children, faith, family, grief and loss, hope, Inspiration, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is…. Where’s Mom Now That I Need Her?

I had held my new job title for less than 24 hours when I sat alone, staring into the face of a tiny baby as her coloring turned a frightening shade of red. Certain she was choking, I jumped up, nearly shredding the mesh panties a nurse delicately handed me a few hours earlier. Just as I pulled the baby into my arms, this tiny angel let out the most explosive sound that allowed her face to regain normal coloring.

“Oh dear,” I said, returning her to the bassinette. And then, much like one might ring the hotel concierge to assist with dinner reservations, I pushed the nurse call button and reported, “She pooped.” After a few seconds of silence, the nurse replied, “Time to go to work, Mom.”

Mom. I was someone’s mother. What the hell was I thinking? I am not prepared for this. In the midnight darkness of the maternity ward, my heart raced, my stomach flipped and I felt lightheaded. I’m someone’s mother.

(Editors note: If the phrase “mesh panties” made you at all uncomfortable, you certainly won’t be able to handle the next few thoughts, so I suggest you skip the following two paragraphs.)

Sensing my anxiousness, the kind nurse came in to help me through my inaugural diaper change. And, thank God she did because I was not prepared for what I saw in there. Was it tar? Or black licorice? Why is it so sticky? It was unlike anything I had ever seen before, and the nurse explained that this would change within a few days. I should have asked for more detail instead of just trying to conceal my expression of disgust and raw fear.

A few days later at our first pediatrician’s office visit, another diaper had to be changed, and thank God I was again in the company of a medical professional. This time it looked like she had somehow swallowed a packet of seeds. My eyes grew wide as only one thought blazed a path through my brain. “Holy crap. My mom was right to yell at me as a kid for eating watermelon seeds, but instead of growing in my belly, somehow one must be growing in the belly of my child. Please, God, no, please save my baby from watermelon belly.” But before having to confess my sin, the reassuring doctor said, “This is all normal.”

I used to think I was somewhat smart, but becoming a Mom put all of that into question. I had read all the books, done all the research, but this was the first time I became keenly aware that for many of life’s lessons, there is no manual and you simply learn by doing.

Five years earlier, this three-ring bound survival guide was a Christmas gift from my future in-laws. A year out of college and having just moved to Michigan with very limited homemaking skills, I was grateful to receive something touted as “a cookbook with a difference” featuring not only recipes and blank pages to save your own, but also an extensive stain removal guide, a succinct first aid section and even car maintenance instruction.

Now, almost 30 years later, the cover is torn a bit, but it still bears an inventory tag from the beloved retailer Jacobson’s, a whole bunch of added recipes and, upon deeper examination, a ridiculously gross amount of food splatter stains.

In those early years, I would use it quite often in conjunction with a phone call to my Mom, as chronicled by notes in the margins like the one next to the Chicken Divan recipe, “Do NOT substitute Miracle Whip for Mayo.” Maybe I was never as smart as I thought I was.

While the contents of this book were a great resource, I always knew the answer to the question the title asked. My Mom was either on the other end of the phone or beside me…always available, always accessible. But that all changed in 1995, when I was six months pregnant and my Mom died suddenly and unexpectedly.

My first Mother’s Day as a mom was also my first Mother’s Day without my Mom. As a result, the second Sunday in May has always been bittersweet for me. I have also learned there is no manual for learning how to live without your Mom either. The loss is as individual as the love you shared.

On Sunday, I will say a prayer of thanksgiving for the two remarkable young women who call me Mom. No handbook could ever describe the feeling of joy these girls give me through their kindness, humility and courage. No manual could have helped us become a family that savors a good laugh, a good meal, a good cry and the promise of each new day.

On Sunday, I will say a prayer of thanksgiving for my Mom and the imprint she has made on the lives of two girls who she never held in her arms, and yet, they hold a piece of her in their hearts.   Although my Mom was not there for any it, she was somehow there for all of it through the gift of faith she imparted upon me that led me to a wonderful man and brought us these fabulous girls.

On Sunday, I will pray for my dear friend and her sisters who, only this week, held their mom in their arms as she drew her last breath. I will pray for all those I love who feel that hole in one’s heart that comes from being a motherless daughter or son. And I will pray, most especially, for my friends who have experienced the most agonizing grief imaginable through the death of a child.

On Sunday, as every day, I will give thanks for my Mom who always told me to put my trust in God. That while my life path may be steep or rugged and shrouded in uncertainty, we are told to look neither forward or behind, but to focus on our faith, trusting that God will equip us for whatever awaits on this journey.

Thanks, Mom. That’s the only recipe I ever really needed.

kmp xoxo

 

My favorite picture of me and my girls. Mother’s Day 2000.

June 1995. The last picture I took with my Mom who died the next month. 

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family, grief and loss, Inspiration, Uncategorized

The Working Title Is…Wisdom from a Christmas Stocking

Behold, a hand-knit depiction of a right jolly old elf. And just as it is written, his droll little mouth is drawn up like a bow, and the beard of his chin is as white as the snow.

This is my Christmas stocking and my oldest personal possession. Almost exactly 51 years ago, this stocking was my traveling companion on the journey to meet my parents for the very first time.

