I’ve made no secret of the fact that the first several months of 2013 were as one of my friends said so eloquently, “a major suckfest.” You name it I weathered it. And in the process I learned a lot. I learned that begging ‘the Universe” for a break will get you about as far as playing the megabucks. I learned that when crisis hits and good people just try to do their best with a lousy situation that others will have no problem laying blame, walking away, and speaking falsehoods. I learned to never ever underestimate the damage that can occur when people let their egos get in the way. I learned that if you want help with something physically and emotionally hard you have to ask… and ask… and ask again… and again… and again, until you are hoarse from the effort. And that even after all that asking, there will be people who say no, or even worse, ignore you. People you thought you knew, people you thought you could count on. People you’ve supported, listened to and been there for. I learned that the silence that greets a call for help can be deafening. And l learned that heroes and helpers will come from unexpected sources, in unexpected ways and that as long as you live there will never be enough ways to repay their acts of kindness, good humor, thoughtfulness, generosity, and outright sweat equity.
I learned that teenagers will often show themselves to be more understanding, forgiving, and compassionate than people in their 40s, 50s and 60s. I learned that their capacity to bounce back, to try again, and to work hard is vastly underestimated by adults who are quick to malign them as self-centered. I learned who will listen to you cry on the phone and who will let it go to voice mail. I learned that “hang in there” is quite possibly the single most useless phrase in the English language. I learned that every once in a while it is ok to yell back, to put a bully in their place, and to be honest about how it feels when someone lets you down. I learned that “grin and bear it” is for the birds.
I learned that stopping the pity train and putting your own problems in perspective is something that should be done as a regular exercise. I learned for the millionth time that cancer doesn’t discriminate, that it will take a loving husband and father from his family, that it will continue to torment a young woman who has fought it far too many times, and that it will rear its head for the third time in a close group of friends. And I learned for the millionth time that in all these situations the power of friends to come together for support, for kindness for laughter and for care is truly remarkable and humbling. I learned that a group of women as far flung as all the corners of the world can create a virtual community of love and care when one of its members is grieving. I learned how to be a better friend, when to curb my sharp wit, when to simply listen, and when to give the sarcasm and snark a break. I learned there is tremendous grace in saying simply “I’m sorry I let you down.” And even greater grace in forgiving those who have let you down.
This year has hurt, but it has also held pockets of unexpected laughter and comfort. I has brought the giddy excitement that comes with making new friends, and reinforced the joy of gathering with people who have known you for decades. And so finally, I learned that when you’re in the middle of what seems an endless winter, that suddenly one day you will wake up to find Spring arrived overnight. Not just in the comforting cycle of nature that returns the green leaves to the trees in back of our house, and brings back my beloved days on the beach and evenings on the deck. But in the realization that time does indeed heal many things and that the hurts and hurdles of a long hard frozen winter make the softer air of spring even sweeter. Happy Spring to us all, for we have truly earned it.
It’s Mother’s Day…and I had a mother. A mother I shared with the hundreds of kids she taught over the years. Kids who didn’t know that she had become an expert on adverb use because it was her weakest grammar subject when she was a student and she was overcompensating. Kids who grew accustomed to her telling them to “look it up” when they asked about a word’s meaning. Kids who learned that to “forget” their homework meant an automatic ‘F’ on the assignment. And kids who came to her when their hearts were broken, when they were in trouble, when they had good news to share, and when they were scared – because their own mothers were far away. I used to resent sharing her with ‘her kids.’ “She’s MINE!” I’d think selfishly as I heard her tell my dad one night about a troubled young student who had sought her out after school one day. “I think he just needed a mom,” she had said. My own teenage self-centeredness prevented me from seeing the gift she was to this boy, as I sulked about him receiving attention that should have gone to me. I’m sheepish at the way I felt and acted then. Today, my FaceBook friends list is full of my mom’s former students, kids I grew up with on a island that seems almost magical with memories. And I realize now what a gift it was to have had a mother who I share with so many. Their memories of her join with mine to make sure she is never forgotten, and for that I will always be grateful. My mom is gone now. This is my sixth Mother’s Day without her. There are days it amazes me how much a grown woman of 47 can still need a mom (Something I rarely admit to anyone). But she is gone. And with her went the soft lap that welcomed my tears; the sharp look and silent treatment that accompanied every wrong move I ever made; the tremulous voice singing to the Blessed Mother each Sunday; the tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches that greeted on half-days from school; the iron will and unshakeable faith that buried a husband… and a daughter; the prematurely gray hair I styled into endless bouffants when she would hand me her brush and tell me I could “play beauty parlor;” the love of marshmallow Peeps and Final Four basketball; the ritual of her grandchildren sending her their report cards for approval; the scores of letters she wrote daily; and the soft soft hand , prominent with blue veins and age spots, stroking my hair and telling me it was all going to be ok – whether I was four or forty. I marvel at women who still have their mothers. I make jokes about it and brush it off. But there is an empty mom-sized hole in a corner of my heart that will never be filled again. And it presses on my chest and reminds me of what is gone.
