Tag Archives: Mom

HOME.

Standard

I’ve been talking a lot about houses lately. Buying. Selling. Relocating. Renovating. A few friends and a strong percentage of my siblings are all working on new homes right now, so it’s been top of mind.

It’s a big decision, choosing a house, because ultimately – at least in all the cases of the people I know – we’re talking about a home for their children. And what’s more important than that?

When KJ and I bought our house over five years ago, it was still being built and was (is) located on a busier street than we wanted. (How will our kids ride their bikes around our cul-de-sac if we didn’t live on one?)  It didn’t have everything we thought we wanted – the basement wasn’t finished, it was missing that one key bathroom, the kitchen was a little bit dark… yet, it just felt right to me. Maybe because it did meet my #1 criteria – be close enough to walk to Starbucks town – or maybe because I just got a vibe that this could be Home.

And it is. I love that my iced coffee is a walk away, but more importantly, I love things that I didn’t see during our initial tour. Things that have revealed themselves over the years. For example…

  • … our fantastic neighbors in every direction.
  • … the loop around the first floor rooms that the kids use as a track for their races and LAUGH SO HARD they can barely run.
  • … our “woods” (and by “woods,” I mean three trees, some plants and a bunch of dirt) which have become one of the Loud One’s favorite places to hang out.
  • … how the step that leads from the kitchen to the family room has become the perfect launching pad to jump onto the couch and initiate Wrestle Baby.
  • … the 194 perfect hide and seek spots throughout the second floor.

Five+ years ago, with one 18-month old daughter, KJ and I couldn’t possibly have envisioned any of this, yet in the words of Penny Lane, it’s all happening.

All of this makes me think of about the house where I grew up, 6 Valley View Drive.

I lived in the same house for my entire life, until I went to college. And then I lived there again sporadically throughout the years, in between moves, travels and assorted adventures. That’s a lot of time in one house.

These are my brightest memories about some of the rooms in 6 Valley View…

The Living Room… was mostly all white and fancy and sort of forbidden except at Christmastime when the [fake] tree was set-up and we sat in there to show our cousins all of our presents.

Also, in the living room, the full set of Encyclopedia Britannica sat on the bottom, right-hand shelf and the small space behind the leather armchair was a favorite basket-hiding spot for the Easter Bunny.

My Mom would hate that I'm showing you this picture because this was before she redecorated it to be even more white and fancy.

My Mom would hate that I’m showing you this picture because this was before she redecorated it to be even more white and fancy.

The Dining Room… had this awesome dark-brown and white paisley patterned wallpaper. For my entire life, that wallpaper stayed on the dining room walls. My Mom redecorated the entire house over the years, except for this room.

I wonder if she preferred to leave it as is, because it was at that table that our family was at its best… holiday dinners where kids wandered in from the “kids’ table” and sat on laps or squished between chairs and everyone picked at the desserts. From my eyes as a child, that table was completely stress-free.

I have that table in my dining room now and I only hope it brings the same magic to my current home.

I'm sorry but this wallpaper is BAD ASS. I wonder if they still make it...

I’m sorry but this wallpaper is BAD ASS. I wonder if they still make it…

My Bedroom… was AWESOME. It was redone by a decorator named Roz when I was 10-years old – the wallpaper was peach with mauve flowers and I had a bed set up sideways, like a couch. I also had – get this – a table that seated four people in my room. A table for four! I can’t remember one single time that I actually had four people sitting at that table, but it was great for homework and art and generally looking cool. Also, it was covered in a peach and mauve and magenta floral fabric that matched the curtains AND the bedspread. Like I said, AWESOME.

So, this was the best photo I could find of my room. It gives you a sneak peek of the table, the awesome fabric tha covered everything and of course, the wallpaper (which I had completely forgotten was transformed into a window treatment as well!!). The people are blurred out because I'm not in touch with them anymore and while I'm sure they would never, ever see themselves, I thought it best to keep them anonymous. Because of their hair.

