Today Made Me Cry

Today I was at the courthouse, waiting for a hearing. As I sat in the hall, a line of about 40 nine to ten-year-olds formed and then filed past me.
 
A girl next to me, who was aging out of the system, said, “That’s the line of new foster kids. They just got taken from their families and are waiting for a judge to find out what to do with them. I remember being in that line. You have no idea what is going to happen to you.”
 
I looked at her, and she looked me right in the eye and said, “That feeling is the worst feeling in the world.”
As I watched that line move through the courtrooms, and I watched those kids be processed into the system, I believed her.
These were kids. Little kids. They looked sick with worry. Some of them were holding hands. They were strangers, but they were alone and needed a hand to hold.
I wanted to promise each one that things were going to be okay and that they were going to make it through everything about to come. But I know the odds are stacked against them. And I know when you’re ten, you don’t have a lot of control, and can’t protect yourself.
A different part of the morning, I stood in Juvenile Hall with Maybe. We were waiting for a meeting and were looking at the art on the walls. All of it was made by the kids there, and almost every piece had the word “pain” incorporated into it. There was a picture a boy had drawn of his head. The top was flipped open and you could look down into his brain. Inside it was a maze, filled with traumatic images, and above it all was the word “Confused.”
A girl had drawn a gorgeous portrait of herself crying; she’d made herself look old. Another boy had drawn only half his face. Another kid drew a heart pumping out yellow toxins.
I had been toting Maybe around for a couple hours already, so took a seat while I waited. A twelve-year-old boy with casts on his body and a GPS attached to his ankle sat down next to me.  I swear, this kid looked like any other twelve-year-old. He smiled at me and I smiled at him and we sat there together watching Maybe wander back and forth pointing to things and babbling.
A lot of boys that age see a baby and couldn’t care less. But this one seemed really really glad to be sitting down watching a baby toddle around. He kept smiling at her and waving. He told me she was super cute. I don’t think you get to see a lot of babies when living in Juvenile Hall. I was glad we happened to be there at the same time as him, because he was a kid, and he should smile every once in awhile.
I overheard a lot of things today as I waited for meetings and court rooms. Things the outside world would never talk about are thrown out in the Juvenile Court hallway like it’s nothing. I saw a lot of troubled faces.
I had been waiting for this court date for months, and the lawyers and judges made what I thought was the best decision for Maybe. As we drove home I felt guilty for not being happy and relieved. I wanted to feel a nervous weight taken off my chest, but instead I could only feel sore and helpless.
I wanted to be cheerful, but I cried.
Because I know that those nine-year-old boys I saw waiting in line, who looked tiny and scared and lost, are going to be the twelve-year-old boy I meet three years later in Juvenile Hall, still looking tiny and scared and lost.
And I’m just me. I can’t do anything about it. I can’t take 40 kids home and make sure they all eat vegetables and watch clean movies and get a homemade treat every day.
And as dumb as it sounds, that hurts.
And there is no beautiful way for me to describe how powerless I feel in the face of all the terrible things that happen.
I feel like that crack — the one that runs through my heart — broke open a little wider today.
And I just want to tell all those kids that I am sorry I can’t fix this for them.

Nefelibata

My Josephine,

nefelibataI learned a new word today. It’s Portuguese: “Nefelibata.” Literally, it means cloud walker.

But as soon as I read it, I knew what it meant.

It meant you.

You are deep and spacious. You seldom anchor yourself to physical reality; instead, you enjoy flying off to your own magical inventions. There are times when I stand over the kitchen sink, or I wait for you at the carpool lane, and I see you going there. Your eyes become soft and your mouth opens in slight wonder. And I feel a nostalgia, and a longing to go there with you. I wish I could forget my place and go off with you on some grand adventure in the sky.

But I can’t follow you to where you go, as much as I might want to. Do not worry, though; I have a strong consolation — when you come back to me and tell me your tales of all the things you did in the clouds. When I hear you talk about purple hands crawling like spiders, or about people who cry and sing at the same time, or about girls who ride tigers through jungles, I feel filled. I imagine you in those places, and I know that it is where you belong.

