As I was packing a few days ago at our other house, I found a note pad, and took a few minutes to journal some of what I was feeling as I packed:

March 23, 2017

We’re moving. Again. And this time, for the first time in my life, I am moving without my mother – without her help, opinion, presence. She will never set human foot into our new home. I don’t think she would have liked it much, anyway. It’s old and too small for her tastes. Mom craved elegance and light. She would have loved the huge live oak trees in the yard, but not the shadows they perpetually cast over the house – inside and out. But she would have put on a bright smile, told me the house was great, and organized my pantry for me.

This move is particularly difficult for me, also, because we are leaving behind the last house my mother ever lived in. The last place she left her physical imprint. I know I will hang the family photos differently, and there are many of her old original watercolor paintings I will not hang at all.

We’ve donated dozens of her books on Catholicism to our parish library. We just don’t have room for them all. I’ve packed up most of the pictures and nic-nacs she had in her bedroom. Alex has agreed to take her bedroom furniture. Kendall and Alicia already have a lot of her kitchen stuff. Abby has claimed the lion’s share of her clothes. The rest are going to Goodwill or consignment.

Mom’s old coffee pot. . . so many memories. .

But today . . . this afternoon . . . I am alone here, packing up her old kitchen stuff that didn’t sell in last weekend’s  yard sale so that Gaylon can take it all to Goodwill. And the wind is blowing outside like crazy. I hate the wind! Growing up in Southeastern New Mexico, on the edge of the Great Plains (the Llano Estacado) gave me a deep loathing for wind. It blows there so often, and so hard! And today it reminds me that this was the time of year that Mom would take me to Lubbock during Spring Break. Granny would go, too. We’d go to the Great Plains Mall and buy clothes for Spring and Summer. We always ate at a restaurant called Brittany’s – with little red telephones at each table where you could call in your order. (I understand they’ve closed down now.) I loved those little red phones! When we were done at the mall we would always stop at a huge toy store called “Kiddie City” and I would get to choose a special toy. (I was horribly disappointed when I learned to read and discovered that this magical place was not actually called “Kitty” City! LOL)

Those trips were always so much fun, but the wind always blew like crazy. I remember it would often blow so hard that the sky would turn brown and we would have trouble seeing the road. It wasn’t unusual for mom to have to turn on her headlights!

So the wind blowing today makes my task particularly nostalgic, as I hold in my hands old mixing bowls, Tupperware, coffee cups and pots, even carving knives, that bring memories of my childhood flooding back to me. Flashes of my mother baking her famous apple pie or chocolate chip cookies. Memories of her in our kitchen just doing everyday “Mom stuff”. It’s hard for me to stay focused on my work – I should be done by now, but my mother’s ghost won’t let me finish. Not yet. I have to pause, to bask in the warm memories of my mother’s love as I was growing up. Even when these tangible mementos of those sweet childhood moments are long gone, her love will remain.

Yes, of everything my mother left behind for me, the greatest of her gifts was love.

“And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:13

 

I really didn’t think I would weigh in at all about the inauguration, etc. But I find I actually do have something to say. I’m embarrassed. Horrified, actually. I’ve been reading posts on Facebook for the past couple of years by people who say they are embarrassed by their local/state/federal government because some vote or other didn’t go the way they wanted. And so, as is apparently mandatory now, they had to go on Facebook and tell the world how upset they were by it. I was raised to behave with dignity, class and grace. If something in politics is upsetting to me, I try to be reasonable about it. If everyone else voted for something I didn’t want, well, I have to accept that. However, losing with grace is, apparently, a lost art.

So, today. Donald Trump is now the President of the United States of America. Today was inauguration day. And folks are rioting in the streets of our nation’s capital. These are the same ones, I have no doubt, who have been expressing their embarrassment of everything on Facebook and Twitter. Well, I am embarrassed by those people. Not by the protestors, because I support their right to peaceably assemble and protest. I am ashamed of the rioters who are making unequivocal asses of themselves, and they are damaging property that does not belong to them. They have no self-control, let along dignity or class. They are animals, and I cringe to think what countries around the world think of us when they see this garbage on their news. They look stupid. Like this woman. I mean, really? Get hold of yourself, for goodness sake!

