BooWho

Things I want to keep in mind.

Category: Parent

For both of us

Recently, I have been missing my mom – which is unusual because we had never been very close.  I’ve been thinking about the way she used to be — about 10 years ago when she was still delivering the mail and stopping by on a whim.   She would call fairly frequently just to fill me in on gossip or ask something about the kids.   In those days, she was a gadabout.  If she got bored, she would jump in her car and drive to some unknown point in the valley or to a neighboring town.

Every Sunday, she played the organ at the country church.  For a time, she would regularly come to our house for dinner after the service.    We had a small family discord and she stopped coming over and rarely called.  As time and her dementia progressed, we lost contact until the memory loss became a safety issue.  By then, when it was time to step in and arrange for her care, she no longer remembered the discord but the disengagement of recent years only made matters worse.  I feel deprived of the last few reasonably normal years of her life before the dementia changed her into a stranger.

As I said, we were never very close but the dementia has forced into grim reality the realization that we have lost any possible opportunity to be close. Looking back into my childhood, I wished for a mother who would talk to me, tell me things, hug me and tell me she wasn’t angry with me.  That just wasn’t meant to be and, now, it truly never will be.  Having to let go of that hope and wish is hard.   It makes me sad for both of us.

Mom remains in a memory care facility.  She has lost a lot of weight and she no longer recognizes anyone.  Her biggest pleasure is when my sister brings her cinnabons or something from McDonalds.  She still walks loops around the hall with her walker and she hasn’t fallen for a couple of months (knock on wood).  It isn’t easy going to visit her – in fact, it is very difficult.  Her face is sallow and her eyes are vacant.  She rarely makes eye contact and only grunts as a response to most questions or she repeats the question.  Somewhere in that shell is a woman who had 4 children, cooked on a wood stove, chopped wood, taught children how to read, delivered mail, played the organ and acted as eucharistic minister in her church.  She was also a woman who wanted to go to college but couldn’t because of financial constraints, a woman who loved her family but always wanted something more – a woman whose true dreams and desires will never be known.

I miss having her around and I wish that things could have been different – for both of us.

The gift of peace

My mother-in-law passed away peacefully on June 10.  She was in hospice care for one week.  I hope she has gotten back to her bridge club.

Funerals are difficult and no one likes attending them.  It is a time to say goodbye; to show support for family or friends; a time to reflect on the life and times shared with the dearly departed.  Depending on the person, a funeral can be very personal or very religious or very long or very short and not so sweet or a combination of all the above.  There can be music, prayers, readings, masses, poems, speeches, fire and brimstone, tearful goodbyes.

My family lost four important members in a 4 year succession.  We learned a lot about funerals and how to plan and implement a decent, respectful and personal service.  There are so many details that you just don’t know about – so many choices to make.  What type of service?  Where will it be held?  Who will preside? Will there be a viewing?  Casket or urn?   Flowers? Special program for the service? Who will write the obituary?   Where will they be laid to rest? Who will be pall bearers?  Will there be a reception afterwards?  Where will it be held?  Who will bring food?

These are all details that people have to think of when they are at their weakest and most vulnerable.  For some of us, having something constructive to “do” actually helps.   For others, it is overwhelming.  It is a very emotional and raw time.

In the case of my mother-in-law, she requested a full catholic mass.  She belonged to a large church and the priest did not know her personally.  The service was typical of a full mass and because the priest knew nothing about her, he read her obituary during the sermon portion of the service.  He mispronounced her name and the name of her home town (Butt? Montana).  He had not read through the obituary beforehand so it was read in a choppy manner and it was hard to understand.  It was supposed to be a celebration of her life and it really wasn’t.  Fortunately, at the reception afterwards, the family held a more personal service in remembrance of their mother.

