When Fierce Dies
My Mom, you see...had lost ONE HUNDRED pounds recently. Though chronically ill, she had improved her health drastically. Her condition (COPD) was progressive. It never gets better, only worse. But SHE got better. Once, she needed 5 litres of oxygen on a constant basis, regardless of activity level. But she decreased her dependance to the point that she didn't use it at all if she was at rest, and was able to turn it down to 2 litres when active.
Once, she had trouble simply walking from one room to another in her home. But she had worked up to walking 3mph for 45 minutes on the treadmill. And she was able to discontinue use of the CPAP machine completely. In order to do that, her oxygen sats had to stay above 95 all night without it. And it did! I know that means nothing to you, but for someone with her disease, it was monumental. Her doctors marvelled at the progress she had made and the degree to which she had improved her quality of life. "That just doesn't happen.", they said. But SHE made it happen.
And then she died.
One night, she didn't feel well; a little sniffly, a little congested...no big deal. She has had dozens of colds since she was diagnosed and always recovered, though of course, it took her a bit longer. Nobody, least of all her, I'm certain, thought she would die of the sniffles. So she went to bed, fully intending to wake up and go on living. But she died sometime the next morning alone in her bedroom. Nobody knows why or how. Because COPD is eventually fatal, there was no investigation, no autopsy. She died of COPD as we knew she would. But still it makes no sense.
HOW? WHY? WHY NOW?
Someone with her condition cannot be called "healthy" by any stretch, but she was as healthy as someone with her condition could possibly be. And it seems so unfair. She worked so hard over the last 17 months to lose weight and get stronger. Really??? She loses a hundred pounds and then dies anyway?? That sucks. Big hairy donkey dicks. Pardon the vulgarity. But I am angry and I have no place to direct that anger. And her death was an ugly thing to me; I can only describe it with ugly words.
See...that's what's really bothering me.
Some of you may remember Funeral In A Small Town. It was one of my most cherished pieces because I felt that it meant something. And I want to write something for my mother that is a million times more meaningful.
But I can't. The words won't come, or at least, not the words I want, because I can find nothing beautiful about any of it. It was and is horrible and bleak and grim and...perverted. Yes. That's it. Her death is a perversion because there are few people in this world who were as vibrant and alive as my mother. The injustice wounds me so deeply that something down there refuses to fancy it up with lyricism and palatable prose.
This blog has been many things, not least of all my personal platform for working through the issues that plague us all as we navigate the stormy seas of adulthood. But how am I supposed to effect any kind of catharsis if I can't use WORDS??? How the FUCK am I going to get through this if I can't pull it out of myself and put it down on paper???
There are words though, that made their way to these pages long before my mother's death. I wrote about her often, because she was not only an amazing mother, but a remarkable woman. Now that words fail me, I'm so glad I have them, glad I shared them with her, and glad that I could hold myself together long enough to speak some of them at her funeral. A week later, just how I managed that is still a mystery to me. I was so fragile that day. It hardly seems possible that I was able to put one foot in front of the other.
Maybe one day I can honor my amazing mother with the beautiful words that fail me now. For now, this is what I have. This is what I said. This is what I want her to know.
It is possible to advocate for your child without being labeled a problem parent; the one that the staff talks about behind closed doors, the one every teacher dreads dealing with. For every Mom, there comes a time when she must rant and rave. But often, the right combination of determination, politesse, and a little good old fashioned flattery can achieve the objective without cultivating an unsavory reputation as “that” Mom.
I have my mother to thank for my diplomacy skills. But I also have her to thank for knowing when diplomacy has failed. She was never afraid to do what needed to be done. She didn’t care about being “that” Mom. She demanded the best for us. She insisted that we not be overlooked or treated differently because our clothing was second hand and our car was a battered wreck. She made sure that we were afforded dignity and respect; always.
I have one very vivid memory that stands as a testament to her determination in that regard. I was in 2nd grade, so I must have been about seven years old; just a baby, really.
I had been sent to the Principal’s office for wetting my pants. I sat on a hard wooden bench; wet, reeking, ashamed and miserable. It was winter in Wisconsin and I shivered as I sat there waiting for my mother. Nobody looked at or spoke to me. I waited for what seemed a very, very long time.
Finally, my Mother arrived with my little sister upon her hip. Her hair was in curlers, which were covered by an aqua blue nylon scarf. She was dressed in her stay at home clothes and wore lipstick but no other makeup. My mother hated to go out looking unkempt because as a beautician she believed that she was her own best advertisement. She was frazzled and clearly very angry. She didn’t look at me, but reached out to gently smooth my hair, and I felt a little better then.
The school secretary looked at my mother with disdain over half moon eyeglasses. Her drawn on brows were raised and her ruby mouth was pursed into a thin, wrinkled line. Her thinning hair, which was dyed a most unbecoming and unrealistic shade of brown, was teased high off her head into a rather transparent bouffant. Brittle winter sunlight streamed through the window directly behind her, which had the curious effect of making it appear as though her head was aflame. My childish observation was that she bore a striking resemblance to the Heat Miser at that moment.
