Moms and Daughters

April 20, 2018

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Me and Ella

I was thinking about what it would be like to have Ella come home from college after classes, and taking a week or so off to drive with her to southern California to see my dying dad. I realized that it would make her miserable to be stuck in a car with me for a couple of days, then stuck in southern California with me and my family for a few days more, and then in the car for the long drive back to Portland, Oregon. I remember exactly how it felt to be her age and to want to be with my friends and boyfriend rather than my family. I can feel the physical discomfort of the boredom and isolation. I would want to be with people who got me, who made me laugh and who I could make laugh just by being myself. Add to that the drama of being with my sisters, her aunts, who make her feel judged and criticized. I know she will mature out of this, but I remember being in my 20’s and dreading going home to be with my mom. The initial joy of the familiar would be supplanted by the stress of the same old issues, but mostly by what I was missing out on – that loose, lovely feeling of being with people who I chose and who made me feel valuable.

I also remember a time when I wanted to be with my mom all the time – I mean all the time. I would sneak out of bed to sit with her and watch Johnny Carson. If she thought I was having trouble sleeping she would make me oatmeal and let me up on her lap or make a bed on the couch for me. The room was smoky from her cigarettes, lit only by the blue light of the television. We would laugh together and I relished this time with mom alone and with no sisters or dad around. Once, when I was around 4 or 5, she was going out for a rare evening without husband or kids to play bridge with some girlfriends – I have no idea who these women were because I really only knew the neighborhood ladies as her friends. My three sisters and I were to be left alone with my extremely volatile dad, and I doubt I was alone in dreading the evening. My mom tucked my little sister, Tessa, and I into bed before leaving. After she left the room I remember hearing angry words – dad was already upset about something. He did not seem to relish the prospect of being alone with us anymore than we did. While mom was gathering her things and putting finishing touches on her makeup, I grabbed a blanket and snuck out of the house and into her car. I lay down on the floor of the backseat, hugging the hump made by the drive shaft. Mom finally got in the car and backed it out of the driveway. I tried not to sneeze from the combination of perfume, cigarette smoke and carpet dirt that was wafting up, and was sure I was breathing loudly from anxiety. I couldn’t believe I had gotten away with it! My mom drove for about 5 or 10 minutes and then pulled to a curb and turned off the ignition. I decided this would be a good time to let her know I was there, expecting she would find it charming and allow me to come in with her. I imagined her lady friends would find it charming too, and a bunch of moms would make me a bed on the couch and allow me to lay in the edges of their blue light while they smoked and played cards. I was wrong. Mom was very upset, and she put the keys back in and started the car back up. The drive home was punctuated by her swearing under her breath and my teary gasps as I realized what was waiting for me when I got back to already angry dad.

When we got to the house, my dad hadn’t noticed I was gone, so he was even angrier than before. I was terrified of his rage as Mom dropped me off at the door. I went inside and straight to bed, crying and dragging the blanket behind me. Funny – I don’t remember a spanking that time. Maybe my dad was shocked enough by the incident to let this one slide. Maybe it gave him something to reflect on. Mom surely didn’t want to get riled up and left without giving me a spanking or another good night kiss. As far as I can recall that was the last and probably only time she took a night off by herself. I wonder if she too felt the despair and discontent of being immersed in the family dynamic of stress, anger and overall constant trauma that burnishes my memories of childhood. I’m sure she longed for time alone with the found family of friends that made her feel pretty and smart and funny. I hope she knew that she was actually a very funny and warm woman. The kids around the neighborhood knew. They would come to our house for her hugs and humor – kids whose home life was at least as traumatic as mine was.

