Thunder Thighs came home with me yesterday.
Yesterday I drove home with that representation in the passenger seat beside me, and thought about Thunder Thighs. Love. Laughter. How blessed I am to have an abundance of these things, even when my introversion sometimes–as now–make me yearn for more quiet time to recharge.
Although Thunder Thighs is my mom, and today is Mother’s Day in the U.S., mother’s love is only a small part of what’s in my heart today. The larger part belongs not to the love provided by any one person, but to any love provided by anyone who loves–not passively or from a distance, but actively with outreached hand, heart and time offered up to others.
Whether or not you hope to be a mother, once were a mother, are a mother, a grandmother, a sister, an aunt, a daughter, or none of these things, I celebrate you today. I celebrate your acts of love and compassion. I celebrate your phone call to a friend, your donation to a shelter, your vigil with a friend whose father is dying, your care to a friend’s house when she is in the hospital, your watching a neighbor’s children so she can shop for groceries. I celebrate the light that you shine upon those within your vicinity, and thank goodness you are out there shining that light.
Upon my bedroom door there now hangs a reminder to cherish these things. My mom is no longer a phone call away, but there is love aplenty evidenced in each minute every day regardless.
Today I will look for loves’ signs, and I will celebrate each of them, no matter who originates any one of them.
No matter who or where you are,
may your day be full of love,
both received and given.
My twentieth birthday was a life-changer.
There were no epiphanies. No sudden, startling events that illuminated just how important the day would prove in the scheme of my life.
There was only a party–a movie party, to be precise. My sister took me to watch (or should I say, ignore?) terrible movies with her large group of nerdtastic, boisterous, crass guy friends. I was shocked and delighted by the guys’ shenanigans, but more so, how completely and immediately they accepted me. I’d never experienced that before, nor anything like it.
By the time I prepared to leave for South Korea a couple years later, I knew the guys. They knew me. They teased me incessantly but lovingly. I was at home with them, so much that I had mostly forgotten what it was like to be an island unto myself.
The evening of my farewell party, I was presented with a gift: a notebook in which all of my friends, some movie party and some not, had written out their recollections of and wishes for me. On the cover was a dragonfly drawn by my friend Piete, and inside were words that have inspired and sustained me for more than a decade since. Best of all were pages of sweet memories shared by my usually writing-averse friend Sarah, who taught me–and teaches me–better than anyone else I have ever known that friendship is in loving (if sometimes firm!) actions more than in any number of pretty words.
On my most recent trip to Oregon, Sarah, Piete and their twins joined my siblings and me for a romp to the park.
The kids were silly with tiredness as we walked home afterward. “Rock out!” my son shouted as he ran toward Uncle Piete.
With an impish smile, Uncle Piete replied, “Rock out with your chalk out!” I busted up laughing as my son, Li’l D, ran circles shouting, “Rock out with your chalk out! Rock out with your chalk out!”
The movie party felt alive in that moment. Those of us whose ages numbered in the double digits were still the kids we were back then, I saw, just with more experience, more love, and even a few kids of our own.
And now, our kids have each other.
I’ve missed Oregon more than usual recently, becoming downright melancholic at the thought of my family there–my siblings, my niece, my nephews, my godmom, Sarah, Piete and their kids. As if Li’l D can read my mind, it’s in these moments of missing that he grins and shouts, “Rock out with your chalk out!”
I can’t help but chuckle, a chuckle that bursts forth from deep within me. In that silly statement, past and present converge, as do my Oregon and California lives. My Oregon family is my California family, and I can hear all of its members so loudly with my heart that I don’t need to hear them with my ears.
I’ll be back in Oregon before long. I’ll be back with my movie party crew, exulting in the sight of the next generation playing and laughing together.
In the meantime, Oregon remains within me, shining out brightest of all when my son reminds me to rock out with my chalk out.
Preparing for my son’s first flight was nervewracking. I had flown many times myself, but was suddenly concerned about the impact of possible catastrophe on my son.
Not remotely satisfied by the general oft-spoken assertion “you’re safer in a plane than a car,” I did my own research about the safety of flight. What remains with me three years later is not any specific statistic but the four words in this post’s title.
This page documents the last words recorded on crashed airplanes’ black boxes. Most are as you would expect–expletives, queries, statements about unexpected obstacles–but there was this one that diverged.
“Amy, I love you.”
