From Daughter to Mother in a Year

 

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” ― Theodore Roosevelt

 
Public nursing challenges at the Mall - Me with my ten-month-old daughter - Nov. 23, 2007

Public nursing challenges at the Mall - Me with my ten-month-old daughter - Nov. 23, 2007

This is the face of a new mother.

Not new, as in minutes new; but new, as in ten months into it new.

This is the face of a mother without a mother. A woman who was a bit lost in the world, after losing her mom and birthing her first child, almost simultaneously.

It’s not a particularly uplifting image or story; but it’s real, and it’s the truth.

A dear friend often says “it’s ok not to be ok.” I wholeheartedly agree. To be, wherever and however we are, allows us to feel and process our feelings, not run away from them. It’s a generously forgiving and nurturing attitude, toward ourselves and others; yet unfortunately, it’s not one many people adopt.

I have been doing this for years… not pretending I’m okay when I’m clearly not. The problem with this for other people is, when you’re not okay for a good long while, you start making them uncomfortable.

I was not okay when my daughter was born, and I knew and accepted that was just how it was going to be for a while. Almost every fiber of my being was grieving the sudden loss of my mom three months prior, while every other fiber was reveling in the birth of my daughter.

People around me wanted me to be okay, sooo bad. I too wanted to be... for my daughter, my husband, and me. Those who loved me wanted me to feel nothing but love and gratitude for this child, while taking comfort in the belief that my mom was “looking down on us smiling.”

But I wasn’t okay. It wasn’t comforting and I didn’t care to believe that my mom was up there, wherever they thought “up there” was, looking down on us, experiencing the joy of this child along with us. I didn’t care. I didn’t agree. I wanted her here with me, and with this baby. I knew that wherever her energy was now, there was no way she could be experiencing it quite as good as if she had been alive, holding her first grandchild in her arms.

I am not sure why my husband decided to capture the somber moment above. I don’t even remember him taking it. I look like I was in a trance while breastfeeding my daughter. That whole year after my mom’s death, the stark reality of enduring the challenges of motherhood without her support made me sad; and it permeated my days.

As if the grief was not enough, I was also dealing with hormonal imbalances, sleep deprivation, post partum depression, nursing discomfort, and an almost complete surrender of the person I formerly was. The challenges I faced as a new mom changed my face for a while. I often didn’t have the energy, nor the inclination, to cultivate a positive attitude or conceal the sadness.

On one of our daily beach walks - Malibu, CA - Aug. 19, 2007

On one of our daily beach walks - Malibu, CA - Aug. 19, 2007

Every Mother’s Day, I think of my mom, obviously, but not reminiscing on past years on which I celebrated her as my mother. Instead, I think of all the Mother’s Days that she’s missing. The ones we never were or will be able to celebrate as mothers together.

I have now celebrated twelve Mother’s Days as a mother, not a daughter. Today will be the 13th. Those people who say “It’s just a day” are probably the same people who tell the families who lost everything in the Woolsey Fire here in Malibu six months ago that “It’s just stuff.”

Until it happens to you, you have NO idea what you are talking about.

In 2006, I celebrated Mother’s Day with my mom, as I did every year, and didn’t know I was pregnant yet. The following year, I spent the day without my mom and with a child of my own, both for the first time. In the course of that one year, everything changed.

I don’t remember that first one. Maybe I have a photo from it somewhere, but I have no memory of it. I think I was sort of detached from the concept of it… how was I, all of a sudden, the mother on this day, in this scenario?

From the very beginning, I was this kid’s world. As a baby, she would sit, listen, and take in everything I said. When I would talk, she would just stare at me, absorbing every word, even though she didn’t understand them. When I wasn’t talking, she still had her eyes on me, observing.

She Always had her eyes on her mama, and still does - Malibu, CA - July 22, 2007

She Always had her eyes on her mama, and still does - Malibu, CA - July 22, 2007

She was my beach baby, my walking buddy, my everything. Even though the void in my heart left by my mom would never be filled, she filled in places I never knew existed.

