All I want for Christmas

I asked my daughter what she wanted for Christmas this year and she couldn’t name anything.

NOTHING.

Seriously.

And now I can’t decide if I’m happy she’s content or disappointed I’ve spoiled her. But then I think back to my childhood, and recall the times when we couldn’t afford a tree, the years when the only gifts came from strangers, and the scrambling my mom did on Christmas eve when everything went on sale at the grocery store and the food stamps went a lot farther than usual.

I remember feeling guilty for wanting things, knowing we couldn’t afford them. I remember dreading unloading my stocking because it would be full of oranges and sardines. I remember the shame I felt being a “charity case.”

I am relieved my kids aren’t experiencing that kind of holiday stress. The fact is they know there will be food, they don’t have to worry about whether there will be gifts, there is no question that we’ll have a tree. Those worries are foreign to them and I am very grateful their childhood is more carefree than mine was.

Remembering all that makes me happy she’s content and hopeful she’s not too spoiled. I am grateful that they simply get to be kids.

Cramming it all in

I am afraid I will get FTD.

There, I said it.

Friends have remarked recently that I am spending a lot of time at events, taking trips, and being busy. Yep, I am. And the hard truth is that I am petrified I’ll get FTD so I’m trying to experience as much as possible while I still can with the people I care about.

I’ve done a lot in the past few years and I am so happy I did. I’m taking my kids to every cultural event they express interest in and even though I’ve never been a live music person I’m going to lots of concerts. I care less about stuff and more about experiencing life – in all kinds of ways.

So there it is. I’m scared…so I’m trying to live.

 

 

Back to school

My kids went back to school last week and like many parents, I’m feeling melancholy. Getting back to a routine is a relief but I also miss the unstructured nature of summer. We’re already into soccer, volleyball, robotics, riding, climbing, etc. and the pace is wiping me out.

Here’s the thing, I have 2 kids. My mom has 5 and primarily raised us as a single parent. My husband travels about 80% of the time so a lot of the child-rearing and shuttling is left to me (though when he is in town he is 100% engaged with the kids). The juggling of work and kids’ schedules is overwhelming and again, we only have 2! Only now do I understand why my mom never encouraged us to participate in sports or after-school activities; who on earth would get us to practices? Whose games do you attend? Which 4 out of 5 kids gets left out? (We all know I’d get the most attention, but I’m making a point.) I have a ton of conflicts with just 2, I truly can’t imagine navigating 5.

My grandparents helped a lot when I was growing up which is how my mom survived our childhood… (And the fact that I was the designated after-school babysitter didn’t hurt.) But what do you do when you don’t have grandparents to help and you work full time? It’s a tricky balance. We were lucky to have a wonderful woman help us the past 2 years so the kids had someone in addition to their parents who loved them, fed them, and got them places. We no longer have her helping us and it has magnified my mom’s absence for me. I was so lucky to have my grandparents involved, willing, and available to us at any time. What a blessing that was for my mom and for us. I wish my kids had the same.

Getting some religion

 

Varadharaja Perumal Temple Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu

When I was in elementary school my mom taught catechism for a little while. She was a bit too “evangelical” and didn’t last long in the position but she absolutely loved it. It always puzzled me that with an M.A. in Theology she still chose Catholicism to follow. As a petulant teenager, it seemed short-sighted to me and less evolved than someone with that level of education should be. But she loved it, relished in it, and was very proud of her faith. She studied the world’s religions, made her own choices, and always came back to Catholicism; that’s pretty darned evolved.

My mom’s ongoing study and fascination definitely rubbed off on me. I have a real affinity for religious iconography and love visiting churches, temples, mosques…really any holy place. We visited India last month and let me tell you, this trip was so fulfilling for me. We made offerings at a Hindu temple, meditated in an ashram, saw a Catholic Basilica, toured a Jain temple, and so much more. We saw multitudes of the devoted throughout our trip and it was so striking and humbling for me. Nowhere in my travels have I seen such open displays of piety. With her theological background my mom would have really loved that aspect of India. Though she would have hated the weather.

The inspiration and satisfaction I felt in India is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I honestly could feel my blood pressure decrease while we were there. I imagine this is how my mom felt about Catholicism. She took such solace in it and it gave her peace during many years of unrest in her life.

I feel really blessed to have taken this trip and I have every intention of going back. I brought my mom a little something back from the Basilica. Yep, from a country where Catholicism is a minority religion. You’re welcome, Mom.

Social media memory

I post a lot of pictures and updates on social media. More than I’m actually comfortable with, honestly. And here’s why: I am now 48 and while I think I am ok, my mom started showing signs of FTD in her mid-50s. So it’s possible I won’t be me in 10 years. I won’t be able to tell my kids stories about their childhoods, the details of how I met and fell in love with their dad, the things I thought were funny in the moment, or information about their family background. So FB, TW, and IG are my personal documentarians.

I know how irritating this ongoing “diary” may get to some of you but it’s not for you. It’s to help me remember, to provide a catalogue of my little life, to make sure my kids know about the stuff I may not be able to tell them later.

So if it’s irritating, ignore me, hide me, unfollow me. My oversharing probably won’t stop until I do.

Grieving someone who isn’t gone

Hello, mum.

With another Mother’s Day upon us, increasingly I find myself dreading this 2nd Sunday in May. Don’t get me wrong, I love the crafts my children make for me and the special breakfast they put together. But we always go see my mom on Mother’s Day. And you know what isn’t a cause for celebration? Spending time with the human vessel that used to house my mom.

