parenting

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Metamorphosis – A Mom and a Son and their Transitioning Journey

Published July 25, 2019 by megdedwards

 

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JULY 2019

I did love blogging. I liked the way it concentrated my thoughts, how I would plan and quietly pursue a small topic, write, pause, re-read, edit, pause, think, write and wordpress it out into the world.  I was pleased with the writing when I was done, though now I find typos and plenty of room for more editing.  But I threw out my words, tossed them into the world of electrical impulses, the internet. I had my faithful readers, especially an old pal and her Mother.  Also, some strangers, some writers. It was a message in a bottle. I was singing out into the chasm.

And in my last sporadic words I think my message was: I am going to try to write more seriously. And I have been. But much more. So much has happened. I stressed about debt, I became sick with stress. Both my other older children left home for the bigger world. I completely stopped menstruating and began to transition to an older  woman free of the life driving fear and acceptance of pregnancy. I got a demanding new job. I thought I had recovered from the loss of my parents, god mother and step mother but I did not know that I was to also lose the emotional support of siblings. I walked alongside my son who was in the early stages of transitioning.

The best thing about life is that it is unpredictable. I like that about it. Who knows what will happen next? Presently I have gained a son and regained my health. We both look fabulous. He is a preternaturally mature 15 year old with startling blue eyes, curly red hair and a lovely low voice. A musician, artist, environmental activist and the kind of gay son who says he will fix my hair and take photos of me even when I am extremely old.  Due to my incredibly strict diet to recover the health of my gut, I look fantastic and have been well trained on how to pose for photos.  I do yoga every day and I have begun to meditate. All good, classic, mid life woman shit. Right here, right now. I wrote a play. Poems. Novel. Bliss has already had one art show and has another one set for next month. He is learning how to play the trumpet and drum, while keeping up with his clarinet.

I have been writing a lot and that’s great, but there is one topic that I have left buried. I have not yet written about my son’s transition. I have been hesitant; sometimes I believe that I am too close to the process to be able to have perspective. Other times I believe that I am hesitant to write about what I do not know, which is his feelings. I made that mistake once before when I wrote about a sexual assault that was not my own experience. It felt like my experience because I am so close to my children. It ravaged my mind and body as if it had been me assaulted, but it was not my story or my body.

At the time my blogging was my outlet. I wrote about everything close to me, my heart breaking when my Dad died, my life with my Mom with Parkinson’s, and then the assaults and how they affected my baby child and my family. But afterwards, as time passed, I was shocked that I wrote publicly about the assaults and I hoped that it would not cause pain in the future.

I also avoided writing about the transitioning because I feared that I would confuse the beauty and liberation of the transitioning with the pain of the assaults.  I needed time to untangle the threads in my mind. As a mother guarding over the development of her child, I was hyper vigilant about the unknown effects of the early assault on later teen development. As I was feeding, driving,  helping with homework and planning birthday parties and music lessons, I was watching for repercussions.

At 13 years old my child did begin to suffer from anxiety, nightmares and depression. ‘Her’ close friends were all troubled, some cutting, some depressed, some suicidal. I kept a close watch and had big sleep overs with lots of chips and they would do odd things like bind each other in tape.  One of the children would occasionally fall onto the floor in a foetal position. I took my troubled kids to Tim Hortons in the morning and they called me Mama Meg. I still feel protective of all of them.

My kid was always a good student and at the time, a very pretty girl with a womanly figure. ‘She’ got attention from much older men and boys and I kept an eye out. But Bliss has always been smart and self reliant so he did not appear to be struggling. What the outside world did comment on was how close he was to me. How close he needed to be to me. We spent a lot of time together, making art, learning to skate, going out for lattes.  We had a lot of fun, laughed a lot, but at the same time I was aware that he was not thriving. Often fearful, jumpy, he seemed scared to be in his own body. He had nightmares about scary men on the attack and would not go upstairs in the house on his own.

So I did not identify the classic signs of discomfort that can give a clue to the beginning of transitioning: sudden hair cuts, dyeing the hair, trying out many different styles, friends, moods. The person is trying to find a way to become comfortable in his body. And then he began to talk about it; we talked about a friend of his who wanted to be a ‘boy’.  We talked in the car, when we weren’t singing. I put forth every radical feminist argument for being comfortable in your own body. Bliss was quietly disappointed but kept at it. I got a video out from the Amherst Library and it explained that transitioning is much deeper and has a more scientific explanation. It is not mental or psychological or intellectual, it is physical.

I began to understand. I had to open my mind, it was, as a matter of fact, ‘mind blowing’. The term ‘mind blowing’ worked for me. It seemed precise and exact regarding my thoughts about gender. It felt precise and true and so that is how I described how I felt to those who asked. I had to think about gender, and my loose but still entrenched ideas about men and women. The transition forced me to reexamine how I defined male and female. What makes a man feel like a man? What is a man? Who gets to define what a man is? I was brought up by a divorcee in an angry era of feminism so I still had baggage. Finally, I understood, gender is important, and fluid and also, personal.

As the transition continued, Bliss and I cared for each other. He knew when I was worn out, when I needed to eat, when I was sick and weak. Due to stresses that had nothing to do with my teen, I lost a lot of weight and Bliss was nurturing and caring. I kept parenting, driving, working, shopping, cleaning, talking, listening, reading, and thinking. I did not quite understand transitioning. Then one day I realized that I was the one in the family that made things happen. I was the one who researched subjects and made doctor appointments. I knew it was up to me to move forward.  And I knew that Bliss needed action. I found a doctor and we began along the path of transitioning. I learned how to give a needle. I bought binders. I kept reading and talking and listening but I didn’t write anything at all.