So, this was the best photo I could find of my room. It gives you a tiny peek of the table, the awesome fabric that covered everything and of course, the wallpaper (which I had completely forgotten was transformed into a window treatment as well!!). The people are blurred out because I’m not in touch with them anymore and therefore couldn’t get permission to publish bad late 80s photos of them. Also, I’d love to explain the art… but I can’t. I was never into ballet or the um, circus so I’m not sure WHAT’S going on there. 

My Brother and Sister’s Rooms… When I think about my sister’s room, I think about lying on her bed and watching her curl her hair in front of the mirror and thinking she was the coolest girl in the world. As for my brother’s room, it’s mostly the sound of Styx blasting out of it that I remember.

The Basement. The evolution of the basement was similar to that of many Hollywood starlets – it started off as an unpolished, blank slate with lots of potential. Then it was discovered, dressed up and revealed to the world. In its heyday, it was adored, lavished with gifts and surrounded by admiring crowds at all times. Then, it fell out of favor and became an old, damaged, hollow vessel that had only its memories in which to bask. Ah, the cycle of life.

My only memory of the unfinished basement was roller-skating with my friends around the cement floors and flinging ourselves to spin around the poles… wait a second, that did NOT sound right. We were very young and those poles were probably holding up the entire house, so get your mind out of the gutter.

Then it was refurnished and BAM! INSTA-COOL. Ping pong table, pool table (although it was too close to the walls and on certain shots, you had to hold the stick straight up and down to fit), a record player, a TV with Atari, a BAR and a sliding glass door that led straight to the pool. Two words for you: PAR. TIES. (Dad, I’m talking only about parties you knew about and approved. Actually, that’s a lie. But come on, you put a BAR in our basement. AND FROGGER.)

Sadly after many years of neglect, the basement fell into a state of disarray and it became habitable only by the ENORMOUS jumping cave crickets that used to camouflage into the rug and scare the shit out of anyone that was forced to go down there (which only happened if we were taking out the fake Christmas tree or resetting the circuit-breaker because I blew a fuse using my hair dryer, curling iron and boom box at the same time).

Fake tree. Awesome holidays.

Fake tree. Awesome holidays.

Oh and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Scary Storage Room I and REALLY Scary Storage Room II that were situated in the depths of the basement. They were dark (lit only by single-bare bulbs, with chains that were usually too short for a normal person to reach…right out of a horror movie, right??), dank, and very, very cob-webby. These rooms were where things went to die. And I mean that literally. Like there were definitely dead things back there.

The Pool and Deck. Always a show-stopper, friends loved our pool and three-tiered deck. We spent many hours by that pool, with hydrogen peroxide (to bleach our hair) and baby oil (to fry our skin). There was never a summer day that someone didn’t end up with splinters from that deck, but it was still a great place to hang.

Finally, the Kitchen and the Family Room… impossible to separate, because even before my Mom knocked down half of the wall separating the two rooms, they went hand-in-hand.

The family room is where we sat, where we watched TV (Little House on the Prairie, The Facts of Life, The Love Boat, Friends and Sex & the City, until it was too embarrassing to watch with my mom and brother in the room), where we read People magazine, where we napped, where the snacks were laid out, where the photo albums were kept, where the stockings were hung, and where the extra, straight-back chair was brought in when Poppy was over.

It was warm and inviting and cushy and have-a-seat-and-put-your-feet-up comfortable. It was a Great Room, before great rooms even existed.

But if the family room was where we hung out, the kitchen was where we lived. (Does that make sense? In my brain, it makes sense, but when I read it out loud, it sounds like I’m trying to be all arty and profound… and failing. But whatever.)

In all houses that have a kitchen island, the kitchen island is the center of life. Or dumping ground. Whatever you want to call it. Backpacks, art projects, mail, flowers, socks, crumbs, drinks, mittens, sunglasses, medications, groceries, dirty dishes, food, packages, keys, hats, wine… all the evidence of busy families lives on the kitchen island. 6 Valley View was no exception.

On the other hand, the kitchen table is where all the PEOPLE lived. The aunts and their coffee; the cousins and their stories; the grandparent and his Scrabble games; the friends and their updates; the kids and their laughter…the people (and the Entenmann’s doughnuts) could be found around the kitchen table.