“May I help you Ma’am?” she asked.
“Yes, I’m Mrs. Antagonist. I’m BA’s mother. I need to speak to the Principal. Immediately.”
“I’m afraid he’s occupied at the moment Ma’am, and cannot be disturbed. All we needed was dry clothing for BA.”
She was terse and chilly with my Mother, and I hated her for that. But my Mother was not intimidated or cowed.
“Yes, well…all *I* need is to speak to the Principal. I informed BA’s teacher that she has a medical condition and needs to be allowed to use the bathroom when she asks, as soon as she asks. Clearly, that request was ignored, which put my daughter’s health in jeopardy. So, either you get the Principal out here to speak with me, or I will go talk to the teacher myself, RIGHT NOW.”
The sharply drawn brows rose even more dramatically and she stammered, “Ehm…just a moment Mrs. Antagonist, I’ll see if he’s available.”
My Mother paced as she waited. She jiggled my sister up and down on her hip, though there had been no fussing from the bewildered baby. She did not protest, but bounced amiably as my mother strode back and forth. She touched a hand to her curlered hair, frowning when the chemical roughened skin snagged on the diaphanous fabric of her scarf.
Finally, the Principal deigned to appear. He affected a no-nonsense demeanor, obviously meant to convey that he would in charge of the incipient confrontation.
“Yessss, Mrs. Antagonist, what can I do for you today?”
“I need to know why my instructions that BA be allowed to use the restroom when she asks were ignored, Mr. Smith.”
He sighed heavily.
"Now, Mrs. Antagonist, there are 25 children in that classroom. If the teacher let every child run to the restroom every time they asked, they would never have time for learning. I'm sure you can understand that. It's time for BA to grow up and learn that big girls don't go to the potty every five minutes. She has to learn self control."
My mother turned the most amazing shade of scarlet I had ever seen. But she didn't lose her cool. She did not raise her voice. But when she spoke, there was iron in her tone.
"She has a MEDICAL condition, Mr. Smith. It's called Kidney Reflux and she is under a doctor's care. It means that when her body tells her that she needs to use the restroom, she is INCAPABLE of NOT using the restroom. And furthermore, NOT using the restroom when necessary can result in severe and dangerous kidney infections.”
She was in full metal Mother mode then. Mr. Smith opened his mouth, but my mother continued without acknowledging his attempt to interject.
“Do you think any child WANTS to wet their pants at school Mr. Smith? Can you IMAGINE anything more humiliating? She can control herself quite well if she is allowed to use the restroom when she has the urge. There was NO reason this had to happen and I will NOT stand for my daughter being treated this way!"
At that moment, my baby sister chose to take a very loud, smelly and runny poo upon my mother's person. She must have been so embarrassed, but she completely ignored the fact that she had feces running down her leg and soaking into her polyester pants.
"From now on, my daughter WILL be allowed to use the bathroom EVERY TIME she asks to go. And furthermore, she WILL receive an apology from the teacher for how she was treated. Do I make myself perfectly clear?"
I don't remember what he said to her then. What I remember is how utterly magnificent my mother was at that moment. So brave. So indomitable. So…FIERCE. And it was all for me.
She motioned to me and I went to her. She put her arm around my shoulders and then made her final address to Mr. Smith.
"I am taking her home. She's suffered enough humiliation for one day. Please inform the teacher that BA will not be returning to the classroom today."
And we left. As we navigated the halls together, I could scarcely keep up with my mother’s angry stride. So I skipped along beside her; light with the knowledge that she was not angry with me.
When we got home, I got cookies and milk and watched the Brady bunch, which I usually missed because it came on before I got out of school. My mother was out of sorts the rest of the day. Later that evening, I overheard her telling my father that Mr. Smith was a gutless moron and the teacher an incompetent bimbo and that if SHE had anything to say about it, neither I nor my sisters would ever go back there again.
The following year, we did not go back to that school. I have no idea how she did it, but she got us into a different school that was outside our district, but still within walking distance. It was a very long walk, but I had no intention of complaining. I would have walked ten miles to show my mother how grateful I was.
So you see…I had a good role model. My mother always stood up or me, even when I didn’t realize that she was fighting for my own good; even when it appeared we were fighting on opposite sides. There were many years that I thought we were adversaries. I thought she didn’t understand. I thought she didn’t care about what I wanted.
But she did all the things she did because she did care and she did them even when it meant she had to endure our sulky looks and petulant silences. She did care about what I wanted, but she knew what I needed. As a parent, I now realize that the two can sometimes be at odds with one another.
Sometimes being a Mom means being a champion and sometimes it means being the bad guy. But it always means doing the best for our children; trying to keep them safe, trying to help them make their way in the world without getting lost. And when that fails, it means letting them know that you’ll always find them; you’ll always be where you can be found.
Thank You Mom.
You have no idea how much your example has helped me do the things I’ve needed to do for my boys.
You have no idea how much it has helped me to be….Fierce.