by Lisa on July 24, 2017

“It’s a girl!” Those three simple words of December 23, 2000 changed our lives forever.

I knew from the very beginning that our job description was to love, to nurture, and to care for this sweet little baby we named Isabelle. I knew too that we were to grow, guide, and steer her. The thing I could not quite wrap my hormonal brain around was the fact that one of our parental requirements would be to prepare this tiny pink-skinned infant to launch—to equip her for adulthood. Focusing strictly on the moment at hand and the black-haired, chubby-cheeked bundle in my arms those future days seemed far, far away—looming in the way distant future.

The first week with my sweet baby Isabelle was such a joy, and the subsequent days that followed just seemed to meld into the next. I was riding the endless roller coaster cycle of feeding, changing, rocking, and soothing. Sleep deprived and recovering from a C-section, I just seemed to be on autopilot. Not really thinking about the future, but living completely and fully in the moment.

Those moments began to build upon one another and add up while time kept marching forward. Very quickly we started marking and tracking milestones—the first month, the first laugh, the first food, her first word, her first step, her first birthday. The milestones just kept coming rapid fire. Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Months turned into years.  And, then, they slowed. The milestones became less frequent and more, if I dare say, routine. The first day of ballet, the first violin lesson, the first day of school, her first tooth falling out—all big and significant, mind you, but seemly more mundane. More ordinary. More like  just a part of life with a child. And, while each of the “mundane” milestone in of itself seemed significant, there seemed to be peppered in with the mundane the bigger and greater Milestones—you know—those really big moments that are forever etched into my brain.

Her first Milestone happened when she was about two and a half or three. Although I can’t remember the exact time I do have the moment, the time burned into my psyche—the exact picture. The image I can clearly conjure up as if it were yesterday. My mom wanted her. “Just some Granny time,” she said.  Okay. I guess I could let her go for a little Granny time—even then I was not accustomed to just dropping her off. She hung out with us—one for all and all for one. But I agreed.

I met my mom at the Shopko on Coburg Road. After a little shopping we were back in the parking lot and ready to make the hand off. We strolled to my car to grab her bag and all the other necessities she might need. I handed my mom the bag and she grabbed Isabelle’s hand. “Tell mommy bye bye,” she said. Isabelle looked up at me with her big, brown eyes. “Bye bye mommy.” She kissed me and smiled. That was it. They turned and walked away.

I stood there watching their backs as the heat waves rolled off the hot asphalt. It was like an out-of-body experience. There was my “baby” walking away. Walking away. Away from me. She was her own person. Her own little being. An entity that was really not me. For so long I had been meeting her every need. Breastfeeding her. Bathing her. Soothing her. Caring for her. To me, at some point, we had just kind of morphed into one. She was me and I was her. Who was this little person walking away from me? My brain screamed, “She isn’t you! You are not her! She is separate form you! She is her own person!” I began to cry. Her tiny little legs poked out from under her little jean shorts. Her little arm stretched up to meet the hand of her grandma. Her sweet little face was silhouetted in the sunlight as she tilted her head up to answer a question from Granny that I couldn’t hear. I stood and watched them go. The farther across the parking lot they went the smaller she got. And the farther away from me she went.

They reached Granny’s car. Granny buckled her in and then she got in the car. The engine started and they pulled away.

I got in my car and cried. Cried for the epiphany. Cried for the separation. Cried for the Milestone. And, cried for the beginning of the launching.

This morning we took our now 16 year old to the airport. Another first. Her first trip alone. Her first solo flight. Her first maiden voyage more than a two hour drive away. In contrast to all those years ago she looked so big this time. Not the little girl I remembered.

Her hair was perfectly flat-ironed. She had on jeans and her favorite Birkenstocks. She wore a black velvet choker around her neck and the round gold locket with the crescent moon and diamond star from my great aunt. She went over all the things she would need to do. She was nervous. I know her. But she was able to able to rise to the occasion—to push through the butterflies, the anxiousness, the tense smile and tear-fileed eyes, and keep moving. She had that well-known look of determination on her face this morning. She was ready. She looked in her purse—taking inventory of all its contents. Her new black leather clutch in its place with her passport ID in the window pocket. Her own spending money was in the coin purse in the zippered pocket. The Starbucks gift cards lined up neatly in the credit card holders. Extra cash in an envelope stuffed in with her coin purse. Sunglasses. A book. Her journal. Chapstick. Each section of her dad’s commandeered fisherman’s bag turned purse had a purpose and plan—everything perfectly mapped out and planned. Her vials of make-up and essential oils in a zip lock baggie ready to take out for security. She had gone over her ticket and what to do once she reached her layover in Salt Lake. Her violin was locked and in hand. Who is this woman-child I am watching? And, where is my baby?

It was time.

Hugs, kisses, promises of phone calls once she reached Salt Lake, and then she was off. I watched her go through security. I watched her wave and turn to walk up the stairs to her gate. I watched the plane back away from the tunnel. I watched the plane disappear just pass the rising sun into the clouds.

And, I cried.

