Monday, June 18, 2012

Becoming the Mother We Sought


At some point in our lives, most of us have believed ourselves to be a victim of our parents. Sometimes children feel victimized by their parents’ dorky taste in clothing. Sometimes their parents’ quirky behaviors induce embarrassment. Most of the time, children of all ages resent their parents when parents say “no.”

This is what happened in one episode of Enlightened, an HBO series starring Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, and Luke Wilson. The female protagonist, Amy, is a woman whose marriage failed when she and her husband could not overcome their grief after losing a child. Her ex-husband remains her friend, but he uses drugs in order to forget his sorrows. Amy re-married her work, only to lose her career after an ugly, public affair with her married boss. He dumps and demotes her, leading to a screaming, stalking episode and a long rehabilitation at an expensive spa. Finally, Amy returns to her mother’s home, determined to be a good person.

Each episode reveals Amy taking one step forward in her quest to become worthy and loving, only to be driven back two or three steps after some complication, including her mother’s distrust of her. Amy’s mother does not understand her daughter or her motives, and she seems to disapprove of Amy and her quest. Mom says “no” and “no, thank you” often, leading Amy to observe that she has:

lived in a world full of not-good-enough mothers. Imperfect, bad mothers. But the mother is a child, too. She is a child. [And] I [Amy] will stop waiting for … [her] to be the perfect mother. I will be patient with ... [her]. I will be tender. I will be the mother I wanted … [her] to be.

And that really is the vow every child makes, isn’t it? We vow not to become the adults that surrounded us when we were younger. We believe we will be better, cooler, better looking, better dressed, and more enlightened. Yet we always inherit some of the same imperfections, and once we recognize that truth, we learn to be tender and possess greater degrees of humility.

This blog has been both reflection and vow. It has acknowledged some of what Mother did well. It has offered snippets of who she was, including some of her imperfections. Posts have also looked beyond my mother’s generation, into my own parenting and recently, my granddaughter’s future. With the passage of time, from past to present to future, the blog seems to have come full circle.

So farewell, Readers. Please tell your own stories, making sure to share them in the living years. Look for me at http://livinglikeatticus.blogspot.com and http://mywritingandeditingcoach.blogspot.com. Please join these blogs, and please comment often.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Women, Love Yourselves!

Dear Granddaughter, 

Being a woman is more than a biological distinction, so much more than filling in the space beside the letter “F” on the form provided at the gynecologist’s office. We are so much more than the sum of our unique parts—breasts and vaginas. We are more than beauty. We possess fine minds, capable of discerning truths and imagining brilliant futures. We make the nests, weaving together the moral fiber of a nation, transforming selfish creatures into selfless ones, nudging them over the edge, teaching them to soar. We give comfort, nurture, entertain, inspire, and lead. We may also be the noblest of the noble creatures. Yet we often do not love ourselves enough, sometimes not at all.

Some of us are artifacts from an earlier age when women were cultivated to be pretty and coy. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, for example, women had little value if they were not pretty. Even a loving, intelligent grandmother, Lady Mary Montagu, recognizing that her own granddaughter was plain, suggested that she should be taught to love reading because as a plain girl, especially one whose parents could not provide an attractive dowry, she should not hope for marriage. She should steel herself for the life of a spinster, living at the mercy of a relative, with little more than books to comfort her through longs days and nights. Lady Montagu asserted that “No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting. She [her granddaughter] will not want new fashions nor regret the loss of expensive diversions or variety of company if she can be amused with an author in her closet [sitting room/bedroom].”

Surely we have evolved over the course of several hundred years, but girls in the twenty-first century still compensate. They may put on weight, finding reassurance in food and confirming what they believe to be their destinies. They may let their hair hang in order to mask break-outs and acne. They may bear stooped shoulders if they happen to be taller than the tallest boy. They may resign themselves to their role as a plain girl, choosing modest, unflattering clothing that masks shapes and sometimes even gender. Others may choose outrageous outfits, defying convention and fashion in an effort to prove that being girly and pretty does not interest them. How Do I Look, a program on the Style network, exists to transform these women and prove to them that they too can attract the approval of both men and women.

Other women make war with the plain or unattractive label, relying upon gyms, trainers, diet fads, Spanx, hair dyes, highlights, Botox, collagen, make-up, lotions, tanning booths, and plastic surgery to transform themselves into something they like when they look in the mirror. These women sometimes become so gaunt that we can map veins under a thin layer of skin or count their ribs through thin, gauzy tees. Some of these woman sport lips that enter a room before their noses—lips so enormous that they parody Marilyn Monroe’s pout. Others have eyebrows arched so high up their foreheads that we whip our own heads left and right, looking for the interloper who just frightened them, only to find there is no one else, just a woman who has become a cartoon of her former self.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that I am not a woman familiar with gyms. I joined one for a time. I even reached the thirty-minute mark on a recumbent bike, but each of my muscle groups lacks definition. I have Crow’s feet although I prefer laugh lines, a much prettier term for what exists at the outer edges of my eyes. My neck is crepey, or as some younger folk might say, creepy; consequently, I love autumn and winter when turtle necks and scarves may be worn with little comment. Around my lips are wrinkles, the ones that I abhorred on older women when I was young, the ones I dreaded to see in a mirror. I am also overweight, a state I cannot recommend, and I have struggled to find clothes that are comfortable and fashionable, clothes in which I feel attractive. Thus, I have often stepped into the demands of the universe feeling everything except pretty.

I have known others like me, and I have known women who are cute, adorable, pretty, and gorgeous. Without exception, these women are self-deprecating Joan-Rivers. One hates the shape of her nose. Another thinks her ankles are just too thick. Many despise their hair; it’s too flat or curly, too dull or frizzy. We are all part Goldilocks, looking for hair that’s just right. We envy each other, too: the blond next door, the gal with big blue eyes, a colleague with long, graceful fingers, and a sister with Audrey Hepburn’s neck. Our envy rarely looks good on us either.

Lady Mary Montagu also observed, in one of her finer moments, that “A face is too slight a foundation for happiness.” Few of us would disagree. Happiness is what we build within ourselves through our good works, through love. Neither books for our lonely days nor looks for all our days, often bought at great cost, grant happiness. So please, love yourselves so much that you create happiness for yourself. Cultivate more than a pretty face and a lovely form. Let go of self-deprecation and envy. Embrace your nobility by loving yourselves, warts, weight, worries, and all.

(This essay was written for and first published at www.enableher.com, but now, just days after my granddaughter's birth, I wish to share it with her so that one day, when she doubts herself, she can read this and love herself.)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Welcome, Granddaughter


She loves to rest her head upon the chest of her family. Beating hearts comfort her; the steady movement of breathing reassures her.

