Motherhood: The Hen or the Egg?

When I think of Mother’s Day, my thoughts immediately go to my children and to my mother, Mercedes, who died in 1992 at my present age. I think of my grandmother, Eloina, now passed on, and her mother, Amancia, who died tragically when my grandmother was the tender age of nine—for without the long lineage of amazing and beautiful Puerto Rican and Canarian women before me, my children wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be a mother. Of course, my father, the men in my family, and my ex-husband played a big role, as well. But, since today is Mother’s Day, I’ll stay on the subject of motherhood and children.

matthew's 21st bdayOn Mother’s Day, I don’t immediately think of receiving gifts, cards, and flowers from my kids. I don’t wait for invitations to brunch, and I would certainly understand if my children couldn’t call me on this day. I don’t guilt them into remembering me one day out of the year; they remember me well every day of the year…but I am happy when they do.

They’ve never missed sharing Mother’s Day with me in some special way, and I wonder to what extent my heart would ache if they did forget? Knowing myself well, my heart would be heavy, but I would never doubt their love for me. Never. Their actions and behavior during the year and over the years, have taught me actions will always speak louder than words. Was I always this way? Quasi-wise? Are you kidding? No, definitely not. I had to learn…the hard way.

If you were to ask my children to describe what it was like growing up with me, they’d probably say I was strict, over-protective, physically demonstrative, fun, sometimes clueless, funny, and always loving. They know I am their biggest cheerleader, always will be, and they’ve given me much to celebrate and be proud of. When my kids were in their twenties, I had a hard time letting go of them, which stemmed from my naive expectations that their childhood would resemble mine.

I realized that as much as I wished my children could experience what I’d experienced growing up with my mother, my grandmother, and the women of my family—we weren’t living in the 1960’s, and memories are not to be repeated. Some traditions, though wonderful, aren’t meant to last. Instead, for me, memories and traditions are to be treasured, kept safe, and are easily accessible to keep me warm and smiling. It was not our destiny to gather at my house for every single holiday and for many important life events. My kids and I wouldn’t spend every summer together at my river place. None of those things would happen very often because I taught my kids to be independent, free thinkers, and adventurous. I showed them, and marrying an Army officer helped, that the world is a wonderful place to be explored and embraced—we traveled and lived abroad for most of my children’s lives.

IMG_3290Motherhood in my late twenties taught me to capture and nurture my children’s hearts and minds, to keep them safe, and hopefully teach them important life lessons. I know I missed some.

But as it turned out, my adult children taught me how to parent adult children—you don’t try. I learned how to release them in love when it was time. Release seems like a strong word, a word that conjures up thoughts for me of simple traps, nests, holding fledgling birds to the sun and the wind, and releasing them in an open field, knowing they are ready to fly into the great unknown with an arsenal of lessons and information. And that’s exactly what it felt like. They know I will always be there for them.

I soon found out (because it all goes so fast) that parenting children and parenting young adults is drastically different—I will always be their mother, but I can no longer parent—they stand on firm ground and have done so for many years. My children taught me as much as I’ve taught them, and no, I didn’t know it was time to let go when it arrived. As it turned out, I was the one who flew the nest first. I left the Washington, DC area in 2011 when my kids were working and building lives in Northern Virginia. They were settled and happy, growing strong roots when I decided it was time for me to move where I could afford to live and write full time. It was a tough decision, and despite their immediate concern and hurt feelings, I knew the time had come for me to leave the nest to ultimately allow my children to spread their wings and soar.

IMG_4576Four years on, my son moved back to Europe. He lives and works in the Netherlands. He’s never been happier or more productive. My daughter pursued her Masters degree and left a long-term relationship that could never nurture or protect her like she deserved. She’s never been happier or more productive. Me? I’m proud of my children. Loving and supporting my children from afar is enough, and when we come together like today on Skype—it’s magic. We shared a special time on Skype and I am happy.