First Officer Warmerdam, who spoke those words, survived both the crash and the resulting fire.
When I am feeling overwhelmed, I often think of those words. I wonder what, if I got a chance not only to choose them but have them relayed, would be my last four or five words. Boiling the hubbub of life down to this single question takes away any confusion or ambiguity.
Those words would be for me son. “Li’l D, I love you.” If I only got to leave a single enduring thing in this world after I pass away, hopefully many decades from now, it would be the truth imparted by those words.
My life is full of many truths, many loves and much bustle. Beneath all that is one singular truth: bustle is bustle, which comes and goes.
Love, on the other hand, comes and grows.
Sunday marks one year since I shaved my head bald for St. Baldrick’s. My anxiety diminished along with my hair; at the end, I looked at my bald self and rejoiced, for I was finally seeing “me unconcealed.”
I liked what I saw–not the surface stuff, but the truer things beneath that. No matter what anyone else did or did not see, I looked into my own face and saw a me I wanted to be.
It was powerful. It was liberating, even apart from its inspiration, which was hope for an end to childhood cancer.
This weekend, a woman I’ve never met but admire tremendously will be shaving her head for St. Baldrick’s Team Robot Boy. Her son, almost exactly my own son’s age, has battled cancer for much of his life so far. She’s written about that here, and she’s written about his spirit on this very blog.
If you are able, please donate $5 for Robot Boy–or in honor of someone you love, in memory of someone you love, in hope for a future free from childhood cancer.
A few days ago, my sisters texted me that they’d be visiting my mom’s grave.
Why today? I wondered, before it hit me: I’d forgotten. I’d forgotten March 4 was the day my mom breathed her last breath. The day she was, as a text message I received March 4, 2010 stated, finally at peace.
I felt terrible. How could I have forgotten? How could I have failed to mark such a hugely important day?
A message from my friend Emily helped me see things a little clearer. At Joshua Tree the weekend before, she’d made a point to have our friend Briel take tons of oops-I’m-falling-off-a-cliff pictures meant to make her mom–who had helped deliver my son into this world–break into a sweat. Every time Emily posed, I giggled, remembering how I used to (mostly) lovingly push my mom’s buttons just because I could. And I remembered my mom, too.
My mom, whose mischievous ways meant she sometimes couldn’t understand how she’d raised such straight-laced children. Who took my brother out for ice cream the only time he got detention. “One of my kids has it in him!” she rejoiced.
Who once pierced her belly button, exclaiming mirthfully, “This way I’m rebellious and no one at church has to know!”
Who always made me giggle when she busted out her superhero antics, and made me want to be a superhero, too.
On Monday, Emily delivered the photoshopped cherry on her panic-picture pie:
I laughed from my belly when I saw it. As I laughed, I felt like my mom was chuckling with me. “I like this girl!” I could hear her saying.
Later in the evening, I got choked up when my sisters sent me pictures of my niece and nephew standing on Mom’s grave. I cried while walking the dog later still, feeling guilty anew to have forgotten. After a few minutes of sniffling self flagellation, I revisited something I’d written earlier in the day:
Feel terrible that I forgot it’s been three years today since Mom died. Feel glad, too; better to remember life & birthdays than a death day.
Seeing those words, I wiped off my tears, loaded Emily’s picture again, and giggled. Again.
Just like that, my mom felt near . . . nearer by far in the laughter than the tears.
My new doctor interrupted me just as tears began gathering in my eyes.
“Good timing,” I told her, stifling sniffles. “I was just about to get to a really sad part of this book, The End of Your Life Book Club.” I gave her a brief synopsis of the non-fiction book, in which a son writes about the informal book club he and his mom shared during the last two years of her life.
“Hmm,” she replied, before asking how I was doing.
Twenty minutes later, I thanked her profusely. “I just can’t tell you how thankful I am for you. I mean, where would I start?”
She smiled. “I’m in this line of work because I want to help heal people.”
I thought of our meeting as I trekked out to my car, but I was too ravenous to think very clearly. I downed some much needed protein and iron in a Del Taco parking lot before beginning my forty-minute drive back home. I flipped on the radio and was immediately catapulted back in time by the opening notes of a beloved song. Read more…
My dear friend E.L. Farris has recently published her first novel, Ripple:
Finding herself in trouble, Helen must relinquish control and put her faith in a process she knows to be flawed. As a team of lawyers, therapists and women from a safe house help Helen and Phoebe find hope and healing, a sociopath lurks, waiting for his moment to strike.