She loves to pull her head up in order to see the face of the person who holds her. When she lies in our arms and Sleep looses its hold upon her, she studies the faces above her, evaluating them, perhaps memorizing them. She has not yet found a face that fails to fascinate.

She also studies the colors and shapes in her world, the light and shadow. She sees and learns: red stripes upon her nursery wall mesmerize; shades of orange against ocean blue around her play pad fascinate; her mommy’s original photographs captivate.

At her first photo session, when she was but eleven days old, she held her own head up so long that staff asked, “How old is she?” With this confirmation from outsiders, we believe she is as strong as we suspected and a step or two ahead of her peers.

She trusts the arms that reach for her and has not felt insecure or frightened yet. I only hope that she will always believe she is a good judge of character. More important, I hope she will always trust her instincts so that she may avoid people whose intentions are not good.

She protests new experiences as well she might, but having tested the newness, she reflects and relaxes. Her first shampoo was fraught with cries and complaints. Her second, in her mommy's, was tranquil. She enjoyed having her head gently massaged.

She dwells in love.

Her parents are nervous. They fret and hover.

Grandparents, having passed beyond the nervous state with their own children, simply enjoy this greatest wonder of this world, oft repeated, never dull, always personal, inspirational, and humbling.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Go Boldly On, Little One



She’s six days old, making her debut May 22, 2012. She is my only daughter’s daughter, my one and only grandchild. I adore her without reservation, and my love has no boundaries.

What a joy to see my daughter transfixed by the expressions on her baby’s face. How well I understand her fears, spoken and unspoken, each time her newborn snuffles, sighs, or cries. How proud I am when my daughter reports that her greatest happiness is holding her daughter.

Every adult hovers, reciprocating each little smile as some pleasant dream skips across my granddaughter's mind. We also mirror every frown, pout, and gesture. Everyone wants to hold her.

Thus far, she welcomes others into her tiny circle. She has nothing to fear, but fears will come, we know. We also know that we’ll empathize and assure her that everything will be okay.

For now, she needs her mommy, the nurturer and nourisher, more than anyone else. She knows her mommy’s voice best, but her daddy’s voice comforts her as well. She’s tuning her ear to all those other friends, well-wishers, grandparents, aunts, and cousins. She’s tuned out the dog and cat; having heard so much from them during her time in the womb, they do not intrude upon her dreams now. She sleeps peacefully in the knowledge that love is hers, and she will never lack for it nor need to work for it. She has mine, theirs, ours.

The world lies before her, so precious, so new. Go boldly on, little one. We are right behind you.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dear Granddaughter,


As the unknown birthday for my first grandchild, a little girl, comes near, I find myself thinking about Phillip Booth’s wonderful poem, “First Lesson:”

Lie back, daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man's float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you
.

A parent cradles his child, holding her up upon the great seas, directing her to look up, hopefully, always. He wants her to know that she will certainly become expert in time. She will have both the skill and strength to endure, to reach her destination if she trusts the sea to hold her.

Booth’s lesson is the only one we need to teach. It is:

swaddled by loving parents,
            we go forth upon the sea,
                        buoyed by a faith that will carry us home.

May I be wise and humble enough to impart this lesson.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Primeval Mothers and Ripley, the Archetypal Mother Figures


A former colleague confessed on Facebook that a small bird harassed her after a hideous storm, forcing her to flee and duck inside her back door. The bird’s nest had been blown out of a nearby, broken tree so the bird redefined its territory from a branch to my friend’s entire backyard, expanding its maternal instincts accordingly and transforming a small bird into an avenging, protective Fury with feathers.

A convicted animal advocate, my friend found the nest and returned it to the tree, safe from many predators, including the two-legged kind. Mama-bird relaxed and ceased flying directly at my friend or her Pitbull, the backyard a pastoral haven once again.

My friend’s experience with that small bird is, on a much smaller scale, a testament to mothers, one told through the science fiction films Alien and its first sequel, Aliens. Both focus upon a single woman, who is nevertheless a Mother figure, fighting for her family, be they the crew aboard the deep-space mining ship, Nostromo, or a small, motherless child alone on a desolate planet, the sole survivor after hideous monsters destroy every other human and turn them into breeding grounds for more aliens.

The films develop suspense well, in part by manipulating eerie, hostile environments, shadowy realms where dust and dark confuse the humans and lead them to judge their situations poorly. They endure for a time, trapped inside cumbersome space suits or metallic, man-made dwellings that they cannot escape without extensive forethought. The life outside will not support them; they need oxygen delivered through tubes and air ducts while the aliens move easily inside and out without any other support or planning. The monstrous creatures even move through the life-giving air ducts with stealth and intelligence, undetected until they rise, two sets of razor-sharp teeth unleashed to destroy mere mortals.

Not only are the aliens perfect, killing machines, they are remorseless, driven by instinct alone, to thrive, even adapting to use the gut of man as a breeding ground, and like that tiny bird, they attack anything that approaches their nurseries, adhering to a cold code, a biological imperative to protect the next generations even if they must die for their queen and her young.

What Ripley learns through the course of two movies is that she has the right stuff to fight for her own next generation. She sees what others miss, the first to realize the signal from desolate places is not an SOS, but a warning to stay away. She refuses to let her judgment lapse and disregard the quarantine protocol because her first priority is to protect her home and family, in this case, the ship and its crew. When Ash ignores the quarantine protocol and admits the alien attached to her crew mate, Ripley pursues her suspicion about his motives until she learns the horrible truth: the android, Ash, has orders to protect the alien at all costs, even at the expense of the human race. Armed with this knowledge, Ripley begins a journey to destroy the alien and preserve the human race in spite of being overmatched by an android’s strength and the alien’s biological imperative to survive at all costs.

In the sequel, Aliens, Ripley returns to fight for much more than her ship and crew; she fights for a little girl, Newt, becoming the classic, archetypal mother, fiercely protective of her young just as the Alien Queen is. Ripley dares the elements, including fire, trusts few, and pushes her physical strength to its limits and beyond. She is the consummate Mother-figure, fighting to the death, if required, for the next generation.

In nature, the octopus is a paradigm for the archetypal mother. After mating, losing her mate, and laying eggs, the octopus-mother guards her young, never leaving to feed or meet its own needs. It follows a biological imperative to die for its young just as that little bird risked everything to push a human away from her young in the nest and just as Ripley takes up the cause against creatures better suited for survival in space than she is. The octopus, birds, and Ripleys value the next generation more than their own.

