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Between the Lines

14 Oct

I am so happy to be back to blogging. It’s not that I didn’t think about my mom in the last 2 months- my constant connection to her is certainly intact.

While on hiatus and while catching up on some reading, I was inspired and couldn’t wait to write this post. I’m sure we all notice that mothers are often a focal point of books and articles. But, what struck me, is a deep and thoughtful commentary on a mother’s influence and relationships in Swamplandia! by Karen Russell.

I’m willing to bet you haven’t heard of this Pulitzer Prize finalist and neither had I. I did not choose this to read this book on my own– a colleague suggested it for our high school’s first Student/Staff Book Club. I felt lucky to be engaged with the protagonist, soon-to-be motherless daughter, Ava. I was surprised and affected by the mother/daughter thread throughout the novel. While each book club member found parts of the novel engaging, no one expressed the connection that I found. Each time I picked up the book I looked forward to Ava’s reminiscence and her ongoing relationship with her deceased mother.

As soon as her mother, Hilola is diagnosed with cancer, it is apparent that her demise will have a huge impact on the family and their alligator theme park business. While the business does crumble after her death, Ava remains strong, partially powered by her mother’s strength and presence. Often as I read, I wanted to reach out and hug Ava for verbalizing my feelings, exactly.

Her view of dealing with her mom’s death should be highlighted in a self-help book for mourners. Why do we sometimes avoid talking about our loved one’s death? When Ava needed to “explain to him about mom’s death which was always hard to do. It felt like killing her again.” Exactly. Talking about the details brings back the harsh reality that no one should have to endure once, let alone again and again.

When I started writing this blog, it was because I felt, like Ava, that my mom “was everywhere and nowhere.” She continues to influence me.

When Ava’s brother, Kiwi, hears tourists remember his mom’s acts, “he wanted to passionately kiss them.” I know that feeling. I LOVE talking with anyone who remembers my mom. We don’t have to talk about her, just the fact that this person knew her enough to say her name.  Attending events like my neighborhood swim club’s reunion party and my own high school reunion, for me, is partially fueled by knowing I will mingle with people who knew my parents. During these gatherings, they probably have no idea how meaningful it is for them to acknowledge my mom or dad. Sometimes, I tell them. Like Kiwi, I feel like “her name in a stranger’s mouth was a resurrection.” Well, I don’t have the experience with strangers, but the feeling is the same.

Ava remembers her mom as “stern and all-seeing” as moms should be. She recalls that her mom “would do this great favor of pretending to be credulous when we faked sick. Mom cooed sincerely over our theatrical moanings and coughs.” My mom didn’t coo, but she did sometimes fall for the “I’m too sick to go to school” drill. Ava reinforces the notion that my mom, like hers, was usually aware of my actual condition.

Ava often hears her mother’s voice in her head. I hear my mom’s too and, like Ava, I’m grateful I do. But, for Ava it was even more than a voice. Ava is struggling and almost drowning in the ocean when “I met my mother there, in the final moment. Not her ghost but some vaster portion of her…. Her courage. I believe that she was the pulse and bloom that forced me toward the surface. She was the water that eased the clothes from my fingers. She was the muscular current that rode me through the water away from the den, and she was the victory howl that at last opened my mouth and filled my lungs.”

How beautiful.

Finally, at the end of the story, when the family is reunited and is headed towards healing, Ava feels relieved that “all of us, the four of us—the five of us if you counted Mom inside us- we were home.” And, that’s just the point. My mom is still here, inside of me, each and every moment. I am fortunate, like Ava, to have had a mom who mattered.

 

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Other Mothers in the Wake of Irene

1 Sep

A mom’s empathy and help is priceless….

One of the most heartwarming, reassuring and appreciated consequences of Hurricane Irene’s destructive stop in our town is the outpouring of help from women throughout our neighborhoods.  I think many of us in town have long felt a great sense of community. We have two amazing networks/listservs, the Working Moms Group and our Newcomers/Encore Group. The advice, help and camaraderie emanating from these groups is precious and mother-like.

In the aftermath of this storm, women have offered help in every way imaginable.  Like a mom, these women have thought of all of our essential needs: a warm meal, laundry, a place to shower. Due to the devastation from Irene, these women are giving information on and lending fans, de-humidifiers, wet vacs and even generators. And, because of our reliance on technology, their offers also include wifi access and a home to charge computers and cell phones. It started with friends offering such help to their immediate circles of friends. And, then it spread. Just today, one woman posted an offer for anyone in town to borrow her mom’s stockpots for boiling our unsafe water. The offers keep coming: friends and acquaintances who hear that I am without power, have reached out with empathy and offers for us to meet those essential needs and even take a swim in their pool while the laundry finishes.

And, just like a real mom, there is some daughter guilt. I actually feel bad if I can’t take someone/everyone up on their offers. I would love to spend time with each of these “other moms”. The idea of dinner and powering up at each person’s house, is tempting and reassuring. However, reality and the imminent start of school intervene and force me to turn down some offers. Instead we  sometimes we go to the library or Starbucks in order to work incognito.

I often think about times that I turned my mom down on her offers (or requests) to get together. My “no” was often accompanied with guilt. While I regret  not saying yes all of the time, I know how unrealistic that is and that she understood. Saying no to someone who offers her heart and house to you is hard. So many of us moms feel great when we give to others. It’s almost ironic that I want to give these “other moms” the satisfaction of giving.

I hope you are lucky enough to have your mom or other moms in your life. Perhaps you are also an “other mom.” I’d love to hear your story!

The Power of Lox

30 Aug

What tactics do we employ to cope with inconveniences? I am being prudent in describing my current level of discomfort because Hurricane Irene has left thousands devastated. Locally, hundreds of my neighbors are experiencing tragic consequences of flooded basements. Our neighborhood ranges from the least affected, having to boil water since our supply might have been contaminated, to the most affected—ripping out basement walls and floors while not having power or water.

Personally, we prepared for the worst and are left, fortunately, without power, but with everything else. So, how does my mom figure into this? It’s not just her, but one of my “other mothers” (http://bit.ly/n1Siz5) who I would like to thank for giving me “survival skills.”

To satisfy the basic need to eat and not have to deviate drastically from enjoying our meals, I stocked up on one of my family’s most favorite treats: bagels and smoked salmon. Thanks to my Aunt Elaine (my mom’s sister), I learned that bagels with cream cheese and lox freeze well and then last throughout the day.  Dispersed in the refrigerator and freezer, the lox and cream cheese kept perfectly for the first 48 hours of no power. And, now, we can devour this treat until the power resumes or, at least, for our lunch and snacks today.  It is a trivial, but welcome diversion from current conditions. Thanks to my aunt and our many hours of touring her home city, London, I also learned to rely on bananas because they do not have to be washed. With the chance of contaminated water flowing, bananas are a mandatory snack.

I am fortunate to have been influenced by my resourceful mom and aunt. Their mother also figures into this since my grandma coped with many tragedies and still helped us all realize that we should be satisfied with what we have.

In the meantime, I hope that you have survival tactics and wonder what role your mother played in helping you develop them.