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Twenty years ago I learned a veritable tome of lessons, some of which I’m just learning now, and it seems unbelievable to me that I can look back at anything in my life knowing it happened twenty years ago.  My mom taught me a lot about life while she was alive, and I’ve mentioned that before.  She taught me compassion, strength, and determination.  She taught me to seek adventure and levity in everything, to make people laugh whenever you can, and to live and love with all your heart no matter how scary the world feels.  She taught me to trust my instinct and eschew advice that doesn’t feel right.  She taught me to be myself.

What my mother’s death taught me was open honesty.  You never know when the last time you say “I love you” or “good morning” or “good night” will be the last.  It’s made me vulnerable at times, and I’ve had to learn to accept when it’s not reciprocated, but hey, another lesson, right?

But you see, it also taught me some less than positive lessons.  At twelve years old I was already well aware that I was different.  I didn’t have many friends, my anxiety and depression were already in full swing, and I’d already thought about suicide more times than I can remember now.  I needed help, and I was constantly told I was wrong, broken, or worse…that I was fine.  I was fat, I was slow, and I was constantly missing the mark.  At twelve I had already had at least one nervous breakdown, I was scared of losing everyone I loved, and I had been proven correct.  At twelve I discovered my intuition and empathy in the worst way, and I hated it, so at twelve I learned to hide.  I learned to expect the worst.  I learned to expect to be alone.  I learned that change is terrifying.  I learned to build walls, and forgot all those lessons about love and life and laughter.

When I started the Power of One it was immediately pointed out to me that when I’m uncomfortable or anxious I smile.  It’s a skill I developed at a very young age, but I imagine I perfected it at my mother’s funeral.  Since then it became a crutch I used to get me through parts of my life I felt I could not navigate, and it began to cloud the genuine me.  I’ve been lucky enough to have people in my life who could see through the fog and find that genuine me, but for most of my life I haven’t been able to see her myself.  I’ve merely been relying on the testaments of others who tell me they see her, like a fairy tale buried deep inside me.  As the lessons from my mother started to actually take root and as my intuition and empathy refused to be ignored, life got harder, and the more I stayed inside my walls the more the fires outside tried to cook me out. I tried to let myself be vulnerable…to the wrong people at the wrong times.  I tried to be happy…all the time, and ended up holding in the pain and sadness until I couldn’t, resulting in some pretty spectacular meltdowns.   I tried to be strong and independent…and all I did was feel more like a failure.

In the year since I seriously started putting effort into my transformation, I’ve worked on being open without being overbearing, happy without using it to cover up when I’m not, and to know when I can be strong alone and when I need to reach out for help. Not all has gone according to plan, but if my mom’s death taught me none of this other bullshit, it taught me that life doesn’t care about your plans, and unpredictability brings as much serendipity as it does tragedy, and the only control I really have is how I choose to react to it, process it, and move on with my life.    Losing my mother was not the first tragedy I’d faced in my life, but it was the first one I felt like I was facing alone.  The truth is, every situation we face in life we face alone, even if we have the strongest support system on earth, because we’re the only ones who can do the internal work it takes for real survival…and real living.

 

Love you, Mom.  Thanks for still teaching me.  after all these years.

 

Go now, keep learning..keep living….

Aloha.

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My mother passed away right about that time in a girl’s life when she needs a mother’s guidance.  While there have been innumerable women in my life who have taken me in as their own, there are still some doubts only a mother can quell, some thoughts only a mother can understand, and some decisions only a mother can support.  In the beginning I stumbled, but in the last few years I have learned from my mother in ways I never thought imaginable.  My faith and my memories of her have allowed me to connect with her in ways I had never noticed before.  The part of her that lives inside me teaches and inspires me every day, and every time I look back on a moment in my life when she made an impression on me I smile and remind myself how much I have become who she was shaping me to be all along.  These are the things I have learned from my mother…

