Monday, April 28, 2008
Today, April 28th, would have been my 29th wedding anniversary. It seems just a couple of years ago, but it wasn't. I'm not that young 23 year old any more. The ex and I lived together for more than 14 years before we separated, so we certainly didn't give up too easily.
What makes one marriage work and another fail? I think its the needs and expectations that each partner brings to the table. When expectations aren't met, it causes trouble. When needs aren't met, it causes a marriage to fail, and eventually end.
I certainly would never have dreamed that I would become a statistic. I never wanted to be a single mother, or to be single. Much of the reason that I wanted to marry the Ex is that he was stable and I felt that I could count on him, but in the end, I couldn't, and the marriage ended.
We have now been apart longer than we were married. We get along very well now, mostly because there are no strings, no needs, no expectations. He is who he is and I am who I am. We are accepting (mostly) of each other. He still doesn't take my advice, but I no longer feel responsible to save him, so its ok. Had we remained married, I don't think we would have come to this place, and this place is good. I can see the good in him where I could not before.
29 years ago, I was so hopeful for the future, so in love, so settled. I knew that life would have trials and tribulations, but I knew in my heart that together he and I could get through anything. I know better now, and in some ways, I mourn that innocence.
Our daughter is just about to go to college and be on her own. She is full of the same optimism and hope and sureness that life will be good. She's an innocent. I see the passing of the seasons and rejoice in this season of new beginnings for her.
So, 29 years ago, my beautiful wedding dress was freshly pressed and waiting for me to put it on. I was putting my hair up right about now, and my maid of honor and my mom were helping me get ready. I was excited about the future.
Today, I'm looking at another new beginning - the beginning of my life without any daily responsibilities to parents, spouse or daughter - to anyone other than myself, really. I wonder what I'll make of my new life? I don't have a plan, and I don't know what I want or need, but I do know that God knows all that. I just have to wait to find out what He has in store for me apres motherhood.
Friday, April 18, 2008
This is a reference to my childhood. A few years before I was born, my parents bought a little rustic country inn named Clearwater Inn, on the banks of beautiful Lake Sunapee, NH. Lake Sunapee is an alpine, spring-fed lake, and at the time, it was also a Class A reservoir, meaning the water was fit for drinking straight from the lake. In fact, many summer people had a pipe that went to the lake and that's exactly what they did!
Our inn was open only in the warm weather, from Memorial Day weekend through the autumn leaf tours in October. My mom's health would not permit her to spend the winter there in NH where the ice on the lake gets to be at least six feet thick - so thick that they drive the salt or sand trucks right over the lake! My Dad used to call NH "Lower Slobbovia" because it was so cold and so very snowy (that's a reference to Lil Abner comic strip for those of you younger than 50).
The inn was right on the water - I joke around that if I fell out of bed I went splash, and that is *almost* true. We had large dock which was set on rocks and cement, but even with that, the ice floes would take half the dock away every single year. The lake is ringed with mountains, most notably Mount Sunapee, with its ski runs clearly visible during the summer, and the camelbacked Mount Kearsarge. In the autumn, the mounts are ablaze with bright reds and yellows and oranges - there is nothing, absolutely nothing like a New England fall. Anyway, the water at the end of our boathouse was 12 feet deep, and at the end of our dock was 25 feet deep, but few of our guests believed that it was so deep because the water was so clear that you could see individual grains of sand. There were many, many times, when a guest would lean over the edge expressing surprise at the depth, and would lose his glasses. Guess who had to dive to retreive them? Me, of course!
Growing up in Sunapee, I actually learned to swim before I really walked much. I was a late walker and a very early swimmer. My Dad made me wear a life jacket, which we called a Mae West for ahem.... obvious reasons. I used to sleep in my bathing suit and put my mae west on the minute I woke up, and then jump in the water off the end of the dock. My mom would call me out of the water for all three meals, and eventually for bed. I'd take my mae west off and hang on the special hook outside the back door so that it could dry for the next day, but it never dried completely. I remember when I was four, almost five, I was swimming around and it was hard to make it back to the end of the dock. One of the guests noticed that I was have a little difficulty, and called my Dad, who used one of his extra long fishing poles for me to hold onto and he pulled me to the dock. When he picked me up out of the water, I remember him making an "oooof" sound and he took my mae west off. It weighed about double what I did because it was waterlogged. He muttered something in French which I was sure at the time was very bad. I was right. Then he asked me if I could swim without the life preserver and to show him. I did all kinds of tricks in the water, dove off the end of the dock, swam underwater, and finally he said I didn't have to wear a life preserver anymore. I felt so light!
In 1962, I was six, almost seven. I had completed first grade, which was a wonderful experience and I couldn't wait to go to school in September. My Mother wasn't feeling very well much of the time because of her heart condition, and my cousins were working for us as waitress/chambermaids to take a lot of the load off of her shoulders. Mom ended up having her first open heart surgery that winter. My grandmother worked for us as well, cooking the evening meal and running the giant ironer. And just plain being HER. An earthmother that everyone loved, just as my mom was an earthmother type as well. I didn't understand how sick my mother was at that point in my life.