It’s been 12 years since my mom passed. In the time immediately surrounding her death, when I was in southern California helping out with her healthcare and then funeral arrangements, I was miserable, uncomfortable, and longed for the home I had made with Ella in Portland. As the tumor that spread through her body invaded her brain, she demonstrated a mean streak that was difficult not to personalize. My sisters and I were distraught and I was unkind on at least one occasion, sharing my own brand of abuse with my siblings. I don’t know that I thought about what they were experiencing. I felt like I was in a heightened state of fight or flight, and I really wanted to flee. There were sweet moments too, like when all the women gathered at the mortuary – my sisters, Ella, my niece Eileen and my cousin Elizabeth – and dressed my mom, fixed her makeup, and did her nails. Ella sprayed my mom’s body with Chanel No. 5, mom mom’s favorite scent.

These days when I think of my mom, I think of the woman who made me laugh so hard I’d get a stomachache. After my parents split up and older sisters moved out and she was still drinking, she would take me and Tessa to see wildly inappropriate movies because they were funny or because she wanted to see them and didn’t have anyone else to go with. I’m glad she did, and her decision informed my parenting to a degree – I didn’t shield Ella from many entertainment choices – I drew the line at The Sopranos and Sex in the City. I told her the truth when she was curious about life, although I couched it in terms she could understand. And I cherish the hours of binge-watching seasons of Charmed and Buffy with my 8- or 9-year-old girl, not worrying about the sex or violence my friends protected their children from. I hope when being with me makes Ella crazy, she can draw on the memories of cuddling with me on the couch with a bowl of popcorn, sharing shows of strong women building lives for themselves, creating families of their own, all while being full, messy adults. I hope that there comes a day when she will take a road trip with me again, like the ones we took when she was young and we would drive from our then-home, San Francisco to southern California to see my family. We would sing every song we knew to pass the time, listened to Harry Potter audio books, and play games as we drove into the night, the yellow light of small desert towns punctuating the horizon and acting as mile markers as we drove closer and closer to my sisters and my family waiting for us in the warm desert air.

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 How I remember my mom when I was a kid.

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Mom and her sisters.

Mom and Dad.

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Wow. Talk about a roller coaster. I forgot how quickly the time passes when I have full-time, all-consuming employment. It helps that I was able to break up the school year with Christmas in So Cal and San Fran, and Spring on the East Coast. But I just counted and there are only 10 weeks left of school. On the one hand, I haven’t achieved half of what I expected, especially in regards to student progress, but also in terms of organizing my systems and tools. On the other hand, I survived, and if I can make it through the final push of IEPs, evaluations and reports, as well as kindergarten intake, I will have completed one year toward the 10 years I need in an under-served school in order to have my student loans forgiven.

I signed an agreement to continue in the school district, and I expect I will stay put at least until Ella goes to college in fall, 2015. Then I will have a new calendar to use to measure the passing of time. I hope Ella follows the 4-year bachelors plan, unlike me – I was on the 10-year plan for my first BA. In the meantime, I like knowing where we are going to be for the next year, and knowing that things are in the works for the near and distant future. It’s strange to imagine the house without Ella but I have 17 months to prepare myself for that inevitability. 16 months. 15 months…

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At The High Line, Spring 2014

In contrary to the school year zipping by, Ella and I noticed that on our vacation, time passed very slowly. Just before bed we’d realize how jam-packed our day had been with unique events and obligations, and we had difficulty reconciling the thing we had done in the morning being in the same period as what we were doing as the day ended. If I can fill the time between now and when she heads off to adulthood with unique and various events, maybe the time will pass more slowly. I will sign us up for a class each term, get us tickets to the theater, and travel with her every break and long weekend. It is important to me to make these last months as enjoyable as possible, not just to make memories, but to slow the time down and keep her with me just a little bit longer.

Paralyzed

September 1, 2013

So school starts this week and for the first time in ages I am on the other side of the desk. I feel completely unprepared and on the verge of coming unwrapped. Why didn’t I create more useable materials during my student teaching/externships? With a huge caseload and two schools, when am I going to have time to create things? What makes me think I am qualified to do the job of school SLP?

