mom dispatch: 21 months plus 1 day

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Yesterday was Giles’ 21 month birthday and for the first time in his whole life I forgot to mark this monthly occurrence. Today I realized the date and maybe also realized I don’t need to count by months anymore? When people ask how old he is do I just say, “almost 2”?

But when he turns 22 months I of course want to make an instagram post using lyrics from Taylor Swift’s “22.”

Giles speaks in two and three word sentences now. “Daddy shower.” “Daddy work.” “I see ya!” “Hair up Mommy.” “Thank you Mommy.” “What in there?” “No poops!” This verbal development is my favorite thing so far. I love hearing what’s going on in his head as he plays, or which phrases he chooses to repeat. Seeing his face as he understands how a word fits with a thing– it’s amazing.

He’s also really fun. And throws tantrums. And beams me in the head with a metal Ernie in a bathtub car toy thing from my own 1980s childhood. And now there’s a bump on my head. And I worry about what this aggression means and how to stop it. And about a thousand other things. But he is also sweet and loving and tender– “Hugs, Mommy,” he says. And, “I sorry.” He pats my head, kisses my belly, rests his own little head on my shoulder.

21 months postpartum isn’t how I imagined it would be. I sort of wish I knew what my weight is, but I don’t own a scale and really I’m kind of glad. I keep reminding myself that my body will never be what it was before, and that it’s okay. I feel good and strong, especially since returning from our trip to Chile to visit Phoebe about a month ago. I’m taking Zumba, adult jazz dance, yoga, and I think I’m a vegetarian now? I’m ready to start the journey of making another human person inside my body again. Hormones still go up and down, but less dramatically. My soft belly, which Giles is so interested in lately (“mommy belly!”) is maybe a bit smaller, arms strong from lifting a 30 pound toddler, mind a bit more centered, identity more defined and sure, art time more regular and productive. Viewings of Moana have increased tenfold.

Now that I feel pretty good, pretty much like myself, why would I mess it all up to have another baby?

There are huge moments of fear and doubt and anxiety. Fear of being pregnant while taking care of a toddler. Of giving birth again. Of having a miscarriage. Of losing myself. Of losing my body. My mind. My identity outside of “mom.” How did my mom do this? How did she decide to have another kid? What did she feel as she and my dad made the decision? How did they know what to name her? What was it like taking care of two-year-old me while carrying baby Phoebe in her belly?

I had a moment, though. In yoga class, during shavasanah. Hands resting on my belly, I felt my body make room for the next baby. For my number two. For my “Phoebe,” so to speak.

My mom had a distinct relationship with each of us, my sister and me. Each special in its own way, but very different. Thinking about my mom and Phoebe together, I really look forward to my relationship with my number two, and how it will be just as big, deep, and full as that I have with Giles. But different. My “Phoebe.”

(Calm down, Gramma. I’m not pregnant yet.)

 

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pushing

holding back

This comic is actually from an assignment in my Comics Studio class. Our first meeting was this past Tuesday, and one of the assignments I gave was to make a comic from first person POV about a moment that changed your life.

Giving birth was a huge life-changing experience for me, in so many ways. This one little moment could be lost in the rest, but I come back to it again and again. I thought I was working as hard as I could. I’d been in labor for so, so, so many hours. I’d already been pushing for an hour and a half at the point the nurse said this to me (and I still had two hours to go).

This feeling of holding back– I have it when faced with jumping into water from a high place, rafting, doing anything that involves physical risk in that way.

Sometimes I think I am brave. Other times not.

I didn’t understand how to push, how could I, having never done it before? No one really tells you what it’s like, and even if they try it’s impossible to understand until you feel it. But I did feel that “pulling back at the last second” thing the nurse chastised me for. I pushed and pushed right up to the edge, and when it felt like the pain would break me I backed off.

How do I learn to push through the unbearable pain, through to the other side? I just do it, I guess.

59

sep 4, 2017

Today, September 6, 2017 would be my mom’s 59th birthday if she were still alive.

When I think about being a mom, my own role as Giles’ mom, I think a thousand times a day what my own mama would think about how I am doing. How would she do this or that…and especially the light on her face as she would hold Giles, play with him, talk with him.