Do I still give my kids advice, offer suggestions, and try to show them a better way to do things? Are you kidding? Of course, I do! Only now, I stop myself mid-sentence and grin like a Cheshire cat. A smile says, “Oh, yeah. You got this.”

About EleanorParker Sapia

Puerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s work as a counselor, alternative health practitioner, a Spanish language social worker and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, and is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman is her debut historical novel, set in turn of the century Puerto Rico. The book was selected as 2015 July Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club, Book of the Month. Eleanor is the mother of two adult children and she currently lives in West Virginia.

A DECENT WOMAN available now on Amazon amazon.com/-/e/B00U05ZO9M

The Dreaded Blank Page

Merry Christmas you filthy animals

Early this morning, we were blessed with cloudless, blue skies and a warm sun.  There is an inch of snow on the ground with a fine layer of ice beneath, and the winds are still blowing like crazy. Normally, this type of day energizes me and puts me in a good frame of mind, but today I closed all the curtains. For self-preservation, I will become a hermit for a few days, nursing what January usually brings me–feelings of joy mixed with nostalgia. My negative feelings and emotions can’t be helped, so I allow them to wash over me today.

You see, my son was born in California on January 14, 1988, and my mother passed away on January 22, 1992. My son is moving to Amsterdam on January 16, 2015. Yes, in a week’s time, I’ll be driving him to the airport, and I don’t know when I’ll see him again. He has been coming and going for years now with work-related travel, and a three-month stay in Thailand, but this is different. He says he’s not coming back. It’s not that we’ve quarreled or that he’s running away from home, nothing like that–I raised my kids overseas. What did I expect would happen? One or both of them were bound to travel extensively and live abroad; it’s what I hoped for.

Well, it is what it is, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. My daughter and I send him off with much love, admiration, and enough hugs and kisses to keep him warm in Holland until we visit. Maybe we’ll return to Holland for a Spring visit, in time for the tulip festivals, as we did during our many years of living overseas. I try to look at the bright side of returning to Europe with my daughter for family visits with my son, but today it was hard to see the silver lining of his decision. I wondered how many decisions I’d made as a mother that caused my children the same pain.

So, after taking a week and a few days off to celebrate the precious Holidays with my beautiful children and my wonderful family, I sat at my desk this morning. I opened the new journal I bought in early December–one hundred and twenty blank pages of journal, to be exact, and closed the book. I’d vowed to begin writing on the morning of January first, but I couldn’t. I knew it would help me tremendously as I’ve journaled for over twenty years as an advocate of keeping a journal, but every time I sat down to write–I froze. There was too much swirling, swishing, and slopping around in my brain to get it down on paper. I’ve felt overwhelmed this first week in January. What a pain in the ass. It’s not like I have tremendous burdens on my shoulders, we are all happy, safe, and healthy. I am looking forward to my novel, A Decent Woman, coming out this Spring, my daughter started a great new job as a therapist, and we three are embarking on personal journeys, but life is changing. Our family dynamics are changing and deep inside, I don’t like it one bit.

What did I do after closing my journal? I prayed hard. I cried even harder. I released. I counted my blessings. I shoveled my sidewalk, laughed at my Sophie’s Chihuahua antics in the snow, and I stroked my cat, Pierre. I made a tough phone call, one that I’ve been avoiding since early December, and I called to check on a new friend who just found out she’s in stage four of lung cancer. Please pray for my friend, Myrtle. Then, I sat with my unopened journal and realized I hate blank pages. I’ve experienced this fear of getting back on the creative horse before with my painting, after a long holiday. I’d sit in front of the easel, staring at my full-size, D’Arches, hot press, watercolor paper stapled to the board, hating the whiteness of it. The blankness of it. And I’d stress the mistakes I was sure to make as watercolor is such an unforgiving medium, but to which I took to like a duck to water. I like a challenge.