To make matters worse I went on Pintrest and Teachers Pay Teachers to get ideas. Hello, Martha-freaking-Stewart of the school world: Can you back off a bit with the perfection? Do you have any idea how much that laminate costs and how bad it is for the environment? Your bins of handy materials that you carry down the hall for quick-hit pull-out artic in the hall are an awesome idea, but where do you store your full collection of multiple games that use every possible artic and language goal? Thanks for the tips – now I feel entirely inadequate.

Keeping me just in the realm of sanity, however, is the reminder that I am hoping to use functional materials in my speech and language sessions, which means I need a bit of time to observe my kids and take data. If I don’t know what they are into I can’t expect to engage them in treatment simply because I have the latest, most expensive geegaw marketed by Super Duper.

Thank goodness for my cohort – shout out to PSU-SPHR class of 2013. I believe in you and know that you will keep me from going off the deep end with the glue gun and card stock when all I really need is a book and a box of stickers and, if all else fails, Candyland a tongue depressor (for me, to keep from grinding my teeth).

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I just watched a viral video of Ashton Kutcher’s acceptance speech for a Teen Choice award. His speech included a recommendation (borrowed from Steve Jobs) that the people in the audience build their own lives rather than conform to what is expected of them. At first this struck a chord in me because I am distressed at the trajectory the human race is on, yet I am feeling, like so many of my peers, that it takes so much to survive in this economy that I have little or no time for the social action. It was confirmation of what I know, that if I don’t manifest change in the world I cannot expect anyone else to.

My next thought was for my daughter and the children of my friends who are heading out to live independently. My own daughter has lofty aspirations, as I did when I was her age. She would like to be an actor, an artist, an activist. I struggle with wanting to tell her to do what makes her happy but do it well and with conviction, and telling her to get a degree that will get her a job.

The biggest part of my struggle comes from my own history. I spent years creating my proprietary reality – playing music and forging a business – and now I have come full-circle. My shiny new graduate degree in a high-demand field means I will always have a paycheck, and at this point in my advanced life that is paramount. I am tired of struggling to pay the bills and worrying about retirement. Relying on my child to get rich is NOT a valid retirement plan!

Deciding how to support her is made doubly difficult because as a single parent I do not have that other adult opinion to consider. Instead thoughts bounce like ping pong balls in my brain: be creative! be cutthroat! starve in a studio walk-up in a bad neighborhood but be fulfilled (if not full)! research the next biggest job trend and go for it – you can do art on the weekends!

Thank goodness for my brilliant, opinionated friends. They remind me that financial success does not guarantee happiness, and that many creative people create viable lives with their art. They also remind me that despite the struggles I have had in recent years, I am a vibrant and contributing human and they have loved me rich or poor, fat or thin, happy or sad (although I’m sure I get more dinner invitations when I am happy).

My choices have created rich life experiences that make me a better person. I am increasingly more empathetic and realistic. I need to trust that my decisions have been correct and continue to be in my best interest, and that Ella’s decisions will also lead her to be the best she can be, even if it means struggling. She inherited her bravery and righteousness from me. Hopefully that and goodwill will carry her through while she pursues her dreams and when her bank account is at zero.

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                                               Ella, then and now

The Internet is For …

February 11, 2012

My daughter is a theater geek and to that end we own more than a few soundtracks of shows we have yet to see. A few years back I gave my pre-teen  “Avenue Q” without screening it. Imagine my chagrin that summer when on a road trip to see all the highlights of “Twilight” in the northwest, I got to hear my daughter and her little friend singing, “The Internet is for Porn,” while bopping in the back seat. My kid has always been upfront with me about sex so I had to push aside my prudishness and simply sing along. It wasn’t easy. Common misconception about growing up in the 70s – it was less about free love and more about shaming. If you had sex with anyone but your letterman-jacketed boyfriend, you were a slut. Needless to say, we girls weren’t empowered to talk about sex except with each other and the closest thing we had to porn was Rod Stewart.

Anyhoody-hoo, believe me or not, I have used the internet for many things, but as far as porn goes, the only thing that comes close for me is fantasy vacation shopping. I have spent so many countless hours investigating trips that I won’t take that I may need a 12-step program. My name is Tricia, and I am addicted to fantasizing about getting away from it all.