So many of my memories are set in the kitchen… my Mom cooking her giant pot of sauce (yes, with sausage for flavor) by the stove; my Dad coming home after work, hanging his tie on the door to the basement and opening a jar of peanuts; my aunts coming in and out, all the time. The holidays, the meals, the conversations… the years flew by while we sat at that kitchen table.

Time blurs in my memories when I think about that kitchen and family room. Those rooms saw our best family memories, and some of our worst. So many tears shed in there, but also so, so, so much laughter and joy. Babies and kids and happiness… so much life. But also, death.

After my Mom passed away, we waited a long time before selling the house. As you can imagine, packing it up and moving out was difficult in so many ways. There was over 30 years of stuff in that house and it all had to be sorted and dealt with. Emotional doesn’t even begin to cover it. I could write a post as long as this one just about that weekend. (Don’t worry, I can hear you saying, “Please don’t…” from here.)

At one point, I was loading something into my car when a young couple walked down the driveway. One of them said, “We’re probably not supposed to do this, but we saw you out here and we couldn’t help but introduce ourselves… we’re the new owners of this house.”

I thought I might burst into tears right in front of them so I ran inside to get Tom and Lori.

The couple told us that the price of the house was a stretch for them but that it was their dream house. They told us that the broker had told them about our mom and they wanted us to know that they were going to love this house and take good care of it.

Well.

That was that.  We finished up, left a bottle of champagne in the fridge and walked out.

(We probably also left some really gnarly stuff in Really Scary Storage Room II… but let’s get out of it.)

To this day, most of my dreams take place in that house. Probably because it was the setting for so many of my life stories. I wish my kids could know it.

HOME.

HOME.

But instead, we’ll hopefully build the same kind of life and history and stories and memories for them where we live now… in our Home.

PS. I tried to find more pictures of all the rooms I write about here, but the problem is most of the photos I have include people. And in most of those photos, the people would probably be very, very embarrassed about their hair. So, I left them out.

Grief

Standard

The Loud One woke up cranky and lethargic, with a fever. Happy Dude was not so happy when two poop explosions (editor’s note: we’re now up to four) left him with a terrible diaper rash. And the Nibbit… well, he’s just been a little bit extra nibbity all day long. I forgot it was Beach Day at school, spilled rodent food all over the floor and then stubbed my toe trying to clean it up.

Yup, today sucks. But it’s April 11th so it all makes sense.

Today marks the 10th anniversary of my mom’s death.

Side note: If right now you’re saying, “Oh geez, not another post about her mom,” I say to you the following, in the nicest way: I warned you in the last post this one was coming. If you’re looking for parenting foibles, don’t you worry, I’ll be back with plenty of those really soon.

I completely GET IT if you can’t do negativity today… maybe today is your birthday or maybe you’re just feeling so happy that it’s getting warmer or maybe it’s the anniversary of your first Starbucks drink – what? You don’t celebrate that?  If that’s the case, I do not want to bring you down. Signoff and come back in ten days. I promise I’ll be back with a fun kids-really-know-how-to-screw-up-a-vacation post.

But for me, it’s a shitty day. It’s a symbolic shitty day, but for some reason, the symbolism somehow always manifests itself in fevers and poop explosions and stubbed toes. And I can’t speak for everyone that has lost a loved one, but talking about my Mom and grief – and even more so, writing about it – makes today slightly less shitty. (Not to mention that I know she loves the attention…)

I have debated whether or not this blog – a place mostly intended to make light of parenting difficulties and my massive flaws in managing them – is a place for it (grief, drama, sappiness, sadness) and then I have decided that yes, yes it is. Because it’s alllll connected….

OK, on that existential note, let’s move on.

Grief is tricky.

It’s true that time heals. After a loss, every moment of every day is painful. That gets better. You start having more OK moments than not-OK moments. Then, some happy ones creep in. You start laughing more and the shock waves of sadness come less often. Not never – it won’t ever be never – but less often. (I was channeling Taylor Swift there for a minute.)

