Tag Archives: Family

My Mother’s Daughter

Long before ever having children, I made myself a solemn promise.

I would NEVER turn into my mother.

I remember developing a mental list of the many things I would do differently when I had children of my own. I would be a modern, enlightened parent. Not the old-fashioned kind of mother I was raised by. I mean, my generation had books telling us “What to Expect…” which explained everything I could possibly need to know.

My mother thought it was kind of silly. “You don’t need a book to be a good mother,” she said. “It’s the most natural thing in the world.”

When I talked about a birth plan, she was bewildered by the concept.

“You go to the hospital,” she said. “They know what to do.”

“But, mom,” I replied. “It’s 1992. Things are different now.”

I thought I heard her mumble something to the effect of “No. Babies still come out the same way,” as she walked off.

I reaffirmed my solemn promise.  “She just doesn’t get it.”

When my firstborn arrived, I developed a false sense of confidence. He was an easy baby. He slept through the night at 6 weeks. He stayed clean all day in his color-coordinated outfits. He was potty trained at 19 MONTHS. I remember one day thinking “This is easy. And so much fun. I really don’t understand what all the fuss is about.” My mother must have had a hard time controlling herself back then. My husband and I rolled merrily along with Baby #1 for nearly three years.

One easy child. Two modern, enlightened parents. We had it covered.

The firstborn was inquisitive and curious. He asked a lot of questions. A LOT OF QUESTIONS. Most days I answered them patiently, giving him all the facts. Encouraging him to ask me more questions. But that one day, when his baby brother had kept me up half the night – the day he wanted to know how the clouds stayed up in the sky – my patience was waning.

I had gone through the explanations of tiny drops of water hugging together to make a cloud. That the drops were so light and tiny they didn’t fall to the ground until enough of them had gathered together to turn the clouds gray and then make rain. I thought it was a really good explanation.

But he couldn’t wrap his 3-year old mind around that, and he pushed for a more plausible explanation. After a few exasperating rounds of this, modern enlightened mom gave up.

My mother’s daughter spoke instead.

MAGIC,” she said.

Magic?” he questioned.

“Yep. Magic.”

That was something he could wrap his 3-year old mind around. And the questions stopped. I felt a little guilty for taking the easy way out. But something about the simplicity and effectiveness of that strategy stuck with me.

My mother’s daughter had won her first round.

As time went on, and I had more children, my mother’s daughter spoke more often.

She had entire categories of phrases stored up somewhere in her subconscious. The very ones she swore she’d never utter.

“Because I said so,” came out every now and then, when she was just too tired to explain things.

Because I have eyes in the back of my head,” she would say while driving.

Which was often followed by “Don’t make me pull this car over.”

Some phrases were used when she wanted to avoid explaining something, or when the truth would be over their heads.

She would say “Life isn’t fair,” when one of them was having an existential crisis.

Or “Someday you’ll understand,” when the real explanation just couldn’t be offered.

And some just made no sense at all. Like “Stop crying or I will give you something to cry about.” And “If you break your legs doing that don’t come running to me.”

My mother’s daughter had plenty of advice for social situations. “If everyone else jumps off the cliff, are you going to jump to?”      And “Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want plastered all over the internet.”

Every time my mother’s daughter rose up in me I realized that with every annoyance I spoke, every facial expression I mimicked, every cliché of hers I took on, I also acquired a little bit of my mother’s grace – and her wisdom.

As I grow older, and the lines in my face deepen, I see more and more of her in the mirror, too. The silver strands I now wear seem to make her big green eyes stand out on my face in a way I never noticed.

June, 2005

At my cousin’s wedding in 2005, a photographer snapped a photo of me and my mother side by side. It was the last photo of the two of us ever taken. When I look at it now, and I see her face on my shoulders, I can’t help but smile.

The transformation is complete. I have become my mother in every way.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

This essay was one of 11 stories read live on-stage at the 2016 Listen To  Your Mother: New Orleans show.

. lisha-at-ltym-2016

CLICK HERE to see my reading, or CLICK HERE  to see the entire LTYM: New Orleans playlist.

 

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The Man


Photo courtesy of Amy Konieczka Photography.

Photo courtesy of Amy Konieczka Photography.

The other day, a man walked into my house.

He was driving my son’s car. He was wearing my son’s clothes. He even called me “Mom.”

But I had never seen this man before.

He bore a vague resemblance to a boy I dropped off at college not long ago. But the boy I remember was smaller. He held his hand out for me to hold when we crossed a street, or stepped onto an escalator. The man towered over me, putting his arm across my shoulders with ease.

The boy had an innocent face and sparkling, curious eyes. The man had a strong jaw, and a confident look. He even had facial hair.

