Tag Archives: support

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 Scholls shoes and out-of-date haircut.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.

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Hey, Girl, Hey!

11 Dec

beach viewIn most areas of my life I don’t take good very care of myself. I don’t exercise enough; I eat too many sweets and not enough green vegetables; I don’t spend money on new clothes for myself because deep down I believe I don’t deserve nice things (that, coupled with the fact that I hate the way my body looks in a dressing room mirror.) I spend a lot of time primarily taking care of the people I love while neglecting my own needs or wants.

Then I go and do something HUGE for myself: I agree to spend a couple of days in a rented beach house with ten of my best girlfriends whom I’ve known since our days together in junior high school.  Somehow, against all odds, we’ve managed to remain close friends for almost forty years. Every so often we plan a getaway together without husbands or partners, without children or pets. Just us.

The beach house at Mussel Shoals was stunning—right on the water between Santa Barbara and Ventura with the most spectacular views of the ocean imaginable. Everyone brought a ton of food and we all pitched in together, cooking up gourmet meals and then cleaning up afterward. As the wine flowed and the coconut cake was passed around, we talked for hours and hours about our lives; our families, our joys and sorrows.

We laughed—actually, we hooted, we guffawed—we pretty much shrieked like uninhibited second graders running around on the playground during recess. We were vulgar and crass and stayed up until two a.m. talking trash, (Hey, Girl, Hey!) laughing so hard our stomachs hurt the next morning—or maybe it was just the red wine and chocolate.Hey girl hey

After a brunch which included juevos rancheros and mimosas, we took a long walk on the beach and with the cold December wind whipping at our faces we shared our stories with each other. Some of our tales were joyful, filled with newly found love or excitement over a new creative project in the works. Other stories were filled with sorrow and devastation. And then we cried. We cried because we were in a place where we felt safe to open up and reveal our pain to each other without judgment or criticism—a place where love, concern and support for each other decanted faster than the bottles of red wine on the kitchen counter.beach walk

After spending only two days with these women, I became funnier, prettier, and more talented than I was when I first arrived. These women, who’ve only become more beautiful as they age, allowed my capacity for love to expand like a hot air balloon—and not just the love I feel for them, but more importantly, the love I feel for myself. They brought out my best—that special part inside of me that sometimes gets lost in the messiness of life.

As I drove toward home, I felt lighter and more emotionally buoyant than I have in a very long time. I was full up again, satiated with the unconditional love and acceptance that these women offered up so freely to me. As I headed back to my ordinary life, I realized that what I had just experienced over the past two days was indeed extraordinary and I felt blessed.

Off to my left, as the Pacific Ocean unfurled like a sparkling blue comforter laid down just for me, my spirit soared with gratitude.sunset at mussel shoals

Squeezing out the Excess

11 Jan

squeezing the ragThe kitchen is spotless except for a few toast crumbs scattered across the granite countertop, and in my haste to clean it up I grab the washcloth in the sink, not realizing it’s sopping wet. A stream of soapy water splashes across the counter, onto the front of my shirt, and all over the floor. Once again my mother has kindly cleaned up the breakfast dishes for me, but because of her arthritic hands, she’s no longer able to squeeze all of the excess water out of the washcloth.

A picture of a younger version of my mother flashes into my mind—she is standing at this very sink in a red apron, her tanned and freckled hands expertly twisting a wet rag into a taut rope as the soapy water trickles down the drain.

“Jess, Darling,” she would say, “How many times do I have to tell you? You must squeeze all of the water out of the washcloth before laying it out—otherwise it won’t dry thoroughly and it will start to smell sour.”

Ah, my mother and her rules. As a kid, I was always breaking one or another of them:

Don’t leave the icebox door open, you’ll let the cold air out! (To this day she refers to the  refrigerator as an “ice box” and aluminum foil as “tin foil”)

No riding double on a bicycle—you’ll get hurt. (This I now agree with, but as a child, it ticked me off to no end.)

Take a sweater with you—you might get chilly. (I am fifty years old and she still says this to me as I go out the front door.)

No taking a sip of liquid with your mouth full of food (even if your tongue is blistering)  because it’s unbecoming. (This one goes along with no elbows on the table and not clicking the fork on one’s teeth while eating.)

Always look both ways before crossing the street, and then look one more time. (I now see that this is a vital one and have instilled in it my own kids.)

I’ve lived with my mother for practically my entire life, and by now, I’m used to her rules. After twenty-five years of marriage and four children, I no longer feel compelled to follow them unless I wish to, but they are so ingrained in my psyche that I still feel guilty standing in front of the “ice box” allowing the cold air to escape.

It’s somewhat embarrassing to admit to others that I still live with my mother, so I usually phrase it “my mother lives with me.” I’m hoping to be perceived by the general public as a responsible grown-up. And it’s true; my mother does technically live with me, as my husband and I bought my childhood home from her in a very advantageous transaction except for the little clause that included her in the deal.

Don’t get me wrong. I adore my mother, but she is indisputably eccentric. I became aware of this fact early in life when I decided it was best not to invite my friends over on one particular Saturday afternoon because my mother was out gardening in the backyard wearing only a leopard print bikini bottom and a silk scarf tied around her breasts to minimize her tan lines. Her ridiculous outfit included a pair of lace up Dr. Scholl orthopedic shoes, white athletic socks and dirt-caked gardening gloves.

“Moooommm,” I whined, cringing at the sight of her. “Why are you so weird? Why can’t you act like other mothers?”

“Because weird is more interesting, that’s why,” she replied, going back to her begonias and fuchsias that could have won first prize ribbons.

Now at age seventy six, my mother had traded begonias for breeding Dalmatian puppies, which has opened up another whole can of crazy in our household. That, along with enough dog hair to stuff a mattress.mom and puppy

Peculiarities aside, my mother is the most non-judgmental person I know, and has the ability to accept everyone, warts and all. In her role as my greatest fan, she has always taken my side (even when I’m wrong) and has continuously encouraged me in my endeavors, musical and otherwise. Her openness has taught me that it’s best to speak your own truth— and that holding on to the excess will do nothing but leave a sour taste in your mouth.

One of the very best things about my mother is that she even loves me when I’m unkind to her. The other day I told her that her barbershop haircut made her look like a man—I even (jokingly) referred to her as “Grandpa.” Don’t worry, I didn’t hurt her feelings—she laughed as hard as I did at my snide remark.

One of my closest girlfriends recently lost her mother. In our tight-knit group of ten junior high school friends, none of us has lost a mother until now. It scared me. It suddenly occurred to me that my mother will not be here forever, and that someday my much-needed source of unconditional love will be gone. What will I do then? Who will tell me I’m perfect?

I think about this as I lean over the sink, twisting the washcloth as my mother taught me so long ago. I wipe up the mess I’ve made and vow to be kinder to my mother. She is older now, and no longer has the strength to squeeze out the excess water, but I do.

Today I will make it one of my rules to tell her how much she means to me. And because her devotion to me includes reading every single word I write, I’ll tell her right now.

Mom and me, circa 1972

Mom and me, circa 1972

Thank you, Mom—for being you. I love you.

The two of us today

The two of us today