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Mom and me enjoying an afternoon by the river, in Hood River, Oregon.

I think Mom has been reaching out to me the last couple days. I keep accidentally stumbling onto memories of her. In the last few days I have found old photos of her, remembered that things in my house (and plants outside) were gifts from her, laughed at the memory of her ferocious opinions about things (all that emotion packed into her tiny Mom body). These things have happened while I wasn’t even thinking about Mom. Then boom, she was right there with me.

Today, a blog post popped up in the sidebar that I probably haven’t read since the day I posted it, in December 2010.  She died a year later, December 2011. It’s a message I clearly needed to hear then, and oh my gosh I needed to hear it today. I wish I still had my Wednesday morning calls with her: my ally in absolutely everything.

I’ll reproduce the post without edits below because the way it touched me is important. Thanks, Mom. I needed you today.

 

NEVER BE CONTENT

 

I just got off the phone with my mother. Our hour-long Wednesday morning phone calls are practically a given. God love her.

No, really, my mom is awesome. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to keep her happy, but it is so worth it. On this morning’s phone call, for example, she brought to me a perspective that I had not considered, but needed to hear. She said that when her mother taught her never to be content, it was a gift.

A gift!

I have battled, BATTLED, with my inclination not to ever be content. I’ve considered it a curse, not a gift. Never being content has led me through drastically changing career paths, shattering relationship changes, embracing and discarding those I call loved ones and family, moves moves moves through 11 different states for gods sake, poverty and wealth, humiliating recanting of public outcries, mountains of self-doubt…. Of course I could go on. The end result is pain – as change brings a measure of pain in all cases.

Never being content is emotionally devastating with no hope of an end.

And.

It’s also the reason I have traveled, continued my higher education, and raised an incredible child. It’s the reason I have had the opportunity to work through so many relationships, romantic and otherwise. My lack of content inspires my constant searching for knowledge and understanding, and it’s behind my pure love of humanity (tempered mildly by my raging disgust for humanity). My lack of content explains why I am an atheist and why I can’t imagine a world without religion. It explains why I am ravenous for more information about governments and governance while remaining mystified by them.

Without contentment, I am constantly on the lookout for new friends, new jobs, new homes, and new skills. And thus, why I am bombarded with new fabulous information every single extraordinary day of my life.

In fact, not being content turns out to be one of my very favourite things about myself. I LOVE that about me. Go figure. I guess maybe I’ll make peace with that battle, and move on.

Here’s the original post.

Morning coffee at creekside

I just got off the phone with my mother. Our hour-long Wednesday morning phone calls are practically a given. God love her.

No, really, my mom is awesome. Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to keep her happy, but it is so worth it. On this morning’s phone call, for example, she brought to me a perspective that I had not considered, but needed to hear. She said that when her mother taught her never to be content, it was a gift.

A gift!

I have battled, BATTLED, with my inclination not to ever be content. I’ve considered it a curse, not a gift. Never being content has led me through drastically changing career paths, shattering relationship changes, embracing and discarding those I call loved ones and family, moves moves moves through 11 different states for gods sake, poverty and wealth, humiliating recanting of public outcries, mountains of self-doubt…. Of course I could go on. The end result is pain – as change brings a measure of pain in all cases.

Never being content is emotionally devastating with no hope of an end.

And. It’s also the reason I have traveled, continued my higher education, and raised an incredible child. It’s the reason I have had the opportunity to work through so many relationships, romantic and otherwise. My lack of content inspires my constant searching for knowledge and understanding, and it’s behind my pure love of humanity (tempered mildly by my raging disgust for humanity). My lack of content explains why I am an atheist and why I can’t imagine a world without religion. It explains why I am ravenous for more information about governments and governance while remaining mystified by them.

Without contentment, I am constantly on the lookout for new friends, new jobs, new homes, and new skills. And thus, why I am bombarded with new fabulous information every single extraordinary day of my life.

In fact, not being content turns out to be one of my very favourite things about myself. I LOVE that about me. Go figure. I guess maybe I’ll make peace with that battle, and move on.

My blog tagline infers that I am using the blog as a medium to come clean about my path through life; that I fearlessly embrace truths. My latest post about visiting a pumpkin farm had nothing vital in it, except perhaps the photography, which shows that I have a spark of life still in me – shown through the lens – despite my watered down words.

