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.


My month of extraordinary goals, at the halfway point

So here is why I believe self-care is vital to being able to keep doing the work we’re here to do.

I choose to embrace life after losing my mom. I need to make some changes to sustain me. Time to focus on my health now.

Taking care of mom in her last years, these past 20, gave me the opportunity to experience a form of parenting, many of its joys and some of its frustrations. My care and love helped my mom believe that she had led a life worth living.

Here is what I must do to make my life matter now that she’s gone:

I need to flex my journalism muscles and start reporting on how real and virtual communities are helping each other to stay physically and emotionally healthy in these times.

What got in the way last week? (besides work, which I am grateful to have)

Animal Crossing. A game I play as an act of deliberate self-care.

And why is my life worth caring for? Cause my mom raised me and she didn’t raise no bad kid. We were a family of deeply felt philosophers and utopians and rabble-rousers. Irish American storyteller poets, famine survivors made bootleggers made construction companies, made teachers and bankers and actuaries, artists and art dealers, made good. Like philanthropist good.

Why is that important to me?

Because otherwise, why am I here? I guess I just don’t want to waste my time. Or my gifts. Taking care of my mom was like raising a child in many ways. I succeeded. I did a good job at that. So I’m ready do go out and do more good. I just bring a mask. The one I put on before helping someone else with theirs.




I’ve decided to use my mom’s unfinished poetry journal for the memory book I started today. It’s the same faded old book, with a cover that looks like an offset print version of italian marbled paper, that I used for a last minute makeshift guest list at her service and memorial.

This is grief in the age of pandemic.

Mom bought the journal maybe 25 years ago, to celebrate landing an awesome job in the city. I found my dad’s journal today from that time period. He wrote, “Catherine’s going to work for the CFO of Fabrik Communications. We have health insurance again for the first time in 3 years.”

Now that made me cry. Did I know they were uninsured? I didn’t start taking care of them til the year 2000 or so.

Use what you have, I told myself the morning of her funeral. There’s no time now, to shop for the quote-unquote “right thing.”

Anyway, such a relief not to have to go out. And go where, exactly? That’s right, everything’s closed. This was before Books, Inc opened back up. She died at the start of Memorial Day weekend, 2020.

But in letting myself not over-plan anything, I was able to accept and even be grateful for, all the constraints placed upon me during the process.

I found the perfect notebook to upcycle.

womenwhosubmit, writing

Left or Right

When the new neighbors moved in across the street, Major Charles Cornelius McWilton counted two hippie parents and two small children. One, a babe in arms; the other, a little girl who was past toddling, and well into running. Though retired, Major McWilton continued to live a highly ordered life and was none too pleased about these new arrivals.

The husband had a shifty look about him, with that wide tie and bushy mustache. The wife wore a shapeless muumuu every day. She also left her long, lank hair hanging down in her eyes. She probably hadn’t seen the inside of a beauty salon in her entire life.

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The Predetermined Path

“I’ll be right back,” the doctor told me. My feet in stirrups, my sit-bones teetering over the metal edge of the table, my lower back and upper ass stuck to the paper sheet. Call me hysterical, but I do not much enjoy the spread-eagle position while my gynecologist leaves unexpectedly to do something mysterious elsewhere.

I know I shouldn’t have, but I’d stayed up late the night before, reading everything on WebMD about the fertility-confirming procedure I was having, called a hysterosalpingogram. Vast numbers of Internet commenters warned me it could be painful. Very painful. Like screaming painful.

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