I know it can be hard for you, to stay in a math lesson, to stay in the task of your chores, to stay in the sheet music on the stand, but I want you to know you have a gift.

In some ways it makes you a little different; it makes things a little difficult, but that’s okay.

You’re doing great.bc3b9ca8b9f366332878f6b364939339

It is not always easy for a little girl to live with the soul of a bird.

My Jo. My spark of magic in every day life. Promise me you will never give up on your clouds.

Like every mother, I wish I could keep from you the things that inevitably happen in human reality. But, like every mother, I can’t.

Hard things will come to you. Illness and loss will make their home with you. Tragedy only takes time.

There is no way to hold the world at bay.

But I believe in you and the special gifts you hold. And I know that you are strong, and creative, and full of purpose. And I hope that you know there is us – the small army of family and friends who cheer for you, support you, and have never lost faith in your abilities.

If I could give to you what I have learned from my own battles, I would. But I know that is something you have to do on your own. And I also know you will learn things I will never know.

But promise me, please, my static girl, that you will always remember I love you, and that I could never stop loving you, no matter what.

This letter might not make a lot of sense to you now. It might make you want to throw up in a few years. I hope that one day, you will pick it up and understand it’s meaning.

But until that day . . .

unnamedFor now, you are six. You wear pants, a dress, and a skirt to school. You have your hair cut short because you cannot be bothered by extra nuisances. You sing your own compositions in the shower, you think all creatures are magnificent and beautiful, you keep rats in your pockets as you run around the house, you love magic and books, you climb up walls, and you are the greatest Jo a family could ever have.

Please, always be just who you are.

And please, never let anyone convince you that isn’t good enough.

Because you are incredible in so many ways. And you can, and will, do great things.

I love you, Jo.

Stay Magic.

Couldn’t Sleep – Had To Write

I do two hours of Trauma Informed Parenting classes every week. Sometimes it makes it hard for me to sleep. I get sad when confronted with so much suffering, and then my heart feels too heavy for getting in my comfy bed with a husband who does all he can for his family.

It is hard. I mourn.

But it never makes me regret my choice. If anything, it strengthens my resolve. I am only one very average person. But sometimes a very average person is all it takes. I cannot undo the things that have been done, even in my own daughter’s life. And I wish I could have done better for her. I see mistakes I have made and it truly hurts me to know I am not doing it perfectly.

Being a parent is really hard!

Suffering is uncomfortable!

But the more I do this whole thing, the more I realize how much of love comes from suffering. It sounds depressing, it really does, but, for me, at this point in my life, it is what it boils down to.

I cannot imagine love without suffering. Where would that ache in your heart come from if there was nothing to make it achy?

Doesn’t feeling pain when Jo comes home from school crying (kids were making fun of her haircut) mean there is love there?

Doesn’t watching JJ fall down a big hill and feeling my heart stutter mean I love him?

Doesn’t seeing the effects of trauma in Maybe’s behavior make me mourn I’m not more equipped to help her through, mean I love a girl legally not my own?

We had friends over a few nights ago and they were doing that thing where they’re like, “Uh! You guys! Stop being so cute! Stop being so in love! It’s depressing us!” And I was like, “I would just like to say, love doesn’t happen. It only works if you are willing to suffer together. The reason Jordan and I have a strong marriage is because we have stuck with each other through really bad times. That’s all it takes. You just have to stick with the suffering.”

Of course, after that, everyone looked at me like I was crazy. But it’s okay, because they’ve tasted my pies, so they’re not going anywhere.

And so, if these sleepless, long nights – these nights where I feel weighed down because I have spent two hours going through a systematic approach to a three-year-old girls’ heartbreaking abuse history – if these nights are what it takes to maintain the legal stamp of approval to keep loving my Maybe Baby, then I will do it.

Because I love her.

I love all my kids.

And so my suffering pales and fades, and I buck up and I put on my brave face and I prepare myself and them for how hard this world can be.

I’m a mom. I don’t get to back down. I don’t get to leave when things get too hard. I don’t get to write every novel that flies through my head.