I changed his birth certificate, I changed his health card, I changed his passport. I kept going forward. I didn’t even notice when people stared at my child. Bliss would tell me later that people were staring and I was sorry that I did not have a chance to stare right back at them. But  I did not see anything to stare at, I didn’t see it. It was just Maude/ Bliss. My brilliant child, so good at school, so insightful and kind, such a good team player in sports, such a good artist, so capable and competent.  Well loved by teachers and respected in school even by the bullies and conformists.

So much has happened in the last year and a half that I have trouble putting it down chronologically but I can tell you now that when I see the name of Maude, I don’t think of Bliss. I see it as a child that I used to know. As time goes on, when I remember his child self I see more clearly that he was struggling, even as he bravely and cheerfully charged forward. I am amazed at how strong he was, to carry on so good temperedly while feeling so trapped and fearful.

All our family can remember a time when he would complain that he could not yawn, and he would struggle to breathe. Now when we look back we know that this was happening as his body was hit with early hormonal change. He grew into a woman at about ten years old and that must have been horrifying to a child who was hoping to become more like a man as he grew.  He hated his voice, his name. In Grade three he wrote a letter to his sister that said, “Guess what, I am a boy. Just kidding” and we did not notice that letter til this year.

When I look back now I see more and more clearly that we were just going ahead with the notion that he was a girl. And even though we are progressive people, we still had our own expectations. We have plenty of preconceptions about gender, everyone does. That’s why it is important to drop them, just in case the next kid you meet, the next baby you are introduced to, is not the gender that everyone says it is. Give the kid a chance to choose, to breathe. We have learnt that now.

During the last years we have worked through our personal growth and recovery, our discovery of ourselves, through art and music.  During Grade 8, Bliss home schooled and created amazing art.  When he returned to school he slayed Grade 9, even with his top surgery in the middle of the year. High Honours, new friends, music awards, more art and he founded the Queer Room and hosts it once a week for LGBTQ youth. He became a vegetarian and began to organize Climate Strikes in Sackville where he bravely read his own speech/poetry.

A butterfly bursting forth: my gorgeous gay son.And when I refer to my child in my mind, I now say ‘he’. ‘He will wait for me’, ‘he would like this art’, ‘he is my child’. He was always a boy and we did not know it.

Bliss and I helped each other through the transition with the help of music and art and good snacks. On our journey we both got older, we both went through major change. It was a metamorphosis! We even went through menopause together, both leaving behind menstruation and both growing chin hairs, his celebrated more than mine.

Bliss is proud of my progress in understanding transitioning.  At first, I really did not know anything about the subject and had some of the worst immediate reactions. Pity, for example.  That is a useless emotion. How about celebration of an authentic person? How many adults do you know that go through life unhappy, struggling to accept themselves?  People who have transitioned are the bravest and most honest and true people that you will ever meet.  I am grateful to know, to learn and to understand.

Bliss has given me a chance to grow, for my mind to expand. He is a blessing, to our family, and wherever he goes.

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About the Cha Cha Cha Changes

Published March 14, 2015 by megdedwards

killer whale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everybody’s change is different.  But change we do; we do change.

Adolescence is the first change. Little children start to morph right before our eyes. Tiny waif like boys fill out, voices dropping, shoulders forming.  Girls grow curves and budding breasts and the chemistry begins.  So we could call the beginning of adolescence, menoprimo, the beginning of change.

Then we go through our reproductive stage. Hormones take charge of the body and drive us through this next section of life. Let’s just call this next stage ‘meno’ and for women that stands for menstruation or non-menstruation, which is also known as ‘pregnancy’. Those are your two choices.

Then the beginning of the end; menopause. Men and women, pause. Change.

The waning of the hormones. The decrease in oestrogen and testosterone can feel pretty intense as the body  bravely tries to adjust. The list of symptoms for menopause covers pretty much anything that feels bad.

Anxiety, asthma, allergies, and arthritis can all be described as possible side effects of menopause. When the happy hormones stop the whole show changes. I gave birth fairly late at forty years and then breast fed for three years, so when the Change began I was in a free fall from happy hormones. It felt like I had returned from the moon.

Men experience the change too. I can see changes in my partner. And that’s cool because we are changing together.  We are not meant to reproduce anymore. And that’s good because we are a lot less energetic than we used to be.

The time of Change can be seen as a positive development, as long as you don’t mind the fact that you are actually getting closer to dying.

The woman’s body can rest from the rigor of monthly cycles and blood letting. She can grow a few chin hairs and have more time to take on the world.  If the man sticks with his wife he can also rest peacefully knowing that his baby making wife has retired from that job. He can mellow out and make cookies.

I did not mind the bleeding or the births. That was all pretty natural and made sense to me. It grounded me and made me feel like I was a part of the animal world in a cathartic and feral way.  Bleeding and birthing were intense bloody experiences.

When I was reaching the end days of the reproductive cycle I had massive blood lettings. The cycle would start with a minimal and discreet sort of blood; dark, scant and without pain. But it would build in intensity until I felt my muscles scraping every bit of blood from my lower body leaving me weak in the knees and pale.

The blood of the last few cycles was bright red as if from a wound. Stop now, I would say to my body, this is not menstrual  blood, you are just trying to kill me. And it stopped. Gradually the cycles slowed down, once every three months, twice a year. Once a year?

I have not heard from my womb in a long time. It is pretty quiet. It is no longer calling out the months, transforming my breasts, engineering my moods.

I am enjoying this Change. I am being transformed into a non-reproductive woman.  I am becoming a hag and a crone, a woman not weighted by sexiness or babies.

I feel strong. like a old bear waking up from a sleep, not about to take any shit from anyone.  Also, as the baby years recede behind me I feel a childish joy in the return of my own personal time.

Time to myself to write! And 50,000 words into a novel, I can honesty say I am writing. To create! Fifteen hooked rugs in the last few years and now I am planning a series of rugs and a show. To dream! I have ideas and concepts for plays, films, radio shows. The more time I have the more plans I have.

