Daughter of Another Mother

On December 8, 2017, I lost my mom. She died of Alzheimer’s. I am 48 and a mother of 4 myself. In a sense, I don’t still need a mother. In another sense, and probably the only one that counts, I will always need my mother. I will always want to call her on the first day of school or when a kid gets his driver’s license or gets a part in a play with more than 3 words. I will always be grateful for the things she gave me.

We tend to immortalize the dead as better than they were. There is no human that does not create a wake of messes for others to clean up at some point. I’m doing my part, I can assure you. My mother was no different. She could yell at us when our rooms looked like an FBI ransacking. She could give us the stink eye when what we needed was mercy. And she didn’t like talking on the phone about nothing. When I was homesick, away in college, I really did want to talk more. About nothing. Like I do now.

But she almost always came back and apologized when she had been too hard on us. And she was the first one to laugh when reaching over the front seat to pop my misbehaving brother with a comb (I certainly never misbehaved) and the comb flew out of her hand and smacked the backseat window. She wasn’t perfect. But she was my mother.

In August of 2015, she received the official Alzheimer’s diagnosis. To my knowledge, she is the only one in my family to have ever had the disease. Apparently the disease did not care that we had no family history. It did its thing anyway.

We were lucky that she never forgot our names. She never saw me enter a room when she did not know that it was me and that my name was Missy. But she lost the ability to laugh at herself and others. And she lost her zing along the way.

Every now and then, I am looking for something else and I stumble upon something I jotted down or typed on a random day dealing with Alzheimer’s. Today I was looking through some notes and found this. I don’t know if it was an intro to something or an odd attempt at poetry. I don’t remember what was behind my writing it. Either way, it took me back and made me gratefully melancholy for what I had and still have in my mother.

Daughter of Another Mother

I have to go meet my mom.
Only she’s not there.
She’s not where I left her.
And she’s not where she told me she’d be.
She’s not where I’ve looked for her.
She’s lost; locked away behind her diagnosis.
Alzheimer’s.
She’s locked in a room where I haven’t been able to find her.
That’s what I keep thinking. But she’s still here. She is still “findable,” I’ve just been looking in the wrong places. I’ve been trying to find her where she was. Where she should be. I’ve been trying to bring her out. To me. But she can’t come to me. I have to go to her. I have to meet her where she is and on her terms.
If I ever want to see my mother again, I have to set aside the person she used to be. And I have to set aside the person I am right now.
If I can change myself enough and allow her to be changed already, then we can sit down in her room together and be.
Just be.
Because right now, that’s all there is. 

Stories and Interventions

**Though written in present tense, NONE of this post was written while driving my car. I write in my head. And then I spend an inordinate amount of time in a car line typing out what was in my head.**

I am driving–following clouds that are gray and swollen with a threat they likely won’t deliver. I’m okay with that, because it has only rained for the last 7 days. The ground and my attitude have had enough for now. I am in the car again. I spend a lot of time in the car lately and haven’t handled it with as much grace as I would like. If your kids are having to talk you down from road rage, you might need to choose another path. Mom, please. Chill. Mom, what good does it do to talk to all these drivers? Mom, please don’t say anything to that person? Mom, no.

I may have a bit of a problem. The last time I remember feeling this uptight in the car, I was 34. To fight the urge to punch people, I memorized Romans 12 and recited it to myself when I was frustrated. I learned to bless people who cursed me. I liberally assigned pulling out in front of me or ripping past 42 cars (one of which was me) going 60 miles per hour so you can “merge” in front of them as a person “cursing me.” It’s a loose interpretation, but it helped me off the ledge. People turn into feral dogs when it comes to merging in a construction zone. Goodness.

So I’m playing a lot of Jim Brickman and rememorizing Romans 12. And with the time I sit in the car waiting for kids, I read, write, and conduct business.

I see a lot of people as I drive and I am always paying attention. I see the world in pictures. Behind every picture is a story as complicated as mine. From a stoplight, I can see a man hunched over on a bench. He waits for the bus, with his elbows against his knees. He holds up a world of trouble by just his thumbs, as he leans against them with his eyes closed. Did he not sleep last night? Is he praying? I turn right as I pass him and I drive away from his story, whatever it happens to be.

