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In Homage to Our Mothers; Happy Mom's Day

May 12, 2017 Barbara Ballinger & Margaret Crane

In honor of Mother’s Day, we are running these two updated blogs again.

Just Five Questions I Wish I Could Ask My Mom This Mother’s Day

by Margaret Crane

I thought I knew her well. Yet, now that my mother is gone (she passed away 1 ½ years ago), I am surprised to discover how much I really never knew about her. I guess I took her for granted. It’s a bit like the 100-year-old house we lived in when I was a teenager. The sounds and substance became familiar...the squeak of the stairs, the clinking of the radiators turning on and off, the whine of the wind rattling the old windows, the Westminster chimes of the grandfather clock on the staircase landing. My mother was just there, and my three siblings and I were used to her sounds, sayings, moods, and presence. She was Mother. We never questioned to her face who she was or what she was thinking, feeling, or doing, and why she always seemed so sad and unfulfilled.

As a reporter who asks questions in a rat ta tat tat manner, I never took the time to use these skills on my mother. I don’t know why but think it was because going to a certain place with her was crossing a boundary she wouldn't have liked. She kept so many secrets; was a very private person. She had so much angst and so many demons that were never discussed, revealed, or exorcised: How her 21-year-old brother really died. Details about the accident that left my younger sister’s body almost completely covered in burns and how she coped. Her capricious outbursts that struck when least expected. The suppression of all her dreams of going to New York City to become an actress and choosing instead to become a wife and mother, though she became a highly successful real-estate saleswoman.

Why? Was that the source of her depression? I never asked but just assumed it was.

When my mother died, I was bereft not just because I lost my last parent, but there were so many things I wish I had known from her. And as she became weaker, more fragile, and her dementia worsened, I was always telling and not asking or listening. While she was struggling to be comfortable and maintain a modicum of control over her life, our conversations became dry and predictable: 

“How do you feel today?” Answer: “OK" or "Fine.”

“What do you think about what the doctor said?” “Fine.”

“Is there anything special you’d like to do or see?” “No.”

“But mother you need to get up and do something. Move around.”

I was always pushing her to get out of bed, to do something to occupy her mind and her body to keep her muscles from atrophying. She just wanted to be left alone.

Today as I walk by the flower section of my grocery store or the Papyrus card shop at the mall and think, oh, Mother’s Day is coming soon, I need to…Stop! She’s no longer here. Then these five unanswered questions pop into my head, again and again:

  • If you hadn’t married and had children, how would you life have been different?
  • Did you really love our father, deeply and passionately or just make do with a guy who was a good person and great provider?
  •  Why didn’t we talk about certain subjects in our home like sex or how to date or fall in love?
  •  What did you like about me and did you see yourself in me at all--and what about my siblings?
  • Why did you never get help for your depression?

And when there are no answers in my head, I am sad that the deadly silence won't ever provide answers. One thing I do know, however, is that I’ve learned the importance of having an open, honest relationship with my three children in an effort not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Today, my kids are at the center of my Mother’s Day and the most important gift they can give me is for us to spend precious time together. The day after Mother’s Day, I am going for a month to L.A. (where my daughter lives) during which time my two sons will visit. It will be just the four of us, a rare happening these days when we’re all leading our own busy lives.

And Mother (Grandma Bea), wherever you are, Happy Mother’s Day to you.

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Just in Time to Pay Homage to My Mom, a Role Model

by Barbara Ballinger 

I wrote this a year ago and am re-sending now with some tweaks and a photo. My mom is a year older and remarkable that she still lives alone and has had no help except for daily care a month ago after a mild stroke. A housekeeper comes in every other week, and we now bring her food or have a food delivery service help since cooking is too hard. But otherwise her mind is as sharp as ever! 

If you get lucky in life, you get to continue to learn from your mom. I got lucky with her, now 97 ½. With my two daughters, grandsons, son-in-law, and beau, we get to toast her regularly. This year because of a new baby our group will be smaller on the designated Day, but we'll still all raise our glasses--in person or virtually, and say thanks for all you've done--and do. 