Bite-size pieces, I told myself after lunch. Own it and just do it for God’s sake. But, the words didn’t come. As much as I hate routine, I am a stickler for routine. My usual routine is to pray, meditate, journal, and write long into the night with breaks for walking the dog. What the hell was I so afraid of? That I might start writing, crying, and never stop? Was I pissed I hadn’t followed through with my plan of starting the journal on the first of January? It’s a Virgo thing. Was I grieving the past…again? Enough.

I gathered old magazines, found a glue stick, and created a mini-vision board for 2015 on the inside cover, which includes the cover my book. I thought of crossing off the numeral one I’d written in anticipation of starting the journal on January first, but instead, I changed the one to a seven. I christened the journal. I added the weather and temperature in the right-hand corner, as I’ve done for years, and I wrote three pages of my thoughts, hopes, and dreams. I added St. Michael’s prayer and the Memorare for protection, which felt great, and I closed the journal until tomorrow.

No, 2015 didn’t start exactly as I’d hoped, but that’s okay. I will celebrate my daughter’s new job in Northern Virginia; I will celebrate my son’s birthday and new life in Holland; I’ll cry for my mother on the anniversary of her death; and I’ll wave goodbye to my son as he disappears through airport security with tears in my eyes. I will continue celebrating and honoring life, and continue counting my many blessings, which includes my creative life. I look forward to launching my book, holding it in my hands, and sharing it with the world.

I tackled the beast today. No more will the blank page cause me anxiety and fear. Eff it; I’m stronger than that–I wrote a freaking book.

 

 

 

 

 

The Disappearance and Surprise Reappearance of my Dad

The Disappearance and Surprise Reappearance of my Dad

Florida, 5:30 pm.

My dad was relatively calm today with beautiful, albeit brief periods of lucidity about his ear, and how it feels to lose an ear to cancer. Dad tells us he’s grateful to the plastic surgeon, and how it’s better to lose an ear than die from cancer. We agree with him, and I glance at my sister. I know we’re thinking the same thing-Dad is back. That’s what we think he would have said before he was diagnosed with dementia which turned into Alzheimer’s. We know this is only a brief reappearance of our father. Soon, Alzheimer’s will overtake him like a spiritual possession, and we won’t know who he is once again.

Tonight, my father isn’t asking the same questions over and over, and hasn’t asked about his hospital stay. He’s leading the conversation…and it is a conversation. Dad asks for a cold beer before dinner, and we hand him an O’Doul’s, a non-alcoholic beer, in a nice cold glass. He doesn’t seem to notice the difference, and we make sure to shove the green and white beer can down deep into the trashcan in case he grows suspicious of the switch.

As Dad speaks, I feel myself slipping out of my current daughter/caregiver role into grown daughter role, and I realize I can’t do that any longer-he can’t be trusted. As much as we, his daughters, would love to have our independent father back, and my step-mom misses her take-charge husband, it’s never going to happen. He has advanced Alzheimer’s; it’s done. Last night, Dad didn’t know who we were. He thought I was a nurse named Carol, but tonight he asks us about our husbands, and asks how the kids are doing. He’s in and out.

The next ten minutes confirm my fears-Dad pours his orange juice on top of the baked chicken thigh on his plate. My sister’s eyes grow as large as my own, and my jaw drops as the juice precariously reaches the edge of the plate, now mixed with tomato sauce. The dish would be called Poulet a l’orange without the tomato sauce, I think. I don’t move, but instinctively, my sister reaches for his plate, and my dad looks at her with clenched jaws. She backs off as he grips the plate with two hands. We still have bedtime to deal with, and we don’t want a bad night with him. It’s our last night alone with our father. My step-mom arrives in the morning. I can’t imagine how they will do when we’re gone. We must have the discussion of future care with our step-mom when she returns.

