IF MAMA AIN’T HAPPY

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IF MAMA AIN’T HAPPY

“All that I am, or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” 

  —Abraham Lincoln

I got to grow up with a mother who taught me to believe in me.” 

   –Antonio Villaraigosa

“Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws.”

   –Barbara Kingsolver

“If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.

  –Jackie Kennedy

“At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal.  You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent.” 

  —Barbara Bush

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I always knew she was an amazing woman.   Like many other mothers who pass away, their greatness shines brighter after they are gone, when their selfless acts that defined their lives are brought to the forefront of everyone’s awareness through the media.

Above the facts that she was a first lady, then a president’s mother, Barbara Bush was a strong matriarchal figure who knew the importance of loving her family.  The presidential fame in her family was secondary to this love, and it shone through in her actions.  She walked the talk.  She put her money where her mouth was.   She was vocal, active and proactive.

I didn’t fully realize this strength until she was gone.  Much like Jackie Onassis, Princess Diana and my own mother as well, I didn’t realize their full maternal strengths until they were gone.

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Most mothers have this kind of strength whether or not they show it; they have to.  It is a prerequisite for motherhood.  As a mother, I know we are called upon to be both strong and soft, active and passive.

As my years of mothering to my children continue to move toward the time for letting go years, I can only hope and pray I gave them what they needed from me.  Sometimes, I think I did a pretty darn good job, other times, I despair that I failed.  I worry that I didn’t give them enough of the right things.  I look at what my mother gave me, and most days, I know I will never measure up to that.

But perhaps I was not supposed to.  Every mother has unique gifts.  Mom gave me hers; I’ll give mine to my boys.

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This magnet graces my refrigerator.

I learned the title quote from Gail.  I believe she had it hanging on her wall years ago.  It has lasted through the ages because it appears to be true:  If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”  Apparently I used it more than I realized with my boys.

About eight years ago, I was simply hanging up my laundry on the clothesline, and I threw my back out.  It locked up, and so did I.  I made my way into the house and sat down gingerly on the couch.  I tried to remain motionless at that point, and obviously the pained look on my face told a tale.  Both of my boys rushed to my aid, offering whatever support they could.

Mom, can I get you a pillow?  A blanket?  Anything?”  my youngest, at about ten asked, full of worry and concern.  They were not used to seeing me in pain and out of commission.  I thanked them, and sat still, trying not to moan and groan.  Clearly, though, I was not happy.

I guess that thing you say really is true.”  Joel then said.

“What’s that?”  I asked.

If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

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Mother’s Day is approaching—again.  Every year, for the last ten years, I have turned away from the card displays, sneered at the commercials; rolled my eyes at the ads.  If my mother isn’t here and I can’t celebrate it with her, then no one else should be able to, either.

Self-centered, egocentric and selfish, I know.  Part of me, I fear, will always feel that way.  Another part of me knows in my heart of hearts that I was luckier than many people to have a mother like her, and even though my time with her was cut too short, I was so blessed.  The deepest part of me knows I need to take her wish for her children to be Instruments of Peace, and share what she gave to us.

So I will try.

First, if your mother is no longer here, my heart breaks for you.  I know your pain too well.  Know, too, that the love your mother had for you, coupled with the love you had for her lives on in your heart, and nothing can take that from you.  Know you are not alone.  Know you will keep on surviving every day, with one foot in front of the other, using the love and strength she gave you when she was here.

That leaves those of you who still have your mothers here.  If you have already made plans to celebrate her, I commend you.  If not, you have two weeks to plan a Mother’s Day celebration.  You have two weeks to re-arrange your schedule to fit a visit into your plans.  You have two weeks to find a way to honor this woman who gave you life, love and everything she had to give to make you who you are.  If you can’t celebrate Mother’s Day with her on May 13th, designate a day, weekend or more time after that as your own personal Mother’s Day celebration.  Let her know this is what it is for.

She may not be here next year. Ours wasn’t.

It is hard for me to understand, given the incredible woman my mother was, but I know there are mothers who struggle to give their children what they need, who may not be an easy woman to love.  I realize this, so please take this question to heart:  if she were gone tomorrow, would you be at peace with everything you did to try to make your relationship a good one?  Would you be able to live in peace with your efforts?  Please consider this.  And, know my heart breaks for you, too.

Second, if you are a mother, you deserve to be honored by your children.  Accept it gratefully and graciously.  Know this is your most important role right now, and relish the opportunity to have it.  I plan to split the weekend between my family and Gail’s family, as her daughter is graduating from high school on Mother’s Day.