This was before John Kennedy was shot, before my mother's first open heart surgery, before Viet Nam's body counts were on the evening news at dinner time, before the world became crazy and cynical.
In June of 1962, my grandfather, Vincenzo Cieri, died of a massive heart attack. I saw him a few minutes before he died, but my family shielded me from death and I just didn't understand. In my mind, he had gone on a trip, and one of these days, I'd look out my kitchen window and see him quickly striding so purposefully down the street, with his magical "finds" from the woods or the market in his hands. He'd smile and wave his cane at me and continue down the half-block to B St where the Catalano family mother ship still is. I didn't understand about death then.
That August 15th, in 1962, I remember that after the dinner service, my grandmother (who couldn't swim), together with my Mom, and my cousins Ethel, Roseanne and Kathy, all walked out of the back kitchen door, down the little wooded pathway to the wooden steps leading to the water, and alked right into the water in their white uniforms! Shoes and all! Grammie said that in Italy, you *always* submerse yourself in water on Assumption, and they were all hot and sweaty, and it just seemed like a good thing to do. It was hilarious - the guests were hanging over the railing on the wide verandah and laughing.
Life was good.
I'm 52 years old now. Life has been hard, but no harder than anyone else's life. We all have our difficult times, our tragedies, our losses, our pain. My grandmother, Josephine Catalano Cieri, died in 1970. My mother, Beatrice Elena Cieri Babineau, died in 2005. Kathy (Kathleen Cieri Perry) died in 2006. Ethel and Roseanne are still feisty, but both are long widowed - I talked with both of them last night. My Dad, Edmour Joseph Babineau, suffers from Alzheimers and has been in a nursing home since 2005, he hasn't known me for a long time.
I miss them all, every day, and others besides. Sometimes I think back to that summer, before II truly understood fear of losing people you love. When my Mom had her surgery, I remember my Auntie Anna helping her get changed into her jammies after she came home from the hospital. I was so happy to see my mom and a few weeks in the hospital. Auntie was helping Mom, and my grandmother was there. I saw the huge red scar that went from the middle of her back, around her "wing", under the arm, and under her left breast, ending in the center of her chest. Auntie started counting the stitches. Grammie had tears running down her cheeks, as did Auntie Anna. Auntie Nettie left the room. When she got to around 70, and wasn't even halfway there, Auntie had to stop because she was too upset. Later, I crawled into Grammies lap and asked her why everyone was so upset. We should be happy because Mama was home! Grammie explained to me that my Mama was her little girl, and she had almost lost her, her baby, and being separated from the people you love best is the most awful thing in the world. I got it. From that point forward, I began to understand about separation and loss and death, and I began to be afraid that my Mom would die. Every day, through every cardiac arrest, every hospitalization, every fibrillation episode, every fainting spell, I would think to myself, is this the day that my mother would die? I understood that just as my grandfather had died, my most beloved grandmother would die too, as would my aunties and everyone else that I loved. I wasn't a child anymore.
But in August of 1962, I was carefree, spending the summer in a beautiful place that I loved, with all the people I loved best in the world. I swam like a fish, learned to water ski with Skippy Lyons, played intricate games of make believe (in the water, of course) and chinese checkers with Lore Browner, spent lots of time with my Aunties across the lake at Blodgett's Landing in the old cottage that my Grammie owned.
Life was good. I miss them. I miss that innocence. I miss that place and those people.
So, that's what that entry is all about.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Four Things about Me
A) FOUR PLACES I GO OVER AND OVER:
3. Barnes and Noble
4. My computer at home
B) FOUR PEOPLE WHO ENCOURAGED MY FAITH ALONG THE WAY:
1. My cousin Kathy, and may her memory be eternal!
2. Fr. John
3. Not a person, but a place: the Boston Public Library comparative religion section
4. Fr. James
C) FOUR OF MY FAVORITE FOODS:
4. Anything Thai or Vietnamese or Indian
D) FOUR PLACES I WOULD RATHER BE RIGHT NOW:
2. Clearwater Inn, Lake Sunapee, August 1962
3. San Francisco
4. B Street, Everett, MA
E) FOUR MOVIES I WOULD WATCH OVER AND OVER:
This should be retitled, Four Movies I *DO* Watch Over and Over
2. My Big Fat Greek Wedding
3. The Quiet Man
4. The Sound of Music
F)FOUR THINGS I LIKE ABOUT THE ORTHODOX CHURCH:
1. The way that it calls to all of you - all your talents, all your abilities, all your heart
2. A capella choirs
4. A way to live that honors and nurtures that little sliver of God that resides in each of us.
G) FOUR OF MY FAVORITE HOBBIES:
1. Researching stuff
3. Music: Singing, directing a choir, composing, playing the piano badly, researching music, scoring
I would like to know more about all you other Mothers - Tag! Please be sure to post a link to your blog in the comments, so we can all read about each other.
Wednesday, April 09, 2008
Each person must bear the weaknesses of others. Who is perfect? Who can boast that he has kept his heart undefiled? Hence, we are all sick, and whoever condemns his brother does not perceive that he himself is sick, because a sick person does not condemn another sick person.
