On What Would Have Been 100 Years

Today is my mother’s 100th birthday. She is no longer living, but still, today is her birthday. I think of the last time she and I had cake. It was on my 50th birthday, just a bit over one month before she died. It was chocolate. I bought it for myself. I was alone in Indiana with her. One friend remembered what day it was — and sent me a bouquet of irises. No one in my family remembered. No one called and there were no cards or gifts.  Mom was deteriorating and couldn’t really converse.  But she loved the cake.

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I can all too easily slip into a “poor me” mentality when I think of that time. I learned that behavior from Mom. There was a sad and angry little girl inside my mother.   Her wrath, when loosed on the world, was in turns both uncaring and viciously spiteful. Not everyone saw this side of her. Few people spent as much time with her as I did.

I still am hesitant to put down the really mean things I saw come from her. Poison pen letters. Hurtful, truly nasty words intended to cut an innocent to pieces. Aloof back-turning when someone standing on a highrise ledge outside a window inconvenienced her or would have impinged on an imaginary landscape. I cannot write a survivor’s tale about what I call the family Munchausen without speaking about these aspects of her as she parented me.

There is a reluctance to sully her reputation, though most of the people she knew as peers or friends are gone from this world. I no longer have a hard time saying true things about her, although I lived the first 40 years of my life unable to say such truths. But now there is a part of me that knows that living a life that was so filled with sadness and anger must have been a horrible experience for her, and that part of me hurts for her.

Before my therapist retired last year, she told me that she thought I needed to get really angry at my mother. My therapist, Ann, helped me with rebuilding, with integration of many shattered parts of myself, and helped me while I was learning to nurture myself. She never saw me vent the anger. But it came out. I remember three times when rage filled me. The first was when I confronted Mom about the Munchausen by Proxy behaviors though I had not come to call them that. She was very angry that I could “do such a thing.” The second time I was depressed and angry and I remember choking and screaming through tears to my husband that my mother intended to outlive everyone she knew or had given birth to so that she would have the last word. Then there was the time  I was beyond words, simply raging, and I picked up a very sturdy kitchen chair and repeatedly pounded it against the floor until a leg broke in two and went flying across the room.

Now I just feel sad that her inability to cope with aspects of her life ruined much of her life and that of quite a few other people’s lives.  I’m sad that she never experienced happiness for more than a fleeting moment of time. I saw other aspects of her, and those are what I will choose to remember the rest of the day. Baking with her, picking wild strawberries, and her helping me rescue a little tree that had sprouted but never could have grown to maturity at the shaded base of another tree in the woods across from our house.

Our relationship improved the last 10 years of her life, though it hit rock bottom just before that time.  I wanted to heal, so I did, and this helped her.  I am glad I was able to make peace within myself and with her.  Because of that I can now say with sincerity, “I miss you Mom.  I love you and miss you.  Happy 100th.”

Conversations with a Ghost

Now before you go all logos or pathos on me, I have not been seeing any wraiths or spirits, at least not more than I usually do. Where I live, in Tucson, this month is a lead up to the All Souls Procession. This month, in my life, is a month when I think a lot about those who have left the world of the living, because of the many birthdays I would be celebrating with those people whose absence truly does create a void in my life.

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I think my dad is the person in my close family with whom I most miss conversation, discussion, and story-telling.   I didn’t really get to have all that many conversations with my dad when I was an adult.  He was gone before I had a child and before I realized in mid-life that he and I were very much alike.  A perfect impossible day would be spent with him under a split trunk box elder tree  looking over the farm fields I knew as a youth .  There would be lemonade and angel food cake.  History, philosophy, and religion would be discussed in depth.  Paradox and inconsistency would be noted.  Eyes would twinkle.  Family history and folklore  would be dissected. Possible revisions would be made.  It would be grand.

But, as I cannot live that impossibility, other than in pleasant thoughts, I have been listening to The Evolution of God, by Robert Wright, and The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality by Richard Panek.

So you see, I am not really having conversations with a ghost.  I am listening to and having thoughts about books that recreate, for me, the mind space that I’d like to think Dad and I would be sharing if we could talk.  A ghost, a shade, a shadow of him is with me as I do this.  It is comforting.

With so much of the universe missing, is it any wonder that we little humans try to construct meaning from the voids we note in our lives?