There are stories everywhere.
In the strange house that has been added to, piece by piece, until it looks like an apartment from 1963 and the Winchester house had a baby on the banks of the Hillsborough River.
In the rotted-out van parked out front of a house advertising computer sales and repair.
In the bus driver that is pacing the sidewalk in front of her bus as she waits for the kids to load.
In the man that jaywalks through traffic, wearing a loaded backpack, carrying a bag in one hand and an umbrella in the other. He has enough on his person to be homeless, but otherwise looks like an accountant.
In the eyes of the girl that scoops my daughter’s ice cream.

Everyone has a story. But sometimes I can’t see past my own to care about theirs. When I get mad at the inconsiderate mergers, I am mad because I think they put their story above mine. They merged their story in front of mine. When I bark orders in the middle school car line that no one but my exasperated daughters will hear, I am barking to make my story heard over theirs. But in that moment, as I grumble angrily inside my van, no one wants to hear my story over another’s. By griping and trying to get ahead, I’ve made my own story one that even I don’t want to read. And if I don’t want to read it, it’s a sure bet no one else will.

So on the 7th day of school, at the end of this day, I am forcing my own intervention. I am slowing down. I am breathing deeply, though I am not doing it when and how my smart-mouthed Apple watch suggests.  I am looking for the stories in others and attempting to read them with more mercy and grace.

And I am acknowledging that we are all unfinished stories. But everyone’s story will end at some point. And I’d like mine to end not in a fiery wreck or a local headline accompanied by jail time, but on a balcony in New York City with a pudding cup in my lap and the sounds of someone else’s road rage chiming like bells in the streets down below.

Never would I ever?

I take dares.
I’m not terribly discriminating about the dares I take if there’s money involved. Some people think of it as gambling. I think of it as making $600 an hour if I could just get consistent dare-type work.
So far the work hasn’t been consistent.

There is a mass of people that look at a dare and furrow their brows and think to themselves, “No way I’m doing that.” That’s not me, obviously.  I will consider anything as long as there’s no moral shame involved and a minimal chance of arrest or infection. The way I see it, this is my opportunity to rise above a life of status quo. Of mediocrity. It is my chance to grossly exceed expectations. When a person dares me to do something, they are really saying, “I’ll give you x to do y, because I don’t think you’ll do it.” It’s my chance to do it with gusto and make a little something on the side. It’s an honest living.

I was trying to sleep in the middle school car line, with my car seat fully reclined and my alarm set for 3:18 p.m., so there’d be no honking horns or embarrassing moments, when I began thinking of the trail of dares that stretches out behind me. I have some moments of radiant glory. I also have some moments of regret.

A couple of years ago at our annual famping trip, my friend, Brent, was suffering with plantar fasciitis, as I am now. He spent a fair amount of his porch relaxation with his foot stuck in a white, plastic cooler that was half full of ice. Over the course of a couple of days, that ice melted to ice water. And by the end of the third day, it looked every bit of the foot water that it was. That’s when the dare came to life. I normally work for about $600 an hour, which breaks down to $10 per 60 seconds. How much I charge depends on the length of time a task will take and the level of intensity or disgust.

Approximately 20 years ago, the lobby of our local Red Lobster contained a lobster tank that was situated between the bathrooms and the maître d stand. I don’t know what possessed my friend to think of this, but upon standing there too long as we waited to be seated in the middle of a Sunday lunch crowd, she said, “I’ll give you ten bucks to put on the mask and snorkel and wear it for a full 60 seconds.” I looked over at the lobster tank to see what she was talking about. The tank was decorated with a dingy looking snorkel set, which was perched and hanging over the side.

“Deal,” I said without much delay. I mean, it was 60 seconds. ONE MINUTE. That almost felt like I was stealing from her.

“I’ll start the timer,” she said as I walked over to the tank. Todd became a tad alarmed at this, as he doesn’t share my love for getting rich by taking dares. But it got away from him before he could reel it back and I was standing at the lobster tank before anyone realized what was about to happen.

I leaned over the tank, pulled the mask over my eyes and put the snorkel into my mouth. Elaine started the clock.

