Oh! Mama!

i took the boys to school this mother's day week .... their mother had commitments on the day the preschool observed mother's day, so i filled in .... not that there's anything unusual about my taking the boys to school; i've been doing it since they started their preschool last september ... did i tell you that one year of preschool, for one boy, costs more than my entire stanford undergraduate career? oh, it's likely that they're learning more at preschool than i did at stanford, but still ....

let's see .... september, october, november; december, january, february; march, april ... may .... eight months i've been showing up .... i'm reasonably gregarious, and my medications have usually kicked in by the time i get them to school, so i'm smiling and happy and i say "good morning" to people and .... some of the mothers have yet to acknowledge my presence ....

ten years ago my mother was in my living room, on her dying bed .... it was thirteen months after her diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, when she was given six months to live .... my mother was never compliant with anyone's regimen, and we know that doctors are always practising medicine, in the hopes that someday they'll get it right: she went another another seven months, most likely because she could .... three days before she went completely comatose she was transitioning between worlds, sometimes in this one, most often somewhere else .... i sat by her bed, holding her hand, when suddenly i felt her return even before i looked at her .... she gripped my hand in hers and, with a fierce and tender fire, said, "i love you ...."

the boys are in different classes at school, and each class had prepared a presentation for the attending mothers .... i have yet to master multiple personality disorder, or temporal fugue, so i sat in kalevi's classroom .... i introduced myself to the woman sitting next to me: hi, i said; i'm kalevi's mom ..... the teacher had orchestrated a song and dance number, to james taylor .... kalevi refused to participate, and i don't think it was a commentary on sweet baby james .... neither would he come near me; he sat on a chair, by himself, and held a stuffed monkey .... did you hear my heart breaking?

shortly after that my mother lapsed into the coma from which she did not emerge .... i asked one of the hospice workers when she thought it would happen.... it's close, she said; it's very close .... aside from the obvious, i said, how can you tell? ..... tell me what she was seeing and responding to .... look at the nails, she said; they're turning blue .... that means the blood is leaving the extremities and is pooling in the internal organs.... i'd already noticed that her skin, which had been angry and inflamed and bruised, marred by flea bites and cat scratches (she had two kittens), was now smooth and clear .....

the boys may be twins, but they're so different that i never think of them as twins .... daniel is amiable and cheerful, and takes everything in stride; i imagine that the world will come to him easily, and that people will want his company .... he left his classroom and joined us; kalevi seemed reassured by his brother's presence, and they went to the food table together, loading up on grapes and strawberries .... i slipped out when it was time to go; i sat in the car until i felt i could drive without crying ..... jesus, caretaking's caretaking, but there's a difference between caretaking a dying parent and young children: you know that your role with the parent will come to an end, while there is never an end to being a parent .... oh, i know: all you have to do is be a "good enough" parent; oh, i know: it's a child's duty to overcome their upbringing ..... but still ....

ten years ago it was mother's day .... on that mother's day i went out to run errands and, when they were done, i bought a big bouquet of flowers for my mother ..... when i came back to the house she was dead .... i had to touch her to make sure--there'd sometimes been questions in my mind, what with the cheyne-stokes breathing but .... there's never any doubt when you touch flesh that cold ... she seemed so much more peaceful in her death than she had in her dying; her eyes were closed, not angry, and all the tension, all the struggling, had gone out of her with her last breath ....

kalevi was fine when i picked them up that afternoon, neither did his teacher seem concerned .... there were other kids who didn't participate, she said; sometimes the younger ones in the class just stand back and let the older ones do things ..... he chattered happily on the drive home, holding a large plastic bonehead dinosaur i'd given him .... i'd also bought little glider bicycles for them, and they'd arrived that afternoon .... this is new technology for kids, learning to balance on a bike without having to contend with pedals ..... they're designed to look like little mountain bikes, although i probably think they look neater than the boys do .... both boys have tricycles and scooters, and love them, and i was pleased to see how quickly kalevi took to his new bike ..... they're both fascinated by guitars and music but, given the choice, i'd rather they went with bicycles ....

i had candles burning for my mother through the day and the night .... ten years; my god .... ten years ...... there's a hole there, left by her passing, that will never be filled, neither would i want it to be ..... how do you measure love? if having children and having parents and having family is any indicator, pain is one way ..... but there are, of course, others .... most of the time i remember how special that last year with my mother was; i feel fortunate, i feel blessed, to have had it: it was a special time and a precious gift ..... and i'm not saying that the kids are getting any easier; i don't think that it ever gets easier, the nature of the challenges just change: as soon as you've acclimated yourself to one set of situations, well ..... it's time to learn a new set of rules ..... still, they're now peeing standing up, in the big toilet; their aim's generally good and believe me when i say i was getting tired of sterilizing potties before i brushed my teeth .... and there's more and more for a dad to do, the older they get .... today they wanted to ride bicycles with daddy, so i got on my mountain bike and we looped the driveway, went out onto the sidewalk and up the hill, and then we came back down again .....

and did it all over .....

i used to take my mother out for a mother's day brunch ..... tomorrow, for mother's day, i'll let robin sleep in, then make brunch for her ..... eggs benedict, that's pretty traditional, wouldn't you say? and flowers, of course, only i'll make a bouquet of roses from my garden rather than going to a florist .....

oh my god! i forgot the champagne .... and chocolate!

i hope you have a very special day ......

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PETER KAUKONEN, San Francisco Bay Area guitarist, has played, toured, and recorded with Black Kangaroo, Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, and Johnny Winter.

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