Category Archives: daughters

Why the mailman on ‘This is Us’ brought me to tears

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I’m sure a lot of people cried through the last few episodes of “This is Us.” (Don’t read any further if you’re not caught up.)

Like millions of us, I’m obsessed with this show, although it destroys me week after week. I was still recovering from the beautifully painful goodbye between William and Randall two weeks ago, and then last night was a whole new torture. Watching the family grieve evoked such familiar emotions and memories and brought fresh pain from long-ago losses right to the surface.

But the part that hit me the hardest wasn’t Kate breaking down, or watching Randall and his mom talk about how much time he lost with William, or even seeing the cracks in Jack and Rebecca’s marriage knowing more tragedy is ahead.

It was the mailman.

In a brief but poignant scene, a mailman – played with such tenderness by  Bill Chott – stopped in to deliver a package and asked Randall how William was doing because he hadn’t seen him and was worried. He teared up when he heard the news that William he had died. Randall didn’t realize the two had gotten to know each other, but learned they had met during William’s morning walks.

“People don’t stop just to talk anymore, you know,” the mailman said. “We became friends. He always asked about my daughter.”

I sobbed, alone on my couch, because my mom had a mailman like that. She was often home alone in the afternoons, sitting in her wheelchair watching life through the windows that lined the living room.

On one of my visits home, my mom started telling me about her friend, Glen, who had confided some secrets to her. Who’s that? I asked.

“You know Glenn,” she said. “Our mailman. We’re friends.”

He had been delivering mail in our Anchorage neighborhood for years. Everyone knew him. He’d wave and smile when he walked up to the drop letters in the box next to the front door. Turns out one day, he popped in to say hi to my mom, and they struck up a friendship. From then on, he’d just let himself into the house and deliver the mail directly to her. He must have been in a hurry to finish his route, but you’d never have known it. He stopped just to talk to her. They became friends.

Whenever I came to town, he knew everything that was going on with me, and what I’d been working on. He always asked about her daughters and son. He shared details of his life with her too. It made her happy when a card from me arrived, Glenn told me. He recognized my handwriting.

When my mom was diagnosed with cancer, Glenn’s visits lasted longer. He noticed when she wasn’t home, worried when he hadn’t seen her.

She died on a Sunday. I saw Glenn coming up to the house on Monday and went outside to tell him the news. But he already knew. He said he had been to the hospital the day before but arrived just after she’d left us. He hugged me tightly, and told me through tears he wished he could have seen her once more.

I don’t know my postal carrier’s name. He or she stretches an arm from the mail truck to slide bills and ads and the occasional letter into the slot on our locked box on the street. My dad still gets Christmas cards from Glenn, sent from his new home in a warmer southern climate, where he moved with his husband.

But I have no idea who delivers them.

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Our mishmash Christmas tree is full of memories

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What mom could resist?

As we were decorating our tree this year, my son held up two of his handmade ornaments — jaggedly cut pieces of construction paper with black marker scrawled on them.

“Do we have to put these up this year?” he groaned.

The date on the back shows he was nearly 3 when he wrote “Mom” and “Dad” and drew stick figures on them. Of course those are going on the tree, I told him .And so are the wooden ornaments you colored over the years with babysitter, even the one with the crooked googly eyes you made when you were 4.

And the Popsicle stick Gods eye your sister made, and all the other ornaments we’ve accumulated over the years.
I have friends whose Christmas trees are works of art, with impeccable arrangements of elegant ornaments, worthy of the oohs and aahs. One couple we know buys chic new ornaments every year to create a different theme for every season. Some of my friends don’t allow anyone else to help decorate tree, lest they interfere with perfection.

Not me. I’m all about the color, all about the memories.

Christmas deepens my already sentimental, nostalgic side. I love the annual tradition of choosing the tree, hauling out the boxes, then carefully unwrapping our ornaments and decorations. I remember where just about every one of them came from. There are “baby’s first Christmas” ornaments, faux wine bottles given to me by friends, and decorations we have picked out as a family on vacations. There are trinkets I bought the first year I lived alone and put up a tree by myself in my tiny apartment. They remind me how far I’ve come.