The hot flashes still surge through my body during the night. Sometimes my joints feel loose and like my hips could fall out of place. Things are changing and adjusting within me.

But I find that the sweating leaves my skin dewy and refreshed, and I believe that the heat of the flashes acts like a mid life protective fever, cleaning my body of bad chemicals and realigning my hormone levels for the next forty years of stable womanhood.

Like my girl friend the matriarchal Orca, or Killer Whale, I intend to lead the pod with my acquired wisdom.

 

 

 

 

Photo copied from skepchick.org (insights-into-menopause-come-from-killer-whales)  With thanks!

 

I missed you but I was busy thinking

Published December 2, 2013 by megdedwards

portrati of meg by frankI have gone through a quiet stage. I even hesitate to write in my journal.  Sometimes I feel tired just thinking about putting my thoughts into writing.

But I don’t feel bad or sad at all. I am cruising. I am thinking.

I remember talking with an American cousin of mine about whether natural birth changed the character of the person born. Did the painful and intense process of going through the birth channel make the person different compared to those that were born by opening up the belly and emerging directly into air?

She said something about ‘pra sess’ and I did not know what she said at first but then I recognized the American accent and the word ‘process’.  Now whenever I am thinking about the concept of ‘process’ in  psychological  development I say ‘pra sess’ to myself.

I am ‘pra sessing’.

My Mom died last spring on March 1 st.  I am still thinking about that and what it is like to go forward without a mother for the rest of my life. It did not  happen before time, in fact it happened at a natural time. It all happened very naturally.

Of course, I am shot forward in my head to my death and how many years I have left in my ‘back pocket’ as Mom put it to me one day as I sat in the sun on the phone, and waited for the school bus.

I still cry over missing my Dad. He died five years ago on December 15th. I realize now that his death really broke my heart. I was in such pain I actually felt physical pain in my heart and limbs.  I don’t know why it was so much more painful except that it was more sudden. And he had made he me feel less lonely in this world. Always.

During that time of physical exhaustion and mourning, two adolescent  boys, emerging from sort of squalid childhood hidden behind middle class conventions, sexually assaulted my baby child. We fought back, we protected her, we survived the police, social workers and general ignorance around this issue. 

So here I am, five years later, seriously aged but extremely grateful. In this seemingly short span of time my oldest daughter has grown up entirely and my middle child is turning into a man. My baby is no longer a baby. My marriage is stronger than ever. 

After more than a year looking for work I have given up. The final piece of the puzzle was handed to me when my youngest said she wanted to ‘home school’ again. After a day or two to ‘ pra sess’ I jumped in with my full mind and heart.

We are having a blast of full on love and joy every day. We do crafts and cook and clean. We walk and skate and swim. We talk and dream. Math sneaks its way in with no stress or anxiety. We learn as we go. 

I know that I allowed this time with my other children and I see that my life patterns don’t change. Having a baby at 40 meant extending my type of parenting for another 20 years.

I need to adjust, tighten the belt on the budget, and think about writing for money again!

My Mom moves through me. I feel her enjoyment with my domestic bliss. My Dad smiles on me too. They nod at each other, from their distant peaks,  like faulty Greek Gods, united in their pride.

 

Calving Season

Published October 1, 2013 by megdedwards

There was a sharp glint of pink in the universe,

northern lights crackled in the night sky.

There was a deep crack and rolling rumble,

a seismic icy shift, and a quiet shaking

that formed a crack in the mountainous block of ice, the glacier,

the glacier that is me, the mother of you,

when you moved away.

My little world, my grown woman,

you broke off and dropped into the deep cold blue waves.

I see you bobbing up, crowned with the rosy morning sun.

Sparkling like a diamond, glowing ruby,

an aura of love and warmth around you.

The whole world will change, the water will heat up,

Volcanoes will erupt underwater, hot lava freezing on contact with icy water.

The tremors will shake the world, continents will shift a few centimeters,

because you moved.

The earth’s surface is altered, the skin has rippled,

islands are rising out of the sea,

and the mountains have leaned back, sighing.

Mama – Last Word

Published March 13, 2013 by megdedwards

dusk 020I made one more trip to see mom before she died.

I went straight down to see her and was dismayed to see how lifeless she was. She had not been sitting up for a few days, and she had stopped eating.

I knew that, and I knew what was happening, and I knew why I was there. But when I lifted her hand with her pretty rings on it and it was lifeless, I was shocked.

She was dying, and was already leaving. No squeeze from her hand. No energy in the capable hand that had washed me, patted me, lifted a finger in admonition, cooked me many meals, typed out so many stories.

I leaned over her ear and said “It’s Meg”, she made a small sound. I sat beside her and said the first thing that came into my mind. In the last few years I had done that with her, just released thoughts straight out of my mind into hers. No sensor, no fear. I said, “You must be very happy”, if she could have, she may have moved an eyebrow. “Your kids are all around, and everyone is happy and healthy. You did a good job, you are a good Mama”. She said, “Mama”.

The last word she said to me was “Mama”. Her last word.

I rambled on after that, and said “Do you remember when we went to the cottage, just you and me?” I  was talking about the first thing on my mind. “Do you remember how we had orange pop on our picnic?” She made a ‘Huh’ sound. She remembered, and I was glad I was reminding her of a moment that we shared, when I was about 12 or so, and before I was a young woman and so defensive and easily offended.

Then I told her, “Liz and I are going to go visit Kate for her birthday, and bring her some presents and make her feel special. Do not die while we are gone, wait for us”. We went and saw Kate, who was in high form but loved the presents and cake that we brought her. When we returned we told Mom how much Kate had enjoyed seeing us. I could feel relief in her almost inert body.

She had stopped moving and her feet were very cold. There were no more words out of her. The Cheynes-Stokes breathing typical of a dying person had been replaced by a hard strong breathing that seemed to take over her whole body. I sat beside with my hand on her chest, feeling the breath pound through her lungs and beat her tired heart. It looked like hard labour.