Simultaneously, I randomly received over 200 views yesterday, within 5 minutes of my post. It’s a record for exposure in my somewhat recent adoption of WordPress in March of 2010. Match great exposure with a lame post, and I am feeling rather guilty about it all. It’s time to try harder to address my world as it is. And to be honest, there is nothing watered down about anyone’s daily life. Mine included.

This past weekend, pumpkin patch included, I have had two mothers looming large on the radar of my life. Since the end of July, the mother of my boyfriend, Mark, has been living with us. And my mother was recently here for a visit.

I haven’t posted about Rene – the “mother-in-law” – because I haven’t had the courage to put all my feelings into words. It has been very difficult to have her in my home. We have survived over two months together, which is an accomplishment. I remain unsure of my ability to sanely reach June 2011 – her proposed move-out date. And it’s ME we’re talking about; I get along with everyone. Well… almost everyone.

Let me introduce her here, and maybe I will find a way to spiritually explore my own growth through our shared experience at a later date. For now, I’ll say that Rene came heartily into my life on July 6, 2010, when Mark forwarded an email to me, which asked if she could move in with us. Rene, practically a lifelong Boston resident, was under the impression that she was welcome in her sister’s home in northern New York. She sold her home for around a half-million profit, and called up her sister to let her know she would soon be on her way. Sister said she was not welcome.

Hurt, Rene called brother who lives in a suburb of Boston, who had also offered his hospitality at one point. Brother also rescinded his offer. Feeling wounded and rejected, Rene contacted her son, Mark, with very little time left to evacuate her home, which had already sold. Our hearts went out to her, and there is nothing to say to a family member who needs you but, “Of course you are welcome here!” Two weeks later, she moved in.

Rene was recently forced to leave her career as a Boston headhunter, and to seek a new source of income. She has chosen medical billing. For whatever reason makes sense in Rene’s mind, she believes that while she is going to school, she needs to conserve money, and that requires selling her home and moving in with relatives. The training course she is taking here in Oregon runs from August through May. Rene said she plans to move back to Boston and start all over when she receives her certificate. I intend to check in here on the blog at some future point to chronicle some of the agony we have both endured as a result of her move. Oh, and please don’t forget the agony of Mark, who is between the two of us!

My own mother has come to think of our Portland home as her personal sanctuary. She visits a couple of times a year, and relishes the opportunity to have someone else make the plans, cook the meals, clean and manage the estate business. In other words, she is an extremely hard-working woman who runs an amazing piece of property from a cabin on an isolated mountaintop in northern Idaho. Her husband runs his own business that uses up all his time and energy, so he isn’t much help at home. My mom comes here with the eagerness and pleasure of looking forward to a spa vacation.

She has also suffered with the arrival of Rene. The upstairs bedroom across the hall from my daughter was christened “Gramy’s Room” years ago. Mom brought her own bed, pillows, linens, spare clothes and shoes. She brought a lamp and a rug and a number of little things to make it her place. Thus, when she came for a visit she didn’t need to bring much but her lovely self.

That very room was chosen for Rene. We thought that she and my daughter could share the upstairs bathroom (how convenient to have a bathroom right next to her room, we thought). No sense in bringing a third person into the small downstairs bathroom, right? We considered that after having lived alone in a huge house in Boston, that suddenly sharing a home with a young family – teenager included – it would be a shock to her. We chose the room farthest away from the noise of the family in order to help to ease her transition. To our surprise, she rejected everything in the room. After we hauled everything out – bed included! – she refurnished it entirely from Ikea (gah!). And, she refuses to use the upstairs bathroom and tromps down the stairs every morning to use our bathroom. And as for having her own space, as we imagined might be important to her, that is also tossed out the window. Rene is not happy unless playing a prominent role in whatever room or conversation is the current place of action. We tease (not to her face!) that she follows us like a puppy, so that we are never out of her sight.

Also unexpectedly, my mother sees Rene’s rejection of her sanctuary as rejection of her. Further, my mother sees the disassembly of her lovingly created bedroom vacation spot, a trauma in itself. Still, our home is what my mother needs to rejuvenate her tired bones, so she came for a visit last week. We put her in our bedroom, and Mark and I moved to the remaining spare room (thank the gods we have such a big house!).

