In my dream last night, my mother was– once again — as she was when she was ‘herself.’ For those of us who suffer the horrors of Alzheimer’s, this is no small feat. It was years after my mother’s death before I saw her as this picture shows her, and not as a skeletal shadow, silent in a bed far too large for her.
I don’t dream about my parents — or any of my much-missed departed — very often. But last night, my mother & I were at a dear friend’s house in Hawai’i, and my mother was her once-upon-a-time ebullient self, charmed by bright flowers and umbrella drinks. And my friend J’s 2-bedroom villa w/ lanai, surrounded by papaya and orange and lemon trees, somehow became a huge mansion, w/ suites for many visitors. Each room filled w/ people I know and love, almost none of them family.
I met my friend J through her daughter, one of my dearest friends. I’m actually smack dab between them — about 15 years up/down from each. So I don’t think of J as a mother figure. I do think of her home, however, as one of those rare places where I was immediately comfortable, and didn’t worry EVER about ‘being myself.’ And yes, you heard correctly: I ‘t feel that way only very rarely. And almost always only w/ family.
Digression: I believe in dreams. Whether you think they come from some ‘source’ (in which case my family would call them visions), or from deep inside our own complex knowings, I believe they speak truth to us. So when I woke up, recalling that my mother, in this dream, looked just like me when she turned away, I wondered what I needed to learn.
I know I’m at risk for Alzheimer’s. All four of us — my three sisters and I — live an uneasy truce w/ this knowledge. I’ve told my husband & sons my wishes should I progress badly, as my mother did.
That didn’t seem to be the root of this dream. I am a lot like my mother, and I don’t always acknowledge this. As with even the best of mother/daughter relationships (and ours was very very good), there are aspects of my mother I really don’t want to replicate. So some of my dream is acceptance of my own flightiness, my love of frivolous material objects (tea sets, charm bracelets, nice linens…). My dislike of confrontations, my silliness w/ children & animals.
But what about Hawai’i? And J? And my friend S, her daughter? What about the big house on the small island? What’s the point I’m supposed to get??
Dreams don’t speak linear logic. They have a language best listened to when you’re half asleep, obviously. So I’m trying to feel my way back to the centre of my dream, like Hansel & Gretel following white stones in the dark. Feeling their way home.
And what I think is this: when I woke up, I missed my mother. Desperately. Because your mother will always love you. She’s loved you through diapers, through bad report cards, through teenage and bad choices and her own decline. Even at the end (and maybe after…?), she loves you. And your politics — that in my case are so tightly wound through every thread of my beliefs — are fine w/ her. As they are w/ J & S, who loved me before I even knew it.
The other people in the house? The same. And that’s saying a LOT, because it was a big-ass house! 🙂
Seriously — I think my dream may well have been that simple. I miss my mother. Often. Because she loved me. And we all need that. Even grown-up grandmothers, whose own kids make fun of her deep love of them.
If you still have even a tiny shadow of your mother, grab her. Wrap your arms around her and inhale her, the way we do babies. She won’t last forever. But the love will.
I think there should be a National Day of Whining. And yes, I know there’s a National Whiners Day (Boxing Day — December 26th — what’s up w/ that??). But it’s not the same. I don’t want to be a whiner. I want to whine. There is a (possibly subtle, but real) difference.
I’m not interested in whining all the time — I realise it’s pretty unattractive. But here’s the problem: it’ soooo satisfying when you’re doing stuff you don’t want to do. Like, say, sweeping up the weeding debris. Or unloading the groceries. I mean, here you are: hot & sweaty from the weeding and the pruning and then… You have to go get a bag, and stuff this junk into it?? Whine.
Or, you have to mess w/ the long line at the grocery store, trying to figure out (yet again) what you can make that everyone will eat, and you finally get home after being stuck in traffic behind a noxious-fuming whatever. And then? Unload the groceries and put them away. When all you want to do is sit down, put your feet up, and drink sweet tea that someone else made and handed you.
Can you tell today was a day full of chores? Including (in case you didn’t get the hint) weeding, pruning, & grocery shopping. Grocery shopping where I FORGOT the tomato for tonight’s BLT dinner. Which meant that AFTER I put up the groceries, I had to make the meatloaf I was going to make tomorrow.
