Posted in Children, Miscarriage, Mothers

Labor Day by Nancy Malcolm

 

According to Merriam and Webster, one definition of labor is: an expenditure of physical or mental effort especially when difficult or compulsory. Once a year our nation pays homage and celebrates the holiday called Labor Day, however, I have found that in my life, Labor day, rolls around more often.

College exams, grad school projects and commencement celebrations all follow a predictable set of trials that reek of labor and culminate in satisfaction. Never the less, in life, there are unpredictable days of labor that propel you to either sink or swim, fight or be knocked to your knees in fear.

Unpredictable labor days take you by surprise. You wake up one day, excited about a plan, looking forward to a completion and then it happens…your ordinary day turns into labor day.

On July 7, 1977, I was pregnant and excited about an early September due date and another addition to our family. My time had passed in a rather unremarkable way. I looked good, felt good and actually enjoyed being pregnant. As a teacher, I had made it through the school year and even managed to take a graduate course during the month of June. Day after day, that June, I carpooled with two other teachers and we laughed, studied and improved our minds. My already large belly seemed to grow more each day.
Our 11 year old daughter was such a trooper, being watched by babysitters and Aunts (it takes a village). I would come home, exhausted from Grad school and she would let me take a nap. Then we would eat popsicles and watch The Match Game together…our little ritual.

But, on the morning of July 7th, I had woken up a with a backache. Feeling achy was no excuse to lounge about, I thought, so I proceeded to clean house. After all, today was the day the crib would be delivered. My precious daughter checked in with me often but went about her job of playing outside and summer fun book reading.

The bed was delivered and I felt finally ready for this new baby. As the day progressed, though, I knew this was not a simple backache and finally in the afternoon, I summoned my daughter to call her Daddy and tell him to come home.

What happened next is a blur. A slow motion, fast-paced, jumping off a cliff Labor Day. We must have dropped our daughter off w/ neighbors or her Aunt. I can only imagine now, how frightening it must have been for her because I was so afraid myself. Afraid of the severe pain, afraid of what would happen next and knowing in my soul, it was too early for this little one to appear.

The last thing I remember, on this unexpected Labor Day, was lying on a gurney and the nurse and Dr. telling me they would have to break my water. They did so, and water flooded the bed and the floor. The look on their faces was not matching their words of “let’s go have this baby” The cheerful words did not hide the concern of their eyes.

They quickly put the mask over my face and the next thing I knew, it was two days later. Our small town hospital had a maternity ward and then a wing for everyone else. They put me in a room with another woman away from the maternity wing and crying babies. I remember waking up on and off and hearing the woman in my room sobbing. I laid perfectly still in that dark room and wondered what had happened to her. Looking back, now, I wonder if the sobs were mine.

When I finally came to, the Doctor on call approached my husband and I. His military manner was straightforward and blunt. In essence, our little baby girl never breathed a breath of life in this world, her malformation prevented it and he encouraged us to seek genetic counseling. Period, end of story. Still trying to understand what the Doctor had just said, my husband then announced that “they” had already done the autopsy and buried the baby…there was nothing for me to do except feel better and get stronger. My bleeding heart sunk into a pit, a pit so deep, I wasn’t sure there was a way out. I felt silent. I became silent.

I told my husband how sorry I was. I knew he had weathered much pain in his life, but he assured me it would all be ok. We’ll move on with our lives.

I think we drove home in silence. When we pulled up to the house, I saw my parents’ were there. I went to bed and stayed there for what seemed like a long time. I could hear hushed conversations, doorbell and telephone ringing and silently, I lay in bed trying to get the courage to go into the nursery.

I finally walked gingerly around the house into the baby’s room. The new bed, the rocking chair, changing table, it was all gone. In its stead were a desk, chair, and table, all items in an office not my baby’s’ room. I was silently reeling. Well-meaning friends had thought it best to get rid of it all so I wouldn’t be reminded.

My reminder wasn’t furniture. It was my swollen breasts, my empty womb, my sore inner thighs. My broken heart.

Suddenly among the deep sadness, I felt shame. Shame that I had produced this imperfectly formed child, shame that I wasn’t grateful that friends and family had taken apart the nursery. Shame that I didn’t agree with well-meaning phrases..”It’s for the best”, “You can have another baby”, “its time to get on with your life.” Shame that I couldn’t bounce back so everyone else could feel ok.

My unpredicted labor day lasted longer than 24 hours, as often they do. If I could know then what I know now, I would do so many things differently. I just didn’t know, and no one else near to me knew either.

