Tag Archives: North Carolina

Loving Counts

My prophetic little four-year-old said to me tonight: “Loving counts mommy.”

We had been hanging pictures up. I turned and looked at him. I actually blinked as I took in the simple notion, then replied: “Yes, it certainly does.”

What an incredible little man.

Sometimes it’s as simple as that. What counts in your life? Think about it.

What do you love most?

Your family? Your God? Your Work?

Does it show?

For me, love is essential. It is essential in every aspect of my life. My boys are everything to me. But I wonder if they always feel that from me. Saying that I love them is one thing. Showing them is quite another.

For a child, I wonder what defines love? It certainly has to be about more than saying ‘I Love You’ or buying cool toys. Kids always seem to cut right to the chase. They know who they can depend upon. They know who is kind. They respond to those who play with them, acknowledge them, listen to them, encourage them, take care of them, accept them.

I know that my two boys are the most appreciative when I’m present with them. They know when it’s time to turn off the computer or cell phone and just be with them.

Being present, however, is much harder than it sounds. The other day I had an insane tax deadline. I was up until 2 a.m. working, slept for three hours, and was back at it. At 7 a.m., as I was finishing my expense spreadsheet, my little guy comes into my room and starts to climb into bed. He ruffles my sheets and starts to crumple some papers and receipts. I yelled upstairs to my older son to take him up and put on Sesame Street. As he padded out of my room, I instantly felt remorse. If I had finished this project earlier, I wouldn’t have sent him away and just enjoyed some cuddle time.

Clearly, ‘loving’ requires a bit of organization and balance so that work doesn’t intrude on important quality time at home.

‘Being present’, according to mindfulness experts, also requires that you let go of anxieties and fears that distract you and pull you out of the moment. If you have deadlines looming, projects that need to be carried out, are going through a divorce or are facing health or personal challenges—it’s incredibly hard to clear worries from your mind and just listen to or play with your children, isn’t it? (For a great article about mindfulness, check out What Really Helps Make Mindfulness Work by Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.)

I’m still finding my way and started meditating on a regular basis just this past year. I’ve done yoga for years and find that it helps me clear my mind. The physical exertion and mental focus on intentions and goals allows me to let go of issues and anxieties that may whirl in my mind. I find that afterwards my mental slate is clear and I’m much more focused and calm that evening with the boys. I’m still a work in progress, clearly.

While I’m still honing mindfulness techniques, I have learned that it’s incredibly hard NOT to live in the moment when spending time with a loved one with Alzheimer’s Disease. I flew to North Carolina last week to visit my mother who is struggling in what seems to be the final phase of the disease. She didn’t know who I was. She can barely talk or walk. I think she just thought of me as a friendly face. I had to force myself to always smile, relax, and think about what she needed or what would reassure her when visiting. I knew after each visit that she wouldn’t remember I had been there the next day. But I reminded myself that in the moments that I held her hand, or showed her pictures, or just talked with her about various things, that it mattered. It counted. Those moments were hard for me, but they brought her a bit of happiness—even if fleeting. And she deserves that.

On the last day I spent with her—on the day that I likely said my goodbye—my mom was ‘playing’ bingo with other residents. The woman who ran the game would call out the letter and number combinations. My mother, who doesn’t recognize her numbers or letters anymore, would put a marker on any letter/number combination. She apparently still recognized that four in a row allowed her to win—so she just kept putting four in a row. B-6 might be called, but she’d put her acorn on C-12, right beside another marker. I knew not to correct her.

“Wow, mom, you won again!” I’d say with a laugh.

She’d just smile. One time she looked at me inquisitively and said slowly, “I. Like. You.”

That was a big accomplishment as she typically speaks with just one word.

I replied “Well, I Love you.”

She looked at me like I was a bit crazy, giving me a one-over glance.

Later in the day, I went through her sweaters and found one that still fit. As I was putting it on her, she quickly smiled. It was as if she had been shaken and her eyes got wide with acknowledgment. She leaned into me and said, “Love.” I put my forehead to hers and a moment later she said “You.”