Instead. I get to love. And therefore, I get to suffer. And tonight, I guess I just needed to remind myself that I am lucky. Because when I think about it, I wouldn’t rather be somewhere else doing more important things.

Screw society’s eye. I want to be here. Loving my kids. And advocating for that little girl’s life before social workers and lawyers and judges, before agencies that don’t even know what her middle name is.

It is 1 a.m. And I have shed tears for complete strangers. I have shed tears for children whose lives are used as case studies. And I have shed tears for my family.

And I am lucky.

I am lucky.

I am so so lucky.

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Nationality Name-Calling

I am in no way claiming that I have any understanding of others’ experiences, but I am trying to understand where others’ feelings come from.

hqdefaultWe’ve heard a lot of talk this election, and, by golly ms. molly I am so tired of it. If I ever hear the words “Clinton” or “Trump” again I might scream. (Although, no one would be able to hear me, because everyone else would already be screaming.)

But something interesting has happened lately. We’ve all heard the talk about moving to Canada. I’ve said it myself. Because, well, I just really really like Canada’s form of government. Way more than I like the U.S.’s, and this isn’t something that randomly sprung up. I’ve always thought Canada was pretty awesome when it came to disability accessibility, the way they treat their native population, and healthcare.

article-2327212-19d6c97b000005dc-60_634x334But now Canadians are getting kind of ticked. I’ve read lots of stuff about Canadians (not all, mind you, just some) feeling they don’t want the “American Whiny Trash” moving north just because they don’t like something. I’ve read lots of comments about them not wanting us to come and ruin their country.

Which is fine. It’s totally their opinion and I see they have valid concerns.

But when I imagine my family in Canada I see my husband working at a University. He is an incredible teacher, a well-respected researcher, and truly believes in the importance of his work.

I imagine my children being kind. Just like they are here. I imagine registering myself as a certified foster parent, and perhaps feeling more willing to take children with more pressing medical needs because special needs is more accepted and visible there. I imagine feeling proud of the clean streets Canada is so famous for, and I imagine picking up trash and recycling when I see it, just like I do here. I also imagine hiking across the country on the Great Trail because that is number 3 on my bucket list.

justin-trudeau-prime-minister-canadaSo. As an American, who really thinks Canada has got their snowflakes together, (not to mention the hottest prime minister this planet has ever seen), I felt kinda sad when so many Canadians assumed I would come and wreck everything. That I was a bad problem that needed to be kept out. That I was, I don’t know, a leech? A wart? A human being that wasn’t worth having around?

I wanted to write back and say “I’m not like that!” But, I didn’t, because, if you never do anything in your life, make sure it is refusing to respond to comment boards. (Yikes!)

And then I thought, “I wonder how other people feel?”

I am a white American woman. With education, and with the necessary finances to support my family. So my encounters with being automatically labeled as “trash” have been few.

So how does it feel to be someone not in my shoes? Perhaps someone with other labels? Perhaps someone who has more prejudice cards stacked against them?

And I felt sad. I wish everyone had a chance to make a personal statement first thing, and that they couldn’t get pocketed into what was expected of them based on things not in their control.

leafI wish I could go to Canada and say, “Hey guys! I’m Kayleen. I get that there are people who do annoying things. And I get that there are Americans who do annoying things, but please hear me out before you call me ‘Trash.’ Because I’ve been a fan for a long time.”

And I wish every citizen in our country did that, too, and pretty much every person in the world.

Because as far as I am concerned, there is not one person who should be called “Trash.”

 

A Day In The Life

I have a lot of people asking me about what it’s like to be a foster mom. And I can tell you, it’s a lot like being a regular mom, but with extra mumbojumbo thrown in. So, I have decided to write a very boring blog post, describing my very boring life, that somehow magically turns into something rewarding, I’m hoping, eventually.

Here we go.

Friday Oct. 28th.

8:20 a.m.- Maybe is cutting four teeth, so I was up during the night; I realize with horror I have slept through my alarm. I jump out of bed, rally the troops, and tell them we are leaving for school in 10 minutes.

