Life brings such surprise.
Some are wise. Just watch their eyes.
You can handle this.
Today I celebrate warm memories of a mom.
And the life of a daughter.
It was on Mother’s Day 15 years ago that my late husband and I returned to the United States from Russia with our new 12 year old daughter, Nicole.
My mom couldn’t have dreamed of a better gift.
A language barrier didn’t slow at all the love and bonds that grew between the two.
Such soul mates they were, sharing passions for strong coffee, pickled herring, and the spiciest of shrimp gumbos.
They even shared the same May birthday.
Though Nicole’s teenage years were far from simple for any of us, I know how proud my mom would be of her granddaughter today.
Nicole’s a strong willed and loving woman, making her a remarkable mother.
She’s been an advocate for ensuring the best education and health possible for her three children in spite of some challenges.
I believe her grandma is looking down from above smiling wide at that.
And so is this mother as she sits across from her now.
So Nicole, your kids and I would like to offer up a three soda salute for all that you do and who you’ve become.
This one’s for you, kiddo!
Nicole arriving in the U.S. at age 12.
Two bright faces were staring me down from a shop window early this morning.
I like to think they were smiling.
Though I’m not quite sure as those faces belong to the felines residing in an animal friendly children’s bookstore down the road.
Still the title of the book behind them shouted out the word “Hooray” enthusiastically.
I did too, though luckily no one was within ear shot.
It was 7am and I’d made the short trip to a neighborhood by the lake for a quick walk and to practice driving the black car that now sits in my driveway every evening.
My red Subaru is currently in a body shop as I was hit from behind on the freeway two nights ago.
And though I was stunned and a bit speechless at the time, today I celebrate that all is well.
I’m substituting yoga poses this Saturday for yellow parrot roses found while walking past ivy covered homes.
One place catches my attention with wind chimes dancing on the upper porch creating duets with the meditation music blooming within.
Once I arrive at the bird sanctuary right next to the lake, I discover something new.
But as I turn, I realize it’s really something quite old.
And appropriately labeled a “Garden of Peace”.
I notice that just beyond there are hundreds of tulips and a scattering of ornate fountains.
You can’t buy a gift as beautiful, I mumble in awe.
I linger a little longer and consider even if the days ahead might be costly ones, I’m so rich with the gift of good health this day.
“Hooray!” I say again as a young jogger turns her head, and laughs running by.
Before I leave my visit to the garden and the lake, I receive one final gift.
It’s the words I see carved into a sun dial that read: “Count only the sunny days”.
Sounds like my optimistic mother, I’m thinking as I look up at the blue sky smiling back down on me this Mother’s Day Eve.
“Oh, you can count on it”, I whisper and nod before skipping on back to the car.
I’ve been missing my Mom.
Every tax season brings gentle reminders of Aprils past when I’d take time off work to call banks and insurance companies to reissue Mom’s tax forms.
In her final years, Mom would often lose, toss, or neatly fold her 1099s into empty containers of Pringles chips.
Dementia was eating away at her brain.
Still we’d persevere.
I’d put Mom on the desk phone in the family room next to her brightly colored Swedish horse collection.
And I’d be on the kitchen wall phone with an extra long cord, so I could prompt Mom as the phone reps for the firms would answer.
But she was much quicker on the draw.
She’d be peppering them with questions from the first hello.
“Now, where do you live, and how’s your weather out there today?”
“That’s nice, say, what’s your name again?”
“Oh my, so you’re Swedish then. I bet I know your cousin! ”
It didn’t matter if the phone rep was Irish, Israeli, or Indian.
Everybody was Swedish in her new world of memory loss.
After each prolonged phone call, we’d celebrate with a toast to strong coffee and Swedish Ginger cookies.
These chilly April days I’m making phone calls for my own missing tax forms.
Did I lose or toss them like Mom used to do?
Or could the issue relate to a recent move?
Glancing at Mom’s Swedish horses this morning living now in my family room, I craved a ginger cookie.
And a chance to see Mom’s smile again.
I decided to take a break and drive to a hot new restaurant nearby. It’s a bit pricey at night, but I was hoping a ten and the change in my pocket would more than cover breakfast.
The cuisine is Scandinavian, but as I walked in the new age Swedish music and contemporary design said “this is not your Mother’s Sweden”.
I grabbed a table anyway, as filtered sun through the front window warmed me from the cold and damp beyond.
Then I peeked at the menu and grinned.
I heard Mom in the printed words before me: herring, lingonberries, pickled beets.
Though I opted for Swedish pancakes.
I was in heaven with the first bite tasting the warm juniper, honey, and oranges inside.
As I poured myself more coffee from the shiny glass decanter, something caught my eye outside the window.
I looked up to see iridescent bubbles of blue, pink, and gold catching a breeze and rising higher and higher.
Finally, melting into the clouds.
It appeared the source was a bubble machine nestled behind an oversized teddy bear in front of the toy store across the street.
I lingered longer at the sight, watching the bubbles dance away.
And so did the children and their mothers strolling by.
Mom, too, would have loved the display I thought to myself.
As would my grandsons.
After paying the bill, I crossed the street to buy some of the colored magic potion.
“Oh, we only use the clear bubbles here in our machine,” I was confidently told by the clerk.
Baffled, I walked out of the store.
I looked up at the sky one more time.
