Monday, October 27, 2014

Once Upon A Death

Mom left this for me to find after she was gone.
Last night, my mama visited me in my dream.

I don't mean I got some divine message from her or anything, but last night my dream was of an old wooden house, filled to the brim with activity - kids, family, chaos, lost socks...The place seemed new, and perhaps unfamiliar, but we were settling into it with the intention of letting it become a safe place for us.  And mom was there, too - it was a dream beautiful in its banality, we were just spending time together, like a family trip home for vacation.  With one notable exception: we all fully acknowledged that mom was dead, but that just added to how wonderful this brief time we had together was.  I think we knew it was just a day or so, and it seemed implicit that this would happen every so often, these visits... It was so surprisingly nice to get to talk to her about how hard this year has been, and how much we miss her...the same old comfort from mother's counsel that I could always count on.  No drama, just an acknowledgment of "Man this sucks.  It's really hard.  I'm so glad I have you to talk to about all of this." Plus jokes and laughter, was just such a nice visit.

Up until today, I have been able to explain away my forgetfulness, my wistfulness, my loneliness, my tears. "My mom just died." But now there are only a few hours left wherein her abscence is "novel." Moments in the turning of the seasons that I have not previously experienced without her. Starting in mere hours, the time will begin to overlap. I will have experienced this moment in the cycle of time without her once already... Just last night, the darkness fell without her on an October 26th for the very first time. But tonight, the darkness will fall on an October 27th for the second time.

And somehow I find this one even harder to fathom.

The first year was somehow built into the event of death; you lose someone, part of your heart goes with them, and you spend a year mourning in an emotional darkness. 
But what do we do now, at the advent of the second year? 
Another trip around the sun without mother? This is no longer the fresh wound, understandably bleeding. This is now the old injury that doesn't fully heal, aching under gray skies, no longer obvious to passers by. A silent, private pain, devastating, but to the outside eye, invisible.

Mom's amazing laugh
I am used to invisible pain, though. All through my teenage years, I struggled with a chronic pain disorder called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy.  While it is (thankfully) mostly in remission now, I learned a lot from my experiences with it. One of the hardest things I learned was that sometimes, the things that hurt the most are the very things you need to do in order to continue on as a whole being.  Giving in to the pain can lead to atrophy and eventually the loss of the limb...or worse, it can spread and consume your entire body.

And so I find inspiration here.  I know that hiding from this pain won't help me find a path through it, and I know that the world at large isn't going to hold my hand while I try to find my feet, and so I dive into it on my own in the dark, quiet nights when my family is safely sleeping.  I write, I sing, I imagine, I explore, I cry...

Earlier this year, I performed an aerial silks piece that I created in honor of my mother, about the experience of losing her.  I haven't shared it because it was underrehearsed and not at all up to my own standards, but last night's dream really drove home that she would be saddened by my decision not to share it, and if I really want to honor her as I meant to, I should put it out there anyway.

So this is for you, Mom:

This song hit me square in the gut last fall as we prepared for your departure. Everything about it spoke directly to how I felt.  And though I knew we were heading towards goodbye, I knew that I would never stop wanting you back.  That there will always be a huge place for you in my heart. It spoke to the little kid in me that will always be looking for you out the window, waiting for you to come home.  It was very clearly written about a lost lover, but that didn't matter, the sense of loss and longing at the point of departure, the calm acceptance that this was happening even if we didn't want it to, the sense of strength in the face of huge change, and the preservation of the all hit so close to home.  The chorus became my wish for you to have an easy, peaceful death, and no more promises became my way of releasing you from feeling like you were letting us down by leaving too soon.  And never loving again was simply never getting over this loss.  The song became the anthem of that time for me, and helped me, hugely, to grieve.

"The sky looks pissed
the wind talks back
my bones are shifting in my skin
and you my love are gone.

my room feels wrong
the bed won't fit
I cannot seem to operate
and you, my love, are gone

So glide away on soapy heels
and promise not to promise anymore
and if you come around again
then I will take, 
then I will take the chain from off the door.