8:35 – Miraculously I have got everyone dressed, with their teeth brushed, made three lunches, and fed the baby. I scream at everyone to grab their scooters and we fly away to school.

9:10 – I am back home. The kids both made it to class on time. Jo panicked a little bit, but she held it together. Maybe’s momma is here to visit, and I am informed I will need to drive her to Santa Ana by noon that day. Jordan runs off to work, and I spend the next few hours with Maybe and her momma. (Technically, during this time, I am helping Maybe and her momma learn how to interact positively together. That’s my role as monitor, but it’s fun to spend time with Maybe’s momma, so it is not a chore.)

12 – I have missed my exit (it was seven lanes away), and am now halfway to Mexico. We turn around, and I race north to drop Maybe’s momma off to her foster momma.

12:30 – Maybe is an hour and a half late for her nap. I spend the next hour trying to get her to sleep. Eventually I lay her down and listen to her scream.

1:30 – I have half an hour to fold three loads of laundry, and do all of yesterday’s dishes. Fly like the wind, Leeny! Only problem is the lawn people are here. And since I am from the Midwest, I cannot show my face while other people are mowing my lawn because it feels so incredibly awkward. So I spend the next thirty minutes crawling from room to room and hiding behind cupboards as I put the clean dishes away. If only our rent agreement didn’t come with a lawn service.

2:00 – JJ is home. The neighbor invites him over to play. Thank the Mashed Potatoes! I now have until 3:00! I fold laundry, I fill out paper work for the WIC office I took Maybe to on Tuesday, and paperwork for the Doctor’s office I took her to yesterday. I email two social workers about developmental assessment, I organize her medical records, and I organize visitation logs between her and her momma.

3:30 – We pick up Jo from school. I see a sign about the Harvest Festival at 5. FRICK-A-LICKA-DING-DONG! I signed up to provide a pot of chili for the harvest festival, and it is supposed to be there by 5.

4:00 – We are racing through the grocery store to buy supplies for chili. There is bickering between the older two about who gets to ride on the bottom of the cart. I threaten to cut off all their toes if they make one more sound.

4:05 – Here it comes. The headache. I grab a bottle of fizzy water off the shelf and down it.

4:30 – I am putting ingredients into a pot to make the chili. Jordan gets home. HOORAY!

4:45 – JJ’s Han Solo shirt needs to be resown. I whip out the sewing machine and get to work.

5:15 – We are late. Thankfully the chili lady doesn’t give me too much crap. Yay for nice people! I follow the kids around as they play games, go trick or treating to their teachers, and scream with their friends. Jo wins the cake walk! Oh my goodness my head is going to explode! And why is this Maybe such a huge baby? Lose some weight baby, my arm is going to fall off! JJ says his shoes hurt his feet. I take them off so he can run around in his socks, and I throw his boots into the nearest trashcan because there is no way I am carrying those around all night.

6:30 – Back in the car to go to the Church Halloween party. Does anyone else want to go home and go to bed?

8:00 – Jordan and I have had chili from the church, the kids have had nothing but brownies and cupcakes. JJ wins the cakewalk! The kids run around playing with their friends as I follow my crabby, out-of-sorts baby around. We go outside and the kids get insane amounts of candy during the trunk-or-treat.

8:30 – JJ returns a light-saber to a friend, then starts crying so hard the mom gives it to him. I protest, she insists. Whatever. Yay for nice people!

9:50 – Everyone is in bed. A miracle. I need to lay down before the left side of my brain explodes.

10:00 – I get a text from Maybe’s momma’s foster momma. Can Maybe’s momma come over from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. tomorrow? Then can I drop her off to meet with a social mediator at 11:30? Let me think, Jordan will be at work tomorrow morning monitoring an exam. Can I do three over-tired sugared up kids, one a teething baby, and a teenager tomorrow morning by myself? And then throw them all into the car right in the middle of baby’s nap-time? Yes. Yes I can. I text other foster momma back with a smiley face.

10:05 – I am passed out.