There is a saying, “Funerals bring out the worst in people”.  Families have broken apart in the aftermath of a funeral – the loss of a loved one and the arguments that ensue.  Past hurts come to the forefront and the battle over material things can be a detriment to most families.   Wars are waged and lines drawn in the sand over grandma’s crystal gravy boat or the diamond dinner ring.  It just isn’t worth it but it happens frequently.  Having a will is very important for legal reasons but it is the responsibility of the survivors to deal with division of property and personal items with consideration for each other and in honor of the memory of the departed.

I realized after my dad’s funeral that it is important to think about, and to make known, what your wishes are prior to your death.   But it will save your family a lot of stress if you also plan what you want as a final goodbye.  I have a file titled – “when I die” and it talks about what I want for a service.  It is not overly specific, just little tidbits.  Songs I like, that have special meaning to me; things I feel would be nice to say about my personality; my feelings about religion; how much I love my kids,  grandkids and my husband.  Most importantly, I have included my wishes that my children stay close – rely on each other – no matter what.

I’ve heard it said that it is morbid and depressing to think and talk about those things.  I don’t feel it is because it provides clear instructions for your loved ones and saves them the stress of having to wonder what you would prefer.  It can be as specific or generalized as you want it to be.  In truth, there are so many things that we don’t know about each other and that we don’t normally share.  I’m certain that my mother, who now has dementia/alzheimers, had no idea that she would never have the chance to say the many things that she was saving for “someday”.   There are so many things about her that we don’t know, she never shared, and now there is no one to ask.

It is sad to think of your final days, your final resting place, leaving those you love behind.  None of us knows WHEN that will happen, but we do know that it WILL happen.  To provide a means of saying a final goodbye and of saving your loved ones from that difficult process is truly a gift.  Your final wishes conveyed in black and white will give all of you peace.

 

Getting back to Bridge Club

She loved to play cards.  One of the most difficult parts of her illness in the end was that she couldn’t play bridge anymore.  That was borderline devastating.  How would they ever find a replacement for her at bridge club?

She had sclerosis of the liver, diabetes, a disease similar to leukemia and heart failure.  The combination kept her homebound for the last few months of her life.  This was the worst form of torment for her.  Normally, she had an activity on each day of the week – Bridge club, pinochle, bunko, newcomers club.  If you called to invite her to attend something, you had to squeeze it into her busy schedule.  She kept herself busy and had many friends right up until she could no longer drive or walk very far or travel.

She loved being the center and if she wasn’t, she would find a way to place herself there.  She was kind and loving but she was also bold and brash when she wanted to be.  She would tell it like she saw it — whether you liked it or not.  Getting older was very difficult for her – she fought it every step of the way.  Shortly before she died, after returning home from the hospital for the umpteenth time, she no longer wanted to hear about hospice or funerals or churches.  In exasperation she said, “I just want to get back to playing bridge, I’m not dead yet!”

The week before she died, we had a surprise party for her.  All of her children were there and most of her grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.  She had just gotten out of the hospital for the last time.  It was time for hospice.  Initially, when we rolled her into that room filled with people, she was a little confused as to what was going on – but then she realized that this was her family, all of her family, and she broke down in tears.  We ate dinner, sat around and visited and then took pictures of everyone, together.  I’m sure that was her favorite part, the photos.  Of course, she didn’t have a chance to refresh her lipstick…spent a few minutes looking for anyone with a tube of red lipstick then we finally gave up and just took the photos.

She didn’t talk much that day, which was very unusual.  I suspect she was exhausted and in need of a warm bed, but she smiled and smiled.  So happy to be with her family, happy that they did this for her.  Happy to have the chance to see them for the last time.  We all knew this.  It was as hard for us to believe as it was for her.  I still can’t imagine a world without her.

The funeral mass is Thursday, the burial on Friday.  It will be a strange thing – as funerals often are – realizing that she really is gone.  I only knew her for 32 years, she was my mother-in-law, but I will miss her.