Third, get ready to do this again on June 17th for Father’s Day.  He deserves it, too.

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Happy Mother’s Day from the sisters of The Sister Lode.

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The next few weeks for me will be bustling with Mother’s Day and graduations, including my youngest son’s.  I plan to take a few weeks off from writing to focus on these events.  Thank you for your continued support.

 

 

A WALK IN THE PARK

 

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A WALK IN THE PARK

It happens roughly 360,000 times daily on our planet, and about 11,000 times every day in our country.  Our mother experienced it seven times, and so did the three of us—collectively.

We all brought life into the world.

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Suzanne’s daughter Julia celebrated her 22nd birthday on February 1st, and it brought back sweet memories of the day she was born for me; sweet-bitter memories for Suzanne:  sweet with the final product, bitter with the struggle it took to get her here.  It made me reflect on my experiences as well.

Like my two reproductions, Julia was born in my small city.  Suzanne was living in her former town, near Mom and Dad.  She developed pre-eclampsia, which translates into potentially dangerously high blood pressure during pregnancy.  She couldn’t safely await her delivery in the small hospital in their town, so she came here.  She was admitted for close monitoring, and fared quite well—initially.  So good, that her attending doctor allowed her to come home with me, as she would be just a mile away from the hospital.  As long as she came in daily to have her blood pressure checked, and it was okay, she could await her Big Day in the comfort of my small duplex with me and my husband.

That lasted one day.

Her blood pressure went back up, and she went back in to the hospital.  My babies were not yet born, so I had time spend with her.  I recall many evenings sitting with her at the hospital, and an occasional wheelchair ride around the place for a change of scenery for her.

Two weeks later, her big day arrived.  But then, Big Day turned into Big Night, and Big Day again.  After 40 hours of labor, the doctor decided it was time to take matters into their own hands, and perform a C-section.

Mom and I had camped there with her for most of those last two days; I went to work during the day and came back, and Mom stayed.  Mom was always the faithful Mom.  Suzanne will recall—still with disbelief and disgust—that I asked her to make sure she waited to deliver until I returned from a meeting I had to go to.  Was that too much to ask after thirty-plus hours of labor?  I didn’t think so.  Apparently, she did.  She still does.  Now that I have been in labor for longer than I cared to be times two, I realize it was a bit selfish of me to make such a request.

No matter, she waited anyway.

Perhaps it was the impending C-section that she so desperately didn’t want, or the baby that decided it was finally time to make her grand entrance, but surgical delivery wasn’t necessary in the end.

Julia Michelle arrived just before 6 a.m. on February 1st, 1996.

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She grew into a particularly beautiful little red-haired girl,

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And an even more beautiful red-haired young woman.

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Much to her surprise, her college roommates threw her a party on her birthday this year, complete with her cousins in attendance, even one who made the hour-long trip from another nearby state university.  She had no idea, she said.

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Twenty two years.    Where does the time go?  As if any of us have the answer to that question.

Gail has been a mother to her children for 34, 31, 19 and 17 years, respectively.

I have been a mother to my offspring for 20 and 17 years.

That’s 160 years of motherhood between the three of us, which still doesn’t hold a candle to Mom’s 293 years of motherhood.

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I have many friends who adopted their children.  I heard a story from a friend this week about the adoption of her children:  A young couple who struggled in many ways knew they could not give their two young daughters—ages one and two–the life they deserved.  Addiction and poverty ruled their lives, and they made the loving choice to find a better home for them.  I was so touched by the birth parents wisdom, and the adoptive parents’ acceptance of this gift.

I remember holding my firstborn son.  I looked at him, and thought: “I couldn’t love you any more or any less if you fell out of the sky into my arms.”  No matter how he arrived, he was my son, and any degree of love I had ever experienced for another human had just expanded exponentially.

I read this fitting adoption analogy:  Let’s say you had two back-to-back trips planned—one to Paris, then one to Hawaii.  If the Paris trip was changed to Switzerland, it would take nothing away from the Hawaii trip.

No matter which trip you take, they all end up at the same destination:  parenthood.

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Gail delivered her first child on the last day of August 1983.  I remember the day.  She delivered at the same hospital the three of us were born at, and by the same doctor who delivered us, and he delivered her dad as well:

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Her second daughter was born in a slightly larger nearby hospital with her new doctor, almost three years later.

