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The power of a cat…

This morning was quiet. Far too quiet. For the last eight years, I’ve been awakened by a soft insistent “meow” delivered gently to my face by my sweet cat. Not this morning. We said good-bye to Pixie yesterday. She’d been battling kidney and bladder issues for a good long while (urine the color of cranberry juice for the last two years) and the medical problems finally became too much. She will be missed greatly.

She was a rescue kitty, as all of our pets have been. We were told she was one-year-old when we got her. Someone had declawed her then dumped her – when she was found hanging around a 7-11 dumpster in fall of 2010, she weighed all of four pounds. We don’t know how long she had been starved of love and food. We don’t know how someone can declaw a cat and then let it go. The suburbs of Chicago are unforgiving places for house cats without a home, especially when they are declawed.

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The sweetest thing ever… 

My sister, who ran a hyper-local news site, first told me about her. The rescue organization was going to post a notice in my sister’s news site about her after Halloween. She was a black cat and the organization did not like posting notices for black cats in October. I guess people do weird and violent things to black cats as part of their celebration of Halloween.

We had just lost Moses, our 18-year-old orange tabby cat earlier in the year. Moses was a beloved member of our family but he had a tumor pressing against his eye and in May 2010 we said good-bye to him. In the fall of 2010, we were still adjusting to life without any pets when my sister told me I should look at this cat that was seeking a family. I was not sure. It’s hard to say good-bye to our pets. I was working a demanding job and wasn’t sure I could take on the responsibility of a new pet.

But I knew I missed having a pet around. This one needed a good home. So in early November 2010, we made an appointment for me and my children to meet this cat, who at the time was being called Ashes, at the foster home.

We were told she was shy. My son lay down on the floor and the shy kitty came over and started purring. We knew she’d made her choice. We were hers. And we were so happy. We did not like the name “Ashes,” so we renamed her Pixie. It was, in our opinion, the perfect name.

After moving in with us, she hid under our bed for the first month, emerging only to eat, pee and poop. We were patient. And our patience was rewarded. She would emerge, realize that she was fine and the time she spent with us grew longer and longer. After the first month, she owned the home and our hearts. We would let her come out to our screened in porch and we would witness her become a wild creature as she watched the birds in our back yard. We were always slightly afraid she’d make a move to bust through the screen, though she never did.

In the summer of 2011, she made the cross-country trek with us from Illinois to North Carolina. She was not happy about the move. She pooped in her cage as we drove down our street away from our house for the last time, an appropriate beginning to a very long journey to our new life in the South. We moved into a rental house that was dark and full of mold. Everything was different. Everything.

When we got a puppy in the winter of 2012, Pixie was not happy about the new addition to the family. But she let him know his status (beneath hers) in the home. And he always knew she was the queen.

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She knew how to command the best sunspots in the house… 

When we moved to our current home, Pixie thrived. She loved the sun. She even grew to appreciate the dog (we think.)

Screen Shot 2018-12-01 at 11.11.36 AM.pngShe knew how to lounge very well…

I don’t know when humans began to live with animals as pets. I know that I’ve spent nearly all of my adult life with animals. They fill the home with love and their presence. We don’t “need” pets but they seize our hearts and we grieve them when they die.

Pixie was truly the sweetest little thing. I wish our time together had been longer. She will be missed.

I close with Rudyard Kipling’s tribute to “The Power of a Dog” – but hope you change the words to know I am thinking about the power of a small, once-abandoned cat to tear my heart…

The Power of a Dog by Rudyard Kipling

THERE is sorrow enough in the natural way
From men and women to fill our day;
And when we are certain of sorrow in store,
Why do we always arrange for more?
Brothers and sisters, I bid you beware
Of giving your heart to a dog to tear.

Buy a pup and your money will buy
Love unflinching that cannot lie
Perfect passion and worship fed
By a kick in the ribs or a pat on the head.
Nevertheless it is hardly fair
To risk your heart for a dog to tear.

When the fourteen years which Nature permits
Are closing in asthma, or tumour, or fits,
And the vet’s unspoken prescription runs
To lethal chambers or loaded guns,
Then you will find – it’s your own affair, –
But … you’ve given your heart to a dog to tear.