Happy 99th Birthday, Dad. I Miss You.

The Battle of Hastings, 1066.  This is how I remember the date of my father’s birthday.

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Bayeux Tapestry depicting the death of King Harold II death in the Battle of Hastings.

October was so filled with birthdays of so many friends and family members when I was young that I had to take some extra measures to remember when each one was.  My mother (30th), Dad (14th), my best friend in grade school (24th),  my best friend in high school (31st), my first boyfriend (29th), my eldest nephew (30th), and another high school friend (16th) all celebrated October birthdays. My dear next door neighbor who lived to be 105 and was like a grandmother to my daughter was born October 7, 1904.

I remembered: 10 – 14, 10 – 66.  My dad was not evil so his birthday could not have three sixes associated with it and the birthday I confused with his was a high school friend’s who had a 10/16 birthday.  His birthday could not be 10-16 because his birthday was on the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings and if it was the 16th the anniversary would be 10/16, 1066 – three 6s.  And growing up in the Bible belt I knew three 6s was bad news.  (I so wish I had not grown up with such superstition!)  So his birthday must be on 10/14/1915.

Does anyone else in the world use such convoluted memory tools?

My mom would be celebrating her 100th birthday on the 30th.  I think she was actually born on Halloween, as her mother always told her she was born 5 minutes before midnight.  Midnight would have meant Halloween and thus a questionable alliance via birth with dark forces.

Mom and my friend with the Halloween birthday loved their connection.  I guess there was something about being born on a high holiday of the Old Religion that connected them.  My friend lived to be 21 and died on Friday the 13th.  My mom lived to be 92.

Birthdays of those who have passed on can be odd, especially when the cluster contains more who have died than those alive. But I’m going to have a cake for Mom’s 100th birthday.  We celebrated my 50th birthday together a few weeks before she passed on.  Dad liked apple pie. I think I will make a pie this weekend.  Why not?

First World Problems

On a recent weekend I spent the morning thinking about women, education, empowerment, information, fundamentalism and the tremendous power we fortunate women who have access to social media and the time to use it are frittering away. I am not lecturing, I am as guilty as anyone.

First of all, I do not expect every woman to want to be political. I understand that politics is man’s game, that is, a game where the rules were created by men.  Our current political system is derived from previous systems and those trace back to territorial and resource protective strategies as old as human communities. Rancor is ever-increasing, and it was not great to begin with.

I really do understand wanting to stay out of the fray.  To live a functional life I have to manage my stress level quite carefully.  Bumping over a stress limit can send me into a fit of tears and fight/flight behavior that is nearly impossible for comfortable folks to fathom.  I have learned to recognize these very thing  lines between acceptable and melt down levels fairly well and only veer off course a couple of times a year.

Some of this may be my basic constitution that infused my personality with a toughness and resilience long before any trauma and situational stress triggering of post traumatic stress reactions ever came into play.  But maybe I learned to be tough after living through nasty situations and breaking through barriers in my path.

But all that said, I expect women who are aware, intelligent, and informed to do everything they possibly can to help others who do not have the luxury of time and money to spend on activities that do not directly support food, shelter and basic hygiene in their lives.  Most of the world is hungry, has no access to clean water, water with which to wash, nor access to toilets.

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If I can keep knocking away at the problems as I see them and keep crafting solutions as best I can, almost everyone can.

In basic anthropology courses I took when I was an undergraduate, I was exposed to the concepts of environmental degradation, climate change, and that pandemics and starvation are likely to emerge when ecosystems, if not the entire biosphere, begin to fluctuate and exhibit crazy flip-flops looking for a new balance.  No guarantees that humans will be around when a new balance emerges.  That was a long time ago.  We’ve known.  Those of us who understood have not been silent, and are not silent now, but most of the women I know, even the really smart ones, avoid thinking about unpleasantries of what life will be like in a decade or two.

Just Blog It

We can change things.  But we have to act.  Now.  A major opportunity exists in form of elections next month.

I personally believe if enough of us decide to write about making intelligent choices in this election, in light of current events, that we can have a significant influence on how our women readers think about the issues and get them to the polls.  I will be writing pieces about ebola, fundamentalism (as in ISIL,) infrastructure, community, and scientific/critical thinking. I hope these will give others ideas as to how they can frame issues.

Let’s do it.