Today would have been my mother’s birthday. The Ides of March. (Mom died New Year’s Day.) Today I’m going to my brother’s house and we will reminisce and have dinner with family including my mom’s little sister who is 13 years younger than mom.
My mom often told me that she raised her little sister.
My cousin wrote me a loving sympathy letter that included a funny story I had never heard before about Mom, my aunt (my cousin’s mom) and red squares.
My aunt had a friend over and my mom, as the older sister, had them in a competition to earn red cloth squares. I’m not sure what ages they were, but Mom had them busy doing chores. They would earn a red cloth square for finishing their chore first.
I talked to my aunt about it and she said whoever earned the most red squares won the grand prize. She said she wanted the grand prize more than anything!
She won — and the grand prize turned out to be a bigger red cloth square.
Mom was a strong Christian and I have memories of her giving us a Bible verse each morning. She typed hundreds of them on 3 1/2 by 2″ cards.
She was big on chores and that’s one thing I despised the most coming home from school. We’d come home to an empty house, as latch key kids when Mom was earning her degree in Music at the University of Washington. She already had a degree in Home-Ec Education. Mom would leave a legal-sized yellow sheet of college-ruled paper with both sides filled with chores to be done before she got home. She had an ineligible scrawl that was hard to read.
I realize now, she not only wanted dinner cooked, the dishes done, the house vacuumed, the garage swept (you get the idea) — she was keeping my brother and I out of trouble. She was keeping us busy.
Tomorrow we spread her ashes at our riverfront property.
Here’s a photo of her in her teens or early twenties at the river.
What chores did you have growing up? Did you have your children do chores too?
My New Year started off with a phone call from my brother that our mom was found in her bed unresponsive. Within two hours she passed away after being taken by ambulance to the hospital. This was totally unexpected. She tested positive for COVID five days earlier but was asymptomatic.
I’m going through shock, denial, disbelief and grief all at once.
I wrote this story about her years ago. I sent it to children’s book publishers and actually got an offer from a small publisher. I turned down the offer because I didn’t think it was big enough! I’ve never had another offer in my life to have a book published.
Here’s the story:
A DIFFERENT KIND OF MOTHER
I have a different kind of mother. She’s not like other mothers on our street. She looks like other mothers. But it’s what she does that’s different.
She sings all the time. She sings songs by men named Wagner and Wolf. But she calls them “VAHgner” and “VOUlf.”
When my friends come over they ask “What is that?” We listen. “La la la la la la la la laaaa.”
I shrug my shoulders and say, “That’s my mom.”
My friends laugh. Their mothers never sing unless it’s to the radio.
My mom sings all the time. She sings operas while she drives, cooks, shops, gardens, reads and cleans. I think she sings in her dreams.
My mother never buys a loaf of bread. She bakes it every week and slices it with a big knife. Sometimes she lets me punch down the dough after it rises.
When I take my lunch to school, my sandwich sits crooked and looks like it’s ready to fall. My mother packs me carrot sticks, a hard boiled egg, an orange and an apple. There’s too much food and not one chip or pretzel like the other kids get. I like to order hot lunch.
My mother thinks hunting through the woods for mushrooms is fun. She took classes to learn about mushrooms so she knows which are good to eat and which ones are poisonous. I hate it when she asks my friends to go picking with her. But they love to go tramping through the dense green forest, climbing over fallen logs covered with moss. She points out the faerie rings where the mushrooms grow.
My mother grows vegetables in her garden, she won’t buy them at the store. But does she grow peas and carrots like the other mothers on our street? No. She’s proud of her eggplant, asparagus, spaghetti squash and rhubarb.
When my friends come over to play, my mother asks them to weed the garden.
“Nobody wants to weed. We want to play,” I tell her.
Then I turn around and the kids are lined up on both sides of her, pulling weeds as she tells them about the vitamins in vegetables.
My mother doesn’t read ordinary books by popular authors. She likes to read e.e. cummings with letters scattered over the page. I don’t know what the poems say. But my mother gathers up the letters and makes sense out of them.
Digging for clams up to her elbows in mud is how my mother catches dinner. She knows about razor clams that we dig in the surf and butter clams, littlenecks and cockles we find in the gritty gravel. She calls the ones we break with our shovels “clums.”