I have lots ornaments with my daughter’s name on them. She has a daughter of our own now. I suppose I should pass them on to her, but I love having her name hang in our house on soccer balls and sleds and candy canes. And besides the Shrinky Dinks my sister, brother, and I made still hang on my dad’s tree, along with the other prized possessions he and my late mom collected over the years. I like seeing them there when we visit at Christmas.

Our decorating doesn’t end with the tree. On the mantle over the fireplace, we arrange the beautiful Nativity scene three of my oldest friends gave us for a wedding gift, and in the hall, we hang the Christmas prints my mom gave me years ago.

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The peanut savior

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The rocker angel

And on the piano, we place the tiny manger that holds baby Jesus in the form of a peanut with a smiley face and the pine cone angel with haphazardly placed glitter and a shock of curly blonde hair that gives her a decidedly less than angelic look. My son brought them home from his church preschool. I can’t find the tape of the gift tags, but I’ve manged to hold onto that peanut for the last six years. I thought it was ridiculous when I first saw it, but I adore it.

And our centerpiece, our tree, will be covered in hundreds of colored lights and that glorious array of old and new. The are crystal stars next to Seahawks Santa hats, and a sock monkey ornament near a glittery glass heart. There will be no rhyme nor reason to the placement, except for the antique angel always that goes on top.

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Grandma’s angel watches over us all.

My beloved grandma passed her down to me years ago, and I cherish it. She has a painted porcelain face and dainty ceramic hands and feet peeking out from her delicate lace dress, her satin wings outstretched behind her. I’ve never seen anything like it before, and I have no idea why I was the lucky grandchild to inherit this beauty.

My kids have asked over the years to instead put up a star, or something with more bling or shine, but I hold fast to this tradition. She’s the last thing we take out, and the last thing we pack away, encased in bubble wrap and cardboard to preserve her for next year.

Our tree is not color-coordinated nor stylish. It’s far from flawless. It’s not picture-perfect. It’s just perfect.

I hope however you celebrate the holidays, they are full of memories you will cherish.

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Remembering my pantsuit-wearing mom on this historic Election Day

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Look at these powerful pantsuit-wearing women of the’70s. My mom is second from right.

I chose my first presidential candidate when I was in 4th grade. My dad told me if I watched the news and read the newspaper he would vote for whoever I told him to. He called me from his office and told me he was on his way to the polls and asked for my recommendation.

“Jimmy Carter!!” I screamed.

I might not have imagined then I would have the chance to vote for a woman running for the highest office, but my mom probably did. Were she alive today, my mom would be a couple of years older than Hillary Clinton, and she would have no doubt have campaigned for her – and voiced her opinions about what she should have done differently.

Growing up in Alaska in the ’70s and ‘80s, we talked about politics and current events a lot in our house. My mom was committed to making sure women were involved in the process – and on the ballot. When my sister and I were young, she lobbied for the Equal Rights Amendment and was an officer in the League of Women Voters. She and other strong women had raucous conversations in our home and worked hard on the issues and for candidates they believed in.

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My  mom made the news when she was elected president of the Anchorage League of Women Voters.

My mom ran campaigns and enlisted our help going through rolodexes and making phone calls. She helped elect school board members and state lawmakers, and she also campaigned for candidates who would have brought about real change but didn’t win. She volunteered at polling places, let us go behind the red, white, and blue curtain with her, and even took us to some election night parties.

Alaska is a small state, and Anchorage was a tight-knit community in those days, so many of these people were our friends. I babysat for the former mayor and governor’s kids, went to sleepovers with the daughters of legislators, and greeted many past and present lawmakers at my mom’s memorial service.

My mom was always trying to show us what women could accomplish. When I had to write a report on a historical figure in 6th grade, she suggested I research Golda Meir, who was Israel’s first (and only) woman prime minister. I did.

I remember my mom and her friends cheering when Geraldine Ferraro was chosen to be Walter Mondale’s vice presidential running mate in 1984. They were crushed in the election, of course, but the progressive women who surrounded and influenced me over the years considered it progress that a woman would be nominated for such a high office. Even though she would have disagreed with her politics, my mom might have even felt the same about fellow Alaskan Sarah Palin.

We talk some politics around our house too. My 9-year-old son helped me fill out my ballot (mail-in state that we are – it’s just not the same. I want my sticker!) He formed his own strong opinions throughout these prolonged campaigns about who he wanted to see in the White House.