It’s Mother’s Day…and I had a sister who was a mother. When she was expecting her first son I had just turned twenty-one and was looking forward to being at the age where my sister and I could hit the town together. She was always so glamorous to me with her violet eyes and dramatic makeup and seemed to hold the key to some magical grown-up life that was out there waiting for me and I couldn’t wait. But now in her place was this earth mother who played Whitney Houston’s ‘I believe the children are the future” on endless repeat and waxed rhapsodically about child development. Even my mother was heard to mutter wryly “apparently your sister is the first woman in all of history to give birth.” Being a mom, especially a mom of three boys, suited her perfectly. She threw herself into the world of birthday parties and cub scout meetings, once calling me in tears when she had realized she was the only cub scout mom with a job, which left her on the edges looking in at the world of stay at home moms who scheduled pack meetings for 2 in the afternoon and smirked when she asked if they could be held “after work.” My sister always wanted… to be that manicured mom who had all the time in the world, to be that creative mom with the goodie bags at class parties, to be the mom with the rolling lawns and beautifully decorated house. She never quite made it. But what she sometimes couldn’t see was that she was more than that, better than that. She was the mom with the chaos of running boys and barking dogs and a living room littered with transformers and teenage mutant ninja turtles and comic books. She was the mom who wasn’t above getting dirty playing the back yard, or staying up late to help with a class project. Oh how she loved “her handsome men,” how her face lit up when she described how smart they were. We had one brief weekend together as moms when we gathered in Maine for our mom’s 75th birthday. My daughter was two her youngest son was four. For two days we compared sippy cups and cartoons, toddler tantrums and children’s books. For two days we sat drinking wine while our children argued over who got grandma’s lap. For two days we were sisters and moms. It was the last time I saw her. Today I live through her boys on their Facebook pages, trying not to intrude or gush when I see news of new jobs, girlfriends, driver’s licenses, and triumphs. But occasionally I can’t help myself. I have to interject with a story, a word of praise or encouragement, and more than one “hey be careful!” admonishment. And if I ever miss her too much, I see her daily in my daughter – her rolling eyes, her flashes of temper, her innate ability with makeup are all so very much Marie. I had a complicated relationship with my sister but more than anything I wish we had had more time to be moms . . . together.
It’s Mother’s Day. . . and I am a mother. After fourteen years this fact still astonishes me. After years of caring for nephews I thought I’d be a natural at the whole mom thing. I was wrong. I didn’t understand the screaming angry baby I was handed. I floundered at my attempts to be a mom like all the other moms of infants and toddlers I saw. Calm, serene, joyous in the company of their children. For years I struggled to figure it out get it right. For years I failed at anything resembling cooking. (To this day I cannot remember for the life of me how or what I fed Liza for my five years of single mother hood before I married Kelly. I’m guessing it involved a lot of chicken nuggets). I had to call friends for help with class projects that involved crafts or sewing. I cried. A lot. Often each morning and each night wondering how I could get this so terribly wrong. Then something happened. Liza grew up. And as my friends were bemoaning the loss of babyhood and toddlerhood I realized I had been waiting all along for this teenager to arrive. I suddenly got it. And while my heart still aches at the loss of sister and mom, there is a newer fuller feeling that connects me to this five-foot, ten-inch young woman with the sharp wit, and the gorgeous smile. The young woman who can now match me Shakespeare quote for Shakespeare quote, show tune for show tune, and joke for joke. The young woman whose bright pink room smells of Bath and Bodyworks body mists and Suave hairspray. The young woman who reminds me that I need to buy clothes in colors other than black, and who chews her lip while she reads the same way I do. . . and the same way my sister did. Where the days used to seem endless now they fly by fully of texts and calls that all begin the same way, “mom, I have a question…” High school looms and beyond it a future so bright it dazzles me and makes me ache at the same time. My motherhood journey carries the scars of all the missteps I took and battles I fought along the way. But today I finally feel like the mother I was meant to be. In Liza I see three mothers. I see my sister’s drive and ambition, my mother’s compassion and friendliness, my open heart and sarcastic wit. I see the body type, the nearsightedness, and the thick wavy hair we all shared. I see her wit and her worries, her strengths and her weaknesses. I see my mom. I see my sister. I see myself.
