Thursday, July 28, 2011
Raucous laughter emitted from chubby-cheeked little faces is often the remedy for excessive brooding. The relentless triple-digit heat this summer has proved to be a perfect breeding ground for grouchiness, laziness, and an overabundance of self-depreciating contemplation. Even more annoying, my self-flogging seems to default to an examination of all my maternal shortcomings. As if the heat alone isn’t enough of a drag--I have the added pleasure of my own inner attacks on my mothering skills?
It took at least two tickle sessions with all three of my daughters the other day, before I was released from the devious concern that I’ve ruined (or at least partially damaged) my girls’ psyche as a result of my recent poor attitude. I seem to have overlooked two vital pieces of information: children are resilient and the summer won’t last forever (thankfully). I’m guessing it probably takes more than summer doldrums to permanently damage their little spirits.
As the magic of toddler tickles extracted the poisonous “I’m-a-bad-mom” thoughts from my brain, fresh material made its way in. Fresh, but not new—memory. And not simply any memory; the only memory I have set to the tune of “Trying hard to look like Gary Cooper--super duper.”
There she was in a top hat and cane—glorious in her tights and heels. I remember sitting there on the family room floor in complete and utter awe. “Can you hold this play money for me?” she asked. As she bent down to hand me the paper money her blonde hair mingled with mine; for a brief moment we were two halves made whole. “You can throw it during the chorus,” she instructed, “at the part ‘trying hard to look like Gary Cooper—super duper,’ okay?” I nodded enthusiastically. Super duper. My five-year-old intuition instantly registered the importance of acting as administrator of the play money . I remember the dry, smooth feeling of that silly money in my palm—worth more at that moment in my small hands than any true dollar.
This exciting event taking place in our family room was in preparation for a potential dance teacher position at an elementary school. She selected the quirky Taco rendition of “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, accompanied by a simple choreographed dance routine. Simple her audition may have been, but to me it might has well have been a Broadway production. The electricity of anticipation filled the room as we waited for the click of the tape recorder—the paper money still safe in my grasp.
1-2-3, Synthesizers, Puttin’ on the Ritz and my mom spinning around our family room like a chorus-line Goddess. Then the crucial moment arrived: “Trying hard to look like Gary Cooper” and somewhere between super and duper, I flawlessly released the fake money. I watched the green and white paper cascade down to her black-patent-leather tap shoes. The money thrown, the song over, I experienced the feeling you get when a really fantastic amusement park ride is over—a lovely mix of satisfaction and sheer let down.
When the music stops, so does the memory. I take comfort, however, in knowing the song and memory can be replayed. Every good ride must come to an end, but it need not be forgotten. A totem of health and beauty, before the ravages of sickness and sadness, she dances in her top hat and tuxedo leotard. I keep her and the memory close -- I imagine it’s tucked in the same place I keep the healing laughter of my three young girls.
My mom didn’t get the job. Perhaps what she was really doing that day, beyond either of our comprehension, was auditioning for a memory, the particular use of which is perfect for hot days and when I feel like a lousy mom. In the now, at least five rounds into tickle time, I surround myself in the collective belly-laughs of my children. Any remaining sour spaces have been eradicated and I have become part of the chorus of laughter. Maybe I’m not such a bad mom after all.
Being a good mom doesn’t necessitate donning a top hat and tap shoes; all that’s required is a simple song and dance, and maybe…a bit of a tickle. Enjoy the ride.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
*I recently came across this picture of my mom in younger, healthier days--I love it.
Working with me
will be a great challenge for you—
one which I hope will enrich your lives.
Very much of the person “Laura”
is completely inaccessible
to everyone with whom I have contact
and because you never knew me
when I was healthy and could speak,
you will learn little about me
from the work you do with my body.
My poor, wasted body
is the container which holds
the numerous and complex parts of ME
but my body isn’t ME.
This is an important distinction
for you to make.
because the frustrations I have
with my non-functioning body
often come across as
anger and frustration with my caregivers.
In other words,
don’t take my temper tantrums
It’s also important to remember
that my body isn’t ME
when it seems like
I’m not cooperating with you.
On some days
my body will flop over more than usual
which may cause you to think
I am purposely trying
to make your job more difficult.
My husband John and our health aide Cathie
sometimes feel that way,
particularly if it’s taking me
several minutes longer than usual
to do tasks
like brushing my teeth.
Because I can’t communicate well
when I’m away from my computer,
it is impossible for me
to explain to them
what the problem is
or how they can help me.
As their impatience and frustration grow,
I begin to whimper like a child
at my helplessness to change the situation.
For most of each day
I am not immersed in the emotional pain
of my physical weakness.
For most of each day
all the physical strength I need
is enough to push the tiny switch
which activates my computer.
When I sit here working on pieces like this,
I am barely aware
of my physical limitations.
I can express myself
clearly and intelligently,
I can make my thoughts or feelings
known to others,
I can cheat,
I can feel strong,
I have a sense of self-worth.
This is why helping me
will be such a challenge for you.
We are not hiring you
to watch me work on my computer;
we are hiring you to tend
to my bodily needs.
You will be helping me
during that small part of each day
when I take care of
the activities I hate doing
because they remind me of how much I’ve lost
due to this devastating illness.
In addition to the unhappiness
I always experience
when doing these things
will be the embarrassment I’ll feel
having you touch parts of my body
only my husband has touched up to now.
It doesn’t make me feel better to know
there are millions of quadriplegics
in the world
who must endure similar indignities.
This is MY body
and I want to take care of it!
It was hard enough for me
to fight my natural tendency to me modest
when John took over responsibility
for my personal hygiene.
I had to let go of
and my independence.
I had no choice back then
and I have no choice now
about letting other people
do these things
because I can’t.
I must accept someone’s help
with the needs of my body
whether I like it or not.
Through psychotherapy and my writing,
I have learned some amazing things
during the six years of my illness.
My greatest revelations
have always come
after I’ve gone through
major emotional crises
brought about by changes in my life.
I am learning illuminating things
about God, myself
and what is most important in life.
I am being spiritually awakened
by my suffering
because I CHOOSE learning
even when it is painful
instead of shutting myself down
and waiting to die.
Your time working with me
will teach me things
God wants me to know
IF I choose to openly receive them.
In a little different way,
you are being given an opportunity to learn
from the experience of helping me.
I hope we all ace this course.
While you are here,
I will whimper and cry a lot,
I will throw fits,
I will frustrate you.
Yet if you can be patient
and understanding of my weaknesses,
perhaps you will begin to see my strengths.
We can become each other’s teachers,
guiding one another to new understandings
about God, ourselves
and what is most important in life.
In this way
I will become YOUR caregiver,
helping your spirit
as you are helping my body.
Looking at your presence in my life
from this perspective,
I can more easily accept
the role you will play in it.
I can see
that I have a challenging job
ahead of me too.
but I bet we will ace this course.
By Laura Schiller
June 1, 1990