“The clerk is right, the bubbles are clear,” I mumbled softly.
Still, I was sure they weren’t when I looked out of the restaurant window.
I smiled as I slowly walked back to my car to continue working on my taxes.
And just for a moment I felt someone watching, and smiling over me.
It was something I hadn’t seen before.
A two year old, four year old, and seven year old, sitting still at the same time.
And my three grandkids kept on with this peaceful focus, watching the animals grazing before them.
Maybe I just hadn’t noticed before.
But then I was also slow to pick up that my once wild and wooly caterpillar of a teenager suddenly grew wings.
And then blossomed beautifully into her role as a mom.
I told her so in a Mother’s Day card I tucked into her May birthday present yesterday.
“Thanks for being such a great and loving mother to my grandchildren,” I wrote.
I like to think I’m transforming as well, growing new wings and new perspectives.
This Mother’s Day’s day I drove to my mom’s old care facility after buying a bouquet of daises and box of chocolates. I was there to attend their weekly church service.
I haven’t been back since Mom left.
I do have tough memories of my mom in the care facility with her tearful pleas to go back to her old house. And I’ll never forget the painful care conference with my husband at my side when I realized his dementia had actually surpassed that of my mom’s.
But I also have plenty memories of laughter, with Mom entertaining caregivers and fellow residents while I’d dispense her beloved Dove bars to the crowd.
As I entered the facility today I asked the receptionist to pass out chocolates to any mothers who were working.
And I asked her to share the daises with a resident who might be struggling, or having a particularly rough day.
Once I walked into the tiny chapel, I recognized a few ladies who used to sit at Mom’s dining room table.
I suddenly felt at home.
And I felt Mom right in the room with me.
The small group sang classic old hymns and listened to a sermon directed to the elderly women in the group.
“Remember to always ask for help if you need it,” the minister reminded them.
A gentle, smiling usher from the local church asked me if I would help out some Sunday with the service.
The woman said she is getting older and many of her friends are now residents themselves.
Sounds like she was listening to the sermon.
Though it isn’t something I would have done a few years ago, I’m thinking of helping out.
I can’t think of a better Mother’s Day gift for Mom.
And I know a peaceful new perspective can be mighty good for the soul.
Every year I’d buy Mom the same gift in early May just as the pink and white crab apples trees would start smiling for the camera.
Mom’s present would be the best and brightest hanging plant of the season for the back porch.
But she wouldn’t receive hers on Mother’s Day like most moms.
My mother would receive her gift early on May 5.
It was Mom’s birthday.
With my own blooming apple trees as a canopy, I dragged a couple of old boxes out to my backyard last night with a goal of sorting through and tossing out most of the contents.
The first I discovered was full of Mom’s old photos. I almost closed the box before starting knowing this pastime wasn’t going to help my melancholy mood any.
Mom’s been gone for two years now.
But I kept going, throwing out tired old albums, duplicate photos, bad shots, and pictures of people I don’t know.
My sour mood remained, but I grabbed another box from the garage anyway.
Though this time I quickly dropped it when I heard something rattling inside.
A mouse maybe? A squirrel?
Yet it didn’t sound quite like either one.
The rattle had a lilting magical quality, like ‘fairy dust’ for the ears.
I opened the cardboard box slowly, and then saw the light.
Or maybe I should say ‘lights’.
There were plenty of them.
Hot pink, lemon yellow, royal blue, lime green.
And the colors were twirling faster and faster.
Right on top of a mini princess wand!
Instantly my last memory replayed of Mom together with my two year old granddaughter. I could see them smiling and giggling as they joyfully pushed the heart shaped buttons of the magical, musical toy.
Then underneath the wand I discovered more buried treasure.
Magnificent photos of my daughter with her own grandmother.
It’s my last memory of the two of them together as well.
Yet the magic still continues to this day.
My daughter will be forever blessed to share the same birthday, May 5, with her grandmother.
And my granddaughter will soon be receiving a slightly used but priceless princess wand from me.
I believe memories truly are a gift, but shouldn’t be left hung out to dry.
Instead the very best of them should continue to be lovingly recycled.
So here’s the deal.
Mom used to tell me when I was a teenager that every year of life goes faster than the one before it.
“Go for the gusto,” she recommended. “And always give thanks for those around you”.
At the time my pimply, adolescent self mumbled the 70’s version of “whatever”.
But I now know Mom was right.
Pretty much like always.
Last week my sister mailed me at least a 40 year old photo of Mom and her three smiling best friends enjoying each other and the beach with their kids.
But two of the women recently passed on, and so now has Mom.
Then yesterday I had a November birthday brunch with two of my own long time buddies.
One of them kindly penned an appreciate note in my birthday card referencing our own “40 years of friendship”.
“Wow! How the heck did that happen?” I mumbled.
The thought of 40 years of friendship hit me harder than the impressively large milestone birthday number I’m about to get slapped with.
I’m sure we were just children ourselves four years ago, not forty.
But trudging slowly back to my car I shouted, “How cool is that?”
What an incredible gift to have life long friendships.
And what a blessing to be able to tell those in your life how special they are while they’re still here.
Like Mom’s remaining best friend I’ll be calling shortly.
That will be right after I add two more suggestions from my friends for next year’s ‘go for the gusto’ bucket list.
I know Mom would definitely approve.