My brother’s face was pale with concern, watching her hard breathing was hurting him. But I said to him, it is almost like the body is doing this all by itself.

At about eleven at night we all prepared for bed, thinking that Mom might have another few days like this. The night caregiver Mafe was settling into her chair when Mom made a sound, and opened her eyes. Then she stopped breathing and Mafe said into the monitor, “Liz, you should come” and Liz flew down the stairs. When she got to the bed Mom was still and quiet.

Liz approached me on the couch in the other room. I was just slowly falling into deep sleep, I had heard a voice, and wondered what it was, but the night was drawing me down. Then Liz woke me and I thought, why would anyone wake me? “Meg, Mom died”. I leapt out of bed and ran to her room.

I placed my hand on her now still and quiet chest. No more deep strident breaths, no more living. No more oxygen, no more heart pounding away in a universal beat; just a quiet body.

Liz and Mafe began to move around in a slow but frantic manner, looking for the clothes that we wanted her to wear. They went into the closets and started pulling out random bags of clothing. They were quiet but I wanted to do some sort of primeval wail. I said something, like “I just want you to know, I am going to make some noises”.

A keening sound was arriving in my stomach and pushing its way up to my throat. Later we thought how funny our behavior was, me warning them of my wailing, them digging through random bags of clothing.

A tableau emerged, of Liz and Mafe crying and washing her body while I sat up by the pillow, with my hands around my Mom’s face. I was holding her mouth up, pushing her mouth shut so she would not be left with her mouth hanging open. I cried and wailed and held on tight.

It was still my Mom but it was obviously not my Mom. She would not have liked anyone to force her to do anything, even if it was to close her mouth for the viewing of her body.

The hard labour of the breathing, the naked woman in the hands of other women and the bedroom setting reminded me of home births. We labored with her, to take her to the next life. I am so grateful for that. There were no anonymous nurses, no matter how well meaning, no bells or harsh lighting. We had complete control of the ‘home death’, as I began to see it in my mind.

Then, just as in a home birth, we made strong tea and sat around her bed. She was dressed in my beautiful wedding gown, a second hand raw silk dress that I had given her. She had on make-up and her hair was brushed. Her head was tilted back as if she had just leaned back and passed out. Her eyebrows were calm and majestic, her mouth calm and almost in a smile. If you knelt beside her you could almost imagine her puckering her lips in a kiss, lifting an eyebrow.

I remembered lying beside her as a little child, when she wanted me to nap. I remembered watching her nap.

At 3 am Liz and I crashed. We had taken all the medicine out of the room and cleaned it out of the detritus of life. It was now a viewing room, cold and empty except for Mom, a candle and Mom’s cat that would not leave her side.

As I crawled into the couch, with a comforter around me, I found myself holding on to a teddy bear that we had cleared out of her room. I laughed inwardly, Mam, are you tucking me up with a bear? And I passed out.

Mama’s other prime caregiver Remia had gone home but on the arrival of our text she turned right around to come back, crying the whole way. She and Mafe sat and prayed for our Mom while we slept. I don’t know if they slept at all.

The next day, when I woke at 6 am I was hit suddenly by the loss. I was never going to take tea to my Mom again. I remembered going up to my Mom’s bedroom when I was a young mother living in her ground floor apartment with my little girl and baby boy. She was the only one up at that early hour. How she gladly dropped her book when she saw me, and put her arms out for the baby.

There was not a time when I sat down on her bed when she did not rustle about trying to cover me with blankets and make sure I was warm. I have so many visions of her, flashes of her being. She does not really feel gone.

The day she lay in state, like a queen or a movie star, we had visits and we sat in the kitchen with family and close friends. We drank very good scotch and we talked and laughed just as she said we were to do.

Now we are preparing for her public Wake on Friday. It should be a Wake  like no other. We do not know what to expect, but that is what is beautiful about  life.

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Mama

Published February 19, 2013 by megdedwards

SNOW!My Mom’s dying is so gradual that I feel like I am watching a tree return to the earth. She hardly moves now, and Parkinson’s is stealing her voice and her expressions, just as she feared.

But if I sit beside her and look into her eyes I know what she is thinking.  Her eyes tell me all there is to know, in a place beyond words.

Her hand might reach out to something I cannot see, and sometimes her eyes are looking into another world.  But then she focuses on me and I see all her ideas in her mind.

A few years ago she would have told me anecdotes, or advised me, she might even have indulged in some annoying gossip; those were the days when she was well and whole.

Last summer she became elliptical and poetic.  Her sense of drama was alive; she spoke of her hallucinations and made grand poetic statements.  She was half in a dream world and she became even more articulate and eloquent than usual.

I wrote down some of what she said:

“ How many years do you have left in your back pocket”?

““Do you have any unfinished dreams? How about you? Is there anywhere you want to see? When I look back at my life I notice with some dismay that I have done everything I wanted to do, like a book of coupons”

“…in bizarre moments when I am not making jokes or confessing sins”.

“What is the name of the state that exists when you are not dead, but on the way?”

“Can we reduce the speed”?

“I have a countryside, potatoes, sunshine…”

At 6 am on waking, “Shall we stroll the decks”?

“I am listening, I hear the stories behind the stores, it’s not so much who is getting pregnant by whom, but the gaps in between and what we make of them”.

Last winter and spring I took my youngest children to visit her and sleep on her feather couch, last summer my sister Liz and I took Mom to the cottage, in the fall I took my eldest daughter to spend her birthday with her Virgo Grandma, in the beginning of winter I went back to Toronto and had a few days with all my siblings together with Mom. Then I got really sick and told my Mom I had to go home and rest and I would see her after Christmas.

It was February before I could get to Toronto again, and I traveled by train with my youngest daughter. The little one is full of love and care, kissing her Grandma and laughing at her bizarre comments. Mom gathered her little soft body in her arms and said quietly, “Let me linger over this hug”.