I'll never say
I'll never love
but I don't say a lot of things
and you my love are gone.

So glide away on soapy heels
and promise not to promise anymore
and if you come around again 
then I will take the chain from off the door.

Then I will take
then I will take
then I will take
the chain
from off
the door."

I took that song and used it to create this piece.  I was going for a disjointed feel, where things seem backwards and upside down, at odd angles, and things that should be beautiful seem somehow awkward...all while looking skyward in search of something that is missing.

Unfortunately the video didn't come out very well.  It's dark, and all of the shape work I did in the fabric at the start is totally lost, and because it is in closeup a lot of the vertical dimensions I was playing with don't translate, so I consider this a poor documentation of it on top of feeling like it wasn't the homage you deserved...So it is only with the understanding that this is just a first step, and I will be holding you in my heart in everything that I do that I am putting this out into the world now. It may be flawed, but it is for you, mama, with so much love.

Maybe the chain is on the door to that old wooden house in my dream.  Maybe, every so often, you can come around again, and I will take - I will always take - that chain from off the door.

Love always,

A first UnMothered mothers' day.

NOTE:  I originally wrote this piece on Mother's Day, 2014.  I ended up not publishing it, because I felt it was more appropriate as a commemoration of this day, the first anniversary... so I have scheduled this to publish without my deliberate intervention on October 27, 2014, as I have no idea where I will be, emotionally or physically, six months from this writing.

*   *   *

The best term I have yet found to describe what today feels like came, unexpectedly, from my elementary school violin teacher, thanks to the wonders of Facebook.  She shared an article in which the author described feeling "UnMothered" following the passing of her own mom, as opposed to being "motherless"-and I could very much relate to the emotional journey she described as I thought about my dance with grief over these past weeks. Months. The yet unexplored years...

I feel that October 27, the day my mama let go, will become in my heart "unmothering day"...the day we-my sister and I-said goodbye and moved into a realm where we exist without her physical presence. Not motherless, we still have the love and experience we gained from her, and always will-but we don't now. So while we were fortunate enough to have a wonderful, loving mother, we don't still have her in the present, making us, indeed, UnMothered. We don't have her there to wipe our faces (as Mike Rowe's mom reportedly still tries to do, in his lovely tribute to her this morning) or to call up to straighten out a bit of family lore or ask for advice on how best to complete some task, but we still-and will forever-still have all the lessons she taught us about being good people, and caring for ourselves and our loved ones fully, and how to occasionally embarrass ourselves in the name of living life. We will never be motherless. She will always be our mom. 

But today, for the first time on this day set aside for honoring moms, we are UnMothered.

I breathe in the absence, and then let it go, and breathe in the abundance I have, and try to balance my grief with my gratefulness. 

She gave me so much, and what's more, she taught me how to appreciate it.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Not Asking

Last night, for whatever reason, I couldn't sleep, and I decided to try doing some work recording voice overs...I couldn't focus on that, either, and ended up recording an improvised song in the middle of the night.  I more or less intentionally left it ambiguous, but in my gut it feels very much about grief, and I post it here, flaws, hokey garage band processing (because my adobe audition wouldn't cooperate) and all, in memory of my mother.  She wouldn't care much about the weak spots, and would probably leave some comment about how I used to sing improvised operas non stop as a kid, and try to remember the lyrics to the "where's my purse" song she inspired me to sing as a four year old.

Miss you, Mama.

Friday, September 19, 2014

This week in immersive learning: Water & Fire

Cadence created this out of a box of recyclables and some masking tape.  She says she's not sure what it is called, but it is a form of mass transportation and it has a built - in telescope.
In addition to the (quite usual but still) ridiculous amount of reading that has taken place this week, we've had the great fortune to spend a great deal of time out-of-doors this week.

