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Mother intuition

Well, this past month, my daughter and I had a rough little patch of it. Basically, I was trying to take over in the pilot seat of her newly launched adult life. It was sort of that scene from my all-time top favorite movie, Apollo 13, where the Tom Hanks character (sad that I know my actors’ names better than my astronauts) inadvertently sits in the seat of the Kevin Bacon character, who is now the pilot (and Tom Hanks is the Captain)–he looks at him and says something like, “Sorry, old habits die hard.” (this is a very very loose version of the true quote–I am not going to dig out my DVD at this moment to get the exact quote for you all).

Two weeks into our impasse (with Hannah in CA not speaking to me, and me here knowing I overstepped my bounds: at the same time thinking “but I am right!” Still, as the defensive driving quip goes, “You can be dead right and still be dead.” Right doesn’t always matter), I awoke in the middle of the night knowing I needed to find a journal entry that I had written when I was pregnant with Hannah. I even knew where to look for this archaic document. It was in “the stacks”–one of my many huge Rubbermaid containers containing old journals. Finally, an old journal entry proves its value! Anyway, I was shocked to find that I wrote this entry when I was six months pregnant with Hannah. At seven months pregnant, I turned twenty two. Hannah turns twenty two in just one month. Hence, I wrote this journal entry at the EXACT same age that Hannah is now. I essentially wrote a journal entry to help myself along in the future. Here’s what it says:

June 15, 1992

They say that by the sixth month of pregnancy you, my child, can see, hear, taste, and feel emotion. I wonder how you felt yesterday when you heard me yelling at your grandmother; saw the walls of my abdominal muscles ball up in knots; heard my heartbeat increase; later heard my sobs of frustration while you were bounced up and down by a heaving diaphragm. So fragile still and yet you, like me, are already susceptible to the changing moods of your mother. I look down at my outstretched belly and try to explain the unexplainable: the relationship between mother and daughter.

I might start by describing the subtle rift created when a mother repeatedly tries to get her sole daughter, one who only agrees to wear jeans and corduroy pants, into pink, lace dresses. The battles waged in department store fitting rooms morph into larger battles fought over the dinner table when the daughter comes home to visit. The exact subject matter of these exchanges may change, but personal autonomy is always the undercurrent driving the feud.

How can I explain how scary it is for me now, at age 22, to be standing on the threshold of becoming a mother when I still haven’t learned how to be a daughter? I know you are going to be a girl, even though the ultrasound didn’t confirm it. During the test, you kept your legs firmly crossed in front of your genitalia; only a girl would do such a thing. I know you are a girl, even though I wish for you to be a boy because, with three older brothers, I’ve observed that the bond between mother and son is so much more humane than the one between mother and daughter.

Mothers and daughters spend an entire lifetime trying to shape the other into the ideal mother or the perfect daughter. Worse yet, I’ve observed how only daughters, like myself, feel the burden of this desired perfection more acutely than those with sisters, who will help shoulder the unbearable weight of perfection.

I don’t want to ever ask you to be perfect my dear one and I know already that I will fail to be your ideal mother. I hope that 22 years from now, you are ever so much more the person that you want to be than the one that I want you to be. Know that the 22-year-old me understands, for I’ve walked the road as “daughter” too.

Love,

Your mom

I typed it up and sent it to my daughter and you know what? Forgiveness abounded on both ends. Grace and love brought us back into the circle of each other’s heart.

P.S. It is so true about mothers and sons too. I have two sons, and grace flows easily between the three of us. I will, from now on, work to cultivate that same kind of grace with my daughter. And give up my need to always be right.

IMG_1556

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today, my heart is
round.
it is on an airport
runway.
it is in a high school
classroom;
driving to Macalester
College;
slipping down a frozen
driveway;
standing in the center of
Times Square;
stacking primary colored
rings;
waiting for chirping in a
sound booth;
wearing headphones on a
school bus;
napping in the middle of a
large bed.

My heart is the center of
the wheel, standing
practically still and
watching as these spokes
speed in light years
around me, always
though, holding on.