I would hold myself and rock and cry. I would mourn the loss of this precious baby girl. I would hold her clothes, her tiny shoes and drink in their sweetness. I would take time to grieve, be unashamed of my sorrow, my tears. I would not worry about disappointing others on how long it takes me “to get over it”.

I never got over it, I just went on. She is always with me. My little Autumn, my champion for all the wee souls who got a fast track to heaven. I want her to know that I loved her, and wanted her. Even though I was young and unsure of my right to grieve, I mourn her loss yet celebrate her sweet heavenly soul.

Today, I honor two tender souls, hers and mine. Our tenderness gave us strength and gratitude. I will always remember, probably always be sad and always celebrate Autumn. For in doing so I realize, that my Labor Day was her Independence Day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in cooking with love, Crawfish, Eunice, Louisiana, Family, Food, Mothers

Momma’s Food for Thought by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Momma’s Food for ThoughtMama gumbo

Momma cooked rice and gravy every day for us. She made dinner at noon and supper at night.  We had fish on Fridays (shrimp or crawfish for special occasions). Gumbo was in the fall and winter and boiled crawfish on Good Friday.

Momma’s rice and gravy, whether served with smothered steak, baked chicken, or pork sausage, was lick-the-plate-if-I-could delicious. I would hum my “Yum-yums” at times, and she’d laugh and warn me, “No singing at the table.” She loved all fresh vegetables and liked her toast almost burnt. Her dessert preferences were sweet dough pie, a moist bundt cake, or anything with fresh figs.

Momma taught me to appreciate and enjoy good food. She never weighed much over 100 pounds, yet she loved to cook and share meals with loved ones like a true Ville Platte Cajun.  For her, the perfect breakfast was hot boudin and dark roast Community coffee. If you added a small greasy paper bag of fresh cracklins, the morning got even better.

I remember our summer dinners of ground beef and onions over a bed of Watermaid rice with field peas and cold sliced homegrown tomatoes on the side. Late  August afternoons often meant cold sliced watermelon topped with salt at our backyard picnic table after we had been swimming or playing tennis.

Mama & watermelon
Me, Momma, Ryan, and Emile 1987

Momma taught me to follow a few of her important food rules:

*Brown your meat well to make the “gradeau” you need for a gravy.

*Do not put seafood in your chicken gumbo or vice-versa.

*Never make an étouffée with “those Chinese crawfish.”

*If you give up sweets for Lent, you can have yogurt-covered raisins because Miss Jen said “those don’t count as sweets.”

Most importantly, my lil momma taught me that good food mattered and you gotta enjoy every bite. I may not have hot boudin in Austin, but Community coffee is everywhere now, and I can pretend my doughnut is a slice of blackberry sweet dough  pie. 

Merci beaucoup, Geraldine Latour aka Poulette aka Momma aka MaMa for teaching me that the best things in life have a bite of spice and taste so good you wanna Slap Ya Mama!slap ya mama

Posted in Caring for others, Children, Growing up, Introspection, Love, Mothers, Parenting

Fragile by Ginger Keller Gannaway

I remember the nervousness of holding my baby Shane 30 years ago. He was a couple of days old and hooked up to monitors and tubes in an ICU unit in San Antonio.  Born with transposition of the greater vessels, Shane had undergone an emergency heart procedure about six hours after he was born.  Dr. Bloom, a pediatric cardiologist, reopened the flap between the chambers of my first child’s heart with a balloon catheter that changed Shane from being a “blue baby” to a greyish-tinted baby. Shane would not be a healthy-looking pink Caucasian baby until he was big and strong enough to survive open-heart surgery to get his ticker to pump the proper amount of oxygen to his lungs.

Baby shane and mama
My mom (MaMa Gerry) and Shane Thomas

The morning I first held my baby in the ICU my mind held a confusing mix of excitement and fear. The nurse had to unhook Shane from a few monitors to place him in my arms as I bottle-fed him my pumped breast milk.

A week later a different nurse gave me lessons in swaddling and bathing my son. Also, I was handed a list of the signs of heart failure. She reminded me that Shane was still sick, and he would need extra care until he weighed 20 pounds and could undergo a 5-hour surgery.  Her directions, “Don’t let him cry too much” haunted me and Gary for the next 7 months.

Shane seemed beyond fragile. Bathing him involved getting the bathroom sauna-room warm before we washed his squiggling, crying, slippery self.  Breast feeding was the one thing my newborn and I seemed to get right. Shane was satisfied with his meal, and I felt like my boy was perfectly safe for those round-the-clock connections we shared.