Feeding at the Gaviota Beach rest stop - Sept. 1, 2007

Feeding at the Gaviota Beach rest stop - Sept. 1, 2007

She brought light into a dark time, and her smile, dimple, and big blue eyes brought me hope and kept me moving and living and working hard to be my best for her.

Beach fun in Pismo Beach, CA - Sept. 2, 2007

Beach fun in Pismo Beach, CA - Sept. 2, 2007

Nursing an eight-month-old in Downtown LA - Sept. 22, 2007

Nursing an eight-month-old in Downtown LA - Sept. 22, 2007

A night out at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center, - Dec. 9, 2007

A night out at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center, - Dec. 9, 2007

I know it looks very different for some, and involves a lot of effort and heartache for many women who want to have children. But for me, becoming a mother was the easy part. I was fortunate that it happened without me doing much of anything, except having a bit of pleasurable fun, and then growing a human inside my body without too much complication.

11-month-old on the verge of walking, Malibu, CA - Dec. 19, 2007

11-month-old on the verge of walking, Malibu, CA - Dec. 19, 2007

The hardest part of my pregnancy was the last three months while dealing with my mom’s absence.

But learning to LIVE life as a mother, without a mother, was the absolute hardest thing I have ever done. And being a mother, in general, is the hardest thing for me to do… harder than losing my mom in a car accident, harder than accepting marriage isn’t what I expected it to be, and harder than bearing my soul and exposing my vulnerabilities in writing.

As Teddy Roosevelt said in the above quote… if nothing worth having comes easy, and if the hardest fought challenges and rewards in life are the most sweet... then motherhood must be the sweetest and most worthwhile venture in all of human existence. At least that’s what I am banking on.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom (& Grandma)

from both of us…

 
My 2nd Mother’s Day with my 16-month-old - May 11, 2008

My 2nd Mother’s Day with my 16-month-old - May 11, 2008

 

(and her little brother too.)

POSTSCRIPT: I went through years and years of photos while searching for pictures of my aunt to include in the memorial slideshow that was going to be shown at the luncheon after her funeral on May 3rd. The photos that I found from my first year as a mother, a few of them included above, sparked vivid memories and feelings from that time; so I was inspired to sit down and write about it.

Reflecting on the difficulties that I experienced reminds me of how far I have come and how much I have surmounted. More than anything else, my children’s presence in my life has challenged me to heal, grow, evolve, and live as authentically as possible. Acknowledging our pain and allowing ourselves to feel it is the ONLY way to process, work through, and heal from it. There aren’t any shortcuts or detours to avoid them; that is, if you intend to heal from them. So each time I write and reflect on my wounds from the past, I heal from them just a little bit more.

I Am Here with You

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Every year, I bring the kids to visit you. After school ends, we rush over from Malibu and arrive with only a few minutes to spend before the gates close at five.

They give you their flowers and run around the grass. I try to steal a moment to talk to you, but I often don't let myself get very far into the one-sided conversation. I don’t want the kids to feel the heaviness in my heart while they flit around in their lightness. Sometimes, I just don’t want to acknowledge the heaviness.

So I watch them run around... burning off energy they built up on the car ride over. I tell my son repeatedly not to step on the other headstones and to leave the balloons and pinwheels where they are.

They are comfortable here, playing in their grandma’s yard, the only one of yours they will ever know.

I sit on the blanket and breathe in the peace this place is supposed to bring its visitors. I look around at all the trees and beauty and reflect on the number of years it's been since we laid you to rest. It may be only a year between our visits, but so much happens in the span of each year that sometimes it surprises me how much remains the same here.

Yet it’s a little different today… the light is different. I haven’t been here in the morning since the day of your memorial service twelve years ago, when I had a baby in my belly and an army of mourners walking with me from the chapel to this spot in the grass.

At this time of day, the tree that shades you filters the sunlight from directly above, casting strong shadows of branches down on your headstone and a warm, golden spotlight that bathes me in a natural glow when I lie down next to you.