As I settled into my seat on my first plane during my trek back to California, I thought that it may be a long time before I got the chance to see mom again. It’s hard to fly back with the two boys due to expense. I know if I was closer I could do more, visit more. It was such a gift to hear her say those words. And in that moment, I know she meant it. In that flash of recognition, she knew who I was. It might have only lasted a second for her—but for me, it counted.

Even when brief and fleeting, loving counts most of all.

Advertisements

Mom in the Picture

My sister Sarah and her son Elijah

I took a hard week off to visit my family in North Carolina. My mother, who is most likely in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, probably didn’t even know who I was. But, it felt important to see her, to hold her hand, to smile at her. Plus, I was able to visit my sisters and brother and their children who I haven’t seen in over a year. While I was gone, I read Lisa Belkin’s HuffPost column: Moms Explain Why They’re Getting Back In the Picture.  Take a moment to read this column. I was touched by it. The column inspires moms to get back in the picture with their families and children. I know that my own mom never liked to “be in the picture” and my two sisters, who are wonderful moms, also shy from the camera.

It’s clear that their sons adore them and could care less if stress and health issues have added pounds or grey hair. Our children adore us just the way we are. Single moms out there—I know so many of you can relate to this. Perhaps the financial stress, emotional stress and the exhaustion of working long hours makes you feel less attractive than you’d like. But your children love you and want photos with you in the picture to remember wonderful moments. If they love you unconditionally—it’s time to start loving yourself the same way.

With that in mind, I’m posting two pictures in this post. The first is of my sister Sarah and her 6-year-old son Elijah. Sarah is a wonderful mother who struggles with auto-immune disorders and migraines, while working full-time as a social worker. She has fought hard to find the right therapies and programs for her son who is thriving, although living with Autism. This past weekend, I loved watching Elijah build ingenious towers and rockets with angry bird dolls peaking out of windows. Both his creativity and love seem boundless—and much of that is because of her dedication.

The second picture is of my other big sister Elizabeth and her son CJ.

Elizabeth has always shied away from the camera since I’ve known her—but especially during the past 18 years that she’s been fighting Lupus and arthritis. An amazingly giving teacher who focusses 100% of her energy on her family—I know her son CJ could care less that steroids and painful, aching hips (which she’s having replaced soon) make her feel tired and less attractive. Yet she still works every day at her school and takes most of the family pictures. There aren’t two less beautiful mothers, than my two sisters. (So, if you two get mad at me after this post…bear with me!) After spending four days visiting my sweet mother whose mind is ravaged by Alzheimer’s, I wish I had more pictures of she and I together, but it’s too late.

I strongly urge you to read Lisa Belkin’s column—one of my favorite parenting bloggers and columnists—as you’ll be surrounded by voices of other mothers who are bravely stepping in front of the camera for their children and families. It’s such a wonderful idea and a step in the right direction of easing up on ourselves and our frailties.

A Mother’s Legacy: Wildflowers

Queen Anne’s Lace

As some of you may know, my mother has Alzheimer’s disease. It’s such a crushing disease as it creeps into the mind of the person you love and robs them of the essence of who they are. Little by little it picks up speed, like a ball rolling down the hill, and all you can do is sit by, breathless, as you watch the person you love slip away. My mother is now in a facility more than 2,500 miles away and since I can’t see or talk with her, I’ve decided to write each day until Mother’s Day about her and the legacy she leaves behind for her four children. Anyone who knew MaryAnn Roe, knows how she lost herself and her worries when she gardened. I learned about wildflowers, such as Queen Anne’s Lace, and gardening, from my mother.

Orange Nasturtium

She inspired me to always make wonderful bouquets from the wildflowers, or any blossoms in our own garden. Orange nasturtiums were one of her favorites, and she marveled at how enormous they grew in California, as they couldn’t manage to expand in the heat and humidity in her North Carolina garden.

Butterfly Bush

Even just two years ago, when her mind had slipped dramatically into the worsening phases of her disease, she would wander around and around her front and back yards weeding, picking up sticks, watering her plants and marveling at the butterflies and hummingbirds that would visit her butterfly bush. While she couldn’t utter how much peace her garden brought her, it was evident in her face and through her continued ability to somehow manage to take care of her cherished plants.