We sit patiently at the dining room while our father eats his chicken and spoons every last drop of orange juice off his plate. He has stopped talking, and seems to be in another world. At least he’s not a picky eater, I think. Thirty minutes later, Dad uses the toilet, brushes his teeth, and we give him the prescribed little blue pill to induce sleep, and he sits at the edge of the bed. I can tell he won’t go easy tonight. He wants us to leave his bedroom, and close the door. I have visions of him falling and hitting his head on the edge of the dresser or bedside table as he is still wobbly from the surgery. When we won’t leave his room, Dad opens the drawer of the bedside table, and takes out all the contents-his wallet, a set of keys, assorted papers, and his watch, setting them on the bed. It seems to be a show of contrariness or a need to control his environment. He says he doesn’t recognize the keys, and I’m confident they are keys from the old house. The keys and his watch go back into the drawer, and now he inspects all the papers one by one. I feel my patience wearing thin, it’s been a long, long day, but we stand in front of our father patiently waiting as he takes an inventory of his possessions. Finally, he is satisfied and the drawer is closed…only to be reopened seconds later. The inventory begins again. This happens three times. It seems interesting neither me or my sister loses our cool. I wonder if we’ve begun some bizarre contest to see who loses it first. We are both stubborn, but perhaps it’s more that we realize it’s our last night with our father, so we indulge him. I know very well if I were his full time caregiver, I would be more firm. Again, I’m thankful for my step-mom. I feel like a grandparent taking care of a grandchild for a week, and then flying home. I feel a bit of guilt and a bit of relief. I miss my house, my routine, my kids, and I have a book coming out in early December.

“Do any institutions or organizations have control of my money,” he asks us. It’s a good question.

“No, you and your wife control your money.” He seems satisfied with the lie, and the drawer is closed again. We are able to tuck him into bed. He has more questions, he says. We lean in.

“Do I have your contact information? I want you to write everything about yourselves, your husbands, your children, your jobs, and what you’ve accomplished in life.” Awesome question, Dad. We’ve done this for him many times over the years, and we’ll do it again as he loses every little book we make for him.

“It’s important to have this information in our personnel files, and we will teach you how to access and extract this information when the time comes. We won’t tolerate bad manners or excessive force when dealing with prisoners. Kindness and offers of gifts will encourage them to speak to their comrades who might be persuaded to join us.” Our eyebrows shoot up-we realize Dad is giving a military briefing; it goes on for an hour, maybe more. I am stunned beyond belief. He is an articulate, soft-spoken, and firm leader speaking to his troops or giving a briefing at the Pentagon where he worked for nearly twenty years after a thirty-year Army career. Did he give this speech in Vietnam?

My sister and I wished we’d taped our father’s speech/briefing. I am amazed at how much information is hidden and tucked into the recesses of his brain. We wonder what prompted the ‘outburst’, and then I remember…his military ID card was in his wallet. Did that jog his memory? For an hour or so, we saw a side of our father we never knew when we lived at home as young adults. Dad always left work at the office; we never discussed his jobs or his time in Vietnam. My ex-husband was a Vietnam vet, and I remember their deep conversations about the military and about war. We didn’t have those conversations with our father. I’m impressed, curious, and a bit thankful he didn’t go into any gruesome war stories tonight. I realize there’s a huge part of my father’s life I will never know about with Alzheimer’s destroying his brain; it wasn’t meant to be, but I’m grateful for the glimpse of my father tonight.

I’m thankful I listened well to the stories of my grandmothers, aunts, and my mother. My Puerto Rican family’s oral storytelling tradition birthed the idea of writing my historical novel, A Decent Woman. I wasn’t meant to write a book based on my father’s life; he was a private man, and didn’t open up to me-the women of my family opened up to me. I was meant to write A Decent Woman; all my life experiences have led me to this point. I inherited my father’s tenacity, stubborn streak, courage, and strength of character; that will help me see this book published.

NOTE: I am back in West Virginia tonight, and going through my editor’s final edits. A Decent Woman comes out December 12, 2014 with Booktrope Books.

Please join me on:

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/eleanorparkersapia; Twitter: eleanorparkerwv; Website: http://www.elliesbookz.wordpress.com

Thank you for taking this journey with me. Your prayers, kind notes, comments, and healing thoughts have meant a lot to my family. I will be back in Florida with my father and step-mom in a few months. Be well.