Whatever you may think of the Time magazine cover and article about Attachment Parenting or about Tiger Moms, you must surely recognize in them something primeval: an urge to protect and empower the next generation. You understand that these extreme models resemble the archetypal models: mothers who give their all, even their own lives, if necessary, so that their young may thrive.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Mothers, on Mother's Day, Love Your Children Well



Classic Grimm’s fairy tales and countless Disney films portray the lonely world in which motherless children dwell. Snow White, Jack of Beanstalk fame, Bambi, and Simba grow with doubt and danger, sorrow and despair threatening to crush them. Still they are spunky, endowed with a faith that good thrives. And for their faith, they earn love.

How equally miserable are those children whose surviving parent remarries and abandons them while still on this earth. I recall two students in particular, their mothers alive and well, but devoted more to their new spouses than to their own children.

One young lady cut herself, tiny little slices up and down her arms. She slept through class whenever possible and grew less and less likely to complete homework. When I finally tugged the truth from her, she revealed that she didn’t sleep well at night because she was forced to share her bed with her half-brother, a toddler and bed-wetter. She lost sleep every night changing and washing sheets. She was also deeply depressed because her mother refused to cooperate in completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid), a necessary step in achieving a college degree. The completed application informs colleges and universities just how much parents can contribute, how much federal aid the student can expect, and how much more students will need. Unless a student has met the standards for emancipation or can prove that he is independent of his parents, the FAFSA is essential.

My student’s mother had advised her that she would not cooperate in completing the FAFSA because her second husband, the father of her youngest child, her one and only son, intended to use all the family money on his son and spend nothing on his step-daughters. He would not allow their mother to reveal anything about the financial state of her second marriage either. My student had no recourse because in many states, there are no laws to compel a biological, divorced father or stepfather to help support a child who is eighteen years of age, but the custodial parent must still complete the FAFSA before colleges or universities decide upon financial aid. So without her mother’s help, this young lady was out of options.

She thought this unfair. She felt disowned and orphaned even though her mother lives still. Her grief was so large that she took a razor blade to her arms and legs, and she gave up on graduating high school.

A young man faced similar challenges. As a sophomore, excited to become part of Youth and Government, he had to stand at attention and make a persuasive argument in order to earn the right to buy a suit, tie, and dress shoes, requirements for Youth and Government activities. His mother abdicated and left the decision about new clothes entirely to the stepfather.

As a junior, the young man dropped out of all extracurricular activities because he needed part-time work in order to pay for his clothes, school lunches, and social needs. As a senior, he had to find a somewhere else to live because his stepfather placed Draconian demands upon him, demands that he now had the spine to resist, but he soon dropped out of high school—a very common outcome for kids who lose parental support—and he joined the Marines. There he earned his GED and managed to survive basic, but when his months in training ended, he was still not welcome in his mother’s home because it wasn’t really her home. It was his stepfather’s to command, and his mother refused to stand up for her son or defend him against her second husband’s bitter resentments. She forsook her eighteen-year-old son and denied him a warm homecoming.

He tried to be brave. He tried to believe his mom loved him, and he did not break ties with her. But his future changed from a boy who aspired to learn the law and hold public office into a boy who served his country on the hot desert. The promise and hope of this child broke under the critical eye of his step-father and the negligent eye of his own mother.

The young girl was still working as a waitress six years after her high school graduation. She spent the first year establishing her independence and supporting herself. She spent the next five working full-time and attending college part-time. She was still one year away from a degree and a career. A counselor and several teachers mothered her until she grew tough enough to bear the cuts delivered by a thoughtless mother who favored her man and son over her girls. Still I wonder about long-term, permanent damages, and I wonder what she might have become if her mother had not betrayed her.

So, Children, on this Mother’s Day, I hope you don’t have to remember mothers who neither deserve nor earn a call from you. Children don’t deserve to be betrayed by their own mothers just because they found another man to lie beside at night. Mothers, remember that you bore those children. They are your responsibility all your days. Don’t make them fulfill their promises in spite of you. Help them fulfill their futures because of you. Love them unconditionally.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Do We Ever Really Know Our Parents?



Some years ago, Mother asked me to read letters that Dad had sent to her while they were apart, she at home in high school or with her mother in Washington, D. C. working for the government one summer, he left behind in his small home town, a recent high school graduate on his way to San Diego for naval training. Yellowed and brittle, the envelopes spoke of an era past, their addresses further proof of their age. They were addressed with Mother’s name, her home town and the state. No street address, zip code, or defining numbers needed until she and her Mother moved to Washington for a few months. It was the 1945, the year the war ended, a simpler time--at least for the United States Post Office

Most often the upper right corner carried the word “Free” because Dad was in the Armed Services, according to the return address. He enjoyed the benefit of sending letters without any cost. The cancellation stamps proved that Dad wrote to Mother at least every other day, sometimes twice in one day.

And that was good enough for me. I didn’t really want to read them. I somehow felt that reading his letters invaded their privacy, but their contents delighted Mother so finally I found the time to read them. I’m still not sure what to make of what I found.

Dad began and ended every letter telling Mother how much he loved her. Many letters repeated his vows of love in every paragraph. Several times each month, he promised her a future with him, vowing to work hard to make a good life for her.

A few letters offered glimpses of him that informed and amused me. In one, he describes learning to fly by renting an old “oil burner” from an airfield. The owners told him not to “gun it” and he’d get back home just fine. But Dad was a dare-devil. He rode motorcycles and pushed the speed around hair-pin curves. In one of his letters, he apologizes to Mother and wonders if he scared her so much that she never wants to ride with him again.

So Dad “gunned” that old plane and ran out of oil several miles from the field. He landed in someone’s field, called the owners, and told them to bring him nine quarts of oil. They did, but they were furious, probably working up more fury with every dusty mile they had to drive. After they’d poured the oil to the old engine, they told him to bring it home without “gunning” it again.

But I guess telling Dad what to do grated on him so “gun” it he did, landing that plane on the home field, the engine hot and again in need of several quarts of oil. The owners told him not to come back, but he had his revenge by stomping off across the field to buy an old plane for $1,125.00, one that he could “gun” as much as he pleased.

While I was growing up, Dad didn’t own planes or drive motorcycles, but when my sister and I were on our own, he bought big Hondas to ride around curving roads in the Arkansas hills. He also bought a couple of planes, one at a time, of course, to commute between his new home in those hills and his daughters’ home on the flatter lands of Oklahoma. I never had first-hand experience with “gunning” planes, but remember enjoying the colors of Arkansas as he took us for flying tours.

In a few letters, Dad told Mom to have a good time while he was away, not to cloister herself, but to believe that when he returned home, he wanted her to throw her arms around his neck and kiss him even if her grandmother stood close by. He made it clear he meant to make a life with her and for her. He often begged her to tell him if she had changed her mind about him so that he could try to let her go.