In the last two visits my Mom has talked less about poetry and apparitions and more about me.  Words of love and acceptance, compliments about my personality, my life, my marriage, my kids, myself; it felt like she wanted to be sure her third daughter heard some positive remarks, as if she was trying to make up for a childhood interrupted by divorce and separation.

After a lifetime of being told I was plain and ordinary, I heard that I was beautiful. “We all admire you so”, she said, referring to a cabal of Jewish women her mind had created that had all apparently discussed me. “You are so beautiful”, she said, making me feel suddenly very beautiful. “You have a large amount of kindness; I have only a small amount of kindness”.

I soaked up those last words, the love and the acceptance, the admiration and compliments.  I felt a bit like a potted plant that has been sitting in old dry earth for a long time, still somehow putting out green shoots against all the odds.

Now she has stopped talking and I don’t think there is a more painful experience than our phone conversations.  I call and I can hear her clear her throat, and I can hear her caregiver say, “It is Meg on the phone, talk to her, I will hold the phone for you”.  I say” Hi Mama, how are you?” She says, with all her strength, “Hi Darling”.  She may have something she wants to tell me but she can’t get it out. She struggles, the line goes quiet.

I fill the void by telling her about my day: the washing machine broke, we had a big storm, and the kids are doing this or that. It is very quiet, I say,” Mama, are you there?” She says, ‘Huh’, so I know she is listening.

Last night, as we ‘talked’ I put the cellphone on speaker and made the bed up in new sheets, and put away the laundry. She could hear the squeaking of the misfit drawers and my rustling around; a mother who never stops moving, just like she was for so much of her life.

I told her what I was doing. I rambled; I talked about the infrequency of people who are truly honest about themselves or their motives. I could tell that idea had her thinking. I talked about the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique, a writer who surely influenced my mother and consequentially all of our lives. She sighed. I said, “I know you have something to say and I am imagining what you would say”.

When she does rally to communicate, it is sometimes surreal.  Images from the TV work their way into her reality, mixing with her memories; her wildly imaginative mind conjures up anything and everything.  There are still hallucinations that are very real.

One never knows what she is going to say; sometimes it is ordinary but unrealistic. When I told her that I was leaving she cocked her head, gave me a flinty expression, and then started to say, “Well, we know we will have to wait 15 minutes for a street car” in a slow raspy voice. Or, she might use all her strength to tell me that she is going to whip up a simple dinner for us.

This is heart breaking because she is no longer capable of whipping up a simple dinner or hopping out to catch a streetcar.  But I don’t cry, and there are no tears. I laugh, and say, “OK, Mom”. And I smile into her face, and she sees me with her reptilian eyes, green and cool, and makes a small expression of irritation and love.  Just in her eyes; the look that says,’ very amusing’, an eyebrow cocked, a small smirk that says, I am still your Mother.

Last year my heart began to compare her to my sweet pets that have aged and died. I guess it is my closest experience to loving someone who is old and dying. I remembered a frail bony cat that would move its head to catch my eye when I spoke to it. Her fur was no longer rich or thick but dusty and thin. ‘ Don’t tell me to put my cat to sleep’, I told the vet, ‘when she still creeps out to the garden to lie in a sunny patch of grass, a smile in her eyes’.

The one time I put a cat to sleep I felt sick about it. I was late in my first pregnancy and my stray orange cat had a tumor in his eye. I was planning a home birth and I had already lost my other cat to illness during the pregnancy.  I thought it would be better if I did not have a death and birth at the same time in the same apartment.

A nice vet came over and gave him a sedative. I cried over his still lush orange fur, and a tear hit his ear making it twitch. He struggled to move, he must have felt scared by what the sedative was doing to him. Then she held him and put in the needle. I felt very sick, overwhelmed by my actions. I couldn’t eat without the food rising up in my throat.

I don’t know if there is a good time to put someone asleep but I don’t want to do that again with another animal. My first pet beloved cat died lying on my chest. After sighing his body went limp and his body released the last bit of urine, a warm spot on my sweater. He was like my first child; we mourned him like a child.

Since then I have had other sweet cats die of illness and old age and every experience is different. Everyone has their own path. There may be times when sedation would be good.  But doctors tell you that they only sedate the patient to relieve the pain of the loved ones who are watching. The last gasps are not necessarily calm breaths.

I left my Dad before he died.  It seemed like there were enough people around to hold hands, and my Dad and I had always had such a reserved love.  I was also holding out hope he would recover.

My sister said that it did get harder, he did fight death. And then they sedated him so that he could slowly stop breathing.

There are times when I don’t like to be stoned, and I am pretty sure my death is going to be one of those times.  I want to control the experience myself.  I don’t want to feel dizzy and nauseated on top of whatever else I am feeling.

My husband has told me that he wants to kill himself before it gets too late. I have actually heard this a few too many times, so the last time he told me about his desire to end his own life in a timely fashion I told him I will take over the shooting if he becomes too much of a pain. That seemed to amuse him.

As we gently care for our once strong parents, death is always on our minds. We are grateful to have our health and our lives, but it is without the lightheartedness of youth.

We wonder what sort of elderly people we will be, who will look after whom?  Will we be good tempered and brave?  My Mom is giving us her very best. In fact on my last visit she managed a full sentence, sitting up after dinner.  She slowly pronounced, “I am losing my faculties” she said, “but I am trying very hard to be brave”.

I would be proud to go into death as good temperedly as my Mom, “Like a character out of Dickens’” she joked last time after a big cough.  She is moving off very slowly, “Shall we stroll the decks?”  “Can we reduce the speed”?   She is getting every last drop of milk from the saucer.

The spirit in her eye is still flickering, love travels from one eye to another.  I am sending love, I am feeling love and I recognize love.