“It seem strange that a woman has never been president,” he told me recently. “I always thought they were the most intelligent.”

The grandma you never met, my dear, would be proud.It looks tonight as though my son’s statement remains true and we won’t have a woman president. Still, though disappointed and shocked at the results I saw unfold tonight, I raise a glass to my mom and the many women of her generation who fought so hard to make a difference that led to Clinton’s historic run.

My dad is my hero

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I don’t remember this photo being taken, but I know my dad has been holding me up all my life.

It’s hard for me to put into words how I feel about my dad.

He is kind, wise, generous, honest, funny, hard-working and compassionate. He was a provider, a supporter, a caretaker, and my biggest fan. He always told me, “Go for it!” and made me believe in myself.

How do I adequately say “thank you” to the man who who helped me become who I am?  I am fortunate to have had the parents I did. I hope my kids feel the same about me.

I tried my best to show how much I love, admire, and respect him long before I started blogging, when I submitted an essay, “Priceless Treasures” (starts on page 53) for the anthology, “My Dad is My Hero.” I was honored it was included, and I share it now in honor of Father’s Day, and this man who really is my hero.

Happy Father’s Day. I love you, Dad.

 

A letter to my beautiful stepdaughter, who is about to become a mom

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Seem like yesterday this little girl was holding her baby brother. Soon, she will be holding her own baby.

I talked to you twice yesterday, for a half-hour each time. Each conversation ended with you saying, “I love you.” Your sideways half-hugs have turned into full embraces.

I can’t adequately express how happy such outward affection makes me.

Remember when you and Grandma made those turkey magnets out of fake leaves and straw? Mine has stayed on our fridge year-round. One of its googly eyes is missing, but its felt feet and ribbon bow tie are intact. On the back, you wrote, “I like you.”

That was progress.

I always loved you. Even when you weren’t speaking to me. Even when you scratched my face out of a family picture. Even when you slammed the door and said, “You’re not my parent.” Even when we fought about school and grades. Even when you were a teenager and didn’t come home and Dad and I stayed up all night scared to death, wondering where you were.

Through the screaming and tears, I loved you. I wanted the best for you. I wanted, more than anything, for you to be happy. Who would have thought it would be your unplanned pregnancy that would have brought us this close, and brought you so much happiness. It’s been wonderful watching you mature, seeing you and your love share such excitement over being young parents.

Our recent outing to get you some maternity clothes was the most enjoyable shopping trip we’ve ever had. There was no arguing about whether something was too short, too tight, or too expensive. You were so grateful, so concerned about the cost.

You call me to ask about nursing, talk about your doctor’s appointments and your fear about the birth process. Our conversations are more fun, more in-depth, and more meaningful.

You’ve grown up so much since I first met you when you were 5, all freckles and crooked teeth and attitude covering up your sadness. Your dad fought so hard to bring you to live with us, and you couldn’t wait. When we showed up at the appointed time, you were sitting on the curb with your grandma, all your belongings ready to be loaded right into the car for the five-hour drive to our house.

You were so excited to move to a new city with your dad. You weren’t quite as excited about having a stepmom.

I never envisioned myself in that role either. But I met your sweet dad and his beautiful daughter, and I never thought twice about bringing you home. I wanted to immediately envelope you in love and make our home yours, this family yours.  I dreamed of your future, made plans for you, considered you mine.

At our wedding, I wanted to include a special time to symbolize not only our marriage, but the coming together of this family. I searched for the perfect gift, and when you joined us at the altar, we gave you a silver charm bracelet with three hearts on it – one for each of us – and I promised to have and to hold you, in good times and bad.

There were plenty of both as you and I got to know each other. I think we’ll both admit we’ve survived some tumultuous times, and that we’ve come out stronger and more appreciative of the other.

I had a lot to learn. There’s no stepmom manual, so I did what felt right. I figured if I did all the things with you that I remembered doing with my mom, that it would make us mother and daughter. I bought you my favorite books from my childhood – like “Free to be You and Me,” and “Where the Sidewalk Ends.”  Each has an inscription I wrote and dated, starting with the first Christmas I knew you, the first birthday I celebrated with you. But you didn’t want to cuddle and read with me, didn’t like it when I sang, “Good morning, good morning!” when I woke you up for school.

