Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My Mom The Super Hero

I'm not even sure my mama knew what a super hero was, and now she is one. She was born at home in Santiago, Chile the youngest of 9 that her dad fathered with two different wives... at the same time. Her mama dropped dead right in front of her when she was only 6 years old. As the youngest and the only girl, she was sent away to boarding school, and the only parental relationship she formed as a little one was with the family maid.

Then she escaped the turmoil of Chile and came to the United States where she met and married my dad, had my brother, got separated, had me, got divorced while I was in the tummy, and started over with a new husband all before she was 30.

She was the defender of lost causes, the protector of all children, the fighter for rightness and truth, the advocate for disenfranchised people of all stripes, maker of killer lasagna, lemon chicken, and chocolate chip cookies, shoulder for tears, giver of hugs, sneaker inner to her kids beds at night for a cuddle, consummate worrier, snort laugher, and fiercely loyal and crazy fun mama. And she was dead long before Zach was even a glimmer in my eye.

So as he grew, the questions arose. "Why don't you have a mama?" "What happened to your mama?" "Why did she die before she met me?"

So I did what I know how to do best. I told a story. Lots of stories. It started with one or two, but he was HOOKED. "Tell me a Martha story", is THE most common request I get from this boy after, "Can we make popcorn?" Sitting in traffic, over lunch, out kayaking, laying in bed in the morning, in line at the post office - always another Martha story. "Martha stories fill my body up with kisses," he told me once.

She's become a character. And my childhood memories are now myths of sorts. All grossly exaggerated stereotypes of the truth. Tio (my big brother) is the scaredy-cat who always gets in trouble (funny to Z since Tio is a 6'5' Ironman triathlete with looks like Tom Cruise and has the confidence to match). I am the calm, cool little sister who always uses her smarts to get out of trouble (hey it's my story, I can play the cool kid). And Mama Martha is the one who saves the day. She has a left hand with super human strength (she was forced to be ambidexterous by superstitious nuns at boarding school and her left hand was weak in the writing department but strong enough to crack a butcher block table when cutting bread.) Her magical chocolate chip cookies can charm the meanest monsters lurking in the basement. And her snorting laugh sends bad guys running for cover.

The requests for the stories are not easy. Not only do they stretch my imagination, they tie my heart in knots. Sometimes I choke back the tears as I tell them, even though most are silly. But nothing prepared me for the day Z started crying in his pancake breakfast out of the clear blue. "Why did she have to die?" I gulped hard. He went on and on. "Why didn't she wait for me? I want to go on an adventure with her. I want to eat her magic cookies. Why can't she come back mama? Can we get a really big helicopter and bring her back?"

How do I talk story out of this line of questioning? How do I say she had a terrible disease that sucked the very life out of her in a matter of 12 months and she's never coming back? How do I tell him that it took me years to be able to remember what she was like healthy because the images of her dissolving body scarred my memory so badly? How do I tell him that when he asks these questions I feel like the wind is knocked out of me?

I don't, of course.

I hand him the paper. And I hand him the colored pencils.

And I tell him that she IS here. She's here when we talk about her and she's here when we look at her photographs and she's here when I make lemon chicken and she's here when we tell the Martha Stories and she's here when you think about her in your heart.

"Draw a picture for her," I say. "Just as if you could hand it to her. She would LOVE one of your drawings."

And so he does. And I take a deep breath. And I make up another story from the picture. And he giggles with his deep dimples and sassy eyes. And she's here.

And that's what gets me through this day, the day I lost her, and every other day.

21 comments:

Holly Noelle @ Domestic Dork said...

I'm so sorry you lost your mother. And so happy you had such an amazing mother, even if the time was too short. This is one of the most beautiful posts I have ever read anywhere. Thank you for sharing your mother and your love for her with us.

Michele said...

Cindy - you made me weep. If only I had Martha's shoulder to cry on. I miss her too. I am going to have to make lemon chicken tonight to make me feel better.

schoonerdog said...

I'm ducking low in cube now crying at work.

Diane, Evan and Maia said...

We've been thinking about you sweetie.

ellen said...

What a wonderful story. We tell stories of my grandmother, Peachy. She's become a myth like Martha. And that's how she'd want it to be.
We love love your blog.

wahmy said...

