Category: mother

COUNTDOWN: One Day to Remember How It Rained

ast The flood at Naponee, where my mother was born four years later

ONE Family Story Woven In

Darkwater Creek, Nebraska is the setting for my novels, a fictional town along the Republican River in Nebraska, in Franklin County, my parents’ home.

The house on my grandparents’ farm was first located on the Republican River bottom, and it flooded in 1935. The man who owned the house then crawled into the attic to escape the floodwaters. He scrawled his will on the attic rafters, then hacked an escape through either a roof or an attic window, we’re not sure which. A man passing in a rowboat rescued him.

After the flood, the house was moved up to its current higher and drier location, and my grandparents bought the farm in the 1950s. When my grandparents remodeled the house, they found that homeowner’s writing, his last will and testament on the attic rafter. It was one of those stories about the house our family would talk about.

When I found that same story recounted in a published flood narrative during my research, and I was able to match up the name from the story with the former owner of our family home, history came alive for me. Family history lives if we breathe into it our interest and our intention. Remember with me in my novels, and revisit your own history when you can. In remembering you’ll find your place in a story, one worth sharing with the next generation.

BTW, If you haven’t already, you might begin with Seven Kinds of Rain: River Saga Book One. Then you’ll be ready for Remember How It Rained: River Saga Book Two.

 

*photo by Webber from noaa.gov, courtesy Joe Torrey

Intensive Care

2:45 a.m.

Mom’s healing, finally resting better in intensive care.

We, her family, are stranded at the hospital due to thunderstorms and flash floods. Some curl up like baby mice on too-small chairs and sofas in the waiting room, reaching for sleep.

Bedside, I put in earbuds and listen to Will Ackerman’s recordings. Resonant harmonies and hopeful melodies lift and carry my tired mind where sleep won’t.

Anxiety, responsibility and fragile plans, these fade and fall away. Music, backlit by lightning, lives here in the dark, washing through the blinking, whirring monitors and pumps, breathing hope and strength into my tired body and mind.

Gratitude. Joy. And soon, a newly-colored morning for my mother, and for all of us.

Children, Mirrors and Mothers on Other Days: a Meditation

piggy back

As a mother, I’ve now spent more than thirty years considering and observing my children. From the time I first held them, I’ve pondered their selfhood and their destinies, neither of which have I predicted or fully understood. Yet, my disability in this area has never thwarted my preoccupation with my children. Those who’ve never had children might think I am obsessed. Those who have can’t imagine it any other way.

I’ve been blessed to share my family life with three children, two by birth and one by providence. I also have two grandchildren. Seeing these people develop their singular personalities has been more interesting than any story I’ve ever read or written. Their lives don’t take a clean narrative form, not in the sense that readers expect. The elements of a good story are there, though. They provide abundant life experiences that move me outside of myself into other places and times. They go through conflict and sometimes involve me in it. They feel every imaginable human emotion and whether they want me to or not, I share a little of their joy, grief, success and failure as they do. They kindly write me into their stories, sharing their time, love and milestones.

mother love

If powerful stories are mirrors in which we see ourselves, then my children hold up their lives in a chaotic but vivid narrative that demands self-examination. I’ve never been more generous or selfish, more ambitious or reckless, more rational or off-balance, more frustrated or content than I’ve been with them. When I see them walking away from me, I remember how great it was to claim my own independence. I also feel the pang of what it is to be left behind. When they succeed, I’m happy and proud, but it can be bittersweet—don’t let anyone lie to you; mothers can be jealous of their children’s lives and good fortune. We just try not to let on. Most of the time, though, we celebrate their accomplishments and being. Living vicariously is still living, right?

There’s slightly disconcerting aspect of this mirror. From the time I first touched my little ones, I looked for myself in them. I longed for my children to endorse me and my choices; my taste in music and art, my sense of humor, the way I turn a phrase or walk and talk. Then I wondered if they echoed my abilities and flaws. Of course, the best parents manage to curb our enthusiasm when we look into that mirror, remembering that children aren’t made of Silly Putty for us to mash them onto ourselves and pull away to see our image transposed (remember how we did that with the Sunday comics? Stretching and distorting the picture was great fun, but not to be attempted with children.) We repeat whatever selfless mantra helps us to disengage and allow our children to achieve independence and emotional health. God help us.

hello? hello?

That mirror makes me wonder how my children see me. When I imagine myself to be thin, firmly toned, young, fun, contemporary and open-minded, do they see those things? When they were small, they would belly laugh at my silly faces and noises and games. They thought I was hilarious. They convinced me that everything I said was important, worthy of memorization and repetition (if not publication). As for that, they loved my stories more than any agent or publisher ever will. But every parent with a little seniority can relate to the day my children looked at me as if I were a complete stranger, someone too corny to laugh at or a source of embarrassment.