Enter more mother drama. My mom has recently been overtaken by health problems that are currently running her life. This is a difficult adjustment for not only her, but for everyone who knows her, because she has always prided herself on being ferociously healthy. She was even a member of the Christian Science faith years ago, and subscribed to the belief that no human doctor or human-created medicine was acceptable for her family. She scorns most people’s health complaints, and has very little patience for listening to what others must endure.

Part of her extraordinary health is because she eats the healthiest of food, because she plants, sows, cans and prepares it all herself. And also because she is a physical powerhouse, considering her age (61) and tiny frame (she weighs 108 pounds). On any given day she will chainsaw trees on the property for firewood, butcher chickens, chop wood, or mow the grass. She built the chicken house, built an 8-foot deer fence to protect her garden, and built the woodshed. Their plumbing isn’t standard, since they are on a mountaintop and they haven’t installed a pump strong enough to propel the water up to the house, so she drives the water truck to their well at the bottom of the mountain, fills the tank, then drives back to the top to fill the cistern. She has huge gardens of vegetables and flowers and trees and shrubs (because she is in love with the rural English countryside and is ever trying to build one on her mountain). With no plumbing, she hand-carries buckets of water to all the greenery to keep it flourishing. All this, ALL THIS WORK she does by herself, alone on the mountain, since her husband is gone most of every day at work.

She is lonely up there. Especially during the winter when 6 feet of snow and subzero temperatures keep her trapped in the cabin. She has four kids and they have all scattered across the Pacific Northwest. Her husband’s kids are local, but all lead busy lives and do not visit. Her local lady friends occasionally visit, but not often enough to fill her days. She joins Bible studies and visits her favourite bookstore, and makes an event out of Monday, Laundrymat Day (no washer or dryer at the cabin), but it is not enough to fill her. A couple of years ago, she began to have inexplicable problems with breathing.

I confess, I am among those who assumed it was symptomatic of a mental disorder. She felt exceptionally tired, she said, and her throat felt as though it would close up, and her lungs felt pneumonia-like and dysfunctional. The key element was the fright she felt when she had difficulty breathing, and she knew that one of these days her throat would close up completely and she would suffocate to death. The thought of death by suffocation was, rightfully so, terrifying to her. And yes, if you have any experience with the life cycles of mental disorders, you will know that it created a whole new problem of panic attacks when she thought of the possibility of her throat closing up and killing her.

The symptoms continued and after a dozen doctor visits and complicated tests, no one could ever diagnose anything. Every pill she tried was worthless, and she refused to take any pills designed to improve mental health. She was furious with everyone who suggested it was “all in her head.” After months and months of research and frequent meetings with girlfriends, Mom decided she had candida. I looked it up and yes, there is such a disease, and it’s as hard to pin down as it would seem. A yeast imbalance in the body which makes a person tired and makes it hard for them to breathe, among a multitude of other seemingly unrelated symptoms. I started giving her more genuine support. She gave up desserts and wine and antibiotics, and after another six months, the candida was apparently under control-ish.

Then, a year ago, she developed some kind of hyperactive heart beat problem. Again – yes I know I am such a bad daughter – I can’t help but suspect it is symptomatic of mental health problems. Again, doctors are unable to diagnose anything, but they did prescribe some pills that help. They told my mother not to take more than 8 pills a day. She, stubbornly, cuts them with a paring knife, and takes 1/4 of a pill. Sometimes that dose twice a day.

This time the secondary panic attacks based on fear of death are over the top. I am so worried for her. Her heart beats hard sometimes, and she can’t always tell why. It beats hard and irregular, and in my mother’s mind it is the first step toward a dysfunctional heart that is going to beat harder and faster till it blows up and kills her. She lives in perpetual fear of being able to detect her own heartbeat. This strikes mainly in the evenings, and the terror of lying there in the dark, feeling her heart beat strong in her chest, is the most frightening experience my mother can imagine. Once while she was here, she came into my bedroom and sat on the bed next to me in the middle of the night, because being beside someone was much more reassuring than being alone with impending death-by-heart-explosion.

The next morning, she thanked me for not rushing her to the hospital. “I didn’t want to go to a strange hospital with a doctor who didn’t know me, and in a town I don’t know. The hospital stay would have been so awful,” she confided. So I realized, yes, this is deadly real to her. It had never, never occurred to me that night to seek a doctor’s counsel. In her terror that night, she had pulled my hand to her chest, “Feel it!” she squeaked. And yes, I felt her heartbeat. It was strong, like she had just hiked from the bottom of her mountain to the top.

