Mom

At my mother’s memorial service my brother spoke from the heart about our mom: “She was a complicated person.” That she was. She had strengths. And she had flaws. She had triumphs and her share of mistakes and regrets. My relationship with my mom was shaky sometimes. We had some ups and some downs.  As she was, as I was, I loved her. I know she gave me the foundation to be a good mother and good person.

When I was little she bought me a cotton candy machine. She made me fairy wings out of aluminum foil. To go with the green fairy shoes she sewed for me. Complete with bells. On the pointy, curled up toes. She read to me from thick chapter books every night. I sipped a cup of hot chocolate as her words ignited my imagination. My eyes would begin to droop. And, then, I would drift into sleep with dreams.

We were mother and daughter. Sometimes she yelled at me and sometimes I yelled at her. There were times when I felt like she didn’t understand me. There were times when I just couldn’t see her point of view or understand her. There were times when she comforted me when I was sick or when I stumbled through various teenage dramas. She forgot things that were important to me and reminded me of things I didn’t remember. She gave my husband and I a kitten when we were married. She made slip covers and curtains. She sat on the floor and sanded wooden pegs covering the nails. It was a jumble of good times and, well, not so good times.

Sometimes she was the perfect mom and I was the perfect child. Sometimes we both let each other down.

She was, my mom.

mom and jo2

My mom, right, and her mom.

I didn’t get to have my mom by my side as I raised my children. I couldn’t ask her questions or seek advice from her. I couldn’t call her when my kids were sick to ask her to come help. I couldn’t call her at all.

Today is Mother’s Day.

A couple of years ago I got a FB message from someone asking me if I was Marjorie’s daughter. His name was Dave. He was a little older than me and went on to tell me how he remembered playing Barbies with me! And then he told how my mother had helped him and his mom when he was little. My mom paid for summer camp for him and gave his mom a job taking care of me. He remembered learning how to swim from my siblings. And feeling as if he was part of the family. He said he has never forgotten her kindness.

I still remember his mom vividly. Josephine. I loved her. I’ve never forgotten her kindness and patience. I still drive by her house and imagine her walking out of the door.

Our moms and other people’s moms. Mothers. “Moms” who aren’t actual moms, but nurturing women. Women who are role models and mentors. Adoptive moms, and foster moms. Moms who have miscarried or had stillbirths. Moms who have had abortions. Gay moms, queer moms. Single moms. Widowed moms. Teen moms. Incarcerated moms. Moms who are aunts and god parents. Moms who are perfect and moms who are imperfect.

Moms.

mom and me mother's day

My mom and me

Many of us don’t know the history behind Mother’s Day, we only know the Hallmark version. The idea of Mother’s Day in the US began in 1872 when Julia Ward Howe suggested it be a day to honor and work for peace. Read her famous “proclamation” here:

 Original Mother’s Day Proclamation

Mothers uniting in love to make a positive change in the world.

Here in the US, and around the world, mothers struggle. They struggle to provide for their children. They watch their children die of starvation, disease, war. They dream of having shoes for their child, or clean water, or a meal, or for them to have a chance to go to school. Mothers everywhere dream of seeing their children healthy and thriving, having a job, being safe. Knowing it is only a dream, they hope and pray that their child will have what they cannot give them.

Last year on Mother’s Day I challenged people to donate to causes that support mothers. I put it out there again this year. You can make a donation to Planned Parenthood, to your local woman’s shelter, to programs that educate about domestic violence. Or you can check out the links below and donate or just educate yourself. Lots of topics.

This year I donated to Brooklyn Bail Fund.

If you choose to donate, and care to share, I would love to know who you are helping.

