Our family gathered to wait with us. It was snowing, and all the local buses were on calls. Our drivers came from Elkorn City to Prestonsburg to pick us up. We waited over two hours after getting the news. I had time to explain to Ivy about surgery. How most of the people she is close with have had surgery. How she was born and alive because of surgery. How she's strong, and I won't leave her side. I would never leave her side.
She slept on the ambulance ride. I texted with some of my mama friends and family a little, but I mostly watched her sleep. It was hard to reach her where I was belted in, but we had the kindest EMTs with us, and the man in the back also had three daughters. He'd reach over and run his fingers through her hair every now and again. He won't know how much I appreciated that he wasn't afraid to touch her for me.
Like I said, I planned. What would this look like? I had only been with my job since October 2015. I guess they'd just have to let me go. I had been a stay at home mom for 10 years and nothing like this had every happened to us then. Now, I had made the decision to change our entire lifestyle so I could find fulfillment and a purpose beyond parenting, and this happens. As my mind is always analyzing, I asked - What is Universe trying to tell me? Have I become a neglectful parent in my pursuit of engaging work? Am I a selfish mother in even considering how this all will affect me?
Thank God, it wasn't cancer! Ivy is on the mend. University of Kentucky Children's Hospital and her surgical team were amazing. She had a 6cm vascular abonormality that was a total bizarre fluke. They removed it all, and now, almost two weeks later, you can only tell that she was operated on because she has four little incisions covered with surgical tape.
We got home on a Monday evening late. I went directly back to work the next morning. I didn't want to go. I wanted to stay, but now, we are dependent upon my income. My income pays for all the new things in our life. A house that meets our spacial and privacy needs, tuition for cottage school, babysitting, food, insurance and my medical bills, my supplements and medicine, and gas money. I can't not work.
Again,because we can't do without this income, I thought, what have I done? I had to think on it awhile. I came to a conclusion that I had come to months ago as I was making the decision to go back into the workforce. It doesn't matter if I am a stay at home mom or a working mom, I'm going to have guilt placed upon my shoulders by myself and by society for all the things I'm expected to be and cannot. We cannot be everything - even to our children. Becoming a parent shouldn't mean we are expected to. Then, I realized, being at work was a kind of relief. I wanted to be both places, actually. At work, I could breathe. I could focus on something a little less heavy for awhile. I could see something through from beginning to end.
I remembered an essay in _Brain Child Magazine, online that I had read back in September before I knew I had gotten my current public affairs position. Aubrey Hirsch writes:
I’m learning a lot, too. The big revelation for me came the first time he woke up on a Saturday morning and, as we were lazily playing in our pajamas, said, “I want to go to Melissa’s!” Movies and mom blogs had prepared me for this moment to be heartbreaking, but it wasn’t. It was totally fine.
Before she ends the essay this way, she wrote, "Watching another woman cuddle and comfort my son didn’t feel bad; it felt great. I knew he would be fine and that Melissa would take good care of him." With those lines, I was reminded how I'm not a natural nurturer. When my own mother was caring for my dying grandmother, she broke down in her stress and grief and said, "I'm not good at this stuff. If I had wanted to be a nurse, I would have went to school and become one!" I realized so much watching my mother caring for my grandmother, and when she spoke those words so much acknowledgement poured through my soul. Hugging, rubbing, touching, holding... it all wore her out too. She too had to make an effort to do it in an extended way. I realized it wasn't that she didn't want to hug me growing up, but she got tapped out quickly. It didn't mean anything was lacking in her care of me or her love for me. It just meant she would show it in different ways that aren't typically associated with the act of mothering, and she did.
I hadn't thought I would be a mother up until a few months before I began trying to become pregnant with my first child. My plan was to be a writer. For various reasons, plans change. In this season of my life, I'm revisiting the dreams of my early twenties. Some would call that a mid-life crisis. Others might say I'm finally accepting myself. The biggest point is that I don't have to feel guilty for it. In fact, I have come to understand the huge contribution working mothers make, and how it actually is more difficult in many ways than being a stay at home mom. Mentally and emotionally, being a stay at home mom almost devastated me. It brought me to a very dark place after years of denying to myself that I really felt the way I did about not pursuing my interests.
You DO NOT have to be a martyr to be a mother. I wish for the life of me that society would help us convey to our daughters that you DO NOT have to be a martyr to be a woman. For if you find yourself a mother with a career or job, you may also find yourself holding the brunt of household chores, cooking, bill paying, errands, and outside family commitments. Going out and finding yourself is just another thing to add to the plate that is already spilling over the edge. Yet, it might be the most important piece in being not simply a caregiver, but a role model for your children. Being a role model can be achieved in the home and outside of it and will be particular to any given woman.
I'm still trying to find the balance of being both in the home and out of it. The truth is, I'm going to give up most of the yoga classes I teach so I can be home a few more hours in the evening. Mothers need rest and cuddles too. Even mothers who get tapped out quickly. We all need self care, but from what I see, especially women. Pursuing the interests and hobbies that help us nurture ourselves so that we can nurture our children and loved ones.
Hillary Clinton, back when I was younger was known for saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." She is right. Back in the day, the whole holler watched after your kids while they ran from house to house and hill to hill. Only since we have become nuclear families and neighbors with closed doors have we lost the village mentality. That doesn't mean that it still doesn't take a village.
Things happen, and I will be the mother who deals with them as they come. I will be the mother who seeks and finds herself. I will be the mother who shows her daughters that a woman can be whatever she wants without the permission of anyone. I will be the mother who knows and understands that we are each unique and being a good mother simply means providing an environment where your child is nurtured, safe, fed, warm, and loved however that may appear.
