September 16 – Mom on the Fly

Advice to my Grown Daughter

by Susan Rudnick

photo by BreakingPic at pexels.com

Standing on West 56th Street in Manhattan, I give myself a moment to look across the street at Carnegie Hall before heading to my dentist’s office to have my mouth numbed.  My cell phone rings, and “#1 daughter” comes up, the way she had jokingly entered her number on my phone.  And she is #1. My only one.

Motherhood came to me late. For so many years I had longed to be one but wasn’t sure I would be able to make it happen. It was a miracle gift when my daughter’s birth mother entrusted her to me and I became a mother through adoption at age 43.  I have loved being a mother through every stage of my daughter’s life.

My daughter is 31 now, and recently married to a lovely man.  We live over an hour away from each other, so it has been through phone calls that we have some of our most meaningful conversations. I have received calls in the gym locker room, in my car just about to go somewhere, at 11:30 in the morning and 9:20 at night. It might be “just saying hi”, or it’s the “do you have time to talk?”   In two seconds, when I know it’s the latter, I have learned to listen, and to weigh in judiciously if given permission.

I have learned to regard these calls as little windows to pass on whatever wisdom I can. Lately, as my 75th birthday approaches, I feel more of an urgency to share whatever wisdom I have.  How much longer will I have to be there for her?  What have I not said that would be helpful?  What does she still need from me?

In the past, there were many calls about whether she should break up with a boyfriend who had addiction issues. “Of course,” I would want to say.  “You deserve better.” But I knew that until she was ready to let go, that wouldn’t work. I chose instead to remind her of all the efforts she had made to help him stop.

Thankfully, we are now past those calls. We are dealing with the trip to Georgia to visit her in-laws or the contractor who walked away without finishing a project for the business she is starting.

I have said these things before, but would it be helpful to say them again?

  • Your in-laws are your husband’s parents.
  • Listen to your doubts, they have something to say.
  • Don’t let anyone talk you out of what you feel is right.
  • Try not to take things personally.
  • For everyone who disappoints you, there will be an unexpected gift of someone who shows up for you.
  • If you decide to become a mother, know it’s for life.
  • I will always be in your heart after I’m gone.

I press down the key.

“Mom, do you have a minute to talk?”

“Of course,” I say.

Susan Rudnick is the author of the memoir Edna’s Gift: How My Broken Sister Taught Me To Be Whole.  She is a published haiku poet, and her recent essay appeared in the NY Times: The Power of a Name: My Secret Life With M.R.K.H. She has been a psychotherapist in NYC for the past forty years.

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September 9 – Monday Was Wash Day

by Sara Etgen-Baker

Helen Morain Stainbrook

Last Thursday my washer quit spinning, leaving in its wake a tub full of wet, heavy clothes. I grumbled and stared inside the washer, knowing I lacked the arm strength to wring out the excess water in each item of clothing. What I wouldn’t have given at that moment to have my grandmother’s old wringer washer.

I can still picture her standing beside her wringer washer that sat on a little back porch behind her kitchen. Come rain, shine, cold winter days, or hot summer afternoons, she washed clothes EVERY Monday. She rose extra early, built a fire, and heated wash water. She filled the washer and twin rinsing tubs with scalding hot water; hand scrubbed each individual item, using a washboard to remove bad stains. Once clothes were scrubbed, washed, rinsed, and sent through the wringer, Granny hung her laundry to dry on clotheslines strung between two tall posts. As I recall, there were some basic clothesline rules she and women of her time followed.

•       Clotheslines were cleaned before hanging any clothes. She walked the length of the line using a damp cloth, removing dust, dirt, and bird poop.

•       Clothes were hung in a certain order: “Whites” with “whites,” always first.

•       Sheets and towels were hung on the outside lines. “Unmentionables” were in the middle out of public view.

•       Shirts were hung by the shoulders; NEVER by the tail.

•       Socks were hung by the toes, NOT the tops.

•       Pants were hung by the BOTTOM or the cuffs, NOT the waistbands.

•       Hang clothes out to dry on Mondays only. Never on Sunday! For heaven’s sake!

•       After taking down dry clothes, ALWAYS gather up the clothespins. Pins left on the lines look tacky.