Happy Mother’s Day
It was as if a sea of red had washed over my FaceBook news feed. This week as the Supreme Court of the United States took up two landmark cases critical to the fight for marriage equality, a movement began encouraging supporters to change their profile pictures to a red version of the Human Right’s Campaign’s traditional blue and yellow equal sign. As one half of a legally married gay couple who is still denied the 1, 138 rights benefits and privileges that straight married couples receive, I was anxious about these cases and hopeful that they would bring about the change that is so needed for families like mine to be treated fairly. Of course, I was eager to change my photo and update my statuses accordingly to show my personal stake in this critical issue. I frankly never expected what happened next.
Watching my newsfeed this week was somewhat akin to watching the first raindrops splatter on my back deck during a hot summer afternoon thunderstorm. A few fat drops, widely spaced with lots of dry decking in between them giving way to a shower then a downpour until the deck is completely drenched. So too did those first few red equal signs on my friends profile photos suddenly become ten, then 30 then 75, then 200, then so many I could no longer keep track of them all. I was awash in a sea of bright red support, reaching around me, embracing me and lifting me up as I watched my Twitter and FaceBook feeds anxiously for news of what transpired during the oral arguments. The creativity was astonishing. Equal signs made of hundreds of hearts, equal signs made of bacon (side note: bacon’s press agent is doing a hell of a job), equal signs made out of books on shelves, on the chest of Wonder Woman, and every possible variation one can imagine were popping up everywhere I looked. And as with every big social media movement, there was backlash.
This is ‘slactivism!’ came the cry. “Changing a profile photo is an easy way to think you’re doing something without really doing anything!” “I’m not following the crowd!” “I don’t need a red equal sign to show my support!” And the variations on the slactivism argument were as creative as the very emblems they protested. Now let me be the first to say that I am not a fan of slactivism myself. I never ever take part in the pinking of the world every October even though I lost my mother to breast cancer, and I never pass on the “share this if…” memes. It’s just not for me. But there was something different about what happened this week. And the difference was in the dialogue.
I’ve had the ubiquitous blue and yellow HRC sticker on my Jeep for years. The emblem also adorns roughly 10 baseball hats between me and Kelly, a few sweatshirts, and assorted coffee mugs and water bottles. It’s a huge part of my daily life. But this week when dozens of friends messaged me or posted on my wall to ask “what are those two lines? What does this mean?” I realized how few of my straight friends knew its’ significance. The conversations that ensued about the equality sign were wonderful, and I felt my heart grow lighter every time I saw another friend’s facebook page change to red. But it didn’t stop there. A staunchly conservative friend, (yes I do have some of those!) currently in seminary school, took up the banner of marriage equality with a passion that humbled me. Going toe to toe with scripture quoters, and taking down argument after argument against the rights of families like mine. Her fiery passion was humbling, astonishing, and frankly terribly amusing. Those marriage equality opponents didn’t know what had hit them. When she told me “your family is why I fight,” I started to cry. Friends were writing me asking, “how do I get that picture? I want to show my support too!” People sent me photos, clips, memes and messages. Some were funny, and many were touching. “I’m a coward, I didn’t change my photo, my family is too judgmental… but I’m with you,” came one message. “I didn’t want to be a part of this, I thought it was a fad, but now I need to be” came another. “Understanding your marriage changed my mind, I get it now,” came another. A creative friend photo-shopped Kelly and I onto the cover of TIME Magazine with their current headline “Gay Marriage Has Already Won.” And the messages kept coming. People asking me to explain how the laws treat my marriage differently from theirs, people asking me how they could support the HRC, people telling me that they loved me. That sea of red washed over me like the biggest wave on Ogunquit Beach, carrying me to shore and leaving me smiling and laughing in the shallows. It was a feeling so wonderful it left me no choice but run back out and let it carry me again and again.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that this year has been, to put it mildly, difficult, and my ability to keep my head above water and find a silver lining has been challenged at best. But this week, as the sun finally shone brighter outside my office window each day, as the thought of the arrival of spring seemed less and less of a pipe dream, and as that sea of wonderful, creative bright red love washed over me, I found myself smiling again, singing again, and laughing again. There is hope in this world and it showed itself in a sea of red. And for that I can only say… thank you.