I got this, I thought to myself. 60 seconds. The moment that timer started, my friends scattered. Todd, Elaine, Brent. I was left there with my thoughts, which were darker than I expected. My head was tethered pretty tightly to the tank, but I managed to look toward my right. When I did, there were two Red Lobster employees at the maître d stand staring back at me. Their looks were a cocktail of confusion and contempt. I looked away as quickly as I could.

At this point, I considered bailing. I could take off the mask and snorkel and be done, but then I’d have to live with the knowledge that I did something really disgusting and received nothing in return. I couldn’t go back now.

How LONG is 60 seconds? And where did everybody go? I wonder who the last person was that put this snorkel in their mouth. I hope they didn’t have tuberculosis. Maybe it’s never been in another mouth. Maybe it was bought new for the sole purpose of hanging over this tank. Or maybe it was taken off the dead body of a shallow diver. It tasted way too old to be new. I couldn’t believe how alone I felt in that lobby and how long it seemed that I stood there. The smell of murky fish water was curdling in my stomach. The only thing that could make this worse would be throwing up into the tank of live lobsters.

When it seemed like I was halfway into a life sentence, Elaine walked back over and said, “OK, you’re done,” and I yanked my equipment off and placed it carefully against the side of the tank again. Then I attempted not to make eye contact with anyone who had watched this go down. That night at church, I passed Elaine on the way to my pew and held out my hand. She slapped a crisp $10 bill into my palm and said, “You earned it.”

And that’s why I like dares.

Getting $10 to soak myself at Busch Gardens was a much lower-paying, higher-suffering gig. I was forced into the fountains of Jungala wearing jeans and sneakers and forced back in when I was deemed “not wet enough yet” by the friend who was paying. I was cold for the next 3 hours and had to eat at Taco Bell, still fully drenched from a bet that wouldn’t even pay for my dinner. Although I made $600 per hour with the snorkel, I was reduced to about $3.33 on the Busch Gardens water stunt.

But back to the white cooler and the foot water.

A bet was forming that weekend on that porch that was going to be a pretty lucrative situation. When it began to take shape, I was a hard no on the matter. It was a lot of water. Flavored by feet. But there were others involved that wanted to see this happen and a pool began to form. Before I knew it, that pool was up to $200. I mean, that’s a lot of money. But Todd has suffered many times in the background of my shenanigans. And this time, he was very much on top of it.

“Wait a second, what is this?” he asked, as he caught wind of the dare and the cash reward.

“I’ve offered Missy $200 to drink this cooler of foot water,” Brent said. Others chimed in that they were helping with the financial portion.

“No,” Todd argued. “NO.” He looked at me with a hint of exasperation. “I’ll give you $200 NOT to.”

Aww. Man. It was really important to my family that I not take this dare.
But $200.
But also, foot water.

Ultimately, I did not take that dare. And no one paid me $200 not to take it. So of course, I sit here in a middle school car line with an aching right foot, thinking about foot water, and planning what I would do with $200.

I like to think I would make a hefty deposit on a new mountain bike.
But I think it’s more likely the money would go toward something practical. Like a new cooler, because I’ve been told I need to ice my right foot. If I do, I’ll end up with my very own vat of foot water—which I would tell you to dare me to drink except that I’m pretty sure you can’t afford me.

But if you can,
I will.


First Day Jitters

Every May, I find myself gasping for air as I dry-heave my way through a maze of paperwork, final exams, piles of clothing in which there could be a lost library book, and graduation requirements.

And I’m not the one in school.

School was always my thing, though. I was good at it. I wasn’t the smartest kid in class by any stretch. But I was a kid who had a knack for figuring out the requirements and meeting them. Now I’m navigating that territory as a parent. I think it would be far easier to just take the classes for them.

After my desperate sprint to the end-of-school finish line last May, we flopped down in our favorite spots and celebrated the onset of a well-deserved period of relaxation. Summer.

This particular summer flew away faster than any in recent memory. It was perforated with so many camps, trips, weekend events, etc, that the little blocks of time between seemed to vaporize before we could react.

Today, summer officially ended.

I mourned for about 15 minutes. And then I thought about the things I love that follow a new school year.

  • High school football on Friday nights with a kid on quads in the marching band.
  • College football on Saturdays.
  • Pro football on Sundays. (I really love football.)
  • Sub-88° temperatures.
  • Long shadows falling across the back yard as the days get shorter.
  • Being shoved ridiculously and aggressively into every holiday by retailers.
  • The holidays.

