Saturday, May 21, 2016

Forget Safety

If any goodness I have comes from my mother, any audacity I have comes from my pop.

He left home at seventeen to become an Air Force pilot.  He met my mother at 21, courted her for six weeks, then married her.  In his twenties, with two kids in tow, he went to college on the G.I. bill.  He had a chapter as an engineer and then went to medical school in his thirties.  In his fifties, he became a research scientist as well as an M.D. and discovered the first Lyme spirochete on the west coast.  For fun, he sang opera, ran marathons and flew airplanes.  At 60, having packed at least five lives into one, he died of cancer.

I’m deeply passionate and highly energetic.  There aren’t enough hours in the day to investigate everything that catches my curiosity.  This is all Paul Lavoie.

Another thing about my father.  He gave not one fuck.  You didn’t like what he was doing?  Too damn bad.  He was going to do it anyway.  This, too, I’ve inherited.  It’s tempered by my mother’s kindness but I’m going to live exactly the life I want to live.  I might just adopt a kid from a foreign land, or get divorced, or buy a house when on paper I have no business doing any such thing.  I may love someone I’m not supposed to love.  Sometimes I make some very unpopular decisions.

He wasn’t easy, my dad.  He was fiery and loud, quick to anger, hugged too hard.  He wasn’t the best husband; often selfish and ungrateful and probably unfaithful.  He was largely absent as a father, at least in my experience (my siblings have their own story to tell).  But he was charismatic, dynamic and so smart.  The sun to my mother’s moon.

There’s a Rumi quote I love.  “Forget safety.  Live where you fear to.  Destroy your reputation.  Be notorious.”  I lettered it on an old wooden grape-drying tray and hung it above my bed.  The lesson of my pop.

My father burned bright.  He took chances, big and small.  He went for it, always.  He was ever ready for an adventure.  His heart beats inside me, fast and hard.

Thursday, May 5, 2016


The night before my mother died, I was hit with a wave of panic.  I had spent all week with her, watching her ebb, but that night, for some reason, I succumbed to desperate longing.  I wanted my mother.  It was everything I could do to not go back to the small dementia facility where she lay, silent.

She had performed the long goodbye of Alzheimers.  We watched her fade for ten years.  It had been so long since I had seen the woman she had been.  But that night I wanted anything I could get.  Because I knew she was going - she was boarding the train.  She would not be coming back.

I still feel that some days, that acute desire to have her close.  People have been in and out of the shop all day, browsing for something for their mothers.  I wish I was.

My mother has been the most influential person in my life.  For such a shy, gentle creature this might be surprising.  Every ounce of goodness in me has it’s root in my mom.  Every strong moral, every bit of generosity.

I think about her every day, particularly when I’m navigating the narrows of parenting.  What Would Margaret Do? is a fair enough question.  She had a unique ability to let me be.  To allow me to explore myself and my environs but also provide a safe harbor when I needed to retreat.  If I can do that for my kids - encourage their independence and simultaneously assure them they’re always loved and safe - that will be a job well done.

Mother’s Day is a Hallmark holiday, I suppose.  Easy to dismiss.  But, really, any opportunity to remember and thank my mom should be taken.

I miss her.  I miss her goofiness after a half a glass of wine, cheeks aflame.  I miss her voice, humming off-key.   The opera blaring while she made stroganoff in the electric fry pan.  The sound of her swishing the dust mop around the house in the early morning.  The tiny divot in her eyelid, evidence of a forgotten childhood injury.  I miss her delighted laugh, rare and musical.  I miss how much she loved me.

Maybe I should have driven over there that night, rang the bell at 11:30, gained admittance to her room, held her warm, utterly familiar, hand.  Told her one more time that I loved her.  She wouldn’t have known the difference.  But I could have had one more sip of the elixir that was my mother.  One more before it was gone.