Puppy

When the kids were little, they loved puppies.  They wanted to pick them up and hold them.  It took a lot of effort for them to learn not to hold them too tight.  The puppy would choke or struggle to get free.  We had to teach them to just sit still and hold the puppy very gently.  The puppy would then relax and welcome the attention of their soft, gentle hands.  The puppy may even fall asleep.  Sometimes, though, the puppy would want to get down from their lap.  This was disturbing to them as they WANTED the puppy to stay with them, they wanted the puppy to WANT to stay with them.

Recently, I’ve been struggling with holding on to the proverbial “puppy” too tightly; trying to make it stay on my lap.  It would be so much easier if the silly thing would just cooperate.  Sit still, go to sleep, stay here where I can see you and watch over you.  I don’t want to have to chase after you.

Wouldn’t it be lovely, if all of our “puppies” could stay in our little circle of control?

Unfortunately, parents get dementia.  Their bodies start to give out.  No matter how tight we hold them – they will leave our circle.  Kids grow up and have kids of their own.  They move in different directions and different rates of speed.  We all start to get OLD.

We wish and wish that time would slow down. We hope our parents go peacefully, with our blessing and gratitude for a life well lived. We hope that our children stay together and maintain a close relationship with each other.  May they always know that there is nothing like a sibling, always and forever – beyond all else.  We wish the grandkids stay little forever and, please, let me stay young enough to get down on the floor and play with them….

We have to hold the puppy gently, with kind and loving hands.  We have to let the puppy get down from our lap when he wants to – we can’t force him to stay.  The puppy needs to run and play and grow and so do we.

Welcome back to comfort

Writing for comfort.  When I am away from my computer and I am not able to write – either because I am busy or I can’t find a topic – I really do miss it.  (For some reason, I don’t feel as comfortable just writing with pen and paper…).  In some ways, not writing makes me feel lonely; as though I am missing someone.  That someone is me.

When I was a child, I played alone a lot.  I talked to myself and had elaborate games in my own imagination.  I mimicked different accents and dialects and developed new scenarios for the characters I portrayed.  I lived inside my head and had dreams of being an actress on a soap opera.  Lofty goals.  As I aged, I realized the possibility of being discovered for my acting skills in a very small rural community in Montana were slim to none.  Still, I enjoyed fantasizing about fame and fortune as a diva on The Young and the Restless.

In college, I was living in a strange place, with no real friends.   I held tight to my life back at home by writing to friends and family.  Everyday, I wrote at least 3 letters.  I would fill the letters with anecdotes and details about my days.  In return, I would receive at least one letter a day from someone — usually my mom.  As I made friends, the need for maintaining contact with my old life began to wane.  I didn’t write as many letters but I used writing letters as an outlet for expressing my happiness, sadness or loneliness.  Writing became a habit and though I never really kept a journal – I “journaled” by writing letters.  To this day, if I need to express something I can do it best by writing TO someone.

I have written a play and receive royalties for it in September and April.  It is always exciting to open that envelope and realize that a drama club or group has performed MY play.  It has been performed in Canada, the UK and in several places in the U.S.  I’ve started several other plays but just can’t get beyond the first outline.  Not sure why — maybe the first play was just a fluky thing.  Perhaps if I wrote a play as if it were a letter I might have better luck.

Being retired has given me the opportunity of having more TIME although it feels as though I am just as busy now as I was when I was working and I wonder how I ever had time to do anything before!  I have a couple of writing projects that I’ve started but can never seem to finish.

One project is to write about my life just for general principle.   When my mom developed dementia, I realized that I don’t really know much about her.  She never really talked about herself.  I’ve been thinking about having to help write her obituary when she dies and it won’t be easy.  So many details we don’t know.  I wonder if my kids know me any better?

