May and June are major months for parents of the school-age. There are class trips and gifts for everyone, dads, grads, end of year concerts and performances for every damn activity. As the mom (usually), you gotta show up, be celebratory, organized and sociable. It’s all so intense and condensed that you actually have to laugh at the absurdity à la Kimberly Harrington. (Her book is amazing and you should get it).
Since I lost my mom, the period between Mother’s Day, her birthday (May 24), her deathiversary, (June 6), my son’s birthday (June 8), Father’s Day (June 15), and the end of school (June 20 something), shines a light on how surreal grief can be, about rituals and niceties versus how you, me, (everyone!) really feel. The seasonal calendar just does its thing -- flowers bloom and the sun finally shines after a seven month winter, and all I can remember is the anxiety, this time 5 years ago, of knowing that she was at the end.
And as we are often reminded, grief is not linear, and it is not clearly demarcated as to when it will flare. I’ve been good lately, trying to focus on my own family, to be more honest and explicit about my needs, less angry and more positive. I feel like I’m getting somewhere with my personal and professional goals. I’ve been trying to contribute and to not be devastated by the direction our country is taking.
Still, I was anticipating this would be a tough Mother’s Day. I’m deep in the mommy content biz now because of MILK, and on May 1st it was like a Mom Bomb went off: MOTHER MOTHER MOTHER MOTHER MOTHER. Not quite in the same way I believe I have been exploring the nuances of motherhood through art, kvetching, honesty, and the comedy of it, but rather through any product or company that can corral the concept of birthing children into an excuse to buy this thing. Mother’s Day (and motherhood) always comes with a side of marketing, but especially now that I’m tuned in to those channels, those books, those movies, and especially those emails about how to make Mother’s Day perfect if you just buy that thing, contribute to this charity, read this book. Dude.
But, I made it. I am a mother and I don’t have a mother but I’m here today, at my desk. I feel relief that I am back to a normal day with no pressure on it to be anything, except Monday. It’s all just a little much, right?
Speaking of moms, (yeah I know) I read The NY Times Styles reporter Katie Rosman’s memoir-ish about her mom, “If You Knew Suzy,” maybe a year ago, after I tried to get Katie interested in writing about my children’s book, ELLA for the paper. I realized she had also lost her young, healthy mother to cancer, and had written an investigation into her mother’s life, to try and gain some peace about her untimely death. I relate so much to the desire to uncover the how of someone’s life, there are no good answers to the why. Her book is wonderful, and I was so excited to have her in the studio. Her episode will be posted next week.
Reading Katie’s book inspired the current MILK episode interview with Roslyn (Roz) Neiman. I’ve talked to Roz and my mother’s other dear friends many times about Judi, my mom, in person when I go to Pittsburgh, on the phone, and on Facebook, but the formality of having Roz in the podcast studio felt like a new frame, to go back and try to fill in certain gaps about my mom’s life the way Katie did with her reporting.
I love this episode with Roz, because it is my childhood. I get to re-hear a lot of the stories I know, and then hear for the first time some things I did not know about my mom as a friend, a support, an adult person and not just a mother I took for granted. Roz reminds me in the interview, how, at 14 years old, I was dumb enough to wear my mom’s brand new, super 1980’s mother of pearl hoop earrings (that she told me not to touch) into the store she owned at the time. She wrestled me to the ground to take them off of my ears. What an ass I was, but how funny that my mom pulled a professional wrestling move on me!
To paraphrase Katie, “you need to embody and remember the life, not only the circumstances of the death.” That’s what Roz’s interview feels like to me – an opportunity to embody and celebrate the life of my mom. It prepped me for that sad, incomplete feeling of Mother’s Day, but connected me to the mom figures I still have, like Roz and my cousin Phyllis, and others from their community. It helped me focus and not be too sad, to think about Judi’s terrific life, how many Mother’s Days we had together, or random, regular days when I could call her and bullshit with her about things my kids did and think nothing of it.
Also, I bought a dress and some sunglasses for myself on Mother’s Day, which is shallow and right in the pocket of the marketing that told me I’m worth spending money on. But I think Judi would have approved, as would Roz. I’ll wear them to the last day of Hebrew school event or the karate belt test or the class trip to Coney Island, which I need to put in my calendar ASAP before I forget.