BUT (and here’s where I get REALLY Debbie Downer)…

There is one way in which the feeling of loss gets worse, deeper. At least in my case, it’s the fact that as time passes and the years go by, the amount of life I have lived without my Mom has increased, so I experience more and more important life moments, and therefore create more memories, without her. That is very, very sad. Therefore, my grief is worse. (Wow, that was kind of like math.)

In the ten years since my Mom died, a LOT of life-changing shit has happened to me.

I re-met KJ (in fact, it was my Mom’s funeral that brought us back together… I like to think of it as her final act in my life… but that’s a different post), planned a wedding, got married, had a baby, moved to the suburbs and had two more babies and I simply cannot believe I’ve done all of that without her.

I’ve lived an entire grown-up lifetime without her.

None of this is new… I wrote about all of it right here. I wrote about how hard it is to be a mother, without a mother. And that will never change.

Because that’s how grief works. You’re mostly fine until it sneaks up on you out of the blue one day and knocks you down.

The other day, Happy Dude was hacking up a lung and I wanted to give him cough medicine, but it was labeled, “Age 4 and under: do not give.” I debated whether he was too young… yet, he weighs as much as some four-year olds, so it must be fine. Right? There are a lot of people I could have called to ask for advice – my sister, friends, his pediatrician – but I wanted my Mom. She’s not here. So I cried.

I know I do not have to detail all of the events that make me miss my Mom. Because so many of you are living through them as well. If you’re lucky enough to have your Mom with you, than you get it. And if you’re not, than you get it more. (And if that’s the case, I hope you’ll join me for Margaritas on Mother’s Day.)

I felt it after I had each of my kids. I had the normal “baby blues” to a certain extent – but it was coupled with a feeling of complete homesickness that I know came from missing her.

And there it is. Today, I am homesick for my Mom.

A few days ago, on her birthday, we had a toast to DiDi at dinner. I heard some of the same questions I’ve heard before from the kids… is DiDi in heaven? (Yes.) Do you wish you could see her? (Very much so.) I missed her, but I laughed at my kids talking about their visions of heaven. I wished she was there to see them, to meet them, but I didn’t cry.

Most days are easier. Some days are hard.

Some moments are impossible.

Grief is tricky.

Mom1

Happy Birthday, Mom

Standard

Dear Mom,

Happy [mumble number]th Birthday!

IMG_0613 - Version 2

I’m sure you wouldn’t want me to publish your age in this public forum – where at least 18 people will read this – and I can respect that.

I’ve been writing a post about you that I think you’re going to love. But it’s not ready yet, so I’ll save that for later this week.

In the meantime, in honor of your birthday, I’ve made a list of all the things I’m going to do today. Well, all the things I’m going to THINK about doing today. I’ve put in it list form because, well, they didn’t call you “Steps” for nothing. (To be honest, I would have done the list anyway… the organized apple didn’t fall far from the organized tree and all that.)

Here we go:

