Louis CK is hilarious. Go to 7 minutes, 27 seconds. It's perfection. Perfection.
A little while ago I had to write a narrative about an experience that changed my life. I couldn't think of anything greater than the years with my Mom. My life with my Mom. The speech that I wrote is below.
All of this I know and I don’t know. All of this has been warped and changed with memory and time. All of this I remember through slanted eyes, hurt eyes that have changed. All I know now is that I miss her. All I know now is that she is gone.
I was fourteen years old when my world changed in ways I could not yet imagine: my mother had breast cancer. She was thirty seven years old. My mother. Her struggle to live was more amazing than her struggle to fight the cancer that ate away at her. She fought for eight years, with chemo failing and doctors shaking their heads at her. She fought for so long, fighting for us. Fighting to live was different that her fight against cancer. And even though she eventually lost her fight against cancer, eight years after learning about it, she had lived. She had made a home, played with and raised her children proudly; she was not a pitiful woman. She was my mother. My mother: A woman who would not let the cancer stop her from building a beautiful one acre garden in our backyard. It would not stop her from decorating our home for birthdays, going above and beyond, even to the point of embarrassment. It did not stop her from smiling. Living. My mother fought cancer. Her illness and death will always shape me, will continue to shape me, and I will never be the same because of it.
The cancer was stage two breast cancer. She had chemotherapy, a mastectomy, and eventually reconstructive surgery. I learned these terms alongside Advanced Algebra and AP English. I learned them because it was my life. I wanted to learn everything I could about the disease and where it would take us. When her hair started falling out, she bought a wig, but didn’t want to wear it. It seemed less depressing to have a bandana and it worked well for her. It fit the spirit that she carried with her her whole life. The wig acted as cancer décor in the house. Soon more décor came, prescription bottles, souvenirs from the hospital like the chapstick they gave you. I remember that chapstick, always too dry and it stuck to your lips in clumps. We were all strong then, laughing and having bonfires when she was feeling fine. She continued to garden and to build a home for us. My Dad worked more often then and my brother, then nine years old, and I were taking care of her. My brother, my sweet brother, who will only remember my Mom with the cancer. It seemed okay though, we were doing our part. I swallowed this responsibility, wore it like a badge. I did not rebel. I didn't scream that I hated her or fought with her like most teenage girls my age were doing. We laughed. We were best friends. We would watch Law and Order in bed together and laugh at the silly plotlines. We created nicknames for each other. Most importantly, we lived.
We earned ourselves a reward after that difficult year and a half. The chemo ended and after many tests, it was announced that her cancer was gone. She was cancer free. It was over. My Mom was free. We were free. Her hair grew back, thicker and curly. The wrinkles in her eyes were deeper, she had aged from this time, but she was more beautiful.
What we didn’t know, couldn’t know during that time, was that the cancer was growing in her body. It had metastasized. While we celebrated, it grew to consume 90% of her liver. When they discovered it a year and a half later it was too late. They gave my mother a year and a half to live. I was then eighteen years old. I was older. My family was older too. We all knew what would happen and we were resigned. My mother, especially, was resigned to this new death sentence.
She changed. Slowly. Slowly. She changed.
She was able to take chemo at home, in a pill form, and she didn’t lose her hair. And the good news is she continued to fight. She gave herself and she gave us three more years. But it was a death sentence. Both the emotional memory I have of her and the physical person began to die. She spent more and more days in bed, started taking antidepressants because she was so depressed, and she yelled more often. Her pain never went away. All day every day the cancer hurt her as it grew. It metastasized to her pelvic, spleen, and brain. As the years went on, I graduated from high school, started college, but was always her caregiver. I moved away and moved back, living with her, living with cancer, living with the heavy cancer umbrella.
For a few weeks in August of 2007, my Dad went out of town and I was left at home to care for her alone. Someone had to be there for her now. She was hardly eating then and slept almost all day.
The pictures of that time show a woman we could not recognize at the time. Her face was drained of color, her hair thin, her smile weak. She was dying, but we did not allow ourselves to see it. If you look close, look into her eyes, she knew. She knew.