The boy asked me questions when he wanted to learn about new things. The man talked about graduation, and about applying for jobs in California.

The boy didn’t want me to kiss him in front of his friends, and squirmed when I said “I love you.” The man hugged me tightly, and when he did I felt his love.

As I stood there watching the man – and remembering the boy – another image came to me.

The man stood in the west coast sun, with his arm around a different woman. A woman with a softer face and brighter eyes. With a smile that lit up when he entered the room. I recognized the look on the man’s face. It was the same look the little boy had when he got a new toy, or made a good grade. When he was happy.

The man stood close to the woman, so close it appeared they were one. And his hand reached out to a little boy. A boy whose eyes looked very familiar.

At that moment, I understood what my job had been all along.

When he was little I thought my job was to teach him to count and read. To cross the street safely. To say “please” and “thank you.”

I thought my job was make sure he brushed his teeth and did his homework. And wore deodorant.

But it turns out my job was to prepare him for his life without me.

In another place.

With another woman by his side.

As I returned to the moment at hand, a wave of nervousness flooded over me. And the words I’ve been contemplating for two decades came to my mind.

Roots and wings.

I gave the boy roots. That was the easy part. That was teaching him to read and cross the street and to brush his teeth and kiss him mama.

But the wings part, this was hard. But the time had come and I now had to step back and give him room to take flight.

I hope he lands somewhere special, and finds the woman with the bright eyes. I hope he remembers to say “please” and “thank you” and to wear deodorant.

And I hope he remembers his mama loves him. 

On May 3, 2015 I read this essay on the stage at the Manship Theater in Baton Rouge as part of the cast of Listen To Your Mother 2015. It was one of the top ten days of my life. 

You may view the entire LTYM: Baton Rouge 2015 show by clicking here.

To learn more about Listen To Your Mother, visit their website or YouTube channel.

 

Hello, my name is…

He stepped into my kitchen and extended his hand. I smiled and greeted him. While shaking his hand I glanced around the room.

My son was surrounded by his friends. Some he hadn’t seen since they all scattered for college nearly a year ago. They resembled the boys he hung out with in the past, only taller, with deeper voices, and facial hair. But this one I had never met. So he introduced himself.

“I’m John,” he said.

“I’m Miss Lisha,” I replied. But the sound of that name felt strange.

I realize that naming traditions and salutations vary in different places, so let me explain how we do it here. In the South, most adults are referred to as “Mister” or “Miss” followed by their first name. “Miss Lisha” has been the name my sons’ friends have called me for their entire lives. It always seemed right.

ImageDuring our years in the military, my husband and I were referred to by our surname, his salutation preceded by his rank, mine my “Mrs.” In those circles, it seemed right.

But this felt strange. What do I call myself to my grown sons’ friends?

This is new territory for me, and I’m not really sure how to handle it.

If I were meeting this young man in the workplace I would have introduced myself as “Lisha” without hesitation. But he was part of my son’s posse, and that made it feel different. In this setting, it almost felt a bit creepy, a bit too familiar for a personal introduction.

Now, I’ve never had any hang-ups about titles or formalities. To be honest, the whole “Mrs. Fink” thing makes me feel either antiquated or pretentious. I accepted it as part of our military lifestyle, but I much prefer “Miss Lisha.” It’s my “mom title.” Which is, after all, how I’ve defined myself for over two decades.

But now, with grown kids, who am I?

Miss Lisha? Lisha? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s time for a cool nickname so I can avoid the whole thing.

I want my boys to continue to use these “courtesy titles” with the adults they have known since childhood. Neighbors, mothers and fathers of their friends, even teachers with whom they still keep in touch. It’s a sign of respect – for them and for our traditions. But what about new introductions?

I guess I’m going to have to give this some time. I should probably take the lead from the kids young adults themselves. It’s new territory for them, too.

–  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –  –

The New Normal

For everything there is a season.

And every season ends.

Giving us a new beginning.

All this philosophizing is my way of revealing something kind of big. Big to me, at least.

I’ve gone back to work. Five days a week. In shoes and business attire. (Cue sad music.)

For the last twenty years I’ve had the luxury of working part-time, pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors, and frankly, having time to myself. Now before you get an image of me eating bon bons and watching Oprah, let me backtrack. In that time I’ve had three kids, cared for ailing parents, managed our rental properties, run a business from home and kept up with my military husband, including a deployment. (There are no bon bons in my home and I’m not a fan of the Big O.)

But it was all done on our terms, and shoes were largely optional for most of it. It was a luxury we allowed ourselves, and our children and lifestyle were the beneficiaries.

Now, as we enter the next season – having two kids in college – that season is coming to an end.