 

Is my life fun? – It has its moments.

Did I get to do anything I wanted to? – Not really.

Was it a good day? – We’re all alive. Nothing started on fire. So, yes.

Do I need a vacation? – Holy Chalupa yes.

Is it worth it? – Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. I cannot go into detail. But the reason situations like Maybe’s and her momma’s exist is because of cycles. Harmful cycles that go back for generations and break your heart. How do the cycles break? Well, someone has to break them. A lot of time, the people in the cycles do not have the resources to break the cycle on their own. It takes work from a number of outsiders to try and change the pattern.

And when I say work, I mean work.

But Maybe started out as a child who needed a bedroom and a bed. And now she is our daughter. She will grow up with two parents who are willing to move heaven and earth for her. The cycle will not break my daughter, because I will kick that cycle in the crotch so hard before it ever reaches her.

It’s not glamorous, it’s definitely not easy, but it is worth it.

If you have even a smidgen of a thought that you want to do something like this, PLEASE email me. The foster community is a strong one. We all understand the difficulties one another are facing, and let me tell you, we hold each other up. We are not weaklings. We face domestic violence, child abuse, poverty, and addiction head-on without flinching. Because we love our kids.

If you have anything to give, give it. Believe me. You will be so glad you did.

 

 

Pride = Dramatic Failure

Today is the Daddy Daughter dance at Jo’s school. Jo is very excited. img_20160916_171516084

Jordan is less excited.

But he’s a good dad so he attempts to do the Whip-Nae-Nae out of love for her.2015-11-21-14-08-38

I have three kids, so when they needed volunteers to help set up I was like, “Myself, and all the sticky appendages of myself (children) are more of a traveling disaster than a help, so I will just bake something and bring it.”

I made these beautiful piecrust sandwiches filled with chopped pecans and craisins and baked in a cinnamon egg-wash. YUM! And then I remembered something, after everything was all set to go, of course, no nuts on school campus.

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AH!

So I was like, okay, what’s easy and fast? Rice Krispie Bars!

Off to the store where they sell Rice Krispies and Marshmallows.

And also where they sell Root Beer Floats to fundraise for children with cancer. Right by the front door, where your children will see it and beg to “donate.”

So there I am, with three children, four Root Beer Floats (?), and a cart with a wobbly-wheel.

As you can imagine, we left a trail throughout the grocery store. Eventually an employee was assigned to just follow us around with a Zamboni.
man-cleaning-supermarket-floor

I get home, yell at everyone to clean up their mountains of crap and swear upon pizza they’re not getting anything for Christmas this year, and get to baking.

News Flash!!! Don’t assume that just because you can make great pies, you can handle Rice Krispies.

It was a disaster. And I know you all think I’m dramatic, so let me give you a reference. It was somewhere between the Bay of Pigs and Mariah Carey in Glitter. kennedy

But, being the attempting-passing-score mom that I am, I have to bring something to the dance! And being the woman who already went through the horrific experience of grocery shopping with three kids today, I am stuck, with these mongrels of strangely-orange triangles covered in burnt chocolate. Don’t believe me the chocolate is burned? Well, four fire-alarms went off this afternoon. img_20160916_171952778

Uh! I wish there was like a “Get Out Free” card for these things. I wish at the PTA they would be like, “Kayleen Barlow, what a sweetie, she tries so hard. I think we should just let her off this year since her contributions only make everyone feel awkward.”

kwib-meeting-women

And I would be like, “YES! Yes thank you!”

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The Worst Comic You Will Ever See

Today is National Suicide Awareness Day. To me, it’s kind of a depressing title, but, it’s all for a good cause.

I have spent a lot of my life depressed. I remember my Marmsy crying in the car, asking me what she had to do to make me happy. Not in the way like, “You’re so spoiled!” But more like, “I don’t understand! What are you so sad about? What can I do to make you happy?”

There wasn’t a lot she could have done. It’s not common for young people to be diagnosed. Only a long time later, in a year of therapy, did my therapist tell me my actions were a sign of Borderline Personality Disorder.