In the few days that my Dad was out of town, the cancer that had then spread to her bones pushed calcium into her bloodstream, making her confused. She took days and days of pills at once. It made her even more confused.
When my Dad returned from his trip, we took her to the hospital. The doctors told us that the chemo she was taking had failed and that she could take a break. We didn’t know that they meant forever.
We didn’t know. We couldn’t know then. Mom had more tests and they discovered that the cancer had grown so much that there wasn’t anything more we could do. We had a few months to say goodbye. She was sent home.
Goodbye? How could we?
We had hospice come in and they set up a bed in the living room. It was the our Christmas tree and stockings. I still remember my Mom’s face when she saw the bed for the first time. She knew what it meant.
But she was still herself. She continued to fight to live, even if she couldn’t fight the cancer anymore. The night that she returned from the hospital she had a glass of wine with my Dad, her close friends, and me on the deck. She was laughing and joking with the hospice nurse. She fought.
Four days after that she slipped into a coma. She just couldn’t wake up with what was happening to her and the pain medications. Ten days after that, on August 18, 2007, she passed away. It was peaceful, and my Dad, brother, and I were all able to be there. She had a smile on her face as we held her hands.
The fight to live is strong. The fight can last for years, it can last the rest of your life. My mother fought for eight years. Now I fight for her. I will fight for the rest of my life.
I will always need a mother. I will always need friends to get through this. I will always need a therapist to get through the many issues that will come up over the years – for instance, when I got married and she wasn’t there or when I had my son that I knew she would never meet. No matter how long she has been gone, no matter how much I have mourned for her, I will always need journals, friends, and therapists to get through this. She will always be with me. I can see that now. She will always be here.
It has been five years since her death. First I mourned, now I fight for her. Now I fight for me. Breast cancer is hereditary. Two of her sisters had breast cancer and survived, but I may have the gene. I may get cancer. When she was sick, I gave my life to her. In the years after her death, I gave those years to my Dad who mourned. Now I am standing up and I will fight to live.
I fight. This year I participated in the Susan G. Komen 3 Day Walk for the Cure. It was an exhausting 60 mile walk over three days in Chicago. I raised over $2,700 myself and all of the walkers that weekend raised 4.2 million dollars to help find a cure. I now run half marathons, exercise, eat organic and healthy foods, and get regular mammograms. When I get the gene testing in the years to come, I will see if I have the genes. If I do, I will take whatever other preventative measures I can.
I live. I enjoy time with my son, learn to savor the moments with friends and family, and take things slow. I can safely say that my mother and the years that I spent loving and living with her are greater and more inspirational than the depressing year of her death and funeral. I can safely say that those years have weighed on every decision I have ever made in my life.
My mother fought and she will always win. I will always fight and I will win. I am strong because I am me and I am strong because I am Molly’s daughter.
Me. That's who. My talk is cheap, I'm not a man, and I can't keep a blog for shit.
Here is family blog... continued. And regular.
To sum up the last few months:
Liam started daycare two half days a week, so Mommy can go to school.
AH! SCHOOL! AT MY AGE! AH! Yes, school. Four classes = homework = no free time. But unbelievablely satisfying.
Coffee maker broke. Replaced it with french press. We are fancy pants.
Moved to a new house, Liam still calls it "new house" It has a front yard and back yard. We play bikes in it and I can rake whenever I want. (Which is less often that I thought I would.) Really it's become a great place to store my unintentional new collection of vintage bikes.
John works and is going to school.
Went to a beer festival. Drank too much. Loved it.
Spent many long days at the park.
Swam a lot. Canoed.
Laundry pile increased, started buying more vintage dresses.
Buckley the cat still sleeps most of the day away.
Got a blackberry, that's fun, right?
Bought an almost embarassing amount of shoes. Don't tell.
Photo business is fun and perfectly busy. Exactly what I can handle right now.
