Category Archives: Mothers

How to Make a Fire

fireplace-photo

 

“You need to teach me how to make a fire,” said my middle daughter as we enjoyed the warmth of the fire on a shared New Year’s Day evening. But it was more than that. It was about learning to use kindling, soft pine logs and finally larger more solid oak logs to bring a glow to the room, to provide warmth and ambiance. It was about sharing a space that felt like family. I know, because it is the way I felt when I learned to make a fire back in my 20’s when Gary taught me. My dad occasionally lit a fire, but it was Gary who loved fires and I still crave the warmth and the glow.

The holidays have passed and the memories have joined the others now. The image and scent of sweet potatoes adorned with marshmallows, the corn flake topped string beans, the simmering latkes, the sweet crumble-topped cranberry-pears, bakery goods from Bea’s Bakery and the pot roast recipe created by my Auntie Joyce and made a million times by my mom, complete with carrots, onions and potatoes in gravy, requested and deliciously remembered now. The holidays trigger emotions too and longing for the holidays of the past when everyone was here, but we go on and create new and different traditions that bring the cozy joy of sharing with family and friends.

How do we pass on our traditions to our children? It’s more than telling them about how we celebrate; it’s about embedding the sights, sounds and smells associated with family. The house is decorated with relics of the past, preschool painted dreidels, menorahs made of felt, elementary school laminated holiday poems, holiday lights and the three little Hanukkah mice my mother gave me, one for each daughter. The smell of burning candles, the anticipation of small, secretly selected gifts opened together, eliciting small tears of joy. What makes the holidays real is the togetherness we share.

My job as a mother began more than 32 years ago, but as a mother, once you sign on, that’s it. I’ve taken it seriously from the start feeling that as a mother, my primary jobs were to take care of my daughters, pass on everything I know to them, pass on all family traditions and of course keep them alive. My daughters appreciate their handmade (by dad) dollhouses, the quilts I made for each of them when they turned nine and the special quilts made of all of the sweatshirts collected from ballet, music and theater performances over the years.

Making a fire. Beginning with the kindling, then the soft pine and finally the solid oak. This is what it takes, and the reward is so great. The warmth, the glow, and a place called family.

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Filed under Family, Life thoughts, Mothers

The Tie That Binds

fullsizerenderA life-changing event occurred this week when my granddaughter was born. It has been such a bittersweet time filled with equal bursts of joy and sorrow. Anticipating a joyous birth while grieving the loss of my husband has left me feeling a little confused. When grieving, I welcomed the images of my lovely daughter, expecting my granddaughter and so filled with the natural feelings of bliss, terror, excitement and anticipation. When I got consumed with the bubbling-over excitement of my impending grandmother status I felt the drips of sadness that Gary will not be sharing the joys of being a grandparent with me and so angry at the unfairness of it all. He would have loved holding her and watching her grow. I am sure he would have spoiled her with attention and introduced her to the drums, perhaps with a little drum of her own. He would have loved to take her to the mountains and watch her little face gaze at the giant trees.

Birth is a celebration and a confirmation that life does flow in a circle of seasons. While some are just beginning and others have gone, there are those of us here, traveling this circle and considering all that life is. I look at that lovely little face, the cheeks chubby and her serene eyes. She is an old soul. I already want to nickname her Buddha. She is the joy we have been waiting for and an amazing tribute not only to my mother, her namesake, but also to all of the women in our respective families who move forward in strength through the times we think we can never survive.

I heard a TED talk today that talked about different lives. We think we are living one life, but really we have many lives. My family is starting a new life now and it is a life without Gary, but a life with little Marjorie. Even though my dad and my mother, the original Marjorie, are not here, we are. We are here to take part in this journey and to share in the excitement of our growing family and the love we all share.

Mothers have a tie to their children that is so strong it can be felt long after birth. There is a physical feeling connected to any separation that I still feel and an ache in my heart when my daughters are not nearby. It is not depressing, or debilitating, but still a very real sensation. It’s amazing and overwhelming when I think about creating a living being and how women get that honor and tremendous responsibility. It is even more incredible to see that continue with my own daughter’s entrance into motherhood. I look forward to watching them both grow and develop their own tie, the kind that binds women together.

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Filed under birth, change, Family, Life thoughts, Mothers, Parents

Lost in the Fire, Stimulus for Understanding


Another task in my recent writing class was to imagine a character who had lost everything in a fire.  All people and animals are fine, but the belongings, the “stuff” of their life is gone.  I did not need a moment.  My hand flew across the page and by the end of the short assignment, I came to a startling realization about my mother.  My sister and I have spent the past two years creating time together to look through all of my mother’s memories beginning with clothing and continuing with personal letters and important papers.  Over and over again we exclaim, “Why did she save everything?”  I have come to a happy conclusion and am once again in awe of my mother’s ability to transcend time and space to visit us and remain an active part of our lives.

Lost in the Fire

She slowly sat down on the curb, letting the officers words sink in, “There is nothing left,” what did that mean?  She mentally walked through the small house, one room at a time, (there were only three) and now somehow, what had seemed so small, suddenly seemed filled with so much.  Each closet had held years worth of memories organized on shelves; those that no one knew of, others she didn’t even remember, and now, without the visual reminders and tactile images, those memories would be lost forever.

