented them from propagating the Santa Claus myth, so our family never hung up stockings or read The Christmas Story. Gifts were bought and wrapped in colored tissue paper (no bow, of course) and kept high up on a shelf in their closet until the tree went up two weeks before Christmas. Why my mother couldn’t splurge on a traditional roll of Christmas paper or a bag of bows has always remained a mystery to me. Usually a few days before Christmas, the presents were placed under our fragrant, tinsel laden Douglas fir, giving my older brother, Chris and me ample time to ponder what was in each wondrous package and making it impossible for us to keep our tiny hands off the gifts.

With those same small hands we felt, tapped and shook each package with utter focus, but it was the green box that piqued our interest the most. For hours my brother and I discussed at length what was in the unmarked box—he insisted it was the Hot Wheels set for which he’d been begging for months—while I furiously argued it had to be a Crissy Doll for me.

Ah, the Crissy Doll. How I begged and pleaded with my parents for a Crissy Doll! With her dark eyes and lustrous red hair that literally grew out of a hole in the top of her head when you turned a knob on her back, I was certain I couldn’t be happy without her.

My new found obsession with Crissy had grown rampant after a distressing incident where my mother, frustrated with my hysterical crying every time she brushed my hair, had taken me to her hairdresser and had my own stringy locks hacked into a hideous pixie cut. Long hair was just becoming all the rage, and I was beyond devastated by my mother’s insensitive betrayal. I figured if I couldn’t have my own long hair to brush and style, then by God, I would have Crissy’s.

Me and my brother, Chris on Christmas morning.

My brother Chris and I showing off one of our gifts on Christmas morning. (Notice the pixie cut)

Christmas morning arrived with the usual fervor and excitement. My father, despite a raging hangover, cheerfully passed out a variety of presents to each of us which we dutifully tore open and tossed aside with casual indifference. To be honest, my brother and I only had eyes for that unmarked green box—the one my dad had purposely left until the very end.

He finally picked up the mystery package. “Now, who could this be for?” he said, expertly dangling a cigarette between his lips, the inch long ash threatening to fall to the ground at any second.

My brother and I both raised our hands, “Me, me!” we shouted in unison. My dad, grinning with holiday mischief, looked back and forth at the two of us before finally handing the box to my brother who managed to unwrap it in four seconds flat, revealing it was indeed a Hot Wheels set.

“Yippee!” he shouted, holding it in up in the air, “Thanks, Dad! It’s just what I wanted!”

My heart dropped. How could this be? That was supposed to be my Crissy Doll! Oh, the unfairness of it all. My lower lip jutted out and I could feel the hot tears stinging my eyes as I faced away from my parents and began to settle into the most monumental sulk I’d ever had in my short life. I decided I would never speak to any of them again, including my greedy, double-crossing brother.

A moment later, my mother put a gentle hand on my shorn head. “Jess, Honey,” she said, “I think I may have forgotten a present in my bedroom. Why don’t you go take a look behind my desk and see if there’s anything there.”

What was this? I leapt up and tore into their room with both hands holding up my loose pajama bottoms so they wouldn’t slip off my hips. There, behind my mother’s boxy black desk, I found an identical green tissue paper wrapped present—exactly the same shape and size as the one my brother had just opened. With a euphoric and somewhat sheepish grin on my face, I carried it out to the living room and set it on the rug.

“Well aren’t you going to open it?” my dad asked.

I knew what it was, but I wanted to savor the moment a little longer. I ran my hands along the smooth green paper and stuck my finger under the tape to loosen the flap. Slowly tearing the edge of the paper I saw a flash of red and no longer able to contain myself, I ripped off the paper and tore open the box. There she was in all her flaming glory—my beautiful Crissy Doll—wearing an orange dress and matching orange shoes, her shiny red hair luminescent in the glow of the Christmas tree lights.

Years later, my mother told me that I almost didn’t get a Crissy Doll that Christmas. She had waited too long to buy one, and by the time she got around to doing her Christmas shopping, they were all gone.

On Christmas Eve and she found herself desperately driving from store to store with no luck. Finally, in sheer desperation, she went into a Thrifty Drug Store around the corner from our house where the clerk told her he had one left but was saving it for a lady who was supposed to come in to pick it up. My mother saw her chance. She laid it on thick, telling him how sad and disappointed her little girl would be not to find a Crissy Doll under the tree the next day. It was already so late in the day—surely the woman wasn’t coming after all. She literally begged him to sell it to her—perhaps she even allowed the tears to wet her eyes. My guess is she offered him twenty bucks extra for the doll. Whatever she did, it worked, and my Christmas was magically complete.

