May Flowers

May.  In this part of the world, that means traffic coming from the metro area and lines in grocery stores and very soon, military veterans with buckets full of red tissue paper poppies outside businesses.  May. The official start of “cabin” season here. The mosquitoes and wood ticks know this, and have been gathering in anticipation.

The local  cemeteries have been mowed and the military graves sport tiny, new American flags.   Last year’s faded plastic flowers have been replaced with some flowers in shades not seen in the natural world….enormous baby blue roses…..grasshopper green irises…..orange forget-me-nots.  My sister, who shares my lack of appreciation for these plastic wonders calls them “Red Lovelies.”   We have vowed never to do that to each other’s graves.

I remember my grandmother’s near obsession with tending the family graves at the cemetery for “Decoration Day” each year.  She would start talking about this in early May….worrying about the weather…wondering if she dared plant anything before late May for fear of a late frost that would kill everything she’d planted.  After she was gone, the job of “taking care of the cemetery” passed to my mother and aunt.  Now, it is mine.

The cemetery  is in the Chippewa National Forest.  It was created by homesteaders who had staked claims in the forests and fields of Itasca County over a hundred years ago.   I  remember the faces and recognize the names of most of the people who rest beneath the pine trees and blueberry bushes in this pure and simple place in the forest.

Nature takes its own course there.  There is no grass to mow, only pine cones to rake and dead plants to replace.  I will buy bright yellow marigolds for each planter, since the deer have been known to eat anything else in the planters that aren’t protected by these gaudy, stinky little floral warriors.   Geraniums, pansies, and a few impatiens will fill out the hanging planters near my great grandparents’ and grandparents’ graves. I will buy a few extras to place in the planter of a family friend buried nearby.  She was an elementary school music teacher from North Dakota whose grace and wry sense of humor are still missed by those who knew her.  Having fallen in love with the lakes and pine trees, she chose the cemetery as her final resting place when she knew she was losing her battle with cancer many years ago. Having seen the cemeteries in North Dakota, I understand why.  I would not wish to spend eternity that way, either.  Maybe trees are even more essential in death than they are in life for some people.

It is not a burden, this tending of the graves of people we’ve loved in our lives.  It is a gift.  It marks the passage of people, and time, and seasons. It makes death a little less scary and lonely.

I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing the week before Decoration Day.

The Seven Year Itch

There are some things that women of a certain age should never consider doing.  Opening a brothel comes to mind.  Divorcing someone because you want the bed to yourself. Wearing a bikini.  Starting a master’s program when you have kids in middle school and a full time job.

Okay, so I didn’t know that the last one was going to be a problem when I did it.  It was moral, legal, and I could wear clothes, after all.

When I received the letter confirming my acceptance to graduate school, I read the fine print.  I had seven years to complete the degree.  Seven years?  Who in the world needs seven years to finish a program?  You register for a couple of classes a semester, finish the classes, write a thesis, defend it, and you’re done, right?  How hard could THAT be?

Um…did I mention that my children were in middle school when I applied?

A lot of things happened in seven years.  They grew up.  We moved four times.  I sold one house and supervised the building of another one.  My husband changed careers. I moved my mother into assisted living.  With each life change, Mom’s Master’s Degree Doomsday Clock kept ticking to May 2012 – the deadline.   I think I had my gall bladder removed at some point during those years, too…but can’t remember.  Wait. That’s not right.  I can remember that I no longer have a gall bladder.  I just can’t remember when it was removed.  Graduate school does that to you.

The only thing I know for sure is that reaching this goal got really difficult. It kept getting pushed farther and farther back on the Mom’s Things to Do Before She Dies shelf.  My degree completion timeline taunted me…nagged me….made me itchy.   But I come from a long line of stubborn Scandinavian women known for taking care of business.  Women who lived in sod huts and log cabins.  Who went out behind the barn, lifted their skirts, birthed babies, and went back in to start supper.  You know the type of woman I’m talking about.  Women who get shit done.

I delivered the final draft of my thesis a couple of weeks ago.  Three days short of the seven year deadline.

I am relieved and proud of this baby of mine and I think that my gown and master’s hood is quite lovely.  It will make a great beach cover up if I ever decide to wear a bikini.

Mother’s Day 2012

Last summer I noticed the hollow tree trunk on the tall, leaning tree near the fire circle and thought, “I should really call someone to take that tree down.”  And then I got busy and forgot about it.

Every time we had strong winds, I’d hear the tree groan.  The trunk had been struck by lightning at some point, and it had split the trunk, but somehow, through the years, the tree stood.  From my kitchen window, I watched squirrels go  in and out of the hollow spot about five feet from the ground, wondering if maybe a mama squirrel had found the perfect nook for her babies.

When Autumn came, and my own two Squirrels left for different colleges and the house was clean and quiet and I found myself with something I hadn’t had in 18 years….time…I thought about the tree again.  It had started to lean even more.  “I should really call someone to take care of that tree before it falls down” I’d say to myself as I walked to the garage.  It was groaning more loudly, complaining when the wind blew.  But then, our dog tried to die of old age and a broken heart, so I was consumed with trying to cheer HER up and keep HER alive and forgot about the tree’s problems.  There was just too much “hollow” to go around.