“Does it hurt?” I asked her once, months ago.

“Oh, no. No pain at all.”

“Is it different than when your heart beats hard after you work strenuously?”

“No, no. It’s just like that. It’s the same as when I chop wood, or run a long distance.”

“Then why is it so frightening?” I want to know. I really want to understand her.

“Oh, sissy. I don’t know. It’s terrifying. I can’t help it. I am just…. Terrified.”

And it occurs to me that I need to learn how to love a new mother, and to give her what she needs from me. Please forgive my presumption, but I wonder if this is what it’s like to love a person with Alzheimer’s disease. Those heroes who must find a deep soulful place of unconditional love and say something to their loved one with kindness and reassurance, such as, “My name is Crystal. I am your daughter.” Or in my case, “Moma, of course your heart is beating hard, but you will be fine tonight. Let me sleep in your room too, so I can be there the moment you need me, ok?”

I often say I am grateful for the variety of personalities in my family. All families are filled with such different people brought together by blood as well as legal documents. We can’t choose who they are, and if we let them, they will teach us so much. So that is why we are blessed to have families: because we have no choice but to love them more and wrap our arms around them and pull them close. And when we do that, we become beautiful and strong.

Whew! I made it all the way through.

This week off didn’t go quite as planned, but it was full. I like my life to be full. Now I’m just sort of exhausted. I am looking forward to going back to work so I can wind down. Hm. That doesn’t seem right.

Did I say good? I need to say that too. I spent the week with my family – my amazing daughter especially – and that is good soul food and something I really needed.

It’s my daughter’s Spring Break from the 5th grade. Since it’s my turn to spend Spring Break with her instead of her dad’s turn, I took the week off work to be with her. (I love that my job allows me to just take time off when I need to)

My mother showed up the first Friday, with her husband. She has been going stir crazy ever since we bought this house, wanting to come for a visit. She brought two boxes of tools and supplies, wanting to do fix-up work with us. I thought she was nuts, since she was only planning to be here for 2 1/2 days, including Easter. I think my head is more firmly centered in reality. But I let her have her Mom dreams, and didn’t say anything. Who knows? Maybe it would work out.

Ug. I forgot how completely draining it is for me to spend time with Mother. I don’t think it’s entirely her – though she is one of the most challenging personalities in the world to entertain – but it also has a lot to do with our relationship. My perception of our time together is her constantly judging, criticizing, lecturing, and whining. And then sporadically telling me how much she loves me and loves my daughter, which doesn’t boost me as much as it could, because I get confused. Perhaps that is not what is going on, but that is how it feels to me.

Anyway, generally within a week of an anticipated visit from my mother, I begin to freak out. It’s mostly subconscious. This time I only burst into an angry fit and yelled at my partner once – the day before her arrival – and he was good enough to figure out the source of much of my stress. While she’s here, I freak out non stop. I become hypersensitive to her whining complaints, and somehow feel it is entirely up to me to make her life the way she wants it. (Note: this is very, very, child-parent stuff… it’s like I’m 12 and afraid of getting grounded again. Very unhealthy and scary to me that it happens so thoroughly and so quickly when she’s in my presence.)

I am much better than I used to be, so I am pleased with my growth. That, as with so many things, is due for the most part to my amazing partner, who continues to teach me how to stand up for myself, and how to disagree with someone I love, and how arguing does not mean I care less about the person I’m arguing with. So, Mom would whine and judge me and criticize, and I was able to let a lot of it just slide through my ear canals and pass on back into the air rather than find a crevice in my head to fester in. At the same time, ever since I’ve been practicing standing up to her, she has stopped being so critical. I think she finally realized how hurtful it is for her to be like that without any sort of reign on her tongue. I can see her earnest effort to try to keep her lips together, and I really really appreciate it. This is the kind of thing that lets me know my mother does love me.

She decided to extend their visit. ha! Just one more day, and that made more sense. Friday night we went out to dinner at Seasons and Regions, a great seafood place on the West side. Saturday we went to Hawthorne and hit  Buffalo Exchange, Peets, Noah’s Bagels, and all those really truly great shops down there. Finally the sun had warmed us up, so we spent a few minutes at the ever-lovely Laurelhurst Park coming into full bloom, then went down to the Waterfront Park near where the giant Cirque du Soleil tents are set up for Corteo (my partner begged me to go, but at $85 per ticket, I scolded him out of it – we can barely afford groceries). We were all getting hungry, so wandered up to the Saturday Market and bought lunch – each of us at a different stand. Tara had corn dogs, my partner a big chicken, rice and vegetable plate, Mom and I had falafel pita sandwiches, her husband had pizza. How fun is that?