Yet in all those letters from 1945, she wrote to him fewer than ten times. He mentioned each time she wrote and was overjoyed to receive word from her. I’d call her effort a half-hearted, lukewarm response, but his devotion never waned.

In some letters, he told of going out with friends, including female friends, to drink or dance, but he professed that he pretended that his date was Mother. He confessed that he wanted to see her wrinkle her little nose--proof positive that love is utterly blind because none of the women on her side of the family, including me, have small noses. Ours are prominent and hard to miss. By no stretch of any imagination except Cupid’s could our noses be called “little.”

One of Mother’s letters apparently challenged Dad’s definition of fidelity. As many fifteen and sixteen-year-old girls would, she doubted that she could trust the words of her man. He was hurt but did not in any way back down. He reminded her of “their bargain” that seemed to require they tell each other the truth if their hearts had grown cold. His had not, he said; he was in love with her and could not stop thinking of her. He worried that hers was stone, however, because she wouldn’t write and because she accused him in snips and barks when she did write.

These revelations that Mom invited me to read still baffle me. From my vantage point as their child, I would have told you that Mother was utterly devoted to Dad, smitten with him no matter what he did, yet he stood apart, reserved. He earned the money and decided how to use it. He determined where they would live and travel. He advised her for whom to vote, and he tried to insure that she could live comfortably once he passed, but failed to teach her how to balance a checkbook or read invoices.

To discover that he was such a passionate boy and she so reserved makes me wonder what happened. Did life conspire to turn his flames into warm embers? Possibly. He did turn to alcohol, after all.

Was he simply just the most private man imaginable, revealing himself only to her? Quite likely. I'm n introvert myself, known best by my dear husband.

Or did life together disappoint him--so much so that he became a dutiful if taciturn man, unable to reciprocate or show affection? Yes. He even signed the rare letter he wrote to my sister or me with just his first name, almost never under the common family closing: “Love,” and once when I told him that I loved him, he answered, "That's nice."

Mother offered no answers to my questions. She simply basked in the testimonials of love that she seemed to have forgotten until the letters surfaced. Now she has forgotten the letters ever existed as dementia steals a little more every day. She just wishes that she had died the day he did.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Babe in Arms


Even as Mother descended into dementia, she wanted to become a volunteer at the church nursery or the hospital's intensive care unit for infants. She longed to hold a babe in arms. That is surely one of the greatest joys in being a grandparent.

Parents, be they step, foster, or loving aunts and uncles, remember tiny fingers holding tightly to one proffered pinkie, its warmth comforting, its touch velvet.

They remember the featherweight of an infant lying upon their chests, relaxed, breathing effortlessly, one heart speaking to another.

They recall the dewy glow upon skin untouched by sun, wind, or cold.

They summon the faint scent of clean, pure snow wafting from a heart untroubled.

They imagine delicate lashes resting upon full cheeks, tiny nails so delicate, so perfectly shaped.

They follow a baby’s gaze, sharing first discoveries and recovering their capacity for wonder.

They marvel at life itself, strong enough to thrust itself into existence, fragile enough to be wounded by coarse cloth.

Yes, a babe in arms is one of life’s finest joys, especially because, as grandparents, we know how fleeting such moments are, and unlike parents, we now know better than to rush through them. We are not called to careers, routine, chores, or futures. We are called to joy alone, and we open our arms for it.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Rites of Passage: Becoming Grandma



We look forward to them--those watershed moments by which we judge how we’ve grown and changed. A first is becoming an all-day student; another is numbering our age in double-digits. Next comes the new name: teen. We are no longer the child, the kid, adolescent, little one, or “Hey, you!” We are a teen, one among those of a new generation: Baby Boomer, X, Y, or Millenium.

At sixteen, we can claim more independence if we qualify for a driving permit; thereafter, incrementally, we become more and more able: able to drive alone at night, able to hold a part-time job, able to buy a ticket for a movie rated “R” without an adult nearby. At eighteen, we can sign contracts and get ourselves into all kinds of weighty trouble if we have not learned to go slowly, accept advice, and work hard.

Finally, we enter our twenties, and most of us, toward the end of that decade, have married or begin to panic about marriage. Many who marry in their twenties spend time together, traveling, building equity in homes, and adding titles to their résumés before beginning the life-altering, forever-after family.

Those of us who have gone ahead zip our lips and summon great sympathy for parents-to-be. We know that they wouldn’t believe us if we tried to tell them how much their lives will change. Oh, they might listen politely while still believing that they alone will manage the changes better than all the rest of us. They tell themselves that

§  They will never be too tired for “date night;”
§  They will never pretend to be asleep in the hope that their partner will rise and change that diaper;
§  They will never be the parent with a child screaming and wailing about being confined to the kiddie seat in a grocery cart;
§  They will never be the parent of a toddler who throws himself on the linoleum when he hears “no” in relation to some cheap toy or piece of candy;
§  They are wiser, more patient, and the greatest multi-taskers ever to walk this earth.

Parents everywhere know that there are few things more humbling or exasperating than parenting. They also know that there is little else on this earth that they can love so completely and selflessly. Parents-to-be will discover these truths just as we did: one stumbling, exhausting day at a time.

Now, however, I am about to experience another rite of passage: I am about to become a grandparent. And I enter this phase as blindly as I entered all the others. Others who have gone before me tell me that “there’s just something special,” that “there’s nothing like it.” They ask me if I’m excited, if I’m going to move closer to be near her, and I answer “Yes, I’m excited,” and “No, I don’t plan to move soon” because truly, I don’t know what this next rite of passage will bring any more than I knew what all the others would bring.

As with other rites of passage, I’m sure some aspects of being a grandparent are sobering, even frightening. Remember when you earned your driver’s license and stood a little taller? Then you realized how much responsibility that little plastic license represents. You held a weapon of mass destruction beneath you and arriving safely with all fenders and limbs intact was up to you--to how well you paid attention, to how well you obeyed the rules of the road. Well, grand-parenting carries tremendous responsibility, too. You are a role model, a safe haven, and a fine playmate charged with protecting every molecule of that precious life. You must be your absolute best self, never letting your focus fade or your attention lapse.

Still, I think the miracle of life will outweigh every sobering, frightening aspect of grand-parenting. A grandchild is life asserting itself, hope reborn, and a promise of futures untold. As we age, we celebrate youth through that child, knowing that we must let go and leave this world to them, trusting that they are capable and wondrous.