The ground is a bit moist and uneven, and the smell of soil and cut grass is potent. My blanket is supposed to keep the wetness of the lawn from coming through, but it doesn’t. I hear the whizzing sound of weed trimmers all around, as the groundskeepers’ maintenance is in full swing. Ironically, I came here today to get some peace alone with you while the kids are in school, but it turns out it is a little less peaceful at this time of day then when we usually visit in the evening.

Still, without the kids in tow, there is a different kind of peace. I can sit here alone and say anything I want to you. I can talk and cry, and there is no one to hear me. I also can sit here in silence and feel the intimacy of the moment without words, knowing words don’t actually need to be spoken aloud to be heard.

Intimate words are hard for me to form through my voice. I get overcome with emotion in most instances of speaking intimately, and those strong emotions often muddle what I am trying to verbally communicate to others. For me, words flow more freely when I write; hence, this.

I write here next to you, sitting on this now wet blanket. Wanting to talk to you, but not knowing where to start. Wondering so much, about so much. Thinking of questions I never asked you. Wanting answers I am missing that I had not sought to get when you were alive, because my life had not yet begged their questions.

You feel closer to me here somehow. That doesn’t make logical sense, I know, because the ashes of your body buried beneath me here are not really you, nor is this inanimate slab of concrete next to me embossed with your name. I just refer to it as “you” because it is tangible. It is a symbol, a sign... It’s what I have left of you.

People like to say you are in me, and that you are with me always. They say it to comfort, and they say it with spiritual conviction; but it is not enough for me just to hear that. You are a feeling I have to deliberately elicit… one I have to connect with to believe, or to find comfort in. Just being told by others you are here with me, and that it is so because of how they choose to believe, doesn’t do it for me.

I am here with you. You are here with me. It’s intangible, but it is all we have. I write to you and about you to feel closer to you. I think about you and all that you have given me, and I feel you with me. When I am connected to my true self, I remember that you are part of me.

I have to go now. The kids and I will return in a few hours, with flower bouquets in their hands. They will give their flowers to you, and they will run around the grass, as always. They will hear church bells ring in the distance and take off to meet the source of the chimes. I will watch them go, silent in the calm of the evening stillness, enjoying the last few minutes we have before the gates close at five.

POSTSCRIPT (about the photo above): On that day, the branches of the tree that looms over my mom’s grave had filtered the midday sunlight in such a way that the glow affect on my face was created in the camera of my phone. I did not add any artificial filter to it after the fact, nor did I manipulate the photo in any way. I’m grateful for the beauty of nature’s filter, and for capturing this image.

No Mom Is An Island

Poolside 5/28/18

Poolside 5/28/18

For the fifth year in a row, I went away alone for my birthday weekend. It’s my ritual, and usually, my saving grace. In previous years upon my return, I have felt renewed, light, free, and more connected to myself as a woman, rather than exclusively a wife and mother. Traditionally, I have written about my thoughts and feelings after these getaways, having done so three times before in 2014, 2016, and 2017. I didn’t write about my 2015 trip; I’m not sure why.

As for this year, I am having a hard time finding something positive to say about it. I honestly would chuck it and not write about it this year, leaving it to fade into my past and memory, if only I hadn’t begun the habit of documenting these annual trips in writing. I’m sure no one else would miss it if I didn’t write about it; but I would be disappointed if I didn’t at least try.

I felt like escaping more this time than ever before, wanting to head out somewhere that wasn't necessarily going to be better, but was going to be at least a relief from that which I wanted to get away. Since 2014, I had spent my birthday weekend each year in Orange County, staying in either Newport Beach or Costa Mesa, seeing various people down there and experiencing various situations that made memories, changed perspectives, and left indelible marks on me.

Should I go to the OC again this year, just out of tradition? Why? I had been contemplating this for weeks, not sure if there was anything left for me there after four years in a row. It seemed some people had moved on, and other people had moved away, and I pondered what my motivation would be this year, going back to the same place. Living and breathing in my current, resigned reality, I couldn’t find any excitement for it, any good reason to rehash the past or try to replicate what I had experienced over the last few years. I needed a new reason to go there this time, and I just didn’t have one.

