Be Still and Know

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I talked to my mom today. I’m sure a lot of you talked to your moms today. It’s probably something as routine as putting on deodorant or brushing your hair.

But I haven’t had a normal conversation with my mom in a while.

She didn’t beat around the bush. I said hello, and she said she might not know who I am tomorrow, and as I heard those words, I sunk down onto the floor of my kitchen. I clutched the phone to my ear while squeezing back my tears, and I sat on my cold kitchen floor and reassured her that she would. That she will always know me, that she is the strongest person I know, and that she’s fought harder battles in her life.

She said she loved me at least three times, like she might never say it again. And I said it back, like she might not hear it again.

The following article has been edited but was previously published on Sisterwivesspeak.com. (No longer available.) I wrote this a year or so ago, maybe longer, and when I reluctantly hung up the phone with my mom, I remembered the words I wrote as they echoed in my head.

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I save all of her voicemails. All of them. Friends call and say, “Your voicemail is full. I couldn’t leave a message,” and I lie and say that I’m too lazy to delete my messages, but it’s not true. I can’t delete them because one day they may be all I have of her.

I fear losing her. It haunts me.

Losing the mother who I know today, who’s really not the mother I knew three years ago, who keeps changing every year, whose mind might never be “normal” again, who one day might not even recognize my face.

Death would be easier. Death is final and sometimes even fair. But my mother has dementia, and her mind goes through cycles. Sometimes she’s (almost) normal. She’s our now normal, but then there are times when she isn’t. And one day those times will be all that I know.

Glenn Campbell wrote a song called “I’m Not Gonna Miss you,” a song he recorded shortly after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He wrote the heartbreaking lyrics “I’m still here but yet I’m gone…” to help his family understand that the grief would be one sided, that he wouldn’t “miss” them.

I picture a day when I visit with my mother, when she doesn’t know my name, who I am, and it breaks my heart.

Shatters it.

But what’s even more difficult for me to wrap my brain around is that one day, she isn’t going to know who she is. She won’t remember having five kids and keeping an immaculate house. She may not remember how she never met a stranger, how no matter where she was, she could make a friend. She won’t remember that she had the best sense of humor, and her West Texas accent only accentuated her wit. She won’t remember that she could make a room burst into laughter with one of her lines like “madder than a piss ant in a pepper jar.” She won’t remember being a daring child who wasn’t afraid to ride a bull or a horse that hadn’t been broken.

She won’t remember her first kiss.

She won’t remember giving birth to her first child.

She won’t remember all of the funny stories from her childhood.

She won’t remember dancing with my dad.

She won’t remember when she kissed me goodnight.

She won’t remember when she walked me into kindergarten and told me to be brave.

She won’t remember when she whispered in my ear just before I got married that no matter what ever happened in my life I should put myself first. Always.

She won’t remember.

She won’t remember.

She won’t remember.

And what terrifies me more than anything is that she might be scared, and who will be there to comfort her if she doesn’t know who anyone is, if she doesn’t even know who she is?

There’s a song that a friend introduced me to a while back. It often randomly plays from my music library, and every time, it gives me this strange sense of comfort.

I want to comfort her. I want her to know I am always here.

I hope that when she is in that dark and scary place, she can just “be still and know.”

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Just a Girl For a Girl

I grew up censored. I was taught to behave a certain way. I obeyed the rules  to sit still and be quiet and that (and this is a big one) women do not have the right to assert authority over men. It was in the Bible, so it was true. My father, a Christian fundamentalist, taught me from a very young age that women were inferior. I don’t fault him. He no longer believes this way, and he supports women and is coming around to feminism.  If you know anything about me at all, you know that my dad is one of my favorite people on the planet, and nobody has ever or will ever love me as much as he does, but I grew up “just a girl” who could do things well “for a girl” who was smart “for a girl.”

I had a great childhood and was loved and cared for, but along the way, I started to realize that I didn’t buy into the “for a girl” bullshit I was being spoon fed. I watched my mother, a traditional stay at home mom, submit to my father on most decisions that were made in our home. He was the head of the house, and when I began to voice my opinion on the subject, I was squelched and quieted and told that I didn’t know anything by most of the people in my family.

When Geraldine Ferraro was announced as the vice presidential candidate in 1984, I heard a lot of talk about how a woman couldn’t possibly be president. She would be too emotional to hold such a title. I was six years old.

The older I got, the more I rebelled against that conventional mindset, but I continued to hear things like “women shouldn’t” or worse, “women can’t.” Last week, I defended a candidate that a family member interviewed for a job because he was worried if he hired her, she would be high maintenance. Because she’s female.

I try not to teach my children stereotypes. Anytime my son gets emotional, I don’t tell him to “stop crying like a girl.” I tell my daughter she can do anything.

Just this morning, she said to me, “Mom, I know I’m not supposed to play football because I’m a girl, but I like it.”

I responded, “Because you’re a girl? Pfft. Girls can do anything. Today, for the first time in history, I can vote for a woman to be president of the United States. We can be astro-physicists, epidemiologists, fork lift drivers, police officers, baseball players. Anything. And if you love football, you play without apology. Don’t let anyone tell you because you’re a girl, you can’t do something. Because you are a person, and you can do anything.”

She woke up with a stomachache this morning and stayed home from school, so when I went to the polls today to vote, I took her with me. I felt an immense sense of pride, a lump heavy in my throat as we walked side by side into the polling station.

The woman at the desk offered her an “I voted” sticker, and she graciously took it. We went to the booth. I showed her Hillary Clinton’s name on the ballot and said, “Let’s make history.” Tears welled in my eyes as 1we pressed the screen and put an X next to her name. This is a moment she and I will remember for the rest of our lives.

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We’re With Her

I sometimes rock the boat on social media and get into discussions about things like gun control because I’m passionate about it, but I have stayed pretty quiet about this election. The times I’ve spoken any opinions, I’ve been put in my place and quieted. I’ve received lots of hateful private messages that I tried to simply brush off. To me, it’s not worth it to lose friends over an election, so I’ve kept my mouth shut. Until today.

Women didn’t earn the right to vote in this country until 1920, and it took another 96 years for a woman’s name to be on the ballot for President. It doesn’t matter what side of the fence you lean. This is a big deal. For my daughter, for me, for women, for America.  And because of this monumental moment in history, for the first time in my life I feel brave enough to let everyone I know hear me say, “I’m with her.”