A lyrical, dark fairytale that will resonate with fans of women’s literature and psychological thrillers, Ripple delves into the nature of evil, without seeking to provide final answers to the issue of what makes a human commit evil acts. And while the author takes readers to scary places, she ultimately shines a light on the human condition and celebrates the triumph of the human spirit in the face of great tribulation.
I enjoyed Ripple tremendously, and for many reasons. Top among those reasons were the strong, compassionate, very dissimilar women who filled its pages. I have read many popular novels recently in which the protagonists were drafted “empty,” the better to enable readers to insert themselves into the story as the protagonist.
Those empty characters really wig me out. I want to read stories, like E.L.’s, whose characters would be excellent coffee shop companions. I don’t necessarily have to like each of them all the time, but I must always have something to learn or laugh about with them. E.L.’s characters weren’t just real people but real friends to me by the time I read Ripple‘s final pages with a smile on my face.
I am hopeful that these women will inspire some of Ripple‘s readers to find like women in their own lives, and to find the courage to leave abusive situations, knowing there really is help available. The journey to a safer life needn’t be made alone.
E.L. has taken a few minutes out to answer some questions I had for her about Ripple, writing and life. I hope you’ll read them and consider buying your own copy of her compelling first novel.
Have you always been a writer, or did your word-lust begin later? Read more…
Today I got something remarkable in the mail.
I knew it was coming. I’d commissioned it, after all.
And yet, there is a difference between envisioning something in the abstract and seeing it with my own eyes, which are currently full of tears.
There were few traditions in my household growing up, unless you count my mom’s antiquing and Dumpster diving. One tradition I could count on was periodic weekend walks to the comic book store, where my mom would set my siblings and me free with a dollar apiece. She’d buy the comics that interested her, while we’d rummage through the ten-cent comic bins for our personal favorites. Mine were horror episodics, a la Creepshow, as well as Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld and Superman.
In law school, I got my sister the full set of Amethyst comics as a birthday present. I hadn’t had much cause to think of that, or the comics themselves, until a couple of weeks ago. I’d walked into an antique shop in search of a dresser. There were no dressers available, but I did find excellent conversation with the store’s owner, who reminded me so very much of my mom I felt as if she were standing just behind me, too intent in her own rummaging to chit-chat.
Another prospective customer came in and interrupted our discussion with a question. I examined the jewelry in a nearby case for a moment; when I looked up, my eyes landed directly on comic book magic: Amethyst and Superman in the same comic!
I coughed up $10 and decided that, for that single afternoon, I believed in signs.
I still haven’t read that comic. It’s not important that I read it, just that it exists. It reminds me of my favorite times with my mom, my Thunder Thighs, my forever superhero.
Every time my eyes landed on that magical crossover comic, I thought of another piece of comic art I was waiting for. I’d commissioned extremely talented, conscientious comic artist and friend Sina Grace to draw a piece borne from my blog “Becoming a Superhero.”
Because my mom’s life was so full of strife, I struggled to figure out how to do her memory justice. How could I help other people see her not as just a crazy bird lady but as the source of my own love, hope and wonder, not through accident but through emulation? How could I remember her that way, recalling not only her life’s many tragedies but also its victories?
“Becoming a Superhero” was the turning point for me. It was my answer. As long as I remembered Thunder Thighs, I was remembering my mom–my real mom, not not-Mom, the way she’d want to be remembered.
And as long as I not only remember but live the best parts of her, her love and laughter endure.
At some point I decided I wanted not just words but an image to serve as my reminder to remember my mom and use the remembering well.
I described to Sina what I envisioned, though that envisioning was in blurs and blobs. He asked bunches of questions and set to work, sending me a “blueline” (or very preliminary sketch) a few days ago to make sure he was on the right track. I loved it, and I said so. I was prepared to be enchanted by the final product, but again, I couldn’t really imagine what that enchantment would feel like.
Today I received a snapshot of the final image. I laughed and cried all at once, enveloped in the rush of remembered comic book shop visits, Thunder Thighs adventures, and the imagined forays of Dark Moon and Silver Star. My mom would love the image. I sure do.
The print one will be in my hands in a week or two’s time, but what’s important now is that it’s in my heart. Right there with my mom, my Thunder Thighs, my forever superhero.