Although using a wringer washing machine took a lot of time and required tremendous body strength, my grandmother thought she was lucky to have a wringer washer. At the end of wash day, Granny sat on her stoop occasionally recollecting her youth when she built a wood fire under an iron pot where she washed clothes with lye soap; something she did in the early years of her marriage during WWII when it was impossible to buy a wringer washing machine.

I take a lot for granted these days. I have an automatic washer and can wash clothes any day of the week and at any time of the day or night. I have an electric clothes dryer so I don’t have to tote laundry baskets full of wet clothes outside in all kinds of weather and hang them out to dry. In fact, drying clothes on a line is rarely seen these days.

Granny certainly wouldn’t have much patience with me for complaining about my automatic washer having gone on the fritz. She’d be shocked knowing I’d gone soft, lacking the strength to lift wet clothes out of my washer and wring out the excess water. She’d probably fuss at me, too, saying, “Why the heck are you washing clothes on Thursday anyway? Shame on you!”

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

September 2 – The Reds and The Yellows

by Ariela Zucker

The lone red leaf on a soft mat of green that I detected this morning, is it a sign of fall?

“One swallow does not a summer make,” (Aristotle), a voice inside me resists.

One red leaf does not herald a season just like one flake of snow is not a sign of a coming storm. I try to talk myself out of the winter coming predictions, but I know I am fooling no one.

The reds and the yellows are a sure sign that the seasons are changing, there is no denying it.

I look at the Goldenrods in my garden, now at the peak of their bloom, but my eyes are drawn to the top of the trees. Up there, I find the incriminating proof in the view of several branches that overnight turned a bronze-red.

“Just the weakest link,” is always a good explanation. Young branches turn red first, so do sick ones, but those resistant and hardened will not change till the end of September.

Almost convinced, I walk in to pick up the motel phone to answer the question that in the following days will become more and more prevalent.

“So, when do you think it will be the best time to come see the leaves?”

The changing leaves, or as we call them, the fall foliage, are the big draw to our area in September and October.

Within a night my husband and I become the ones to consult with regarding leaves. People from all corners of the US and often Europe who plan their fall vacation in our motel depend on our recollections of past years foliage and the forecast for the coming season.

Just like the infamous New-England weather, known for its capricious nature, the foliage can fool even the best of nature enthusiasts.

People reminisce about the good years when the colors were so vibrant, they practically shimmered, and try to figure out the mysterious color quandary so they can predict the colors for the coming fall. The success rate is not very high, especially when the weather, in the last minute, decides to interfere, and a sudden storm knocks off all the leaves overnight.

Once September starts, we hold our breath and pray. For the weather to remain calm, for the winds to stir clear into the ocean. For the rain to hold on till the last leaf will land safely on the ground and for the sun to shine in a clear blue sky.

This, we discovered, is the real secret for the assurance of good colors.

Ariela Zucker was born in Israel. She and her husband left sixteen years ago and now reside in Ellsworth Maine where they run a Mom and Pop motel. This post originally appeared on her blog at Paper Dragon.

August 12 – I Forgot

by Christine Ristaino

I forgot. I forgot you weren’t a service dog. You were what they called a “Career Change Dog” because you sat and refused to budge when you were near busy streets. You see, a service dog can’t just do that, you know. But my son needed a dog who could help him sleep, a dog who he could pet, a dog who could relieve the stress that built up before he’d drop to the floor and seize. They were called psychogenic non-epileptic seizures. And you didn’t care. You seemed happy enough in your new career. You were like a sensory blanket, keeping my son warm at night. You were the one he went to when stress was brimming from his bones, through his skin, and outward, before his brain began to seize, you were the one he went to.

Yesterday I took you with me to drop him off at school. He ruffled your fur before he left. Then I wrapped your leash around a chair at the coffee shop to get a warm tea. Who could have predicted the chair would close on your toes, pulling out two toenails and spooking you so you ran, terrified, in all directions, pulling that damn chair through traffic and finally striking a moving car?

I ran after you, but the young store owner sailed past me, gasping as the car hit. I couldn’t have foreseen you would rise from the dead and continue to run, pulling the chair with you toward more cars. It was like a slow-motion movie, where the dog does some crazy, funny, thing, but turns out okay. Only this was real life. I couldn’t watch, couldn’t look, couldn’t see you die. But unexplainably, you weren’t struck again. The store owner dove onto the chair and stopped you, breaking her finger.

