Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Lessons of a Mother Daughter Bond

Mother's hold their child's hand for a moment
and their heart for a lifetime.

A year ago this month I started writing a blog about my mom.  Twelve months would pass prior to this final version.  Why did it take so long?  Honestly, it was the desire to get it right, the desire to share something so personal that I held onto it tightly.  I held it close to myself, as close as she held and protected me when I was afraid as a child.  As with all things Knowing, the words couldn't be forced.  They had to flow in their own perfection.  After all, she's still alive, with me and may even read it.  It had to be as layered as she is.  I mean, how do you write about the most challenging and rewarding relationship you have experienced to date in this life?  How do you summarize all that a mother is and what she did as her best to instill in you?  You remember one of her favorite go to pieces of advice in life, to trust that it will all work out as it should.

Mother's Day 2012 - Mom's favorite place in Rappahannock
The Thornton River Grille, Sperryville

My earliest memories of my mother are of her love of our animals, her caring and nurturing nature, and her steadfast commitment to her family.  My mom is in a way a peaceful pacifist.  She doesn't like conflict and her nature is typically easy going.  Don't get me wrong though, if you hurt her or her family she will hold you accountable, take action and see to it that it doesn't happen again.  Her easy going nature is what I believe caused her to bond early on in her own life with animals.  My guess is that they reminded her of what was right in the world when things went wrong or were painful.  They taught her things such as caring for each other and unconditional love.  Animals, when treated correctly, will love you until their last breath.  They hold no judgments or grudges.  They live in the present moment, in the here and now.

Mom and Yuki

Growing up, my mom's love of animals carried her over neighbor's fences as a young girl in hot pursuit of a sneaky barebacked horse ride.  I love the twinkle in her eye when she recalls those days.  As most children are, she was determined to have what she wanted.  Bonding in a field with the horses gave her peace and made her happy.  As an adult she would introduce me to that love early on, taking me on visits to the stables in Woodlawn to feed the horses and then as a pre-teen allowing me to take lessons at a barn in Gunston.  We always also had a home filled to the brim with animals.  The dogs and cats I was raised with were the siblings I never had in our home and they were treated like family too.  That's how I was raised, to treat your companions as the living beings that they are, to give to them the same unconditional love that they give us.

Aunt Frances, Yours Truly, Mom
I'm grateful my mom had unconditional love in her.  It's something I truly savor these days given my witness to a parent not having unconditional love for that beautiful girl that I call my own "daughter."  My teen years were testing to say the least for mom.  I wasn't awful all of the time but when I was awful, I really was a mean "know-it-all" teenager who just wanted to do what I wanted to do.  An attitude I would reap via the law known as parenting karma when that aforementioned girl I helped to raise became a teenager herself.  As a result of that know-it-all teeny bopper attitude and angst, I really didn't get to know my mom until I was in my mid 20s, after the birth of my son and the loss of her mother.  

I didn't learn to appreciate all that she is though truly until a decade after that.  I'm grateful that I have though, for I've learned so very much about life simply by observing hers.  As we grow together as friends, I continue to learn even more about her character, grace and love.  Lessons I carry forth with my step-daughter and son.

Mom and I on the 4th of July
I learned that while I was selfishly angry that she was always at class, taking night college courses and working full-time that she was bettering herself.  She did so for a long time just to be able to get a better salary at work for us.  Never mind the fact that her graduation came close to her retirement, the point was she set out to do something and she sacrificed her time with me to do it.  She had a goal and she stuck with it, even after her and my father separated and we moved to Lorton.  Mom in her career years worked hard and with many people who didn't appreciate her.  It was a job that stressed her out and made her unhappy.  By viewing all of this the stage was set in my own life.  I swore that once I "grew up" as an adult, that I would find what I love and to look for that as my work.  I didn't want to be unhappy with what I do.  Not all parts of her job were unhappiness though, there were a few good employees she had over the years.  There was also the mark she left behind, even if the people turning the pages and looking at the graphics didn't know it was her creation.  Yes, my creative gene definitely comes from my mother.