Grief doesn’t go away. You don’t move on. Sometimes I know how to hold it and sometimes I don’t.

I put Nina Simone on for Giles’ nap today. Her voice, cool and deep and full– music seems to be Giles favorite thing, the thing that fills his heart. Well, that and food. And books. And balls. And laughing. He loves it all.

Mama was the most alive person I knew. Until Giles. He is so very alive.

She is in his eyes. She is somewhere in him.

Viola Rose Moriarty would be 59 today. She was an artist. Her life was her best art. She was my mom.

From her blog, April 4, 2010:

Today I called my family in Denver to wish them a Happy Easter. We had coffee with the NYTimes and sportsreporters and Ina…the Sunday morning slow start. Ahhhh…….

And then we finally pulled on some work clothes and got started.

We worked on our list of home chores, taking care of the live things first. Toilet scrubbing and floor washing and paying bills and writing thank yous and making donations, both in things to pass on and in the checks we could write now. We prepped for the week and cleaned the fish tank and the litter box and filled bird feeders and cleaned out the gardens, watered and fed the plants, finally making lists for things that can’t be done today and how much we’ll need to fix or do them later—all the little and big maintenance things that keep a home running.

Today we “counted” the chickadees starting their nest in the little house just outside our backdoor as they do every spring, and the forsythia’s first yellow blooms. We counted the garlics and crocuses and bits of herbs and bulbs that all made it through another winter. They survived and so did we. We tested the fish tank water and put out the bird baths.

And then we had a good salad for an early dinner and went to a movie at our arthouse theatre where we are members.

I love this feeling of participating in my life, of doing it together with Jon. Of making a home.

Foundation in lovingkindness. We do the best we can for all who reside here with us and around us.

This “making a home” stuff– this is where I feel most like my mom. More even than making art. I am making a home, participating in my own life. Foundation in lovingkindness.

Happy birthday, Mama. I love you.

mother’s day and a one-year-old

May 6 to May 14, it’s been a full week.

First, Giles turned one whole year old. I cannot really believe that it’s been a year since that long 30 hour experience of giving birth. It felt so endless that it seems impossible that I am not still in the hospital room, pushing and pushing and pushing. I can no longer remember the exact feeling of the pain, but I remember my reactions to it. My body has changed many times. Presently: my breasts are empty which is a strange feeling, my tummy is soft with less wrinkles and a bit of strength underneath, my arms are strong from lifting a growing baby, my linea negra is still faintly there and stretch marks too. I am smaller, stronger, more able and better feeling. I do not “have my body back” because that is not a real thing. I have my new mom body, which still changes every couple weeks, but has finally become something I understand (I think).

Giles has changed too. He is standing, crawling, walking while holding onto something. He laughs, chatters in baby talk, says “mama” and “dada” and something that almost sounds like “ball.” He has personality, likes and dislikes, a sense of humor. He loves to dance. He eats almost everything we give him, though he has preferences depending on the day. He has friends. He is more than three times the size he was at birth.

And now, at one week past his birthday, it is Mother’s Day. Last year we spent the holiday in the hospital with 2 day old Giles, still so new, learning how to breastfeed. Now I am done breastfeeding. Now I am a mother on my second Mother’s Day and the fifth Mother’s Day without my own mom.

It’s a complicated day. “Complicated AF” as my friend Ashley says. So true. I am so happy, so full of joy to celebrate being Giles’ mom. And then there is this hole, this cold feeling, tears behind my eyes and knots in my stomach. I miss my mom. I want to make her a card, talk to her, dance with her, help her in the garden or do whatever other chores she wants me to do. I want to have brunch with her and Giles, make waffles in her kitchen, watch her hold him and play with him and talk to him in Spanish.

There’s a lot of things I want but can’t even say.

There’s an envelope in my jewelry box (my mom’s jewelry box which is now mine). It’s a letter from Mama, for me to read when I had a child (or didn’t). I read that letter as soon as I found out I was pregnant, and a few more times since then. I haven’t read it today yet.