I took you to the vet; no broken bones, no internal bleeding, just two toenails. Now, as I type, you are curled by my feet, my son in school. I forgot you weren’t a service dog. I totally forgot!

Christine Ristaino is the author of All the Silent Spaces, a memoir about overcoming violence. She is also a professor of Italian language and culture at Emory University, where she leads workshops on the topics of overcoming violence, leadership, diversity, privilege, writing and talking about difficult topics and creating a public voice.

 

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August 5 – Turning Pointe

by Sara Etgen-Baker

“Point your feet! Rotate! Don’t stick your butts out! Stay out of your heels.” I looked up from where I was sitting.  There was no music; only the thump-thud sound of the dancers en pointe and the ballet master shouting. “Dance to the tips of your fingers and toes! Plié! Spot!”

Ann obeyed, sweat running down her face. “Tours chaînés déboulés,” the master barked. She struggled, her sleek muscles quivering with exhaustion. I’d never seen my aunt rehearsing. So, the contrast between seeing her stage performance where she glided effortlessly on the tips of her pointe shoes and seeing her studio rehearsal baffled me.

“Rond de Jambe en l’air and Frappé.” The master paused; the dancers gathered at the barre. “Fifth position, preparation sur le cou de pied. Single frappe en croix each position getting two counts.”  He strolled around the dance studio.

“Close Fifth position front.” Ann panted for breath. “Single rond de jambe en l’air en dehors twice at 45°.” Her corded tendons stood out like insulated cable. …“Now close to sous-sus front.

But when the curtain rose later that winter evening, there stood my aunt; her feathery light body rose en pointe.

Ann lifted her arms, breathed in the music sending it through her torso, arms, and legs. She surrendered to the music and spun like the wind across Swan Lake; her tutu fluttering like the wings of a bird at dawn. Dancing became her body’s song, and Ann sang it beautifully, her body telling the story of Odette, the Swan Queen, and her love for Prince Siegfried.

Backstage afterward, I cringed when Ann removed her pointe shoes revealing calluses, misshapen toes, black nails, and reddish-purple flesh. The contrast between her beautiful pointe shoes and her battered, ugly feet startled me.

“I didn’t know how ballet dancing was so painful!” I searched her eyes. “How can you endure so much pain?”

Ann silently walked over to her dressing table, wrapped her pointe shoes in soft tissue paper, and placed them in a pink satin drawstring bag. She scribbled a note, tucking it inside the bag. “I’m not quite sure how to explain it to you, but take these. I want you to have them. One day, you’ll understand.”

I left the performance hall and opened the drawstring bag, running my fingers over the pointe shoes’ pink satiny smooth surface and read her note.  “Each time you see these, remember life, like dance, is a beautiful art form. It’s hard work. It’s painful. It’s ugly. You sweat. You fail. You succeed. You try again. You push. You fight. But always remain graceful.”

At the time I didn’t understand the wisdom in my aunt’s message. Now, though, I recognize my aunt’s gift was not her pointe shoes; rather it was her enduring words that served as a turning point in my young life when I learned that life, like ballet, is a battle between beauty and pain.

A teacher’s unexpected whisper, “You’ve got writing talent,” ignited Sara’s writing desire. Sara ignored that whisper and pursued a different career but eventually, she re-discovered her inner writer and began writing. Her manuscripts have been published in anthologies and magazines including Chicken Soup for the Soul, Guideposts, Times They Were A Changing, and Wisdom Has a Voice.

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July 29 – Embracing the Gift of Imperfection

by Karen Price

Three hens live at our house — Cinnamon, Clove, and Pepper. The first two are friendly Buff Orpingtons and for the latter is a Black Maran. The buff lay the lighter brown eggs and the Maran lays what is know as chocolate eggs. Who wouldn’t want a chicken that lays chocolate eggs? Now if I just had a goose that laid golden eggs, I’d be all set. Disclaimer: the shell is chocolate-colored, no actual chocolate was used in the making of this egg.

That sad little smaller than a ping pong ball egg was Pepper’s best effort. She hasn’t given me another egg since then. I’m hopeful that she’ll lay many more and perhaps more in line of the size that the other to girls offer.