Mom at the Cherry Blossoms in DC
My mom had the privilege of hanging out in Georgetown with her music loving artistic friend Mary during her college years.  Yes, her first college years.  Back when The Corcoran College of Art and Design didn't give credits for their courses.  If they had, she'd of never had to go back to college to get a degree when I was growing up.  This was the 1960s after all; there were much greater things going on in the world then giving credit to art students.  Did you know that school was founded in 1890 and that its' the only professional college of art and design in the area of its caliber?  How awesome is it that my mom can say she went there? Just as neat to share is that she went to see The Beatles the first time they played in the United States.  She said you couldn't hear a thing over all of the screaming in the crowd.  Nonetheless, she was there.  I bet you can now figure out where my love of music came from too.  

Passing on the puppy love to my son Tristan.  A litter my mom was watching for a friend.
Sharing her art, music, unconditional love and animals are all lessons in the things that matter.  When we lived in Alexandria, my mother and my father had multiple dogs and cats and I had fish.  Much of her fun art at that time were pencil and charcoal drawings of them.  They are so detailed and beautiful.  

My mom was a breeder of Collies and my father was a breeder of German Shepherds.  While mom liked her dogs to be shown, my father's dogs were for hobby.  My youngest years of life were surrounded by litters of puppies and my first dog show in the ring was at the tender age of seven with a collie named Flicka.  

Myself and Nicki, my dad's first loved  dog.
Flicka and Nicki, my dad's favorite dog, were such loving companions to my childhood self.  It was Flicka who used to console me as I cried in the closet of my bedroom when my parents would argue.  Thankfully, they would divorce when I was ten years old.  I of course didn't understand the depths of their relationship but as I would age I'd learn to appreciate it and often joked it's a miracle that I even came to be.  I was in awe that they'd even made it five years together before I was born, let alone ten years after.  

While I love my father deeply, I understand his complex character now.  I will always respect my mother for her courage to leave what was a toxic situation to create a healthier life for all of us.  To this day he still doesn't "get it" but all of our lives have gone on and he's exactly the same person he was in 1985 less a few moments of compliments that blew me away as I've been transforming myself these past few years. My father not changing and my mother always evolving and learning, becoming a better person is affirmation enough of their paths going down two different roads.  Walking away and starting all over again on her own taught me that you can do hard things.

It was also early on that I learned about death, saying tearful goodbyes to our family member pets and sometimes tragically, their offspring at birth or near birth.  My father could never stomach when it was time to do so and would always leave town to visit his family in North Carolina when it was time.  As a result of his not being able to be present, my mom would be the one to carry the burden and sadness of calling the veterinarian to let an ailing friend go.  More often than not she did this alone.  Talk about compassion and strength.  Time and time again she took on this burden when my dad avoided it.  I have nothing but respect for her courage at these times.  She always tells me it's the most compassionate thing we can do, to let them go when they are suffering.  I try and take this lesson in all areas of my life, even to the living human beings in it.  Sometimes we have to let people go when they are suffering.  Hard, yes.  Sad, yes.  True, absolutely.

Grandma Irene & Mom
After decades of being the strong one forced to let go, life would find her in this same position saying farewell to my grandmother.  My mom was the only one who had the stomach to be present in the room to say goodbye when life support was ceased.  It wasn't as if it was something anyone in the family saw coming either.  My mom, aunt and grandfather had traveled with her to California for my grandmother to have surgery and the only reason I wasn't there with them was because I was due to deliver my son at any given moment after a failed induction.  I'm still in awe as to how that all came full circle though, how my mother spent her entire adult married life preparing for the ultimate hard thing.  Each of the animals she had the grit to be with were another practice run for what would come to pass.  I'll have you know that my son was born the day following my grandmother's passing.  I can remember my grandmother on the phone with me during my failed induction hospitalization telling me, "he'll come when he's supposed to come Nita, it's just not time yet." My mother literally went from letting go of her own mother to receiving her grandson in her arms in less than 24 hours time.  That was the first time it hit me that life is never ever random in its occurrences.  Never.

