18 July 2009

It doesn't have to be Mothers Day to miss your mom...

I miss my mom. Not for any particular reason- it's not her birthday, or Mother's Day. It's just Saturday morning, close to 1:30am, and I miss my mother. This is one of those things in life that just sucks, as there is no way, no real means of resolution. It's not the first time it's happened, I mean, she's been dead for some time now, but it is the first time I've ever really written about it. And the spur seems to me to be kind of random- my dad's mother just had double bypass surgery, and made it through the surgery with flying colors (I should preface this with my belief that if there's any type of heart surgery that you're not dead at the end, you've made it through with flying colors), only to die of pneumonia a couple of moments ago, and her death got me thinking about death, and about life. But her death caused me to start thinking about my own mother (i guess it's wierd for me to think about, as my mother and my dad's mother, hated each other- in that Minnesota/Green Bay, SF Giants/LA Dodgers, Dallas Cowboys/Washington Redskins kind of way). But when I start thinking about my mother, it makes me feel the need to let people get to know a little about the woman that helped make me the man I am today...

...my mother was the person that got me into Speech and Debate. I tell my students this the first day of class, and I think it helps them understand a little about me, but more about the act of talking in public. My parents thought, in my youth, that I didn't talk enough. Apparently, the reports from school indicated that I was pretty bright, but I had what my teachers called "an irrational fear" of talking in front of people. It still exists today, as anyone that has seen me in a large group of people I don't know- I do a pretty good Ralph Ellison. That being said, my parents knew that doing speech would require me to have to stand up in front of people and speak, which would obviously resolve my fear (to me, this seems like finding out your kid is afraid of heights, taking him some place really high and leaving them there to find their own way down- effective until someone falls to their injury and/or death). They asked me if I wanted to join Speech, and I said no....and we continued this for about three weeks, until my mother just asked:

"what's it going to take to get you to join? We think you'll like it, but we know you need it. How about I give you $1000 if you join the team, compete and stay all year. At the end of the year, if you don't like it, feel free to quit. This is a no-lose situation for you..."

she was right, this was the definition of a no-lose situation for me. All I had to do was go to a couple of meetings, attend a couple of tournaments, and at the end of the year, $1000 of cold, hard cash would be mine. This would be a good deal now, but in 1984, when I was a freshman, this was an enormous amount of money, large enough to get me to do something I would not have had the courage and/or desire to do. In short, my mother bribed me to join Speech and Debate. Inevitably, it worked. When my mother was on her death bed, and I had just made the decision to stay in debate after I graduated from college, I asked why she essentially bribed me to join. Her answer was simple- you needed it, you'd like it, and I knew you'd never do it if I didn't offer an incentive. She then went on to remind me of a story when I was little in a restaurant someplace in New England, and I was really skeptical on this white soup she was asking me to eat (up to this time, the only soups I'd ever eaten were clear broth soups, and I didn't have any idea what a chowder was, and i knew I wouldn't like clams). That bribe apparently only cost her a quarter, but I can say that Clam Chowder (pronounced chow-dah!) is one of my favorite foods in the world, one I'm willing to just fight through a lactose intolerance issue. When I was younger, I just thought it was cool my mother was willing to give me access to that large a sum of money. As I got older, it became more apparent that these "bribes" were just offerings for me to step out of my comfort zone, and to explore other things.

My mother is the base of my spirituality, taught me about The Bible, and taught me to have Faith. My Faith is something I haven't always felt very comfortable speaking about and/or expressing.I clearly don't live my life like Jewish Rabbi, a Southern Baptist Pastor or a Catholic Priest, so it's obviously not something I advertise. Even thought a major facet of Christianity (or, really any religion) is the idea of spreading the word, or witnessing. The combination of not wanting to be "that guy," the guy that makes his friends listen to a bunch of stuff they don't care about and/or are not interested in. For as long back as I can remember, I had been going to Church- it was something we did every Sunday, and there was no excuse (if you can go out with your friends on Saturday night, you can get up and give thanks to the Lord on Sunday morning, man, I can still actually hear her say it). I can say, with some degree of guilt now, I made my mom's life a living hell about "the Church thing," and being a debater, learning base argumentation and the power of the concession made every Sunday morning like round 8 of the NDT for me, and like "getting a root canal" for her. I would ask, every week, for like 10 years, why I had to go, and she'd always say the same thing.