  • I’m going to make sauce, with the sausage “just for flavor” … even though I hate the flavor.
  • I’m going to eat it with a steak because I just feel like I need some red blood cells.
  • I’m going to make sure all of the food is HOT.
  • I’m going to remind my kids to always “be aware.” Of everything. All the time.
  • I’m going to use the diffuser on my hair because it gives it a “nicer curl.” Then, I’m going to pull it half back because it just “frames my face nicely.”
  • I’m going to tell my kids “I just need a hug today” and squeeze them a little bit tighter and longer than necessary.
  • I’m going to watch out for wet leaves on the road. (Those things are sneaky killers.)
  • I’m going to try to get a stranger to tell me his/her life story and then say, “I don’t know why… people just like to tell me things.”
  • I’m going to call Aunt San four times and then sigh heavily and say, “Oh San…”
  • I’m going to invite everyone I know over to my house and of course, I’ll have chips and dip and ten other snacks out. When they try to leave, I’m going to tell them to stay just a little bit longer. Then I’m going to invite them to move in.
  • While they’re here, I’m going to feed them a big meal. We’ll have pasta to start and maybe a filet. Oh and a turkey… as a side dish. And I’ll make sure I have everyone’s favorites. (I’m not going to make brisket because even though it’s Lori’s favorite, according to her, no one can make it as good as yours.)
  • I’m going to spend the whole time everyone is here bragging about my kids.
  • I may read someone a press release about Tom.
  • I’m going to drink a giant glass of Chardonnay.
  • I’m going to have my picture taken and do the [look down for 1…2…3… ] head flip! maneuver.
  • I’m going to call Hong Kong Kitchen and place an order in your honor.
  • I’m going to remind my kids AGAIN that they have a grandmother named Didi in heaven that would have loved them more than anyone else in the entire world.
  • I’m going to think about a lifetime of happy memories that you created on Valley View Drive, both before and after you knocked down the kitchen wall so that you wouldn’t miss out on any conversations.
  • I’m going to curse fucking cancer to hell and back.
  • I’m going to curl up under the Monster blanket and miss you big.
  • And I’m going to do – or think about doing – ALL of this while wearing an OUTFIT.

Because I spend a lot of money on clothes and why do I always have to look like a ragamuffin?

Happy Birthday, Mom.

 

"Oh Tom, you make me laugh."

Celebrating your 60th… “Oh Tom, you make me laugh.” 

 

IMG_1532

This was your last birthday that we celebrated together. You were really sick, but we still had quite the dessert spread. 

 

Giving Thanks. A LOT of Thanks.

Standard

I’m going to share with you something I wrote in a moment of sadness last year on Thanksgiving morning. But stay with me… it all has a happy ending.

—————————-

I Always Broke the Bread

That was always my Thanksgiving job. Every year, I would roll out of bed at what… 10:00am? 11:00am? (Remember those days?) And make my lame offer to help.

<yawn> “Mom, what can I do?”

“You can break the bread for the stuffing,” she would say every year.

Every year, she would explain that stale Wonder Bread was good for the stuffing. I would break the bread. She would look over my shoulder to make sure the pieces weren’t too big. “That’s fine,” she would tell me.

Every year.

Every year, I would roll out of bed and the house would smell delicious. Like turkey and holidays and warmth.  I could smell the warmth. I can still smell it today. I’ve never smelled warmth like that anywhere else. I don’t know if it was the turkey, the cooking, the house or just her.

Every year I would make a lame offer to help and every year, I only broke the bread.

Then we’d watch the parade. Or rather I would watch the parade; she would listen to the parade while she single-handedly made Thanksgiving dinner.

I never said, “Why don’t you give me a bigger job? Or another job? Or let me help with the whole meal? Or TEACH ME how to make Thanksgiving dinner so that someday I can do it for it my family?”

Why didn’t I say any of those things?

If I had, I might now know how to cook a turkey. Or make stuffing. Or fill my house with the fantastic smell of welcoming. Or simply create warmth.

Instead, I only know how to break bread.

—————————-

I was really sad when I wrote that. I was full of regret that was bigger than just not asking how to cook a turkey. Did I tell her that I loved her often enough? Did I tell her I loved that she served the cranberry-sauce-from-the-can-with-the-ridges even though she was the only one that liked it? Did I tell her that I appreciated all the manual labor that goes into making mashed potatoes? Did I tell her that I was thankful simply for her?

I was feeling so awful, so I did the only thing a sane person would do in that moment. I opened the box of chocolates that was supposed to be part of my brother-in-law’s Christmas present and ate one two three all of them.

And then, I did the second thing. I reached out to someone I knew would make me feel better.

I emailed my sad, little story to someone I love and got this response:

“I’ve been reading this over and over.  A couple of thoughts – how could a memory like this be sad? How awesome is it to remember a house that smelled like warmth and love? How happy would your Mom be to know this is one of your memories of her?  And finally, don’t think for a minute that creating that kind of family, warmth and wonderful memories has anything to do with cooking.  She taught you everything you had to know.”

I know. Here’s a tissue. I’ll give you a minute.