Ellie

Early Monday Morning Madness

Summer storm and fog 005Early Monday morning fog

My father woke up around four and removed the outer bandages covering the skin graft that protects the area where his ear used to be.  I could say he was incredibly quiet, sneaky, and possesses great stealth, but the plain truth is we are tired, and we didn’t hear a thing.

Our plan seemed solid at ten o’clock last night–my sister and I would sleep in the bedroom closest to our father’s room, and check on him every few hours or so. That backfired. Tonight, we’ll take turns sleeping–we can’t risk infection, and my father is 1000% committed in his quest to remove the bandages on his head and over his missing ear.  As many times as we’ve replace the bandages, he has attempted to remove them.

Are we afraid of what his reaction will be when he sees the wound? Will he remember the wound ten minutes later when he’s distracted? Will the shock of his missing ear cause him to remember the surgery and his hospital stay? I don’t know. We finally saw the wound yesterday when the nurse came to the house to change the dressing. Sobering and tragic are the only words that come to mind. Poor man. Stay in the mystery, Dad. Don’t look.

Early this morning, my sister woke to find him in front of the bathroom mirror, poised and ready to remove the Curad-medicated pad–the last bit of fortress between mystery and reality–he has not seen what is left of his ear yet. He’d already removed the outer bandages and the gauze covering the wound where the skin graft was taken from his thigh. The questions began. I jumped out of bed. “What happened to my head; how did I get cancer?” There was no reasoning with him, and no amount of pleading or gentle scolding will stop him.

“Stop, Dad. Leave it alone.” He answered us curtly, “I’m not touching it. Leave me alone.” The hand went back up. Compulsive; that’s my Dad. That hasn’t changed.

I needed caffeine at that point.  When my father called me Carol, and didn’t know who my sister was, he said, “Give me more clues.”  He sounded like a child and I realized he wasn’t kidding. “That’s okay, Dad. Go to sleep now. We love you.” I truly thought it would be a traumatic experience the day my father forgot who we were, but it wasn’t. It is what it is; we’ve been expecting it. The night my mother died came to mind. It was 1992, and I prayed God would release my mother from pain. I did not, however, pray to keep her with us while she was in so much pain. That’s the night I knew I’d grown a bit more. This morning was another of those growth moments. My father doesn’t remember us, but we remember and love him.

Finally, all lights were turned off, and it was still pitch black outside. I heard the traffic in the distance, and told my sister to sleep until eight. I would keep watch. On the second day in Florida after my father’s surgery, I wondered who would care of me when I turn 84? I’m a single woman and I know my beautiful children will take care me, but they need to live their lives. Who then? Right then and there, I prayed to never be a huge burden on my kids–not emotionally, physically, or spiritually. But I would never take away nor release them from caring for me–because it is through these moments, we come to understand life, and we grow and learn.

Prayers Answered and Now What?

I’m sorry that I don’t have any writing advice this morning nor any great quotes from the Masters to share. I know this an author blog and it is also a blog where I write about the writing life–my life as a writer. This morning, I have to get this off my chest or I won’t be able to write. Thanks for reading my stream of consciousness writing! I’m not going to bother checking for typos or catching grammatical errors. I’m just going to write it, so I own it and move forward today!

In January 2014, I began a Happiness Jar. I’ve kept journals for prayer requests from friends and family to remind me that if people pray for me, I must reciprocate and I’ve also kept journals of blessings in my life. I don’t know who started the Happiness Jar idea, but I got the idea from on Eat Pray Love author, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook page. I was immediately on board!

By February, my jar was 1/4 full and I worried that I’d bought too small a jar. Wonderful things were happening to me and my family that needed to be included. No matter, I decided that I would press the little folded pieces of paper down if I had to, I am going to reach the end of this year in the same jar. On Valentine’s Day morning, I received an email from Booktrope. My historical novel, A Decent Woman, had been accepted for publication. I was stunned and very, very excited! My first thought was, I have to add that to my Happy jar and so, I did.