Even folks working on their enlightenment should get a day off occasionally. I can see nothing valuable about whining, I confess. Except for this: it sure makes me feel better. 🙂
I was reminded today healing happens, but it takes time. More than a week ago, I cut my finger pretty badly. I think the verb I used was ‘clove,’ since I whacked it w/ my brand-new cleaver.
As you can see, it’s pretty much back to normal. A little tender, needing some attention now & then to make sure it doesn’t get bumped, but no more double BandAids and Neosporin.
I’m sure you can tell where I’m going with this… 🙂
The problem w/ a blog is that you often want to write about your life, or the lives of those whose lives touch and colour our own. And you can’t, in good conscience, always do that. Privacy and confidentiality are gifts we give our loved ones. But I struggle, when I don’t know what to do or say to family and friends who are suffering.
So the reminder — via my poor finger! — that time alone can heal some injuries is welcome. It’s not what I tell people when they hurt (it can sound pretty cold, if you’re hurting), but it comforts me, at least. When I don’t know what to do for people I love, and I can’t ask others for help? I breathe, as my son says in his own blog. I practice tonglen, offering up my own confusion and unhappiness for my friends & family.
It often doesn’t feel like enough — just like the double BandAids didn’t satisfy my poor guilt-ridden sister when I cut my finger. But it’s suprisingly effective. It just needs time. And we have far more of that than we pretend.
I often think that old hippies — those of us who were in it for the peace & love, not the sex, drugs, rock&roll — became teachers. Because that’s what the teachers I know believe in: peace & love.
Peace between kids, parents, teachers. Between the administration of a school and its district. Between those districts and their state government. Between all the ‘us’ and ‘thems’ of the world.
And love, most certainly. Love for our vulnerable babies, of whatever ages: from one to 100. They all seem like babies, when they count on you for affirmation and learning. Teachers may well be the original hippies… 🙂
Seriously, folks — I spent the past few days with teachers. Some of the nation’s finest (leaders at a National Writing Project site), all of whom GAVE UP a summer weekend, when they could have been swimming, or boating, or eating ice cream somewhere cool, w/ a summer book to hand. Instead? They were sitting in uncomfortable chairs in a sterile college classroom, reading and sharing research on how students learn to write argumentatively.
They did this for DAYS, folks. Because they love our kids. Yours, mine, ours. Their political beliefs are all over the place, as are their spiritual paths. But their love for our kids unites them in this singular project: a belief that if we all work together — teachers teaching teachers, the mantra of the National Writing Project —we can change classrooms. We can find ways to penetrate the despair so many teachers feel when confronted w/ too many students, too little time, no help at all, and impossible expectations.
I’m telling you: for these past few days, I’ve sat in a room of warriors. English teachers, elementary teachers, university professors, high school teachers, literacy coaches, special education teachers. Each battling against a culture that says teachers are responsible for what’s wrong with education. NOT systemic poverty, or broken families, or inadequate funding (Oklahoma, for instance, has cut funding for schools more than any state in the country — 22.8% since 2008).
Still, my friends and colleagues fight on. This war takes the shape of words on pages, books of research. Weekends spent figuring out new ways to ‘hook’ kids on reading, on literacy. Ways to reinvigorate exhausted colleagues who have 155 kids needing daily writing that must be read. Evaluated. Graded. Recorded. And then begun all over again.
You wonder, sometimes, why they do this (even they do, on bad days). Because they believe in peace & love, remember? And they know that education is the way for most of our kids to achieve that. They also know that while this mess education is in is NOT the fault of teachers, it’s teachers who are on the front lines, shielding our children (sometimes literally, as Sandy Hook should remind us). Feeding our children on their dreams, as the song says.
I’m a writer, and I find it difficult to convey how humbling it is to listen to teachers who have their own hectic lives, often second jobs (Oklahoma teachers are some of the poorest paid in the country), spend a weekend talking about their profession. About how they can accommodate the new demands of technology, federal & state mandates (which change with the prevailing political territory, often irrespective of research). About reading, writing, and literacy. About education reform. And about peace, and love. And teaching our children.