H. Parton

Slowly, I am capturing poems off my Wednesday Poet blog–at least some of the more (perhaps) worthy ones, since I am no longer curating that site. Although this poem is about my role as mother, it is appropriate for dads too on this day meant for celebrating fathers this June, 2014.

My father and I about 8 years ago.

My father and I about 8 years ago.

[A]nd the end of all of our exploring shall be to arrive where we started and know that place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot

 

I could make this post about music, since it’s Music Monday. And if I were to make this post about music, I’d tell you how, right now in the pouring rain, I am listening to Fleetwood Mac’s album The Dance, which was once a new album of this iconic 70s band’s songs revisited. And now the “new” album, The Dance, has become an old album (and I too have become old). And as I sit here with the relentless rain outside my window, I am moved by my nostalgia over the time in my life where I had nostalgia over the song Dreams, as heard on The Dance, because it reminded me of trips, driving across the vast, flat entirety of North Dakota to reach my grandparent’s home in Crosby, ND with my family in our gray Rambler station wagon, me hiding under a doll’s blanket, afraid of the thunder. I veritably tremble when I see that Landslide is ahead on the album. The song, Landslide, carries personal nostalgic value in my life and it is a nostalgic song about nostalgia. How can that all be? I’ve been reading too much Dr. Suess because this all seems entirely possible.

Nevertheless, this post is not about music. It is about Josh’s ear health.

So last Monday, Chris, Josh and I left our house at 6:30 am for Josh’s 8:30 am-awake MRI. I had prepared Josh for the MRI by having him watch a few videos on Youtube. You can find these videos on my Sensory Processing Disorder Pinterest page. It seemed that Josh was willing and able to sit for the MRI. We had completed all of the forms and had gone around and around with the nurse about the fact that Josh was not to be given any contrast for this exam. After a few phone calls, she finally believed me. Finally, we were walking into NASA’s control center (okay, that’s what it felt like outside the huge 3.0 MRI seen through the window), Chris in his track suit and me in my yoga gear, because these were the only non-metallic clothing we could find. Once we got in with the MRI technician and he read through our forms, he told us that he didn’t think Josh could have the MRI because of his titanium PORP. I told him I had verified with our ENT’s office that the PORP was indeed MRI safe. He told us that while it was definitely safe for a 1.5 strength MRI, it wasn’t for a 3.0 strength MRI. He shooed us out of the room to call the head radiologist.

We returned to the waiting area. Twenty minutes later, he found us and told us that the MRI was safe as long as Josh was perfectly still, but if he tried to sit up even slightly, the PORP could move. He clearly didn’t want to risk it. I had had my own misgivings about this same issue the week before and hence, had done extensive research in this regard–even so far as to look at the information pages provided by the manufacturer’s of PORPs. In spite of our ENT’s reassurances, I still feared the slightest shift of the PORP towards the inner ear–it could do loads of damage. The lab technician clearly was against going ahead with the MRI and told us he could have us talk to the CT scan technician about our concerns over radiation. It was still an hour until our back-up CT was scheduled (at 9:30 am) and so we agreed. We were shuttled into the CT scan room and she put Josh up on the CT machine, giving him a sticker to add to the inside of it. He seemed totally comfortable and I realized the CT technician had been told to just go ahead with the CT. In a way, it felt like the MRI technician had made the decision for us and I might have been irked, but instead felt relief. The CT tech told us that she was very certain she could quickly get the kind of picture of the temporal lobes that our ENT needed. And so, we just went ahead with the CT and, 30 seconds later, it was all over and we were leaving the hospital.

I have to admit, as easy as it was, it was a bit of a “let down.” After all of those months of research and worry, we ended up allowing Josh the radiation hit by having the originally ordered CT scan. Hence, the admittedly overused T.S. Eliot quote above. The upside of the CT scan was that it wasn’t at all scary or emotionally damaging for Josh. In the end, maybe that’s what most mattered. At least, that’s what I am going to believe because, at this point, there is nothing I can do about the radiation hit of this second of Josh’s CT scans. It is done.