My last visit with Mom may not be my last visit.  My fingers are ready to fly over the keyboard, book a ticket, pack my old worn bag, get back on that little plane and fly back to her side.


 

 

There is always time to dream, write and paint

Published October 2, 2012 by megdedwards

My sister and I home schooled our kids, hardcore. We did not hesitate to leave behind the current public school curriculum and grade testing.

We taught our kids to read, think, play and explore without anyone telling us how to do it.

Although our Mom never home schooled I think that our confidence in taking over the education of our kids came from her.  I bet our Mom would have home schooled if she thought she had a choice.

She was a very active and busy mother always teaching us details about plants or trees or about art, literature or politics as she cooked and cleaned.  She taught us how to be brave and explore new experiences and places.

My sister and I came from the same home, in a sense. Although she had the young mother who gave dinner parties for her CBC producer husband and sometimes drank martinis with the neighbours and I had the divorcee who rented rooms and smoked pot with her lover, we had the same creative and energetic woman running our lives.

She was not one of those moms that dreaded summer and the return of the children from school.  In the summers we lived in a cabin in the woods by a lake where there was no running water or electricity. We ran in the woods and played in the water and let our imaginations guide our play.

She read aloud and got out paints and games when it rained. She herself was always creating: painting cool designs on our rowboat, illustrating little stories, or sketching our portraits as we played. And when we all left for school in the fall, she actually missed us.

We had a bit of a bohemian mother, but she was competitive too, and not one to be left out of society.  She would put on her best skirt and jacket, a Vogue pattern she sewed herself, when she had parent teacher meetings.  We had porridge every morning and pulled on our sensible boots over our sensible shoes and walked to school on our own. We went to school every day and we were expected to do well.

I did not like school, and as far as I can tell, my sister did not like it either. But in those days one just went to school. The first few years of school were just plain torture, but I toughened up and my shyness was conquered mostly by grade three. It may have been good for me, I don’t know. But when my first child said she did not want to go I accepted her opinion.

As a parent I liked being free from the arbitrary rules of an institution and I loved leaving her little brain to develop without grading or peer- pressure.  She dreamed, decided what she wanted to learn, pursued her own projects and charged forward. It was a beautiful sight.

It is true that some kids fair better on structured schedules than others. Some kids like the constant socializing of school, and some kids really enjoy structured school learning.  Not all children thrive in home schooling. But my overview is that children benefit from free play and unhindered exploration especially between the ages of four to twelve years.

Presently I have two kids enjoying school (mostly) and my sister has an empty nest. In the last eight years or so we have both being pursuing education for its own sake, just for fun and because we like to keep engaged. I finished a long distance certificate in Library Studies and she is a few essays short of a MA.

What we have discovered about ourselves is that we tend to be very good at working for grades and the approval of our teachers. And what we find irritating is that we cannot seem to apply that same discipline and energy to projects of our own choice.

We need someone to say, ‘do this thing, and then hand it in and I will tell you how good it is’.  And frankly, we are embarrassed by this characteristic that seems so deeply ingrained by our parents and the school system.

We are shocked and disgusted by our Pavlovian response to approval. Right now, as our dynamic and powerful Mom is gracefully traveling to the other worlds, with cryptic comments and magical hallucinations, we are left examining who we are and what we should do with ourselves that best expresses her lessons and her rich teachings.

As we step into the world without our mother, I think we want to fulfill some of the artistic gifts that Mom and Dad have given us.  Our mother was a good painter and filmmaker, our father was a good actor and playwright.  When they were young they may have had dreams.  But they did not pass on those dreams. When we dreamed of being a writer or artist, we were quickly brought to earth.

Ironically, it was often pointed out that good art was produced by people who worked hard.  My Dad told me when I was a twelve year old poet that good writing was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I wondered why he told me that and concluded that he must have thought I was not hard working enough.

Now with so much of my life behind me, and so many dreams buried by hesitant living, I think that the best thing you can say to a child is that they do in fact have the talent to do whatever they want. Hard work is the easy part. Believing that you can produce something of value is much harder.

It is possible that the best part of home schooling is being free of the crushing judgment of others. And now that we are older women, my sister and I need to home school ourselves. We need to be the parents we wanted, so we have formed a bond of unconditional support.

If we can ask our children to believe in themselves, the best thing we could do is be a good example.  Our parents did not pursue their artistic dreams, and may have crushed ours by their attitude.  My sister and I have inadvertently been following the same path and need to remember that what we really want is to play without judgment and to explore without fear.

There is always time to dream, write and paint.

Mama is Preparing to Leave this World

Published September 12, 2012 by megdedwards

Every time I return from Toronto I know that these trips will be over soon.

After my Dad and his wife died I never went back to Victoria. The home, the chairs sitting in the sun, the desk with the photos, the box of tea, the couch where I crashed, was gone.

Those very things exist somewhere but they are gone to me.  What made them mine is gone.

I have lived in Cabbagetown at my mom’s apartment so many times this year it feels like my second home.

I fall into the dusty feather couch at night in pure exhaustion and I sleep deeply with the city noises on the periphery; fighting raccoons rummaging in the garbage cans outside my window, men yelling at their partners, the incredibly dull, loud talking neighbors who enjoy their balcony so much.

Every visit things change perceptibly. Mom can no longer walk up the stairs by herself. She no longer makes tea or feeds her cat. The sweet caregivers have become her arms and legs. Our conversations are getting shorter and shorter. She is out of breath, exhausted; often we sit in silence with me holding her hand. Then she might rouse herself to say something random to me, such as, “Did you get through a press agent to attend this event?”

When I am feeling claustrophobic I head out to Parliament Street. It is a city amalgam of rich and poor. I can nod at homeless who rave just like my sister, I can smile at gay guys with their adored dogs, and I can hit my favorite spots. There is a small warmly lit greasy spoon run by a collection of older Asian men and women where classical music plays constantly and everyone is treated with respect and courtesy. Their good reliable food and cheap prices draw in some of the poorest of the neighborhood and each customer is treated like a good person.