I told myself to think like a stock investor—that despite my market ups and downs, if I’d hang in there for the long haul, my risks would pay off and everyone would profit. My kids would look at me one day and think I wasn’t so dumb, after all. Maybe even wise. (I’ve already had that pleasure and it is sweet. But I remind myself not to be overconfident or greedy. That could be embarrassing.

sandbox

Under my children’s influence, I take on some of their qualities, too. They are my enthusiastic life coaches for technology, social media, the arts, the environment and other rapid cultural changes. It’s a fascinating exchange. So the mirror works both ways and I’m glad they’re not cheap reproductions of me. They are much more interesting and effective in the world as their authentic selves and they make me that way, too. God knows that the universe has had enough static from just one of me. Really, people. Cloning humans is a monstrously bad idea. Seeing my children defy the predictability of pooled genes is humbling, exciting and gives me great hope for them and the world they live in.

on our way

My three children, and now my grandchildren, split, branch and flower out of and away from me. It’s the way of nature and I love being a part of the process until I die and they continue to carry on the green. Of course, I can’t prescribe what memories they’ll keep. Knowing them as I do, I suspect they’ll be generous and forgiving. Maybe they’ll revert a little to the babies who found their mother patient, funny and constant in love. I’d like to leave them with that consolation and hope, as they search for reflections of themselves in the eyes of their own children, and beyond.

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D.
cover art

This review is based on a pre-release reading of the uncorrected, “galley” proof provided to me by goodreads. Novel Release Date: June 5, 2012.

I just finished an early taste of summer vacation, with a rich and engaging book. Nichole Bernier’s debut novel, The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D., is a brave and breathtaking story about the subtle natures and interplay of womanhood, parenting, marriage and friendship.

The story begins as Kate Spenser, her husband, Chris, and their two young children begin their seven-week vacation at the beach. Kate is still processing the death of her friend, Elizabeth Martin, the victim of a plane crash in Queens that is abruptly overshadowed by the disasters of 9/11. As she mourns her friend, Kate also finds herself responsible for Elizabeth’s secrets and legacy; Elizabeth directed in her will that Kate alone receive the locked, antique trunk that holds Elizabeth’s journals.

Kate, although a reluctant interpreter of her friend’s written life, takes the responsibility seriously. Her commitment to reading Elizabeth’s journals influences not only her memories, but raises questions about Kate’s own decisions and marriage. Her fascination, which borders on obsession (as mine did, reading “over her shoulder”), stirs Kate into uneasiness. While ruffling the surface of her marriage, the responsibility also places her at odds with Dave, Elizabeth’s surviving husband, who struggles with his own suspicions about Elizabeth.

This story begins as an intriguing mystery about Elizabeth–her personality, relationships, changes and affections. Yet, this mystery is only the wrapping that conceals other, more tender dilemmas for the reader to unfold. Through her strong characters, striking observations and deep insights, the author leads us to ponder the dedication it takes to endure uncertainty; about the people we love, about seemingly random events and the “mere” coincidences that make the difference between life and death. The greatest mystery I savored in this moving story is the immeasurable cost of secrets, which protect, torment and shape us.

Nichole Bernier draws the reader into Kate’s private, conscientious point of view. Reflecting on her deceased friend, Kate considers that some people “don’t fit into a box. They grow to infiltrate everything, and when they suddenly go missing, they are missing everywhere.” In another post- 9/11 moment, Kate considers that, as for having a third child, “It seemed a dangerous thing, having more children than hands.” (Out of respect for the uncorrected proof status of my galley, I won’t quote more than this…although I could go on and on with great pleasure, thanks to many “aha” moments of literary and emotional resonance.) The author rings true with her characters and a timeless consideration of the dangers of love, in its many mysterious forms.

Please find more information on the author, book excerpts, the first chapter, release date and where to purchase at: Nichole Bernier’s blog and her author website. Thanks to goodreads for drawing my name out of the great hat of cyberspace. I will post this review on their site, as well.

Grimm Fairy Tales, Love & Trust

Snow White & Rose Red by Jessie Willcox Smith, 1911

In fairy tales, dangerous creatures live in the forest and children can get in trouble there. In Grimm Tales’ “Snow-White and Rose-Red,” the sisters are safe in their forest, collecting flowers and berries and “nothing ever harmed them.” The hares, deer, goats and birds love their company. As the story goes, “Because they were good and kind, all things loved and trusted them.”

The girls’ mother is also a trusting soul and welcomes a frostbitten bear indoors, to warm himself by their fire. Yes, this raises a red flag for me, too. But the bear does not eat them or their pets. He becomes a regular houseguest that winter.

As it turns out, he’s actually a prince in bear’s clothing. You saw that coming, didn’t you? This is a fairy tale, after all. Even though the sisters unwittingly help elves escape with his gold, the prince has a forgiving nature. For their hospitality, the sisters and their mother live with the prince in his palace. The Grimms don’t tell us if the prince marries either girl, or even their mother. Maybe he can’t decide.

In fairy tales, parents are often jealous, greedy, desperate or naive and place children at the mercy of dwarfs, animals, stepmothers and witches. So why do children love fairy tales? Because even if parents are sometimes selfish or stupid or wrong, if a child is good and kind, things can turn out well. Even if a girl or boy is confused and makes mistakes, like “Hans in Luck,” who started with lump of gold and ended up with nothing, he or she can still be happy.

Hans in Luck from Grimm's Fairy Tales, 1903

Parents love fairy tales, in part, because we once were children with imperfect parents. All grown up, we still have our vulnerable centers. Fairy tales also remind us to do our best, because there are wild things in the forests where our children play. Then they reassure us that even in our imperfection, on days when we think our parenting licenses should be revoked, we may accidentally do something right. You probably don’t want to let that bear into your house, but you can teach your children to be kind and safe. There is grace in the universe, so be loving and generous with a child today. Maybe even read a fairy tale, together.

*Snow White & Rose Red image in public domain, via Wikipedia