And destroying property? Some of the “protestors” (read: rioters) proved their own ignorance by attacking a Starbucks! Starbucks stands for everything they believe in, but apparently they didn’t get that memo. I do hope they get the bill! I can’t help but think about how the poor people inside those places must have felt!! I bet they didn’t vote for Trump, yet they were terrorized. . and FOR WHAT? This just makes me so angry!!!

I understand not liking the results of an election. I’m not thrilled with the results of this election, either. I absolutely understand not liking the government, or the president. But I was raised to respect the office, no matter who sits in it. Obama has made that particularly difficult for me. I felt physically ill when he was elected the first time, and even more so the second time. But I managed to maintain some level of civility with friends and family who liked him. I didn’t throw a single temper tantrum, and I never even considered breaking the law by smashing in the windows of the local coffee house.

Get a grip, people! Get over yourselves!! So, you lost. So what? If those of us who opposed Obama had acted like this when he was elected, we would have been labeled as racists and all sorts of other horrid things. But, that is how bullies operate. They intimidate others into agreeing with them, or at the very least, not saying how they really feel, and then, if their aggression and name calling didn’t do the trick, and they don’t get what they want (i.e. Trump won) then they throw public temper tantrums in the street. Yeah. . . that will make people listen to you and respect you. 🙄

I am not crazy about Trump. But I sure do hope he does a good job, and that he turns out to be a terrific leader. Stranger things have happened. I find a lot of what he says and does a bit embarrassing, as well. But nowhere near on the level of the embarrassment I feel by the actions of an entire generation of spoiled brats who are showing their asses on the streets today.

I hear a lot about “safe spaces” lately. Places where people can go and not get their feelings hurt. When I was growing up, and in fact, up until the past 8 years or so, I never heard about so many people walking around feeling hurt, wounded, offended. Now, I am certain that there were plenty of folks who felt all of those things. I have frequently felt hurt, wounded or offended. But I’ve never thought it was appropriate to express those things publicly. In fact, I was raised to keep my personal feelings to myself. Of course, if you know me, you know that’s been a lifelong struggle for me!

Anyway, I have a theory about this sudden need for “safe spaces”. I believe it is because we have, for all intents and purposes, done away with the concept of etiquette. This was a very important tool when I was growing up, and now it seems that people scoff at the idea. But let’s look at this for a moment.

Etiquette gives everyone their “safe space”. With etiquette, there are things that one simply does not say out loud. There are ways in which one simply does or does not behave. The purpose is not to stifle anyone’s creativity or freedom of speech, but to protect someone from being hurt, wounded or offended. Or from feeling or causing embarrassment.

Within the confines of etiquette, one is required to be polite and pleasant to everyone else, regardless of how they may actually feel or what they may think. While I know that many people believe this is a form of dishonesty or deception, it isn’t. It’s merely keeping thoughts and words to oneself when they might hurt someone else. It’s actually a form of caring.

It seems to me that today everyone feels they have a right to tell anyone and everyone what they think or feel, no matter who it might harm. And usually, a lot of folks are harmed. Personally, I think it started with websites providing comment boxes. People could hide behind their computer screens and say the most horrid things to other people who they’ve never met and likely never will meet. There are rarely any consequences for this sort of thing. I’ve often said that the downfall of our civilization will be the “com box”. And that’s why: because so many people feel that they have every right to insult and bully anyone and everyone.

I myself was recently “bullied” online. They disagreed with an article I posted on Facebook. Instead of reading it and moving on, they felt compelled to start leaving comments about it, and attacked my religious beliefs. I felt very hurt, wounded and offended, and tried to ignore it. But after several more unnecessary and unkind comments, I actually got angry (which is rare for me, these days) and decided to stand up for myself. I stated that I didn’t appreciate anyone attacking me or my religious beliefs, and that there was no reason to do so. I added that nobody is obligated to agree with me (in fact, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me) and that they could just either read the post and move on, or not read it at all. That’s when I was informed that perhaps I should find a specifically Catholic social media outlet, that would be better suited to my “sensibilities”! 😳 Seriously? That’s the height of intolerance, of bullying! And the crazy thing is that this came from one of the most sensitive, caring individuals I know! We disagree on a great many issues, but this person didn’t even recognize when they, themselves, were doing the exact thing they hate to someone else!