There are cool second hand stores, a run-down library and further north on Parliament is a small area full of Indian stores that breathe their exotic spices and foods into my receiving sensory system. In the early morning the streets have that dusty busy feeling of an Indian city, so many people moving together in a hustle of humanity. Ground coffee, spices, the dust from construction, and the scents of perfume as people head to the buses to get to work are an orchestral sensory experience.

It has already occurred to me that this place will not be mine when my Mom dies. There will be no reason to go there and no reason to be there. So the place is seeping into my body.  As the real world diminishes for my Mom, it is increasing for me. I am a receptor of smells, sounds and sights that she no longer needs, her mind a rich enough tapestry.

My Mom is in her head, dreaming and thinking. Sometime she is worried about the motherly duties, and the thought of Christmas puts a frown on her face. How will she have the energy to organize it all!  We can’t insist that she no longer has to do anything, she does not pay attention. Years of looking after our desires are a habit that she cannot let go.

Conversations with my mom have become surreal and poetic, mind blowing. For example, “This book shelf is what it looks like, but not what it seems”. I repeat that back to her to see if that is what she said. She nods, “Yes, because there is another book shelf like this in another identical house in Toronto, and if I move a book here it will move there, and (pause) that would be magic”.  A look of disapproval and disbelief at the word, magic.

She looks towards a window, where for me nothing stands out at all. She smiles, “Do you see that man out there with wings; do you see the small children?”  She acknowledges that we cannot see what she is seeing, but her apparitions are so strong and detailed she cannot quite question their reality.

She says, “I can see Kate smiling and laughing and laughing” and she knows that it is something conjured by her mind and follows with, “Well, that is a nice image for me”.

And the odd images: “Look at the rats all jumping ship, with their feet scurrying as rat’s feet do when they run”.

Other times though she will say something that shows that she was paying attention when that last person was visiting. She will have noticed their health and habits and have a critical remark about one of their foibles.

And every day in my last visit she talked about dying. “Now please don’t get upset but we need you and Rhys and the others, to talk about my death “.  When I tell her that Liz will be visiting in a week she says, “I don’t know if I will make it, but I don’t know if that matters.”

I look at my Mom, lie beside her. Her body is smaller, her skin hangs from her bones, but her stomach stays round and firm, holding all her pain and seeming to symbolize the pain and love of life. The stomach, the womb, all desire:  the center of creation and destruction. Her desires from that center both created her marriage and destroyed it.  Everything is appetite.

And now her desires abate and her appetite for life is less. I gently press the frown on her forehead, but it is permanent. Her eyes are unseeing, half lidded, and skeptical. If I tell her that I don’t see what she sees, she says, “But how do I prove that, I just have to believe that.  You don’t see those boys, that large woman on the corner of the couch?”

I lie on the bed beside her; the bedroom is stuffy and smells permanently of urine. I rest my head on her pillows and hold her hand.  Her eyes are closed and she sleeps deeply for a moment, her breath becoming urgent and painful, deep and racking.

Then she opens a green eye and says to me, “Well, it was odd getting into bed with my husband and his girlfriend”.  I don’t say anything, what is there to say? Then she says after a long pause, “And where are they putting them, in the attic? And are they stacking them up”?

But amidst this random dream talk she is trying to prepare in her organized way, “How much time is left, what am I supposed to do?” and more poetically, “I feel as if I have just finished a book”.

I respond sympathetically, knowing that that feeling when something ends before you want it to,  I say, “And you don’t have another good book to read” and she says, “ Oh no, I have lots”.

On the day of her birthday, in which I am about to throw a small tea party, she rises from the couch under her own strength, which is unusual, and says, standing as tall as she can, “I am not sure if I am up to this, I am much weaker than I used to be” and I realize that she thinks we are going on a plane. Pretty much every day she thinks she is going someplace, and I guess she is.

Seeing her standing on her own, I see her through her own eyes. She is young again and ready for any adventure. I remember watching her prepare herself when I was a teenager. Putting on her makeup, picking jewelry, brushing her hair.

Her bags packed, neatly organized, a skirt that both matches her jacket and her pants so that she can pack lightly but have many options, her ticket and passport neatly in an outside pocket of her purse, which does not have old gum wrappers in it or crumbs like mine.

She has brushed her long soft blond hair and put on red lipstick. I am sitting in her bedroom watching her prepare.

Tiny Moments of Reflection

Published July 13, 2012 by megdedwards

In many tiny moments I think about life and death. If I am carefully pouring sugar water into a small glass bottle for hummingbirds, I think about my Dad and how he would have done this, when he was alive. How my Dad would have enjoyed my bird feeders, and laughed with me about the bird battles over seeds and sugar water. When I smell sweet wild flowers in the air, I think about how this is something we can only do when we are alive, or when I feel a perfect breeze while taking in the laundry off the line. Mundane tasks make the strongest impression in my mind. Making toast, going through books on a shelf, small mundane tasks make me think about what it is to be alive. Daily or weekly tasks that make us feel as if we are getting something done, they are the most potent. As I roll the smelly garbage can to the road, and it makes a trundling sound and I feel the satisfaction of not having forgotten to get the garbage out, I think of what it means to be alive and functioning in our world. Our tasks and thoughts are so very arbitrary, nothing much will matter when we are dead, but everything must matter when we are alive. I think of my Mom who can’t do the smallest chore due to pain and exhaustion. She can’t cook a meal and say ‘there’s lots more’ as she always does, did. She can’t wipe down her table and set out plates and tell an anecdote and open a bottle of wine simultaneously, as I can picture her doing in my mind. She is too tired and her life is slowly coming to an end. Every little part of my life, my child saying, ‘Mama’, calls from my eldest looking for advice, hugs from my muscle bound teenage boy, every weed I pull and bill I pay, reverberates, like the sound of a low bell. Reflecting on being alive while one is alive is not a youthful state. I am not in the sensual moment, free of perspective. I am standing beside myself seeing my hands pouring sugar water. I am not unhappy, just seriously reflective. Lying in my comfortable bed without immediate fear of death or illness, I remember what it felt like to be twenty. The luxury of sleeping when young, when the future is a blank and expectant canvas and all one had to do was move forward. Now I seem to think and fret in bed, thinking of all the things I have to do. I want to bring back that careless mind because my fretful thoughts are unnecessary. I am young now, if I manage to grow old. We are living with death and loss when our parents are sick or dying. This is a predictable phase of middle age, where some of us will act out and grasp our youth, and others may become depressed. I feel fine, though stretched out. My heart and my capable mind are busy planning, scheming, paying bills or putting off paying bills, planning for the very young and very old. What will make all these people around me the happiest, what can I do to facilitate the lives in my small universe. I remember when my mother was in this role, and how she played it. Now her practical life has faded and her best moments are with her vivid memories. My memories collect on dusty shelves; a little child’s humming as she draws, a loving mustache kiss, and the kettle boiling in the morning.