Pregnant with Tristan. Mother's Day 1999.  Our last one with Grandma Irene.
Even my son's name wasn't random.  It came from her love of animals and how that carried over to what we read and watched in the home.  All Creatures Great and Small was a staple. It was then that I fell in love with the name Tristan.  While my 20s and his pregnancy weren't easy for her, she stood by my side through all of it.  She has loved me through heartache and triumph.  Mom has always been the cheerleader of my parental dynamic.  My father is the exact opposite, which makes me appreciate her unwavering support that much more.  She has always been my enthusiastic encourager of following your dreams.  After all, she followed hers after high school with art.

Mom's Art from 1977
That dream and what's left of its heyday has survived as her portfolio.  It graces the walls of my home and hers, as well as lives on in various Fairfax County Public Schools publications (one of which is below).  That is where she worked as a graphic artist for many years before moving up into more stressful managerial type positions.  

Her talents were in drawing people and in creating colorful abstract art.  She is so amazingly gifted and yet so very humble about the same.  Sadly though, she no longer draws because her hands shake these days and there's nothing she can do to stop them.  It breaks my heart to know she can no longer enjoy it like she used to but she has found a new outlet in that she volunteers to produce a newsletter that's printed for the Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club she belongs to.   Much of my moms artistic talent was and always will be wrapped up in animals.  It's only fitting.

In closing, and after spending so many hours crafting this blog, I've realized that my mom in retirement has been able to do exactly what she loves.  This means that there is still hope for anyone out there making a living in less than happy circumstances.  The best time of our lives really can be just around the corner.  I'm proud of her for never denying her gift or setting it aside.  It's who she is and out of all the lessons in life she's given me that's the most precious of all, just learning to be who you are.  No apologies.  No excuses.  Just being.  

Thank you mom for everything, I love you.

Copyright ©2013 Nita Clewis All rights reserved.  For personal use only.  Commercial use without permission of the author is not allowed.  Sharing with friends and family is warmly welcomed.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Finding Peace in the Pain - The Graduation that Wasn't

Tomorrow, May 24th, marks the final milestone to let go of in the adolescent journey of my step-daughter.  A child I loved since I first met her at age 7, whom I treated as my own as she spent summers with us, whom I fought for from 2005 forward, helping her father to save her from an unraveling world.  A child whom I was mommy to when her biological mother went so terribly wrong.  The daughter I never gave birth to but whom filled my heart with love.  A young woman who now gets to decide who she becomes each day, who will determine her own destiny versus being torn apart by biological parents who have yet so much to learn about unconditional love, grace and positive living.  Tomorrow she graduates from High School, from a school system I was deeply involved in up until such time as I had to show tough love last September.  Tough love that hurt us both but that had to be done.  

Jennifer when she was 9 years old during a day trip to DC, enjoying the museums.
I remember her first day of school in seventh grade, the new fresh start going forward for her life.  A small country school with 60-80 students in any given graduating class.  The type of school where everyone literally knows everyone, where the staff and teachers look after the kids as their own.  She was embraced there and for once in her life had a permanent place to grow.  Up until this time she'd bounced around sometimes multiple times a year from school to school as her biological mother changed residences.  It was hard on her, all of the unstable living.  Now it really was different though.  She has been with these 63 classmates she'll walk that stage with tomorrow for six years.  They are as much her family as my family was and always will be to her.

Jennifer, 2nd from the left, at her 8th grade Halloween Dance

Despite her father perpetuating a controlling wedge deeper between us after I left him in 2009, despite his pouring salt on our open wounds, she will overcome this part of her life, especially my absence from the balance of her senior year.  We had prom together last year and six months of togetherness on our own with little influence from him from last March to September, time wherein she got a small taste of how good life could be if she'd just be fearless enough to let go of the past.  To let go of the bad examples set by the addicts, sociopaths, abusers and those living in denial who couldn't love themselves let alone her.