Saturday afternoon was Easter stuff: decorations up, coloring eggs, and winding down. Sunday morning, pouring rain and cold of course, so Tara found her eggs in the sopping wet. We had fun making the day special for her. She’s 10, and in the age of finding out the truth about things like the Easter Bunny. She truly was surprised that eggs were already hidden, and I could tell her young mind was trying to figure it out.

She still chooses to believe in some things, even when she learns a different story, which I like and encourage. This may offend some of you, but I am committed to this: If you believe it, that is what makes it true. It works for Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, elves, faeries, and God. Yes, God too. I don’t believe in a god, so no gods are working miracles in my life. BUT! I do believe in Mother Earth, who works constant miracles, and I believe in faeries, who play tricks and cause mischief in my life. I believe that human beings have magical powers, so I even create miracles in my own life. You may say “well, that’s God” and I agree with you. That’s why it’s so beautiful. When God is real for you, God is a personality in your life and you see Him in the lives of others.

So anyway, my daughter is a staunch believer in Santa Claus, and she also believes in God. She’s still making up her mind about Easter. ha ha.

Mother brought a stack of recipes she wanted us to cook while she was here. I picked one, and we spent much of Sunday shopping for food and cooking this meal. I was beginning to weaken against Mom’s onslaught, and her husband was getting bored. Luckily, my daughter is old enough to take him for a walk, so Grandpa and the kid took off on a couple of walks. Once they went to Target and Grandpa bought her a whole bunch of stuff for her upstairs bathroom which she has decided needs a “bamboo” theme.

Monday, my partner went back to work and I had to handle the folks on my own. By this time, my poor man had about been driven over the edge. Mom is hard enough, but on top of it, I was crumbling into a mess, and my partner had completely run out of patience. He spent Sunday in the basement ripping down the interior walls which we both hate. It was good hard labor and kept him away from our guests and away from me.

The weather improved on Monday, and my step-father offered to haul a load of debris back to Idaho if we wanted. He had been looking for a way to help us out, and this was a true gift. We live in a city. You can’t get rid of anything that doesn’t fit into the pre-approved trash cans, or doesn’t fit specific guidelines. Since we moved in, we’ve been accumulating a heap of things we just don’t know what to do with. Well, it’s all gone now! Even the plywood and 2x4s that my man ripped out of the basement. While my step-father and I filled the bed of the pickup, Mom and my kid did yard work. They worked hard and it made such a difference. I am very grateful.

Tuesday everyone left. It was a dramatic change for sure! My partner left at 5:30am to begin a two-day work trip to the field in central Oregon. Mom and her husband took off by 6:00am for their 6 hour drive back to north Idaho in the snow. That left my girl and me for two entire days of just each other. I finally let her sink into her computer as she had been wishing for (Club Penguin and Diablo II mostly), and I began taking care of business. By Thursday, I had been to the dentist, took my car for a tune-up, figured out how to check our phone messages with Comcast, had a phone meeting with my Ameriprise advisor, gassed up the car and the lawn mower, got my taxes off to a tax specialist, found birthday gifts for my nephew and niece, bought groceries, did about 16 loads of laundry (ok, maybe only 11), finished some legal paperwork for my attorney, helped my daughter get through two books of required reading, and YES, even worked on my book a little. Man! It feels so good to get so much done.

Part of why my week ended on a down note are the results of some of that stuff. The car hasn’t been in for a tune-up in its whole life, and I feel fortunate for getting it out of the shop after only $2036. Actually, I feel good about that in a big picture sense. Haven’t been to the dentist in too long, and my teeth cost me $285, which is a lot. But that is even tolerable. The problem was that I found out the reason I have been losing tiny chips of my teeth and thus experiencing terrible sensitivity is because I am freekin’ stressed out. I grind my teeth in my sleep, which causes “abfraction” which weakens and chips my teeth. The dentist told me to just tell myself to relax. Um. Yeah. He suggested wearing a mouth guard like football players wear, when I sleep. I think it’s a very good idea, and I’ll try it.

