Friday, January 1, 2016

31.12.15 - Lean Left, Choose Life

Another year has gone by, and what a year it has been. Like I said at this exact time last year, this evening will forever be awash with emotion for me because it was right about now, 24 months ago, that I calmly announced during a New Year's Eve party that my water had broken, I'd best be getting a move on. For more on that hilarious episode, click here.

But this year, things are a little different.

As many of you will likely know, my mother Karen passed away in September. As some kind friends and family helped me remember afterwards, at her funeral I pointed out the fact that her passing was not a tragedy; she had in fact been "gone" for many years, and this corporeal exit from the world was in many ways the kindest gift she could have received, for she is now at peace.

Mom was never at peace, I think. That may well have been the biggest tragedy. Somehow, through all of the turmoil she experienced, as the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, as someone who battled with mental illness perhaps her entire life, as a shy, tiny woman who struggled to find true friendship and intimacy with others, she managed to hold together a marriage, work, raise three balanced, (moderately) respectful, loving children and even volunteered for community events.

But she was always in pain. Always fighting. Constantly at war with a world in which she felt she could never have control.

All of these things are easy to say three months after the fact. The truth is, I haven't yet cried over her death. Not properly, whatever the hell that means. I've cried at seeing my brother in pain; I've cried over the inexplicable, cruel losses my friends have suffered recently; I've cried over being exhausted from work and scared I'm not doing a good job on any front in my life - professionally, parentally, as a spouse, a friend, a sister.

Maybe that's all crying over her. But I don't think so, and here's why.

Mom's alzheimer's was already rapidly developed by the time Ella was born. I think she may have had some basic cognition about the fact that I'd given birth, and even to a girl. I think, but I'm not sure, that she understood that Ella was named for her mother (or at least the EL from Helen) at whose stonesetting I'd realized I was pregnant. It was what mom would have wanted, but in my typical fashion, not the way she would have actually wanted it, but she was no longer able to get angry at me about it. In an almost crueller way, she just never acknowledged the existence of this child for whom I'm watching my husband blow up a million balloons for as I write, a fact which is making my eyes well with tears right now.

But that's not quite it either.

Although I know that such things aren't really concrete until the age of three or four, my little about-to-be-two-year-old seems, thus far,  to be distinctly left handed.

Why this is so important to me, despite the fact that at certain angles Ella looks a ridiculous amount like my late mother (and tantrums rather similarly too) is that mom was left handed. Her mother, in the fifties, went to great pains to switch her over to being right handed. Even so, I still remember distinctly that she always held her fork with her left, her coffee cup, her Virginia Slims, tightly with a southpaw. When I began kindergarten in 1987 my mother realized, after cleaning up my crayon murals off the walls, that I too was left handed and started switching my hand over to the right as well. When I took up the guitar at age 11, even though I wrote with my right hand, I still wanted to play on my left and initially started playing upside down. It took my parents and guitar teacher months to get me to switch it.

Oh, I'm also stubborn, btw.

As is, of course, the force of nature that is my daughter, Ella Sasha Zimmer. She's stubborn, determined, luminescent, brave, clever, beautiful and kind. She beats the world every day and then gives it and her beloved koala a giant hug. She'll scream down the house until she gets her way, and cover you in kisses once she does. She runs out the back door after her bath butt naked and shares all of her meals with the dog.

With her left hand.

Baby girl, I am NEVER, EVER going to switch your hand, slow you down or refuse to acknowledge you for exactly who you are. Times have changed, and the chain gets broken here. When I look at you, I see all of the past generations of women in our family who were never given the chance to be who they really were. My sole responsibility, I believe, is to give you and your brother all of those chances and more. Along every step of the journey, I will be right here to hold your hand, whichever one you decide to give me, and together we will move forward and choose life.

When mom died and I had to hop on a plane very suddenly, I used the same metaphor my brother did with his daughter to explain to my kids that grandma had gone to become a star in the sky. She was no longer here with us on Earth, but she would always be with us if we looked up and beyond.

Happy Birthday my beautiful Luli. I love you to the moon and back, and all of the stars in between.