I’m not really here to trudge through all that. The truth is, I was lucky to have a husband who literally dragged me to a therapist, and a doctor who got me the correct medication and diagnosis, and a wonderful woman who took me and the kids in when I was on suicide watch, so I didn’t have to stay in the hospital. In short, I had people who did their job and just proved themselves to be awesome human beings.

And I am so grateful.

I remember those first few months of healing, I constantly told Jordan, “I just can’t believe this is how normal people feel. I just can’t believe I can feel happy. I’m actually not in pain right now. I can’t believe I can go to bed without this crushing pain.”

It’s been two years now. Two years of being able to get back to my life. I hope I never forget how lucky I am, or how wonderful it is, to just be able to feel happy. To not be scared all the time. I was so afraid. All the time. And I love living without anxiety.

Through all of this I think I have learned how simple happiness can be. It’s having kids who snore, and a husband who plays nerf guns, a baby who smiles when she sees you. Today I laid on the floor while Jordan played piano, the baby toddled around screaming, and the kids played. I was so happy to be able to enjoy my family and the simple times we have together.

drawing-of-family

I wanted to have a picture of it. So I drew it. And that made us all laugh quite hard. (JJ says he looks like a leprechaun.) But still, now I can remember this afternoon and how good it is to be able to be happy. And to just take that happiness when it comes for all its worth, because it’s a gift.

Simple things are beautiful.

Maybe is Good Enough

Yesterday was my third child’s birthday. We call her Maybe. She turned 1. Most of you don’t know anything about her, because her life is very private. Even Jordan and I feel in the dark quite a bit.

The other night we were having dinner and we love to play games. I said everyone had to go around the table and say what they would do if they could go back in time. I went first. I said I would go back, find out where Benedict Cumberbatch grew up, move in next door to him, and be the love of his life.

Jordan said he would go back in time to meet Maybe as a baby, and then be able to watch her through those first 7 months of her life that we missed out on.

Of course after this I felt like a terrible human being. But, these things do happen, and I have accepted it.

It is not easy being a foster parent. Nothing is ever decided as a foster parent. It is a complicated process in a complicated system. But one thing is for certain.

We love this baby. She is our daughter. She is the third love of our lives. We would move heaven and hell to make her happy. And Shmo and JJ have given their whole hearts to her. She has come into this family and made us complete. And we love her mother too. I feel I have gained another sister when I am with her mom and we truly hope the best that all life has to offer for her.

Yesterday, as we tried to convince Maybe to eat some of her birthday cupcake, we all went around and said the things we love about her.

  1. Maybe, we love your chubby cheeks and big round belly.
  2. We love your shy, reluctant giggle.
  3. We love the way you scream in pure joy whenever someone comes home.
  4. We love the way you toddle around with your arms in the air.
  5. We love the way you come looking for us and knock on the doors.
  6. We love your huge, wide mouthed smile.
  7. We love your giant blue eyes.
  8. We love your ridiculously long and unruly hair.
  9. We love how you think you’re so funny when you put food down your diaper.
  10. We love how you make a run for the mud whenever the door opens.
  11. We love how you bounce your booty up and down when music plays.
  12. We love how you need 5 pony-tails to get all the hair out of your face.
  13. We love how you pat our backs when we snuggle.
  14. We love how you always have to be the top of the dog-pile.
  15. We love that you love stroller walks and bike rides.
  16. We love your knack for finding all the lost Legos.
  17. We love the funny scared face you make when the wind blows in your face.
  18. We love that it is hard to hold onto you in water, because you’re so fat it feels like you’ll bob away.
  19. We love how you try to hide under your blankets in the morning.
  20. We love that you are ours.

Maybe, there is no telling what will happen, just as with everything else in life, there are risks. But we hope you always know you are our daughter. You are our family. Maybe you’ll stay with us forever, maybe you’ll leave us early, but no matter what, know that you are always enough. Know that we feel like the luckiest family in the world to have gotten that call on a Thursday, about a baby that needed a home by Monday.

When I came and saw you in that room of cribs, and you looked at me with those huge eyes, I felt so scared. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to give you everything you needed. But you have taught me that love is always enough.