A preview of what's to come (i.e. what I will continue to do):
Use this blog to detail all the little moments of Liam's life and remember the year
Potty train the boy - holy cats!
Decorate Liam's room in a spectacular vintage + boy fun fashion
Finish painting inside of new house
Show pictures of all
Host fabulous dinner party
Pictures of my boy
Poems or articles or links to love
Share fun learning things we are doing
Share great places to visit in Madison
Montessori propaganda (because you know I do)
Continue the 101 things in 1001 days list - I HAVE been working on that, I SWEAR TO GOD
All while being a little dry and self-depricating, but proud of my son and meaningful to reflect my personality.
You ready for all that?
Be back soon with details, love, pictures, and WILD stories of what it is like to be a Momma in Madison, WI.
And here, told in acts, is the story of our last month:
Act One: In Which John is Done With School and We Have Fun
Going to the Park
Helping Mommy with the Groceries
Running Away from Mommy as We Change into Pajamas
Showing off Big Baby Belly after He Got into the Chair All By Himself For the First Time
And Lastly, Destroying the Kitchen (Notice the Cabinet Door Hanging Off It's Hinges)
Act Two: Where We Travel to Chicago for a Night, then continue to Grand Rapids
We stayed at the Embassy Suites with my Dad, and it has the coolest
design. Deep stripes and glass balconies pull you to the center, where
you can stare down to the lobby below. While some people may have
developed a fear of heights, Liam took full advantage of it.
Then Liam and John continued to Grand Rapids, while My Dad, Suzy and her kids and I stayed in town to see the musical In the Heights. We shopped, walked up and down Michigan Avenue, and visited the Lego Store.
Act Three: In Which We Celebrate Christmas Eve, Drink Too Much and Set Things on Fire
Act Four: In Which We Celebrate Christmas
Liam LOVED opening the presents and the boxes way more than the
actual gifts. This is an improvement from last year, however, since he
slept through the morning while Mommy opened the gifts.
He loved the Christmas tree and would carefully take off the bottom ornaments, examine them, and place them back in their spot. As the days went on, Liam was more used to the tree and then took off the ornaments and gave them to people.
We spent the morning at John's parents house, the afternoon with my Mom's side of the family, and the evening with my Dad and Suzy.
At my Dad's house, Liam learned valuable skills like putting things inside the VCR and feeding the dog.
It was a really great day and we felt so good to be able to spend
the time with our families. We are so lucky that we could come back
Our little boy came to Grand Rapids a baby, but left a toddler in all his running, climbing, talking, signing glory.
Whether it's food or an action, Liam has strong preferences. He
started doing the "eat" sign to signify more, food, or really anything
that he wanted. One afternoon, he was doing the eat sign to show that
he wanted Grandpa Powers' blackberry. So, Grandpa shut it off and
handed it to him. Liam looked at it, noticed that the screen was
black, paused for a second, and looked back at him doing the eat sign.
As if to say, 'You're kidding me, right? You think you can fool me?'
He'll also deposit a book, puzzle, or toy in your hands and make the
Doing "eat" sign to mean "turn the radio back on!"
Liam really developed his climbing skills and got into the armchairs and his very own rocking chair over and over again. After he would get into them, he would rub his face into the corners getting his hair all fuzzy and big and then clap for himself. It's so amazing to see him doing these things on his own and feeling so proud.
We saw all of our friends, and got pictures of some:
And pictures of one, John Powers:
Dad and I also took Liam sledding. I was more nervous than Liam, who took the big hill like a champ!
We ended our vacation with a trip to my friend Audrey's parents cottage. That was really a special trip and it was so great to relax and spend time with friends. It was so amazing to see our children playing together. There are pictures below, and you may want to turn down your volume for the video (excited children running!)
Finally, Act Six: In Which We Return the Madison, Spend the Whole Week Unpacking and Finally Get Around to Blogging.
To Be Continued...
