family, Uncategorized

The Working Title is…What’s My Noun?

Last night, I watched a television show where the characters were discussing their gender neutral, genderfluid, nonbinary self-identification and the pronouns with which they associate.

My head was swimming just watching the scene, and I was comforted by the fact that the lead actor’s lines were reflective of how I was feeling…attempting to be respectful but utterly confused.

When I turned off the tv, my thoughts went much the same way of that scene; totally focused on self. Except for my attempt at self-definition didn’t dig deep enough into the grammatical categories to even hit pronoun. I’m stuck on noun. And I’m reminded of that every year on the second Sunday of May.

When I entered the world, a doctor presumably announced my noun as girl to a woman, or maybe a teenager, who made the selfless decision to place me up for adoption. For the next six months, my noun was foster child until I was welcomed into my parents’ home and my noun became daughter and sister.

Two and a half decades later, my noun also became wife. And four months before I was to give my Mom the opportunity to claim the noun grandmother, she died. Suddenly and unexpectedly, so much of how I defined myself was gone as well.

As my girls grew up, I always noted that when they would ask about my childhood, they would refer to “Grandpa and your Mom” as my Mom never took on the proper noun of Grandma. And if there were anyone in this world who would have savored that proper noun and all that comes with it, it would have been Mary Anne Barthel.

The last picture I took with my Mom. I’m four months pregnant with Maddie. My mom died four weeks later.

In the years that followed my mom’s death, the second weekend in May was heartbreaking for me. I would stand in the Mother’s Day section of the Hallmark store holding back tears with varying degrees of success. I would mourn not only the loss of her words of wisdom, her contagious giggle or the safety of her warm, healing, empowering hugs, but also, and even perhaps more painful, I mourned all the joy on which she was missing out; what she would have done with that proper noun and the impact it would have had on my world.

I was daughter first. I was daughter for such a long time. It was so much of how I defined myself. And it took my husband to point out to me that my overwhelming grief, while real and understandable, was not fair to my children who, much like I did, savor their definition as daughters.

And, thus became the tradition of the Mother’s Day nap. It was my fifth Mother’s Day that Pat put me to bed after brunch and said, “It’s ok to be sad, but don’t let it take away from their joy of celebrating you.” So I would wallow for about an hour, and invariably, during that time, I would end up counting my blessings.

The blessing of having a great mom, albeit for far too short a time. The blessing of having a great dad who tried admirably to fill the gap and provide love enough for both of them. The blessing of a great husband who also happened to be my best friend. The blessing of his family who welcomed me as one of their own. And the blessing of two healthy, happy, exceptional daughters who have given my life joy and meaning through the most wonderful noun, mother.

On Sunday, I will pray for the women who also struggle with grief…the grief of losing a mother or the unimaginable grief of losing a child.

I will pray for the women who are desperate to accept the noun of mother yet life’s circumstances hold that at bay.

I will pray for the courageous, selfless women who know in their hearts that they are not equipped to accept the noun of mother, and so they show their love by embracing the noun birth mother and charting another path for the life they brought into this world.

I will pray for women estranged from their mother or daughter or sister or friend to find the courage to take the first step if repair to the relationship is possible.

And I will pray with tremendous thanksgiving for the mothers and daughters who, through their love and kindness, embrace all the nouns I identify as today.   I will focus on gratitude, counting my blessings and letting joy soothe my grief.

A few years after the nap tradition began, I was visiting Syracuse and went to the cemetery with my Dad and my daughters to plant flowers at my Mom’s gravesite. As my Dad walked away to fill up the watering can, I turned to see my older daughter, Maddie, with her head bowed and hands folded in prayer. I was moved to tears, and could only imagine what my Mom was thinking looking down from heaven on this blessed scene. Certainly, she was sharing in the great pride I was feeling over my obvious exceptional parenting skills.

And then I turned to see my youngest, Clare, probably five at the time, perched atop the headstone and tracing the letters carved into the stone. She looked up at me, her face somehow covered in potting soil and said, “Hey, what’s the dead girl’s name again?” I could hear heavenly peals of laughter as I lifted her down and said, “Ummm, you mean Grandma?”

What can a noun radiate?

Laughter. Wisdom. Patience. Kindness. Gratitude. Forgiveness. Encouragement. Love.

xoxo Happy Mother’s Day xoxo


family, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is…. So This Is How It Ends

I walked in slowly, taking in my surroundings and checked in with the receptionist. My heart was racing and the fear on my face undeniable. The sweet woman behind the desk raised her eyebrows and attempted a reassuring half-smile; prompting me to faintly whisper, “I’m so scared.” “Don’t be. We’re going to help you,” she whispered back.