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They lived in Osborne until Gail remarried and moved west.  Her next two were born fifteen and thirteen years later in the same town where Gail went to college.

 

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Like everything else in life that requires a struggle, Gail took childbirth in stride.  I’m pretty sure she was back at work later in the day after each of her children were born.

Painkillers?  Who needs them during childbirth?  Certainly not Gail.  She scoffed at the idea of medication to ease this pain, the pain that was a woman’s privilege.  Having no medication to slow her down, her deliveries were quick.  Again, she had work that needed to be done, and she didn’t have time to labor very long.

Suzanne, in her prolonged and interminable labor, signed up for the maximum doses of anesthetic as soon as she could.  Good girl.  Little did she know how much and how long she would need it.

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When left to their instincts, many animals in the wild will sneak away in the cover of  night to give birth, which is exactly what I did both times.  The first time, it started just before midnight, and the second time it began just after midnight.  Both times, it lasted about seven hours.

Being the semi-natural birth mother I aspired to be with my first birth, I decided ahead of time I could make it without an epidural.  I did make it, but I did have milder drugs to take the edge off.  In the throes of it all, I fully realized I had no idea what I signed up for, wondering just how leisurely it might have been had I signed up for the epidural.

Just over three years later, I was back in the delivery room.  This time, I had personal and practical reasons for not getting an epidural:  I made it through before, and our lovely new insurance policy through my husband’s employer wouldn’t pay for it.  They would cover any complications during birth, but not a normal birth.  Go figure.

So I did figure.  I figured out what I needed from the hospital to experience a safe, econo-birth, and what I wouldn’t need.  I was employed there at the time, so I took a little trip to the labor and delivery floor, and put in my order ahead of time.  An epidural would cost over $800 out of pocket, so I didn’t check that box.

Then, in the throes of the prolonged final stage, I remembered that, just over three years ago, I swore I was NEVER going to do this again and why. I kind of forgot that I made that promise to myself.  That memory came roaring back crystal-clear at that moment, but alas, it was a little too late.

Recalling that the epidural would cost over $800 helped me get through.  I traded  delayed pain in our bank account for the immediate pain, and I made it—again.

In the end, it was all worth it—again.

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My first reproduction at two months,

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and his little brother’s arrival.

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My swheat firstborn with my dad in the combine at harvest.

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And my second.  Whenever I need a laugh or a pick-me-up, this picture does it for me.

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My boys have grown up.

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When I am visiting with a woman who is preparing for childbirth for the first time, I smile to her, and smile even bigger inside.  I know the journey she is embarking upon, and it will be unlike anything she has ever experienced.  It will be likely be exponentially more painful than anything she could imagine, and it will likely be more incredible and beautiful than anything she could image.

Knowing there are no words to describe it, I smile warmly, wink at her, and tell her, “It’s a walk in the park.”

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I didn’t give birth to him, and he didn’t fall out of the sky into my arms, but my stepson Matt has been a gift from Above for me.  I married his dad when he was eight years old, and he has always been a part of our family.

He is holding our firstborn,

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going through the rite of passage into adulthood,

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and now with his own reproductions.

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They live in Wichita now, not even 100 miles away–closer than ever before.  We are thrilled.

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My siblings and I grew up with one cousin.  He lived in Wichita with my mother’s older sister and her husband.  He, too, like my aunt and his dad, was blind.  My mother’s two younger sisters were considerably younger, and didn’t have children until we were adults ourselves.

I remember being jealous of my childhood friends who would talk about the fun they had with their cousins.  We didn’t have cousins that we got to hang out with on a regular basis.  I never forgot the feeling that we missed out on something great; this cousin thing.

I am so thankful that my children have cousins their ages they got to grow up with, and hang out with.  We always took whatever opportunities we had to get together as adult siblings, which meant our children got to hang out with their cousins too.  Gail and Suzanne sent me pictures of our children together, and I found a few myself.

There were many others with our brothers’ children as well, but it was hard enough to narrow the field down to a few with these:

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We are the women we are, as well as the sisters we are to each other–in part –because of our children.  They have taken us on a journey; a trip to a place far more beautiful than Hawaii.  We had one of the best examples of motherhood to follow with our mother, and for that, we are forever grateful.

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Mom taught me all I know about motherhood.   She made it look so easy.

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Thank you, Mom. After childbirth, it is mostly a walk in the park. 

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Mom with Julia, the birthday girl.