When my husband handed me that wee egg, I immediately felt for Pepper. I’ve had plenty of days when I’ve given everything I had but all I’d had to show for my work was something tiny and feeble. I walked over to where Pepper was nesting and patted her back. “Thank you,” I told her with sincere empathy. “I appreciate your egg today.” I was very careful not to make fun of her or tell her there was anything wrong with her egg.

I was tender with her as I would want someone to be tender with my efforts at creativity. Often, I will refrain from creating anything, because I am afraid that my results will be less than stellar, that my efforts will be puny and even comical.

Well, sometimes my creations are puny and comical. I’ve made, cooked, and written things that went right into the trash. I once spent days weaving and crocheting a blanket that turned out to be extremely out of shape and just squeehawed. But I kept it. I have it neatly folded and stored away because I learned so much in making it. “It could have been beautiful,” I thought; if I’d known more. But now I see the potential behind the puny effort.

It’s taken me a long time to boldly go and make terrible things. It’s part of making excellent creations. Of course, I’ve had to come to terms with the concept that when I’m learning, I have to plan on making something twice. Make, tear out, repeat. Or sometimes — make, laugh, toss and recreate.

I’m going to go off and making some things today. I will remind myself that I embrace the gift of imperfection. Perhaps I’ll make something really grand, maybe not. And as I allow myself that adventure, I want to pass it on to those I encounter as well.

Karen blogs regularly at thebestoftimesfarm blog and this post originally appeared there and is published here with permission of the author.
Karen says, “I am at a point in my life where I have everything I wanted and am doing just about everything I’ve ever dreamed of. We have our own little hobby farm with a little herd of goats. Life is to be celebrated and I’m celebrating!”

 

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July 22 – For My Grandparents in the Train Station

by Linda C. Wisniewski

Once a week, a white flatbed truck pulls up on our street, delivering riding mowers, short Hispanic men and one white guy, the obvious “boss.” They spill from the truck like bees, everyone in a hurry, armed at different seasons with leaf blowers, jugs of liquid fertilizer, or shovels and rakes.

I wonder what they are spraying. But mostly I have a bigger worry. I wonder if they are undocumented; if they have families here or in another country.

A local activist gave me two lists in Spanish: What to Do In an Emergency (when you have to leave home in a hurry) and Know Your Rights (when ICE comes to your door) with a phone number for free legal advice. I make copies and take them home.

One day I see a lone guy spreading mulch.

“Hola!”

“Habla?” He looks up, smiling.

“No,” I say with a shake of my head. He looks puzzled. What does he see? A gringo lady making fun of him?

Almost all my neighbors are white. Some of us have talked about the ICE raids, the deportations, the family separation. The kids in cages, sleeping on the floor in silver blankets.

My country was unprepared for these refugees and I fear we have lost our heart. We have tax breaks for the wealthy but not enough room for the willing to work. My busy landscapers look at me with wary eyes. Was it always like this?

My grandfather’s family traveled overland from Poland to Germany, crossed the ocean, then boarded a train in New York City to Amsterdam, New York. They came because they heard about jobs in the rug, broom and glove factories. They left loved ones they would never see again.

They sat all day in the train station, hot and tired, with no idea what to do next. They spoke no English.  In the evening, men who spoke Polish came down to the station and led them, on foot, to flats for rent. They took them to the factories and introduced them to bosses who taught them jobs. They were needed, if not necessarily welcomed.

We don’t need migrants in 21st century America. Our factories are closed. I understand the fears of the underemployed. I remember the layoffs when my parents worried about paying the mortgage when they lost our car because they couldn’t make the payments and we had to walk everywhere. I understand the fear that there is not enough to go around. But I don’t believe these refugees from crime and poverty are here to rip me off.

I research what I want to say, and memorize a sentence:

“No hablo Espanol, pero quiero darte esta.”

I don’t know Spanish but I want to give you this.

My heart pounds when I go outside and hand two slips of paper to the man in the yard. He looks at them and nods.

“Gracias,” he says, shoves them in his pocket and goes on working.

Linda C. Wisniewski shares an empty nest with her retired scientist husband in Bucks County, PA. Her memoir, Off Kilter, was published by Pearlsong Press. Linda has been a member of Story Circle Network for many years and a longer version of this blog appears on her personal website. She blogs at www.lindawis.com.

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