Let’s look at what was said. How would they have felt if someone said that to a gay person? Or a Muslim? A Jew? Or a “person of color”? Or just to a woman? What would that sound like?

Perhaps a a GLBTQ Social Media would more suit your sensibilities.

“Perhaps a a Muslim Social Media would more suit your sensibilities.”

“Perhaps a Jewish Social Media would more suit your sensibilities.”

Perhaps a a Black Social Media would more suit your sensibilities.”

Perhaps a a Female Social Media would more suit your sensibilities.”

Sounds pretty bad, doesn’t it? Because it is. And etiquette would have saved the day. Nothing at all needed to be said in response to my post, which was, by-the-way, about assisted suicide, and the fact that I’m against it.  Apparently, in the current social media court of law, that makes me a right-wing religious nut job.

So, my point here is that, instead of safe spaces, why don’t we teach people how to behave properly in social situations? Let’s bring back common courtesy! I mean, in your own home, feel free to rant and rave all you want about whatever you want. (I certainly do, from time to time!) That truly is your right, and I have no problem with that. But in public, and yes, social media is very, very public, instead of feeling compelled to comment or criticize anything you disagree with or don’t like, how about saying nothing? Or finding something kind to say? How about actually treating every person you encounter, whether in real life or on the internet, with respect and dignity? That is what etiquette is all about, and it would eliminate the need for safe spaces.

Today has been a very bad day. But it started 48 hours ago, when our 11 year old, half deaf and half blind Pekingese bit one of Abby’s friends. Abby’s friend bent down to give Bonnie a kiss, while she was asleep. When she felt someone near her head, it startled her, and she nipped at the girl. With the very few teeth our little dog has left, she managed to puncture her admirer twice, under her lip. As face wounds tend to do, it bled a lot. We were all really horrified that Bonnie would do such a thing, but glad that it hadn’t been worse. We bandaged the girl up, and she went home. Her mom, who had been the victim of a nasty dog bite as a very small child, was pretty freaked out, and took her daughter to the ER for stitches. However, they reassured her (and she reassured me, via text) that her daughter was fine, and didn’t need stitches. I was happy to hear all was well, and thought the crisis had ended. It had only just begun.

Sassy PuppyThis morning I got a phone call from the Williamson County Animal Control, telling me that my dog must now be quarantined! For 10 days! It doesn’t matter to the powers-that-be in WILCO that my little dog is current on all her shots, or that it wasn’t really her fault, or that she is a ‘first offender’.  Or that, in the state of Texas, home quarantine is allowed under such circumstances. Nope. In Williamson County, they demand the worst possible penalty for any infraction, no matter how small.

Williamson County is known for being over the top about ‘law enforcement’. They pulled my younger son over, multiple times, for various offenses, such as a headlight that wasn’t “bright enough”. They handcuffed him and searched his car, only to find. . . . nothing. Repeatedly. Because he had long hair and a clunker of a car. He was sober and not holding. But they were determined to find a reason to arrest him! In their Nazi-like frenzy to “protect and to serve”, they gave him a very low opinion of law enforcement. In fact, they provided him many reasons to mistrust and dislike them. Apparently this crazed level of law extends to sweet little dogs, too.

So, just so everyone knows: if your dog happens to bite someone, for any reason, they are guilty. They will be quarantined, and it doesn’t matter what the particular circumstances happened to be. My dog was asleep on our couch in our living room. She hardly went out and attacked someone!! She was merely startled in her sleep and nipped at whatever/whoever had startled her. She actually loves the poor girl who was trying to kiss her! But now she will be registered as a “vicious animal” for the rest of her life. In fact, this could prevent us from ever being able to rent another home. I am not one to whine about anything, but seriously. This is so unfair!!!