Take as long as you need.

I’m going to channel my inner-Chandler Bing for a minute and say, “Could there have BEEN a more perfect response?” No. I’m sure that’s why I sent my sad words. Because I just knew I would get something perfect back… something that would make me ugly cry. And then smile for a whole year.

This year, I’m so grateful for that response and the person who sent it. Because if I wake up tomorrow morning and my house doesn’t smell like turkey, I’m going to remember that it doesn’t mean I haven’t created the same kind of home and warmth that my own Mom created. And that somebody believes I can.

This year, I am also so grateful to be surrounded with such an incredible family. I’m so thankful that I still have my Dad. There’s still time to ask him to explain complicated things… like economics. I’m so thankful to have the siblings that I grew up with and the ones I met later in my life… all of whom are my closest friends – and a huge extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins who, while I don’t see them often enough, never feel far away.

This year, I’m grateful for all of my friends – my oldest friends (some of whom I’ve known my whole life), my newest friends (some of whom I feel like I’ve known my whole life), and all of the friends I’ve kept in between (back when we wrote letters instead of status updates).

This year, I am so grateful to have won the Loud One, the Nibbit and Happy Dude in the kid lottery. As the Nibbit would say, “I love you to the moon and to the stars on a rocket and to California and to the smoothie store 137 times.” (Of course I just throw the “INFINITY!” at him and that shuts him up.) It’s impossible to put into words how grateful you are to have healthy and [mostly] happy kids. I won’t try.

I’m grateful for KJ. That guy is so patient and funny and kind and he never says to me, “When are you going to STOP being such a bitch in the morning?” I cannot believe he has never said that.

Lastly, I’m so grateful for the following things that make my life a bit better on a daily basis: the iPad and Amanda (the two best babysitters in the world), Annie’s Macaroni & Cheese and Belle & Evans chicken nuggets; soldiers, doctors and baristas; Matchbox cars and books about trucks; tequila; Matt Lauer; sea salt caramels; all of my kids’ fantastic teachers and lastly, the best next-door neighbors in the whole world.

I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for this to sound like an Oscar speech, but once you get started, it’s hard to stop, you know? It’s so cliché to say that I have so much to be thankful for, but it’s also so damn true.

Greer Garson gave the longest Oscar speech in history. It was way longer than this post. Be thankful for THAT.

So, I leave you with this:

Tomorrow. Be thankful, of course. Be thankful for the meal, but more so for the people you’re sharing it with. Be aware that you’re literally creating memories for the people sharing your space. Make them good ones. Make them warm.

Remember those that can’t be there with you, but know they are with you in spirit.

And if your Mom is the one that makes Thanksgiving dinner, offer to do more than just break the bread.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

I’m so thankful you read this whole thing.

On Mother’s Day

Standard

As I will probably never get to accept an Academy award (I don’t want to say definitely… you just never know), I’m going to dedicate this blog post to my sister, Lori, the best Mom I know. If I ever do anything right as a mom, it’s because I saw her do it and immediately stole the idea.

———————–

You already know how I feel about cancer. And you probably already know it’s because I lost my Mom to a rare form of cancer in April 2003 after a tough three-year battle with the disease. And you have maybe figured out from the context clues that, like so many other Moms who have lost their Moms as well, Mother’s Day is complicated for me.

I want to be able to enjoy the day without pause – to request breakfast in bed (i.e. Starbucks and candy) and fawn over homemade cards and macaroni necklaces without a nagging sense of void, but honestly, I have a hard time doing it. Instead, I ask KJ to take the kids out of the house and then I cry (boo) and make plans with friends to drink (yea!).

I don’t want to do my kids a disservice. They’re awesome and I’m super-psyched that I landed them in the Kid Lottery. Hopefully, someday they’ll feel the same way about getting me. Even after I’ve taken away their video games iPhone super-cool futuristic screen gadget 1,392 times.

But here’s the thing. For me, one of the hardest parts of BEING a mother, is doing it without HAVING one. (That, and the lack of sleep. That sucks the big one, too.) These two things – being a Mom and having a Mom – seem to go hand-in-hand, so to celebrate me when I don’t have her, just doesn’t seem right.

