Second Time Around

February 13, 2001

It’s anniversary time again — the anniversary of this journal and my mother’s birthday anniversary. Time to take stock of both relationships.

I’ve been on-line two years, so it appears I’m here to stay, despite the tendency to go long periods without updating. In my first journal piece, I said I wanted “to keep and hold the rapture and (sometimes) the torture of being almost 52, a suburban wife and mother, a writer in search of recognition.” I’m looking at 54 now, and I’ve progressed as a writer to the point where I see that “the torture” part is a facile phrase, a cliché that I didn’t believe about myself then and certainly can’t relate to now. It can be embarrassing to admit that you’re not overwhelmed by life, that you’re not beaten down by the demands of parenting and housekeeping and trying to develop as a writer and seriously seeking recognition as such. People look at me as if they think I either have it way too easy or just am not doing it right, giving any of those roles its due, or (worse) neglecting the domestic aspects while lavishing attention on myself.

In last year’s anniversary piece, I said that “I am satisfied with what having this site has done for my writing. I write more and I write better than I did a year ago, I have clarified some of my needs and desires concerning the direction of my ‘career’ as a writer, and I’ve made friends in on-line writing circles.” Those friendships, coupled with a reputation for being serious about maintaining the journal, led to my being invited to participate as a speaker at the first-ever International JournalCon, an event that stands as one of the highlights of the year 2000 for me. I continue to clarify my needs as a developing writer. I’ve recently made the decision to seek an MFA in creative writing, with the emphasis on fiction. Two years ago I’d have said I would emphasize literary nonfiction. Now I see that would be a “safe” choice, an action taken to improve something I’m already good at. To seek growth in a genre where I am only beginning to find my voice is more of a challenge, but I’m ready for it.

It was chance rather than any design that led me to begin this journal on my mother’s birthday. She’d be 90 today. She’s been gone seven years, long enough for me to have worked through some of the angers I could not confront effectively when she was alive and to open myself to grieving what I have lost. I have posted the eulogy I spoke for her.

I wrote it originally the morning of her funeral. We’d had about ten days’ awareness that her death was imminent. I wrote what I knew were the conventions of the genre. I praised her good qualities and ignored her faults because that moment was neither the time nor the place to push any other agenda. I said what was expected but I knew, even then, that I was also saying what I truly felt.

Right now a neighboring school district is in the middle of a bitter and divisive teachers’ strike. The familiar rhetoric is given prominent play in the newspaper, which has never been a friend of public education — that teachers are greedy, not dedicated, concerned only with their own self-aggrandizement.

My mother died in a hospital on a Thursday afternoon in the natural course of a recurred cancer. I wasn’t there. I’d been summoned in time, but I lingered at school long enough to be sure that my lesson plans were detailed through the next five days, a college recommendation was finished and given to the guidance secretary, and an after-school tutoring session was rescheduled. I did what I thought I needed to do to fulfill my obligations to my students.

In the seven years since that day I’ve pondered my actions and reexamined my relationship with my mother. I never go past that hospital without looking up at the windows of the room where she lived the last ten days of her life. I regret that I wasn’t there to hold her hand as she stepped onto the bridge into paradise, and I am secretly glad that I have some noble excuse as to why I wasn’t, though I know in my deepest deep it was my own fear. And whenever I hear people ranting about teachers, I wonder how I’d feel if I’d left when the call came.

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