I love you now as much as yesterday

Today is my mom’s birthday and I have to count to remember that she would have been 64 today.  I’m sure my dad has thought a time or two about Paul McCartney’s song “64” and that McCartney wasn’t with his first wife at that age either, although their separation was for much different reasons.

 

My mom would have sang it to my dad and they would have laughed and smiled together.

 

But most days I’m not dwelling on what it would’ve been like to have my mom with me anymore.  Most of the days I’m just enjoying my job at a high school that lets me get to know students instead of just teach them.  I’m settling into our new old house that my mother almost feels a part of because I know she would have loved all the intricate parts.  She would talk about the stained glass windows, wood floors and mantle pieces, and how “they just don’t make houses like they used to.” I’m appreciating time with Brandon and how he is such a perfect match for me.  This year for my birthday he made me feel so special with secret gifts and guests, just like my mom always used to.  I’ve been realizing that he helps make missing her less painful because he has so many parts of her personality in him.  Most days I’m getting to focus on building stronger relationships with my dad and brother.  There’s always a bright side that you can find in tragedy (something my mother taught all of us).  I’ve found a real relationship with my dad and a renewed closeness with my brother. Those things would make my mom so happy.  It makes it all better to know she would be so proud of all of us.

 

Most days now I don’t cry when I think of her.  Most times when I’m telling stories I’m laughing and happy to remember.  I feel grateful that so many people that I’ve met after my mom died have told me that they feel like they’ve met her just from the stories and pictures I’ve shown them.   It’s an honor to carry on her stories, to continue her legacy of optimism.

 

So, today when I feel sadness and grief come back I welcome them.  Grief no longer overwhelms me; now it reminds me of the gift that my mother was to all of us.

 

It’s a strange thing– this moving on and living life.  Sometimes I fear that as life continues I’m walking further and further away from the memories of my mother.  But today as I celebrate her I know that I don’t have to worry about losing her in that way.  I hear her voice through my brother when he tells me that mom would be proud of me for standing up for what I believe in, and for working to educate and elevate those experiencing poverty and oppression.  I feel her in the hugs from friends and coworkers who probably don’t even know that they remind me of my mother when they give that good squeeze.  I see her in my own blue hair that I wouldn’t have had the guts to get if I wasn’t able to tell myself, “my mom would LOVE this!”  And I hear her again and again in my head telling me she loves me.

 

Happy birthday mom.  I love you now as much as yesterday, and I always will.

 

 

Fireworks on the 4th

Not only did my mother love fireworks, she also loved to try and capture a good one with a photo. Usually they are pretty elusive, but my mom got a pretty good one in this shot here.
Not only did my mother love fireworks, she also loved to try and capture them with a photo. Usually they were pretty elusive, but she got a good one in this shot.

Two years ago today my mom sat in her wheel chair at MSUM’s Nemzek field.  A yearly ritual, we would park nearby, walk up to the stands, listen to the cover band play old American classics and wait for the lights to dim.  Once it was fully dark we would see the first reload shoot up with a “thwump”, a swirling smoke stream left in its wake, and then the first “pop” and “ahh” would echo the stands.  My mom was usually the loudest to “ooo” and “ahh”; sometimes a pop would sparkle so impressively she would start to clap.  She always remembered to tell us that the “palm tree” ones were her favorite—an opinion that I shared either because of her immense proselytization of their beauty and “awesomeness” or just because they really are the best and most awesome—I’ll never really be sure.

 

Two years ago was different though.  This time we sat on the side because my mother would never be able to make it up the steps of the bleachers.  We brought her walker/wheelchair and parked in the handicap spots about 100 meters from where we plopped our chairs on the grass.  It was still a great view and you could hear the music off the side of the bleachers.   My mother had wanted to go and had rallied a significant amount of energy just to make it to this unorthodox spot.  We talked about small things that I can’t remember much until the fireworks began. After the first pop or two it wasn’t an “ooo” and “ahh” that I heard, but a remark filled with knowledge and sadness, “I just keep thinking—long pause—that these are the last fireworks that I’ll see.”

 

And right away I quipped back with a, “You don’t know that mom.  You might be able to see them next year.  Things could get better like they have before!” But, she did know and had grasped something remarkable that few of us get to experience.

 

What would it be like to see fireworks with eyes that knew they were the last you’d ever see?  What would it be like to be aware that it was the end?  Even in old age it’s rare to know exactly when you’re going to go.  How good and bad and overwhelming and peaceful would it feel to get to say goodbye to someone with finality?

 

My mother, in her brown wig with highlights and her uncomfortable walker/wheelchair sitting outside the Moorhead football field, knowing this would be it; “ooo” and “ahh” she continued after we both let the comments be forgotten.  “These palm tree ones are my favorite.  I always love the way they sparkle.”

 

Me too mom.  And I still do.

The Two Home Syndrome

Sometimes I tell people I have two homes:  one, a city, and the other, a family.  I never wanted to move back to Fargo; it makes me feel like my mind is in a box and I should marry my high school sweetheart and settle down with 2 and a half kids.  To my mother, it is a happy place, a place full of friends and love and smiles.

 

My mother moved to Fargo with her family in the 8th grade from Deerlodge Montana. She talked with me about how she made a small group of girlfriends that would laugh and be silly with each other; inciting the reprimand of a few teachers more than once (I did that too!).  She kept these same girlfriends through high school and even into college, as she stayed in Fargo to double major in Early Childhood Development and Chiropractic at NDSU, living at her parents’ place for the most of it.  It wasn’t until she was 22 that she left the city in order to attend Northwestern Chiropractic College in Minneapolis.

And then, my parents moved back here; a newly married couple wanting to start their dual practice.  It made perfect sense to move back to this quieter community, buy the practice and the house from her dad, and start the set up of a little family, a little office, and a little home.

Although she thought of other places (my dad tells me at age 26 she dreamed of moving to the breathe-taking Coeur d’Alene, Idaho), Fargo always made sense to my mother.  Even if she was not one to follow rules or social expectations, she was one to follow her heart. In Fargo she would raise a family and know her kids would be safe, she could find a church and develop a relationship with a spiritual community, she would know the grocery stores, shopping malls, cheapest places to find wine, and would never have to go too far to find a friend (or make a friend) to laugh with.

Even though she did entertain how grand it would be to move out of the house that also held her late childhood, once we were born I never heard her consider leaving the city.  It is as if they had an unmentioned bond with no need to challenge its worth.

So, when I moved away and didn’t come back…I know it was hard for my mother.  When something is hard for the mother you respect and adore than that something is hard for you too.  I don’t think we ever truly understood the love that each one of us had for our cities. Each time my mother would visit me in Philadelphia (5 times all together?) I could hear her straining to be positive, always picking out the nice things she could say, before something she didn’t like would slip out.  To her, Philadelphia was rude, dirty, big, and scary.  She loved the trees and really genuinely tried to see the rocks as gems, but sometimes people just don’t like the same things.  She wanted her quiet, friendly Fargo; I wanted my rude, authentic Philly.

 

That’s where I found myself in the summer of 2014 as I visited my home in Philadelphia but missed my home, my mother, in Fargo:  home and homesick–permanently torn in alternative directions.

But it should be easier for me now, because I’ve grown used to the tension.  No matter where I go she will never be there, but also now she always will.

 

Home with no more far away.

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)  –E. E. Cummings

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