Thursday, March 08, 2012

A Woman of Power

In celebrating Women's Day today, a lot of people have been asking what the definition of an "empowered" woman is. The hell if I know. If someone does manage to nail the definition down, please let me know.

Growing up I always thought I knew what an empowered woman was not. That was my mom.

Yes I love my mom. I love her deeply, with all the Elektra complex/teenage angst/conflicted relationship feelings that come with a mother-daughter relationship.

When I was really young I loved her unconditionally. I followed her around all the time. Picked flowers for her. Drove myself crazy trying to do what would please her. I loved her as much as any 6-year old child could love a parent.

But as I grew older my feelings for my mother became more complicated.

I questioned why she should have so much authority over me, considering it was obvious that it was my father who ran the show - both in and outside of our home.

It bothered me that her career - was taking care of me and my brother and sisters. I felt that outside of our family she had no life. Her life revolved around taking care of our house, taking care of us kids, and taking care of my dad. And I always asked myself - how could that be enough for her? Didn't she want more out of her life? Didn't she think she deserved better?

When I was in my late teens to early twenties it got to the point, and to this day I cringe at myself whenever I remember, where I looked down on my mother. On days when I would be angry with her (and those days were very frequent back then) I felt that she was just a few notches above the household help. I was a tremendously pompous asshole, and to this day I feel bad for every time I made her feel that way.

In those days I thought I was just, to paraphrase an old co-worker, the shiznit. Whatever that means - I sure felt that way. And I would constantly tell my dad that I would rather die than grow up and be like my mother. I was going to grow up just like him - a master of the universe. I would be "the man". I promised him that I would never get married. And even if I did I would never have kids. Because kids would drag me down, hold me back.

I would look at my mother and tell myself: "there's no way in hell I am going to spend my life taking care of other people, and putting their needs before mine. I am more important than that. People are going to have build their lives around me, and not the other way around."

I would watch as my mother kept our house spotless, prepared home-cooked meals, made curtains and table cloths (yes, my mother sewed our curtains and table cloths. She even sewed our pj's as kids. She could've given Martha Stewart a run for her money.) --- and I would think --- what a waste. She went to college for this?

I was such a jerk.

As I got older I learned to be kinder, if not more tolerant of my mother. It helped that I had gotten married and lived away from home.

Then she got sick.

And everything changed.

12 years ago she got diagnosed with Progressive Supra-Nuclear Palsy. It's a rare neurological disease that slowly robbed her of the ability to move, the ability to eat, and the ability to speak. It has even robbed her of the ability to blink.

It is a thief that stole a little bit of my mom each year, until there's barely any of her left.

And it has taken me 12 years to realize, and appreciate, what a wonderful woman my mother is. And how much I have wronged her, and failed her as a daughter.

The start of her disease marked the start of my own journey towards motherhood. I met John the year she was diagnosed. And in the course of these 12 years I have built my own family. Had the children I swore I would never want. And discovered how much of my mother is in me. And how much more of her character I wish I had in myself.

More and more I wish I could be the woman my mother was. Be the mother she was to me to my own kids.

I will never be half the home-maker she was. I will never be as great a cook. I will never have the patience, strength and energy she had that got her through raising 4 kids --- hell, I struggle daily with the 2 I already have.

And I don't think I will ever have the grace and love that she showed me whenever I said or did something bad to her. All the times I made her feel little -- to make myself feel bigger.

Would that God bless me with even a measure of that grace, love and forgiveness that my mom constantly showed me.


Every couple of months my mom has a nasty bout with pneumonia brought about by her condition. May be once year the doctors will ask us to sign a document that says we authroize them not to revive my mom in case she codes. And they ask us to say goodbye.

And every time they do, I tell my mom how much I love her. How sorry I am for every time I hurt her. That I appreciate, now more than ever, every little thing she ever did for me. And that she is the best mom anyone could ever ask for.

But the words, they ring hollow to me. They ring hollow to her, because we don't even know if she can still hear us. And even if she did, I don't know if she still understands. But I say them anyway. Because I'm hoping that she does. I'm hoping that her spirit is free from the cage that is her body now --- and that wherever that spirit roams --- it hears my words.


As of today my mom's been in the hospital for almost a month. She came in with pneumonia, suffered a heart attack, was put on ventilator and we were told she wasn't going to last the week. They told us to say goodbye.

5 days later she was off the ventilator, she was kicking the pneumonia on its ass and was out of the ICU.

3 days later her pneumonia came back (with friends), she was taken back to the ICU and put back on the ventilator. She presented with a 40 degree fever that wouldn't go away despite the fact that her body was wrapped in a thermal blanket that was set at 4 degrees. It was hinted that she might not last the weekend. And that may be we should say goodbye. Again.

4 days later she's out of the ICU, her lungs are clear, the pneumonia is gone, and she breathing room air. She's not even on assisted oxygen! Just room air.

I'm not sure it that qualifies her as an empowered woman, but it certainly proves that my mom is a woman of power.

So I celebrate her today.