Greg and Giles brought me breakfast in bed and the sweetest card. They gave me a truly great Mother’s Day. I also have to make room for the sadness. Joy and grief live together now and always will.

 

4 years

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This photo of Mama was taken in April 2012, at my cousin’s Bar Mitzvah, a year before she died.

It cuts me how impossible it is that she is dead now, that she died a year after this photo was taken. Despite the bald head, or even because of it (she looks so strikingly beautiful with her bald head), she is so alive here. She was a bit weak, yes, couldn’t stay up too late at the party. But we danced. We swam in the hotel pool. We put on red lipstick.

But it also cuts me how we knew, a little bit, and maybe unconsciously, that our time was limited. I had this constant pain just above my stomach from her fist cancer diagnosis in 2007 until she died in 2013. A tiny pain, subtle and not always noticeable, a tight knot. For three months in 2010 everything I ate made me sick. I went to a doctor about it and she told me nothing was physically wrong.

It’s still a shock  most mornings, that she is not here. Sometimes she is alive in my dreams and everything is normal. In these dreams she has been sick but recovered and I feel such great relief that she is okay. Then I wake up.

Giles doesn’t get to know her except in stories. This is a huge gap, a thing he is missing and will be missing his whole life. She would have been a wonderful grandmother (Meme, as she wanted to be called), a great friend, a huge presence for him.

I’ve always said I have no regrets. Mostly this is true. But there are some living in my shadow, in the back corners of my brain.

I’m angry. I’m also sad, scared, some other feelings I don’t know how to name.

It doesn’t get better. It will never be better. It will just be life. Good and bad at the same time. Heartbreak and joy.

I don’t know what else to say. I have a lot of things to say.

 

 

 

my mom, my mom, my mom

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Seeing my tulips come up– the floppy green leaves and thick stems which have survived several frosts since that warm week in February when they started poking up through the ground– I think of Mama in her garden. My dad has always been a gardener too, they worked together to create the combination of flowers and herbs that surround their house. There are early spring flowers which flow into summer ones, then late summer, then fall. Except for winter, there are always flowers. The mint overtakes one area, a mix of spearmint and chocolate mint which Phoebe chomps on every time she passes it. Garlic. Basil. Soft oregano which the sweet cat Dulcinea sleeps in on a sunny day.

These tulips are really the first thing I have grown myself. I’ve had herb gardens, but never started any plants from scratch before now. My dad and I planted the bulbs last fall, digging up a couple small flower beds by my front walk.

I’ve never really been much of a green thumb, the only one in my family who wasn’t really interested. I didn’t like to cook either. But those loves have grown in me over time. In the cookbook she and my dad made for my sister and me, Mama wrote, “One of you is already a cook and the other promises (without knowing it) to be one someday.”

Every time I walk out my front door or come back inside I say hi to the tulips, checking in on how they are. I say to Giles, “Look at our tulips!”

In six days it will be four years since Mama died.

In 24 days Giles will be one year old.

Things are growing, I am getting stronger, my broken heart breaks and breaks and heals in new ways. Nothing is the same.

The words, “my mom, my mom, my mom” repeat in my head. “I want my mom.”

until the last minute

From my mom’s blog:

…Right now I’m starting to see myself in some new ways:  forgetful and distractable beyond the fog I’d come to know through chemo, radiation, whole brain radiation, radiosurgery and more radiosurgery.  I’ve started to hear my husband and children say things like “Mama, you really did know about that, you just forgot”  more often than ever before. I’ve gotten lost and damaged trying to find a path I use every day….I need help in ways I didn’t think I’d ever accept. I run into things.  I have numb pain from toe to waist on one side.  My head hurts.  I’m so cold.  Then I’m hot.  I’m not allowed to roast the chiles alone anymore.  I use a coffee pot that turns itself off so I don’t burn down the house.  I make brutal decisions about time and energy.  I ask my friends to walk with me, or to sit for me in exchange for my poor company. To give me healing or massage. Mostly I ask them to either paint with me,  or leave me to paint. Often I refuse most food I don’t make. I’m spending my grant money on a sink for the studio and a bed easel so the days I can’t walk down the stairs or just can’t get out of bed, I can still work.  A woman to drive me to drawing groups.  Paint and tubes,,,adding up how much I think I can actually use over the next few months.?  Now they don’t call me a survivor, or cancer clean, or any of those things.  THey tell me I’ll always be STage 4:   Stage 4 metastatic cancer with metastesis to the brain, CNS, around most organs….The only place I don’t seem to have breast cancer is in my breasts–but that may have changed, too. Tenacity is my other name. I ask for help, and I ask for understanding.  I am compassionate to old and infirm people in an even more profound way as I bumble through the woods…