Do they know how much I love the sun and warm summer days?  Do they know how much I love tacos and salad and cold cereal?  How much I loved to play basketball?  That I can sing? (or that I used to be able to sing…)  My favorite color is green – not forest green but sage green.  I like Coke over Pepsi.  I hate onions.  I don’t like to ride a bike, I hate jogging but I love to walk.  I was chubby in college.  I wore braces in high school.  I was the shortest girl in my class in 8th grade and the tallest as a senior.   I was anemic and sickly as a child.  I never did work to my full potential in school because I never believed I was very smart (I now know better).

I am very proud of them – this, I think they know.  I love to play with my grandchildren – they know that too.  I love to laugh with them and to watch them laugh with each other.  I love it when we are all together and there is no strife or worry.  Those days are the very best, the days I cherish the most.  I find great comfort in writing about those days…

Melting

My mother is melting.  Each and every day.  She has lost so much weight and sleeps most of the time.  My sister and I report to each other how she is on each of our visits.  We feel a glimmer of hope whenever she speaks – even if she is only repeating what we have said to her.  She does not recognize anyone anymore.  It is rare to see her smile.  Like a pile of snow in the parking lot – she is slowly melting, getting smaller and smaller – and the runoff is slowly finding its way to the river.

This disease has given us the opportunity to prepare ourselves for the inevitable.  We have been grieving for our mother for the last few years – as her view of us narrowed, our view of her expanded.  I’ve realized all of the questions that will never be answered.  I should have asked them earlier.  To be honest, I couldn’t.  The answer is there, isn’t it?  For some things, there are no answers or the answer is with the inquirer.

We prepare for the last few miles of the journey.  My mother is strong.  She always has been.  As a young woman, she moved to a foreign land (may as well have been) – far from family and friends.  She learned to cook on a wood stove and lived in squalor with her three children (eventually four).  She believed in her fairytale – someday, the prince would find and claim his kingdom and they would live happily ever after.  She cooked, cleaned, sewed, taught, sang, drove, washed, dried, mowed, raked, canned, gardened, laughed and cried throughout her very long and full life.   There are so many other things that we don’t know about her.

In her last leg of the relay, she sits in a chair with her face in her hands.  Or she lays sideways in her bed and sleeps.  We have no way of knowing if she is “thinking” or dreaming while she reclines.  What does she see and understand about where she is now?  Is she like a captive in her body, just unable to communicate?  Is she gone except for the daily routines and body functions of living?  Those are the exasperating questions for which there are no answers.  Her body just keeps going from day to day.  We stand by and watch as she melts, helpless to do anything about it.

Writing

Ahhhhh, early morning.  It is dark outside and so bright and clear inside.

When I was a young girl, I can remember rare mornings when I would awaken early.  I would tiptoe into the kitchen to find my mother sitting at the table, smoking a cigarette and writing a letter.  Of course, she would send me back to bed and I thought it was for my benefit – so that I would get more rest but, no.  I was interrupting her reverie.

Mom was a quiet woman.  She did not speak loudly or with exuberance.  If she was angry she could certainly yell but, as a general rule, she was soft spoken.  I would guess that her letters were very loud at times.

She wrote to her parents and her sister, Dorothy, almost daily.  In return, she received letters as well.  Since mom has dementia, I can no longer ask about those bygone days, I have no way of knowing what she wrote about.  I suspect she told her sister everything – Dorothy was her one main outlet for expressing her frustration, her dreams, her disappointments.  But there is no way for me to know – their letters to each other were like a private garden meant only for the two of them.

As mom’s illness progressed, she tried to continue writing.  She would write all the things that she wanted to remember but knew that she couldn’t.  A journal was on her table, each page with scribbled notes: names of people she heard something about, places she heard about on television, some other note that lost importance hours later.  By the time we moved her into the memory care facility a year and a half ago, she could no longer sign her name.  Writing was a lost pursuit.