The one that FRIES me is a very bad experience with the tax person. The woman is an offensive know-it-all who repeatedly offended me and showed herself to be lazy as well. By the time I was fed up with her, she was on the phone telling me my taxes were done, so I just decided to pay her and have it overwith. I owe over $3000 in taxes, which is a shock. I have never ever ever had to pay. I always get taxes back. This sucks, but it’s probably accurate. Also, I have done my own taxes every single year except for once, in 1995. This year my stuff was just really complicated and I needed help. So it’s hard to absorb the cost of a tax preparer when I’m used to it being free. She’s charging more than $300 for insults, mistakes, and yes, for doing my taxes. At this point, I do not have confidence that she’s done it right, or well, but I guess I’m assuming her company will take responsibility if there is ever a future problem.

This week was a big week for my partner. Tuesday was his 20th anniversary of being clean and sober. In AA, they hand out “coins” for certain anniversaries that former addicts and alcoholics can earn. I carry his 18 year coin in my pocket, because it inspires me. I like to be reminded that my challenges are only difficult in my mind. There are other people who have bigger struggles than me. The coin helps me with my perspective. My partner only carries the one day coin. It’s white plastic. It used to say “AA” on one side, with carved decorations. Now it’s smooth and blank, worn thin. He tells me that he needs to remember that his battle is only with the day he is living, not with the years ahead or behind him. He carries the one day coin to remind himself that he needs to get through one day, and that the present day is the only one he needs to worry about. Yesterday was his birthday. I bought him a T-shirt that says “Surly” and the first two books of the Golden Compass series. I made him chicken enchiladas and a lemon birthday cake.

Whoo! Tomorrow I go back to work and I am looking forward to it! I miss my friends there, I miss my routine, my morning workout, my busrides with weird Portland people. My daughter goes back to her dad’s house tonight. I’ll miss her. Last night we stayed up to watch Teen Nick Choice Awards, hosted by Jack Black. I was really amazed at how many famous adults were there: Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, Harrison Ford, Orlando Bloom, Usher, and Will Smith, to name only a few. Yes, they’re promoting their stuff, but still – it’s a kids show. I’m glad they took the time. Harrison Ford got majorly slimed. Come on, he didn’t need to do that. It’s awesome that he did. Oh yeah, my point. My daughter is growing up. She’s a spaz, like any pre-teen girl. She went bananas over the choices, and waiting to see who would win. It’s stuff I really don’t care a whit about, but it is important in her life. She is truly an individual and I love that.

april

Hey Beautiful,

Thanks for this little peak into your life. I always appreciate when I get a chance to witness your world.  : )

Love you, April

crystal

Well, I think I know about 3 people who would read that one all the way through. I sort of had you in mind as I kept going. I was thinking “Geez, this is a book, I need to just stop.” Then I realized you would read it, so I kept going. Ha!

Thanks, love. I know you like to hear about my life here (cuz I’m so terrible at real live letters and direct communication). Kisses!

april

Oh yeah, I meant to tell you that I might have to have a face-to-face mother experience next month for Isaiah’s graduation. Should be interesting since we hardly ever speak to each other anymore. Mom, Angela and I have not spent time together since the Christmas crisis over two years ago, and there have been a few more crisis since. But right now she seems to be doing better…finally back in church and therapy, which is the formula to keep her from descending into darkness. Part of me hopes she can’t make it due to work or something, but another part wants so much to reconcile by accepting each other exactly as we are now and building a new relationship from that, instead of one poisoned by the past. I can’t pick and choose how this new opening of my heart applies to the people in my life, so it’s time to truly let go of the negativity with the people who are hardest to love.

With my mother, as long as we’re talking people relationships.

And, like all my long-term relationships, the longer I know her, the more things I find I like and dislike about her, and the more I love her.

I wrote in a blog entry in June that I perceived a test had been placed before me, and that I had negotiated it in a way that I feel good about. It happened again.

This one was a test of my ability to mediate. I was challenged to remain calm and helpful (and especially loving) despite my boiling frustration.

Years ago in my quest to find out who I am, I discovered that I am more open about sexuality than my family trained me to be. My mother, especially, raised me with strict conservative Christian fundamentalist beliefs, with a healthy dose of her own yearning for the loss of the Victorian era, a time when “things were done right, and women knew their place.”