I cannot express how angry I am about this stupid law! And how absolutely devastated I am that I have to take my innocent, loving little pet to a cold quarantine, where she will be alone, not understanding what she did wrong or why this is happening to her. And, just to be clear: I am not angry with Abby’s friend’s mom. She did what she thought was right, and had NO IDEA that any of this would happen. She was so distressed when she found out, that she called her state representative to see if he could do anything to change this, and she called me and offered to pay for Bonnie’s imprisonment. But apparently there’s nothing that can be done.

I know it sounds crazy, but please pray for my little dog. I’m honestly worried that this stress will be the end of her. She suffers from anxiety, and this may be more than she can bear. 😢

Today it has been one year since Mom took her last breath on this earth. So much has changed, and so much is the same. I still haven’t gone through all of her stuff, but I did finally manage to do her laundry about a month ago. I was sort of stunned to see it still sitting there in her closet. I figured she would appreciate me washing the clothes and putting them up, even though she’ll never wear them again.

Gaylon, Kendall, Abby and I went to the cemetery this afternoon. Kendall brought a dozen yellow roses, and we all just sort of stood there stupidly. I mean, what do you do? I honestly don’t know what to do at a grave site!  Do you tell them you’re there? Seems sort of silly, since they are not there! Do you say some sort of prayer? Do you have a moment of silence? I talk to Mom all the time, so it seems surreal that I’d have to go all the way out to the cemetery to talk to her. And yet, it seemed very necessary that we should go. Pay our respects. Somewhere, somehow, I think it mattered. Probably to us more than to her. It was cold and dreary, which also seemed fitting.

The last year has been a blur, and I don’t really remember a lot of it. At least not off the top of my head. If someone asks me about something in particular, I can usually recall it, but no guarantees. I’ve been really focusing on my midwifery studies, and that has been a Godsend. I think without my studies, I might not have gotten out of bed. But instead, I’ve attended 10 births and almost 100 prenatals! I’ve gone to three workshops. I am now certified in Neonatal Resuscitation and have started learning venipuncture! And, in experiencing birth again, I’ve realized that birth and death are both very much alike, in that they are both journeys that, once begun, must be completed. No matter how painful or terrifying, one must finish. There is not other way out but to go through it.

The holidays are over, and we’ve gone through our year of ‘firsts’ without Mom. Without Nana. We’ve all hung on to each other, and we are moving forward. We didn’t want to, but here we all are, a year later, still living and loving and laughing. It’s what she would have wanted for us. While the pain will never fully subside, I know it will never be as searing as it was at first. We’ve all learned to live again in a world without her.

I miss her more than I can ever express, and I know that will never change. But I no longer cry myself to sleep every night. As Abby said, I’m now able to talk more about her life than her death, to remember her living, not dying. That’s huge. So many people have tried to be helpful and tell me how to feel. I can tell within a few words whether or not they’ve ever lost someone really, really close to them. Whether or not they’ve lost their mother.  My friend, Rebecca, said that she, too, is a ‘motherless child’. Yes. I am an adult, I have my own (grown) children. Yet I am now a member of that special, secret club of motherless children. It is a bittersweet hazing, and while I don’t wish it on anyone, it’s apparently unavoidable. But there are so many precious people in that club, who have reached out to me, held me, supported me, and gently guided me through this first year. My debt to them is incalculable.

My husband and children have been beyond amazing, and without them I don’t know where I’d be. Gaylon has been so good to just hold me and love me and let me just BE. He was, without question, closer to my mother than to his own, and yet he’s stood strong for me. Kendall, Alex and Abby have all walked through this with me, while painfully journeying through their own grief. I have a very special place in my heart for my beautiful and tender daughter-in-law, Alicia, who manage to transcend her crippling pain and grief and be there not only for my son, but for my mother, and, for me. My extended family has also been there for me in so many tiny little ways that mean so much. My friends are amazing, still calling and texting me and checking on me. I pray that I will someday be as faithful and true as they are. And mom’s friends have been checking on me, too!

