Sunday, December 16, 2007

Calling Mom

Today I miss my parents. I took them for granted when they were here. They died within 18 months of each other about 10 years ago. They loved me totally, absolutely and completely, and it was as real and unappreciated as the air I breathe. Sometimes I thought about it, and felt huge gratitude, but mostly I just lived on it.

I'm at an interesting stage of life that I would love to talk over with my mom. She was a very good listener. And I know Dad would have good advice. He was great at advising.

For 31 years I had kids at home. They were coming one by one for the first 12 years, 7 births, 2 miscarriages. All seven were together for the next nine years, and then they left, one by one, over the next 11 years, college, missions. marriages...It was definitely my busy season. I was overwhelmed with the activity around me, and the necessity of me. I was nursing or pregnant 128 months!! That's almost 10 years of physically supporting another life. Later I was the supporting cast to their starring role. I wonder how many shoes I searched for, how many coats I zipped, how many sandwiches I made. How often did I say, "Brush your teeth," "Fasten your seat belts, "Close the door."

Then, of course, they became teenagers. I remember feeling like I was riding a horse that wanted it's head, but I had to hold on to the reins until they were really ready to run free. I just switched from stallion to mare, and back, in mid-ride. I didn't even know how to ride horses! It's a metaphor for all the stuff I did, that I didn't know how to do. It was a wild ride, exhilarating but totally exhausting. I wouldn't change a thing. I'd never ride a horse again, either.

Except there wasn't a lot of time for anything else. In fact, for years I couldn't answer the question "What do you like to do?" I didn't know. I'd never found out. Raising a family was what I did: it was my hobby and my profession, and it became my talent. I was anxious for the kids to become independent, capable, and confident. They did.

I put myself out of a job.

I wish I could ask my mom how she felt when she experienced this. The funny thing is, she probably told me...maybe lots of times. But I was used to her being there for me, and I wasn't very concerned about being there for her. I didn't listen to her heart. I assumed my folks existed mainly to cheer me on, and encourage my endeavors. It was always more about me than about them, for all three of us, I think. Maybe my siblings were the ones my parents leaned on. I hope so, because I was busy inviting my parents to be available for all our stuff. I didn't stand still for them to lean a lot.

I'm ashamed to say I didn't grow out of this attitude when I was 20, or even 30. Mom died when I was 48 and I still felt like I was the center of her life. She just wasn't the center of mine. I had replaced her with my own spouse and kids, and grand kids. I think that's the way my parents wanted it and expected it to be, but still...She'd sacrificed most of her old friends to be available for us. We'd become her friends. But at my most friendly, she was always the mom and I was always the child. I took more than I gave. She didn't live long enough for me to take care of her, and obviously, if she were still alive, I'd be calling her for support and maybe to ask her to do something for me. Which she would happily do.

I guess I should have started earlier, listening to her concerns, getting excited about her new interests and friends. Maybe, as I friend I should have shown enthusiasm for her sewing projects, entertaining and decorating ideas. But I took my role of a daughter seriously, and acted in my own interests, rather than switching over to the friend role very often (examples: without listening too closely, telling her the Relief Society luncheon sounded great. Or secretly wishing she wouldn't confide in me about Dad's little annoyances (deal with them mom! You're 70 years old!") It didn't occur to me that all her contemporaries were fully wrapped up in their kids and grand kids; that Dad's career had taken off in 600 directions, that she was not part of AFTER her role to dream it up with him. He was the actual one to take the flying leap, finding prestige and associates in the process who replaced her initial supporting role. She was left behind, suddenly free to pursue her own interests (as long as they didn't clash with dad's time schedule.) I wonder how she found friends do take quilting classes, study classes etc. Did she do these things alone?

Maybe I would have become a wonderful caregiver daughter, bathing her, doing her hair and wheeling her through the mall, if she'd gotten old. I wasn't that great for my dad when he was sick the last few months of his life. I actually thought he was grouchy and needy--not surprising since he was sick--but I wasn't as wonderful as I would be now. ("I'm a wonderful daughter since I don't have to worry about my parents.") Now I'm more mature and I'd be full of compassion and patience. It's too bad they didn't find out how great I turned out.

But this is about me. In the past few years I've had to re-invent myself. Some women discover and develop interests when they are young. I took lessons and classes while my kids were growing up, but I couldn't ever put my heart and soul into anything. The guitar was left in the corner, after somebody broke the strings, and eventually given away; the kids climbed on my lap whenever I tried to practice the piano, the tole paints were spilled all over the storage room, the tap dancing shoes lost a tap, and my poetry class required finishing assignments on time...(the nerve!) I was a docent at an art museum for several years, and I volunteered at school and church, but my main role was to keep everyone else's lives going. I used to feel like I was the only person in the family without a real life. Nobody paid much attention to my efforts to become my own person. They liked me to be their own person.

But I always loved writing. I could sit on the milkbox and write while the kids played outside, or at the table while they did their homework. I wrote while I sat in the car waiting during their ballgames and lessons. I wrote about them, because it was what I knew. I wrote about being their mom, because it was who I was. It was cathartic. A few articles got published but by and large I was REJECTED. Not good for a shaky ego. Could I take up carving nativity sets? (We took a class.)