You never really liked my silly songs, and rolled your eyes at my jokes. You only wanted Dad to tuck you in at night, so I just told you – as my parents did every night when I was growing up: “Sleep tight, see you in the morning, love you, good night.”

You never said it back, but I kept trying.

On every vacation or holiday, I chose a special charm for that wedding bracelet that reminded me of you, of where you were in your life at that time:  a scooter, a soccer ball, a sand castle.

I planned birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese and skating rinks, made that Sponge Bob Halloween costume and had your friends over. I cheered the first time you crossed the monkey bars by yourself, took you on your first plane ride, and bought you pads when your period started. I brought you to my office on “Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” went to school conferences, filled your Christmas stockings and Easter baskets with your favorite things, and took you to the orthodontist to get your braces put on.

All these efforts, hoping to prove to you that I really did have your back and find the thing that really connected us.

You were so different from me when I was younger. Slender and naturally athletic, with shiny, long chestnut hair and dark eyes, you’re a natural beauty who fit perfectly in skinny jeans and bikinis.  I was a chubby, self-conscious girl who always had to shop in the plus size section and hated buying clothes.

I tried every sport and was more than once voted “Most inspirational,” because I put in such effort without ever really being good. You excelled at every sport you attempted. You ran across the soccer field with such speed I was in awe, and you made the volleyball team even though you had never played before.

And through it all, even our happiest days, you longed for your mom. I wondered, why is all she has with us not enough? Not her own room, decorated especially for her, not the undefeated basketball and volleyball teams, not the BFF she texts with incessantly, not the little brother who adores her.

Even with all the counseling, all the talking, I don’t think I saw things from your point of view as well as I should have. I thought I did, but I learned that I was giving you what I thought you needed, without really knowing what you needed. I’m sorry I didn’t understand it as well as I should have from your perspective. I know how hard it was to be torn between your life here with us and your life there with them. I did the best I could, and I hope you know that. I know you wish you had done some things differently as well.

My heart did ache for you when you asked for your mom during the years she couldn’t be there for you. When you cried endlessly in the car after a visit. And that same heart was truly broken when you left us years later to move in with your mom. We knew you deserved the chance to be with her, but I don’t think you knew how hard it was to let you go, how much I cried at your empty room.

I’m so happy your mom found her way back to you, that she is a strong support and that we all now have a friendly relationship. It means so much to me to be recognized along with her as your baby’s grandma, to have a photo of you standing between your mom and dad from your baby shower.

I know you’re going to be a good mom, because I saw how you were with your baby brother – so tender, so careful, so loving. Being his mom taught me a lot about being a step-parent, like how much those first years matter – years when you had no idea who I was – and how kids become who they are so early in life. And how as much as your heart swells with love for your children, all kids and parents get annoyed with each other sometimes, step or not.

You’ll understand it more when your daughter is here – I think you already do – how our children bring us so much joy, and some heartache as well. Sometimes you’ll want her to do things your way, and she’ll have her own ideas, and you’ll know how your parents felt. It happens to all of us when we grow up and look back.

We can’t wait to meet our granddaughter in just a matter of hours. I will hold her and squeeze her and tell her, “Sleep tight. See you in the morning. I love you. Good night.” Maybe you’ll start saying it to her too.

And you can call me when she’s a teenager.

I love you,

Katherine  (AKA Grandma)

EPILOGUE: I sent this to my stepdaughter and she said it was OK to post. And she wrote me the best note:

“I’m sorry for the bad times. I didn’t realize what I had was good. I am so grateful that you were/are in my life because my life would be completely different if you weren’t there. Thank you so much for being there when my mom wasn’t. And still being here for me after it all.”

We have come a long way.

(This post originally appeared on Ravishly.)

 

A toast to the moms and the motherless

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On the last Mother’s Day I spent with my mom, I gave her a keepsake box, with a Maya Angelou quote on top:

“We spend precious hours fearing the inevitable. It would be wise to use that time adoring our families, cherishing our friends, and living our lives.”

That box now sits on my dresser, holding some of my most precious mementos: photo of my kids, my mom’s charm bracelet, the hair clips my stepdaughter and I wore at my wedding.