This Milestone I knew was a big one. It was the beginning of the leaving. The beginning of the breaking away. The beginning of my baby girl now child-woman really launching into pre-adult. For years I have been saying the teen years are like grasping at smoke. And, I firmly believe it. You see the fire and the smoke, and you reach out to grab it, but it just slips right through your fingers. You can try and grab higher in the air but the smoke there too just slips right through your fingers. You can get your hand closer to the fire and try and grab the smoke there but it’s no use. The smoke still just slips through. I don’t like it. I don’t like it one bit.

I just want time to slow down. I am not ready to let the smoke aka my baby girl turned young woman slip through. I am not ready to begin the the journey of letting go. I am not ready to have my child-woman grow up. But ready or not it is happening.

I never thought becoming a mother would alter my life so greatly. I didn’t even know it was possible to love so completely and so much. I didn’t realize how intertwined I would become in my kids, but I am so, so grateful. Grateful to God for giving me these unique, amazing, kind, smart, wonderful people that I get to call my children. Grateful for the time I get to spend with them on a regular basis. Grateful for seeing who they are becoming and where they are going. And, yes, even though reluctantly, I am grateful for the launching. For without the launching they would never have the opportunity to experience the fullness of life and the fullness of living.

So fly away my little bird. Mommy will be home at the nest waiting. Waiting to hear about your adventures. Waiting to hear about your hopes and dreams. Waiting to see what is next on your horizon.  Always, always waiting with open arms ready to welcome you back.


Tuesday: Time to go

by Lisa on March 11, 2014

Death is one of those Grand Canyon moments in life like marriage or having a baby. No matter how hard you try, once you’ve crossed to the other side of the gorge, you can’t go back.  The path you’ve walked on down into the canyon, and through the canyon, seems to  have disappeared just as fast as your feet have carried you. It becomes painfully clear once you’ve finished your assent up the other side of the steep wall that your trail has been completely swallowed up by the winds of time and the dust of now. Your vision has changed. The sun has moved. Your life has been altered. No going back.

The curtains are open and it’s mid day. I can see fresh buds and leaves beginning to pop out on the plants in the backyard. Spring has sprung. Sun light streams through every window in the house. The dishes are done and I’ve folded up the hand towel and put it in its place on the counter. I turn around. I could go sort through some more things or I could sit down and start working on her obituary.

I do neither. I know I’ve started the arduous climb up the other canyon wall. I feel the wind picking up and see the dust beginning to swirl. I want to savor the moment.

I walk over to the  kitchen table and turn the boxy transistor radio on. Loud—trying to recreate a typical Gordo day.

If you were to open the garage door at the end of the long hallway and you could hear the racket long before you could see her sitting, hunched over, at her chair. The black box on the table might be blaring Rush Limbaugh’s voice or some other talk radio person. It could be screaming out a 30 second how-to-invest-your-money commercial before returning to some rockish or current pop type of music. Or it could have some college football or basketball announcer shouting out play by play action. No matter what you knew it was before 4:00 pm because at 4:00 pm the button was slid to off as she made her way to the chair in the living room before the TV to watch a little Judge Judy followed by the local evening news.

Grabbing the iPad I move into the living room and park my backside in the red chair on the north wall. The one next to the hallway door and to the west of her chair. This will probably be the last time I am alone in the house while it still looks like she is here—or at least off at the store grabbing some last-minute groceries.

I look out the front window listening to Barbara Mandrell crooning away about a troubled marriage. I just sit. Soaking it all in. Next comes Johnny Cash followed by Hank Williams. I don’t remember her ever listening to country music. Strange.

Back in the kitchen, she would probably have her glasses on and pen in hand. All the eye drops would be in their “correct”place waiting for the end of the day’s dose. The metal ashtray would be spilling over with loose change and this month’s bills would be piled up in the old egg basket. The calendar on the wall would be open to the current month with everyone’s birthdays written on it.

I continue to sit like a sponge cake in my red chair in the living room. The colors, the textures, the sounds, the smells, and the sunlight streaming through the windows, the memories. They are  all oozing into my core on last time.

The garage door at the end of the hallway, with its familiar squeak, opens up and Mike & Bob come lumbering down the hallway to join me in the living room. They sit. They make small chit chat, but all of a sudden it’s kinda awkward. I suddenly feel like a stranger. An outsider. We continue talking but I can feel it. It’s time. The climb must continue upward.

I load my things in the car, give hugs to my uncles, and then get in behind the wheel. The engine starts and the familiar hum of the car radio. Definitely not Gord’s station. I back out of the driveway. The tears freely flow. With the car pointed east and my head turned north, I shift the car into drive. At a turtle’s pace it begin to move forward down the small incline to the stop sign less than a block away. The brown house begins to disappear from my sightline. I look in the review mirror trying to keep 1586 Juniper in my view, but the brown house stays stationary while I move on.