But the main thing that scares me is that my energy level is dropping.  I’m tired.  I’m tired inside and if I think about it more than a second it brings tears to my eyes.   I’m desperate inside and I cry out in my head to all the dead women painters I love so much: Lee, Alice, Joan, Georgia, Frida, and to some men painters, too, Eduard, Pierre, David, Wayne, Elmer…..oh, please, everybody help me have the strength to make great work until the last minute.  Help me work, study, think, hold my brush…set up my easel—which way do the knobs go? Righty tighty, lefty lucy. I still have this fiery desire to make my work.  Even drawing boxes to learn linear perspective feels like achieving a goal, gessoing and sanding boards feels like living the dream.  And when I put brush in paint to board I know myself again, still, more deeply…that lets me know I am still here…

And to Life, I add, please help me to choose deep time with my husband and daughters, with my family and my soul friends.  Help me make the most of what is left of my energy.  Give me my husband’s love and help me not think of what it will be to go somewhere without him driving me, without him loving me.

 I’m tired inside and if I think about it more than a second it brings tears to my eyes.   I’m desperate inside and I cry out in my head to all the dead women painters I love so much: Lee, Alice, Joan, Georgia, Frida, and to some men painters, too, Eduard, Pierre, David, Wayne, Elmer…..oh, please, everybody help me have the strength to make great work until the last minute.

Love is all there is:  loving the work and loving the ones who share my life.

I now give away things each week, wrap up projects….organize the chaos so my family won’t have to.  I write the letters my daughter asks me for her wedding and when she has a baby.  I remind my daughters and my loving husband that I am on their side—always.  I arrange to make a trip home to Denver to connect with my family and friends.  How many kisses do you want I always ask my youngest nephews and they almost always say 100.  I ask for a million.  A trillion.  I always want more.

I see myself now as a weeping woman who is walking toward the door now, not with arrogance or tenacity or attitude but stooped with humility and deep tiredness, begging for a little more love, a little more work done, a little more time……

Viola Moriarty, 14 October 2012

This was written 6 months and 4 days before she died. I didn’t know then how close we were to the end. But it’s there, in her words:

I’m tired inside and if I think about it more than a second it brings tears to my eyes. I’m desperate inside and I cry out in my head to all the dead women painters I love so much: Lee, Alice, Joan, Georgia, Frida, and to some men painters, too, Eduard, Pierre, David, Wayne, Elmer…..oh, please, everybody help me have the strength to make great work until the last minute.

Today is March 24. In 25 days it will be April 18, the four year anniversary of my mom’s death. It is four years, a marriage, and a new human life since she has been gone. I don’t understand it. And yet it’s my whole life. I live inside this fact.

Love is all there is:  loving the work and loving the ones who share my life.

I repeat this in my head. Watch my baby on the monitor as he breathes in and out, steady in his sleep. Paint, draw, write. Dance with my husband in the kitchen.

I don’t know why I’m sharing this today in particular. But here it is. Trying to make my own great work until the last minute.

march 10, 2017

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My appointment went really well, and I feel really good about the medical team I will be working with. We stayed with some of Greg’s family who live walking distance from the hospital. They watched Giles while Greg and I went to the appointment. The snow was falling so beautifully, and the day felt auspicious since it was the anniversary of Lee’s death.

I don’t have many photos of him. This is one of my favorites:

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It feels important to share photos of Lee. For the people who love him, so we can look at as many of his alive moments as possible. He was really here, he was a person, he wore khakis and a tie for the homecoming dance in 2003. He had a certain way of standing.