So, yes. Life does go on. A year ago, I couldn’t imagine it. And somehow, it seems more vivid, more colorful, more. . . real. Maybe that’s because I am so much more aware of how very fleeting it is. We had no idea that we were going to lose Mom so soon or so quickly. I have learned, a little bit more, to savor every moment. I want to make every word count, and to say it in love. I want to take risks and have adventures. Because, as trite as it sounds, it’s true: we really are never guaranteed tomorrow.

This year, I am officially the Matriarch of our small family. So, yeah, you might want to say a prayer for my husband and kids. Matriarchs are not supposed to still be operating (at least mentally) on a 20 year-old level. I’m having to navigate everyone’s food preferences, and make sure that there is plenty of gluten-free stuff for my hubby, and non-Thanksgiving type food for my daughter. I have to make the Pumpkin Cheesecake, lest the entire family mutiny. I have to do most of the cleaning up for myself, because Mom is no longer here, and Gaylon and Abby are working. And I have to figure out how to make the things my mother always made, like her amazing fruit salad. And NO! I do NOT want it with yogurt or kefir or almond milk! Ewwww!!!! We are going to at least do the fruit salad correctly, and use good, old-fashioned Hellman’s Mayonnaise! And if we all die from it, at least we’ll die happy!

But in reality, all I want to do is crawl back into a safe place in my past, that looks something like this: I wake up on Thanksgiving morning to the entire house filled with the smells of my mother and grandmother cooking turkey in the kitchen. I will pad out to greet everyone, and there will be pumpkin pie (made by Granny), apple pie, and pumpkin bread (made by my mom) covering up one counter. (My brother will bring his World-Famous-Or-At-Least-It-Should-Be Pecan Pie when he shows up later.) My grandmother will probably already be tipsy, although there will be no evidence of this, since her main source of alcohol was the vanilla! Or vodka, but that’s another story. . . Daddy and Granddad will be drinking coffee and discussing all sorts of things that I don’t care about or understand, but now that I will never again awake to the hum of their voices, would give anything to hear. In addition to the wonderful smell of turkey, the air will be filled with the scent of coffee, cigarette smoke from my grandmother and my dad, and with the steam from the potatoes my mother is boiling on the stove.

Granny will worry that the turkey will be too done, and that the stuffing won’t work. She’ll fuss over how much it cost at Tootie’s, and whether or not she should have gotten the potatoes at another grocery store. Daddy will laugh at her, and tease her, and make her laugh, too. My grandfather will sit quietly, taking it all in. He was crippled, so he couldn’t do much around the kitchen, and wouldn’t want to, anyway, since he was born in the day when women did all the cooking. Except in my dad’s case, in which he was an amazing cook, and taught my mother how to cook after they married.

At some point, various relatives will show up. My brother will come, with his (now ex) wife and her bratty kids. She’ll bring sour cream potatoes that were absolutely divine. My Mom’s brother will probably come, too, with his wife and my two cousins. They will have already eaten at her mother’s house, but will make an obligatory stop at our place later in the afternoon, during a football game. Sometimes, my dad’s sister would come, too. Sometimes she brought people with her, sometimes not. My sister rarely joined us, but would call from Albuquerque and talk to Daddy, since we had different moms.

And ah, yes, the football game! After everyone has eaten their fill of the turkey, cornbread stuffing, giblet gravy, rolls, potatoes, corn casserole, fruit salad, cranberry sauce (plopped unceremoniously from the can onto a plate, which I always thought was hysterically funny), candied yams and green beans, we all migrate into the living room to watch football. My mother will scream and cuss and shake her fists at the television, never doubting that her antics would help propel her team to victory. I will probably fall asleep on the big floor pillow in front of the television. After the game, we will all wander back into the kitchen and eat more. There is, as of yet, no such thing as “Black Friday”. In a week or so, depending on when Thanksgiving falls, I will celebrate my birthday with my friend, Maureen, and we will watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” at either her house or mine. And the whole world will feel completely safe and cozy, with no threat of ISIS or terrorism or economic meltdown.