We met with Josh’s ENT the following day to go over the results. It was a long 24 hours to wait for the results, but at least Chris and I didn’t have to go over to the clinic dressed like PE instructors. After an even longer half-hour wait for our ENT in the examining room, he came in and asked why we didn’t get an MRI. I explained to him the radiologist’s concerns. He said that those concerns were ridiculous, but he still looked it up on Wikipedia of all things. Wikipedia! He told us the next time he’d send us to a different hospital for an MRI. Thankfully, however, he got what he needed from the CT and, at least for the foreseeable future, there is no need for an MRI.

Our ENT showed us that both of Josh’s middle ears were completely filled with fluid and so was his left sinus cavity. What should have been all black (showing air) was all gray on the scan. He is hopeful that the fluid is the cause of Josh’s present decline in hearing. He also did not see any evidence of cholesteatoma. I take some comfort knowing that CT scans tend to provide more false positives (and MRI’s more false negatives) for cholesteatoma. At present, Josh is on a 20-day course of oral antibiotics to see if this will clear the fluid. We have another hearing test set for early June. I am hoping that the antibiotics clear the fluid. Josh has never been on oral antibiotics before, although he did have one full-spectrum antibiotic given intravenously in the ER when he was 2.5. I am not a huge fan of antibiotics for many reasons (hopefully a subject of a future post) but I do recognize that antibiotics still sometimes are necessary. If the antibiotics don’t work to clear the fluid, we’d be looking at PE tubes once again. I am very dubious of PE tubes, given that Josh’s ear canals are so small that our previous ENT never actually successfully placed the PE tube in his left ear and the right grommet, although successfully placed, ended up ruining Josh’s original ear drum. I would have a hard time accepting the potential destruction of Josh’s rebuilt right eardrum with another metal grommet. But we are not there yet. For now, “just antibiotics” beats surgery any day.

I am grateful. I am hopeful.

 

  1. For the Good from Wicked (song honors you and Sydney)
  2. Which Way Your Heart Will Go from Mason Jennings (song honors process of change and not second-guessing your choices)
  3. I Will Remember You from Sarah McLachlan (song honors you and your Beloit memories—that you will one day cherish)
  4. Don’t You (Forget About Me) from Simple Minds (song honors you and all of your true Beloiter friends—Syd, Timon, Sophia, Hannah x 2 or 3, Erin, Sarah, Max, Anthony, JVT, Haley as well as many others—I’ll let you fill in the blanks)
  5. Breathe Me from Sia (this one is for the day you drive your car away from that place because this song enables one’s tears)
  6. Destiny from Zero 7 (honors the new groove heading your way)
  7. A Change Would Do You Good from Sheryl Crow (kind of self-explanatory)
  8. Good Friday from Cowboy Junkies (honors the beauty found in leaving)
  9. So Leave from Polica (honors your time with Syd at Austin City Limits and just because it’s a cool song)
  10. Leaving Las Vegas from Sheryl Crow (Honors the “muddy line between the things you want, and the things you have to do”)
  11. Ramble On from Led Zeppelin (Because you have a hippy mom, who loves Tolkien, and you went to a hippy school—“the leaves are falling all around/ It’s time I was on my way/ But still I’m much obliged/ Such a pleasant stay”) EMBRACE THE JOURNEY!
  12. Blow Out from Radiohead (Blow out of Beloit Girl!)
  13. Midnight on the Interstate from Trampled by Turtles (honors your future career that may well have you traveling the interstates, hopefully not at midnight)
  14. Driving from Po’ Girl (“that’s the trait of him that I love the most, I don’t see him now that I’m on the west coast”—honors parental love and the vagabond life that I see you befriending)
  15. Rise from Eddie Vedder (honors the ability to turn mistakes into gold—I bestow upon you parental permission to make all the mistakes you need to. It is better to try and fail than to never try at all. I admire your courage and willingness to try new things!)
  16. I Need $ from Polica (because you do need $ and it’s very danceable)
  17. Heaven When We’re Home from Wailin Jennies (honors the home you’ll always have with me and all the new homes you’ll make for yourself—“It’s a long and rugged road and we don’t know where it’s heading but we know it’s going to get us where we’re going”)
  18. Going to California from Led Zeppelin (because I’m preparing myself for your coastal or bi-coastal future)

Update: I watch the searches that lead folks to my site and I see numerous folks looking for a gradation song to share with their child. If you don’t already know about the Sunscreen Song, it is a good graduation song–lots of good advice here.

