Tuesday, August 6, 2013

This One's for Lisa

Nana and Charlie, falling in love. 
I loved my mother-in-law.  Not "appreciated," not "admired," not "got along with"-- though all those things were true, too.  But fundamentally, I just really, really loved her.  She was hilarious and sarcastic and smart and goofy and thoughtful and generous and humble and honest.  What was not to love?

And I know for a fact that Elizabeth "Lisa" Maxwell, Greatest Mother-in-Law in the World, loved me, too.  It goes without saying that she loved my husband, Tim.  But the truest thing I ever witnessed was her love for our kids, Charlie and Libby.  Even at her most frail, she'd demand to hold the baby for hours.  She'd order me to send her more videos and more photos, even though we only lived 20 minutes away.  She didn't feign interest in potty training discussions; she really was interested! Her love for our rug-rats was huge and powerful and blind, and exactly the kind of love a mother hopes to swath her children in.  A helmet against the bumps and bruises of life.  Dumbo's magic feather, always keeping them aloft.

So when Lisa died last September after a long, gritty fight with multiple myeloma (a cancer of the blood that attacks your red blood cells and gradually saps the strength from your bones), I felt grief-stricken.  I felt angry.  And most of all, I felt gypped. When I thought about the years my kids should have had playing with Lisa, all the recitals and concerts and ball games she was supposed to come to, all the hugs and jokes and stories she'd have given them...well, I wanted to cry foul and have an on-field fight with the ref.  It didn't help that Charlie's second birthday was just a couple days after Lisa left us.  He was surrounded by doting aunts and uncles, adorable cousins, and his beloved Pop-pop, Gangy and Pops, but without Nana we all felt a little bit lonely.

The two Elizabeth Maxwells. 
It's a funny thing, loss.  You chug on, and gradually you cry less and laugh more.  You institute new habits, like telling the kids Nana Stories as often as you can.  You start the "God Bless" section of the kids' bedtime prayers with, "Let Nana watch over us, night and day." Maybe you get back into running after the birth of your second baby (named Elizabeth, like her Nana), and you start talking to your mother-in-law while you're out there, sweating by yourself.  It's possible that the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other exercise becomes a meditation on life and motherhood and health, and you start to feel that your getting stronger is a tribute to Lisa, who fought so hard to keep her bones and muscles from giving out.  Heck, maybe you register for a marathon and dedicate it to her memory.  But I'm only speaking in hypotheticals, here.

So, maybe I'm registered for the Philadelphia Marathon on November 17, 2013.  And maybe I've been trying to figure out how to work it into my fundraising efforts for The Dude Hates Cancer (TDHC), the super-fun charity campaign and bowling tournament that my husband and sister-in-law chair here in Buffalo, benefitting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  "Sell" each of the 26.2 miles for a certain price?  Promise to wear a crazy outfit (a tutu? a weird hat? temporary tattoos?) if I hit my fundraising goal?  Do my training runs through Buffalo wearing "sponsored" slogans on my shirt (ex., TIM IS MY HERO)?  I'm still mulling it over, and will happily accept suggestions.

This year's TDHC tourney is firmly dedicated to Lisa's memory.  Tim posted a banner across the top of the site with a photo of his mom and the slogan, "This one's for Lisa."  No matter how or if I incorporate my marathon training into my fundraising, that's become my running motto, too.  It's amazing how motivational it is when you get to the eighth mile of an 11-mile run and you just want to go home and eat waffles.  I just say to myself, "Hey, Quitter.  This one's for Lisa, remember?" and I find that I can push through the pain a little bit longer.  Because you know what?  She sure did.  And that's why I loved her.  

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Return of the Matron

Dr. Jekyll had Mr. Hyde.  I have The Prison Matron.  She’s about 57, has steel grey hair, drinks vodka, wears a polyester uniform, carries a night stick.  She doesn’t have a kind word for anyone, especially the inmates, and she doesn’t suffer fools.  To The Matron, everyone is a fool. 

The Matron first appeared while I was in high school.  She was forged in the fiery furnace of bedroom-sharing (“GET OFF MY SIDE OF THE ROOM!”) and she gained strength in her daily battle against three younger siblings (“QUIT IT!  YOU’RE SO ANNOYING!”).  She is most likely to bellow commands in an unbecoming, guttural tone but she has also been known to sneer insults.  No one invites The Matron to parties, which is just as well because she wouldn’t waste her time at your stupid idiot festival, anyhow. 

It was my mother who named The Matron.  Whenever I roared at one of my siblings, in quintessential Mary Devine fashion, she made light of my torrent of negative emotions.  “Oh, Prison Matron!” she would coo.  “Matron, are you upset?” If you think that approach pacified The Matron, you’re dead wrong.  “Unnnh!” she would grunt.  “Don’t (grumble, grumble)…not fair (grumble).”  She would stomp away in her steel-toed boots to punch a speed bag.  

The Matron didn’t come with me to college, thank God.  She also never showed up in Manhattan after my graduation, or during my stints in Rochester, Worcester, or Philadelphia.  I’m fairly sure that none of my friends know her, and even my husband Tim has only met The Matron’s sister, Lady Naggy Von Whinerstein.  So imagine my surprise – shock, even – when she burst into my kitchen last week! 

How could The Matron yell at these two?
I was attempting to get my beautiful, cherubic 2-year-old son Charlie into his coat and boots so that we could get to an appointment on time.  His sister Libby was already coated, hatted, and buckled into her car seat.  I was outfitted head-to-toe in down and wool and was in no mood or wardrobe to chase a wily toddler around the kitchen table.  But Charlie … well, Charlie had other ideas.  I’d get one arm into his jacket and realize that he had kicked off both boots.  When the boots were back on, he tossed his hat into the cats’ litter box.  When the hat had been recovered and a suitable replacement found, one mitten was missing.  When I turned around to pick up the diaper bag, Charlie made a beeline for the living room for his “cello” (a toy guitar that he turns vertical and plays with an unsharpened pencil “bow”).  And without warning, out came The Matron.

“CHARLIE MAXWELL, YOU GET OVER HERE RIGHT NOW! I WILL NOT TELL YOU AGAIN!”  You’d think her voice would be rusty after all that time in hibernation, but it was as fresh and horrible as it was in 1995.  Upon hearing The Matron, at first I was startled—like running into your high school nemesis in the grocery store, it was an encounter I just hadn’t prepared for.  Then I was dismayed—did this mean that The Matron would, against my will, become my signature “Mom’s Mad Voice”?  Next, I was embarrassed—had my friendly downstairs neighbors heard me, and would this change how they say hello to me in the foyer?  And finally I just started laughing.  When he heard me laughing, Charlie started laughing, too, and we laughed for a good, solid five minutes.  Tears rolled down my cheeks and Charlie laughed at the tears. 

The Matron was stunned.  No one but my mom had ever disrespected her like this. She was accustomed to fear.  This … this was ridicule!  And from a 2-year-old!  If her methods didn’t work on a child, who could they be expected to work on?  She huffed and puffed and grabbed her ill-fitting hat and ring of 200 keys.  “I’m leaving,” she said, but her eyes were begging me to stop her.  “I’ll go,” she warned, “and I won’t ever come back.  I’m serious!” 

Still laughing, Charlie, Libby and I gathered our things and walked out the door, locking it behind us.  I think I saw The Matron’s lip quiver.