This might just set the record for the latest weekly update. You understand, things are rushed... work, work, work, pack up, wait a minute... I forgot...., run back up to the apartment only to realize that you did have the novel that you're reading that you won't have a moment to pick up while you're on "vacation", drive fast, drive into a traffic jam, drive into Chicago, in rush hour, wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Remember that patience is a virtue that you weren't born with and haven't worked on yet. Pause. See a musical and love it. Realize that it's still a bit awkward to see sex scenes while sitting next to your father. While swear words are now okay, the word "sensual" is not an adjective I'd like to hear.
Go. Run back to the car. Drive slow. Drive into a traffic jam, in rush hour, wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Remember why it is that you travel at the boy's bedtime so we escape the whole "I'm tired of being in my carseat" wail that he masters when he wants to be mobile. Shush him to sleep. Drive. Drive faster, drive into Michigan late. Get the boy to bed. Rest. Rest for two hours until the boy wants to nurse again. Rest.
I've said it before and I'll say it again - Liam learns so much on vacation. My Dad came in Tuesday night so we could all drive in together (another witness to the madness), and for the first time Liam stood without holding on to anything. Not once, but three times.
By the time we got into Grand Rapids, we were exhausted. Even though it's only a six hour drive, it wipes us out. We woke up and Liam had taught himself how to play hopscotch! No, not really. We spent the whole day at the pool and had a blast splashing in the pool. His wrinkly toes made a delicious snack when he was done.
John was sure to take advantage of the extra hands. He played golf with his Dad for the first time in something like fifteen years. He wasn't exactly Tiger Woods, but he had a lot of fun.
Friday I took photos with Dylan...
and saw Cosette.
By Saturday, Liam had figured out how to play Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata blindfolded.
But he was more vocal than he has ever been. He started saying Mama and Dad with a bit more intention. And for the first time he can find things, like where's the ... ball, Dad, Mom, fish, cow, etc. When you ask him, he thinks about it and turns his head around the room to scan where the ball, Dad, Mom, fish, or cow is.
On Saturday we went to our family's cottage. It's on a small lake so the water is warm and baby friendly. Grandpa Shotwell (GranDaddio) took him out in it, and I'm not sure if Liam was too keen on this experience...
...but he's been going through a separation anxiety phase lately.
He actually took his nap while we were at the cottage (knock on wood, we're getting better!), and we were able to spend almost the whole day relaxing. John and I even went tubing. Which is, by the way, the best workout I have had in years. Made me realize the best way to exercise is by focusing on something else, like how to not face plant on the water going fifty miles an hour.
That night John stayed home with Liam and I went out like a real grown up. Audrey, Greg, and I saw the Time Traveler's Wife were I cried like a little girl. (The first time I read the book was a month after Liam was born and I inhaled it. I quickly learned that postpartum hormones, sleep deprivation, and a heartfelt novel about love, pregnancy, miscarriages, child rearing, and death is a bit too much to handle. It took me about a day to recover from the sobbing.) Then we went out for drinks. We stayed up until 2am and actually closed the bar. It was so nice to catch up and talk about everything in our lives. I miss them so much.
Sunday we woke up and saw our friends Megan, Steve, and their son Patterson.
It's so crazy that have kids. John and Steve used to spend most of their time talking about music together and record shopping. Now they spend most of their time talking about music and the fine details of their son's development. It's adorable and wild all the same.
We came home to the Powers' house and relaxed for a minute before packing up and saying goodbye. Liam, the mobile boy, fought this tooth and nail.
We hugged Grandma and Grandpa and then...
Repeat. Pack up, wait a minute... I forgot..., run back to the house because you forgot just about everything, check under the bed, around the coffeetable, where is that damn pacifier? Oh yes, in the toy basket. Hugs all around, drive, drive slow through construction, drive slow on one lane, drive into Chicago and wonder how it is that it always seems like rush hour, get into a toll oasis, and pause.
Liam, who is still awake, is happy. And as we wait in the car for John to get some things, Liam is watching a group of people walk by the car. A few moments after they pass, he is still watching them. Slowly, slowly, he raises his hand and waves. I wanted to call the presses. You could see him working so hard to figure it out. He waved for a few minutes and then stopped, satisfied with his move.