This moment is almost as painful as her death. Almost as painful as Warren and Billy and Grandma’s death 15 months ago, Or almost as painful as my mother’s death May 2010. It’s another death. Only a greater one. It is the end of an era. An era as familiar to me as the back of my hand—the era of my childhood and young adult life. It’s the end of my playing at the brown house hitting tennis balls against the west wall in the backyard. The end of my walking or driving back and forth from Juniper to N. 9th. The end of laying in bed hoping to, just for a moment, hear my mother & grandmother chatting away at the kitchen table in the morning. The end of helping white-haired Grandma Landles joining Thanksgiving meals that Gord and mom had prepared. The end of “going down the hill” to visit Grandma L. The end… Memories flood in rapid-fire through my mind.

My last alone jaunt through my second home town leads me first to the mortuary to get her fingerprints. Now I have matching pairs—my mom & my mom’s mom. Why, I wonder, did I not do the same thing when Grandma died 15 months ago? I could have had hard evidence of all the matriarchs of my family. While I ponder the car seems to drive itself directly to the run-down white bell-shaped house Grandma raised her children in. It’s been a while since I’ve been here. I notice some of her trinkets sitting on the window sill as I park the car. I get out to wander around the house. The crooked concrete step at the back door gives me just enough height to peek into the kitchen. The familiar red linoleum and grungy orange cabinets peer back. Like the tchotchkes on the window sill, I can still see evidence of Grandma & Grandpa’s 50+ years in the house. I walk around the side of the house to the front porch. There is stuff piled on the porch and broken windows that have been haphazardly been boarded up. I walk to the end of the porch. The curtains into the living room are open and I can see the butterfly hook-rug still hanging on the wall in the same place—the rug I started at 9 and that Gordo finished for me a few years later so I could give to to Grandma for Christmas. Billy’s shoes appear to be laying on the floor like he just forgot to put them away yesterday. Papers and garbage are also strewn all over the floor. I backtrack to the front door on the porch. From this vantage point I can still see the butterfly in the living room, and I can see down the tiny hallway and through another door that opens into the kitchen. I can also see the staircase I climbed more times than I can count and I notice the Asian inspired wallpaper is peeling away and there is broken pottery on the floor. Tears begin to flow again. Looters and squaters have left the house and it’s remnants in shambles.

I step back. It’s kind of a metaphor for how I am feeling right now. Death has become a looter and a squater for my childhood memories and life in Coos Bay—life visiting my grandmas and grandpa, aunts and uncles and cousins, my great aunts and great uncles & godparents, my parents childhood friends, the brown house & the white house, the pool at Mingus park, the beach…

Time to go.

I get back in the car and start heading out of town. I stop at one of the familiar entry-point-hills for one final look. I am peering down toward North Bend. Can see the road leading to the bridge that takes me over the Bay and out of town. This is it. No going back. I get out of the car, stand in the middle of the road, and take a cheesy selfie.

Back behind the wheel I point the car homeward. My vision has changed. The sun has moved. My life has been permanently altered and time waits to more. The climb up the other side of the gorge has begun. And now it must continue.


Sunday: The Day After

March 9, 2014

Life, I’ve decided, is like chasing rising smoke. You reach out to grasp it and for one moment you think you’ve caught it in your hand and then you watch as it dissipates right through your fingers. Laying here on the couch there is mostly silence except for the periodic roar of the heater and [...]

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Saturday: Her Final Hours

March 8, 2014

This time the sound is not so pleasant. As a matter of fact it’s horrible. Extra torture to the soul. Her breathing has become even more labored. More difficult. She is working hard. So hard. Each breath requires a major effort. And though she is still lucid and able to say what she wants and [...]

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Friday Night

March 7, 2014

A sudden, and unexpected, warm rush of comforting and happy childhood memories fill the house. Over the din of the machine I hear it. I close my eyes and for a moment I forget my present place. I go back to my girlhood days and nights in this house listening to that sound. Loving that [...]

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Thursday Night: Realization

March 6, 2014

The sound of the big, blue machine in the corner is all too familiar. A constant humming coupled with the in and out of a fireplace baffle. It would be pitch black in the room were it not for the light streaming in through open doorway while the hall light has been intentionally left on. [...]

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November 10, 2013

I hear a soft rustle at the front of the store. “Hi. I’d like to adopt a cat,” the cheerful voice says. The clerk behind the counter replies in a monotone voice, “Oh…well…uh…we have to have a manager around to do that.” “Okay. Great. Can you get one?” Cheerful asks. More rustling. “Uhhh…no,” says Monotone [...]

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Anything to Avoid Cleaning the House

July 7, 2013

A tidy house is a beautiful thing for me. The problem with a tidy house, however, is twofold: I don’t enjoy cleaning. I live in a house of five pigs. Now to some of you those two things may be easy enough to overcome. Start a cleaning schedule. Develop a routine. Get everyone to pick [...]

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Happy 4th of July

July 4, 2013

Happy 4th of July!! Today Mom would have celebrated her 66th birthday. In her honor I wanted to just tell you a story or two about birthdays past. So without further adieu… As an adult Cathy loved having her birthday on the 4th of July. Every year it was like national “celebrate Cathy” day—friends & [...]

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May 6, 2013

A new day is dawning. Sunlight is birthing from the eastern skies. I can see it peeking through the curtains in my room. I know. I know what that means. Time to get up. Time to get ready. Time to head to the flower shop for a day of helping out with Mother’s Day prep. [...]

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