Writing is what I do. I can spend hours at it, and never notice the time. I wish for more time to do it. I know others feel this way about golf, water coloring, or gardening. It's fun to have a hobby I love. It's frustrating that writing requires a reader. It isn't exactly a solo sport. That's another reason I miss my parents. They loved everything I wrote, and gave me positive reviews. They always had time to read it, and they encouraged me to write a newspaper column, or booklet to give out at church. They often commissioned a specific poem for a lesson, or gift or invitation. It was a fun opportunity. They believed I had a future. They made me believe it, too.

Gary Paulsen, the author of Hatchet, wrote this:

Writing me.
I have loved writing for a long time now...and yet I come to love it more with each passing year.
The way the stories dance, the rhythms of the words...when it works, the hair on the back of my neck still raises up and I get chills up and down my spine.
I wish I could thank everyone who has read my writing for allowing me the thrill of being part of this dance with words.

That's how I feel. I realize I'm not a real writer, but I feel connected when I know someone has read my words. I am happy to have discovered another facet to myself, and appreciate this medium for making it so much easier to get published. You people out there are sometimes my incentive, usually my friends, and tonight you've been my mom. Thanks for listening.


Bev said...

Marty, you ARE a REAL WRITER!!

You encourage a lot of us out here without even knowing it, and for me anyway, the day is not complete if I haven't "checked your blog"...I'm always disappointed when you haven't posted...perhaps that "peeping tom" thing at work as I read about your life and children and occasionally wish my life was more like yours.

Each of us seems to have to find our own way with what we have been given, you have been given much, and I'm sure your mom understands it all from where she is now

God bless

Nancy said...


You are, indeed, a writer.I read you almost every day and enjoy what you have written.

It's not easy to write. Here is what Jonathan Swift had to say about putting words to paper.

"Then rising with Aurora's light
The muse invoked,sit down to write;
Blot out, correct,insert,refine,
Be mindful when invention fails,
To scratch your head and bite your nail."

kenju said...

I'll be your surrogate mom anytime! I don't even know you and I'm proud of you and your talents!!I think your mom and dad are too.

MissKris said...

Oh, honey...I could've written this one myself! Both my parents are gone now, too. I could've been a much better daughter as well. My mom died when I was 35 and I hadn't matured much at that stage so our relationship was still fraught with a lot of old-baggage angst. I did have the privilege to 'be there' for my dad after he had a stroke a few years ago and then died last year. We were able to work thru a lot of the old-baggage angst. I miss them, too. Been there, done that...a carbon copy of you as far as child rearing and all the years of being there for everyone else. This was a wonderful, wonderful post, Marty. I will be thinking on it the rest of the day, maybe even writing my own version if I find time on here after church. And even tho I don't get around much to visit you or anyone else much going on in 'real life' to deal with right ARE my friend and I feel blessed to have you in my life.

Stie: My Favorite Things said...

This was beautiful. So from the heart. Loved it! I feel so blessed to have you in my life, and the life of my children. Keep writing!

mama jo said...

as a mother and the daughter of the mother you are talking about..i think i can say, all mom wanted to do was be involved in our lives..she was just like you, or me...we live for our kids, because that's what our lives are...and she evolved just as you have..she sewed and write, make books...she is so proud of are carrying on what she started in with your special talents...that's all a mother wants for her children...

gab said...

I miss Grama too. She was so good at letting everyone around her look like they were shining, when really they were just reflecting her great light!

I will try and take note of your so-called-daughtering-mistakes so that I will not make them too. But I think that's the great thing about mothers...they love us even when we just don't "get it". (How can we "get" what it's like to be at that point on the mountain...when we are so far below!?)

In the meantime, I will read all your stuff and think it's awesome and I will wash your hair and clip your toenails and push your wheelchair around King of Prussian mall!

Your writing is a great way to leave a trail for the rest of us to follow! Love you...

Jordy said...

I read almost everyday. Your writing makes me want to write again. I love your insights and wisdom. And I love the line, "I put myself out of a job." I can't wait to tell my mom. She'll get a real kick out of it. Oh, and of course you're a writer.

Joy Des Jardins said...


You are a beautiful writer, and your words are filled with all the warmth, love and inspiration that was handed down to your from your parents...and passed on to your amazing kids. You have made a truly beautiful life for all your children and every grandchild alike. Your mom and dad must be bursting with pride as they watch you from above.

moon said...

I haven,t been visiting your blog long but I for one think you are a REAL writter. I enjoy your take us on a trip or a memory or deep feelings and we can all relate somehow. Thank you for sharing of yourself as you do. WE all benefit from it.

marta said...

oh mom, this was perfect. you ARE a writer and a very good one at that! i'm glad you're collecting memories for my children's children. i often wish dan had known my grandparents, but your recollections of them are keeping them alive in our hearts.

keep up the great work, oma! your writing is witty, sweet, touching and so genuine. we all love reading it, you are changing lives!