10 Non-profit organizations that help mothers

Young Mothers Program

5 organizations that empower women

Behind every great woman is another one Heifer International, Empowering women

Non Profit organization that help girls

National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome  Helping expectant mothers

Help send a child to school

Educate yourself on domestic violence

Rape of a girl or woman is never ok Women do not ask for it, deserve it. It is not ok for women to be shamed or shunned becasue they were raped. It is not ok to punish a woman for being raped.

women are equal to men yet the world often disagrees

**Don’t forget to check out This Week

and, Little works in progress

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About That Box Of Photos Under My Bed

I bet you have one. Maybe it’s not under your bed but perhaps in a closet….a box with dust on top. Filled with faded and curling reminders of moments in your life that were captured through a lens. If you’re like me, there are snapshots that make you laugh until you cry while others leave you pondering, “What the heck is this? I don’t remember this at all!”

I actually have a couple of boxes. The larger box is under my bed and I look through it more often than the other. This box contains a mishmash of memories of childhood friends, college friends. My children. There are photographs of India, Japan and Europe. There are family pictures and pet pictures. There is one of me at 6, floating in a pond in Puerto Rico getting my toes nibbled by little fish…you can see on my face that it tickles. It’s mostly a heart warming box of memories.

The other box is buried deep in the back of the closet. Some of these photographs  are of Belgium. I was there in 1974 to participate in the Second World Conference on Religion and Peace.

“The Second World Conference on Religion and Peace (2nd world assembly) was held at Louvain, Belgium, from August 28 – September 3, 1974. Attended by participants from 50 countries, the general theme of this assembly was “Religion and the Quality of Life.” It was more of a working conference than the 1st assembly, with more time spent in four simultaneous commissions (disarmament and security, economic development and human liberation, human rights and fundamental freedoms, and environment and survival), and in working parties and panel discussions. The Louvain Declaration, adopted overwhelmingly, was widely distributed after the assembly.” ( link Swarthmore Library )

At this conference I met many people I came to love dearly. People of all ages, from countries all over the world and of many religions. This was a breath-taking mosaic of people coming together to build bridges, to foster and work towards understanding and compassion. Young and old, white and Black. Muslim, Christian, Jain, Jewish, Buddhist…and from religions I had never heard of.

There are 4 pictures from that box that I put in the other box. Of people I came to love during that week. Of myself discovering the miracle of a chocolate filled croissant.

louvain

( Belgium, 1974. Yes, there are chocolate croissants in that basket.)

I moved these photographs from one box to the other because in the hidden box are strikingly grey, cold, sterile, pain filled photographs of a Nazi concentration camp.

Breendonk.
You can take a virtual tour here  Virtual Tour of Breendonk

In 1974 I was a 16-year-old white, Christian girl. I had no insecurities in life. I was loved. I had plenty of food, trendy clothing and a comfortable, safe and secure home with a TV, dishwasher, washing machine and dryer, flush toilet and running water. There were lights in every room. In the winter the heat came on. I was healthy. I had a bike, a cat, a dog. I went to school. We had a sail boat, a motor boat and two cars. Family vacations happened several times a year. I was planning to go to college in a few years. I was traveling in Europe. My future would be similar.

Then I met Breendonk.

And a man named Philip Noel-Baker, the 1959 Nobel Peace Prize recipient. He was 89 in 1974.

fort-breendonk-7

The Names Room

I have tried before, and it is really not possible for me to clearly express the feelings and emotions I had walking through the halls, into the cells, standing before the execution site of Breendonk. And this wasn’t even the “worst” of the “Camps”.

It was however a testament to the greatest expression of man’s inhumanity towards his fellow-man. The perfect witness to hatred, power, violence, intolerance, fear, greed and ego.

Looking at the photographs I have of Breendonk causes a visceral reaction in my body.

After our tour of Breendonk we were gathered by our bus, collecting ourselves, our emotions and our things. Someone asked where Philip Noel-Baker was. Another person and I offered to go find him. It meant going back into Breendonk.

We found him in The Names Room. Standing before the urns holding the remains of the prisoners executed at Breendonk. Alone and sobbing.

“I do not understand.” That was all he said.

This was one of those life altering experiences some people talk about. An experience so powerful it is etched deeply and permanently into your heart. Never to be forgotten even if the concrete memory of it is delegated to a box tucked into the back corners of a closet.