All of that is, of course, an amalgam, a mixture of my memories of Thanksgiving with my family over the years. My brother and sister are still alive, as are my uncle and his family. Everyone else is gone now: my mom, my dad, my grandparents. And it feels very empty. My husband’s family usually doesn’t invite us to join them, now that his dad has passed. His mom just really isn’t up to it anymore. And even though we are back in Texas with most of the rest of the still-living family, it’s a long drive for any of us to get together, and now, of course, I’m on call for several births. Thanksgiving just ain’t what it used to be.

And yet, my little family still wants to get together and celebrate, and eat perennial favorites, like the corn casserole and the fruit salad. I am doing my best to fill in the gaping hole left by my mother, and yes, I’ve already sat down and cried my eyes out several times. I know I’m not done; this is our first year without her. But we will carry on, and we will enjoy each other and the food, and honor her memory, as well as the memory of all the others who no longer join us at our earthly table.

 

I grew up in a home that was always dressed appropriately for each season, even obscure holidays, such as Columbus Day or Presidents’ Day. My Mom loved to decorate! When I got old enough, I would decorate my bedroom, but usually only for the big stuff like Halloween, Christmas and Easter. Once I moved out on my own, I would decorate all of my home, be it apartment, condo or house. I still do.

For the most part, my kids appreciated the decorations, especially Kendall and Abby. I tell myself that it mattered/matters to Alex, although he usually tells me he doesn’t care. On a good day he tells me that it matters to him because it matters to me. 😉 Gaylon loves the decorations, and enjoys helping me and Abby put them out. Except for Christmas lights. But that’s probably another post, entirely, LOL!

I always feel vaguely nostalgic when Autumn rolls around, but moving to Texas has made me miss the woods and the color so much it hurts, sometimes. There is really nothing in the world that can compare to North Carolina in the Fall, and lately I’ve been feeling really homesick. It happens every year, I shouldn’t be surprised. So, I decorate. I set out all the little scarecrows and pilgrims and pumpkins. My mother bought most of them, because Autumn was her favorite season. And so this year is particularly difficult, but Abby and I felt it was important to decorate anyway. It’s the first time she has not been her to help, but it almost feels like she is here, enjoying it with us. AndIMG_2984 I can almost smell her pumpkin bread in the oven. Almost.

I sometimes look for things on Pinterest and can usually duplicate what I find pretty well. But what I cannot seem to recreate is a house full of people. All the lovely decorations in the world won’t create the illusion that our family is all still living here. If I close my eyes really tight, I can sort of almost imagine that the boys are upstairs in their bedrooms, and I can hear the music coming from Kendall’s room. Abby is outside in the woods, playing with Anamarie. They’re laughing and calling to each other as they jump into the piles of leaves they’ve created, in the shadows. I can almost imagine that we still have six cats and four dogs, and that the leaves outside are all fiery red, yellow and orange, and I just almost smell the smoke from the chimneys all through the hollers. Almost.

Czech Midwife Stamp, ca. 1936

I ran across a wonderful quote today, tucked in the very beginning of Carolyn Steiger’s book, “Becoming A Midwife“:

“We must remember that, in terms of history and in terms of the entire world, we are the norm, not an aberration. Childbirth attended by men, doctors, and nurses or occurring at hospitals or birth centers, rather than at home, is a recent and fairly local phenomena.”

So I decided to blog it, and thought it would be nice to have a graphic or two to accompany such a wonderful quote. I went to my favorite graphics site, and entered “midwife” into the search bar. Almost all of the graphics that came up were very, very medical. So then I added “homebirth” to my search query, and it pulled up a few more pictures, but these all had women in them who were obviously Mennonite or Amish! Clearly, our country has drunk the Kool-Aid and thinks that birth is some sort of emergency, requiring a hospital, unless you happen to be from a very fundamentalist sect of Christianity!

As you can see, however, I did manage to find a cool graphic that I think goes well with the quote, at least in terms of the idea that midwifery is a global thing, as well as the historical norm. The stamp (ca. 1936) depicts a midwife presenting a newborn child to its father, painting by Josef Manes, circa 1936. And I think it’s nice to remember that, since, as Americans, we tend to forget that the rest of the planet is out there doing their own thing, quite apart from us.

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