This year, I have kids in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12. It is only a transition year for the youngest. It is always a transition year for someone. When I found myself expecting my fourth child, my hairdresser spoke about my future with doom and disdain. Just wait, he told me. The boys will play baseball and the girls will be in cheerleading and you’ll have to divide and conquer. You and your husband will never be at the same event again. Ever.

I fired that guy. I couldn’t afford him anyway.

I got around the baseball thing by convincing the boys that our family wasn’t athletically gifted. I got around the cheerleading thing, because I hate cheerleading. The girls didn’t know it was a thing until it was far too late.

I haven’t figured out how to get around the back-to-school stress.

It’s easier with no one in elementary school. The supply lists are less of a problem. Instead of a list being the length of 3 CVS receipts, they are more like 6 or 8 items long. But the problem with the lists now is that I don’t get them until 2 days before school starts. That’s what led me to Walmart at 2 p.m. yesterday. The day before school started.

There were a lot of people at Walmart. Most of them were shopping for school supplies. I had already decided that I was not going to stress about anything I couldn’t find. I was not going to fight for a parking place. And I was not going to get mad. At anyone or about anything.

It actually went pretty well. At one point, I made eye contact with a boy who looked to be about Jenna’s age. He was on a cell phone and pushing a cart one-handed. There were a few spiral notebooks and a binder in his cart. I had a fleeting thought that he should hang up the phone and put two hands on his cart, but I forced the thought away and kept moving. As I was checking out an hour later, I saw that boy again. He was standing one cash register over, counting some money for the cashier to pay for the things I had seen in his cart. He had bought his own school supplies. I have no idea where his guardians were. Maybe it was someone sitting out in a car. Maybe a handicap person. Maybe a person who is rightfully terrified of Walmart the day before school starts back. All I know is that he stood there alone doing a job that could unravel the best of adults. And I wish him the best first day of school ever.

Toward the end of yesterday, I was on the phone with a friend checking in to see how her kids were handling the night-before stress. I had not finished my sentence that mine were handling it fine when a text came in from a child requesting permission to shave their arms. Since I was sitting in the driveway in my car, I texted back NO and ran inside to head off the beginnings of the first and only crisis.

“My arms are so bad,” she said. “They are so hairy.” She was crying. It might have been funny if it hadn’t been so pitiful.

“Your arms are perfectly normal,” I said. “And let me assure you of something: arm stubble is a heap worse than arm hair. Even if you looked like a yeti, which you don’t. You want a 5-o’clock shadow on your arms?”

We got through the crisis by pointing out that I survived middle school and my problems were far greater than a little arm hair. I had enough hair on my head to stuff a household of straw mattresses. It was like the nest of an osprey. My eyebrows were a burly affair and were competing for attention just north of my very large duck lips and a mouth full of braces. Honestly, I don’t know how I got through that. My mother sent Christmas card photos during those years.

“So, see?” I said to Jenna as she smiled and wiped her nose. “It could be so much worse. Compared to me, you got it going on.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “You were pretty bad.”

For every parent and every kid out there starting school this week or soon, I hope it’s fantastic. It won’t be perfect. If your arms are a little hairier than you would like, be thankful you have arms. If your supplies are a little bulky in your backpack, be grateful you didn’t have to one-arm a cart through a maze of shoppers and pay for them yourself.

And if you look in the mirror on your way out the door one of these mornings and you don’t like what you see, I still got you beat.
And you’ll survive.
But I think we can all do a good deal better than that.

The Mundane and the Middle

There are plenty of mundane things in an otherwise exciting and fulfilling life like I consider mine to be. And these things may be mundane, but you still have to do them. I’d rather sustain a goose egg to the forehead than go back-to-school shopping. But the kids are going back to school. And they can’t go naked. So we shopped.

And speaking of goose eggs, about the time I got stupid and bought Vans, which are clearly designed for flat-footed 15-year-olds, my feet got old. Like Plantar Fasciitis old. Like compression sock/brace-wearing old. Ordering special insoles is mundane. But this week, I had to do it. Because I’m not going to stop running around Busch Gardens with my kids, even if it hurts to do it.

