Sunday, May 13, 2012

My Two Moms

Today many of us are taking the time to thank our mother's and reflect upon the incredible impact they have had on our lives. I have been fortunate to be able to call two incredible women ‘mom'.

The first is obvious- my biological mother Cookie- a singularly unique woman. Mom has lived a life worthy of Bilbo Baggins- from meeting Barry Goldwater, and being featured in the newspaper for her trained rabbit to being the only girl at a Boy Scout summer camp; her life has never been ordinary. My mother graduated 3rd in her class from high school in and went to UC Berkley as a pre-med student. She left school to move to Tahoe-Donner and worked with her best friend as a maid to be able to afford to spend all her free time at the nude beaches, or tooling around Lake Tahoe in her 1966 Mustang. Eventually mom moved down to Reno where she began dealing cards and met my father. She travelled and backpacked in the mountains with only her dog. She did these things alone, and without fear. She rode motorcycles, camped and four-wheeled- my mother has always lived her life with enthusiasm. She discovered Burning Man, and jumped in feet first. She raised two daughters who both graduated from high school and went out into the world independent and assured of their ability to do whatever they put their minds to. And she steered us through the loss of my father, refusing to let us pull apart or give up on one another.

My ‘other mother’ lacks the button eyes or malevolence of the Beldan- she isn’t my mother at all, but my ex-husband and sister-in-law have been kind enough to share her with me since 2000. Karen Hardie was raised in Illinois, in the Chicago area, by her paternal grandparents- first generation Swedish immigrants. She and her sister grew up caught between two generations, apart from her mother and father who were too young to give them the life that was best for them. She lived an urban life, but had great stories of the trips to the family farm outside the city. When she took her driver’s test, the examiner passed her only if she promised to never drive. She married and divorced her first husband, and then drive she did- all the way to Reno. When you first met her, she could seem cautious, pragmatic, and slightly out of time- she had a wild streak to her- she was fierce and bold. She met her second husband and married him within 3 months. She worked nights, days, all hours to help support her family. She raised two children who both graduated from high school with honors, and completed college degrees. She made every holiday, and every occasion magical. She sewed and crocheted, and always cooked rich, hearty meals enough to feed armies. Every year she baked some 50 varieties of Christmas cookies and generously passed out to family, friends, and acquaintances- when she met me, she began labeling the cookies with cinnamon in them with little skulls and crossbones so I would know to avoid them. When my husband and I announced our separation, she called me and told me I would always be her daughter. She helped me make my father’s burial arrangements, plan my father’s funeral, and told dirty limericks at his wake. While she didn’t ‘raise’ me, there is no other person who has had an impact on me like her.

We lost Karen to an unexpected infection in July of 2010, and my mother had a heart attack that required hospitalization and surgery this March; I almost had to celebrate this Mothers’ Day without either mother. I never needed Karen more than when I sat by my mother’s hospital bed. I may not be able to call her anymore, but she is there in my head, guiding me, and I remember her today, for the incredible woman she was, and the incredible woman she saw in me. And while my mother and I may drive each other crazy- me nagging her to eat right and to call me, her complaining I’m always bossing her around- I wouldn’t know how to be me without her. Today I will raise a glass, in memory of one mother, and with a grateful heart to still have another. Here is to the future that mother’s weave for their children, and the promises with which they build the world.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Shock and Awful.

You always think you have a handle on your own mortality, until one day you realize that you have been totally bullshitting yourself.

My dad had a SURPRISE! heart attack the night of February 25th, 2010. Thankfully he had my mom take him to the ER, where they immediately rushed him in for an angiogram. My mom called me in the wee hours of the morning and I met her at the hospital, wanting to cry, but defaulting to my ‘fear mode’, which is mostly take over, boss everyone around, and feed everyone.

Dad’s heart attack was a surprise because he was always healthy. He worked out, he swam, he didn’t smoke, he didn’t eat particularly fatty or unhealthy foods, and he’d always had good blood pressure. Dad’s angio wasn’t good, and the talented Cardiology team laid it out for us all plainly; despite shockingly healthy outward appearance, he was very sick. Might-need-the-left-ventricle-of-his-heart-replaced-with-a-gizmo sick. Maybe even die-on-the-table-unless-he-gets-an-artificial-heart, and needs-a-heart-transplant sick.

It was a ‘holy shit’ moment, to say the least. The shock didn’t wear off; instead I diverted my attention with my other favorite coping mechanism- LEARN ALL THE THINGS. While my parents were airlifted to San Francisco to the nearest transplant center, I began my mission to learn everything I would need to help my father when he got home. I never entertained that he would die, and he didn’t. His recovery was unprecedented! He was discharged from the hospital on March 9th after a quintuple bypass. It was like we’d all been given the greatest gift ever- now that he was home we could exhale and admit we really were afraid he was going to die. We were safe!

And then he died. I don’t mean his heart disease eventually killed him, I mean I left his house after 11pm on March 10th and my mom discovered him dead on the couch around 8 in the morning of March 11th. Everything was a waste- we’d come through it all and it hadn’t mattered. None of my heart healthy recipes, or even the plans he’d excitedly told me about while I finished the dishes up on that fateful Wednesday were ever going to happen.

The shock and pain from the ordeal has never left me. In my personal timeline it is the point where my life split into divergent paths. Everything in 2010, and much of 2011 was a struggle, and in the back of my head, a little nagging voice kept pointing out that he was only 58, and I was nearing the ‘half-way’ point of his life. It could happen to you, the little voice said. But it was so small. It was easily drowned out by all the activities of my daily life and the challenges that seemed to pop up left and right.

Finally, after 2 years, I started 2012 awash in change. I had moved into a new place in the heart of downtown Reno, shaken up my living arrangements, found a new job- hell I’d even changed cell phone plans!
But we all know about the best laid plans of mice and men…

(to be contd)