So I asked myself what I’d like to do instead. What would be the thing I would want most, in experience rather than in people or material gifts? The idea that instantly popped into my head was Hamilton. I had missed seeing the musical when it came to Los Angeles last winter, so I wondered if there was any possible way I could go somewhere for my birthday to see it; that is, short of flying to New York to experience it on Broadway, which was not in the (monetary or time) budget.

Maybe if it was somewhere close enough to California, I could go there, finally see the show, and have a change of birthday venue. It was a long shot, but I did a quick Google search to see if Hamilton was still touring the US; and if so, where they would be during my birthday weekend… just to rule out my farfetched, pipe dream of seeing it.

To my surprise, the company was in the western United States, and not only were they going to be in California for my birthday, but in Orange County, playing a limited run from May 8th-28th at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts - in Costa Mesa. I couldn’t believe it. I had my new reason to go back there… down to the area where I not only attended college and earned my degree almost twenty five years ago, but where I discovered many truths about myself, my soul, my loves, and my life over the last four years of birthday getaways.

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I bought a single ticket to the matinee performance of Hamilton, snagging a seat in the center orchestra near the front, for the afternoon of my birthday, Saturday, May 26th. I booked my hotel, then proceeded to make zero plans to see anyone in the area I had previously seen for my birthday in the past.

This was intentional, as I needed to free myself from the confines of what usually transpires: A long massage, meeting a friend for a chat over lunch, dinner or drinks, getting a glimpse into my alternate reality on the other side of a sliding door - the life I might have lived had I settled in the area after graduating from the University of California, Irvine.

Sounds crazy, I know, now that I write it… passing up on a massage! Weird, but I just needed a change. This year, I was determined to break free from my set routine, and Hamilton was just the experience that I thought would do that.

Before I left, my eleven-year-old daughter was upset with me for going. She laid the guilt trip on thick, as she couldn’t believe I was going to leave her alone to be “ganged up on” in a house full of male influence and energy… namely, her seven-year-old brother and her dad. Neither of them were the picture of sensitivity and empathy in her view, at this drama-filled stage of her tween angst life.

I’ll admit, this made me want to leave town even more. I needed a break from parenting, and from my kids, who relied so much on me to be their emotional safety net. By design, my birthday weekend had become the most significant stretch of time for me to have a respite from the draining demands of motherhood and my life in general; and I couldn’t get away fast enough, or long enough. However, drama, angst, and life still seemed to find me that weekend, as I would soon find out.

I drove down in massive Memorial Day holiday weekend traffic, but still made an early check in at the Westin South Coast Plaza, next door to the theater where I was going to see Hamilton. After dropping my bags and changing into running gear, I headed to UC Irvine for a run around the tree lined park that lies in the center of the campus. It’s always a little strange for me to return to my alma mater, but when I’m in the area, I don’t seem to be able to skip a visit there.

After my trip down my collegiate memory lane, and a nice hot shower, I spent the evening cocooning in king size comfort alone and reading. I have shared my reverence for hotel beds many times before in my birthday posts, and reading a book for hours tucked away in one is a getaway tradition I happily kept in the repertoire. I read for hours that night and the following morning, trying to get through as much of Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton biography that I could before seeing the show. I maybe read a third of it before showtime, but it didn’t matter; the musical Hamilton was otherworldly. I can’t go any further on that topic because I will get off track and this will turn into a long exaltation on it’s brilliance; so I’ll just say it was the best piece of art I have seen or heard, ever.

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In contrast, I saw a non-musical, two-act stage play at the South Coast Repertory theater the following night. Despite what seemed to be a miscasting of the lead actress, the play was enjoyable, and I was grateful to meet up with my husband’s cousin to accompany me to it. We shared a Chilean sea bass dinner at the nautical Water Grill restaurant adjacent to my hotel before the show, and I was treated to a birthday dessert with a candle upon which to wish. Oh, what a wish.