When visiting my mother, you will either find her lying in her bed or sitting in her chair, with her head in her hands – staring at the floor.  Her eyes are vacant and there is no recognition.  My sister and I have speculated that my mother probably does remember us but as children or at a younger age.  When we say our names, she tries to make the connection but we are strangers to her, far too old to be her children.   If one of her grandchildren come to see her, she expects to see them as little ones and to see them as adults just doesn’t make sense.  Of course, there is no way for us to ever know for sure.  She can’t tell us what she is thinking, feeling, hearing or seeing…she can’t write it either.

A prompt from Carla — Before

In June of 2015, we placed my mother in a memory care facility.

Before that, she was living in her own home.  My sisters and I took turns bringing her meals and checking on her.  She slept a lot and watched TV when she could figure out how to turn it on.  We would arrive to find her in a mess of one kind or another – half naked or with excrement on her, the couch, the floor.  The dog would eat her food and there would be a trail of wrappers and containers strewn about.  She remembered who we were, most of the time.  She didn’t offer much in the way of conversation other than answering questions.  Unable to dial the phone and sometimes, unable to remember how to answer it, she was cut off from everyone and everything.  Because she was unable to drive any longer, she spent long hours in her house looking out the window, thinking about how she needed to go somewhere.  In the end, she thought she needed to go “home” even though she was already home, and she started going out of the house, half-dressed and in disarray.  We knew the time had come to get her in a safe place.

Before that, she was retired and at home taking care of herself.  She had moments of forgetfulness and confusion but we didn’t realize it.  Our family had suffered a break and we were estranged from each other.  Her visits with us were strained and less frequent.  She worked at her church and drove herself to town to run errands.  She spent a lot of time with our younger sister.   We knew that she was having trouble with her memory and we were concerned about her ability to drive but because of the discord, we were unable to address those issues with her.  Our first try with offers of assistance were met with defensiveness and more dissonance.  She believed she was doing fine on her own.

Before that, she was working at the post office.  She had a small mail route in a small country town.  Despite her difficulty with her knees, she worked any time she was needed and enjoyed feeling useful.  Very devoted to her church, she taught catechism classes and played the organ every Sunday.  She was also a eucharistic minister and took communion to the elderly and shut-ins.   My mother was a “gallivanter”, if she was bored, she would jump in her car and go visit one of her children or grandchildren or her good friend, Evalyn (or all of the above).  Losing the ability to drive in her later years was devastating for her.  Her vehicle was her mode of escape.   She would also call to check in with us once or twice a week and if there was a function at the school, she would stop in to see if it was something that might be of interest.  She attended any function in which her grandchildren participated.  She was a widow but she still had her family, friends and church.

Before that, she was living with my dad.  She worked at the post office part-time and devoted a lot of time and energy to her church.  In regular contact with her children and grandchildren, she made every effort to attend any activity they were involved in and always brought a treat of some kind.  At this point in their lives, my parents’ relationship was difficult, at best.  They were at odds with each other over many things.  They rarely rode together in the same car to any of the family functions.  My mom had a habit of leaving without saying goodbye – suddenly you would notice that she was no longer there.  I think she often felt overshadowed by my dad and unappreciated for her efforts.  She loved spending time with her grandchildren especially when she could have them to herself.

Before that, she was working as a home health care worker, taking care of the elderly who needed assistance with cleaning and errands.  She had several clients and she was very devoted to each of them.  My mother was always a very hard worker.  Her church and her grandchildren took up most of her time.  She traveled to Texas once or twice a year to visit her family.  She also did a little traveling as part of her training for the eucharistic ministry.  I don’t know much more about this time period of her life because I was busy with my own.

Before that, I am not certain of the details of her life.  I have only snippets of memories of interactions with her.  Mom was not one to express her feelings or desires.  I have had a lot of time to think about her, about this illness and about losing her.  I’ve thought about having to help write her obituary and feeling totally inadequate to do so.  I will have to seek assistance from others if I am to do her justice in that endeavor.

