Sunday, May 13, 2018

When the One You Called Mom and the One Who Calls You Mom Never Met: Reflections on Living the In-Between

My mother passed away 14 years ago, roughly two weeks before my only child entered this world. Was it rotten timing? Yes, it's never fun running around trying to find something to wear to a funeral at the last minute, especially when you're relegated to maternity clothes and are roughly the size of your first car. At eight and a half months into my gestation, I faced the very real possibility that my water would break as I stood in front of everyone I'd ever known and a handful of strangers. I stood on swollen ankles shoved into pumps like fence posts, praying the eulogy would be the only thing I delivered that day. 

Funerals make well-meaning people say the craziest things. 

"She looks so peaceful."
(She looks embalmed.)
"You're so brave."
(Brave is jumping out of an airplane; I was pushed.)
"Well, this was just a terrible time for her to pass."
(Yes, you're right. Why couldn't she have held on until Christmas?)

The recurring comment I received that blistering week in August, and continue to receive to this day, is lament over my unborn child not having the chance to know my mother. Although they've never met in the flesh, rest assured my daughter knows my mother. 

If the physical and personality attributes they share aren't enough, my sweet girl has been regaled with stories of her grandmother throughout her life that have left a lasting imprint upon her. Despite them passing in the revolving door of this hotel we call life, I've taken every opportunity to share stories, anecdotes, words of wisdom and a few tall tales about the woman we call "Grandmama." Ask my daughter from where she got her quick temper, her dimples or her love of sweets, and she'll proudly say "Grandmama." Ask her why we have cookbooks taking up space in our kitchen cabinet in the age of Pinterest and iPads and she'll tell you, "because those were Grandmama's." And, if you catch her on the right day, she might even wink and point out the irony since "Grandmama wasn't even that good of a cook."

Keeping family histories alive, even as cast members leave us, is critical to subsequent generations knowing who they are. Helping connect the dots from past to present ensures the future's tapestry will be tightly and beautifully woven. Passing along pearls of wisdom, insight and memories is a gift that, literally, keeps on giving and is the responsibility of those of us here in the "in between." I've done my best to make sure that just because these two ladies never met doesn't mean they don't know each other. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Training Day

My dog, Bailey, and I did some training yesterday. She taught me a pretty good lesson.

Bailey is your run-of-the-mill pound puppy, no one, discernible breed and full of street smarts and wariness.  We have no idea how old she is -- just how long we've had her. And in the five years she's lived with us, we've taught each other a lot of good lessons. For instance, we've taught her that humans can be kind, that she'll always have enough food and doesn't have to fight for it, and that cats aren't an indoor type of squirrel. She has shown us gratitude for second chances, unconditional love, and how to lick our feet.

When she first came to us, we spent money hiring a professional dog trainer to try to acclimate her to the real our world and she was taught basic commands such as "come," "sit," "stay" and "down." All of these are fine and dandy but I guess we needed a more advanced class for her with commands such as "don't bark relentlessly when someone is at the door and that someone lives here" and "just pee because every time we let you outside, we don't have 20 minutes for you to sniff every bush, plant, and blade of grass."

One command I've taught her over the years that I'm pretty proud of is "car." Here's how it works:  it starts with me parking in the driveway instead of the garage. I'd like to tell you it's because I had just unloaded a bunch of groceries or I had the wherewithal to park by the door in preparation for my imminent departure. The truth is sometimes I'm lazy and don't want to ascend the 17 steps from the garage into the house, so "car" is handy when I've done this and she gets to go for a ride. When it works well -- and it has -- I say "car," open the front door, she walks out and stands by the car waiting for me to open the door and she hops in. As we drive off, I pat myself on the back for being able to wrangle this wild creature's innate desire to run all over God's creation.

Then there are times it doesn't work as well. I say "car," open the front door, and she's run around the house and in the back yard or is two neighbors over or no where in sight. Then I have to walk all around the house and sometimes the neighborhood looking for her, calling for her, getting sweaty and getting mad.

Yesterday was going to be one of these type of days. The door opened and she was off like a flash, as if I hadn't said "car" at all. I debated what to do. I considered briefly just leaving. I was that mad. Then I decided, "no, I'll find her and take her back in the house and she won't get to go. That'll show her." Then I realized she probably doesn't have the capacity to understand bitter punishment, so I did something more rational.

I hopped in the car, drove around back, saw her head pop up out of a tuft of ornamental grass, lost all my senses, sat on the horn, then got out yelling like a banshee. "GETINTHECARWHATISTHEMATTERWITHYOUGETINTHECAR!!!!!!!"

Tail tucked, head down, she slunk back towards the car. As she neared, I made a grand gesture with my arm for her to "getinthecaryesthiscarwhatisthematterwithyou" and I grazed the door frame with my hand. We drove off with me steaming, my knuckle hurting, and her pouting in the passenger seat. When I examined my hand to see if I had, in fact, broken my finger in this episode, I saw a tiny cut and a stream of blood trickling its way down my hand.

At the first stop sign, I added some additional thoughts. "Every time the door opens, doesn't mean it's hunting season. Sometimes it just means it's time to go."

"You need to listen."

"You shouldn't run off like that."

She listened obediently.

By the first red light, she got an ear rub. By the third red light, she was sitting full upright, ears back in their normal "one up one down" position, and she was smiling.

And then I wondered to myself, "why was I so mad? She's a dog and she was just doing what dog's do -- running, sniffing, and whatever she does to my hostas." It was then that I realized just how silly my whole reaction and tirade had been. I pictured her scolding me for doing things that come naturally to me. "Why are you napping? Are those Oreos? Again? Seriously?"

Lesson learned.  Good girl.