There had been boxes of family photos dating back to the 1870’s sealed with ancient tape, and too many albums, the oldest photos pasted on black paper with curly script descriptions and names of unfamiliar people who had immigrated, leaving all of their belongings behind, she was not so different from them now.  All of the lovely cards from her father’s train travels as a salesman for women blouses written in flowery prose to her sister, her mother and to the child she once was, were lost along with the Western Union Telegrams with short messages stating safe arrivals in other states. There had been collections of timeless watches, cuff links now obsolete, tiepins from her father and embroidered handkerchiefs from her mother.  Memories no longer relevant in today’s disposable world, yet cherished objects that had been held in the hands of her loved ones.  She had everything.  She was the last in line and as loved ones departed, their precious mementos became hers.  Three sets of china and crystal wine glasses that had toasted happier times could not withstand the intense heat and flames and the silver whose patterns had been carefully selected and listed on wedding registries were molten globs of useless metal.

The books, there had been hundreds carefully organized by genre, favorite short story collections, architecture, poetry and the history of the city she loved.  There were picture books, the most special and those signed by authors reflecting a second career managing a children’s bookstore. The books were gone too, and in a sense, part of her that was irreplaceable.  She was older now and her memory lapsed when trying to conjure up titles and authors.  Files of papers she wanted to save, to refer to and relive another day were ashes now.  The years she had spent teaching had been housed in one file box including letters of admiration from former students and the most precious, the certificates, accommodations and articles about her innovative teaching style in the educational journals.

Who would remember now?  How would her family know who she was, who she had been, after she was gone?  The mementos were really not for her, after all, but for her daughters, so they would know who she really was, for she was far too shy to boast and thought they would be bored hearing about those long deceased relatives-people they had never known. She had always meant to write things down, to create a family history, a journal but life had been busy and the later years consisted of medical appointments, senior classes at the Community College and occasional lunches with the ladies (her posse of four).  Suddenly she noticed that reading with fading eyes was strained and writing with stiff hands became a challenge she was too tired to tackle.  The memories were the links to the past and now that past was gone.  She sat wondering, imagining a journey, slowly fading, becoming lighter, paler, quieter, ceasing to move and even a drop of water on the tongue became too much to bear.

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Listen

Last night my dear friend Danielle and I trekked out to Pasadena to the new KPCC building.  We went to hear readings and musings on the book Mom, the latest StoryCorps book introduced by Dave Isay.  The lovely Crawford Family Forum was the perfect venue to appreciate the stories told and recorded by StoryCorps.  It was so wonderful to listen, with no obligations, or expectations; nothing required.  It was a privilege to meet Rueben Martinez of Libreria Martinez Books & Art Gallery-a literacy advocate and MacArthur Fellow, who was selling the books for signing.  In fact, Dave Isay is also a MacArthur Fellow-which put us, as, as Bill Davis president of Southern California Public Radio said: “In the company of two geniuses.”

It was an honor to shake the hands and in the case of Rueben, to get a big hug, by three men so intent on preserving oral histories and the stories of common people, who in reality are not always so common.  What a fantastic project StoryCorps is.  To give people the opportunity to listen to the story of a relative or close friend and have it recorded for posterity.  The story-teller has the opportunity to be heard, to have someone they care about, truly listen to their story, without judgment, in the privacy of the recording booth.  We all deserve to be heard and we all must take the time to listen to others, face to face.  It is through listening that we learn, we appreciate and we grow.

Listening is a common thread in my life lately.  Having gone through the Council training of the Ojai Foundation, and practicing listening with the children in my kindergarten, I find myself slowing down and feeling the calm of uninterrupted listening, of making eye contact, of not formulating an answer immediately, but letting the words sink in.  The words reside in a spiral in my mind and I can close my eyes, patiently letting the words into my soul, the stories melding and becoming a part of me.

I believe my kindergarten children need the chance to do their own StoryCorps project.  They are often not given credit  for their ability to come up with insightful questions and their own curiosity leads them to question things we might otherwise miss.  These children are our future, and we must give them the opportunity to have the kind of special contact a true, intimate interview can provide.


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Filed under Life thoughts, Mothers, Power Words, reading

Mother Knows Best

Mom would be glad I realized this and it's not too late for you!

It is pouring today, and I don’t mean just pouring in California terms, but actual buckets of rain pouring down causing trees to fall and rivers to form in the streets.  The water is trickling down the beams in the living room and waterfalling down the fireplace.  As I got ready to venture out for an early appointment, I prepared by covering my cast with my Seal-Tight giant protector, wearing my mother’s calf-length London Fog raincoat and a cute knit cap that my daughter’s friend made for me, I looked like a taller version of my mother albeit with a gimpy leg.  My husband Gary said, “Your mom is still taking care of you.” and I realized that it is true, for as much as I resented her constant over-preparedness I have now come to appreciate it.  As Mark Twain said, “The older I get the smarter my father seems to get.”  In my case, it is my mother’s wisdom that I now cherish.

Hopefully it won’t take my own daughters quite as long to realize that I too have some words of wisdom to impart and each of them, in their own way are beginning to realize that.  So in the tradition of the many notes and reminders I leave my family, here is a short list of rainy day musings:

1.  Dress for the rain.  You really will feel better if you stay dry.

2.  Make your bed every morning.  You will feel like you are beginning your day and will be happy to come home to a neat room.

3.  Clean up as you go and absolutely before you go to bed.  No one really likes to wake up to a mess and it won’t look better in the morning.

4.  Take time to spend with those you love (including pets) because the memories will stay with you forever.

5.  Listen more, talk less.

6.  Expect the best but prepare for the worst, and that includes rain, earthquakes, fires and other impending disasters.  Oy!

Some of these I learned from my mother, and others are things I have learned from my own experience.  Wisdom can be compiled and gathered from many sources, but mothers are stronger than we look and know more than we are given credit for.

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Filed under Family, Life thoughts, Mothers, Rain