1095 Days Later: ‘I’m Here, No Big Whoop’

“What is so significant about today?” my husband and I wonder.

Today is the day my mom’s spirit was released from her suffering body. Three years ago today, she died.

“Is this a day we want to mark?” we both wonder. And in the parlance of exam essay

It's 3 a.m. and I'm wide awake.

It’s 3 a.m. and I’m wide awake.

questions, “Why, or why not?”

For the last three years, in the wee morning hours of May 7 I have awoken. I rarely awake during the night. If I do, it is usually to roll over and resume sleep. The last three years though, near 3 a.m., I awaken. Fully.

It does not escape me that in these same wee hours, my mother’s spirit made her escape.

Is it a shift in the energy of the universe, revisited at this time, that wakes me up? The extraction of her physical presence and the vacuum that created in my life and the lives of so many others that rouses me from slumber? Is it some spiritual clock my soul has set within me, to go off once a year, a recollection, an alarm.

Is it her thumbprint on my soul, the smooth river stone she placed in my heart, which anchors my soul, full of all her teachings, her love, her goodness and complexities, pressing ever deeper into my memory, my being? Is her spirit nudging it deeper, each year?

I get up hours later and rush to Mass to meet my father and honor her. I’m doing OK until the priest mentions her name, her full name, during the intentions. “Shut up!” I want to yell at him and cover my ears. “Don’t you dare say her name as being gone, departed, dead. Shut up, shut up, shut up!”

Instead I sob and think, “My mom is dead. My mom is dead.” 1,095 days later this still seems unreal — and unreasonable.

The priest talks about the dispersal of the apostles after Jesus’ death.

Painting titled 'The ballerina' by Iraqi artist Afeefa al-Aiby from the exposition Arab Culture in the Diaspora.

Painting titled ‘The ballerina’ by Iraqi artist Afeefa al-Aiby from the exposition Arab Culture in the Diaspora.

I think about the many people who loved my mom, who were deeply touched by her love, who treasured her friendship, companionship, her loving heart. Siblings, cousins, her husband, her children and children’s spouses, grandchildren, other family, the families of her children’s spouses, her dear and loyal friends, distant relatives, childhood friends, acquaintances, friends of friends, children of friends, friends of her children, priests, nuns, volunteers, caregivers, doctors, nurses who cared for her, fellow patients, fellow church members, people who have read about her in my writing, before her death and after, the friends who I made simply because we both had dead mothers — all of these part of the diaspora of Judy’s love.

All of these people (and more) came together when she died three years ago, pulled inward by the transition of her spirit. Brought together to commune because of the magnetic energy and power of her love and how she made people feel. And then, they dispersed to all their different nooks, carrying with them that piece of Judy’s love and spirit.

Sometimes I feel sad about the dispersion. But more often I feel impressed.
I feel as if that’s the way it is supposed to be — and maybe the way my mom’s love was always destined to travel.

I am beginning to think that we only fully share what we receive from others, the gifts loved ones instill in us, after they are gone.

When they are living, we can imitate and approximate, but when they are gone, their intention of love becomes part of us, we own it. It activates and becomes a part of who we are and what we are now empowered to bestow on others.

A week ago, I had a dream my mom came walking back into the kitchen of our childhood home, after having been dead for three years. In the dream, I knew she was coming back to life!

She looked great, young and fresh and very calm. I stroked her cheek and marveled that she was whole again, all put back together, in health and beauty and peace.

While I felt shocked and awed in the dream, she was matter-of-fact and serene. Like, “hey, honey girl, I’m here, no big whoop.”

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Vacation parenting: It’s a combat zone

Our summer vacation was another trip East to visit and stay with very patient and accepting family members.

In order to relieve the crush of the Bailey family’s daily activity and energy level, we planned several day trips and one overnight jaunt up to Niagara Falls in order to relieve our patient hosts of, well – us.Image

There we were motoring along, taking our time, stopping where it seemed interesting to stop. The air was cool. The road was pleasantly winding and the four of us were happy.

As we passed lush, fragrant fields of ripening grapes in upstate New York, I was contemplating our well-behaved Prima and Secondo. At that moment giggling over a game they were playing quietly and peacefully in the backseat. I was reveling in the fact that, all things considered, they were good, respectful children. My hand doing dolphin dives out the window, I took a moment to mentally pat Mr. Bailey and me on the back for our dedication to our role as parents.

Several moments later, the lull of the summer air making us dozy and comfortable, sharing sideways smiles, we listened as our girls, forgetting our presence and our ability to hear conversations going on two feet behind us in a closed space, began chatting amiably with one another.Image

The conversation went very nearly like this:

Prima: I kind of get upset sometimes because I never get to do what I want to do.

[This, of course, is an abject lie. We sometimes say our entire lives are exactly what our children want to do.]

Secondo: Well, Prima, you know, that’s easy. Do you know what I do?

[Mr. Bailey and I exchange dubious glances.]

Prima (genuinely stymied): What?

Secondo: All you have to do to get something you want is to start crying. That’s what I do. And it always works. I start crying and my parents give me exactly what I want.

[Mr. Bailey and I, slightly aghast, exchange discouraged shakes of the head.]

Prima: (sounding uncertain) Oh.

