Wednesday, April 24, 2013

On Motherhood and Delusions of Grandeur. Or Just Delusions

When I was 17 years old, I had to have an EEG. It’s a procedure designed to specifically measure electrical activity in the brain. As always, my mother was by my side. They glued eight million electrodes to my hair and head. When they were finished, I remember the technician going on the other side of the glass with my mother and a nurse, staring at me, and saying “Ok, now sleep.” Not surprisingly, I found it more than a little difficult to nod off. After awhile, the nurse reappeared with a small cup of what looked like juice but tasted much sweeter. It was orange. It was incredibly Alice in Wonderland-esque. I swear in my mind’s eye it was even served by a rabbit in a top hat with a label on it that said, “drink me.” And drink it I did.

When I woke up, I remembered nothing. I looked particularly fun – like some sort of crazed medusa, the forgotten love child of Gene Shalit and Gene Wilder, if they’d mated, had a baby, stuck it’s finger in a light socket, and tried to give it a home permanent. I literally could not feel my feet. I felt like I was floating, but with heavy ankles. I had glue all over my head, an excessively dry mouth, and a remarkably shallow grip on the present reality. Naturally, the hospital sent me home.
As we walked through the parking garage, I remember I tripped over what seemed like my own ankles. Weird – why were they so heavy? Is this even possible? And then I started to laugh: a loud, shroom-induced, manic kind of laugh. I couldn’t stop myself. They had given me some sort of weird orange-y laughing medicine. I laughed so hard I actually wet my pants a little bit. And then I laughed some more. And there was my poor mother, quickly fumbling for her keys so she could shove her disheveled, gene shalit-esque daughter with glued hair, wet pants, and a snorty laugh into the family Buick as quickly as possible.

It was just past lunch time as we drove home and mom thought it would be a good idea to get something to eat. As we pulled into the deli parking lot, she quickly realized she was too embarrassed to eat lunch with me. Or even order takeout with me. So she left me laughing and talking to myself while she went inside. And when she returned with lunch, she found me just as she had left me, a snorting, gluey-haired hot mess. And then she turned to me and said what I assume most great mothers would say: “You look like an idiot. Shut up and eat your sandwich.”
I stopped laughing – just for a second – and looked up at her. And then I started to laugh again. And this time she did too. And we sat there laughing and snorting together in the deli parking lot with our sandwiches on our lap.

Now I’m sure you are wondering – why the hell is she telling me this?
Because I was thinking about this story as I walked through the pharmacy this morning, all adorned with aisle after aisle of lovely mother’s day cards with pink envelopes and flowers and filled with references to rosy cheeks and tender smiles, the pitter patter of feet and the sweetness and sanctity of motherhood. And not one of them would’ve said what I was feeling about my mother’s love today. It’s the card that doesn’t exist to the mom I can’t give it to. It would have read something like this:

 “Dear Mom, thank you for laughing with me. Even when I totally embarrassed you. Also, thank you for never forgetting the Jewish mom code of honor and remembering that even when your daughter doesn’t even know who or where she is, for g-d’s sake make sure she has something to eat. After all, you don’t want her to starve.”
Because it’s just what we do. We stand by them and love them. We’re embarrassed and proud, fearful and hopeful all at once. We laugh with them and at them. We feed them. We're mothers.

So happy almost mother’s day to her, and to me, and all of you.  And no matter what, don’t forget the sandwich.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Jonah

Soon, it will be my friend Jonah’s birthday. He will be turning 5. It seems so hard to believe because it feels like just yesterday that he and I met. I doubt he remembers that day very much.  But I do. I remember everything and nothing about it all at the same time.

It was a spring day. Not much unlike this one: warm but not hot. Bright, piercing sun. My mother had been in the hospital for what felt like a long time but probably wasn’t that long in reality. She had been moved to the ICU in just the past day or two. The ICU was dark: either literally or figuratively. I think it really was dark, not that it just felt that way. There were no sounds: no one talking. There was only the whirring and beeping of machines and this feeling of sickness that hung in the air. Hope might be found there, but it was stretched thin. It felt awfully hard to come by.
At the same time that my mother was upstairs in the ICU, one of my oldest and dearest friends was just a few floors down in the same hospital having her baby. I had no excuse not to visit. She was but four floors away. I took the elevator down. I remember the elevator doors opening and feeling startled because I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. It was sunlight streaming in from nearby windows. I heard voices and some laughter and the crying and cooing of new voices. There was some stillness, but not the kind that feels like there is no air or hope. The kind of stillness you find when you don’t want to wake a sleeping baby.

I walked into her room. My friend looked great – lovely as ever. She looked like a beautiful, strong, healthy new mom. It felt good to be around strength. I don’t remember who else was in there except her parents. They looked calm and strong and happy and proud. I wanted to wrap myself in it.
And then there was my friend Jonah. He was new and pink and wrapped tightly as all babies are and for just a minute, I held him. Even though my own baby at the time was just 4 months old, he felt like a giant next to this new little peanut. I wondered if Dylan had ever been this small, this feathery light. He smelled new. He felt peaceful. He was this new tiny light telling me that this is how it’s supposed to work. New beginnings you are eager to unwrap, goodbyes you don’t want to have. He was my reminder that there was life and sunshine and hope even in the darkest of places.

And the funny thing about my friend Jonah is he is still so much like that. He is silly and happy and funny. And if ever I am feeling down or less than sunny if I turn a corner and I see him there with that grin on his face, well I just know that he’s been sent yet again to remind me to buck up; that there will always be hard things to do, and that there will always be new beginnings to be had.
This past weekend was my mother’s yahrzeit. This is the date according to the Jewish calendar that marks her passing. As I said Kaddish (the mourner’s prayer), my heart felt heavy. But then the new week started and the weather warmed. I met my friend Jonah at the park. He flashed me his famous smile and told me a vintage potty joke that only a 5 year old boy can appreciate, and I remembered again that tiny pocket of hope he’d  sewn in my heart all those years back to remind me that life is good. Or more importantly just that life is. That I’m still here.

I was grateful for it. I was grateful for him. Happy Birthday Jonah.