She picks oysters off the beach, shucks the top shell of and eats them raw right then and there. She eats the roe out of sea urchins and said, “It tastes like caviar!”
She’s the friendliest person on the street. She bakes wild blackberry pies for elderly neighbors and talks tomatoes with anyone who will listen.
She invites the neighborhood kids in, even if I don’t want her to. She doesn’t care when kids build a fort in our backyard or makes tents in the living room with old sheets. She lets us draw chalk pictures on the driveway and dig for China in the backyard.
At night when she tucks me in, I listen to her sing a lullaby with her beautiful voice.
When she kisses me good night, I love that my mother is a different kind of mother.
Angus our yellow lab and Sherman our black cat (RIP.)
Sherman and Angus lived to ripe old ages of 17 and 15 respectively. I was surprised when my husband’s uncle came over years ago and I discovered he was superstitious about black cats.
Yesterday, I was ready to take my daily trip to the post office with my husband’s client gifts. My plan is to go five days in a row with a dozen packages. Any more than that, my mind gets muddled writing addresses and I make mistakes. Plus, the dirty looks from the patrons behind me, isn’t fun. Once I had a woman cursing at me. My daughter was with me and I was afraid she’d beat up the woman attacking her mom. So, 10 to 12 packages gets me under the radar of the impatient. (Boy, do I miss my daughter’s help with this annual project!)
I counted the packages as I put them in bags to carry. 13. I had 13 packages. That wouldn’t do. Why not? I guess I’m superstitious, too. I notice I avoid the number 13 at all costs. I took one package out and saved it for the next day. Whew! That was close.
Are you superstitious? What about? Do you change what you’re doing because of superstitions?
Sherman helping me with my work. Actually, Sherman wanting attention from me and telling me to stop working.
My BFF from the University of Washington and me during one of her visits to our home.
Without my friends I would have been lost.
I’m talking about my recent visit with my mom. In case you missed it, I wrote about it HERE. It was difficult to find my mom in skilled nursing and to see how drastically she’s aged since my last visit.
I stayed with my best friend from college who lives six miles from my mom’s assisted living. Lots of times I stay in a small hotel close by. It’s not that nice, but affordable. It was so much better to come back each day to my friends’ comfy house and not be alone.
My BFF’s husband loves to cook and he shopped and prepared my favorite foods. The first night he made steamed clams, garlic bread and a delicious salad. Last time I visited, we went to Pike Place Market and I bought clams, which he cooked. They remembered how much I enjoyed them which was touching. I suppose they didn’t forget after I kept asking if they wanted the clams on their plates! They surrendered them to me.
It was so comforting to not stay by myself and to be able to relax and talk with close friends each day and tell them about my mom. I don’t know what I would have done without them.
The power of music.
One day my mom was kind of out of it. When I walked into her room, she was asleep. She woke up and said “Who are you and what do you want?” I was standing over her bed. To be fair, she didn’t have her glasses on and was groggy.
I got her out of bed and helped her sit in a chair while I sat on her walker. I turned on the TV, but she wasn’t interested and stared down at her hands.
I remembered my brother told me that she perked up listening to music. Mom was a coloratura soprano opera singer. My brother played her Joan Sutherland, a famous coloratura soprano, on his phone and he said Mom sang along with her. I played her favorite songs from Don McClean including Vincent, American Pie, And I Love You So, and Castles in the Air on my phone. She owned every one of McClean’s albums and played them over and over when I was a child.
After a few minutes of listening, my mom began to sing along. The music moved her and made her more alert. She focused on getting out of her chair to walk to her old room. I was amazed at the power of music and the effect it had on her.
“And I Love You So”
And I love you so The people ask me how How I’ve lived till now I tell them “I don’t know”
I guess they understand How lonely life has been But life began again The day you took my hand
And yes I know how lonely life can be The shadows follow me And the night won’t set me free But I don’t let the evening get me down Now that you’re around me
And you love me too Your thoughts are just for me You set my spirit free I’m happy that you do
The book of life is brief And once a page is read All but love is dead This is my belief
And yes I know how loveless life can be The shadows follow me And the night won’t set me free But I don’t let the evening bring me down Now that you’re around me
And I love you so The people ask me how How I’ve lived till now I tell them “I don’t know”
What are your thoughts about the power of friendships and the power of music? Do you have any examples of how they’ve added to your life?