And now that you’re here, I can’t imagine sitting down at this keyboard without you banging on the keys and making me erase half of everything I’ve written.

I won’t lie, your dad and I have sacrificed a lot to have you here with us. But it has all been worth it. No matter what we will never regret our baby girl.

Maybe is perfect. Maybe is more than good enough.

Tears and Easter Have All The Same Letters

It is 1 a.m. here in Southern California. It has been Easter for one hour. And I have been crying for a little less than that. True, I did stay up too late, and true, I do have that most awful of female conditions – the period – and true, I have been emotionally strung out in other ways recently. But, still, I am crying. Because it is Easter, and that makes me feel incredibly lonely.

As I enjoy these perfect 75 degree and gently windy days I find myself constantly wondering what the weather is like in Minnesota. I see my children running outside in their bare feet and imagine them in heavy boots and hats. I flinch as the cars flip by me and zig zag on the ten lane highways and I begin to wish for the slow crawls of northerners on a snow day.  And don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about my life in God’s little perfect bubble of ocean breeze and hiking trails. It’s just that, I feel so far from home. The time has come for me to set down roots for my own little family, to be the mom that guides the traditions and establishes patterns for my kids to miss when they are older. And I feel wholly unprepared for that.

Easter is awesome. And I didn’t realize I felt that way until it changed for me. Perhaps gathering a basket of eggs is somehow related to a former pagan ritual. And maybe chocolate bunnies are just a way for Hallmark to get me to spend more money. But who the freak cares? A basket of colorful plastic brings me back to that feeling of security when, what seemed like countless family members, would surround me. And eating the waxy ear off a chocolate bunny brings me back to my grandmother handing one out to each of us grand kids.

It was on an Easter that my great-grandmother wore my huge purple monster slippers cause her feet were cold. And then she shuffled outside while the rest of us cheered like she had saved the world and we took a big family picture right then. With the purple, hairy slippers front and center. And everyone was smiling so big because a 90 year-old woman looked ridiculous in those slippers. And I wasn’t particularly close to her, but that doesn’t matter, because she is part of my family, and she is a permanent part of Easter to me now. I actually remember all of us cousins discussing the weird wrinkly feeling of her cheek when we gave her the obligatory kiss. I hope she never caught on to us.

In my family. You would walk in the front door of some relative’s house. then whoever was first to see you would yell “The Downings are here!” and from the other room you would here “Hey!” and “Hello Downings!” and “Finally we can eat!” and “What took you so long?” And there would be some bickering between my mom and dad about whose fault it was we were late, and then we would all settle in and the day would fly by with grandma trying to feed us all like we were chickens in need of fattening before she could cook us.

Of course, there was the Easter Egg Decorating Competition. This held the most weight out of any other competition in my family. The winner received a perfect, smooth egg carved out of marble by my grandfather. To be prominently displayed on its own sacred handmade wooden pedestal for the rest of the year. Whoever won the Egg Decorating Contest was revered as some sort of god for the rest of the year. This was the big papoola people.wp_20160325_18_21_48_pro

And then there would be an Easter Egg hunt on my grandparents huge lawn. And there was one golden egg with a five dollar bill in it and, oh boy, we would hunt. It got intense. I distinctly remember people tackling each other one year. It wasn’t a real holiday until at least two kids were in an ace bandage and the landscaping had been ruined. And that went for every gathering. I seem to remember my cousin Sam usually being the injured one. And I know Sophie was like a rubber band and could be hit by a wrecking ball and laugh about it. And I remember the impression that my grandpa thought we were all a bunch of gooses who needed some time in the American Military.

I just wish I could go back to who I was in those times and appreciate them more. I didn’t see how lucky I was to be that person in that moment. And I guess that’s life, especially the adolescence part. You’re too busy being dramatic about everything to see that what you have now is good and it won’t last forever.