In early April, after a nearly snow-less winter, we were hit one night with the heaviest, wettest, snowstorm of the season.  When we woke up, the power was out and trees were down everywhere.  The first thing I thought of (after wondering how I was going to make coffee) was the tree.  Looking out, I expected to see it down in the yard.  To my surprise, the tree was still standing though it appeared to be listing a little to the left of where it had been before.

This morning,  on Mother’s Day, we woke up to a nearly perfect morning here in the woods.  The birds were singing and the sun was shining brightly. I went to make coffee and you guessed it, the tree was down.  In the night, it had broken in half about twenty feet up and the top had hung up in another, younger tree in front of it.  Then, about an hour later, we heard a loud Crash! and it was finally down on the ground.  It had waited long enough, I suppose, for me to have time for it.  Hollow trees don’t last.  Sometimes, if we’re lucky, old dogs find a reason to wake up in the mornings even after their kids are gone.  And no matter how empty we are feeling, Moms do, too.

I’m working myself out of a job, which I suppose is the goal.  We raise them so they’ll leave us…move out….jump into the world with confidence and skill.   And if we are really lucky, they come home for visits, and breaks, and summer jobs.  Mine did yesterday, and I couldn’t be happier on this Mother’s Day.

If you’re a mom with little ones this Mother’s Day, take time to hug them extra hard today because, trust me on this,  they will grow up too soon. And if you are a mom of teens, stop and hug yours extra hard, too, because you know  as well as I do how fleeting this period of time really is in life.

Being a mother changes everything.  It’s the best thing I’ve done.

The monumentally difficult decisions of two mothers half a world away allowed me to become a Mother after nature, and all the best medicine had failed.

My kids think I’m nuts most of the time.  That’s because they don’t know, can’t know, how much I love them, or how singular this love is. It’s a scary kind of love. A fierce, irrational, all-consuming love.  It’s a love that breaks my heart, then fills it, then breaks it again. Over and over and over.  I’m a  maternal roller coaster.  Older mothers, mine included, tell me that this never, ever ends. I fear that this is true.

Fierce Moms ask a lot of questions….of their kids, of their kids’ teachers, of society.  And they don’t take “I don’t know” for an answer.  This does not always make them popular.  They check up, check in, and refuse to let themselves check out because they know that the job they are doing is essential. That they are essential.

Fierce Moms do not try to be perfect Moms.  But they spend their lives trying to be better Moms.  And they don’t mother all of their kids exactly the same because they know that there isn’t a “one size fits all” method to mothering.  They tell their kids when they’ve screwed up. They own up to the fact that they are not perfect, and don’t require perfection from their kids, either.

Fierce Moms often find themselves mothering a lot of other kids besides their own.  They welcome their kids’ friends into their homes and into their lives.   There is always room for one more kid at the dinner table. Their minivans are full of the soccer bags and dance bags and musical instruments of other kids.

Fierce Moms don’t tolerate having their kids hurt. When I was a child, I once witnessed a fed-up mom pull the neighborhood bully, a fifth grader off the bus and beat the living daylights out of him.   On the sidewalk in front of the school. With the bus driver and the kids all watching in disbelief.  She didn’t hurt anything but his pride and his desire to pick on the rest of us.

True story.

It was impressive (and a little scary) to witness such fierce love.  I never really understood why she’d done it until I had children myself.

To the young moms and  the old moms and all the moms in between….Happy Mother’s Day.

To the poor moms, and the privileged moms, and
the moms who work both at home and in the workplace…Happy Mother’s Day.

To the women who choose not to become Mothers and then spend their lives teaching and mentoring children…Happy Mother’s Day.

To the moms who do it alone, either by choice, or by chance, and
the moms who raise the grandchildren who call them “mom”…Happy Mother’s Day.

To the moms who grieve the loss of a child taken from them too soon…Happy Mother’s Day.

To the moms who are in the military themselves, and the moms praying for sons and daughters who serve…Happy Mother’s Day.

To the moms who go hungry so their children can eat and who sleep on cots in shelters with their children next to them and the
moms who send their children to America while they stay behind in refugee camps…Happy Mother’s Day.

To the moms who spank when they’d rather hug, and the moms who hug when they’d rather spank…

To the goofy moms and the dorky moms and the serious moms…

To the musical moms who make their children practice piano and the soccer moms who stand in the rain….

To the moms who lovingly welcome their child’s same-sex partner and the moms who plan weddings for their children that they’d prefer not to attend at all….

To the moms who spend the bulk of their lives doing laundry and grocery shopping and cooking and cleaning….

To the  moms who make their kids go to church,  and the moms who don’t…

To the moms who do their best to protect my own when I’m not there to do it and who take care of the bullies among us…

Happy Mother’s Day.

To my own mom, my husband’s mom and the moms of my friends…

To the foster moms, the birth moms, and the adoptive moms….

and finally, most of all,  the two young women in South Korea who trusted that the universe would take care of the two sweet babies they’d labored to bring into the world who have grown into fine, strong, smart young adults…the two who call me Mom…

Happy Mother’s Day!