What exactly is the good stuff she’s done? Let me count the ways. I know there are others but these baker’s dozen (13) stand out. And for all those friends and family members who have lost their mothers, I hope the day isn’t too sad. Perhaps you too can focus on the good things you learned from your mom. Mine taught me:

  • Good values; that people and kindness mean far more than money; shrouds–burial clothing–don’t have pockets so you can’t take those dollars with you to an afterworld. Save for a rainy day, she advised and still does, but share and “give with a warm hand” what you have with family and your closest friends.
  • To love my home so I’d want to spend lots of time there rather than at resorts or elsewhere in the world. What makes you love your home? The people who live there and visit and where you create lifelong memories. Be generous when folks come to visit with good food--and we add wine, which she can't drink but never really did except Harvey's Bristol Cream sherry--ocassionally. The baby grand piano I inherited from her is my most precious material possession since it reminds me of a special gift she and my dad decided to purchase long long ago, and she then needlepointed the seats of two darling piano chairs.
  • To love books; you always have a friend if you have a good book, she has said. And one of the first books she gave me when I started my writing career was one written by Pulitzer Prize winner Eudora Welty, whose Natchez, Mississippi, home and garden I visited a year ago on a special road trip to the South.
  • Not to exclude others, especially singles who might not have a place to go for a holiday or even a weekend meal. Sundays can be the toughest she realized once she was alone. And she agreed with the wisdom of a former beau of mine who always said, “Include who you can. You can always add more water to the soup.”
  • Not to complain, except when a situation was or is dreadful–which she endured with treatments for cancer, a knee replacement, and then recently a small stroke that has required therapy for walking and speech. She was miserable at times, but she mostly kept it to herself and always said she’d be fine. We told her it’s fine to complain to us, even sometimes when she took things out on us because she was in pain and uncomfortable.
  • To keep learning by reading the newspaper daily, listening to the news and her favorite Charlie Rose TV interviews, traveling, going to museums and concerts and taking copious notes to help her remember what she heard, saw, read and learned.
  • Not to settle for inferior quality whether friendships, love and romance. She treasured and nourished her relationships with regular notes and calls, even if she stayed on only briefly since she still believes she’s paying for message units, a fee of the past. And when certain friends or family disappointed, she was the one who said MOVE ON!
  • Not to waste money on unimportant stuff such as taxis, super-expensive hair shampoos, plastic bags, too much paper toweling and toilet paper, and sugar packets. And restaurants that weren't good--not warm good bread got this scathing review: "That's my first and last time there," she would say. We laughed but she was right…of course.
  • The value of a good education and career and the importance of always having work you enjoy, not necessarily 24/7 as I do, but to enjoy it to keep your brain stimulated and engaged in life--and again to keep learning.
  • To always be there for my kids and grandsons as she’s been there for me. The phone is always available; the front door is always open; the refrigerator is always full and with smells that remind us of Gammy’s kitchen, especially her roast chicken with stuffing, stuffed cabbage version, and apricots.  
  • It’s okay not to see eye to eye on certain matters with her and with our friends and family. It’s perfectly acceptable to agree to disagree, sometimes on generational stuff.
  • To respect others' decisions. Even if sometimes it was hard for her to let go, she had her time to parent and raising my kids meant I got to make the decisions. Now I know that my kids have the right to make theirs, mistakes and all. I’ve heeded that morsel carefully, even when I am dying to put in my two cents with my daughters about a few matters. Okay, full transparency, I sometimes have, but not too often, and then she taught me to back off.
  • To love cooking and baking. My longest-term friend--from age 3--still salivates for my mom's brownies with nuts; my daughters still love her plum bake. And I admire her rugelach. I wanted to make them while she could offer a five-star approval but we couldn't find the recipe. So I found one close and yes now make them even better; she' happy about that. So in honor of Mom and moms everywhere I’m sharing the recipe based on one from Ina Garten, though I include more jam--raspberry or apricot usually, more chopped pecans, and much more cinnamon than the recipe calls for. That was another secret of hers; you don’t have to follow everything to the letter of the law, especially when you have good ingredients. Seems like a recipe for everything in life, too!

Thanks again, Mom, and we hope every day you have a very happy healthy Mother’s Day. Love, the Gang

 

 

 




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