When I finally became comfortable with the fact that I am bisexual, and actually love my gay and lesbian friends as much as my other friends… I became irritated with my mother. Her belief system makes no sense to me, and I am driven to somehow broaden her thoughts since I am so close to her. It’s an excercise in futility. I can no more convert my mother to loving acceptance of people who are different than she can convert me to hardcore Christianity.

It makes me SO ANGRY! I want my mother, of all the people on the planet, to be above this. I want her to be my hero in all ways, not just some ways. I want our visions to mesh.

I called her because it was her birthday. During the phone call she said she had spent an awful Labor Day Weekend agonizing over a personal struggle in her life. She needed to talk about it. She needed peace.

Her current church is Lutheran. I say current, because my mother is always seeking. Since I’ve known her (wink), she has been Christian Scientist, LDS (Mormon), Southern Baptist, First Christian, Mennonite, Methodist, Catholic… mmmm.. I think I hit them all. Anyway, she’s now Lutheran and she LOVES this church. She loves the pastor. She loves the congregation. She loves the rituals and the chanting and the order and rules and tradition. I have never seen her get so involved in a community before. She does all the landscaping, she cleans the church every week, and she has just recently joined the board. This is really unusual for her. She is not the kind of person who gets involved. Never never has. But she loves this church so much.

Her church, and apparently Lutherans in general, are being pressed to vote on whether to allow “practicing” gays to become pastors. She says, “Well, they can admit who they are and what they like…but we don’t want them to… DO anything… you know…”

The conversation started out poorly, as our conversation on this topic always does.

“But Mom, what’s the difference? You say it’s ok if you know what their preference is.”

“It is ok if they admit they think like that.”

“So if that’s who they are to you, what’s the difference if they are ‘practicing’ or not?”

“I just don’t want anyone to think it’s ok.”

“But you think it’s ok if that’s who they are, just not if they follow their heart.”

“I don’t want any children to grow up thinking it’s ok to be like that. It makes me sick to my stomach. I literally get sick. It can’t be right.”

“I see you feel strongly about it.”

“And the Bible specifically states-”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ve seen it in the Bible. But hey, everyone finds things in the Bible that simply don’t  work for them.” I was thinking dinosaurs. You know, sheep weren’t here before dinosaurs. There’s just no way.

She surprised me by agreeing immediately. “Yes, that’s true. I know.”

Maybe it was her agreement that threw me. I suddenly realized that I needed to stop and think. My mother called me to talk about how much she is intolerant of homosexuality, when she knows that I have battled her about this before and that I won’t agree with her. Not to mention that I am currently living with my gay uncles, and I’m an atheist. For heaven’s sakes, what is she thinking? What does she need from me?

I had to separate interests from positions.

And it was so simple once I thought about it: Mom is desperately afraid of losing her community. She is struggling with the possibility that her Lutheran community might vote in a way that she disagrees with, and if that happens she doesn’t know if they can be her community anymore.

I talked with her about how Lutherans stand for many things, and how she supports nearly all of it. I reminded her that when describing the local group she loves so much, she could describe many things that say who they are, and their position on homosexuality is merely a part of it, so this vote doesn’t say who Lutherans are, it only says how they vote on this issue.

I said that she needs to stay with her community no matter how the vote goes, and to be proud of them and love them as much as always. Perhaps there may come a time when her views don’t agree 100% with theirs, but she can hold that in her heart and know it about herself, and stay true to herself. But that is no reason to abandon the whole group.

I reminded her of her need for order, and for things to be in their place in a way that is logical to her. This quality causes her to question homosexuality more than other things because she is trying to make sense of it according to her own way of thinking, and it’s not working. Because of this, it’s a topic that particularly stressful and will always be unsettling to her, and she can recognize her own tendencies and expect to be frustrated on this topic.

She came up with a few of her own ideas then, which put her at ease, and she was able to finish the phone call.

Yesterday she called me to thank me for the birthday card (It was a painting of Victorian women in the setting sun with super mooshy words inside – heh heh). It had arrived late – oops! Then…after a pause, she added, “And thank you for the phone call. You really are a mediator. You said just the right things and you made me feel so much better and I know you don’t agree with me on any of that. I don’t know how you did it. It is such a sign of maturity. I’m so proud of you.” She was gushing. I got embarrassed. Aw, shucks, Mom, I’m 37. It’s about time I start acting maturely.

One of my many guises

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