And speaking of Busch Gardens, we were on our way out the door on Monday night. Not to Busch Gardens, but to Skate Night. Skate Night is a thing where a whole bunch of nice nerds get together every Monday night from 7-10 and skate. Kids from 2 years to 20 years are out on the same rink. Some parents join in. I did on occasion until a 5 year old took me out (years ago) from behind. My behind was 4 weeks recovering from that. Now I just watch.

On Monday night we were leaving for Skate Night particularly early to meet some friends for dinner. I was having a little trouble with my right foot and had to think through my footwear a little more than usual. Because I’ve been purging every corner of the house, I don’t own very many shoes these days. I had two pair of Vans that were cute as buttons, but I gave those to my daughter. Because pain. So I’m down some shoes. And something made me throw on my old Crocs on my way out the door, because Crocs are back in. And I like to be in. Except for Vans. I was crossing the garage in my Crocs to get in the car when my 15-year-old who is too cool for school and many other places stopped in his tracks. And he gestured so that I would stop in my tracks also.

“Uh, you can’t wear those out,” he said, very politely and matter-of-factly.

“Why not?” I asked genuinely. “They’re back in.”

“Not those,” he answered. “Not for you.”

Ouch.
Ouch.

My self-esteem has taken quite a hit lately. I manage it okay. I embrace the nerd part of my personality that still relishes in the long-deceased authors of my youth. I know my kids’ friends like me enough to come around. I don’t care too much what they think about my outfit choices. But I’m not dead. I do care a little.

It’s the middle kids giving me trouble. They live together in the Middle. The conspire together in the Middle. They fight with each other in the Middle. And they come at me from the Middle. The Middle is a whole thing. I think it’s probably a hard thing in some ways. And I’d be tempted to feel sorry for them except that I don’t have time for that. I’m too busy dodging what they hurl at me from the Middle.

As I stood there in the garage, reluctantly accepting that the Crocs were a mistake for Skate Night, I had to come up with an alternative.

“Listen,” I responded. “It’s this or my Keens.” Clearly that wasn’t the right answer, because the female Middle said,

“What about your black flip flops?”

I have been trying to avoid flip flops this week.

“Those are up in my room and I don’t want to go back for them,” I answered. We were in a hurry. Tampa traffic was a nightmare on Monday.

“I’ll grab ’em for you,” my son said and dashed back in the house like he was being chased. I’ve never had a child run an errand for me with more speed or enthusiasm. He returned 40 seconds later with my flip flops. They aren’t the coolest things around, but apparently they are far and away better than my Crocs or my Keens.

“You know what? We gotta go shopping,” he said on the way to dinner. “For shoes.”

“What? You have so many shoes!”

“Not for me,” he clarified. “For you. I want to go with you.” I glanced at him in the passenger seat. This was not a favor to me, but because I think he believed it was, I went along with the conversation. “What are you looking for?”

“Cool and cute but super supportive. Maybe we could go to Rack Room this weekend.”

“No, no, no. You aren’t going to find cool and supportive at Rack Room.” At this point he began to search for shoes to show me. He found a subset of what he thought I might like as we pulled into the restaurant parking lot. “How ’bout these?” He asked. They were ok.

“How much?” I asked.

“$165.”

“A hundred and sixty-five dollars?!” I guffawed. “That’s a hard no. Those shoes would need to be made of precious metals or have a method of generating their own source of income for me to spend that.”

“What’s your limit then? $100?” he asked, refining his search.

“Probably. Even that makes me uncomfortable.”

At that point, we had to drop the conversation for the evening activities. Since then, I have run all over Busch Gardens in my Keens, worn my dirty light blue Nikes to church, and ordered a brace and some insoles. I still don’t have new sneakers and I’m still not traditionally cool. But on Tuesday night, a mere 24 hours past the unfortunate Crocs incident, when it came time to take a 200-foot nose dive from the front row of Sheikra, I was good enough and cool enough for that. And nobody cared what was on my feet when they were dangling from the track of an inverted roller coaster.

And speaking of inverted roller coasters, I’d rather be wearing red Crocs as the baby of the family than wearing Sperrys in the Middle.

And that’s about as mundane as it gets.