  • Smile no matter how much it hurts.  No matter how sick my mother felt or how much pain she was in she very seldom let it show.  She was always present with a smile or a joke, even when she was in the hospital or having a bad day at home.  The thought of her smile the last time I saw her got me through a lot of rough points in my life, most poignantly the two-year illness that left me close to home bound.  I tried every day to remember a reason to smile, and that may have been the only thing to bring my family through the struggle.
  • Stand tall no matter how short you are.  At four-feet and change my mother stood a good head shorter than most people around her, yet she never backed down from anything she deemed important.  Her family meant the world to her, and she would never let anything happen to any of us.  She taught me to be confident in my decisions and strong in my beliefs.  She taught me that sometimes you have to be a little harsh, and she reminded me that it is perfectly acceptable to say “no” sometimes.  When I forget the impossibility of pleasing everybody and the reality that sometimes the facts make people unhappy no matter how nicely I deliver them, this lesson comes back to me sharply.
  • Greet everyone with an open heart.  The house in which I grew up had an extra room in the basement that was larger than my first couple apartments.  There were very few times when there wasn’t someone living in that room.  Whenever a friend, relative, or someone she stumbled across needed a place to stay, my mom would open up our home to make sure they had somewhere to go.  If they were hungry they would join us for dinner.  If they had kids who needed clothes, we would offer things I didn’t need.  No matter who or what it was, my mom was always there to help where she could.  She taught me a lot about giving and not taking what I have for granted, and when I feel like I have lost everything, I remember that I still have everything I need.
  • There is very little a disability can keep you from if you are determined.  Though my mom was blind, there were very few things it stopped her from achieving.  She taught at a local community college, learned to play the piano, bowled, and played Frisbee.  She could sew, cook, and somehow managed to know everything I thought I could get away with.  With a little determination and creativity she found ways to get and do what she wanted, and that fact inspires me every day.
  • There is no truth in fear or doubt.  My mom loved rollercoasters, thrill rides, and acts of sheer nerve.  She wore stiletto heels and miniskirts, and never apologized for it.  She told me once the way to overcome fear or doubt was not to show you have any.  If it doesn’t appear to exist, eventually it won’t.  There are times in my life when I’ve been terrified of the next step, times when I’ve had no idea what to do or how to keep going forward.  It’s these times when I strap on my mental stilettos, but on a confident face, and pretend I have any clue what I’m doing.
  • The light is always there, even if you cannot see it.  Barring that, make your own light.  My mom required the light on to be able to do her makeup.  She also did it in front of the mirror.  Part of it was force of habit from when she had sight.  The rest was merely a comfort.  She knew the light was there.  It made her feel more at ease.  Just after the 1989 earthquake, the bay area had no power for days.  At the time we had someone staying with us, and he remarked that he couldn’t eat in the dark.  My mom’s response was, “make your own light, or starve”.  Like many things that sustain us, just because we can’t see the sun, the stars, or the light within never means it doesn’t exist.  We must find it…or starve.
  • Money does not make the (wo)man.  One of the greatest skills I’ve learned from my mother is how to look, eat, and live like a millionaire on a scrap budget.  It may require a little effort, but it isn’t impossible to be happy or healthy with any budget.  Life is never about having everything we want, it’s about wanting everything we have.  Decisions, choices, and priorities.  Family, love, and experiences.  These things are what make us rich.  With a little ingenuity we can look good and eat well, too.

This post was supposed to come on Mother’s Day, but sometimes life takes priority to writing.  That’s the last of the lessons I’m going to share today.  Things will happen when they’re supposed to, not when you think they should.  Thanks, Mom.  After all these years you are still always right.

Go, now, listen to your mothers.

Aloha.

I would’ve posted this yesterday, but there is no wi-fi on the river.  Every year on the anniversary of my mother’s crossing over I try to find something to do, not only to keep my mind distracted but to honour my mother and who she was.  My mother was blind, but she never let it stop her from doing anything she wanted to do.  She worked teaching computers to the blind, she bowled, she played frisbee, and she rode roller coasters.  She cooked like a chef, cleaned like a professional, and sewed little neck scarves for a local pet grooming store for extra cash.  She sold Tupperware, collected Princess House Crystal, and never broke a single piece.  She could give you directions or recipes from the top of her head, and never missed an opportunity for a laugh or a practical joke.  My mother was never disabled or handicapped; she simply adapted.  I make it a point not to let the memories of her loss cripple me.  Instead I use the day to try something new, enjoy what life has to offer, and do it in her memory.