When the body that lived at your single will,
With its whimper of welcome, is stilled (how still!),
When the spirit that answered your every mood
Is gone – wherever it goes – for good,
You will discover how much you care,
And will give your heart to a dog to tear!

We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent,
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ’em, the more do we grieve;
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-time loan is as bad as a long –
So why in – Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

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In less than a month, my son heads to college.

He is very ready for this.

I am a weepy mess. He is my firstborn and his entry into our lives was precious and amazing. It seems like just a few years ago that I changed his diaper for the first time. It was in the hospital and I had no idea what I was doing. He was somewhat patient with me and we got through this new experience (diaper changing) together.

Being his mother has taught me so much…. to slow down, to listen better (I have not always listened well, especially during the teen years), to cherish him and his sisters. My own sisters and I grew up with a great deal of loss and before becoming a mother, I had grown accustomed to cherishing people who too frequently vanished from my life. Becoming a mother made me realize the value and joy that comes with cherishing people who are in your life everyday.

When he was little, before he was a big brother, my son and I would read together every night. He’d pick a book; we’d read it and then we would cuddle in the dark. Every night after we turned the lights out, I would tell a story about a little boy and it went like this:

“Once upon there was a lucky lady. Do you know why she was a lucky lady? She was lucky because she was a mommy. But she wasn’t just ANYONE’s mommy. She was Aidan’s mommy and that made her very lucky indeed…”

And then the story would continue with some details about the adventure of the day that my son had been involved with.

I have truly been so lucky to have this boy in my life.

As he packs up to head to college in another state, so far away, I gird myself for the challenges of saying good-bye. He’s fairly independent right now – in and out of the house hanging out with friends. But at the end of August, he will be out of the house and living elsewhere. And that is something I’m not ready for – though my readiness is not at all relevant to the matter. He is nearing adulthood and he needs to leave the nest and stand on his own. He is ready.

I am not. Motherhood has been so much a part of who I am for the last 18 years, but I realize the daily chores and tasks of motherhood are coming to an end.

Now it is my job to watch him fly off into his own life…

 

 

 

The Trump administration is building “tender age shelters” for babies and toddlers whose only crime was to be brought with their parents to seek a better life.
 
I know I have friends who wholeheartedly endorse this policy. They think because immigrants “broke the law,” these families deserve to be torn apart by the US gov’t. This is unchristian and nothing advocated by Jesus. I am shocked to know people who think that the Bible verse to follow is the one used by Nazis and slave owners to prop up terrible laws. I am shocked to know people – devout Christians – would the in the crowd voting to crucify Jesus Christ because he also broke the laws of his time.
 
Sometimes laws are immoral. If our immigration policy is so broken, fix it. But don’t destroy families to do so.
 
Who employs these immigrants? What penalties are applied to them for breaking the laws? Why do we only blame immigrants who seek a better life and not the employers who exploit them?
 
Our government is creating trauma for children – this trauma will take a lifetime to recover from. It’s wrong. Please call your elected representatives and tell them to stop separating families at the border.

Next week, we have two important milestones – my oldest graduates from high school and my youngest two graduate from 8th grade. These milestones have created for me a tumult of memory.

I remember vividly putting my son on the bus for the first time. He was happy and proud and excited and puzzled at my tears. I did not plan to cry. But the tears flowed none-the-less. I remember when my girls “graduated” from Montessori. I most certainly did not plan for tears, but the tears came none-the-less.

I was shocked at the quiet that came when I put all three of my children on the bus for the first time. And that’s when I realized for the first time, nearly 10 years after becoming a mother, that motherhood is so much about letting go….

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First day of school for the girls… could they be any cuter, these three?!

Next week also marks the umpteenth anniversary of my mother’s death – she has been dead for more years than she was alive. Her time here was finite and short; the time without her has been infinitely long and grows longer with every passing year. She saw none of her children graduate from anything – not grammar school, not high school, not college.

I am the oldest girl in a family of three girls and my mother had been dead a year when I graduated from 8th grade. After my mother’s death, we had hired a housekeeper – today, she’d be known as our nanny. Her children lived with us during the summer. It was a chaotic time, but what I loved about that first housekeeper was that she expanded our family with her family just as ours shrank incredibly. My mother’s side of the family endured significant losses in the next few years – both of her parents died two years after my mother; her sister, my beloved Auntie Ronnie, died eight years later, also of cancer (like my mother). Ronnie, like my mother, left three small children behind. My adolescence was a time of chaos and loss and grief and discovery.