I got two Easter pictures this weekend. One showed the Egg Decorating Contest submission of my sister and her daughters. The other showed the smashed up mini-van of my sister and her sons. Both made me cry. I love my life in California and I know I am blessed. But I miss my family. I miss having to converse on the impossible task of giving an egg curly brown hair, and then working hours on building a magical department of mysteries as a set for that egg. And I hate that when I hear my nephews were in a car accident I don’t get to squeeze them and thank God all bones are still in place.

I just miss my family. And that is the simplest way to put it.

Thank the Lord for Winnie the Pooh, who said the things we all feel. “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” (You gotta love that bear.)

And so while I miss my family so much, and I miss loud holidays with yelling and crying and laughing and begging grandma to put the food away, I am going to try really hard not to make the same mistake twice. I have learned my lesson. And I have to calm down enough to realize that who I am right now, with what I have in this moment, is not going to last forever. Soon my kids will not want to search for eggs in the backyard, and they will be too old to want a picture with the Easter bunny, and one gummi bear in a plastic egg is gonna start to look cheap. So I will take this Easter that I can get.

And I will think of my family back home. And I will squeeze the one I have here, in this strange magical land where the days are all perfectly the same.

And I am gonna cry. But I am also gonna smile. Because it’s Easter. And that is just how it has always been.

 

When You Become Your Mother

ked29 (2)If you were anything like me, (self-proclaimed awful, horrible, ungrateful swine of a teenager) then you probably hated your mother at times. Especially during your formative years.

I always viewed my mother in her attempts to protect us, or teach us something, or flip her lid when she just couldn’t handle another eye-roll, and thought she was so unfair and naive and unbelievably out-of-touch.

And, if I am not mistaken, this happened to you, too. Because I feel like it has happened to about 99% of the female population. Heck, I know it happened between my mother and her mother.

It’s just something that comes with having a daughter.

IMG_20160118_145412328And my turn is coming.

I remember saying, “I will NEVER do that!”

I probably used that phrase for anywhere between 5 and 10 habits of my mother. (Now she is gonna call me and ask me what those 5 to 10 things were and it’s gonna be a lovely Skype meeting.)

Anyways. I saw those things and they were HUGE. They were the end-all of her legacy. But little did I realize, in my impaired teenage brain, that to have 5 to 10 things you couldn’t stand was not a bad percentage for the 100’s of other things she passed down. Through her looks, and her manner of sitting down, and the way she ordered something at the drive-thru window, and the way she sighed when she got red sauce on her shirt. (She will probably bring up those examples in the Skype meeting, too.)

me and momAll in all, I sigh the exact same way when my kids have pushed me to my mummy limit. The sigh that means “I should have been an artist and moved to Barcelona.” And I mutter under my breath in the same way when someone on the road won’t let me in. And I become completely deaf to my children when reading. Just like her.

But there are other things, too, in my life. Things I see today that I saw through different eyes as a little girl. To me it comes as a surprise when the things I cherish in my new family are the things my mother upheld for us in her own family.

the famTonight, as I was loading the dishwasher and listening to Jo work her heart out on her piano, I realized I became my mother in a way that I never even knew I wanted to. But this new home in this new place felt like the home I grew up in because my mother’s habits were here.

Then I saw the way I kiss Jo’s forehead and rub her hair back before turning the light out as a legacy from my mother. I saw the egg-salad sandwiches with potato chips and watermelon as a Downing staple. And I realized that my way of saying “hm?” in a bored manner when reading is just an echo of my mother’s voice.

mom making flowerThen I understood that for all my youthful promises of rising above the “horrible” ways of my mother, I had become more like her than I even once feared. And it made me happy. Really, really happy. Because she was actually pretty dang good.

Moms are never gonna be perfect. My grandmother wasn’t. My mother wasn’t. And I’m not. And on and on it goes. And on and on daughters go moaning and groaning. And on and on we go, eventually realizing how ridiculous that was.

You can never really leave your mother behind. Her shadows fall on your life in a million different ways. And that’s what makes your own attempts at building a life so beautiful. Because you don’t start alone. You start with her.

me nad momAnd you may love it, or you may hate it, but your mother is the jumping point. And your flight is her legacy.