Yes, I believe I’ll enjoy this next rite of passage, one of the last I’ll face, but I’ll remember fondly my passage and my dear child’s passage through that grandchild, and those will be fine memories indeed.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Blindside and Blind-Sided


A Twitter connection asked a question that parents, throughout time, have asked: Why do children always get sick in the middle of the night? Of course she knows, as I do, that children don't always get sick in the middle of the night. Sometimes they prove sick after you have rousted them from bed, and they have struggled to dress and present themselves at the breakfast table. And sometimes you receive a call while at work, the school secretary reporting your child’s temperature or an incident of chucking up at the wrong time in the wrong place.

No matter what the time of day or night, the illness comes on at the most inconvenient moment--for you, the parent--those moments when you had almost caught up on that long-term project at work. You could see the finish line, but suddenly it withdraws incrementally as you realize you must be absent from work for a day or two. Or you had a great weekend planned, one wherein you would find time for adult beverages and adult entertainments. Now, you realize, that weekend is like a dandelion blossom in a high wind: gone, obliterated, leaving only the root feeling of longing behind.

Dear Parent, you’ve just been blind-sided by Life’s unexpected, poorly timed slaps. Once the sting fades, you begin to regroup, rethink, and reassess. You adjust your calendar and plan for that project. You dream of another weekend, one not too far into your future. You adjust.

As I replied to my Twitter contact, the answer to “why children become sick in the middle of the night” is: to remind us that we are vulnerable and that we are simultaneously resourceful and strong. Nothing is quite as humbling as asking for an extension on a deadline at work. You know you are letting down many people in line to receive the finished product. You know that your inability to meet the deadline will require that others adjust as much, if not more, than you, and you hope they will understand, that they will walk in your shoes and remember when they too have had to juggle work and personal responsibilities.

Besides being humbled by stuff at work, a sick child makes us vulnerable in other ways as well. When the temperature climbs above 101°, when the fever is so intense that your dear child begins to shiver, and when she cannot keep tiny bits of crushed ice on her rebellious tummy, you worry about doing the right thing. Is it time to rush to the emergency room, or is there time to wait for the pediatrician’s office to open? Should a fever be fed or starved? Is a fever-reducer a friend or the enemy for this condition? How quickly does a child of a certain age dehydrate?

We rush to our trusted resources: books, the Internet, grandparents, neighbors, and partners. We steal precious minutes from our child to determine the next step and to calm our fears. We are the quarterback in a sudden-death overtime, and we need someone to watch our backs, a left tackle on the field, but there isn’t anyone else. It’s just you and the night and the child. No matter how many people you ask, how many sources you consult, no matter if the one you love stands beside you through the night, watching your sick child with you, it comes down to mother. She is her own left tackle for the real quarterback of the game: your child. It’s Mother’s job to shuck off all opponents: the viruses, bacteria, wounded hearts, and dangers.

My own mother could not be the left tackle for me when, at the age of four, almost five, I forbore Scarlet Fever. She had a new baby in arms so I was confined to a bedroom where she could not go, where I was visited by a parade of stand-ins, mostly cousins and neighbors. I have never forgotten the hope each time the door opened and the sadness when someone else came to my bedside.

My own child was quarterback through her ordeal with breast cancer at the age of 24. Never had I felt so vulnerable; never had I, the left tackle, performed worse. I had no power over the opponent and its minions: chemotherapy, hair loss, nausea, fatigue, surgery, and radiation, but she performed brilliantly, scoring one touchdown after another as she refused to dwell in the night of her disease. She rose with every dawn to greet another day, convicted, determined, and strong.

And that is the rest of an answer to “why children become sick in the middle of the night.” Those unsettling, frightening nights and days prove to us that we can not only persevere, but also triumph. We can pool our resources and marshal our strength to overcome the setbacks, dread outcomes, and terrifying moments. We can celebrate in the knowledge that we are not as vulnerable as we feared. We can rise above and soar.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Flair for the Dramatic


Mother grew up in dusty towns that are now unrecognizable. The home of her grandmother to whom she fled each weekend by train, riding alone, was Broken Arrow; the home of her high school alma mater is Coweta. Both are now extensions of Tulsa as that big city sprawls in all directions. Asphalt, multi-lane roads now carry commuters to and from work with Coweta and Broken Arrow serving more as bedroom communities than as thriving, business-oriented ones.

But these little towns did not lack a movie screen, and Mother saw as many as she could. Even after she married and had begun her family, she still saw the latest films. She attended an afternoon showing, then returned home to care for me while Dad saw the same show. They couldn’t sit holding hands, as I like to do with my husband, but they could discuss what they’d seen over dinner later.

As a girl, Mother studied elocution in addition to piano. When last she asked me to help her organize her papers, she still had the yellowed, brittle pages of poems, plays, and prose that she had learned to read with precision and flair. Thus, it was only natural that Mother encouraged her own children to pursue all things dramatic.

One of my early memories is of calling the Jerry Lewis telethon in behalf of children afflicted with Muscular Dystrophy. My friends and I wished to donate the money we’d earned by “putting on a show” just like Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland did in “Babes in Arms” (1939). We used the raised concrete-block patio that Dad built as our stage and invited neighbors to attend for the low, low price of five cents. They applauded as we sang, danced, and tumbled.

Any comedian, actor, and singer will tell you that laughter and applause are addictive so it’s only natural that I enrolled in Drama or Speech throughout junior high and high school, starring in several plays, always to much acclaim--well, at least, that’s how I remember it. I learned to plumb the depths of emotions as the widow in All the Way Home and score laughs in Light Up the Sky.

In college, speech and drama were the courses I chose for a minor field of study. As a freshman and sophomore, I followed the debate team across the country from our home campus in Iowa, west to Montana and south to Memphis. I orated, extemporized, and reasoned, then as a junior and senior, I devoted myself to drama, playing tragic Hecuba in Sartre’s The Trojan Women and scoring laughs as Veta Louise Simmons, the long-suffering sister of Elwood P. Dowd and acquaintance of Harvey, a giant, invisible rabbit.

I earned my share of critics when I agreed to play Olivia in a rock version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The director was a notorious drunk who exercised absolutely no control over the seniors portraying Sir Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek. Trust me, the show was crude, rude and socially unacceptable in many places. But, in other roles, including three during one summer in a dinner theater, I earned my share of praise.

Lines from plays in which I performed or studied closely bubble up and out of my mouth unbidden. Once I told a student who had saved me from plopping onto my behind as I knelt beside her desk to help her, “ Thank you; I depend upon the kindness of strangers.” My student was not fluent in Blanche DuBois; in fact, no one in that freshman composition class knew the dismal world of Tennessee Williams so my line fell like the proverbial lead balloon. That didn’t stop me though. I continue to find phrases and lines useful in making my points.

Perhaps this is why my daughter, from about age 12 through 19, occasionally asked, “Who talks like you?!” My mother, that’s who, and I am just like her.