Back in the dark ages when the Sunday paper came to the door the first section I would grab was the Comics (you thought I was going to say the Travel section, but I cannot lie to you, my friend). After Hi and Lois and Hagar had done their magic, I would refill my cup of Folger’s and grab the Travel section. I loved the window it opened onto places I had never even considered visiting – a week around Galveston, Texas; summer in Iceland; Cape Cod in fall. As the Cold War defrosted it became clear that I could spend a season touring the Great Wall of China, or being escorted to all of the state-sanctioned sites of Kiev. I cut out articles on Phuket’s beaches, barge tours of Europe‘s river, biking around the US, and African safaris. I didn’t have a system for saving them, any more than I had a system for saving the money required to make the fantasy a reality. To this day when I pull a box down from the closet shelf to look for an old photo I am just as likely to find an article from 1978 on visiting elephant rescue habitats.

Fast forward a quarter of a century and I have made some of those trips. I have lived in Europe and South America, visited a couple of the United States, mostly around the perimeter, and seen some breathtaking sights in Mexico and Canada. But single-motherdom, the economy, under/unemployment and grad school have put a decade and a half moratorium on travel. The stress of being a responsible adult is inescapable most days, but I wouldn’t trade my life now for how I was 25 years ago, even if it meant a body that moved with relative ease in the morning without the need for a hot shower, the luxury to hang out with friends for hours on end with no particular agenda, 9 hours of sleep each night, and nary a thought as to what to make for dinner.

But just when I think it is safe to go online I get an email featuring Groupon Getaways that I simply cannot afford to miss. I know it will be a time-suck, and time is extremely limited for me, but I can’t help but click on the link. Consider how much better I would function if I took a break from rainy Portland and spent a week in a “thatched roof villa near unspoiled beaches” in Baja California! It would have to be less expensive to feed my little family in Mexico! And if not pesos, why not trade my dollars for euros? Then again, I haven’t seen Susan and Leonard since 2001!  Next thing I know I’m looking at flights to South Carolina at spring break, checking weather.com for the best time to visit Stephanie on the big island, or I’m at 1-800-flyeurope.com massaging dates to fit my fantasy getaway. If it gets really serious I start emailing old friends from Heidelberg to see if they’ll be around the last week of March. The last step is calculating my student loan funds for the term – is there any way to stretch the grocery funds out a bit longer? Doesn’t somebody owe me money?

I Google “cheap travel” and waste hour after hour looking for the best price to India. If I sleep on the flight I can spend my layover running around Amsterdam. This is the best time of year to visit (Tennessee, Indonesia, Malaga) because if I wait til (spring, summer, fall) it will be (too cold, hurricane season, full of tourists). As my fantasy takes shape, my mood rises to heights it hasn’t reached in too long to recall. My heart races and I become giddy with the prospect of packing a bag and getting the hell out of Dodge, if only for a 4-night, all-inclusive stay at a resort in Ojai.

Then Roxy drops a ball in my lap or one of the cats pukes up breakfast and I start the quick descent down the stairwell of reality. I can’t really afford to pay someone to take care of the animals so what am I doing looking at a weekend at the new Tropicana in Las Vegas, even with a $25 dinner voucher and a bottle of wine? I don’t even drink wine.

I close out the myriad windows to my fantasy life – travel sites, airline sites, hotels.com – they all go away. Then I check my email and find reminders of reality – it’s time to pay a bill, a school meeting has to be rescheduled, Carol sent a chain mail full of funny interpretations of text acronyms adapted for old people (ATD = at the doctor’s; BFF = best friend’s funeral; BTW = bring the wheelchair). I laugh and send replies, pay the bill, and close the vehicle of declivity. Fantasy time is over.

