Saturday, September 15, 2012

What We Take With Us

My mother used to say that every time she saw chickens she thought of me. As an afterthought, she would add how much she hated chickens. This didn't happen once. It happened repeatedly. "Every time I see chickens, it just makes me think of you. Ug, I hate chickens!" It made me laugh every single time. One time I repeated it to her verbatim. A horrified look crossed her face as the she heard those two ideas side-by-side for the first time. "I suck. I am so sorry!" I laughed and explained that I understood. I loved my chickens. She saw chickens and thought of my love for chickens, then the thought of how much she hated chickens. A perfectly logical thought progression.

Recently, I've been thinking of my mom every time I see oleander. I loathe oleander. It's pokey and huge and poisonous. Terrible to try to eradicate. But my mom loved it because her mom loved it. It thrives in drought, a bright spot the drab brown of our Northern Californian summers. But man, I hate that stuff.

At the beginning of August, my yvil sister and I buried my mother's ashes. Y had collected a batch of little trinkets to bury with her, the dogs' name tags, little charms with all of our birthstones, a rainbow girls thing-a-ma-bobber, and a Starbucks latte, prepared just the way my mom liked. I brought nothing.

She placed the plastic box of ashes in the hole and scattered her meaningful trinkets over and around the box, and wedged the latte in there. I went to the edge of the cemetery, picked some oleander blossoms, and placed them on top of the other things. They were lovely: poisonous, pokey and lovely.

They reminded me of my mom, of my relationship with my mom. Are there two different ways of looking at something? We'd take opposite stances. Sometimes that could get a little impassioned, hating something the other person loved. But always we loved each other, even when we were so angry (or hurt) we could hardly speak to each other.

When we had only days left, did we talk oleander or chickens? No. At the beginning of the end, when her capacity for speech was really winding down, she had one thing to tell meI love you. When she was signing Christmas cards, she could hardly write her name, but she wrote IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou all joined together. She loved me. She hated chickens, homeschooling, attachment parenting, home birth, and the Mormon church, but she loved me. In the end, that love was all that mattered.

Friday, September 14, 2012

What We Bring With Us

Yesterday, Jacob's math teacher called home. I was rather surprised that anything Jacob did would warrant a call home. He's kind of perfect at school. In fact, that is what the call was about. A kind teacher called to tell me that my son was acing his AP Calculus assignments, that he was well-behaved, and insightful, an asset to the class. Needless to say, I love hearing that. I should probably write her a thank you note. 

There is nothing in Jacob's genetic make-up that would give him a natural edge in math. Certainly, his elementary teacher was only middling in math and not enamored of it. (In fact, my limitations as a math teacher are why Jacob chose to attend public school as a sophomore. "Math books and CDs only explain it one way, Mom.") Neither nurture nor nature should have produced my math boy, but Jacob has excelled from the very beginning. He has both love and aptitude for the subject. This talent as much as anything else convinces me that children developed as individuals with their Father in Heaven prior to their birth.

It's interesting to see how the attributes that my children showed so early on are developing. Elaine was an observant baby. She watched people, listened to them, absorbed. Now she is one of the most insightful people I know. She notices nuances in people's words and body language. She finds people fascinating. I always ask her to tone-check sensitive emails (things that might easily blow up) before I send them off. Invariably, she catches subtext. Not surprisingly, psychology is the field that fascinates her. Gifts. 

My husband is a talented musician. From the time he was a wee child he knew he wanted to play the trumpet. Nothing in his family would have taken him that direction. It just was part of him. His family thought he was just being a kid and it would pass. When he was five, they gave him a toy trumpet which was greeted with joy, quickly followed by disgust as he realized that it was a fake. Seven years later his parents got him the real thing and a teacher, a great teacher. Music still feeds his soul.

I myself was a born reader. My mom tells the story of finding me teaching the neighborhood kids to read when I was four. No one taught me to read. I had "Sesame Street," "The Electric Company," and a gift from God. My Natalie similarly began to read early with very little instruction. Just a gift and a passion.

I love this stanza from Wordsworth's Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood.

 Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
          The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
              Hath had elsewhere its setting,
                And cometh from afar:
              Not in entire forgetfulness,
              And not in utter nakedness,
          But trailing clouds of glory do we come
              From God, who is our home:

At one point, I believed I would shape my children to be what they ought to be. Now, I know better. Yes, I do influence them, but they are vehemently their very own selves, formed before they gained physical bodies. I'm blessed to be able to watch them blossom into those selves.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

In Which I Attempt to Convince Myself of a Truth

Yesterday, I was feeling yucky. I looked up at my daughter and said, "I don't know what's wrong with me. I just feel so bad."

"You're kidding, right?"

"No, what happened? Oh . . . right."

Then I remembered what I'd been distracting myself from all week. Something yucky had happened, something that blew me out of the water, something I didn't want to deal with. And I buried it. Under distractions: being busy, being mom, watching SciFi, reading everything I could get my hands on. It worked, I forgot the problem. I was sort of dazed this week, unable to concentrate, and whenever I got a minute and my mind began to focus on the issue, I shoved myself head-first into something that would make my thoughts SHUT UP.

Distraction worked and it didn't work. The pain was still there. My subconscious was picking at the scab. I had symbolic nasty nightmares all week. I still felt like crap; I just wasn't as sure why.

I know I need to write. Some people need to run. Or to paint. Or to dismantle a car engine and put it back together. I need to write. Writing is the way my brain processes yuck, takes my issues, those chaotic feelings, and forms them into sense. Then my psyche lets the problem go. When my thoughts threaten to drown me, if I write them out then I clarify those thoughts, work through them. I have a journal entry or a bad poem or blog post instead of free-floating anxiety. Seems like a fine idea.

But I've been avoiding writing. Because the clarity hurts. Writing hurts. But after I write, the things stop killing me. My subconscious lets them go. When I wrote about my mom's death I sobbed through the process. I sobbed as I read the post twenty times, then I moved on. The nightmares stopped. I could think about what happened in passing without being thrown back into the situation. There's hundreds of instances on my blog, in my journals, in my correspondence of times when this process has happened.

With distraction, I feel better in the short run. With writing, I feel better in the long run.  Like exercise and good nutrition, like getting enough rest, like the golden rule, like reading the scriptures daily, the easy way is the wrong way. And not easier. Truly.