I wrote this years ago, when I was visiting my mom in assisted living near Seattle. After visiting Mom last week, I wanted to repost this.
Why is my daughter so annoyed with me?
I understand how she feels. After all, I was once 19 years old. I remember it very clearly.
When I was that age, everything my mom did, I found unbelievably annoying.
I’ll never forget sitting with her in the car, getting ready to shop at Bellevue Square. She had parked the car. She was fumbling through her purse, making sure she had what she needed. She reapplied her lipstick. Dug through her purse for her wallet to look through credit cards. Searched several times to check where she placed the keys.
Would we never leave the car? Would I be stuck all day? I must have said something to her quite snippy or flat out mean. A few tears rolled down her cheeks. Which made me more upset with her.
Isn’t it a sad feeling, transitioning from a mom who could do no wrong—from changing diapers, to cooking their favorite spaghetti, to taping treasured colorings on the fridge that were made just for you—to being the person of their abject disdain?
It’s a tough new role. Let me tell you.
But, having gone through these feelings myself, I understand. I’m visiting my mom this week in her assisted living center. I talked about it with her, what I’m going through now, and what I felt like when I was 19. Fortunately, she doesn’t remember me ever being a snarky 19-year-old.
For some reason, I’ve gained more patience throughout my life and that has been a blessing. I’ve also learned forgiveness.
Something else I’ve learned through years of parenting — this too shall pass.
It’s called independence and freedom. We want our children to grow and become separate human beings who can stand on their own. They need to separate from us. A good time to do that is during their senior year of high school, or their freshman year of college. They need to. I keep telling myself that.
However, we also want to be treated with respect, and once again—someday—to be cherished.
Have your children been annoyed with you? Do you remember being annoyed with your parents? What were the reasons why?
I made it to the Bay Area to help my daughter who has COVID. I’ve been wondering how much help I can be, since I can’t be with her? If I can’t do much, I’m looking forward to quiet time alone writing.
So far, it turns out — more time than I thought.
I didn’t arrive until evening to my airbnb which is .2 miles from her apartment. The problem is she’s on quarantine and can’t leave her apartment. I’m not sure what the protocol is these days, but I can guarantee she hasn’t hit it yet.
She texted me a list of groceries. I asked if I could go to the Berkeley Bowl to get the items on her list. It’s one of my favorite places to go to when I visit the kids. This running errands will be a treat if it includes the Berkeley Bowl! I blogged about it HERE.
I picked up clam chowder and a salad for my own dinner and a few groceries for my airbnb mini-fridge along with her list. When I dropped off her groceries at her doorstep, we waved at each other through her window.
I walked back to the airbnb and sat to savor the Berkeley Bowl clam chowder. It’s so delicious. I called my son and we were talking about plans for tomorrow’s dinner. He may be recovering from foot surgery, but he doesn’t have COVID. We can be together in person.
That’s when I got a call from daughter asking me to take Waffles the pug to the ER. He’s been having issues with his tummy. I wrote about it HERE a few days ago. Waffles has been throwing up and hasn’t recovered from chicken bones. The animal ER won’t let my daughter with COVID inside.
I sat for more than two hours with Waffles in the waiting room. My daughter texted me the recent details since I was traveling from Arizona and not totally up to date. We — the vet, the vet’s assistant and my daughter on the phone — decided not to hospitalize Waffles last night, but to bring him back in the morning if he doesn’t improve.
I’m wondering what tomorrow’s role as mom and dog grandma will bring? What’s driving me crazy is to be so close to my daughter, but not being able to give her a hug.
Have you traveled to help your kids away from home? How have you helped? How have you helped family members with COVID?
We spent Christmas together with our kids and our son’s girlfriend and family. This is our third Christmas together. We missed 2020 due to COVID — or it would be number four. This year, we rented a VRBO between our home and the Bay Area (where everyone but us lives). The house was amazing and it was a wonderful few days with family. My daughter and I had a mother-daughter day while the rest went to Solvang. I absolutely loved our time alone together. We spent so much time together while she was growing up that it was taken for granted. Now it’s a huge gift.
All of my son’s girlfriend’s family play stringed instruments. Two of the seven are professional musicians and we enjoyed Christmas Eve, Christmas and post Christmas concerts in our living room. Below are two samples of the amazing music we were treated to.