Marigold

I loved her creativity when it came to her bouquets. In fact, mom gathered gardenia and magnolia blooms from our yard in North Carolina, put them in coolers, and transported them to Atlanta where I got married 12 years ago. On each table she created graceful, fragrant bouquets that no one knew were handmade touches from home.

Magnolia bloom

Mother’s infectious love of gardening inspired me to visit every botanical garden in almost every city where I have lived or traveled to. I loved being able to take her to the Kew Gardens in London, the botanical gardens in Atlanta, Duke Gardens in Durham, the gardens at the Getty or sending her pictures from gardens in Lisbon, Madrid, Nice, Budapest or Kauai. (I will dig up pictures from those trips at some point!) I may never become a green thumb like mom, but I’m sure I’ll always think of her when I see a bouquet of wildflowers.

Wisdom of Robert Burns

Photo by: Jeremy Dennis

“The best laid schemes of Mice and Men oft go awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain, For promised joy!”

Robert BurnsTo a Mouse (Poem, November, 1785)

Time off for me just wasn’t in the cards this past week. If you read my last post than you know how excited I was to have a day off from the kiddos. Something, clearly, was conspiring in the Universe against this plan. My ex emailed me Sunday a.m. that he had missed his flight from London to LA. Well…I don’t always check email first thing on a Sunday, so both my boys were waiting and packed for his 10 a.m. pick up. Around 9:45, I got a nagging feeling, like a pit of doubt, that sometimes settles in my stomach when dealing with my ex. Before checking my email I instinctively knew it was off.

I had a suspicious feeling the overnight visit might not happen for the boys, even before Sunday morning. See, I have this theory about bad things happening in 3s. When I was a crime reporter for a daily newspaper in North Carolina we’d expect a third murder by the next full moon. If there had only been one murder that month, we knew to expect two murders by the morning. And it always worked out that way. Even our EMT friends and emergency room staff would get ready. I still don’t know why that is. … But I digress. My little let-downs are nothing compared to murders obviously, but still, I was on alert.

First there was the poop in the bath Friday night—a sign that relaxing in the jacuzzi sans children might not happen. The second sign happened the next day when I almost wrecked. I was in a hurry to get my son to his soccer game. At a red light I quickly put sunscreen on my face (I’m neurotic now after two skin cancer scares) and then handed it back to my boys. I’m rubbing it in quickly, the light turns green, and as I cross the intersection, I feel an excruciating pain suddenly cut into my eyes and then I can ‘t see. If it wasn’t dangerous it would be hilarious. I start screaming “Mother!” One of my boys starts laughing, the other crying. I pull over after I manage to cross the intersection and tears won’t stop streaming from my eyes. Man, it was so bad, I could barely navigate to the soccer fields and commenced to cry the entire game. I couldn’t see to cheer my little guy on and my two-year-old kept walking up to the other parents saying, “Something’s wrong with my mommy!” Little does he know what a loaded statement that is! LOL

So, I survive the game and start to get excited about Sunday’s impending freedom. As you know, it never happens. Well, I made the best of it. My boys and I actually had a blast. I still don’t know why their dad didn’t call first thing. I called him and asked him to tell the boys via skype why he wouldn’t be there. He promised to squeeze in a five hour visit during his layover the next day on his way to Australia. My oldest held back tears.

So, the lesson learned is that I always need to have a plan B.  I packed them up and we went to a local October fair where we ran into schoolmates and neighbors. It was a great day, even in the scorching heat. That evening I invited a good friend, also a single mom, and her son over for dinner. I made the yummiest salad with heirloom farmer’s market tomatoes and avocados, baked chicken with herbs de Provence and roasted carrots and fingerling potatoes. Even the kiddos loved it! We played puzzles with the youngest and the two oldest boys played with Star Wars legos. I have to say, it ended up being one of the best Sundays I have had in a long time.