On Mother’s Day 10 years ago, my husband gave me a jar of baby food. We had just learned that I was pregnant a few days earlier. Yesterday that little baby scored a couple runs at his baseball game and a touchdown at flag football. Today he gave me a handmade card:

“Thank you for being so supportive of me, caring for me, and giving me so many opportunities though my years so far. I know how hard it is to take care of a kid, so I just wanted to say thank you for everything you have done.”

That one’s going in the box.

And my beautiful stepdaughter is about to have a daughter herself. She was the first one to make me a mom when she came into my life 15 years ago, and soon she will make me a grandma.

That Maya Angelou quote is fitting for this holiday, which is wrapped in so many memories and emotions. On this day reserved for Moms – who, let’s face it – will still be doing laundry or changing diapers, packing lunches and checking homework – we all have reasons to celebrate, and reasons to mourn.

Many of my friends are without their moms today too, some for the first time. And there are the heartbroken moms who have lost their children and women who long for babies of their own.

This Mother’s Day, I had brunch with my husband and son. They toasted me and gave me flowers, and I felt their appreciation. Thanks, guys. I love you.

And I thought about my mom, of course, because so much of who I am today I owe to her, and I will always miss her. I thought about all the strong women in my life who are mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, stepmothers, mothers-in-law, aunts, single moms, nieces, cousins.

As we make our way through this life, becoming mothers and motherless, I will take Maya’s words to heart.

I adore you. I cherish you.

 

 

People in wheelchairs deserve to be seen

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I hardly see the wheelchair in one of my favorite photos of my fun-loving mom and my aunt.

I hate that seeing a wheelchair always reminds me of my mom.

She was so much more than that chair. So much more than the monster called MS that she lived with for 30 years.

But whenever I see someone in a wheelchair, or a hopelessly inaccessible bathroom, or a store you can only reach by taking the stairs, I’m reminded of my remarkable mom, who was dependent on a wheelchair for too many years before she died too soon almost 13 years ago.

Sometimes the chair was all people would see.

Sometimes it made this vibrant woman invisible.

I thought about that this weekend while we were at our city’s Halloween festival. We admired the creative costumes, screamed through the haunted house, and trick-or-treated at the shops along the way to the town square for the dog costume contest and the wiener dog races.

A crowd gathered around the small cordoned-off area to watch the tiny four-legged racers. It was hard to see, and kids crouched down at the front while adults stood behind. A man wheeled up and took a spot behind the children.

Soon, a woman appeared and stood directly in front of him. She kept looking around, I assumed, to make sure she wasn’t in anyone’s way. She never noticed the gentleman in the wheelchair behind her. He kept trying to peer around her, to get a glimpse of the action, but he never said anything.

Finally, I touched her gently on the shoulder, letting her kindly know she was blocking his view.  She was embarrassed, she felt bad, and of course she apologized.

“I didn’t even SEE him. I didn’t even SEE him,” she kept repeating.

She didn’t even see him.

My mom would never have been alone. My amazing dad or one of her kids or a friend would have been there to push her forward and make sure she had a clear view. This man was by himself. I don’t know him or anything about his circumstances and really have no right to speak for him.

But I saw him.

And I saw my mom and all the times airport security wanted her to stand up to be searched, all the waiters who tried to get us into a booth rather than seat us at a table she could easily pull up to, and all the salesclerks who looked over her head and asked me if they could help me find something. I thought of the numerous times my Mom was using her electric scooter on our walks and someone jogged by, cheerfully but thoughtlessly saying they envied her ride.

I remembered the times she didn’t want to make a scene when we couldn’t get somewhere she wanted to go, and the times she made a joke about it.

“Watch out for the crazy driver!” she’d laugh as I pushed through department store racks placed too tightly together so she could reach the sweater she wanted to try on.

I’m grateful for the strangers who would hold the door for us, who would help us negotiate a curb where there was no ramp, and especially thankful to those who greeted my mom, instead of avoiding her eyes and looking to me.

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My mom and me, before MS.

Because she was someone you wanted to know. She was a funny, smart, and resilient woman who loved shopping, football, and politics and could debate with the best. Before the disease ravaged her hands, she played a mean piano, and the former English teacher and music school owner inspired her children to play music, to write, to sing. She fought hard and worked hard and loved much and never stopped trying.

She was so much more than that damn chair.

Please remember that the next time you encounter a person in a wheelchair.

Just see her.