Owls and Mama Bears

My students (4th and 5th grade) are currently writing memoirs. They are so real and so thoughtful, and they have me feeling both nostalgic and lazy… the perfect formula to get me back on the blog. So here I am.

My mom told me when I was little that her mom had died when she was 26. I remember hearing that number and feeling like this was normal- my mom was a grown-up, most people’s parents die when they are grown-ups, so how was this any different? Now at the ripe age of 23 I could not imagine losing my mother (actually, that’s not true- I have imagined it, in moments of absolute self-torture. I would not recommend this.) I realize 26 is quite young to lose a parent, not that there is really any good time to lose somebody you love. My mom’s mom missed out on so many good memories, and my mom had to go through the aches and pains of motherhood without a mom to call for help.

A psychic once told me that my mother’s mom, Joanne, sometimes likes to sit at the foot of my bed and spend time with me. I find this comforting, so I refuse to spend any energy wondering if this could be true, and have chosen to occasionally acknowledge her presence, by sending a little hello into the universe, with the idea that she hears it, wherever she may be.

Joanne, because it is almost mother’s day, I want to let you know that I wish I could know you as my grandmother. I know you were a loving, beautiful woman because you raised the person who taught me compassion and integrity, the woman who runs with the wolves, the fighter, the nurturer. I am going to assume that you are peering over my shoulder as I write this so that I may share a few of my clearest Mom moments with you.

When I was seven, Mom had this luscious garden full of tomatoes, all kinds of herbs, even these carrots called golf ball carrots. I had gotten this stupid Barbie head for my birthday or something (it was the size of a real human head, and it was TERRIFYING- more on that later), and I was obsessed with cutting the hair on that thing. One day I came home from school and The Head was nowhere to be found. I was equally afraid that I would get in trouble for being irresponsible and that The Head had come alive to punish me for making her look like Billy Ray Cyrus. I remember walking downstairs after a thorough search through the upstairs- I had torn apart our family game room, and had gone through my closet and dress-up box more times than I could count. I was disheveled and exhausted. I caved. I walked to the kitchen table where Mom was reading her newspaper. I muttered something about The Head and, without looking up, she replied that ohh yes, she needed to borrow it for something. I asked what for, to which she replied simply by pointing toward the window, every so slightly, with her index finger. I looked outside, and noticed someone standing in the garden. I was exasperated. I was not feeling up to any more puzzles, I just wanted to find The Head and get it back to its spot on my desk (turned around of course, I didn’t like when it stared at me). Arriving at the garden was like that moment in a horror movie when you see the person approaching the monster and scream “NO! NO! YOU IDIOT!” at the screen. That screaming voice in my head was buried deep underneath my curiosity. Finally, I looked up. There she was. The Head. She stared at me with a bitchy little smile. She liked her new life out here, I could tell. Up on a stake with a hat, a plaid shirt and old Levi’s- hell, my mom even put frickin pearls on her- she would never be the same. She had a taste of the good life, and would not settle for my hair cut chop shop any longer. When I walked back inside, Mom simply said “What? We don’t have crows eating my tomatoes anymore.” And that was that.

At the age of sixteen, my parents had settled into pretty distinct roles. In my mind, my dad was goofy and made horrible, yet always laughable, dad jokes. My mom was responsible, warm, focused. To this day, I love when people get to experience my mother’s humor because she is dry as jerky, and correct me if I’m wrong Joanne but I think she gets this from you.

We were at the dermatologist. It had been a long day, and an hour of the dermatologist poking and prodding at my skin. Leaving the office, she told my mom and I to get a facial cleaner that was Purpose brand. She wrote it down on a note: “Purpose Cleaner.” Standing there, tired and irritated, I turned to Mom and I was surprised to see she had this little glint in her eye- you wouldn’t catch it if you didn’t know her, but Joanne, I know you can see what I mean. I looked down at the desk and I saw that she had written something. Nonchalantly, she slid the paper note down the desk and over to me. “Ready to go?” She said. I looked down: “All Purpose Cleaner.” I remember thinking in that moment that she is so subtle, so clever, so… awesome.

Happy early Mother’s Day you, Jo. Thanks for being my mom’s mom.

3 thoughts on “Owls and Mama Bears

  1. Mair’ I know this is intended as something very special for your mom. I want you to know that this is also a gift to me. I love how you have such a clear vision of how my mom was. Yes, her sense of humor was witty and dry, yet always kind. I also can now see the similarities your mom and my mom (Joan; it always bugged her that her parents spelled her name Joan although it was pronounced as you wrote it) shared. It’s often hard to see close family members’ characteristics because we are just too close. Isa has always had a relationship with my mom. Since she was old enough to speak she spoke about visiting her in her dreams. She hadn’t seen pictures of Joan at that time, yet described her well with a few details that made it eerie. She still includes her In her nightly prayers.
    My mom, your grandma would have been so very proud of you! I’m glad that you put out some messages to her. I feel her with me but more often wish more than anything that she was here. The questions I’ve had are endless and every day I have a few more. There is never an appropriate age to lose a parent. Your mom was experiencing a lot of life’s firsts soon after our mom was gone. Recently married and then pregnant with the first grandchild… w/out the help of her mom.Simular to you but w/out the actual event you all experienced, I used to cry myself to sleep when I was young, just fearing that something would happen to my mom. I call it “pre-mourning”. It was only for my mom. Must have been my biggest fear as a child, it went on for many years. When it actually happened I was 17 and all of my previous grief from just imagining her death did nothing to lesson the blow. So I hope that you can resist thinking about all of the “what ifs”. Your mom and her subtle sense of humor that you “get” seems to be a special bond that the three of you (yes, mom you too) share. Thank you for sharing this Mair’. You brought back some wonderful memories.

  2. Hey Mairin I wrote a long response to your heartfelt, funny blog. But it isn’t showing up on your site. This has happened twice before and I’m kicking myself for not taking a screenshot of what I wrote before it may have been lost. Please let me know if my response does turn up. Thanks! Love your blog!!!

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