Monday, March 26, 2012

It's All Happening at the Zoo


Some families unite around a common heritage. Scots may share a love of bagpipes, and the Irish may take pride in their talent for telling stories. Television programs such as Jersey Shore, Desperate Housewives of Anywhere, USA, and the recent GCB suggest that many regions share a love of tanning and gossip. My family, from Mother through her daughters and grandchildren, share a love of zoos.

Mother is fond of telling stories about the Oklahoma City Zoo in the late 1940s and early 1950s when admission was free. Because it cost nothing to go, Mother and Dad, just starting out in life, often took me to the zoo even after they moved east to Tulsa. Near Memorial Day, they would travel back to Oklahoma City to tend to their stillborn son’s grave. Then the family would visit the Zoo before going back home.

No matter where Mother lived, she visited the closest zoo. She paid for annual family memberships when she and Dad no longer required free entertainment. And for Mother’s Day, she often requested a trip to the zoo.

One of Mother and Dad’s last trips together included a visit to the San Diego Zoo. Dad had quite an attitude about going and announced that he didn’t care about seeing a zoo. I reminded him that Mother cared very much about seeing that zoo so he relented, and they spent a day there.

I inherited a love of zoos. When we vacationed in San Antonio, we took a day for the zoo. In Albuquerque, we toured the zoo. The Oklahoma City Zoo was one of the first family outings for which we took far too many pictures. Most years, we celebrated some one’s birthday or Mother’s Day or Labor Day with a picnic and a stroll through the zoo.

My daughter enjoyed two summer sessions at Sea World’s camp in San Antonio. She fed penguins and swam with sharks. At home, she applied for a spot as a Junior Zoo Curator, a glorified name for youth volunteers who prepare buckets of food for gorillas or birds and who scoop more than their share of dung, cleaning cages large and small.

My husband and I now promise that we’ll visit the zoo soon, but it’s been years since we’ve been, and the last time we went—just the two of us—was not quite as much fun. Zoo-goers need little ones whose eyes widen at the sight of a lion, tiger, bear and gorilla. Their wonder pushes us on down one more trail to another habitat.

Imagine my impatience now that my first grandchild is set to debut. It won’t be long before visiting the zoo will have that same childlike magic that it once did, and another generation will learn to love the animals at the zoo.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Rotten to the Core Mothers



Dante imagined the Nine Circles in Hades as a descending spiral at the bottom of which was Lucifer himself. Each circle confined certain sinners. Adulterers were at one level; prideful men and women at another. For me, the worst sinner, the ones who should wallow in the pits of misery next to Satan himself are absent, neglectful parents.

My own mother was the child of such a man, but it didn’t keep her from trying to be the best mother she could be. She planned meals carefully in order to balance food groups and use every morsel wisely. She was a diligent housekeeper and kept our home clean and tidy. For holidays and celebrations, she demonstrated an artistic flair for cake decorating, Martha-Stewart quality Christmas trees, and lovely, delicate pastel Easter eggs. As was the custom then, she also dutifully taught me to be seen and not heard.

But Mom, as this blog has shown, has flaws and deficiencies; foremost among them is something over which she has no control: Alzheimer’s. Others that characterized her youth include a quick temper and a sharp tongue to serve it. She also loved gossip and adores keeping secrets.

Still Mom is my mother, and for most of our years together, she has served me well. Some mothers in this world do not serve their children well at all. They are misguided and abandon their children when a parent’s influence could make a huge difference for them. Indeed, good parenting can shape the future as powerfully as bad parenting can ruin it.

I remember the mother of one of my students long ago, a parent who belongs in the deepest, darkest circle of hell.

Her daughter was a talented girl with a quick mind. As a sophomore, she read Shakespeare with ease, correctly interpreting images and meaning in spite of heightened, poetic language. Other students looked to her for insight and understanding.

Her writing was additional proof of her language gifts. She wrote sentences that flowed one from the other, setting up a rhythm and beauty that accented her meaning. She earned A-grades without effort--at least for more than half a school year. Then, in February, her grade began to slide as she fell behind in reading and writing.

I was quick to intervene and asked her to join me in my classroom for lunch. She brought her cafeteria tray while I dug into the contents of a brown bag.

“What’s going on?” I asked. “You seem tired. You’ve even fallen asleep several times, and you're not turning in assignments.”

She bounced her plastic spoon in the gravy well of her whipped potatoes as if counting down to her answer. At last, she said, “My mom’s through with me.” She didn’t look up.

“’Through with you?’ I don’t understand.”

She dropped the spoon and tucked her chin lower, hiding her face as well as she could.

“On my sixteenth birthday last month, Mom told me she was through raising me. She told me to go, to find some other place to live. One of Dad's cousins took me in, but he’s old, living on a fixed income 25 miles from here. I can’t really work enough hours to buy gas and make payments on an old car and save for a place to live that’s close to school and study for English or anything else.”

I’d never heard of a mother being “through,” of throwing up her hands and saying, “I’m done. I’ve put in 16 years and that’s all you get.” I just didn’t know what to say so I said,

“I’m sorry. You must be so tired.”

She lifted her face. On it, I saw raw pain or fear--I’m not sure which, and I saw tears for a grief that would never end, a grief that each of us feels when love abandons us.

Of course, I did what I could. I solicited help from a counselor and a nearby school district that had programs for teens who must live on their own. My student transferred and over time, she stopped looking back at the place of her sorrow, the place where she had believed she would graduate until her mother said, “I quit.”

Did that smart, bright girl with a great future stretching before her graduate at all? Is she working to put a roof over her head and gas in a car she never quite pays off before it wears out? Is she reluctant to have child of her own because she doesn’t want to fail her? Or is she one of the rarest of the rare people who succeed without the support of a long continuous line of family, teachers, and friends? And if she did not overcome and succeed, is she really the one who deserves blame?

Monday, March 12, 2012

Unsolicited Advice and Judgments Unfair


I salute all mothers who never offer advice unless asked. I wish I could emulate your fine example. My child complains that I am not one of those mothers. Alas, she’s right.

But isn’t that the job of being a parent? After all, our children might put their little, tender hands into fire or pump those little, pudgy legs right into the street if it were not for our advice and warnings, our ability to see harms before they occur. And once having perfected the art of guiding our children through the maze of a material world, I find it very hard to break the habit.

My own mother clamped her jaws shut many times, and I’m confident that she is mighty proud of her achievements. But (and this “but” should be read loudly, forcefully) she couldn’t resist offering her opinion later. Like water that simmers, bubbles, boils, and escapes as steam, her advice could not pass as calm waters do. She had to let it go and always at a most hurtful opportunity.