This year I’m injured, which limited my options for new experiences.  After two years of invisible illness following three months with a broken tailbone, I’m growing somewhat weary of being limited.  Hubby, however, had a plan.  His idea was to take a rafting trip down a stretch of the Schuylkill River.  This particular stretch was mellow enough for us to take the other couple in our household’s two-year old, so it would be fine for a cripple like myself.  Early yesterday afternoon we loaded the inflatable raft into the water with a cooler of beer and soda.  We then roped two gallons of drinking water and three inner tubes to the back of the float, and we were good to go.  Once launched I spent most of my day in one of the tubes while the boys camped in the raft with the beer.  hey made sure we didn’t drift or get snagged on anything, and I was left to enjoy the sun, water, and peace on the river.  No phones, no computers, no worries.

On our first stop along the shore we can across a still pool full of shells and river rocks.  While the boys had a bonding moment on the shore, I sat in the pool and felt the river.  I could feel it moving just feet away as it flowed past me.  I moved out of the pool and felt the water passing through and around me in a fluid embrace, and each drop that touched my skin had something different to say.  After a few moments a piece of seaweed passed by and caught itself in my hand, dancing through my fingers, and we played for a while before it was time to head back to the waters carrying us down the river.

For someone with no water signs in her chart at all, I have always connected the most and communicated the easiest with water.  As a healer and someone who generally follows my heart and intuition before anything else, water has always come naturally to me as the element easiest to access, whether or not I’m actually near a body of water.  Luckily for me I grew up in California not to far from either the Santa Cruz coastline or the San Francisco Bay.  There were other bodies of water close to me, but those were always the ones we drove to as a kid.

When my father and I started camping together along the Stanislaus River I realized that rivers, more than oceans, were a better fit for me.  I would sit for hours while he fished just being one with the river. I learned a lot about peace, persistence, and calm strength from the river.  I learned control and connection to my own energies.  I learned to use that of the world around me.  Those trips, more than anything else, made me a better witch and a more peaceful person.  Yesterdays trip reawakened that calm within me.  I haven’t been on a river that way in almost a decade, and it was something my body, mind, and spirit were all missing to be whole again.    I don’t think Hubby has had a better plan since “let’s get married”.

What better way then to honour the woman who gave me life than to re-awaken all the parts within me and actually feel alive again?  How long have I been existing this way?  Who have I been lately?  I certainly have not completely been myself.  Yes, there have been moments when I have felt alive and vibrant, but even then it was a temporary condition.  Even then it was a synthetic reproduction of actually being whole.

The river reminded me of my place here in the world.  I am a healer and a  facilitator.  I am constantly moving, constantly changing, constantly shaping.  I have still places, and I have rapids.  I am strong.  I am fluid.  I am adaptable.  I am not always what I appear to be on the surface, and if I am respected and treated well I will embrace and support those who love and understand me.

I am my mother’s daughter, and if yesterday taught me anything it was how much I am like her.  One of Hubby’s biggest issues with me lately it that I hinder myself.  He’s right, I say “I can’t” a lot, even if I know I can.  This is not how my mother raised me.  This is not a value she instilled in me.  I have spent the last fourteen years wondering if she would be proud of the person I have become, and I have been driven to make sure she would.  Yesterday I finally felt that peace.  Yesterday I felt that she was not above me looking down and watching but inside me smiling at the ways I continue to grow and learn.  I have never been as at peace with being without my mother as I was yesterday.  I know there will still be days when it’s tough, but I think I’m moving closer to knowing that I can always look deep within myself for the guidance I need, the guidance she instilled in me years ago.

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