We got back into the car, and got home with little trouble after that. But you understand, things are rushed when you get home. Laundry, dishes, bills, emails, grocery shopping, and lastly, blogging. Which is why, my dear friends, blogging happens on Tuesday this time. Week gone wild.
Now, relax. Breathe. Forget folding that pile of laundry and read Clifford the Big Red Dog again. Wave back and forth with the boy and feel grateful that I have the time to play and life is quiet. Most of the time.
Much love, more next week.
This is a signature Molly Shotwell move. Mom always used to stick her arm in the air like this and proclaim all sorts of news.
"I am the cleanest in the world!" after a good shower.
"Dinner is Ready!" whether it was macaroni and hot dogs or a roast chicken.
"I thank all of the little people." At the annual Academy Awards Party, where she dressed up as Jodie Foster and graciously accepted her Oscar.
Mom was a special, playful, intelligent, woman. It's so funny, when you're a kid, you have no idea that anyone is growing up any different than you. When I was older and went to friend's houses, I was shocked to find that they weren't allowed to play kick Mom off the bed. A game where we would jump on her, pound on her, and then literally kick her off of her bed with our feet or elbows or whichever part of us was particularly sharp that day. She would lay there on the ground for a minute and then pounce up and get us again. Then we would find ourselves thrown on the ground. It was a shock to find that some Mom's didn't shove napkins in your shirt when you were carrying food to the table and your hands were full. On Easter and Thanksgiving, we would invite all of our family friends who didn't have anywhere to go over. All of the holiday homeless, Mom would say. It didn't matter if Mom knew them for a day or twenty years, she would greet them with a bear hug. We would have the biggest, most delicious meal. She didn't care if people sat at the table, on the couch, or the floor. We didn't have the matching linens and plates, but we had our favorite gravy cow. The one that her mother and grandmother had used. All that mattered was that we were all together. It's the company that you love. It's the people, not the things. Those evenings were spent cleaning up all together and dancing around the dining room table to Sam Cooke. I must admit, more than my share of whipped cream and mashed potatoes was thrown in that dining room. We made up weird nicknames. Fromage and le Grande Fromage. Because Mom, of course, was the big cheese.
She was a short (Five feet, one and three quarter inches) woman, but she was a bulldog. If she fixed her mind to something, it was done. It was more than done, it was done two years ago. Even though she was so short, she was pushy, and while working for the neighborhood association in downtown Grand Rapids, she would go into apartments where the slumlords were the worst and install locks on windows and doors. She memorized tenant laws in Michigan so she could defend these people who had no voice. She personally fought landlords who were mistreating people. She wasn't afraid of anything. We would sometimes get mice in the house and when most mothers would get scared, Mom would unhook it from the trap without thinking and throw it away. No standing on the chair screaming - no problem.
Best of all, Mom didn't brag about these things. She changed people's lives, and fought for their equality, but she just did it because it was right. That was a rare and fine quality.
It's been four years. Four years today, and I still don't have the words. All of these stories are old. The dancing, the stubbornness, the mouse, all of it. All I have are memories that I try to hold on to, but they are slipping so fast. The harder I try to remember, the faster they go. I try to drum up memories, but they feel stale. Old. Sometimes they, too, feel dead.
Today marks the four year anniversary of Mom's death. It's harder this year because of Liam. He will never meet his Grandma Shotwell. And this breaks my heart. Just writing it brings tears to my eyes.
As I write this, Liam sings his ode to his puffs. He wants water. He wants to get down. Balls, water bottles, pacifiers are shoved into his mouth. He wants me. And so, I leave this page. I will leave these thoughts, and I will move on. I will be the mother that Liam needs. I will be his big cheese. I will wrestle him to the ground and attack him with kisses. As he grows, I will shove napkins in his shirt. We will dance to Sam Cooke. We will dance to Aretha and Bruce Springsteen. We will move on and these memories may fade, they may change in my mind, we will keep what we have alive. We will take what we have, remember, and develop more. We will laugh. We must.