"My mother made me go to Church, said she didn't want to be responsible for me not knowing the word of God, and me spending life in Eternal Damnation. Once you're an adult, you can make your own decisions, stay home, not believe and burn in hell. But until then, you'll be going to Church."

This was true, even when I went away to college, and would just be coming home for the weekend. There were no choices, no options. You went to Church or you didn't stay in the house. This Gestapo-type means of indoctrination was one I held in much disdain, and for years, I took out my distaste for not having a choice into a pretty healthy hatred for Religion, across the board. It took quite a twist for me to accept religion back in my life, a decision to work for a Catholic school. I had worked for a Catholic school before (actually, a Catholic Military School, because Catholic or Military alone wouldn't provide sufficient discipline), so it's not the idea of being around religion that made me re-think my stance (that school, ironically, felt entirely like a Military school, and it seemed the facets of Catholicism that were present either escaped my line of sight through cognitive dissonance). I think I could even pin-point when I saw myself differently, not by a time, but by a recognition. I realized, while I was working for my current institution, that there was one over-arching thing that seemed to tie the students together, and it was just a feeling that almost all the students I encountered had something not found in a lot of people, but harder to find that clean diamonds among high school students. They all seemed to have something that I assumed was a debate word until I saw it in action, an ethic of care, a true compassion about them, and it was something they all seemed to have, from the kids that had clearly grown up in the Catholic church, to the kids that openly call themselves agnostic or atheist, but it was something I recognized from my days in the Church, and it provided me something it hadn't done in the past, it offered me comfort. It just seemed right.

I have an issue with change and a problem with inertia, so much so, sometimes I think I should be a Republican. This combination sometimes means that things I know I will enjoy doing once I get out there and just start doing, sometimes never get off the ground, as I come up with reasons why I shouldn't bother. I have some good friends that live not very far from here, and I don't see them enough. It's not because my girlfriend won't let me out of the house, as I am sure sometimes she wishes I was gone more than I am. It's not that I won't have an excellent time with them if I were to go, as I always have a good time with them. It's not even that gas is teetering around $3 a gallon in the East Bay (it cost money to live in paradise). It's just that, when I am trying to mobilize to act, sometimes I just find myself convincing myself to stay home. I used to think it was just laziness, but it seems like it's more than that, because laziness seems like it's not pro-active. Laziness seems to be a reaction to some action you didn't feel like doing (you're supposed to be doing homework, you react by not acting, i.e., being lazy). This issue I seem to be having is much more proactive, in the same way that someone in your head tells you to not get out of bed, it's Saturday, and you can stay here all day long, with no ramifications. So, since I have that guy among the voices in my head, it sometimes means that things that aren't required don't ever get accomplished...

...This is why my mother was awesome (well, one of many). She seemed to know about my own specific, personal demons, no matter how large or small, and knew the way to make me get beyond those demons. When she died, I was concerned I would not be able to handle these kinds of things, because my mother was the person I would talk to about this kind of stuff. But somehow, in all those random discussions on thousand mile road trips, and all the little tidbits of information she would give me all the time, and the dressing downs in public and in private for not holding up my end of the bargain, somehow all filtered through my brain and it seems to be sufficient to aid me in making these decisions.

I guess this is what she meant when she said that, even when she was gone, she'd still be here, because she'd always be here.


  1. so sorry to hear about your grandma. do remember: friends don't let friends vote republican

  2. So sorry to hear about your grandma. This is a beautiful post. Thanks for sharing.