I played with my Crissy Doll religiously every day for a month until one evening I decided to take her into the bath with me. With one dip into the hot water, her shiny, lustrous hair turned into a mass of red, tangled straw that could no longer be wound back into the hole in her head. Soon her dress and matching orange shoes were misplaced and poor Crissy became just another shoeless, naked doll shoved into the bottom of my toy box.

No matter, I had something else in mind. My birthday was coming up in a few months and it was time to start planting the seed in my mother’s brain.

“Mommy,” I said sweetly, carrying my empty cereal bowl to the sink one morning, “Have you ever heard of an Easy Bake Oven?”

 

The Scent of a Mother

10 May

 

mom holding me at beachWhen I was young, it never occurred to me that my mother would grow old someday. She was just my mom—a pretty woman with soft, shoulder length brown hair and a lovely smile. As far as I was concerned, she would be there forever to take care of me. If I was sick in the middle of the night, she would be there to open up the pull-out couch in the living room and let me lie down with her until I fell asleep. Every day when I returned home from school, there would be a snack set out on the table, complete with a folded cloth napkin. After helping me and my brothers with our homework she would then battle it out with us at the piano where we’d whine and cry until we learned to play the B-flat Major scale—and play it well. All this and she still managed to have dinner on the table every night promptly at 6:30.

 

Back then, I thought she was perfect. I loved the smell of her so much that often when she was out running errands and I felt lonely and afraid, I would sneak into her bedroom, open the top drawer of her dresser where she kept her bras (back then she referred to them as her bureau and her brassieres) just so I could inhale the sweet perfume of her clothing. I’d play with her scarves, try on her jewelry and try to decipher the love letters my dad wrote to her when they were dating. She was a beautiful mystery to me and imagining a life without her made my head spin.

 

My mother pregnant with me.

My mother pregnant with me.

When I hit adolescence and my world turned inward, my mother began to embarrass me with her stretchy polyester pants, orthopedic Dr. Scholls shoes and out-of-date haircut. Even the freckles on her forearms made me cringe. I hated that she drove a weird, foreign car that sounded like female genitalia (‘66 Volvo wagon) when everyone else’s mom drove an American-made car. I hated that my mother was so friendly that just for the heck of it would initiate a conversation with anyone she came in contact with. Once, when we were shopping at Sears, I accused her of being overly talkative with the sales clerk just to embarrass me on purpose.

 

My junior high school girlfriends told me I was lucky to have such a mom—that she was the “cool” type of mom—someone who had absolutely no problem answering their questions about boys and sex. At their urging, she would come into my room, sit on my bed and join the conversation.  On hot summer evenings, she’d let us go skinny dipping in the backyard pool until it was discovered that my brother had assembled the neighborhood boys in the yard of the house next door so they could spy on us through the holes in the fence.

 

Mom in the kitchen.

Mom in the kitchen.

My mother wasn’t the perfect mother—the truth is, there’s no such thing. Yet, in every single childhood memory I carry, my mother’s presence is there, supporting me, cheering me on, and loving me with her unconditional and overflowing love. This has always been my truth and more than anything, I hope that I’ve been able to pass this on to my own children.

 

Today, I think about my mother as I wonder how many more Mother’s Days I’ll have to spend with her—ten, maybe fifteen if I’m lucky. I’m sure that when she gave birth to me, she didn’t stop to think that I would grow up to be an adult and have my own family someday. She certainly didn’t imagine herself approaching eighty years old. She simply held my tiny body against her warm chest, inhaling that sweet, powdery baby smell and marveled at the perfection of me, imagining that I’d stay that way forever.

 

The other day, I saw my youngest daughter in our bedroom, holding my pillow against her face.

“Isa,” I asked, “What are you doing?”

She looked up at me with a sheepish grin on her face. “Just smelling your pillow,” she said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because it smells like you,” she said.  “And it makes me feel safe.”

 

Mom and Isa posing with a painting done by my friend, Melani Guinn.

Mom and Isa posing with a painting done by my friend, Melani Guinn.