Cadence has reread several boxcar children books, tackled a few new novels, and threw in a few non-fiction books (mostly about small fuzzy animals) this week.  Hazel has been improving her reading and writing skills at an incredible rate lately, consistently sounding out words and continuing her months-old habit of passing the time by trying to guess how random words are spelled.  She will sit quietly by herself contemplating it until she thinks she might have it right, and then approach the nearest grown up (or even sometimes Cadence) and ask, for example, "Is this how you spell heart?  H-E-A-R-T, heart?"  (The fact that she has self generated this spelling-bee-style amuses me very much.)

Anyhow, she is now capable of reading well enough to identify certain words on a page, and can sound out simple words like it was no big deal, but staunchly refuses to try reading any book - even easy reading books like Dog is Hot - if they aren't board books.  I think it is simply anxiety - they seem more grown up and therefore more difficult, and she is afraid to purposefully set out to read one of them.  She would much rather catch herself reading them by accident.

Personally, I find her writing almost more impressive than her reading.  Her penmanship is pretty derned remarkable for a 4-year old, and her understanding of word groupings has skyrocketed overnight.

Hazel wrote a letter to Papa, and wrote "Hazel to Papa" on the back. She pointed out a mistaken squiggle after the 'to', and said the heart means "with love".
Cadence still struggles a little in her writing, and it relates back to a quirk we noticed when she was first learning how to read...she found it much easier, at the outset, to read her books upside down.  Though she rarely does so these days, I do still notice her flipping a book over to interpret a particularly difficult word here or there.  It's because of this that I don't find it all that surprising that she still defaults to writing her letters (and numbers) backwards and/or upside down.  Usually gently pointing out the error is more than enough for her to go back and correct it without any issues, but we are still working on consistently writing them with the correct orientation the first time.

To this end we have been doing more writing stuff at home.  Cadence has been labeling stuff all over the house, (because taping the paper to the thing makes writing down the name of the thing ridiculously fun) and has written in her diary (which I don't read) and several letters this week.  I also asked her to write a story with a beginning, middle, and end, and she produced a fun little page long story called The Hunt.  It's about our cat, Puy, going hunting because she was hungry, catching some squirrels, and feeling good after eating them. She even specified that while Puy lived happily ever after, the squirrels...well, they'd been eaten.

Cadence working on a puzzle.  She was pretty upset with me for introducing her to such a frustrating endeavor.
Around all of that, we had some pretty fun outdoor adventures, too.  At our settled exploration with the 4-H club, the weather was just right for some good river stomping.  A whole gaggle of kids ranging from roughly 1 to roughly 10 worked together to find as many clam shells as they could in & around the shoreline.  By the time the bucket owner's mom called her home and the endeavor was ended, they had filled the thing about halfway - and it wasn't a small bucket. After most everyone else had left, these three found walking sticks and went for a wet, in-the-water 'hike'.

One of the older kids caught some fish with a bucket and brought it over to show the younger kids 

Shell gatherers at work

close up of the shells after they dumped them out of the bucket


Also this week, we attended a block party and got to meet a ton of local families.  The neighborhood kids all bonded in the bounce-house while the grown ups chatted around tables full of homemade goodies, and once the sun went down (and the truck took the bounce house away) everyone gathered for a little bon fire in the street.  Someone broke out some sparklers and small fireworks, and the kids had a blast exploring the brief, volatile nature of the flames.

Hazel manages to look serene even while bouncing.

Callie Bounces! and Cadence does her best not to land on her new friend...


Not bad for a week that also saw the first illness of the new academic year - a nasty head cold that hit hard and fast, which the kids have pretty much beaten at this point, but my poor asthmatic lungs always take weeks to recover following respiratory bugs.