I was the last of four kids, with two working parents and I think that it was often assumed that someone was at home with me when, in fact, I was often left alone—perhaps before I was ready. But it was the 70s and parenting styles were quite a bit different than they are now. Perhaps as a result of this early independence, I learned to deal with my pain alone. I don’t believe I ever even cried in front of my parents. I did try to cry in front of my Siamese cat, Catboy, but he’d usually exit the room and find a bed to hide under until my tears subsided. I also somehow learned to resort to food to provide comfort or to stop my pain. When you binge, you definitely stop feeling your feelings.

I cut my parenting teeth on my first-born and only daughter, born when I was just twenty-two years old. When she’d cry as a newborn, I would feel a sense of panic rise up inside me. I already felt responsible for solving all of her problems; and I wasn’t always confidant in my ability to do so. I also had never had the witnessing of wounds modeled to me. When my daughter was older, I’d often react in anger when she’d hurt herself. Instead of focusing on her pain, I’d get all wrapped up in lecturing her about how she shouldn’t have been doing whatever she had been doing that produced the pain. “You shouldn’t have been walking on that high wall in the first place!” I couldn’t just stand by and send love to her wounds. I couldn’t do so because I couldn’t do that for my own self. (A prime example of how we all might do this is when we, upon stubbing a toe, mutter angry expletives instead of just allowing ourselves to really feel the pain; in this way, we lean away from the experience of suffering instead of leaning into it. By leaning in, we enable the growth that suffering can bring).

It was my training as a yoga teacher that finally caused me to learn to stop to witness my own hurt feelings and my own wounds, along with that of my children. Yoga teachers love to say, “to heal you must feel.” In the last year or so, I’ve read much about how healing tears and crying are to kids. In fact, tears are one way our body detoxifies all of us. So why are we so quick to try to stop our children’s tears? We are often far too ready to hand over an iPad, or a sugary treat to our children to get the tears to stop. A nurse even tried to hand J. a sucker after he had a bad blood draw this past spring. Don’t get me wrong; I used to do this too. But I am starting to think that one of our primary roles as a parent is to simply witness our children’s wounds. To witness and allow is enough. I am also teaching my youngest child, a four year old, to send love to his “ouches.” Stubbed toes provide a fantastic opportunity to practice.

This past week, I had the opportunity to witness both my oldest and youngest child’s wounds. On Sunday night, my daughter, who is almost the age I was one when I had her, phoned home from college in tears. I just listened to her cry for about five minutes before I could even understand her enough to know why she was crying. Her long-term boyfriend had just broken her heart, just a month before they graduated. Once I knew what had happened, I also knew that she needed those tears to get through to the other side of the pain and begin to heal. As much as I wanted to stop her pain, I knew that the best thing I could do was to listen patiently and tell her that it wouldn’t always feel this bad. By serving as her witness, she knew I was there for her and that I loved her.

Today, my youngest son exploded into tears when I picked him up from preschool. Before driving home, I assessed the situation the best I could and learned that his tears were not from a physical pain but an emotional hurt. I knew the tears would not be ending anytime soon and so I calmly strapped him into his car seat and drove home. He cried (and by cried, I mean, all out wailed) the entire fifteen-minute drive home. In the past, this would have really stressed me out. I might have even pulled the car over and insisted, “we’re not driving any further until you stop crying.” Instead, however, I just kept telling myself, “all you need to do is bear witness to his wounds–you don’t need to anesthetize his pain.”