Friday, two days ago,  was International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In 1939 the United States closed it’s doors and refused thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing the nightmare that was the Nazi regime. Shunned, abandoned, deemed unacceptable, they were forced to return to the remaining countries that had accepted them before, and would accept them back. Unsure of and fearful for their future. Hundreds of these rejected souls were subsequently murdered by the Nazi’s. In total, the Holocaust witnessed 6 million human beings exterminated by the Nazis. 1.5 million of those were children.

The Holocaust.

“destruction or slaughter on a mass scale”

The International Day of Remembrance was created to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. It represented the call to stand in unity with the promise of Never Again. This day of honoring and remembering was Friday.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day 

On Friday President Trump closed the doors to the United States again and has forbidden the entry of thousands of refugees fleeing for their lives. They are fleeing war, torture, genocide, famine. Running from a high probability of death. Things most of you reading this can not with any sense of reality comprehend.

It has happened again. On the day dedicated to remembering and never forgetting.

We have forgotten.

donate

Speak out. Do not be silent.

As of this writing the Federal Court temporarily stayed/froze President Trump’s executive order.

 

The Delectation of Childhood

Delectation: pleasure and delight.

I grew up with a small woods in my back yard. If you took a quick walk through these woods you might not notice much color. The blue of the sky above. The brown of the ground and tree trunks. The green of leaves and plants. But, when you were 6 and pretending to be a scout , moving slowly with deliberate steps so as to not make one sound, you paused automatically to look around. To listen. There wasn’t one shade of green but dozens: new green, dying green, bright green, dark green, leaf green, moss green, etc. The tree trunks were not brown. They were sable and black, taupe and gray. Ochre and ecru were colors I didn’t even know then. There was a hint of white or cream, and rust and doe brown and soil brown. Dry soil brown and damp soil brown. Little dollops of red from berries and the dots on mushrooms punctuated the greens and browns like exclamation points. The sky was blue, but the shades were infinite. The blue was different if you looked east or south. Even the brightness or drabness of the light in the woods was uncontrollable, unpredicatable. Some days brilliant sun rays jabbed at the ground. Other days it looked like a dull yellow veil had been draped over everything. Birds sang joy filled songs and cried out dire warnings. Chipmunks called to each other and repeated clicks and clucks in an endless alert to imminent danger. Leaves on trees danced and sang as the wind softly blew. Decaying leaves rustled as snakes slithered by.

treetops2

 (photo by me)

The side yard held a swamp. Here there were different colors and light. The sounds were muddled by peat moss and water. Insects chirped and twittered. With wings whirling and buzzing, they landed, kerplunk, on over sized swamp leaves. In the swamp the wetness galumphed and gurgled.  Summer heat felt different here. The swamp smelled of life that was both in fullness and in decay.

dragonfly2

 (Photo by me)

My sandbox didn’t interest me so I pulled wild plants up and planted them, turning the sandbox into a garden. Wild roses opened their pale pink petals that smelled like spice. Somehow wild forget-me-nots found the sand hospitable. Violets reappeared each spring. A scraggly maple sapling sent roots deep through the sand and gravel to find the nourishment it needed. I tried everything. The things that grew were incorrigible, totally disinterested in planting guide recommendations. (Now, I am not so lucky with my gardening!!)

These were my favorite places as a child. I saw, smelled, heard, tasted and felt things that mattered to me. Things that moved something deep inside of me. The comfort of Nature enveloped me and nurtured me. There was nothing ordinary or mundane in these environments. Everything was extraordinary and worthy of notice and appreciation, of understanding and protection.

In my woods there were five particular trees that formed an almost square.  I would, at age 6 or 7, traipse to the edge of the swamp and collect cattail leaves. Long, sharp, dark green sword shaped leaves and carry them to “my trees”. I would wander the woods collecting slender branches and sticks. Sometimes my dad would come out and help as I somehow tied or rested the branches around the perimeter of the five trees and bent the cattail leaves over them, making walls to what would become my “fort”. At least one of these trees was a pine tree. It’s broken and living branches provided the perfect spacing of  ladder rungs for me to climb and survey my surroundings, watching for friend or foe. Pine needles carpeted the floor. I can close my eyes and smell the pungent pine scent.