When a parent has dementia, there are so many layers of loss.  You lose that person that you have relied on all of your life.  The one MAINSTAY we all have, our mother.  You also lose the opportunity to repair or rebuild a broken relationship – or to create one where there wasn’t one before.  You have to give up on that dream.  And far worse, you see this person slowly disappear and you still remember who and what they were…before that.

Early morning musing

I have been waking up really early in the morning and not being able to return to restful sleep. This morning, it was 4:45. (It has been as early as 3am!) I normally wait until at least 5 am to actually get up. Once I wake up, my mind turns on and it is useless trying to go back to sleep. This morning, my thoughts went to my mother and this blog so I may as well put those thoughts to paper.

My mother has declined to the point of not speaking – or at least not much. In recent months, she has been repeating back whatever she hears – although not always. If you ask her how she is – she will say, “I’m good”. It takes her a minute to respond but she will respond. She doesn’t recognize anyone though – not really. And now, even if I tell her who I am, there is no recognition of the name or my status as her daughter.

It has been difficult to visit her at the memory care facility, with a one-sided conversation and no feedback or reaction. She lies in her bed most of the day unless she is hungry, then she will wander down the hall to the kitchen area. Some days, she will be sitting in her chair just staring or dozing. She has lost a lot of weight and is getting pretty thin. If she were her old self, she would be thrilled. She struggled with her weight all of her life.

I try to remember the last time we were able to have a real conversation. I can’t pull up a specific time or date – she used to call a couple times a week just to check in. She would share some gossip she had heard or talk about something at her church. Even on our best days, we didn’t have a lot to talk about. Naturally, I now wish we had been able to talk more.

When she had her knee replacement, we took turns staying with her. We had to make sure she ate, took her meds and that she did her exercises. I think that period of time was the most we had ever talked. We were trapped in her house and neither of us could leave. And she was “medicated” so she was a little more talkative. Our conversations were about family – about my kids, my siblings, my dad. She wasn’t one to open herself up. I think she believed that as my mother, she couldn’t show any signs of weakness or need. That was how she lived her life – just powering through, on her own, no matter how she felt or what she wanted for herself. There was a lot of stored up resentment and that’s what most of us felt from her. As children, we learned to avoid anything that would remotely cause a conflict. Consequently, a lot of the time, that meant avoiding her altogether.

What that means for me now is that I have a hard time visiting her. It isn’t just that she doesn’t know me or talk to me, it is the years of not being able to talk to her prior to this odd dementia. Trying to establish a relationship with a stranger behind a wall of my own making. Heartbreaking.

I know that there will come a day when she passes. Will it be soon? No way of predicting. I also know that she loved all of us in her way, the best way she could. She took care of us and she would have done anything for us. The times she couldn’t give us what we needed were because those were the same times she couldn’t get what she needed. I understand.

Happy Birthday Jackie!

This is how I remember it:  Around 4:30 am,  I feel a strange discharge and wonder what it could be?  My water breaking?  It wasn’t a gush, just a trickle – not a flow but a dribble.  I go to the bathroom and I have some minor cramping.  Contractions?

I wake my husband.  We are so excited, we are giddy.  We try to be quiet.  We are staying at my parents’ house and don’t want to wake them.  But, of course, we do.  Around 6, we shower.  Mom and dad are up – dad is so nervous he pours orange juice into his coffee.  7 am we call the hospital, they recommend we come in to be checked – to confirm that it is amniotic fluid that is “leaking”.  Contractions are coming regularly but they are far apart and not very intense.

As we drive the 20 miles to the hospital, I feel very nervous.  This is really IT.  My husband talks nonstop – as is his way.  It is a cold November day, with some fog and expected rain.  It is Saturday and the day of the Bobcat-Grizzly football rivalry game.  On our way to town, we pass an old motel on Evaro Hill.  There are fire trucks everywhere and remnants of smoke and steam.  During the night, several of the rooms were gutted by fire.  It wasn’t a total loss.  I will always remember the day it burned….though it has nothing to do with my labor story.  Little trivial things of which your brain takes note.