When we got home, I was able to hold J. close in the rocking chair and tell him how much I loved him. I also told him I’d always love him and be there for him, no matter what happened. He eventually calmed down enough to tell me about how two other boys trapped him in a hula-hoop and wouldn’t let him out. One of the boys used to identify as my son’s best friend but has now switched his allegiance to the other boy involved. I was not sure whether my son was more hurt by the stress of losing his “best” friend or from a fear of being trapped. Either way, all I could do was love him and know that feeling our pain is the only way to get through it. Pain is a part of the human experience and the best thing I can do for my children is to allow them their pain and validate it, as I quietly bear witness to their sufferings.

Image

 

My dad shot this photo of Grandma O. getting off the Greyhound Bus, when she was visiting one spring in '77.

My dad shot this photo of Grandma O. getting off the Greyhound Bus, when she was visiting us in ’77.

That’s how my grandmother, Hydie Olson, signed all of her cards to me–“Love Grandma O.” I still have a box of birthday, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day cards sent to me by Grandma O. She died in the hospital not long after my 15th birthday. I am grateful for the 15 years I had with my Grandma O. and her presence remains with me to this day. When I was younger, we played a game called, “Author, Author.” I don’t remember much about the game, but I still remember the illustrations of famous authors on the cards. Perhaps it was merely a more sophisticated version of “Go Fish!” Grandma O. had a love of words that came through in her crossword puzzles, Scrabble games, and poetry. Because of Grandma O., I wanted to be an “author” (not writer) when I grew up. I felt that being a published author had been Grandma O’s unfulfilled destiny. Somehow I was born as her namesake to fulfill this destiny.

Today, as I watched my oldest child drive away from our house, on her way back to college, after this last spring break spent with us before she graduates in May, I was reminded of my Grandma O.  I remember our family of six pulling away from her curb, three across the front, three across the back courtesy of a bench seating system. I can still see Grandma O. waving goodbye from a metal screen door that had an “O” directly in the middle of it. I always felt so sad for Grandma O. as we drove away. “Who will play Scrabble with her?” I’d wonder. I understand it better now. It wasn’t so much about her loneliness, although my Grandpa Roy had died about ten years before she did, it was about the constant and abiding moments of leaving that make up a mother’s lifelong work of raising her kids. While it may start with the first day of day care or Kindergarten, it never really ends. So like the tide, this going out and coming back to you, loops and crashes one leaving to the next. Eventually, your children begin bringing things home from their time away; first school papers, later perhaps college boyfriends, spouses, even children someday. And always, no matter how long or how far, you gather your child and his or her life collections unto your shores and into your arms.

When they once again go back out, as they all must do, you wave at the door and wipe away tears–just a few–before you align yourself back with your typical daily routine. Perhaps Grandma O. would sit down over a cup of coffee and finish the daily cross word puzzle after we all had left, maybe with a date-filled cookie or “Grandma Roll,” both baked specially for our visit. Just as I sit here this morning by the fire, in a quiet house, with my cup of coffee and this blog. My love of words flowing into and out of all of the leavings that have already passed.

Much love to you, Grandma O.

This year has been a journey towards self healing because, as Anne Lamott says, the very best thing we have to offer our children is our own healing. I am still on this journey but intend to begin blogging about it soon. I used to view my healing journey as somehow separate and distinct from my parenting one. Now I am beginning to see these two paths overlap and intertwine like two lovers’ bodies.

Heidi at 43

In a very paradoxical, pathetic, natural way, we calm ourselves by worrying about others. And obsessing about others keeps us out of our own worry. Black-belt codependents like me use other people as a drug to keep from having to deal with our own aloneness or feelings or care about the world, so that instead of thinking about global warming, you can think about your children’s swim lessons—we think it’s all more manageable. The fact is, it keeps us stoned and worried in obsession. The very most profound thing we have to offer our children is our own healing. -See more at: http://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/anne-lamott-life-black-belt-codependent/page/0/1#sthash.8zbmQARB.dpuf

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Meredith OBrien

writer, educator, Red Sox fan

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