Vacations these days usually mean staying with friends in San Francisco. I don’t mind the drive and most times it works out so the dogs can come with us. I have no doubt that I will eventually travel big again. And I have to remind myself I have traveled to places my mother never had the chance to visit. I will see even more places when the time is right. Until then I keep paying Comcast for the pleasure of profylactically protected fantasy vacation shopping. I fill my cart but don’t check out. It’s not the real thing, but no one feels cheaper for it in the end.

February 3, 2012

I don’t know if it’s PTSD, immaturity, or menopause, but I find myself wet-faced and blubbering about something at least a once a day. It is not very seemly and I wish I would stop. The other day the director of the clinic I am serving at told me how much the work I’m doing means to the community and that it is appreciated that I go the extra mile. I would have taken criticism with more grace. At least I wouldn’t have found myself gasping for air as I struggled to maintain composure during what had been a simple informational exchange regarding my client. Damned emotions.

It’s embarrassing and difficult to get through the day when one unexpected comment puts me in a world of hurt that, apparently, waits for me right behind my thin veneer of composure. I imagine the excruciating events of the last dozen years or so has been building up like plaque on an artery. Every now and then something happens or is said that shakes some of it loose and as the clot rushes to my heart, the pain that it causes perpetrates the cycle of crying and drying that I cannot seem to break.

I suppose I am glad I can feel my feelings, I just wish they were not so close to the surface, eager little starlets waiting to burst on stage for their chance to shine and shimmer in the spotlight of my reddened face. For the moment I will pack my tissues, my water bottle (must always rehydrate!) and get on with my day. It can’t go on forever, can it, this train wreck of an emotional state? Someday I’ll get to the engine and wrest control. Until then, let this serve as a warning to you. If you are embarrassed by tears, I would avoid talking to me until further notice. I have no control over when they will come and believe me, it isn’t pretty.

New Glasses

October 29, 2011

I feel like Malcolm X in these new glasses of mine, and that isn’t really a bad thing. I like the idea of metamorphosis. I read Alex Hailey’s “Malcolm X” in the early 70s when I was a preteen. Although I was first impressed by the drugs and partying,  what stuck with me was how he dealt with the vicissitudes of his life: proactively and spiritually.

That said I’m trying very hard not to trip on the fact that I am pulling this phoenix act at 50. It was one thing at 33, and not a cake walk at 45 when Ella and I moved up here. But I will be 52 when I get my license to practice my new profession. After the time and expense it’s going to take to get this career going, I sure hope this one sticks.

Bigger than how I make money, though, is how I live. For now I am looking forward not just to 18 months of studying, but to taking some of this time for myself. To let the thoughts sift down and ideas bubble up.

I can sense the landscape slowing down and the dizziness from the busy-ness of the past four years is waning. I need a little time and space to get my bearings. After that, who knows? As long as no one is writing my story but me I think I’m safe.

The Dog Days are Over

October 26, 2011

It’s day five of my new Rockin’ Roxy’s-free life and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Part of my ambiguity is due to being constantly busy. No downtime means no time to process. But this Florence and the Machine anthem has played in my head since the offer was made to buy my business and it kept me going through the long, dragged out negotiations. So yes, the dog days are over, except for the days I spend with my own dogs, Roxy and Daisy.

I think I am relieved.

I just haven’t had time to feel it yet. And maybe until grad school is over I won’t have time. I can live with that. I am just thrilled to have the time freed up to study and read and pay attention to my house and kid.

One thing that stood out these past five days — the weekend. I get it now. I recall enjoying the “S” days in the past and I am beginning to remember why. Sorry for scoffing at my friends who count down to Friday and make comments about days off. I got a glimmer of it this past weekend. I can’t wait until it comes around again!

It’s Over!