The following night, I saw I Feel Pretty at the movies; and I liked the film for its commentary on inner beauty and female self-worth.

I was grateful for the opportunity to see and hear three forms of art, music, drama, and comedy on stage and screen for those three days in a row; as those three theatrical performances were the highlights of my trip.

It would have been great if the theatrics had remained inside those three theaters that weekend; but it didn’t. Although I began my trip hopeful to have a relaxed, autonomous existence and trouble-free weekend, that dream was short-lived. During the first 24 hours away, I received texts and calls that forced me to confront issues I was hoping I would be free of that weekend… they were communications from people I love, but ones from which I was trying to take a break. Contact that interrupted my peace and solitude, and that reminded me of my love and anger, desire and hope, hurt and loss… contact that reminded me that I was still a woman who was not indeed free of the confines of her existence, still in a challenging marriage, and still a mother.

I found myself unable to bask in the autonomy and solitude as I had done previous years on this weekend, or see and experience people on my own terms. Failing to be immune from complicated issues infiltrating my vacation left me feeling like I hadn’t gone anywhere or taken a break from anything. No matter how mesmerizing Hamilton was or how lost I got in that show (or how much I wanted to go back to that theater day and night to watch its awe inspiring cast of characters sing and perform)… I was me, and my life was it, and there was no escape.

No mom is an island.

I had turned 46. It is not old, but it is not exactly young. I feel younger inside than I am in biological years, and I have come to discover this reality is common for many at my age; and further that it shocks the hell out of most people when they get here. It shocked me, and truthfully, kind of depressed me. Being an adult and growing older are not things most of us revel in. It is a transition we all have to make, and one we can't avoid or delay, no matter how hard some of us try.

As teenagers, we naively anticipate adulthood, as we see the impending perks of age as isolated “adult” prizes: independence, autonomy, freedom from parental limits on our behaviors, eating what we want, and staying up as late as we want. Spending money as we wish. Having sex whenever and with whomever we want. Having successful (possibly ego-driven) careers. Drinking alcohol and going bar and club hopping. Enjoying all those luxuries and irresponsibilities that we crave when we are naive, immature and primarily selfish kids posing as young adults who think they know themselves and what the world is all about.

But once we settle into adulthood, and have lived here for some years, we realize we didn't know why the hell we were so excited. The sentiment, “Can’t Adult Today,” is printed on a t-shirt my sister gave me, and that pretty much sums it up. Sometimes being an adult sucks. Sometimes doing the right or responsible thing is no fun, and sometimes our desires - to break the rules and live like we have no allegiance to anyone but ourselves - get the best of us. Sometimes we get a harsh reality check that forces us to reign it in and accept we aren’t islands… we aren’t, never were, and never will be autonomous beings.

What we do deeply affects others. Our actions, or inactions, hurt people. Our habits, our words, and our behaviors shape our relationships with one another; and whether we want the responsibility or not, what we do and what we say, and to whom, has a profound affect on them. It affects their lives, and in turn it affects ours, as well as many others’ lives in our world, and exponentially in the world at large.

No mom (or man, woman or child) is an island, not even if she claims to be one for a birthday weekend getaway during which she expects to be self-indulgent and pampered. Instead, life infiltrates, issues bombard, and people come into the fray uninvited to force her out of her fantasy world of problem-free bliss.

No mom is an island, especially when she is called upon to comfort her crying child on the phone, for what seems like an eternity, on her birthday night, instead of enjoying room service, an in-room, on-demand movie, and a bubble bath.

No mom is an island, when she realizes the uninterrupted peace that she desired for a few days could only be claimed at the cost of others’ tender needs… that is, if she ignored those needs and went ahead and claimed her peace. (She didn’t.)

No mom is an island, when she rises up to the responsibility of her life, instead of fighting it, to comfort, console, and put her child’s needs before her own wants, no matter how much it may frustrate or disappoint her in the moment, and no matter how sad it makes her for a little bit afterward… as she wishes things were different, but doesn’t know how to make it so.