A few years back, I submitted an essay to a contest (of which I did NOT win… whatever) answering the question, “What was the most important day of your life?” I’m going to share it with you today as a way to honor my Mom. And as a way to express why this damn Hallmark holiday is so fraught with emotion for me.

Please note: the following essay is not particularly funny. It’s not written in the voice of this blog to which you’ve maybe become accustomed (i.e. sarcastic). But I assure you, I did write it. And I do stand by it. But you might be bored. So if you’re the reader who’s thinking, “C’mon tell us more stories about your kid’s addiction to the iPad,” or saying “Geez, where’s the Us Weekly dish?” then this is probably not for you. Just close the window or email now and come back in a few days. I totally understand and I promise to lighten things up next week. I may even write about Jessica Simpson’s 12 lb. baby named Maxi[Pad]. (Well, at least that’s what the kids in school are going to call her.)

———————————-

What was the Most Important Day of My Life?

April 11th, 2003. The day my Mom died.

I know this is not an original or creative answer, but it is honest and true. The day my Mom passed away after a three-year battle with cancer is the day that divides my life into the “Before” and “After.” It is the day that seems both recent and distant; I can sometimes recall every detail, other times it is all a blur. It is the day I lost a part of myself and grew up. It is the day that impacts every other day. It is the Most Important Day.

Of course I considered the answers “The Day I Got Married” or “The Day My Daughter was Born” but I took a more honest approach (although it may be slightly less popular with my husband!). If the adjective had been different – Happiest, Joyful, Exhilarating – than my answer would have been one of the above. But Important is a different kind of adjective. Important is Consequential. Pivotal. Life-Altering. And nothing changed my life more than losing my Mom to cancer because nothing shaped my life more than my Mom.

My Mom taught me to tie my shoes, wrap a present, sew a button, iron a shirt and write a thank you note. She took me to my first day of kindergarten and college, and saw me graduate from both. We spent every single one of my birthdays together except for my 30th, because she was too weak to come to the surprise party she planned. She defined herself and measured her life’s value – perhaps, at times, to her detriment – through her family. She supported my siblings and me emotionally, financially, and unconditionally. She always loved us completely.

Then she got sick. And that’s when I really learned the meaning of family.

The first thing you might have seen when you walked into my Mom’s house post-cancer diagnosis was that half of the wall dividing the kitchen and the family room had been knocked down. My Mom had it removed because when she was stuck on the couch in the family room after a treatment or surgery, she couldn’t hear every single word that was being spoken in the kitchen. And she did not like not hearing every single word that was spoken in the kitchen.

If you kept on looking, you would see the press releases about my brother’s recent promotion, the countless photos from my sister’s wedding, the magazines she knew I liked, her Christmas list (the list of presents she would buy for others, that is) which had an even number for everyone so that nobody would feel hurt, the grocery list for Sunday’s BBQ, the marketing presentation that I worked on for two weeks, and other miscellaneous hosting and bragging props.

Some people called my Mom over-involved… okay, that was me. I called my Mom over-involved. She had opinions and advice and answers about everything. And yes, it annoyed me a lot of the time, including after she got sick. But during her three-year battle with cancer – countless hours of “quality time” with her on her couch – I witnessed first-hand what it meant to be family. Her generosity and pride were inspirational; her caring and consideration were monumental. Even though she was the sick one, she spent most of her time thinking about her family. In her house, we were home; we, not cancer, were always her top priority.

Mom promised her doctor that she would not give up her fight against the disease until the day he told her there was absolutely nothing left to try. So she received chemotherapy and kept her sense of humor about how absent-minded it made her, calling it “Chemo Brain.” She underwent a risky surgery that was supposed to take eight hours and knew immediately that it was unsuccessful when she woke up in the recovery room after only two.

She bought wigs when she lost her hair, ate Hostess chocolate cupcakes when the drugs killed her taste buds and joked about how it was lucky that she had needed to lose a few pounds in the first place.