For example, my parents disapproved of my sister’s refusal to stake a claim over any money given to her and her second husband. He used the money for himself, and they didn’t like it. Still they remained mute about why their gift-giving habits changed and as far as I know, never spoke to my sister about it at all. The quantity of cash gifts was simply scaled back for her, her husband, for me and my husband. Each person thereafter received an envelope with a $50 bill inside a card.

I was surprised, but dismissed the change as a result of fixed incomes and was grateful. No bad feelings required--until my mother snapped when I mentioned that my husband and I planned to pool our money in order to enjoy a concert featuring a performer my husband much admired. Then the vinegar poured, and I marveled.

Isn’t a gift just that? A gift! Aren’t the recipients entitled to use the gift as they see fit? Is it beyond imagining that I might enjoy the performer as much as my husband? And even if I didn’t, I would enjoy holding his hand and being together. I wanted to pour a bit of vinegar myself, but I refrained.

Still, on balance, I think my parents, Mother in particular, mellowed over time and began to offer fewer and fewer tidbits of advice. I am on my way there, and now I understand why.

Young people are born with a microchip that requires them to believe that they are the first people to feel as they feel, do what they do, see what they see, hear what they hear, and to think and reason clearly. They simply aren’t interested in what my experience has been and therefore, they wish to ignore, or better yet, never hear, what I have to say. They will be ready to listen--one day, but while they are young and before they have children of their own, they are biologically driven to go their own way without the benefit of my warnings, guiding hand, or raised brows.

Now if only I can perfect the art of keeping my mouth shut.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Confessions of a Soccer Mom


Never having played competitive sports, I was naïve about the intentions of coaches, parents, sponsoring organizations, and team management. I learned from my mistakes, but I must confess, some of them were real doozies. One of the worst still makes me cringe, and I need to vent.

Quite new to the year-round club soccer circuit, my husband and I assumed that the coach and parents in charge knew what they were doing and would have the girls’ best interests in mind at all times. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Some coaches have more art in bullying than in what is best for the girl or team; others are shriveled little men who curry favor of community leaders or brash, boastful parents. A few actually played the game themselves and motivate kids to love it as much as they did.

For a weekend tournament in Emporia, Kansas, a cattle crossroads in America and home to a teacher’s college, our coach and parent leader sent us north on I-35. We were the first to arrive at what had been described as a hunting lodge some thirty to forty minutes away from the playing fields in Emporia; this distance added another burden to families because we were in the middle of nothing but the Flint Hills with no town, convenience store, or laundromat close by.

As we turned into the drive, Hitchcock’s score from Psycho played in my mind. This was a Bates motel if ever I had seen one except that Norman kept his place cleaner even with the occasional blood splatter.

The thin outdoor carpet below seemed alive with vermin. The shower stall was a play of shadow and light except the shadow was mold. The room stank of something sweet, so much so that my nostrils burned. The linens on the bed were thinner than any I had seen even in my college days when everyone used hand-me-downs. And the lone heater set into the wall hissed like a furious cat.

I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to stay there. I didn’t want to place my belongings there. I wanted to cry.

Someone among the club’s officers had decreed that the team needed to be away from others so that its members could bond. That person had fallen for the motel owner’s hype, describing the place as a hunting lodge with several cabins. I’m sure the old crone closed down after receiving the cash from our team’s parents, afraid that her ruse would never work again. She needed to quit before word spread.

Worse, the crone gave us the best cabin simply because we were the first to arrive. We didn’t ask for it. We had no way of knowing that the sorry quarters were the best, but we engendered plenty of spite because we had the finest quarters. Others were in cabins so small, so oddly configured that they had to lift their legs on to the bed in order for someone to pass on his or her way to the bathroom.

For that weekend, the entire state of Kansas was sodden and icy. Rain and drizzle fell without respite. Parents huddled under umbrellas, inside blankets to stay warm while the girls shivered, splashed, and slogged up and down the field, trying to kick a water-logged ball, all while smelling the savory aroma of cattle dung because corrals surrounded the muddy, composted field and cattle hung their heads awaiting slaughter. I hated to think of the diseases that the girls might carry home after wallowing in that soil, and I couldn’t imagine ever restoring those white uniforms to their original color.

Before that weekend, I was only vaguely acquainted with the word homered, a word that had to do with home-field advantage. Until that weekend, I did not realize that homered also described egregious oversights by hometown referees. The final game between Emporia’s own and our out-of-state team for the Emporia Challenge trophy enlightened me.

One of our best kickers managed to get under the ball and send it aloft in spite of its heavy water weight. She executed the kick perfectly in spite of one defender trying to interfere. That defender stretched so much that she lost her balance and entirely on her own, without touch or push, plopped down on her behind into a muddy puddle. The referee blew the whistle and called a foul on our girl.

Now I know that refs cannot possibly see everything and that what they see depends upon their position on the field at the moment and that they are as flawed as any human on the planet, including me, but believe me, this guy had blinders on. He did not see the game except through the lens of home-town favoritism. He simply imagined that there had been some contact between the two girls, and his own town girl, like every Italian soccer player I’ve ever seen, dramatized her fall and her non-injury to further persuade him.

Still none of that is any excuse for what I did. I shouted from the sidelines, and as it happens sometimes, the heavens ceased to pour rain for the second it took me to speak. No one spoke, as a matter of fact. It was as if the earth held its breath so that all could hear my words and thereby exacerbate my shame after I hollered, “You’re a horrible ref!”

The words hung in the moist air, seeming to reverberate. I wished with all my being to call them back or explain that those words were the accumulated misery of filthy rooms, cold rain, the smell of dung, and the realization that we would not arrive home until after midnight with school and work looming only a few short hours away. Instead, I said nothing, and I vowed never to call from the sidelines again.

The girls went on to win the trophy that awful night. We made it home safely and snatched a few hours of sleep before beginning our work week. The mud came out of the uniforms after soaks and scrubs and multiple washes. No bugs found their way into our luggage and thus into our home. And I--well, I was a quiet observer on the sidelines for--I’m sure it was at least one entire game. I’m pretty sure I kept my vow that long, but I never again assailed a ref. Of that you can be sure.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Lady Bountiful


Many years ago, I prepared holiday gift baskets for a few colleagues at work. I had enjoyed several recipes as the Fall holiday season progressed and kept adding another recipe to the list for the baskets. Of course, the old family recipe for Banana Nut Bread was at the top so each basket held a small loaf. Chocolate cream cheese mini-cupcakes was another item that made its way on to the list, just below oatmeal-raisin bars, chocolate chip cookies, fudge, and peanut brittle. I was single and didn’t have many occasions that required baking or candy-making so I enjoyed every stir and sift as much as wrapping each item, then watching the basket overflow.