This is not hero behavior. I am not claiming it to be that. This is what a mom does. A mom who loves and comforts, whether she feels strong enough to handle it or not. A selfless mom who sometimes gives too much, at the detriment of herself. A selfish woman who sometimes takes too much, at the detriment of her family. A flawed human who resents, and suffers, and regrets, out of weakness and poor choices and from her own wounds and limitations.

But all is not lost. Sometimes this mom finds a way to gather strength from the kind souls surrounding her, who don’t abandon her in the most challenging of times. Sometimes she finds inspiration in the feats of adversity she sees others accomplish.

And sometimes she is able to summon the last vestiges of courage inside herself… to cultivate gratitude for what is right and good, to learn acceptance for what is not the way she wishes it would be, to find peace for what will never be again, and to raise hope for what is possible in the future.

She may not be an island, but she is a piece of a continent that is beautiful, and one that is worth keeping together.

She (me) has also adopted a more realistic goal of existing as a peninsula of that continent, instead of an island, next year for her (my) sixth birthday weekend getaway in 2019. ❤️

No man is an island,
Entire of itself;
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.

If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
As well as if a promontory were:
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were.

Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

No Man is an Island - a poem by John Donne, 1623

POSTSCRIPT: I began writing this piece in June after my birthday weekend trip at the end of May. I was not feeling completely optimistic at the time; and what I had written reflected that. When it wasn’t shaping up to be anything worthy of sharing, I abandoned it altogether. I never shy away from sharing hard truths when I write; but I also don’t like to just spew negativity and offer it up to my readers as some sort of self-indulgent, pity party.

I began writing a poem instead, thinking that might come out better, or at least more entertaining to read. (I was determined to write something to honor my tradition of birthday weekend posts.) But the poem wasn’t any more positive; so I just left it be, and figured it wasn’t going to happen this year.

Then I had a shitty summer, in which I was faced with some new challenges that occupied most of my waking time, having to do with relationships, business and personal, both mine and other family members. Phone calls, emails, and lawyer meetings consumed my life, as I struggled to be a good parent and somehow give my kids some semblance of a summer vacation.

The stakes were life-altering high, and the little down time I had consisted of sleep, commiserating with my sister on the day’s events that she was going through with me, wine drinking, and binge watching British baking shows, Queer Eye, and other Netflix originals… anything to take my mind off the stresses of the day. Regretfully, energy for physical exercise and mind space for creative writing was at an all-time low.

Since then, although things are not completely resolved, the load has been lightened and shifts have been made, enough to get on with the writing (and physical fitness) part of my life. I have much to do, pounds to lose, a lot to write, things to heal, people to love, and help to give. I am (still) blessed to live this imperfectly charmed life in perceived paradise, and for me to try to claim otherwise would be fallacious and wholly ungrateful.

The culprits behind the challenges I was facing consist of a laundry list of the usual suspects: parenting woes, hormonal imbalance, and marital conflict. The origins and details of these challenges are just as important as the shifts that have been made since then, and I plan to write about them in the future. There are important lessons I have learned that may help others, especially women (and the men or women who love them) who deal with any severe level of hormonal imbalance issues.

As my sister would say, “To make a long story endless…” When I revisited both this piece of writing and the poem months later, I was able to finish both. Trying to find a positive note to end them was easier now, at what seems like a lifetime later, but the hopeful ends don’t conceal the victim-y, self indulgent negativity that fueled the beginnings of them written back in June.

They aren’t my proudest examples of writing, or living; but the negativity and sorrow in them document what I was feeling at the time, and that’s an important part of my journey as a writer and a human, if not for anyone but me.

My birthday poem is entitled Forty Six. You can read it here.

So Much of Her is in Me

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So much of her is in me. So many ways I am, and things I do, stem from her. She was thoughtful and creative, with an open, vulnerable heart and a vast artistic sensibility.

