writing

A winter solstice meditation

A couple years ago, I asked my mom why she loved Christmas so much. She said, “Because when I was a kid, it was the one time of year I could count on my mom being in a good mood.”

Wow. I had a hard time picturing my beloved GaGa (my mom’s mom) in a constant bad mood. She was always so wonderful to me.

In the 25 years I knew her, I think the only time GaGa was ever mad at me — more disappointed, really — was when I got in trouble at PSAP for going up to David’s dorm room with Roni.

And the only time GaGa ever said anything critical of me was when she suggested I get a nose job someday because, according to her, I had inherited my dad’s nose.

But MY GaGa, being mean and cutting to my mom all year long? Except for a short break at the end of December? I could hardly believe it.

The older I got, though, the more I realized I’d taken on GaGa’s role in my mother’s life: the critical, tense, controlling, and impatient parent, who treated her like a burden and a mess all in one.

So yes, I turned into a copy of my GaGa when I grew up — though not exactly as I hoped to emulate her. Sure, I traveled a lot, achieved certain professional ambitions, made some money, bought a house and furnished it nicely, hosted what my mom liked to call “restrained and elegant dinner parties” from time to time, just like my beloved and cherished GaGa did. I even built up a circle of strong, wise, and successful female friends, just like she had done.

But I also occasionally became hardened to the pain and need of others less fortunate. Sometimes I treated the people I didn’t like with curtness and thinly veiled disrespect. I could be a “Karen” — unreasonably demanding of people in service industries if I didn’t watch myself. I know I embarrassed Jason more than once with my ability to disregard the essential human right to being treated with respect.

None of this is to say that my grandmother ever acted as callously as I have been known to do, but she was impatient and could be a real snob. I know she was deeply burdened by being twice widowed and a single parent in the late 40s, then again in the mid 60s — having to find work in a sexist and unjust professional landscape.

My excuse is that my mental, emotional, and physical health had been chipped away by chronic stress and yo-yo dieting between the years of 2006 to 2019. I had buckled under the burden of taking financial and physical care of my ailing, indigent parents.

My health collapse manifested in two increasingly difficult to manage ways:

1. heavy periods and debilitating cramps that kept me bedbound (and often missing work) for 2-3-4 days per month

2. repeated failures to treat my mom with the kindness and dignity she deserved

Luckily, I got a hysterectomy. Through the relief that brought, and thanks to the lessons I learned surviving a catastrophic house fire in 2015, I do think I am becoming a better person.

I have been continuing to improve in my ability to care for others again, now that I’ve taken better care of myself. I’ve been able put on my own oxygen mask first.

On this second Christmas since losing my beloved mother, whose life I could have helped make a lot better than I did, this is what I am meditating on.

“At midwinter, the Twelve Days of Christmas offered weary gardeners time to visit and check in on one another.

Sharing abundance when it was to be had and making kindness a ritual by commemorating the innocence of a newborn.

If we saw need, we returned bearing food or firewood. If we saw loneliness or illness, we returned to raise spirits.

Lighting a candle, raising a cup, singing carols, bedecking the halls, adapting a seasonal family recipe, and remembering our part in making life kinder.”

⁃ Excerpt from The Heirloom Gardener, a book by John Forti.

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