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, 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

kmp

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