So I find myself embarking on a new adventure. Trying to figure out how to continue doing all of the things that filled my days while managing a five-day-a-week commitment to an employer. Our tenants aren’t going away, and our elder care responsibilities have only changed a little. With two boys in college my laundry load should be lighter, and I won’t need as big a pot on the stove most days, but I’m wondering how that’s going to free up enough time for a job.

Are you ready to call the wh-ambulance for me yet?

Thank you for the royalty-free image, Microsoft.

Thank you for the royalty-free image, Microsoft.

I’m not really here to whine. (Well, maybe just a little.) But I am feeling the need to express just how terrified I am about the whole idea. The idea of failing.

Will I fail at the new job? There are technical aspects that I’ll have to learn. I’m starting to think of myself in the “old dog” category.  I don’t really want to learn how to use the new Tivo remote. So learning a new job where making a mistake costs people time and money is scaring the crap out of me.

Will I fail my kids? Will I have energy to help the Caboose with his homework? Will I have time to visit Slick at his new college out of state? Will I be able to help the Trailblazer settle in to his new house this fall?

Will I fail as a wife? Will I have time to fulfill my “wifely” duties? (Cooking Italian food, not the other thing.)

Perhaps I’ll just have to practice what I preach, and let myself off the hook for all of that, and remember why I’m going back to work. So my kids can have the futures we want for them.

The new normal will mean the house won’t be as tidy. But I already have a philosophy about that. I’ll just need to employ it. My garden won’t be as green. Not a tragedy. My youngest son, who’ll be the only kid left at home come August will have to become more responsible and independent. But it’s time for that anyway.

So it turns out it’s not really a big deal after all. Just a new season of my life.

Rediscovering Beauty

A few days ago, I slowed down.

While this might not sound like much of a news flash to you, it was a big deal to me. Because I rarely do it.

Our days are full. We wake early and start hustling to get out of the house on time for school and work. While the kids are in school, I run errands, go grocery shopping, do housework, work on our rental properties, visit nursing homes. Afternoon carpool usually comes before my list is checked off, leaving the undone tasks for the next day. After school it’s homework, dinner, often more homework. (If you’ve been around for a while, you know my son is dyslexic, so he needs more assistance than most kids his age. So I’m not done til he’s done.)

Baskets of laundry often line the walls upstairs, and piles of mail await attention. I have a hard time overlooking all the undone work and relaxing, so when I’m home I’m usually in motion.

I tell myself that it’s this phase of my life. That I will be able to slow down one day. One of my boys is in college, another heading off in the fall. That’ll leave just one kid at home. And before I know it, he’ll be grown, too, and I’ll have all the time I need to finish my to-do list. But for now, I’m just too damn busy.

Busy

Too damn busy to notice what’s going on around me. Too engaged in action. Too full of distracting detail. Too preoccupied to notice the beauty around me.

In a slower time, I was very good at “everyday beauty.” I’d linger at the corner to take in the field of clover or pause to admire the clouds. I took pride in my garden and home. I helped neighbors. I sent hand-written birthday cards, baked cupcakes, did good deeds.  I made it my mission to see beauty in every day, and to share it with others.

But I’ve become so busy I’ve forgotten to pause and see it.

I’ve reduced myself to a “get it done” life.

And it has taken a toll on me.

So last Sunday, I was forced to slow down. My son had a choir concert, which is a very big deal to him. We kept our church clothes on (which made it feel like an even bigger deal) and went across town to hear him sing.

After we arrived, I fumbled with the program to make sure my son’s name was spelled right and resisted the urge to pull out my phone and check Facebook while we waited for the performance to begin. I just sat. Still and quiet.

I looked around at the church and admired the architecture. I stared out the window at the clouds. I looked at my nearly-grown son sitting next to me and marveled at how handsome he has become. Things slowed down.

The children took the stage and started singing. And the words that flowed were the very words I needed to hear at that exact moment.

“Let me know beauty in my mind, in my sight, let it brighten my daytime, let it comfort my night. Let my mind know the beauty that the world has to give, O let me know beauty for as long as I live…”                                                             — Allan E. Naplan

I needed to be reminded of this. I needed to be reminded that beauty and joy and happiness are out there for the taking. But they don’t come to you if you aren’t open to receive them. Whizzing by in a hurry leaves them sitting there, waiting for the next taker. 

So I’m going to slow down, recognize the beauty around me, and let it become part of me. I’m going to look out of the window more. Admire the architecture more. Listen more intently. Take it all in.

Because beauty is out there. It’s up to me to slow down and discover it.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Do you find yourself too busy to see the beauty around you? If not, tell me your secrets, please.

And do you check the program to see if your kid’s name is spelled right?

 

Through My Eyes

Image

He even rides a unicycle.