As Shane grew and learned to sit up and crawl, we developed a small amount of parental confidence (until he had his first earache, busted lip, bumped head, or gagging incident).  Later Shane survived his open-heart surgery ordeal, and we worried less when he soon walked and talked his way into toddlerhood. Then in 1990  Casey was born followed by Evan in 1993. I let go of many parental fears since I saw my 3 boys as rough and tumble puppies who were more unbreakable than fragile.  (Like in Truffaut’s “Small Change” when a toddler falls out an apt. window and bounces his way to safety on the lawn).

However, when my boys became teenagers my fears about their fragility returned, and I felt sure about nothing. From the first broken-heart moment to the first traffic violation or the middle-of-the night call for help, I realized that a teen’s belief in his own infallibility only makes him more likely to get in trouble or hurt.

Now my boys are ages 30, 27, 24 and to me they are still fragile. Years before Shane was born, my dad told me that a parent never stops worrying about their children. I hate to admit that Dad was right-on with that observation. These days I aim for balance between fear and confidence when I think about my three sons. I know all of them have strong, loving hearts and minds that will serve them well when Life hurls danger at their fragile parts.

my 3 sons
Evan, Casey, Shane in 2006
Posted in Children, Gratitude, Mothers, Parenting, Parents

Love Never Fails

 

Add heading
Photograph by Nancy Malcolm

Love Never Fails:    
It’s hard to be a mother.  It’s gut-wrenching and heart-warming all at the same time.  Most of us begin motherhood with rose-colored glasses and sheer determination to be the best parent we can be.  We weave in and out of relationship advice, popularity contests, homework, and allowance.  But, sometimes our idealistic dream is shattered when our child has a life-altering accident, unwanted pregnancy or time in rehab.

In 2001 as the Twin Towers were burning, my heart was aflame with fear and uncertainty.  My youngest child had just gone to rehab for substance abuse.  I was so afraid for her future, and I was overcome with grief.  I never envisioned that the child I loved so much would one day become unrecognizable, foreign even to herself.  I did not wish for this compulsion or plan for it as I would a college fund.  Still, it was our reality….tough and raw.

I’ve always been skeptical of those parents who say their children are perfect. Or that ‘everything’s great! She’s my best friend.’  I felt guilty and ashamed that I had failed my job as a mother.  How could this happen to my child?  At times I cried myself to sleep at night because I loved her so deeply.

While my friends were sending out college graduation announcements for their children, I was celebrating the fact that my daughter had found a job on the bus route. While other kids her age were out partying, she was struggling not to and making a meeting every day. I was proud of her in ways other parents might never understand.

This beautiful child of mine turned 23 years old in rehab.  None of us could have predicted how her life would be today…..16 years clean and sober, teaching school and being a wonderful mother to my grandson. Our lives are full of gratitude.

There are a few of us who have walked the path of booby traps and detours, not wanting to look down, trying always to look up.  We carry our children over the land mines if we can, but if they must face the struggle themselves, we carry them in our hearts.  This too shall pass, we silently repeat, wanting to believe it with all of our beings.  We work hard to remember that ‘love’ will see them through.  Love is determined not to give up on even the hardest case.

Love never fails.

 

Posted in Aging process, Cajuns, Caring for others, Changes, Children, Friendship, Grandchildren, Grandmother, I love you, Mothers, Outdoors, Parents

Mama Joe’s Mimosa Tree by Ginger Keller Gannaway

Mama Joe’s Mimosa Treemimosa tree

A momma’s love shines through her children, and Mama Joe’s eleven children wonderfully displayed their love for her.  Lizo Vidrine married when she was 15 and she and Joe Latour raised their 11 kids in Ville Platte, Louisiana.  As a kid, I remember going to Mama and PapaJoe’s every week, mostly on Sunday afternoons.  When Dad drove the family from Eunice to Ville Platte my siblings and I played a very lame car game called “Counting Horses” ( that’s a “whole ‘nother Oprah” as one of my good friends would say). We traveled a distance of 17 miles, but to 4 restless kids, it seemed like 77 at least! 

Back then we mostly kissed Mama & Papa hello and then headed to the backyard to mama's familychase Papa’s chickens and eat his scuppernong grapes until he came out yelling at us to leave his chickens alone.  Then we fidgeted inside for 8 or so minutes until Dad gave us each a dime to walk to Mr. Theophile’s tiny store on the corner where we each bought 10 penny candies that were placed in small paper bags.  To get to the store we had to pass Mama’s next door neighbor’s house that would later remind me of Boo Radley’s place.  My sisters and I usually ran when we passed neighbor Gazelle’s because she and her “not-quite-right” daughters lived there with at least 100 cats, and Gazelle yelled at us if she was sitting on the front porch with a gun beneath her chair.  (another Oprah-type tale).