Here's to another busy week!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

We question our existence, our anger, our everything

So many poetic words burn through her head as she frantically looses the flood of feeling that she expertly dodges during the torrent of the day, but now the gates are down and the raging force is free, leaving her staring into oblivion without an understanding of the power of her words, her fingers fly across the keyboard but can't touch even a drop of the depth of the feeling that was dwelling in the hollow of her chest just moments ago when she let the sound keen, the faraway unimaginable depths momentarily connected to a sticky spot in her lungs where breath wasn't yet born but was destined to  carry the weight of connection, rejection, heartache, love and wonder, and yet even that is but a drop of the arch of what IS and there is no way her fingers can even begin to trace the line left behind by the shadow of the thing that she is chasing, but she isn't chasing anything, just feeling, just trying to stop doing and just be, just being, just living, just breathing just...

Friday, September 12, 2014

This week in immersive learning: Picnics Galore

Calliope exploring the dynamics of a water balloon 
This was a busy week for the local homeschooling community, as we 'kick-off' the academic year with not one, but TWO amazing "not-back-to-school" picnics.

I asked her to smile. (check out the boxes in the background-curriculum swap!)
The name sounds kinda satire-y, which is somewhat intentional...especially amongst the unschooling crowd.  We don't have formal summer vacations, since our educational philosophy becomes a sort of way of life for the family and there isn't really anything to take a break from (SIDE RANT: I also really like this aspect of our chosen path because it doesn't set up false expectation of guaranteed unlimited free time every summer before saddling them with real world jobs where you get two weeks off per year, if you're lucky), but it is still nice to recognize the rite of a new year beginning.  Fall also marks the time when we can resume group field trips and classes which often get put on hold during the time when public schools are out.  Many organizations don't offer school discounts during these times, and many homeschoolers choose to avoid popular destinations while the public school kids will be there - we can go anytime, but they can't, so let them have at it while they can and we'll take our turn when school is back in session - it reduces crowds for everyone involved.
Cadie climbs

Happy Hazel at play 


Hazel takes Callie on an adventure!

Failed crowd shot.  too many people spread out to far to really get a good picture of how well attended these things were.

So anyway, these picnics were a great opportunity to reconnect with folks who we haven't seen in a while, to introduce new families, and chat about classes and events we may want to tackle during the coming year.  Everyone gathers in the playground with tons of food and curriculum materials to swap and share, and it is great fun.  We came away with a whole bunch of new books (oi, we have a book problem in our house - despite having given away a bunch at the picnics!), GLITTER (much to James' chagrin), paper for handwriting practice, anatomical models, puzzles, activity booklets, patterns, and even a couple new dresses for our ever-growing seven year old.  Oh - and tap shoes.

Obviously we had great fun exploring all of our new materials...and then I got to post this to Facebook: "The dark side to homeschooling: Scored some glitter at the not-back-to-school picnic & swap this afternoon, which Cadence quickly paired with her knowledge of her father's disdain for the stuff and the fact that we have been discussing pranks lately to devise her very own: She glitter bombed his workstation. Her attempt at a good and harmless prank would have been successful had she thought to move the keyboard first."

Last tax court softball game of the season!

Also this week, we received a lovely gift from my friend Tim, who, learning of the major sunburns we brought home with us from our trip to California, mailed us an Aloe plant.  The company that sent it included a second succulent as a bonus, but neither one was potted.  So, we got to get our hands dirty (literally!) creating a new home for our newest living members of the household.

Cleaning out the pot
Filling the pot 3/4 full of specially mixed soil
Finished happy(er) plants!

THANK YOU SOO MUCH! To Tim for the generous gift, and of course to all the wonderful families that make up our homeschooling community.  Some of the most giving folks you will ever meet-I am glad to be a part of it!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A typical conversation with my 22 month old...

Calliope (22 months):  Mama, I'm all ready for bed!
Me (her mother): No you're not, you still need to wash your hands, you have pretzel on your head, and you're naked except for some tap shoes.
Calli:  Let's see what baba thinks.
           (exits, tapping and clacking as she goes, shouting):
          Baba, I'm all ready for bed!

Calliope and Turtle