One colleague acknowledged the generosity and cried, “Lady Bountiful builds a great gift basket!” Thereafter I have striven to amp up both quantity and theme for gift baskets. One year I built a basket around the theme of almonds after I learned that in legend, the almond represents love and hope. Inside were small bottles of homemade almond liqueur, almond cookies, almond butter, and Jordan almonds. Last year, I remembered the nursery rhyme describing little girls as Sugar and Spice and built a basket combining sweet and spicy with jalapeño carrot cakes, chipotle peach jam, Datil-paper spiced black pepper, and dark chocolate flavored with chiles.

Each year I vow that I will give fewer items and spend less, but like most New Year’s resolutions, I never sustain that vow, especially for my daughter. I have always been Lady Bountiful for her--although my intentions were never to spoil. My intentions were to offer a gift for the whole child: intellect and her heart, the physical and emotional selves.

To that end, I gave toys or games, something to stop and play instead of just ripping and tearing gifts open, one after another. We would finish an entire game of Clue while dinner simmered and presents shone in the lights of the tree.

At least one book was wrapped under the tree, something to match her age or declared interests. Other must-haves on the list were pajamas to open the night before, another ornament to add to a collection that she would carry away with her into her own home, a music box to enchant, paint or canvas to cultivate her artistic talents, another to focus her analytical mind, something to stretch her athletic abilities, and something cute to wear. Most important of all was the gift that a person would never buy for himself, something surprising and amazing.

See the problem? Excess. Excessive. Overly indulgent. Over the top, and very difficult to stop once begun.

Recently, while offering another piece of unsolicited advice, a very bad habit of mine, I recommended that my daughter reign in gift-giving when her own first child arrives in early summer. She had already thought of that herself and will limit gifts to something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read plus an ornament to add to a collection for her own child’s holiday tree.

Very sensible, don’t you think? And a perfect example of advice my mother often spoke: do as I say, not as I do (a wonderful little excuse for hypocrisy, but I’ll save that for another day).

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sayulita, Mexico: A Walrus and the Whale Tale



Every generation believes it is the first to enjoy insight and enlightenment. Millenials, now taking their places in the workplace where jobs are scarce, seem to think that older folks should move over and may even need custodial care. My own daughter held that opinion of us, her parents, when we told her about our plans to visit Mexico. She was not alone in discouraging us.

My mother, my husband’s best friend, and many more urged us not to go. Responding to the media, these people believed that venturing into Mexico was dangerous. But my spouse had read about ex-pats living in Sayulita; he wanted to experience their life so I agreed, after I ran out of excuses, to go for two weeks. We leased a house and made reservations for flights in September--during the rainy season.

Before we arrived, Sayulita experienced the heaviest rains since records have been kept. The river swelled, washing away two bridges, one leading out of Puerta Vallarta and the other in Sayulita itself. A restaurant that stood on the Sayulita riverbank twenty-five years was swept away, the family business destroyed forever.

Water dripped and drained from the mountains and jungle, down the steep streets, filling holes large enough to destroy car axles, then ran onward and into the sea. Pipes broke, letting sewage merge with rain, transforming the waters off shore into a toxic brew unless fishermen motored through and beyond the breakwater.

Every night, the rains sheeted straight down from heavy clouds upon our casa. Lightning flashed, and one night, thunder cracked so close and so loudly that I woke to run for my life, sure that an avalanche of mud was bearing down upon us. Yet each morning, the sun broke through and sent steam from the jungle floor; sweat sprouted from every wrinkle and crevice on our bodies and soaked our clothes through and through with damp. I loathed it there, but my husband, the cockeyed optimist, still charmed by the idea of life in a small village, smiled through it all, content to be there no matter what the weather wrought upon us.

He even wanted to march to the sea and let the waves wash over him so off we marched. I had the forethought to put our passports, his wallet, his hearing aids, a cell phone, and a camera inside a brand new Ziplock bag and then inside a zippered healthy back bag. This proved to be the only good decision I made that morning.

When we found our way from the road, down the hill and onto the sand, a feat in itself, we stood upon water-soaked sand, giving us a solid foundation. I was slow to recognize that such sand indicated the long arm of the rising tide, slower to realize that the water would be strong and deep once it reached the point upon which we stood. As all of this came into focus for me, I noticed my dear husband had almost reached the water’s edge. I called to him, telling him to brace for the waves, to beware of this surf and riptides. He half-turned to my voice, and I saw the wave rise behind him, as high as his shoulders.

“Run!” was all I managed to say, and of course, he couldn’t hear me. The wave hit him and carried him down and out. One of his shoes floated away, toward me.

I laughed. Oh yes, laughed. The expression on his face as he went down was priceless, and I am that woman that no one wants to depend on in a sudden crisis. I will laugh so hard that I'll pee my pants, and I did, then decided to chase his shoe so that he’d have it when we retreated.

After running down the beach, zigging and zagging like a sandpiper dodging the wave’s edge, I reached for the shoe too late and went down with the water myself, but I am more experienced in water and just the tiniest bit more agile so I was up quickly, running diagonally away from the water before the next wave arrived--toward the shoe, now waiting, beached high upon the sand.

When I turned back, my dear partner struggled still, and I understood that he could not get up without help. I ran to him as he crawled up the sand only to be carried him back toward the water with each new wave. His knees were scraped and bleeding from being dragged along shell and sand. His hands were lost deep in the sand, trying to hang on.

I was useless in helping him stand. The sand disappeared below my feet each time I tried to find my stance and reach for him. The poor man had to crawl until he reached Nature’s sea wall: a vertical rise of sand sculpted by the previous high tide. With that, he found enough support to pull himself erect, and we staggered off the beach, back up the hill under the sultry sun.

At the outdoor shower, we marveled at the great heaps and quantities of sand that we washed from secret places: our pockets and body folds. Exhausted, we finally made our way to a hot shower and an afternoon’s rest.

Later, my husband revealed that he thought he might die in that place that he had long dreamed about visiting. No matter though. He would go to Mexico again and dare the waves again.

As for me, I cannot imagine bearing witness one more hour to the desperation of Mexican dogs, a life form that literally starves to death under the watchful eye of Mexican families, many of whom do not have enough to feed their own. I could not listen to the rain for thirty-plus days in spite of the fact that the other months, especially October and November, are perfectly dry and comfortably warm. I could not drive the two-lane roads that lack curbs or shoulders, the jungle encroaching upon them, road crews constantly striving to beat it back.

We were the awkward walrus and the beached whale on the sands. Our days were numbered in Mexico and its weight is heavy in my memory. My daughter predicted that I’d hate it there and that we would put ourselves in danger. I hate to admit it, but she was so right.