My youngest son is twelve years old. He’s small for his age, with a high-pitched voice and tiny hands. He looks out of place among his peers.

He’s different in other ways, too. His small stature means he can’t compete physically with other boys his age, so he sits on the sideline for team sports, chosen last at pick-up games.

He has a quirky personality. He gets lost in his thoughts sometimes, unable to articulate them to others, coming across as goofy and aloof. His short attention span often gets him in trouble.

He doesn’t care about clothes like a lot of kids his age. He has a handful of favorite t-shirts and shorts, and wears them when he wants to, regardless of how they look.

He has trouble organizing his thoughts. Information doesn’t line up in his brain in a linear manner like it does for most people. Instead, his mind is a kaleidoscope of ideas, whirling around in a manner that makes sense only to him.

He doesn’t handle stress well. When he’s anxious, he’ll pull the right side of his shirt collar into his mouth and start chewing. When I see him doing that I’m grateful that he’s moved on from his other nervous habit: hurting himself.

.  .  .

This is how the world sees him.

.  .  .

This is how I see him.

He’s small, just like his brothers. He’ll probably be a late bloomer just like they were, but he’ll catch up to the crowd eventually.

I’m glad he likes running cross-country. It’s a team sport where you compete against yourself. Your own improvement is what really matters, at least at this level. He’s growing stronger, running faster, developing self-discipline.

He comes up with the most impressive thoughts. Really out-of-the-box things – like designs for machines, concepts for movies and lyrics for songs. He has taught himself sound production and movie-making on his own. Someday he will create something really amazing, or invent something new, because he thinks so big.

He’s attached to things that mean something to him. The t-shirt he bought when we saw The Lion King in the theater is his favorite, and he loves the shirts from the races he’s run. He wants them close to him as often as possible.

When his mind starts racing, I wish I could get inside it with him, because I know he’s coming up with some pretty amazing stuff in there. He’s getting better at expressing himself verbally, but the words still fly out faster than I can grasp them. Written expression is still miles away, but he’ll get there. I know he will. Because I won’t give up until he does.

He’s still afraid of failure. Who wouldn’t be if they walked in his shoes? He can’t read on grade level, can’t make a decent oral argument, has handwriting no one can read (not even himself). He stinks at sports and doesn’t have many friends. But he’s handling anxiety better now than he used to. I  tremble when I think of the days he used to bite his arm until it was purple, or hit his head on the floor out of frustration. I will always watch him closely, because I fear he’ll be the one who cuts himself.

For the rest of the world, my boy wears a lot of labels. Labels like ADD, dyslexia, dysgraphia. Runt, girly, immature, weird.

But to me he only wears one.

Son.

My son.

And I long for the day when others see him the way I do.

______________________________________________________

Is there someone in your life who is often misunderstood?

Toilet Water with a Wine Chaser

Yesterday we left the youngest home alone for a little while. Upon returning, I notice a spill on the kitchen counter, on the opposite side from the sink and fridge. Not a spot where we usually pour drinks or spill ice cubes, so it was a bit unusual.

And, as everyone knows, in order to clean something up effectively, you should know what it is. For example, if it was water, I would have wiped it up with a paper towel. If it was Sprite or some other sugary beverage, I would have used a wet rag. If it was wine, I would’ve probably used a straw.

But the location of this had me puzzled, and I really didn’t know what it was or how it got there.

So, like any crazy practical woman would do, I dipped my finger in the spill and tasted it. Water. Good. Wipe it up and go on, and no point wondering for too long how it got there.

But a few minutes later, there was more water on the counter, so I looked up. I noticed some water on the bottom edge of the upper cabinet. My mind is trying to figure out how water got there. Did someone smack a cup or bottle of water on the counter, causing it to shoot up? Had it been a carbonated drink, the kid might have had a gusher, but it was water. Where was water coming from?

I looked further up, and there it was. Water dripping through the ceiling. Must be the water heater. Mr. Wonderful and I dash up the stairs and into the attic, but that’s not it. We move into the bathroom.

But the bathroom floor is dry. So we check under the sink. Dry. Then I feel the wet rug, and all the pieces of the puzzle fly into place in an instant. The boy overflowed the toilet. The boy tried to clean it up so we wouldn’t know. I just tasted potty water. Dirty potty water.

Yep. I drank what came out of one of these. (Thank you, Microsoft, for the royalty-free image.)

 

So now I have a new item on that list of Things I Never Thought I’d Do.

I drank a glass of wine to sanitize my mouth calm my nerves.   Then I got out the mop and bleach and cleaned it up. And now my kitchen and bathroom smell Clorox-fresh, and I’m out of wine.

*  *  *  *

This post was submitted to Yeah Write!