Later that evening, my beautiful daughter called me in tears. “I’m engaged!” “But, those are happy tears right, Sweetie?” I asked. A mother hears tears and usually thinks the worst, or at least I do. My first thought was how I wished I’d told her and the world about my book being published the next day! Actually, my first thought was how incredibly happy I was for her and her long-time boyfriend, now fiance. Then, I wished the day had been all hers, but c’est la vie. That’s life! Well, it was easy to write on the little scraps of paper that day! I must have added twenty thoughts on how happy I was for my daughter, her fiance, my family, myself and for my book. My daughter went back to school, doing her Masters in Counseling and finally doing what she is passionate about. She has found her niche as have I. A February to remember. My daughter and her fiance will be very happy and I am ecstatically happy that she is marrying her best friend. Not as excited that they plan on moving to Wilmington, NC in a couple of years, but that’s a long way off yet! I’m not dealing with that yet. Yes, denial is a beautiful thing.

So Spring is here, kinda sorta and plans for the 2015 wedding are gearing up. All good! We’ve visited great venues for the wedding reception and at the same time, I continue to edit my book and try to secure permission to use the image of Marie-Guillemine Benoist’s painting for my book cover. My Booktrope Creative Team was formed and we are on a roll with my book. I’m fortunate and blessed to work with such a fantastic group of creative people. The children are busy, I’m busy, and it seems my friends are just as busy doing fun and wonderful things.

NOTE – I wrote a letter to the Louvre, where the painting hangs, had it translated by my good friend and sent it off to the Louvre. This morning, I was directed to New York City to the company that handles all that stuff. Back and forth, across the Atlantic I go in search of this permission for the perfect book cover for my book! I’m on it!

Great things are happening this month and I started thinking that perhaps I need another large Bell jar and hope they wouldn’t stop making them! So last night, my handsome son called. I don’t give out details about my children, so let’s just say that he works with a fantastic company, makes the bucks, and is very highly thought of. He wants to make a change. A huge change. I support him and he was shocked when I told him that I supported him moving to London…………………………………….. you see those dots? Those are the rapid beats of my heart as I was telling my youngest child that I supported his move overseas after I listened to him give me the pros and cons. I told him that I was okay with him starting a life in London Town. My son confessed that he hadn’t told me of this plan for fear that I would collapse and have a nervous breakdown. He was stunned when I sounded excited about the new prospect. I was and I told him that his happiness meant more than my sadness. My daughter’s, as well. We lived overseas for 16 years, what did I expect? They have the travel bug as bad as I do.

I didn’t collapse or break down, but, after we hung up, I sure did have a good cry. Happy and sad tears, all at once. It’s a happy time and I prayed that God would help my children find their way in life and be happy. I just hadn’t thought about them leaving to be happy 😀 I had to write those little papers, but I couldn’t do that until this morning. Today, the skies are blue and it’s beautiful. My heart is happy for my children. I raised them to think for themselves and they know that all I want for them is their happiness. My family, friends and I would be thrilled for him if this is what he wants to do. It’s exciting as hell. My daughter’s wedding will be beautiful and we are thrilled for her and her fiance. My sister and I texted back and forth last night, planning which English pub we’d hit first, second and third.

This morning, my best friend sent me a text that reads:

“Sounds like a wonderful opportunity to ponder upon. Such is life…kids going on into adulthood..he has foreign opportunities in his blood. You did it to him! As I have done to my kids…you opened up a huge world as I did, now we pay…heartache for sure.”

Well, that sums it up, folks. God did indeed answer all my prayers for myself and my children. I just didn’t think it would all happen in the February-March timeframe! Ha! Thank you for all my blessings, God. Now, I please send me some calm and a clear head to make this all happen 🙂

Warmly,

Ellie