Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Mother's Day 2011


"So you finally want to talk about the brownies..." (picture a well put-together 70-ish woman with a thick, Greek accent).
"I don't want to talk about the brownies," I protested. "But I think I need to talk about the brownies."
"Okay," she clasped her hands in front of her. "Tell me about the maker of these brownies." I took a deep breath.

"Her name is Tracy," I said. "I'm pretty sure she's over at their father's house a lot. She might even be living there. The brownies come home with the boys in a Tupperware container every week."
I felt stupid, angry tears pushing their way into my eyes. I blinked hard to hold them back.
"What are you feeling?"
"I don't know," I said, trying to get a hold of myself. "I know it's not the brownies. That would be so stupid!"
"No" she agreed with a nod. "It's not the brownies. But tell me what do the brownies mean to you? What do they represent?"
"I don't know," I said shaking my head. "Someone else gets to bake for my kids? But that's so silly! It's not like I bake them brownies with any regularity."
"I think the key is — there is 'someone else'" (but with her accent it sounded more like, "I think da key is dare is sum-whan else").
She gently placed her index finger under my chin and lifted my face 'till our eyes were level. "What does this mean if there is someone else?"

I fumbled with a new tissue that was partially sticking out of freshly opened tissue box on the coffee table in front of me and finally managed to rip the tissue in half.
"I guess it's like," I was interrupted by a teary hiccup. "Well, Mother's Day is in a few days, you know? And I thought, I mean I guess I always thought that I would be the only mother they would have until they were grown up. It really didn't occur to me that another woman would ever be spending time with them and their dad — family time. I don't know what that makes me if someone else is filling that role too."

"Ahhh!" (Marguerita made the "Eureka!" face). "But no one can ever replace you. You are their mother."
I plied more tissue fragments out of the box and mopped my face with them. "But that's how I feel, so what do I do?"
"There may be nothing to do," she said calmly. "Do they talk about her? Do you have any indication of how they feel about her presence in their father's life?"
I shook my head."No, not really. Should I ask them?"
"NO," she said sternly. "If there is something wrong, you will know. They will tell you either with their words or with their actions. If there is anything you need to know now, you must ask Brian, never the children!"
I shifted on the old sofa. It had a deep spot in the middle. I always thought that she and the sofa must have been around the same age.

"How long have you been divorced?" Marguerita's voice was more commanding now.
"Almost two years."
"And how old are they - Miles and Justin?"
"9 and 11" I was starting to feel cornered. What? Was she implying that it had been long enough? That it was appropriate for there to be someone else in the home they shared with their dad now because it had been almost two years?

"And what," she said, "does Brian say about your Scottie being there in your home with the children?"
"Scottie's almost never there when my kids are home," I said self-righteously. "He comes when they go to their dads."

"Hmmm." She took her glasses off and leaned toward me.
"What?" Using my heels, I pushed back against the back sofa cushion a little.
"Maybe, this way, they don't get to see that you're happy too, with someone new. Maybe they see dad is happy with someone else and maybe they worry about you?"
I shrugged with a sullen expression. I was beginning to feel defeated. I felt like she was missing the point.
"You mentioned Mother's day is coming," she said.
"Yes?" I glanced at the wall clock. We have 22 minutes left.
"Maybe on this day, you could thank this woman for baking the brownies for your children. After all, she is helping to make them feel at home. This could be part of the healing."
I laughed out loud through my tears. "What?!"

Marguerita laughed a little too. "But it's not so funny," she said trying to recoup her therapist face.
"This woman, she is making an effort to make your kids happy. It is probably not an easy situation to be in, you know? You and your boys are so close. A gesture from you could mean a great deal."

I felt the sharp edge of anger piercing the flesh of my throat. "I don't think I'm ready for that."
"Okay," said Marguerita lovingly. She leaned forward and cupped my face with her hands. "You will feel differently with time. Just don't do or say anything you'll regret in the meantime. Remember this is a transition for all of you. You are grieving the loss of an old idea. This is a thing you must do, grieve. But after the grief must come the healing. And the healing must begin with you. You can be angry about the brownies, you can be angry at Tracy. But you know it's not the brownies that anger you — and it is not Tracy either."