Your son has her eyes!

Wow - she sounds like such an amazing woman... and a true super hero.

The Curious Holts said...

Oh my gosh... this made me cry, cry, cry. I still my mama, but she is elderly and ... well, you know. What a glorious mama YOU are for keeping her alive. Your mama was RAD, girl. I know this is kinda weird, but have you ever told him that he was already in YOU when you were in your mama? (This being that you already have all the eggs you will ever have when you are formed...paraphrased.) So, he kinda lived in her while you lived in her.
Just found your blog from soulemama. LOVE it sooo much. Sorry to be so loquacious.

Stuff On My Blog said...

What a beautiful woman she was, which we'd all see even if you had not put a picture of her up. I'm all teary now, I lost my mama just over a year ago so I acutely know your pain. It's hard to BE a mama without one isn't it :(

Little Lovables said...

Thanks for this post. My father passed away as well before I married so my husband nor sons ever met him. He was an amazing man, just like your mom (wow, what a life story!), and I too watched his body disfigure from a frightening disease.

When I tell my son stories about him and he asks why he isn't here, I tell him that He is here in spirit, we just have to talk to him every now and then and we will get to see him one day.

Though my son is only 3, he grasps death better than many toddlers because of out talks. I love your idea of having your son draw a picture for his grandma, I will have to use that as well. You are such a wonderful mom keeping his grandma alive for you both!

Lily Boot said...

that's a beautiful post - I so sorry your mum is no longer with you and that Zach missed out on sharing his life with her. But I am a great believer in the love that is created by family stories - the taller the better. And what a lovely, caring little boy you have created.

aileen said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Betty

http://dogfurniture.info

gardenmama said...

Thank you for sharing with all of us the love of your mama and the love you have for your son. Your writing made me cry for your family and for your loss and for loss in my own life... it is an empty feeling but you have so beautifully made your sons heart and your heart and your home so full of your mama's love. Thinking of you...

Jennifer Johnson said...

You are a great mom in so many ways. I'm sure your own mom would be proud of you. It's so cool you are able to think up stories about your family. And Zach has such a tender heart about her. Thank you for your vulnerability.

Masasa said...

Thanks for sharing a little of who your mom was with all of us.

Sophie said...

ooo... i am a super fan of sweet and sour food! sigh. i want the Lemon Chicken sooooo badly right now. with rice.

Here I bought a sauce pack so as to skip all the seasonings! and i will try this friday after work.
http://yummiexpress.freetzi.com

aileen said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Betty

http://dogfurniture.info

boatbaby said...

Thank you every one for the kind words. It always feels weird sharing something THIS personal, but writing is part of healing and growing. And feeling the warmth of all of your words helps so much too.

Christine said...

You wrote such a beautiful posting. There is so much love in your family.

waldorfmama said...

what a beautiful and poignant post. and what a gift you have given your son (and all of us really) with these sweet thoughts and stories of your mama. she is there with you, and in you, always. sending hugs to you from texas.

Dim Sum, Bagels, and Crawfish said...

Just catching up on your blog and reading this post went straight to my heart. I am so sorry about your mom. I tried to find your e-mail to send a longer message. Thank you for sharing this post and for your recent comment on my post about my dad. You are giving your son a wonderful gift in the stories and in your ability to share her with him and to also see her in him. I try to do the same with my children. But like you there are moments when I almost have to gasp for air before going on. You will be in my thoughts. One more thing. One of the most comforting things someone told me soon after my father died was that those painful images of him would one day drift away. I didn't quite believe her but it gave me hope. And it has turned out to be true as they are now slowly dissolving. I hope the same will be true for you. I have a feeling your son's images of her will continue to be very healing for both of you.

Chani W said...

I just wanted you to know I stumbled upon your blog a few weeks ago. Now every off second I get, I browse through it reading and getting ideas. A lot of your writing has had a profound impact on me. This entry made me cry. Thank you for sharing your life with us that do not know you. I LOVE your pictures.

I am a newly-wed and my husband and I got a small 13' sailboat. His parents are retired on their boat and I know eventually we will be liveaboards once we can afford a bigger boat. Thank you for being an inspiration to me!

~Chani

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