Monday, December 31, 2012

Mother of One

I am thinking back, trying to remember what plans I had for myself as a young girl. I remember being elementary school aged and planning to have four children, to be married by twenty five, first child by twenty seven.

By the time I turned eighteen I had no such plans. I had a high school boyfriend.We spent most Friday and Saturday nights together. We were just friends, but friends that held each other up in spite of the circumstances of our families of origin who often pulled us down. By college I had decided against marriage and against children. I would remain single. I would become a veterinarian. I would require my three older siblings to call me Dr. so and so. I didn't understand children or men. I understood animals and that was pretty much my scope.

At twenty, walking from my college dorm on Cold Spring Lane en route to the Farm Store, I passed a young woman with a baby in a stroller. My thoughts of childlessness were over. The game changed. Yet how to get from here to there? I decided to familiarize myself with children by becoming a nanny. The bulletin boards  in the Education Department featured a Help Wanted advertisement for a summertime nanny for one eighteen month old girl, mornings Monday through Friday. How to convince her mother of my qualifications? I crafted a ridiculous resume listing all the varied creatures I had cared for from snakes, to rabbits, horses, donkeys, house cats, dogs. I explained earnestly that babies and toddlers have a great deal in common with puppies and kittens. To my amazement, she bought it. I spent the glorious summer of the seventeen year locusts outdoors with the loveliest purest goodness of an eighteen month old girl.

Fast forward fourteen years, I had been married for two years when I gave birth to number one son. None of it had gone as planned in any version of my plan. That left me thinking that all the other mothers knew a secret I didn't know. I remembered the advice I had given confidently and convincingly to so  many mothers and fathers over the years. I had thought I would be a natural. I certainly had the educational background and the professional experience, working with pediatric patients for ten years.

My mother couldn't be trusted on the subject of mothering, no natural or acquired skills. I had come to her at two weeks of age from St. Anne's Home for Infants and Unwed Mothers. She  was jealous, insanely jealous that I gave birth to this beautiful boy with his gorgeous blue eyes and full head of jet black hair. He looked just like me with darker hair. The first person I had ever known who looked like me.

Melanoma Man taught me to be a mother. He believed I already knew what to do and continued to show me evidence of my skill and worth as a mother until I could believe too. How did he know, fifty years old, confirmed bachelor until age 48? He will tell you he learned it all, Mother and Father from a cat known as Mr. Stubby gifted to him years earlier by me and the Matchmaker.

Friday, December 28, 2012

How I became known as the Laundry Thief

There have been many silences in my years of marriage, some lasting a few hours, others days. In the early days of marriage my husband's silences drove me mad, drove me to tears, drove me out of my mind. Certain things have been known to trigger his cold withdrawal. Strangely, one of those triggers is me doing laundry. I work full time. He's home full time. We flipped roles in 2008. Extremely territorial about his jobs, yet declining in health, the laundry started to pile up.

 6:30 a.m. in our kitchen oldest boy walks in, wearing his socks, shirt and underwear: "Mom do you know where my pants are?" I ask him to check with Melanoma Man, wet laundry in the washer. Oldest son starts checking the night before for clothes. I step in to pick up the slack, not realizing I am picking up Melanoma Man's self worth, proof of value. Silence ensues. I am in the deep freeze again. I am used to it now. It doesn't make me cry anymore. In the past few weeks he even thanked me for doing laundry. We did laundry together once, me toting the heavy basket that now leaves him short of breath. That is how I came to think of myself as the Laundry Thief. Tonight Oldest, Youngest and I do laundry together, while we wait for Melanoma Man's return from the Cancer Center with news of three shrinking tumors.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Today is the day

Today is the day. I am the Laundry Thief and my husband,  Melanoma Man is four hours away at the Cancer Center. He had his brain MRI and his chest and abdomen CT scans with contrast today. Tomorrow the news, is the experiment working, cancer shrinking, cancer growing? It can be a lonely business. We talked on the phone tonight. He is in the  Residence Inn with a fever. He is alone. I am home with oldest son and youngest son and cat and job. So much of this we have to do on our own. I suppose it gets us used to being separate again, just Laundry Thief and just Melanoma Man, rather than Husband and Wife as we have been for the last 15 years. 
A newly married Muslim woman at work asked me for marriage advice last week. We'd only just met and she seems to be about 25 years old so I couldn't tell her too much. Coming from a different culture I wasn't sure how to advise so I said:  1) Choose to be happy rather than right. If your husband can believe that the good ideas are his, even though they were yours, things will go so much smoother. 2) Have lots of girlfriends. You will need them.
 I didn't say: have sex 3 times a week regardless. It will be the glue that keeps you together when difficult times come and they will come. I didn't tell her about the tests: the death of parents, the birth of children, the evacuation from war, the loss of job, the loss of health, the loss of everything that used to define you. It's too much to tell. 
A new me emerges. She was in there all along. The tests bring her out. I want to tuck her in under the comforter and fix her tea and keep her safe, but I  cannot. I  have to let her out into the world so that others may see her live.