Jennifer enjoying her rec soccer days.  Her coach ran out of awards so she scored a horse badge instead.
Does it hurt to not be there tomorrow?  Of course it does.  I have loved her for eleven years, I visualized this day, her getting to this point.  She finishes the year as an honor roll student.  She had 3 As and a B her final semester and the first half of the year all As.  She's always been intelligent but it wasn't until she had those six months with me that she really realized how important it was to follow through and do her best.  Any hopes of college funding depended on it.  Now she has a future to embrace if she chooses to do so, a small scholarship, and student aid that includes a full ride to Lynchburg College and an 18th birthday on the horizon that will give her freedom from those who can't love her unconditionally.  I'm so excited that she will finally get away, that she'll be free to build a life of her own.

Tristan and Jennifer in Delaware at a fall boy scout function.
I'd not heard from her since early October less an angry and bitter email after her dad cut ties again between us.  I understood her anger, just as I understood the people in her life putting boundaries on her, attempting to control her life.  Despite our distance, I always kept up on her grades, always sent her love via emails and texts and hoped one day that she'd seek the help she needs to heal her youth, to put it behind her and embrace all that she's been blessed with that is good and real and lasting.  That's what a real mother does, loves unconditionally, even if it's tough love. 

Facebook post from Jenny to me after Mother's Day 2013

The Monday after Mother's Day (last week) she started reaching out again via text messages.  Her intent was to have my 99 year old grandfather at her graduation.  He's unable to go given his recent health issue and my aunt already had plans (she's who would've taken him).  Although my aunt never heard from her about her intent, the fact that she was thinking about butting heads with her father one last time to allow that man the chance to see her graduation made me smile.  She would of risked everything having him there with my Aunt, her drivers license before 18, the roof over her head, her summer until her July 1st 18th birthday, all to give this man a memory of her.  Grandpa Mo is still with us and hopefully she'll see him soon.  Gratefully, he's out of the hospital at home resting and enjoying life again, where he should be.  There were also other intentions in her communications, intentions I wish to believe in and will wait on time to prove.  As I told her, when you're 18 you'll have the chance to earn my friendship, you will always have my love.

Jen showing off her 11th grade awards at the end of the school year.
Junior Prom with Grandpa Mo

So, tomorrow as I work and later drive to the eastern shore and back my heart will be with her, wishing her a wonderful day full of laughter, love and light.  A day to remember always with her friends.  A day to move forward on beyond the past, to find her own peace in the pain.  Her school counselor was sweet enough to tell me that Jenny wouldn't be walking that stage without me in her life.  As much as I wish to be there, I know doing so would bring nothing but hell upon her on what is supposed to be a glorious day to remember.  He'd already denied her his presence at the Spring Awards Banquet, Senior Night and the scholarships and grants awards ceremony.  His loss and her pain, a pain she may never really get over.  I hope for her own journey she will, for his flaws aren't a reflection of her, they're a reflection of him.  I'm so grateful her teammates were there for her to walk her on that field Senior night, being the only one there without parents.  I know in that moment she was thinking of me, angry at him for not allowing us to be a part of that joy when he chose not to.  

Senior night Spring 2013 soccer season

This summer will be my own 20 year high school graduation.  Thanks to social media I'm able to keep up with the classmates from my 350+ graduating class that I bonded with.  I have a feeling she'll be connected to Rappahannock for life and I'm grateful she had the opportunity to grow roots there these last six years.  Sixty-two lives that will be with her forever.  Sixty-two lives who helped her to become who she is today.

Samantha and Jennifer 8th grade graduation ceremony - on to high school they went!
One day there will be a college graduation ceremony, one that myself and my family will be welcomed at, one that's open for us to attend without her paying the price, one that her father has zero control over.  At that time she will hear my voice, my cheers of joy, my tears of love in her success.  For now I find peace in the pain and trust in the process, knowing that all is as it should be and that life will go on.....for both of us.  

Jennifer's 17th birthday party with friends from church and town last summer.
Congratulations Jennifer, mommy loves you.  You did it, you really did it girl!  I always knew you would and I still believe the best is yet to come.  Go out and claim it, make it your world.