She doesn’t see us. She doesn’t register any emotion. She doesn’t know us. This 69 year-old human has my mom’s DNA but my mom isn’t this person. Technically my mom is still here. She didn’t die. But she’s not here. This is the worst riddle ever.

So forgive me if I’m not excited about Mother’s Day but it’s not about me while my mom is still alive. It’s about her…even though she’s not really here.

Your biggest fan

I’ve made lots of fun at my mom’s expense over the years due to her abuse of fans. Not a wind fan, not one of my fans (you know who you are…), but the ones she carried everywhere and used with abandon. Those infernal things embarrassed me more than even my siblings ever did (let that sink in…) I swear she was trying to bridge a wind tunnel through my head with those damned fans swishing around all the time. I hated those stupid things with every fiber of my being.

Fast forward, Wayne’s World style. I’m turning 48 soon and guess who is ushering in my next birthday? That’s right, Madame Menopause.  So now finally I understand! This bitch is the one responsible for the fans; it wasn’t really my mom!

Each day as I dance around trying to generate my own breeze I come closer and closer to actually using one of her fans. I mean, it would be so much more elegant than flapping my arms around my office. I haven’t yet made the leap but what a fitting tribute that would be. I bet she would take great satisfaction in knowing this.

Sorry for all the grief, Mom. And even though I now understand your obsession, I still hate them.

Yet another thing I hope doesn’t run in our family

I am not good at math. To be honest, I’m just really, really bad at math. Super bad. My high school counselor told me to avoid math at all costs. The algebra teacher took pity on me and gave me a passing grade for showing up and helping grade papers.

My mom was also very bad at math and we all knew that about her. Sometimes I wonder if that knowledge predisposed me to think I was destined to be bad at it so I didn’t try very hard.

I’ve always been ashamed of this and am determined not to bequeath my lack of knowledge/fear to my kids. So far it appears they’ve avoided this malady as they seem to do well in the subject and my daughter actually likes it! I really hope this pattern continues because I’d like to break the cycle.

 

 

Boycott by proxy

When I was young my mom boycotted Nestlé products due to their campaign in third world countries promoting their infant formula over breast milk. Like most formula meals, the product needed to be mixed with water and in many of those countries the water wasn’t safe and led to illnesses when ingested. Because of the low literacy rates in developing countries, many mothers weren’t aware of the sanitation methods needed to prepare the bottles. Even mothers able to read in their native language might be unable to read the language in which sterilization directions were written. [Source: IBFAN] The fact that a corporation of that size knowingly committed this sort of atrocity pissed my mom off so she joined the boycott of their products.

This boycott pissed us kids off because we loved the Libby’s commercials and if those canned pears were ever on sale we wanted them. WE NEEDED THEM. We didn’t have much money so we rarely had brand names in our cart; typically we had a cart full of generics (remember those white containers with bold black block print?) Even though we understood where Mom was coming from with her boycott and theoretically we could agree with her reasoning, we died inside every time we could afford a Nestlé product but chose not to buy it.

Now it’s my turn to piss my kids off. I am actively boycotting not only Trump products but also any business that carries them, brands that sponsor any of his reality shows, chief executives who have endorsed him, and any company he is on the board of or actively participates in. I was in part inspired by my mom’s steadfastness against Nestlé and also by the #GrabYourWallet campaign. I have installed the Boycott Trump app on my phone and I am not spending any money with Nordstrom, Amazon, or Starbucks…just to name a few.

This has been tough on me and my family. We are long-time Amazon customers for everything from dog food to electronics (and my favorite show is Mozart in the Jungle). When I needed a nice gift, Nordstrom was my go-to. And while I don’t like Starbucks, my kids really do. So this Christmas was a big shift for us and while it hasn’t been easy, it has been an exercise in patience and a lesson in when stubbornness can be a good thing.

I’m positive my mom would be on board with this boycott because she would be appalled that 60+ MILLION people chose a racist, misogynist, sexual predator who lies for sport. The fact that there is that much hate in this country in 2016 would make her weep (and I’m not kidding, she cried a lot…) And worse, that people decided that the hatred and divisiveness didn’t matter would be excruciating to her gentle sensibilities. The fact that people chose greed over the greater good would terrify her. My mom would be all over this boycott and since I control her finances, she is by proxy.

While I may not be withholding millions from Trump and his minions, my thousands of dollars combined with others can make a difference. My kids might not like it, but they wholeheartedly agree with this boycott. And perhaps that’s the best thing I can take away from the travesty of this election: that my children know what evil looks like and they know we can combat it.

Would you rather…

After a recent visit to see my mom, my son asked, “Would you rather have FTD or ALS?”

He wasn’t being cheeky, he was honestly curious. In September we participated in the Alzheimer’s Memory Walk as well as the Walk to Defeat ALS. So we’ve done a lot of talking lately about different neurological diseases, why we fundraise to support research, and why it’s important. Seeing his grandmother clearly set his 10 year-old mind working.

So his question came from a place of curiosity. Which disease is worse? My answer was measured…that each disease is terrible, that I wouldn’t want to have to make that choice. From his perspective, it was an easy answer. “I’d rather have ALS so I could remember how much I love my family.”

I had no diplomatic retort for that. He doesn’t remember his grandmother before FTD. He doesn’t have any recollection of how much she loved him. He will never really know his grandmother. He just knows her now, this shell of a person who can’t register any emotion or recognition, much less love. I understand and can appreciate his 10 year-old perspective but I still wouldn’t want to make a choice like that.