I spent most of yesterday evening with my daughters at the hospice center where my grandmother is being cared for. She isn't doing well, and yesterday they called for us to come. I've never been with someone as they passed, other than my pets. It's very hard to watch labored breathing. I found myself trying to breathe for her, long deep yoga breaths.
This morning, things seem a little better with her. She's breathing easier. It's unbelievable how we truly cannot know from one day to the next how our lives will change and yet so much of life is based on whether we can overcome the fear of the risks included in recognizing and living the lives we were born to live.
Today, is a very normal day. The girls and I ate breakfast, finished school work, watched it snow an inch in an hour, tidied up, I did yoga, ate lunch, and now I'm blogging. I'm feeling guilty for not being a bit more active today. Heck, I always feel guilty for that even when I've busted tail. I wonder what the next months will be like, and whether or not I can support myself through them. I have a plan. It's a good plan. I'll share it here bit by bit.
This is one day in my life. One small part of a year. A speck of a lifetime. It's a good day.
At one point last night, my grandmother opened her eyes and said, "It's been a pretty pleasant evening." Hearing her say it relieved my heart whether or not she was referring to last evening, or an evening long ago. Pleasant was an evening. That's a big deal.
Today, I read this quote by Anne Lamott.
Oh my God, what if you wake up one day, and your 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn't go swimming in warm pools or oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly, and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It's going to break your heart. Don't let this happen. - Anne Lamott
I want to know that I won't let this happen. Today, this one day in a life, I'm pretty positive it won't. I'm sure that as I age, I want to not fear the finite part of life, but reach out into those unknown bits that let us soar into the clouds with two feet on the ground. Like I did the day I gave birth to my Gweneth. Like this woman.
Tao-Porchon Lynch - 96 year old yoga teacher and ballroom dancer
We stayed home and she nursed me all through the night. She let me sleep in her bed as she almost always did when I was sick. She wet wash cloths and kept them cool on my forehead. She told me stories and rubbed my back and feet. I'm sure she left the room, but if she did, it was when I was sleeping.
This past week, my Mimi, who is now 80, had a T.I.A event. My mother quickly got her to the hospital and once assessed she was transferred to a larger hospital a little over an hour from our hometown. She spent the entire night confused, sometimes knowing us and sometimes not. I was home alone with the girls and before we knew whether or not she had actually had a stroke, I worried that I wouldn't be able to get to the hospital in time to talk with her during a time when she still knew us. That scared me. While she hasn't been in the best of health, she hasn't really been ill.
I'm fortunate enough to still have all the grandparents that I have known and loved since I was born. That's a pretty big deal for a thirty-six year old. Yet, I know it can't last much longer. My grandparents have been such a huge part of my life, I'm not sure I'm ready to know what it is like not to have them a phone call away.
We lived with Mimi from the time I was about six years old until I was about eleven or twelve. She cooked for us and I rode to school with her every morning. She worked at the county Board of Education as a secretary. I walked to her office every evening after school and played until she was ready to go home for the day. She tickle-rubbed my back and feet nearly every night to help me relax and go to sleep while she watched Dynasty, Falcon Crest, or Knots Landing. When I washed my hair in shaving cream before school, it was she that put it up in a mushroom bun to make the "wet look" look purposeful like a woman from a Robert Palmer video.
I stayed with her a few days and one night at the hospital this week. The night I spent with her was hard. Her blood sugar went low and I didn't recognize it. The nurses didn't check it for several hours, so they didn't know either. She pulled and tugged at all the lines and cords attached to her. She, who always freezes, pulled her covers off. I'd explain to her why she had to have all the monitors. I'd put her oxygen back on. I'd curl up in the straight backed chair watching the same episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations three times wondering if this out of character behavior was a sign of something more.
As a doula, I've attended births. I know what the thinning of the veil feels like. What it feels like when a soul is about to breathe air for the very first time. It's that electric feeling where you can act in a pinch of a moment as if you knew what to do before you had to do it. It felt that way that night. I've heard elder midwives and birth attendants say that the thinning of the veil feels the same at death as at birth. So, I worried. At least she knows it is me who is here, I thought.
My Mimi is coming home tomorrow if all goes well tonight. She'll be at home for Christmas. She'll know us for Christmas. There will be some days, weeks, months, or years left. It still feels strange though, that somehow I am to that stage in life where the tide has turned. It will be my mother, me, and my siblings caring for her now.
Mimi showed me what it meant to be fiercely independent. She was a single mother to my mom and her brothers for many years. She never dated anyone as long as I was aware, or if she did, it was not something to talk about. She had a career and was super good at it. She even seemed happy in her work. She made her own decisions and stood up for her family. She kind of did it all, and it was from my grandmothers that I learned that I was strong and capable.
I don't know what is ahead for my family. Transitions are always bizarre and filled with the unknown. When she takes that final jump of this life, she won't be alone even if she is physically alone. Even if I'm not quite ready to step into the next pair of shoes, I will. I'll do it proudly, because that's what I saw her do. I know endings are just beginnings for everyone involved. It will be for her too. Every single prayer or well wish that has been sent to our family is appreciated. My Mimi thanks you too. We're just glad that she will be back home soon, where she belongs right now.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, spiritual explorer, avid yogi, reiki practitioner, and is living life with chronic illness. Connect with her @ Kelli Hansel - Writer & Spiritual/Yoga/Self Transformation Guide
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