Mom and the Old Bitch Above

Published June 23, 2012 by megdedwards

There was a time in my youth when I wished my Mom was dead.

As soon as I wished it I realized that it was a terrible solution. I knew that my Mom drove me crazy in various ways but it was certainly not fair to request her death in order to set me free from my reactions to her.

I knew that she enjoyed living and I did not begrudge her that.  I did not actually wish harm to her.  She did not need to die, I knew that. I just needed to separate myself from her.

Mom was always there for me but sometimes her love or maternal attention felt destructive. I would inevitably regret reaching out for help. Whether it was emotional or financial, her help was like the well intentioned rock walls that people put up to save their sea shores, the effect of her attention sometimes caused more erosion than protection.

There was something about my relationship with my mom that was claustrophobic and dangerous.  She had a way of watching and commenting on my life that was suffocating. And while she could be maternal and caring, even almost doting at times, she could also be cool and dismissive.

If there was a battle of the wills then she had to win, and she would use whatever tools necessary, mockery, sarcasm or even physical power in order to rule supreme.  She was competitive and fiery.

If I was in pain she assumed I was exaggerating and would imply that I was weak. If I was in love she would question my judgment. If I wanted anything at all she would suggest I was greedy.

Maybe I made our relationship more painful by wishing she was something that she was not. She could only be who she was. When I read about Martin Amis talking about his relationship with his father, Kingsley Amis, I saw that what I had with my mother was not unlike this relationship.  It was more competitive than maternal; it had a manly air about it. She nurtured and then she fought. She prepared us to fight.

I kept wishing for a soft mom with soft arms who was a refuge against the world, but I did not have that. And in fact my Mom did not have that either, with her steely blue eyed librarian mother with the feminist leanings.  As I age, my sense of certainty that I have managed to avoid the same pitfalls and personality faults of my mother fades into a more sympathetic notion that maybe my Mom did not fail.

Maybe mothering is not about constant nurturing and altruistic sacrifice at all times. Part of what we do in weaning our children is push then away from our breasts, even when they cry. If they don’t learn to survive without us then we will have failed.

We may sometimes push our children away in order to set them free. That might be true. But we also make stupid mistakes and have moods. No one’s fault, no one deserves it, it just happened. Not only do I not know what I have done already that has hurt my children, I don’t know what I will do in the future. I will try very hard to be a good mom, but at times I will fail, quite by accident.

As the grains of sand drop one by one into the hourglass, the witch watches us and laughs. This image, from the family favorite, The Wizard of Oz, is definitive of my mother’s effect on us. My Mom was not the bad witch, she was kind hearted and fairly powerless, but she conjured witches.

Mom created a feckless and humorous God-like character, the Old Bitch Above; this mythical creature had a looming presence over our lives. OBA, as she was known in our home, would punish those who became too confident. OBA may give you a bad hair day just when you thought you were pretty, or make you trip when you were proud of your shoes. She had that kind of power. She brought you down off your high horse. Like a Greek God, or even the emotional Hebrew God, OBA had moods and emotions and you never knew what she would throw at you next.

Looking back, I see that my Mom was the physical form of OBA. She was unpredictable; you had to watch your step. Sometimes she was nurturing and sometimes she was harsh.  And she never said sorry. I learned to keep my dreams or opinions to myself because if I turned to her for comfort it would come back at me like a boomerang at another time, with a sudden attacking reference to that private conversation.

Even now, while we embrace in love and forgiveness as her energy drains out of her body, she can still throw a knife.  While I was telling her about a business idea that I had (once again forgetting what this admission would lead to) I said, “If it is any success at all…” and she said without thinking, “Well, that’s not likely”.

I laughed in my head, back on the same ground, aware now that the constant negativity that had accompanied me all my life was just under the surface.  She was aware that she had done it again, but, true to fashion, would not take it back. We let it go. But sometimes I see my life, and those of my siblings, as plants struggling for light, twisting and contorting to find the nourishment that we need to thrive.

As I accompany my Mom around the track, on her last lap, our faults are forgotten and our desire is to show love and acceptance. She says wonderful things about my writing; we talk about philosophy, writing and ideas. In fact, even in our hardest times we have always been able to talk about ideas. That has always been our connection.

Sometimes her  past rises up to torture her, she feels ashamed and irritated with herself, acknowledging that her strong pride and stubborn nature may have been unnecessary or harmful  to herself  or others during her life.

But I have no argument or anger anymore. Life is like one of those mysterious Irish folktales that show life as a meaningless struggle punctuated by madness and magic. My Mom likes to quote from some tale that she studied, lost now, “A man longs and longs and nothing comes of it”. She likes this line; it satisfies her on some deep level.

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