However, many years later, Papa Joe has died and Mama Joe is bedridden and somewhat senile.  Now her seven children who live closest to her have each claimed a day of the week to come take care of her (or pay for a sitter if they cannot come that week).   Usually my momma drives my two sisters and me to visit Mama Joe.  Now the house is quiet and after Gayle, Kelly and I kiss Mama Joe hello in her bed full of pillows, we move to the small living room to read or watch a little t.v.  Momma stays in Mama’s bedroom and time ticks slowly be with the soft sounds of Momma talking to Mama. Later, the sitter arrives and talks with Momma in Cajun French.  Sometimes my sisters and I go outside and pick these hard pears or sour plums from Mama’s trees. Papa Joe had been a gifted gardener, and years earlier he had grown vegetables and fruits galore in his extensive garden.  Gayle remembers when he pulled a carrot from the ground once and handed her the best carrot she has ever tasted!

Mama Joe’s yard also had this mimosa tree I really loved.  Its beautiful softness, the feathery green leaves, with the flowers that looked like pink dandelions remind me now of my grandmother’s soft, strong beauty. Mimosa trees produce fragile, sweet blossoms in the late spring that attract butterflies and birds and that also contrast with the tree’s tough nature.   According to some gardening websites, mimosas do well in droughts and heat, which explains their abundance along southern highways.  Also, they produce these elongated seedpods that drop and spread their “offspring” far and wide.  The Japanese call mimosas the “sleeping tree” because their leaves gently fold for the night.  Like the mimosa tree, Mama Joe had a strong, calm beauty that mixed the Cajun Vidrine in her with the Native American blood my momma always claimed she had. (“Your mama’s great-great grandmother was an Indian princess, for real!”)  Also, her eleven seedpods heeded the Catholic directive  to “go forth and multiply” well. Mama and Papa Joe had 48 grandchildren and over 60 great-grandchildren and I don’t know how many great-grandchildren since the Latours are still healthily multiplying. 

Overall, Mama Joe was a sweet, smiling & laughing Cajun who married at age 15 and raised a family of 11, who only spoke Cajun French until her son P.J. married Polly (an amazing woman from California),  and so she learned to speak English to welcome a new member of her family, who cooked rice and gravy like a top chef, who loved life and good times almost as much as she loved all of her many children and their children, and their children’s children, and so on.  All Mama Joe gave forth was love and joy which she taught my own mother, Geraldine, to do for her 4 children, who then did her best to teach me to do for my 3 boys.  Like the mimosa tree, may all mothers continue to spread strong, soft feathery blossoms of love for their own seedpods.

mama joe1
PaPa and Mama Joe

Thank you to Uncle Jack (Mama’s baby) and Aunt Faye for helping me with some Mama Joe details!

Posted in Children, Motherless daughters, Mothers, Parents

The Dichotomy of Motherhood

Happy Mother's Day

 

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”―     Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

For some reason, this quote from Charles Dickens reminds me of motherhood, at least my pilgrimage to and through motherhood.   Being a mother is the most fulfilling, heartwarming, satisfying, inspiring, God-given gift in the world. Sometimes though, it can break your heart.  Being a mother means you are vulnerable and open and approachable, which in turn means that you can be hurt. Only a mother could cry through a long night only to see the dawn with a joyful, hopeful expectation, ready to love again.

Mothers have their own special cheering section in Heaven.  Mothers know things dads will never know.  Mothers are capable of experiencing the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.  A mother is eternal.

Please accept these thoughts on motherhood; these words of description; these parallels of dichotomy; this attempt at explanation of the wonders of motherhood.

Watching….Waiting

Smiling….Crying

Heartwarming….Heartbreaking

Fun-filled….Fearful

Laughing….Leaping

Holding….Hating

Bearing….Bothering

Loving….Languishing

Exhilarated….Exhausted

Wonder….Wander

Capturing….Catapulting

Peaceful….Perplexing

Enveloping….Enabling

Helping….Hindering

Love…….Plain and simple

 

Happy Mother’s Day everyone, no matter what path led you to motherhood.  

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone who has loved a child with all of your heart.

Happy Mother’s Day to those who have loved and lost and those who lost their mother along the way.  We are all the same….we who love…we understand each other…

Our blood flows coarsely through our veins and our hearts beat as one.

Happy Mother’s Day!