September 6, 2011

When my daughter, Ella, was little, we would go to our friends’ house for Friday night movies. Bea and I would watch grown up shows like The Sopranos or Sex and the City, and Ella and Bea’s son, Elias, would watch kiddo shows, like The Princess and the Goblin or Pippie Longstocking. Because we grown-ups were busy cleaning up the dinner mess, making popcorn, and letting the dogs out, the kids’ movie would inevitably end before ours would. Jammied up, they would sneak out to the living room and try to watch a bit of our sex and violence, but the second they thought we perceived their presence they would shout in unison, “IT’S OVER!” Scrambling for the remote we struggled to keep them from seeing anything we did not think they were prepared to see. They we spent 20 minutes or so looking for something else for them to watch or trying to get them to go to sleep so we could finish our weekly episode.

I dropped Ella off for her first day of high school today and was tempted, as I drove away, to shout, “IT’S OVER!” Summer’s over, childhood is over, shielding her eyes is over. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt an end of summer so deeply as this one.

Time to put away the summer gear we didn’t use — the raft and oars, the tent and ice chest, the swimming suits. And time to get geared up for the holidays. Hey, I’ll do anything necessary to keep myself from thinking about the inevitable day when she moves away forever.

But before I do all that I’ll take the dogs for a long walk at Sellwood Park and let them swim in the uncrowded waters that the children have so recently deserted. And I’ll make some soon-to-be-forgotten menus and chores lists. And I’ll go through drawers and make bags to take to Goodwill. And I’ll get to her school to pick her up early so we can start the inevitable argument that characterizes a teen and her mother, that belies the deep love we have for each other, because that is the way we communicate for now. I hate the strife but I also dread the day it ends because that means she is moving on to her own private life. And on that day it will truly be over.

I’m feeling uneasy and I’m not sure why. Things are status quo – I’m overdrawn but the rent is paid; the business is picking up finally but I owe, I owe, I owe vendors, landlord, employees. I am caught up in my school work, doing well this term, and happy that I am going to grad school next year. But I’m afraid that I won’t have time to do my best work, or that I am neglecting my kid, or that I am aging at twice the normal rate so that I’ll be asked to retire just when I finish the program.

Foremost in my mind is that I need time for my kid. I know this is true because I find lately that whenever we have time together she fills it with complaints and protests. She isn’t complaining about me, rather she goes on about people I don’t know – kids at school and how awful they are. This irritates me to distraction. I should be patient and understanding because I believe her complaints are fear-based (most negative behavior is). I should be focusing on helping her feel more secure so she doesn’t feel the need to tear down other people, but I am out of ideas, out of steam. It makes me angry.

I’m sure that the anger is there anyway and not due to her bitching about everyone. It has more to do with the trauma and drama of our lives for the past few years. When I’m wound up in anger though it’s all I can do to remind myself that we’ve gotten this far and chances are we will get out of this morass (of debt and exhaustion and weight gain and no vacation and old clothes and shoes with holes and how do I pay the vet bills when I can’t fill the tank and, and, and…). I have to remind myself to tackle each of these items one at a time. I will pull us out of this, I always do. And she will grow up, grow more confident, and grow away. Then what will I have to fight for?

There is a flutter in my chest that turns into a whirring and eventually a spinning ache that quiets only rarely when I give myself time to stop and breath. When I feel the storm in my chest I know in my head it will fade but my heart doesn’t understand. My heart is peeking over the edge and threatening to fall off but then… then… something brings it back and keeps it from dropping.

I am angry. I am angry at people who know me but don’t know how hard it has been for me. I am resentful of people who seem to have it easy. This is irrational, I know. and I know we all have our burdens, but this has been going on and on and on for so long that when I see a photo of myself from 5 years ago I can hardly reconcile that the woman in that photo and the one sitting here typing. I don’t know how it happened and I know I cannot turn back the clock, I just want to stop it from getting worse. I would like to think it started with losing my job in 2005, and certainly the worst of it started then, but if I’m honest it has been going on for longer than that. Where did it begin? When I got sober and stopped numbing it? When I turned 18 and was truly on my own? Has this storm been brewing my entire life and just now, as my hair grows thinner and my bones start to turn brittle so that my rib cage becomes ever-slightly more frail I notice that hurricane that has always been there?

I hope I am strong enough to keep it from blowing me away.