I took a seat in the waiting room. I avoided direct eye contact but looked at each of the other women waiting with me. My gosh, they were all so thin. No one spoke. One woman muffled a weak cough as she pulled her hair back into a thin ponytail.

When the door finally opened, I was invited into a much larger room. I turned and faced a mirror. My anxious reflection was blocked by something yellow…what could that be? It was vaguely reminiscent of an instrument of torture. Or maybe something written about in Fifty Shades of Grey.

“Welcome to the 8:30am Cycle TRX Class,” the chipper, chiseled chick in charge said to this fear-filled, fifty-year-old as I flopped my fat-ass on to the frame of a bike and stared at the Aureolin apparatus unquestionably aimed to inflict agony.

(Spoiler alert: The alliteration is a result of the fact that every muscle in my body is still quaking with tremors, including the creative cortex of my brain.)

“We’ll start on the bike for 20 minutes, and then we head to the floor for 25 minutes of suspension training where you will use your body weight to work multiple muscle groups and then we’ll head back to the bike.”

Excuse me? What was that? Did you just say, “Use MY body weight?” Why mine? What do you think I am, some sort of Olympian with superhuman strength? Do I look bionic? No. Is my name Jamie Sommers? Again, no.

I tried to mental telepathy my concern to the instructor. I used every brainwave to convey that I would be much more comfortable using the body weight of the waif seated next to me dressed head-to-toe in Lululemon than be forced to support my own squishy BMI swathed in a chic design from Champion for Target’s 2015 spring collection.

As she was already offering motivational instruction about resistance and pace of pedaling, I knew my mental telepathy was not working. I survived the bike and then took to the floor intent on not dying or making a fool of myself.

That goal was short-lived.

I followed instructions perfectly and took the straps in my hands and started to lean back. This was the first time I thought, “So this is how it ends.” Much like the feeling when I get on a ride at a fair (versus a full-fledged amusement park) I thought to myself, “Has anyone checked this for safety?” I leaned back holding the straps and my mind’s eye could envision my girth ripping the toggle out of the wall resulting in high-velocity metal shrapnel piercing my heart. Nope, that’s not right. Upon further review of the angle, it would head straight toward my eye. I prepared for impact.

After surviving that first set of exercises, I moved on to the second which involved standing on one leg while grasping a small rubber ball in the space behind your knee of the raised leg all while still leaning on those scary handles.

Funny thing is, the handles ceased being so scary when instead of picturing impalement, I was transported back to grade school when I first learned I lacked both balance and athletic prowess. I spent the next few minutes either swaying back and forth on one leg saying “Whooooaaaaa” or chasing my little rubber ball around the studio and apologizing as it smashed into other people. This is how it ends. Death by embarrassment.

As I wiped sweat from my brow, my thoughts went back to grade school basketball. I realize now my love of that sport stems from countless hours spent warming the bench…a uniformed spectator praying someone would foul out. Once, during practice in fifth grade, my coach called me out by name. I couldn’t believe he noticed me out of this talented group of girls on the floor. “Katie,” he said, “You jumped so high going for that last rebound that I could almost slide a piece of paper under your feet.” It wasn’t until years later that the high of him noticing me wore off, and I realized it was really a rip.

The last set of exercises involved putting your ankles into the straps and getting into plank position on the floor. I’m sure all the people I bashed into with my ball moments earlier were shocked to hear the instructor compliment my perfect plank form. They don’t need to know that I have a titanium rod fused to the bottom third of my spine which makes “flat back” pretty much the only option until my arm muscles begin to burn and shake, which occurs about seven seconds in and I start to see spots.

I don’t remember returning to the bike. Or driving home. It’s now six hours later, and I’m lying on my couch. I struggle to lift a glass of water to my lips and am seriously considering leaning over and lapping it up like a dog.

From my perch on the couch, some sadistic side of me is realizing how much I secretly enjoyed the challenge my morning presented, and I might actually try it again.

As I contemplate attempting to stand sometime today, my memory returns to many years ago when I worked for Hospice of Michigan. At one of our black tie events, I walked up to my husband holding court with a beloved local news broadcaster who was talking about how his travel plans always center around one of his or his wife’s hobbies like air shows or golf.   My husband said, “I’m lucky my wife’s hobby can be accomplished pretty much anywhere.” “Oh, and what’s that?” Mort Crim asked in his legendary timbre. Pat put his arm around me and said, “She likes to sit on the couch and eat chips.”

The man spoke the truth. I wish he were here to laugh with me at today’s adventure, but even more so because my arms ache so badly, I will never get this damn bag of chips open.