And you know what? Their dad did show up the next day during his layover, bearing presents. He met us at school where I volunteer as a creative writing teacher once a week. I was so nervous that his flight might get delayed, or something else might happen to thwart the visit, that I had a backup plan of an ice cream play-date in the works. But, I didn’t need it. As I walk out of the classroom, my ex is leaning against the wall, his suitcase in hand. He has his English blue sweater on—clearly sweating in our Southern California heat—with a smile on his face that I forgotten he owned. It’s a smile the melts hearts. My oldest ran to him. The teacher seemed enamored with him and chatted nervously with him a bit before we three, oddly, walk into town together as if we see each other every day. The youngest, who was with the sitter, got to see his dad later and oh’d and ah’d over his bath toys from Hamley’s. As odd as it was, it ended up being a great, albeit short, visit for the boys. In the end, they are very excited about seeing him next weekend when he’s on another stop over from Australia back to London. I’m confident he won’t let them down this time. But then again, cough, you know what Mr. Burns says about the best laid plans …

Rooftop Party or Park with my Boys … Decisions, Decisions!

Last week I was actually invited to a party at The Standard Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. (How I managed that, I’m still not sure!) It was perfect timing as I’d been dying to go out and dance for a long time. I remember going to The Standard years ago and how cool the rooftop bar is, the music, the swinging chairs, the mojitos. Well, as you can imagine, I’m not exactly going to The Standard much anymore. But I could picture it like a siren’s call: a nice warm late summer evening, a sleeveless top, tan shoulders, my sexy jeans, heels, a simmering breeze, some thumping Euro Trash music. I visualized myself there and I mustered up the courage to even call a few babysitters. As the day wore on, however, I wondered if I really wanted to go to this party. None of my girlfriends were free, so I’d have to go solo. And sure, I’d like to meet someone, or just dress up and flirt a bit. But anyone I might meet at The Standard would likely have NO idea that nights out during the week for me are extremely rare. I doubt that I’d meet a man at The Standard who wouldn’t be intimidated by the fact that I have two children at home, or that I need to be back by midnight for the sitter. In fact, the only way I’d go to that party is if one of my girlfriends were available and I could just dance, sip a mojito, and enjoy the view. Besides, I just ended my first relationship since my husband. One year after my husband asked for a divorce, I began to date a man. He was the first person I had kissed besides my husband in over 13 years! It was too intense, too wonderful, at times too horrible, too gut-wrenching, too wonderful again and all-consuming. At the end of the day, sadly, loving him hurt too much. Enough said.

So now, a month later, I’m wondering: should I even try to date again?? My boys have been through a lot and I should focus on them right now. So, with that in mind, I hung up my strappy top, my sexy jeans and put away my heels for a T-shirt, shorts and sneakers. I made a picnic dinner, picked up my boys and one of their friends and headed to a local park for an evening playdate/picnic. It was definitely the best decision! No, there was no flirting, no lights, no dancing or mojitos—but my boys had a blast. (And, if you read my post about being haunted by playgrounds, there’s no reason to be in the evening. It’s chock full of dads and working moms who are getting some intense playtime in with their kids after work.)

We lucked into a pick-up baseball game too. While that may be no-big-deal to some kids, it was a huge deal to my nine-year-old William. William has actually never had a baseball lesson before. I could tell by the way this man positioned William and told him how to hold the bat, place his feet, and swing at a certain angle, that he knew what he was doing. I found out later that he’s the baseball coach for a local high school. William was SO excited when he hit a double and coach Mike encouraged him to take up baseball this year. And I was really happy to see this dad in action. (No, he’s not single!) It’s just refreshing to see a dad play intently with his kids. He didn’t pull out his blackberry or his iphone once. He wasn’t holding a beer and talking with another friend while the kids ran around. And his eyes didn’t glaze over while his children talked to him. (All scenes I see often.) No, this guy was playing with all three of his boys and now with William and Coco too. He was hands-on in helping them with the game and with conflicts. I could tell that he’s like this with his kids all the time. He reminded me a bit of my brother-in-law in North Carolina who’s a teacher, coach and a wonderful father. I always chalked up seeing men like that as rare in Los Angeles. You might even say that watching this man renewed my faith a bit about living in Southern California. Maybe there are a few good men here? It’s clear to me that there are some who put their families and their kids first. But it’s also clear to me that I’m not likely to meet a man such as this on a Wednesday night rooftop deck party at The Standard.