Sunday, July 14, 2013

I've become my grandmother

You know all those little things you noticed about your parent or grandparents that seemed at the time, well, odd?  You vowed never to do those things, again, because they were odd.

Today, I caught myself doing one of those things. I was reading the obituaries in the paper.  No one I know has died.  There's no reason for me to read the obituaries, but I did.  From A-Z.  It's something I used to watch my grandma do.  She'd cluck and coo over the reasons people died, how young--or old--they were, if they left kids behind, what they did for a living.  It was like a cosmic sort of "Here's Your Life" with strangers. 

I found myself doing the same thing today.  Ugh.

Something weird did come through, though.  I saw many, many pictures with the obituaries, which isn't terribly new, but I have noticed many people's relatives put, well, NOT recent pictures of their loved ones in.  I mean, the Navy graduation is nice, but if it was taken DURING a war, it probably doesn't resemble who the person was in the present day, know what I mean?  I don't get it.  Maybe if I wait a few years, I will.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Us onlies

No, I'm not misspelling stuff.  Puh-lease.  I AM the grammar police.  No, I'm thinking about those of us who are only children.  When I tell people I'm an only child, I get the knowing look and the eye roll, despite the fact I'm 45 and no longer a child in any respect.  Often people feel the need to make the "oh, you must have gotten EVERYTHING" comment out loud, and some have the class not to say it, but their faces say it loud and clear.  Maybe that's true of some only children.  I don't know those people.  When I, in the wake of the comment, shake my head and smile, I don't bother to go into why I don't fit that bill at ALL, but I am here.

But after my post yesterday, I've been thinking about a comment a friend, who is also an only child made.  She said being an only "ain't for the faint or weary." In a lot of ways that's true, but it's especially true for the subset of only children that she and I both fall into, only children of single parents, in our case, moms.  See, we're a different breed. Not because our moms wanted to, but out of necessity, we became peers way too soon.  We skipped over most of the indignant tantrums and whiny demands, moving straight to the years most people make peace with their parents.  There WERE some tantrums and demands, but they were early on, and they were cut off quick, because there was literally no time for nonsense.  See, our little subset became partners in The Effort.  That effort of keeping those elusive, slippery, never long enough ends meeting.  We onlies knew when the light bill wasn't paid, because we needed winter coats, and there wasn't money for both.  We saw our moms worrying over the bills piling up on the kitchen table.  We maybe scraped through Trigonometry (okay, I barely scraped through), but by God we could calculate how much we had in the grocery cart and get within $1 of the total in our heads.  We knew better than to ask for anything--even if it was for school--on the 25th because there was only $10 left until payday on the 30th. We got jobs at 12 and used it to pay for things we couldn't ask our parents for, because we knew something else wouldn't get paid.  We studied harder than anyone we knew, because the certainty of education was pushed into our heads, right along with the certainty we'd need scholarships to get it.

All that had a really odd effect on us.  Of the onlies I know of single moms, we're all more than a little heavy on the control freak thing.  Things need to be a certain way in our world.  We crave stability and security for ourselves and those we love. We're the ones breaking our legs to get to every kids' performance and riddled with more than average guilt if we can't. We're the ones trying over and over again to make things perfect.  Perfect family meals, perfect holidays, perfect outfits and parties for our kids, perfect memories, not because we're trying to impress those adults around us.  We're doing it because we're trying to give our kids everything we didn't have.  We want them to never hear the words "we just can't afford it" when talking about their dreams waiting for fulfillment.  We want them to travel a path we never even dreamed of.

So in our world of judgments made in a snap moment, the only child may not be what he or she seems.  Some may be heavy on the only and short on the childhood.  My friend was right, it's not an existence for the faint or weary.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Kindness of Strangers

This blog post comes really as a response to one of my online friends who wrote this about her dad recently.  It immediately brought back a very powerful memory for me that I didn't think was appropriate for her comment section.  Given that this past week was the 12th anniversary of my mom's passing, I felt even more compelled to share. So here we go!

My mom passed away when my son, Cubby, had just turned 3 months old.  She'd gone into the hospital when he was only 3 weeks old, so I don't even have a picture of them together, except in my mind.  My mom only saw him twice. Add to this fun that I had an emergency c-section I was recovering from, and I exclusively nursed my son, so I was eternally sleep deprived while going to the baby sitter to drop him off, going to the hospital to visit, going to my mom's house to box up her things so she could live with us, trying to find a place big enough for our family plus Mom.  Then when things went south with my mom's health, contacting doctors who wouldn't tell me anything, talking to friends and family to give updates, planning and having a funeral.  Did I mention I'm an only child, and my dad disappeared long ago? It was all a ragged blur.  Caring for my son kept me both grounded and provided an escape.  Unfortunately, I did what I call surface level grieving.  I cried, I was sad, but I don't really think it penetrated to my core.

Fast forward to about a year later.  I remember it was in July, because Cubby and I had gone to Target, and it was warm, warm enough that I'd left shoes and socks off Cubby.  He had shorts on, so his gorgeous little chubby legs and feet were hanging out, aching to be squeezed.  That's just what a lovely little old lady did.  She squeezed his thighs, played with his toes, and suddenly she had moved her fingers up to play with his curls and squeeze his cheeks.  Now normally, I send off a vibe that says, "Look, do NOT touch" pretty loud and clear.  Rarely did people ever invade my space when I was pregnant to touch my belly or later with my kids to coo at them. My vibe must have been off that day, and Cubby was giggling, so I just looked at this interaction and smiled instead of walking away.

That's when it happened.  This sweet old lady looked at my baby and said "Do you need a grandma?  You look like it.  I think I could be your grandma." Oh, internoodles, I lost my effing crap.  I don't mean I teared up (like I'm doing right now remembering it) demurely.  I mean within 30 seconds I lo-ost my CRAP!  I was sniveling, crying uncontrollably, nose running, unable even to speak and tell this lovely old lady I was not a crazy person on most days, just that she'd hit a nerve.  I have a vague recollection of this woman with an arm around me, and her other arm still playing with Cubby's hair. I cried so hard on her shoulder I lost a contact that day.  Through my blindness, I remember little old lady with a huge wet mascara smudge on her shirt helping me to the check out.  I don't know who she was, and I can only imagine what she told her family, but it was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me.

And yeah, there are days when I'm angry at the unfairness of it all, and there are days that just make me sad.  The days between get better, Jules, but there's always the potential for being blindsided.  Maybe they're up there throwing those people in our path just to make sure we're thinking of them.  I don't know.