She planned my sister’s wedding from her hospital bed, literally; she redecorated her house from her couch; and she bought all of our Christmas presents online when she became too weak to shop.

After three years of trying every treatment possible, including risky surgeries and experimental drugs – her oncologist told her that she was out of options.

True to her word, Mom died one week later, four days after her 61st birthday. On her couch, in our home, with her family by her side.

April 11th, 2003. The Most Important Day of My Life. I knew right away that nothing would ever be the same, but I didn’t realize that nothing would ever be the same everyday.

I had no idea that my Mom was so strong. I would not have predicted that she would be a fighter; I had never used the word ‘courageous” to describe her before she got sick. Again, these were things I learned… After.

A lot has happened in the five years since my Mom died; it feels like we’ve lived a lifetime without her. My brother’s career soared and he recently married a wonderful woman. My sister endured two difficult pregnancies and now has two incredible daughters. I, too, got married, gave birth to a beautiful daughter in 2006 and am now expecting my second child, the first baby boy for the family. Life’s happiest occasions – or not. (Editor’s note: a lot more stuff has happened since then.)

I never really knew the meaning of the word “bittersweet” until the day I got married without my Mom.

My Mom’s absence continues to affect every day of my life.

There are the big things – the holidays, the birthdays, the achievements.

But there are also the small things, like how to cook brisket and do I need to wear stocking with this? And what is this rash on my kid’s back? All of these little, but not unimportant, parenting questions that come up every single day? Mom would know the answers.

My sister and I often discuss (agonize) over how we can be good mothers without our own Mom’s guidance, opinions (yes, even the unsolicited ones), and expertise.

We ask each other questions, shrug our shoulders and say, “Mom would know…” and then we cry. We try to be Mom for each other, but we can’t even come close.

So we live without Mom. But we live with her knowledge (some of it, anyway). We live with her memory. And we live with her lessons.

There are the lessons I learned about hope and courage; about priorities, pride and optimism. I’m wiser and ultimately, because of my Mom, I will be a stronger wife, sister and mother. I’m also grateful… even if my joy will always taste slightly bittersweet.

My Mom’s death drew the line between “Before” and “After”– she defined the Before and her absence affects everything that comes After. What could possibly be more important than that?

My mom, with me in spirit on my wedding day.

An Open Letter to Cancer

Standard

Dear Cancer,

I hate you. I hate you more than anything else in the world. I hate you more than cilantro and the stomach flu. More than waking up at 5:30 am everyday and wearing high heels. I hate you even more than when I forget it’s my turn to wake up with the kids the next morning and drink three too many Margaritas. (And THAT really sucks.)

I don’t throw the word “hate” around lightly, but you? You’ve earned it.

It happens every year… May rolls around and Mother’s Day approaches and I’m reminded once again of what you’ve taken from me. What you’ve taken from my family. You’re an asshole.

You swoop in on people when they least expect it – good people. People’s moms. People’s uncles. People’s fathers-in-law. People’s cousins. People’s friends. You knock the wind out of them – and us – and then you try to beat them down. Sometimes you win. And that’s why I hate you. You steal what’s rightfully ours. Painfully. Yes, sometimes you win.

BUT.

Sometimes you lose. More and more often, you lose. HA! I love it when you lose!!!!

When you lose? Best. Feeling. Ever. (Even better than when your husband says, “Go back to sleep. I’ll get the kids.”) When you lose, we rejoice. We gloat. We high-five. We ugly-cry. We hug. We celebrate your miserable failures.

Because cancer, you’re a bully. A mean, vicious, non-discriminating bully. But you know what happens to bullies? Eventually, they fall.

You should know, your days are numbered. You’re weakening. And we’re getting stronger. The doctors. The patients. The survivors. The fighters. The mothers, uncles, cousins and friends… we’re ALL getting stronger.

You’re going down.

I hope I get to see it. I want my Mother’s Day back.

Stand Up to Cancer.

 

 

 

 

 

PS. Sorry for all the profanity. Sometimes name-calling helps.