I love you, Momma.
My brother Dylan and I went downtown to take pictures. Dylan and I are almost five years apart, and being older, I spent most of our childhood being far too old and too cool to hang out with a drooling kid. When I was a teenager, he was just getting into Power Rangers and I would have none of that. I was far too busy finding the right neon tights to fit under my holed jeans.
Now that he is an adult (and very 21, I might add), we are able to connect again. Photography is one way that we can hang out and catch up. He has a great eye and is willing to go to all sorts of lengths to get the perfect picture.
This gem, for example, he took when he was hanging off of a 400 foot building this summer.
While in Grand Rapids, we went out together. It was so nice catching up with him - I am so pleased to see that he is growing up to be a respectable human being. (Sometimes it's hard to gauge that when they spend most of their time riding tonka trucks down hills at forty miles an hour.) He's talented and kind and I couldn't be prouder.
These are some photos that we took together. Dylan has the same camera that I do, but forgot his, so we shared.
Dad and I saw Spring Awakening at the Oriental Theater yesterday. It was my first real musical and it was really great. It was really great how Dad prepared me to see it. He said that you have to listen to the music for a while and get used to it, so when you see the play you can connect the story and characters. I am not usually a theater person, I usually prefer movies, but this was truly dynamic, wild, and exciting. I really got into it and can understand why people love plays and musicals so much. It wasn't your typical "musical"... well, take a look for yourself....
We saw a matinee and blew out of Chicago on our way to Grand Rapids to continue our tour of the Midwest...
Liam made a new friend this week:
He was clearly irresistible.
It's been an interesting week. About a month ago, John and I sold our old Honda Accord and bought a brand new 2009 Mazda 5. It's great, like a mini-minivan. It seats six, has sliding doors, and (get this!) a cd player. Sure, most of the country has moved on to things like moving pictures and mp3 players, but we feel so lucky to not have our cassette with portable cd player, wires, and batteries hanging all over the car...
It's been all well and good, but right before Megan and Steve came to visit last week, I got an oil change. Silly me, I thought we could save twenty bucks and go to the Jiffy Lube. They were nice enough and got us out of there without a problem (or so I thought). The next day our oil light went on and starting flashing. Very very long story short, Jiffy Lube had put back the pieces wrong.
The replaced the oil plug wrong, covering the engine "from stem to stern" in oil. Blah blah blah and some more car jargon later, the cam timer seized and the Mazda dealership decided that our engine was "condemned".
Our new car's engine needed to be replaced. So we started to look into Jiffy Lube.
We were blown away that this could happen. Our brand new car! It was absolutely paralyzing.
So we were dealing with Jiffy Lube and the Mazda dealership all week trying to figure out the damage and have it taken care of. It's been a headache to say the least. Jiffy Lube, probably due to all of this bad press, had complied. They paid for a rental car and will pay for tests, potential repairs, and anything else we need. Hopefully this will include spa trips, massages, and paid date nights for the next year.
Lesson learned -- Don't Go To JIFFY LUBE.
Aside from all of the headache, we had a great week. Little man is getting better at walking and climbing! He tries to get his little stubby leg up to hoist himself up on anything, from the coffee table to the kitchen chairs. So far, he hasn't been successful, but we're extra cautious now.
His appetite has doubled so we're expecting a growth spurt anytime now. He is eating a lot more finger food and less pureed cubes (finally an end to the blending is in sight!). We could probably buy stock in Cascadian Farms veggies after this week.
We also went to my cousin Joe's wedding this weekend in Saint Charles, Illinois. It was a blast seeing all of the family, we so rarely see them now.
Liam stayed up until 9:30 and had a fun eating puffs and grapes on white linens. Great Uncle Gregg showed him how to dance, and Uncle Dylan was kind enough to teach him how to take shots and swear.
A great end to a crazy time and we're all crossing our fingers for a break for a while. C'mon, universe!
Much love, more (good stories, about cotton candy and unicorns) next week!