My dad showed me what the wintergreen plant looked like and how to chew the leaves for a refreshing uplift when the summer heat became tiring. I think perhaps that led me to discover identification books…for plants, trees, flowers, animals, mushroom, insects….whatever I could get my hands on. I don’t know how I came by these books: if we had them in the house (my memory is that we had a least a million books) or if somehow I asked for them.

I learned where the animals lived. Some underground, some in trees. After a rain or a light snow, using field guides, I learned how to identify their tracks….and discovered their trails to food and water sources.

I learned how to identify the swamp and forest plants. Marsh marigolds and stinky skunk cabbage. Spongy peat moss fascinated me with it’s drippiness and damp, musty scent. Forest moss was my favorite with its tiny forest of sporophytes holding up seed capsules. I wondered if fairies lived in these miniature forests.

Mushrooms seemed like cartoons. Someone was very careful in teaching me about mushrooms…I never touched or picked any. But I loved the frills and spots, the pores and the musty smell. Mysterious fairy rings would sometimes grow in our yard, supporting the notion that fairies lived in the moss forests.

I learned about popping jewel weed buds and that often it grew near poison ivy. Poison ivy just so happened to grow at the edge of the woods by my yard. I also discovered, much to my mother’s dismay, that I was not allergic to poison ivy….but she was. I learned why Milkweed was called Milkweed.

Yet, the most vivid memories are of finding Indian Pipes, Monotropa uniflora and Jack-in-the-Pulpits. Arisaema triphyllum. These two plants were not always easily found. Finding either one was like receiving a gift from the woods….something special.

The Indian Pipes were devoid of color, a ghostly, translucent white. Even with the gentle curve of it’s Shepard’s hook stalk , fragile bell shaped flower and delicate frills and ruffles, they looked sickly. They grew at the base of trees and lived symbiotically with the tree roots, feeding on a fungi that grew on them. They did not need sunlight. If you touched one it was possible to believe it would just dissolve into slime on your hand. Jack-in–the Pulpits were shy, hiding in darker corners behind tree trunks. The mysterious little Jack (spadix) was always hiding under cover of a slightly striped hood (spathe). In the fall “Jack” sent up a spike filled with plump red berries.

jack2

 (photo by me)

These two plants in particular represent childhood and the wonder of nature to me. They signify finding awe, miracles and mystery in nature. And as I grew older, they became increasingly more difficult to find and see….

When my kids were little I remember walking with them through a wildflower preserve here in town. The bulletin board at the entrance mentioned that Jack-in-the Pulpits were in bloom. A pang of excitement surged through me! I could show my young children these special little gifts from Nature, memories from my childhood. We walked and walked. I looked and looked. Nothing. I couldn’t find them. I felt heart broken. Disappointed. Worried…why couldn’t I find them? We left.

I returned. I couldn’t stand it. Where were they? Other people had seen them, why couldn’t I? I felt a little silly, but this was bothering me. I walked through the garden again, looking and looking. Nothing. Finally I stopped. Stopped moving. Stopped thinking. Stopped worrying. Just like that 6 year old child pretending to be s a scout. I had the conscious thought that when I opened my eyes, everything would be special; miraculous…nothing would be mundane, ordinary or average. I would stop looking for something I thought was special and allow everything to be special. I open my eyes and walked. Seeing, hearing, smelling, sensing. Everything sang of beauty, wonder. And there, at the base of a slender tree was a Jack-in-the-pulpit. Right there next to the path.

When I allowed myself to see and experience everything as unique and wondrous, everything appeared….A reminder that everything is miraculous. A reminder to see things as such. Nothing is ordinary. It is all a miracle.

“There are only two ways to live your life. 
One is as though nothing is a miracle,
the other is as though everything is a miracle.”
-Albert Einstein

**Photographs by me.