We arrive at the hospital and I get the “litmus” test for amniotic fluid.  Sure enough, my water has broken so we are a “go”.  I call my nursing student who will be witnessing the labor and delivery as part of her training.  We call other family members to let them know we are in labor.  These are early stages – contractions are far apart and not overly strong.  I walk the hall and they get stronger, I have to stop several times to breath.  I get back into bed and they slow down again.  It is going to be a long day.

I am 23 years old, my husband is 21.  Neither of us is very mature for our age.  Our relationship isn’t such that we talk about these things – other than to discuss surface excitement and lofty dreams of our future as parents.  We know where we want to go but have NO IDEA how to get there.

I am scared shitless.  I have been through a lamaze class (as a stand-in coach for my sister-in-law).  I have listened to a lot of birthing stories and my best advisor just had a baby 7 months before.  My mothers’ only words of comfort?  “A year from now you won’t even remember the pain.”

This is 1981 – hospitals and doctors are only beginning to look at new, calmer ways of delivering babies.  Mothers are given the choice of delivering their babies in their laboring room, in special beds that have stirrups and the foot of the bed drops down and out of the way for delivery.  I was given that option; sounded way too “new-age” – I chose the delivery room.  Also during this period, doctors were moving away from pain medications and spinal block – or epidurals.  They would use them in difficult cases but mothers were encouraged to use minimal pain medications as this was better for the baby.  (I didn’t know a lot but I did know that).  However, I was told (by a friend) that if I wanted any pain medication, there was only a small window of opportunity for taking it.  If it was offered, best to take it whether I needed it or not – just in case things got worse.   If you waited until it was time to push, that was the point of no return and they would no longer administer the pain meds.  A little over halfway through the labor, I was asked about my pain level and though it was tolerable, I feared the worst and opted for the medication.   I believe I was given demerol.  After that point, things got a little foggy. (To this day, I regret that decision.  While it helped me tolerate the pain, I think I missed a lot of the experience because I was affected by the medication.)

There is no google, no birthing apps, no youtube videos.   There are books with photos if you have the stomach for it.  There was a 4 week lamaze class that you could take through the hospital – but being naive and rather timid, I didn’t even consider that option.  I went into my first labor and delivery relatively ignorant and not very blissful.

I don’t remember a lot of details about the actual birth.  I think it was around 3:30pm.   I remember things like having to go to the bathroom and feeling fearful of peeing and then delivering my child in the toilet at the same time.  I remember my doctor arriving from the Bobcat-Grizzly game.  I have no recollection of how long I pushed or how many times.  I remember hearing that I had a little girl.  Exclamations by the doctor about her size and all of her dark hair.  Something about the placenta and too much blood.  A nurse pushing on my stomach and another administering pitocin – everyone moving rather frantically.

Then, a warm little bundle on my chest.  Her dark hair is matted with blood and amniotic fluid.  Her eyes are little slits and she is gently crying.  She has a dark complexion and a full, chubby face.  She is here. She has arrived amidst a flurry of panic, worry and fear.  Warm.  Soft.  The best, biggest and brightest thing that has ever happened to me.  She calms me to my very soul.  She gives me purpose – I will learn, I will grow, I will be strong, I will become the best I can be as a person.  In that one last push, in that first full breath, she made me a mom.

Today is her 35th birthday.  We have been through a lot together.  As my first child, she suffered all of my inexperience, ignorance and mistakes along the way.  We survived a divorce and all of those trappings together.  In the middle years, I feared I would lose her forever to teenage anger and resentment.  She often threatened to move away – to a larger, more sophisticated city – never to return.  I believed her.   But then, through the gentle gift of time, we came back around.  We started listening to each other, sharing all the important bits and pieces.  Through her, I have learned many essential life lessons.  Happy Birthday Jackie!  And thank you for giving me so much.