I was cuddling my five-year-old in bed earlier this week. She had woken up before the sun and I had her in a kind headlock, hoping she might fall back asleep for an hour before we started our day. Her breath was in my face, legs intertwined with one in my armpit and one kneeing me in the stomach. Her arms draped between my shoulder and my head and honestly, she’d never looked more comfortable. When it was clear she wasn’t going back to bed, I opened my eyes and we just stared at each other until the giggles came. She shifted her body to be even closer to me, and lay atop me so I could feel her heart beating on top of mine and her toes tickled just above my knees.
“Logan, Bica (Grandma) would say that we’re being lipicos right now. That’s Romanian for sticky. She and I were sticky, just like this, a lot.”
“I like being sticky with you, Mama.”
I closed my eyes and imagined the times that I’d crawl into my mom’s bed after a nightmare, making as little noise as possible so she wouldn’t even know I had snuck in. I remember the times she’d crawl into my bed as I sobbed about another broken heart. I can imagine now, laying next to Logan, that she’d pretend to be devastated alongside me but inside she’d be jumping for joy that hers was the presence that I needed to feel comforted. Later, as it became difficult for my mom to move and the pain grew more constant, my brother and I would lay on either side of her low Ikea bed frame and watch NCIS. We would have full-on family meetings, later adding my husband Dave and sister-in-law Katie, from that position in her bedroom. Dave mentioned only once that he thought it was odd that I still laid in my mom’s bed but I think the sticky nature of our relationship was obvious and he decided his energies were better spent asking me to spend less money buying coffee.
I can’t lay in her bed this weekend to wish her a Happy Mother’s Day the way that Logan will do for me. My mother is in hospice in Massachusetts, recently diagnosed with COVID-19 and outliving most expectations that calculated the end of the most important life ever lived.
My generation is increasingly in this position where we’re caring for our children, but also for our guardians. Of the 40 million caregivers to older family members, 1-in-4 are millennials. If like me, you’re broken in half on Mother’s Day, especially while we all experience the added stress of navigating a pandemic, please remember that you’re not alone. If you’re like me, please know that I am sharing my heartache with you, but also my gratitude, appreciation, celebration, and love. I also invite you to take a glimpse into my broken heart and lessons learned, in hopes that they’ll spare you from my mistakes and help you as you move forward.
As my mother got more and more ill, I got more and more angry. My source of strength and hope was weakening, and I couldn’t understand why she was letting it happen, why she wasn’t fighting harder. She had, among many things, dementia and as is the case for many matters of the brain, there is so much stigma associated with their care and conversation. I thought that if I could just tell her how hard it was for me to watch her like this, she might choose to stop being this way. It wasn’t until it was too late that I was able to start thinking about how it must feel for her to witness herself slipping away, in general and away from me. I think of other people first now, leading with kind words and actions, because I know firsthand how an absence of kindness can hurt those closest to us.
I try very, very hard to listen. I didn’t listen to my mom when she told me what was happening to her. I believed that my own stubbornness could snap her out of it. I didn’t validate her emotions or acknowledge her experiences. Whether as a way to protect myself or her, I heard what I needed to hear and avoided reality for far too long. Now I look at people differently, digging deeper into what they’re not saying when they answer “Fine” to the routine “How are you?” greeting. How are you? Greeting. I still can’t fix things, but I can listen to people and help to make them feel less alone.
Every time I’m on a plane, I write letters to my children. I have hundreds of pages of letters, everything from what took me to Geneva, Switzerland to how I met their dad. My mom wrote journals to me and my brother throughout our whole childhood and if I can steal a page from Bradley Cooper’s book speaking about his own parents, I knew I was loved. It’s among the things I am most certain of in my life. That certainty allowed me to grow, fail, and know that I was worthy of love and respect. I say “I love you” too much now, if there’s such a thing, to everyone. I just mailed 103 Mother’s Day cards this week, to the incredible people in my life that have been tasked with mothering little lives. I want people to know that they are loved.
It’s no surprise that I’ve chosen to commit my life to an organization that achieves those three goals; to encourage kindness, to validate emotions, and to eliminate stigma around mental health. Born This Way Foundation is helping me be a better mother and it would have helped me be a better daughter.