These days, it is referred to as Gotcha Day or Homecoming Day; the day on which a person joins a family through adoption. But in 1967, it was simply thought of by my adoptive parents as the day their prayers were answered.

For the first time, they held in their arms the baby girl they had said “yes” to, the baby girl who had spent the first six months of her life in a foster home because she was born with a congenital deformity that labeled her handicapped and ineligible for immediate placement in a forever home.

I remember my mother telling me that the adoption agency would only tell her and my father that they had a baby for them, but the baby was handicapped. They would not reveal the nature or severity of the disability. My mom told me they didn’t even have to think twice about their answer. God had sent them this baby, and they were prepared to welcome her home.

And so they did. On a Wednesday afternoon in December, the little girl they would name Kathleen Mary first unreservedly offered a toothless smile in their arms as the social worker explained the very simple care of her “handicap” which was ultimately disclosed as a dislocated hip that would be guided into place within a few months time.

The precious Christmas stocking that accompanied the baby was filled with teething toys and rattles that had become comfort items during their little girl’s first six months of life. The stocking was handmade by her foster mother as her foster father, almost certainly, offered his loving praise over her handiwork.

My mother was told that this foster family had recently petitioned to adopt the baby girl but had been denied because their ages fell above the agency’s maximum allowable for adoption. During my first six months of life, this foster couple’s loving care included having me baptized at St. Agnes Catholic Church.

The social worker smiled when my mom told her they would give me the name Kathleen Mary, saying only that it was incredibly close to that which the foster family had me baptized.

A strange truth to many, I have never had the desire to seek my birth parents, but I have thought of this foster family every Christmas; throughout my childhood as my Christmas Stocking was hung with care in our living room and filled by Santa with treats galore and throughout adulthood as each year it holds a place of honor near our Christmas tree. When I learned a few years back that St. Agnes Parish was closing, I called to inquire about baptismal records with the hope to identify these foster parents who tenderly cared for me the first six months of my life.

I wanted them to know how blessed I had been to be placed in my forever home with a family whose faith life was the foundation of who they were and all they did. I wanted them to know that I had a remarkable journey through Catholic schools and the finest Jesuit university in all the land; a journey that led me to a lifetime of friendships and the love of my life. I wanted them to know I was a mom to two beautiful daughters of my own whom, unreservedly, have offered me their smiles for decades. I wanted them to know I still have that Christmas stocking and it means the world to me. I wanted to say thank you.

My call to the Parish Office was placed just days before it was set to close. In fact, the voice on the other end of the phone quickly led me to believe that the elderly pastor was personally manning the phones…and that I caught him in the middle of his lunch.   Between my inability to offer a concise summary of my request and his really loud chewing, I offered to call him back. Well, life interrupted, and I never did.

Not the dramatic ending you were hoping for, I bet.

I most likely will never know the identity of that foster family. In addition, those wonderful adoptive parents, my Mom and Dad, are now both deceased. But I have that stocking to console me–on their combined behalf– over the delicate and often paradoxical emotions of a season that almost demands one to be “merry and bright.”

As I hold this stocking in my hands, I envision foster parents handing over a baby they had nurtured over six months time and had petitioned to adopt. My heart hurts at the thought.

As I hold this stocking in my hands, I have a much clearer vision of the adoptive parents first holding a still bald, toothless baby because that joyous story is detailed in a memory narrated by my Mom. My heart bursts at the thought.

The wisdom offered by this Christmas stocking is not unique to my life story. In fact, it should offer a universal consolation.

It’s important to acknowledge that there are feelings beyond our control that impact our lives everyday and are often exacerbated during the holidays for a variety of reasons.

The holiday season may pose painful struggles; certainly for those who have experienced the death of a loved one, but also for people who yearn for the Christmases they had, but have since lost, or perhaps desired but never even had. Some may crave that family closeness…past or present, imagined or real. Others may mourn unfulfilled childhood desires…realizing your life didn’t travel the path you had hoped.

The wisdom of my Christmas stocking reminds me that in the midst of the darkest winter, the path to an amazing spring is waiting for me…in my own heart.

Maybe the universal message is one of accepting and loving who you are right now, especially if you are sad or angry or feeling empty or lost. Whatever the case may be, you must accept where you are in order to usher in the day when the light returns to your soul and your spirit.

Because I’ve experienced the darkness, I can savor the light in my life.

This past weekend, the candle of joy was lit on Advent wreaths in countless churches and homes around the world. It is that call to joy that led me to consider the wisdom of my Christmas stocking and pray for everyone in my life for whom joy is a really, really tough sell this year…be it because of disappointment or regret, an unfulfilled dream or a broken heart represented by an empty chair at this year’s holiday table.

I pray for strength and for peace in the hearts of those who are hurting.

And I thank God for the perspective my faith provides me, for the strength the Advent season instills within me, and for the belief that an Easter Sunday will follow every Good Friday in my life, until that day when God reunites me with those I loved and have lost– and those I have loved and never even met.

Hoping your Christmas stockings are filled with light, I wish Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

kmp

 

 

 

 

 

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