Love, endure, overlook, do not get angry, do not flare up, forgive one another, so that you resemble our Christ and are counted worthy to be near Him in His Kingdom. My children, avoid condemnation--it is a very great sin. God is greatly saddened when we condemn and loathe people. Let us concernourselves only with our own faults---for these we should feel pain. Let us condemn ourselves and then we shall find mercy and grace from God.
Selected from Counsels from the Holy Mountain from the Letters and Homilies
of Elder Ephraim
Abba Isaiah said, "When someone wishes to render evil for evil, he can injure his brother's soul even by a single nod of the head."
"It is in no way contrary to the principles of true knowledge to eat and drink from all that is set before you, giving thanks to God; for 'everything is very good' (cf. Gen. 1:31). But gladly to abstain from eating too pleasurably or too much shows greater discrimination and understanding. However, we shall not gladly detach ourselves from the pleasures of this life unless we have fully and consciously tasted the sweetness of God."
St. Diadochos of Photiki
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Suffice it to say that when I see children who do not receive regular medical care, it cuts to the deepest part of me, of how I know this sinful and broken world to be. When I see children who have the opportunity to receive regular medical care, but their parents choose not to provide it to them, my heart breaks for those children and, I confess, I become angry at such negligence. Had I done the same thing, my daughter would never have seen her second birthday, and once again, I would be a mother with no children as I was for 11 years before her birth.
My Daughters Are Fine, but I’ll Never Be the Same
For a parent, there is no sorrow deeper or more encompassing than the loss of a child. But there is another that approaches it, and that, paradoxically, is grief averted — the grief of the narrow escape when a child comes close to death but survives.
No matter what the cause — illness or accident, cataclysm or slow decline — a child’s close call reverberates through the rest of a parent’s life. Those of us who have experienced it are marked forever by our child’s brush with the unimaginable.
Within the span of 18 months, both my daughters contracted illnesses that might have killed them. My younger daughter, then 8, developed Kawasaki disease, a childhood illness that could fatally damage the heart. She spent five days in the hospital and months convalescing at home.
Four years later, she still gets every virus that comes around; a rough patch in the middle of one cheek flares up when she is tired or upset. But her heart is fine and so, as far as we know, is her prognosis.
Not long afterward, my older daughter, then 14, developed anorexia and landed in the intensive care unit. A long, brutal year followed, but she recovered fully and is now a healthy 17-year-old who shows no signs of relapse.
During both illnesses, I was very calm. In times of crisis, the brain goes into protective mode, a kind of extended present tense intended to get you through danger without wasting energy or emotional resources. After all, there is no evolutionary advantage to worrying about the future when the future may never come.
Once the danger has passed, though, you have all the time in the world to feel — and you do. In the year after my older daughter’s recovery, I developed insomnia and palpitations and a kind of continuous panic attack that kept me from sleep and pretty much every other meaningful activity.
My friends didn’t understand. “Everybody’s healthy!” one exclaimed, a bit impatiently. “Stop worrying and enjoy!”
Frankly, I couldn’t understand what was going on, either. Why was I falling apart now, when everything was going so well, when I had held it together for so long? Talk about cognitive dissonance; my daughters were fine, but I was going down fast.
What saved me was a conversation with another friend, whose son had nearly died several years earlier in a freak accident. His recovery had been astonishing, but also long and rocky. When she asked how I was doing, I told her the truth: I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t shake the image of my daughter, gaunt and anxious in a hospital bed. I could still smell the hospital’s sharp antiseptic, see the precise angle of the sunrise as I would watched it from the window of the I.C.U. Sometimes, I told her, I wondered if I was going mad. “But everything’s really fine,” I added. “I should be happy.”
“But you’re not,” she said quietly.
She had gone through the same thing during her son’s recovery. She had found herself turning inward, going through flashbacks and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. “Other parents worry about the worst,” she told me, “but they don’t really believe it could happen. We know better.”
We know better. That was it, exactly. We parents throw everything between our kids and danger: bike helmets, seat belts, vaccinations, tooth sealants, self-defense classes. We are creating the illusion of safety as much as anything else, weaving a kind of magic circle of protection. Like all illusions, once broken it can never be made whole again.
I see how my friend’s life is different — how she is different — because of what happened to her son. I can’t yet see how our lives have changed; it is too early. But somehow acknowledging that they have changed makes me feel better.
I still have trouble sleeping; I still flash back to the hospital and to the days that followed. I’m still parenting without the illusion of a safety net. The difference is that now I can also take pleasure in life again. I feel intensely grateful for the way things worked out for both of my children. I’m thankful for the doctors who cared for them (and us), for the friends who stuck around, for the ordinary life we have taken up once more.
But I notice that I still seek out the other parents, the ones like us. We may never talk about what happened to our children, but I’m comforted just knowing that they, too, have skirted the unthinkable and survived. That they have lost the illusion of safety and go on anyway, day by day.
Harriet Brown is a writer in Madison, Wis.