 

Now, would my guard have not been so precipitously low at that moment, I would have argued Secondo’s point until blue. I would have pointed out our use of time out. I would have extolled our willingness to correct bad manners and to insist on things like good eye contact and apologies. I would have discussed our dedication to empowering our children to be self-reliant problem solvers.

But at that moment, we were on vacation. Similar to a warzone, vacation parenting was in full effect. In vacation parenting combat zones, we tend to go with a we-will-give-you-what-you-want-if-you-will-please-stop-your-continuous-whining/crying-before-we-get-kicked-out-of-this-hotel/house/restaurant/pool/airplane-for-beating-our-children approach, regardless of the cost to us as parents.

Therefore, I could not argue. I could only acknowledge, grit my teeth, narrow my eyes, and realize our darling Secondo had us, sagely, over a barrel. And, worse still, she knew it.

Later on as Mr. Bailey and I laughed a little and fretted a lot about all the battles to come with Secondo, I recalibrated. No, I don’t have perfect kids. That is clear. But they have gumption, they have spunk and they are smart.

For that I am grateful. And also, worried.Image

The Big Bad Lie or Why I Love What Not To Wear

In this life there are many ways to put you last. It’s especially easy when you are working, when you’re a wife and, the topper, when you are a mom.

I remember the days when I prayed, “Please, God. Give me the dream where I am Nurse Hathaway. Please.”

I remember fondly those days when my agenda, my priorities were the only ones on the docket. The days when those dreams, pursuits and innocuous delusions were superseded only by my own laziness; when I chose staying home, eating ice cream and watching ER over going to the gym. What lovely decisions those were, choosing between me or me. Sigh.

These days, the choices are much more complex. Log off from work an hour early to help Mr. Bailey write a cover letter for a job he’s applying for or slog through another hour just to try to get ahead for tomorrow? Continue to ignore World War III over the Barbie’s in Secondo’s room while I start dinner or hang laundry?

Most times, the choices don’t even involve what I would like to do.

Like most moms I know, we feel this is an OK way to live. Right now, our lives are supposed to revolve around our kids, our family, building a solid career, right?

That’s where one of my favorite televisions shows comes in. I’ve been watching What Not

Clinton and Stacy look judge-y here, but they’re really kind folk focused on busting the Big Bad Lie.
Photograph by Brian Doben, TLC Image, 6/4/07

to Wear pretty religiously since it first came on the air. If you’ve never seen it: the show’s premise is this. Family and friends (not frenemies, because these women really do deserve it and need the help) nominate a horrible dresser who has most times deluded herself into believing her shabby, worn, decades-old clothing is visible to no one but her, to win a surprise $5,000 shopping spree in New York City. She gets to shop, to have her makeup professionally done and her hair expertly cut and colored. All her old clothing gets tossed. And what she buys has to be what stylists Stacy London and Clinton Kelly advise her to purchase, according to their rules. In short, for a whole week, the nominee or “contributor,” as Stacy and Clinton refer to them, are utterly forced to focus on themselves.

I first started watching it to get fashion tips. (And it totally affected my style, by the way, thanks Stacy and Clinton!) Then I watched it to feel better about myself – these women were in most cases quite hopeless and/or homely.

What more could Mrs. Bailey say?

Then I watched it just for the hairstyling.

After awhile (yes, it took Mrs. Bailey that long) I noticed a trend.

Each contributor would sheepishly come onto the show with her crappy clothes in hand. At first, she would be embarrassed, then confused, then, in some cases, full of bravado. But ultimately, each one would break down. Genuine tears and confessions ensue.

They admit, in one way or another, in one episode after another, they do not feel themselves worthy of the time, effort, energy – investment – in themselves. They are being martyrs, sure, but most are unaware of that. In some cases, it seems obvious someone once told them they were not pretty, and they have believed the lie ever since.

In some cases, the contributors used to take pride in themselves, but a blow from life struck them way off course and they haven’t been able to recover. There are abusive husbands and boyfriends or years of caring for ailing loved ones. Week after week, there are the women – formally educated and urban, smart, sassy and rural – who have believed the lie that they were not worth it.

Photos of their families usually reveal well-kept adorable children. Profiles reveal careers on the rise. Video montages feature breast cancer survivors, first responders, successful actresses. There are many, many women who have given up, not on some societal standard of feminine beauty (that’s another blog entry) but on themselves.

Now I’ve realized this trend, it enrages me.

I turn to Prima (who’s also watched for longer than I would care to admit) and Secondo in the moments after those tearful revelations and practically yell at them, “GIRLS! DO NOT

Modern Mary admonishes: “Ladies, tell each other, ‘you are worth it!'”

give in to the thought that you are not worth it!” or “GIRLS! DO NOT let anyone ever tell you you are not worthy!” or “GIRLS! You are always worth it!”

They look at their nutso mother in those moments as I turn back to the television screen muttering angrily and believe I am truly crazy.

I am. It’s a notion that makes me crazy. And I hope that somewhere, deep inside their hearts and heads they see what I see and they take what I say to heart.

As women/mothers/wives/sisters/friends/executives/freelancers/employees we are worth our own attention, our own time.

It’s a lesson that must be first believed to be lived.