She was editor of her high school and university yearbooks, and earned her degree in journalism. She was a proficient photographer and writer, and had a talent for piecing words and images together to create a visual narrative of people and moments in time.

I grew up watching her create. Whether it was drawing, painting, writing, taking photos, decorating a room, designing an invitation, or planning an event, I experienced how she used her gifts to enrich the lives of those around her.

She brought me into this world and gave of herself more than anyone else in my life; and she left this world with so much more to give.

Although I think of her often and miss what could have been - how she could have enhanced my life as a mother, and how her energy could have contributed to the lives of my children - I honor her on Mother’s Day, and every day, by sharing my own gifts... those I feel have been passed on to me through her love, her example, and her presence in my life, both while she was alive, and now that she is gone.

When I create - when I tell a story through words and images - I do so because she was my mother.

#mothersday #missyoumom

*Originally posted on Instagram and Facebook

All I Got

My mom loved the beach. When we were kids, she took us to Paradise Cove in Malibu to play in the ocean and sand all day while she relaxed and soaked up the sun.

This Mother's Day morning, I took a run at Zuma, as I so often do, and I snapped this photo with my mom weighing heavily on my mind. I felt she was with me, in my heart; but I really wished she was with me in person, walking the boardwalk alongside me.

I would gladly have given up my run and that precious hour of solitude to just go for a walk with her. I pictured a spry seventy-year-old grandma version of her walking next to me, and wanted so badly for this version to exist outside of my imagination.

I remember how excited she was when I moved to Malibu fifteen years ago. I can still see her face when she saw the 180 degree view of the ocean visible from the deck of John's and my new place for the first time. Her jaw dropped when she walked in the front door and looked out at it; and she joked with us about wanting to move in herself.

She was so happy John and I were in love. She was our biggest fan... kind of like how fans of celebrities love their favorite power couple; yet instead of Brangelina, my mom fan girled us. She had a collage of our photos up over her desk at work, and she had several framed photos of us in her house.

She LOVED John. She thought I won the lottery of men. She adored us together and said "aaawww..." whenever we did something even remotely romantic in front of her, like give each other a quick kiss or cuddle up together on her couch. I think she was just so happy for me, and maybe a little bit relieved, that her outspoken middle daughter, who had an argumentative nature, strong opinions, and passionate convictions, found a gorgeous, kind-hearted man that seemed to love me despite these traits... or perhaps, to her surprise, because of them.

When John and I were engaged, she was beside herself with elation and excitement. My wedding day was one of the happiest of her life. She was beaming the whole day with pride... over me, the wedding I had planned on my own, and the man I had chosen to spend my life with.

None of us knew on that day that she wouldn't live to see the life we ultimately created together. It was only a year and a half later when she died, and she left us knowing I was six months pregnant, and that my baby girl was going to finally make her a grandmother.

She wouldn't get the chance to meet my daughter, or know we also had a son four years later. She wouldn't know that we'd continue to live at the beach, raising our family here and still looking out at that same view she had jaw dropped over.

She wouldn't know I would become a writer. That I would write about her often, or that I would begin to write my first book. She wouldn't know that so many people she loved would be touched by what and how I write, or credit her for my creative talent.

If my mom was alive today, I would have invited her out to Malibu and taken that walk with her; and then I would have taken her to brunch somewhere in town with a beautiful ocean view... or better yet, made brunch for her here so she could sit on our deck with a glass of champagne, look out at the ocean, and watch her grandchildren play around her.

Today has been hard for me so far. I don't know why this year more than previous years, but there it is. My family took me to brunch this morning at a local restaurant, after my run, and all I wanted to do was come back home, be alone, and write. I didn't want to see and be surrounded by adult mom and daughter combos celebrating each other over champagne brunch, or listen to my kids argue about whose foot was on whose side of the car and hear my son scream out at the injustice of it all. I didn't want to be informed about what they each wanted for their next birthdays several months away... subjects these kids seemed to think were paramount to broach on this particular day of days.