"Grief?" I said incredulously. "That's what this feeling is? I thought it was jealousy."
Marguerita smiled wryly. "I would agree there is jealousy. Certainly, there must be if you are so angry at some innocent pastry."
The corners of my mouth twitched with the sudden invasion of a smile.
"But, my question to you is, what is underneath the jealousy?"
"What's underneath the jealousy? " I stopped smiling and narrowed my eyes to show her that I was focusing.
She nodded.
"Grief?" It was a guess, not a statement.
"You are scared!" she said triumphantly. "Fear is under the jealousy and the grief. You are scared of losing what you have. So you must connect with this fact: Not this woman — or any other woman can take away what you have!"

Marguerita raised herself from her armchair and moved to the middle of the sofa next to me, causing me to slide toward her. All at once, the air was filled with the scent of the jasmine oil she wore. I leaned back until my head was resting against the wall and exhaled loudly. She gripped my arm with impressive strength.

"Laura, do you understand that the only one that can take your children away from you is YOU? You!" She started ticking things off with her fingers, "you stay on track with your recovery and then you and I will begin this grief work."

I was crying again. She handed me full-sized tissue from the pocket of her suit jacket.
"Healing is what we want. Forgiveness is what is needed."
"Okay," I sniffed. "So now I have to forgive too? How do I do that?" If she heard the sarcasm in my voice she didn't react to it.

"You know what begets forgiveness, my love?" She cupped my face again. "Look at me, Laura. Kindness. Whether you mean it or not, a little kindness goes a long way toward forgiveness and healing. A little kindness toward Tracy and her brownies can go along way to help your children feel safe." She pointed her index finger in the air for emphasis. "This is the most important thing. That the children feel safe!"

And there it was.

For the next few days, I found myself staring at the brownies with a mixture of anger and sorrow. "I am not angry with the brownies or with Tracy" I would say mechanically. "I am grieving the loss of an old idea."
And every time I thought about dumping the brownies in the trash (Tupperware and all!), I remembered her words; "the most important thing is that the children feel safe." And slowly the edge of anger in my throat became a little less sharp.

On Sunday, there came the expected morning call from Brian, wishing me a happy Mother's Day. There was a moment during the call when it felt like maybe it might be ok to ask him to thank Tracy for the weekly brownie-batch, but I stopped just short and chickened out. Later on that day, I found myself looking at my phone several times and thought about what it might feel like to call Brian back and ask him to thank her for those brownies. Every time I tried to picture the call, I was overwhelmed by waves of fatigue. Grief, I decided, is exhausting. But I didn't know if I was ready to begin the work toward healing. I would, as Marguerita said, have to "give myself some time". But at that very moment, there in my kitchen at 9:00pm on Mother's day, I just felt tired. I felt like I needed something to lift me up. And since anything "head changing" was off the table (my being in recovery and all) I found myself looking at that brownie container with new eyes.


Maybe I wasn't ready to be kind to Tracy yet. But maybe I could be kind to the brownies.
I lifted the Tupperware and held it at eye level. There are still 3 or 4 in there. I popped the stiff red top and took one of them out. Holding it close enough to smell, I stared at the dark, moist cake in my hand for a minute, before taking a tentative nibble. The sweet, full flavor of dark chocolate enveloped my senses. I breathed a sigh of relief as I swallowed the first bite.

I'm being kind to the brownies.

I felt my fatigue dissipating as I chewed the second bite. Scanning myself inwardly, I tried to summon the brownie-anger that had hijacked my soul for the past year or so. I could still access it, but it felt much further away.

I am forgiving the brownies.

Baby steps. This Mother's Day, I worked on forgiving the brownies. We'll see where I am next Mother's Day.

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