Our housekeeper had heard stories of how my mother had made my baptism and first communion gowns. She volunteered, for whatever reason, to make my graduation dress. I thought it was pretty.

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8th grade graduation – clearly I had entered “the awkward phase” of adolescence…

During the ceremony, a classmate leaned over and suggested that the sleeves were ripped. They weren’t ripped – they were loose as per the pattern. I was annoyed and embarrassed. I don’t know what possessed this classmate to point out a perceived flaw of my dress during the ceremony. But my middle school experience was full awkward moments so it’s no surprise that the ending of it contained one was well.

And next week, I witness all three of my children celebrate these milestones. My son is very much done with high school. My girls are so ready for high school. And I’m not ready to let go yet.

But let go, I must. It’s all part of the job.

The annual reminder…

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It is Mother’s Day this weekend.

I have been a mother for 18 years. Motherless for 44. My mother has been dead more years than she was alive. My children are older than I was when my mother died – they’ve already lived longer with their mother than I ever did.

And even after all these years, I am still conflicted about this day – this Mother’s Day holiday. For too long, it was solely a reminder of what I had lost. Now it is a celebration of my role as mother – but still a reminder of what I had lost. It’s a moment when I think about what might have been… what might I have learned… what might I have better understood about life and raising children. The “what ifs…” rise to the surface on this day, taunting me with questions that will never be answered.

My children are now all teenagers and there are times when it is pointed out that I am the most embarrassing thing to have happened to my children. Teen years are tough. I think they are almost tougher to observe as a parent than to endure as a teenager. My friends and I were so incredibly stupid and reckless as teenagers… (but those are stories for another time.) When I remember my teen years, I remember my friends. The teen years are the time when we move from being dependent children into the growing autonomy that comes with adulthood.

Not long ago, I realized that I have no idea what happens to the parent-child relationship after these teen years. I never had a relationship with my mother when I was a teenager – she died before I became one. And since my father died when I was 22, I never really had a relationship with any parent as a young adult. I graduated from college and became my father’s caretaker for his final days on earth.

Mother’s Day is bittersweet for me. The good news is that it’s moved beyond bitter to include the sweetness of watching my children grow up. I hope I get the pleasure of relating to my children in the near future as one adult to another.

That would be really something.

 

A death in the family

We just got word that my Uncle Tim died today – he was elderly; he had been ill; his death was not unexpected.
He was married to my mother’s sister – both my mother and her sister died of cancer in their 40s many, many years ago. My Uncle Tim was the repository of stories about my mother’s family. I had wanted him to meet my children but he never did. I had some of the most hilariously funny times at his house when we visited him in Ireland over the years. But I have not been back in a long time.
My parents and all my aunts and uncles and their spouses are dead now. Tim was the only one alive for many years. It’s inevitable but sad all the same. The immigrant’s ties to the family back home are loosened by distance but the ties with Tim remained strong just the same. I was lucky to have Tim welcome us into his home every time we showed up with questions about the family we lost when we were so very young.

Gifts at the table

GiftsWhen I see this table, I see gifts, many gifts. The plates are from my husband’s beloved grandmother Pearl, a tiny jewel of a woman. The glassware, Waterford crystal, is a legacy from my Irish mother; she collected the glasses; I added to it when I got married. The silverware was assembled as wedding gifts. The center candle was a gift from my girls. The table itself belonged to my parents, one of the first things they purchased after they married.

The meal we ate at this table tonight included vegetables sautéed in the chili oil and beriberi spices my son got me for Christmas.

We had a feast of gifts today. It was delicious….

Both my parents died young of cancer. I was young when they died; for a long time, I measured my life in what I had lost. But now, decades later, I see the gifts in my life. And of course, the most important gifts are not yet at this table – my husband and my three children.

In life, it is sometimes appropriate to acknowledge all that we’ve lost on our journey. Tonight, however, I celebrate the many gifts – the people who’ve supported me in my lief, and the gifts they’ve shared with me.

I wish all a merry, merry Christmas and a year full of gifts and gratitude.