As a daughter, when you don't have a mom present to show your love and appreciation, there's a risk of presuming this day should be all about you. As a mother, things are rarely all about you, so this could be quite an intoxicating notion. Our culture dangles this day in front of us and tells us we should expect a magical twenty four hours in which our kids won't behave selfishly and our deepest desires will be met without us being asked what they are. If we buy into this premise, we will surely be set up for disappointment and our loved ones set up for definite failure.

I prefer to give more than receive. I love to be of service to those I love, to support them, to give them the parts of myself that can help them. To lift them up and serve them in the best ways I can, using my talents and strengths. That is love to me.

So since I cannot express and give love to my mom in person today, I am sending out my love to her and to all the mothers in my life through these words.

Mamas... I love you. You work hard, you sacrifice, you suffer, you triumph. You go above and beyond - and most days, it goes unnoticed. You plan ahead, you think of how to make others feel special, and you put the wants and needs of your kids ahead of your own most of the time. You are rockstars. I am in awe of you.

I never got the chance to physically be a daughter to my mom and a mother to my kids simultaneously, or to celebrate Mother's Day with my mom and kids together. The time it has taken me this Mother's Day afternoon to write this, and to reflect on my mom, is my special time spent with her today. Thinking about her, remembering her smile, her laugh, her jokes, her love, and writing this... it's the closest thing to showering her with my love and appreciation today.

That's all I got. Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I love you.

 

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

Today would have been your 70th Birthday. But you're not here to celebrate it. The weirdest part of that fact is that I don't know how you would have looked or how you would have lived as a seventy-year-old woman. Since you died the day after your 60th birthday, ten years ago tomorrow, you never got the chance to grow older and wiser, to right the wrongs, to make your peace, to hold your grandchildren.

You never got to see me as a mother. You never got to retire, reinvent yourself, become the cool grandma, sit and cheer at my daughter's soccer games, or come over to watch my son blow out his birthday candles.

You were cheated of all of it. You were cheated of the chance to realize you were the woman you actually were all along. A strong woman, beautiful, fierce, talented and amazing to her core, who just got lost for a while and mistakenly let others define how you saw yourself... let others make you feel less than... let others treat you in ways that didn't honor the kick-ass woman you really were.

I am mad at you for this. I am mad at you for not valuing your life enough to take better care of yourself. I am mad at you for not clicking your seat belt just minutes before that drugged up woman crossed the yellow line and plowed her truck into your best friend's car and killed you. I am mad at you for not thinking of me at home, pregnant with your first grandchild, and not doing everything in your power to get yourself back home safely so you could be here to see her be born. To know her. To let her know you. To love my son. To let him love you.

I am mad. Ten years later and I am still sad. Mad, sad. One in the same. As I read somewhere once, "anger is just sad's bodyguard."

I didn't get to say I love you. I didn't get to say goodbye. I didn't get to say how much you meant to me. I can only write this letter and send it out into the universe and believe that you knew how I felt. That you know how I feel. To make peace with the fact that I don't get to talk to you again or tell you any of this.

When all is said and done... despite the anger, the sadness, the regret, the disappointment, the dashed hopes, the alternate reality I have had to accept for my life, despite it all... you were loved. You ARE loved. By me. By my children who never met you. By all the people whose lives have felt the void of your presence these last ten years. There are many of us. We all feel it. We all have had to go on somehow without you.

So what do I say now? Happy Birthday? This isn't really your birthday anymore. It was your birthday here on Earth, but since you haven't walked this Earth for ten years now, the fact that you "would have been" seventy is pretty much irrelevant. What good does it do us? What would have been. What could have been, if only. What never will be.

You are now just a memory. A gravestone to visit. A photo in an album. A feeling. You are energy, you are spirit. You are the stars. You are the sunsets we see over the ocean. You are the laugh in my daughter's eyes and the mischief in my son's smile. You are the passion in my heart, the perception in my mind, the strength in my soul.

You are part of us all, even when we don't recognize it. You are remembered. You are missed. You are lost. You are found. You are us.

You are loved.

Your daughter,

Lisa