Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Mothers Day Homage

I was at a funeral recently where it struck me (again) that it seems sad to leave a eulogy for someone's funeral. People should get to hear the wonderful, funny and not-so-wonderful things that we, as their loved ones, have to say about them.

So, I googled eulogies and found a lot of how to guides for writing them, as well as debates on if they should be glowing or realistic. Then I googled eulogies for the living and found the word homage. Apparently that's what we should be doing to let the living know that we think they're great. Google noted that an homage is usually for when a person has received an award or is retiring, but I think it might be good for people to get them a little more often than that.

So without further ado, this is my Mother's Day homage (now that I know it's inappropriate to use the word eulogy for this sort of thing as long as the person is still alive.)

Dottie Istre has been my mom for 35 years. There's a lot more to who she is than just being my mom, but it's my pervue, so it's the focus of this homage.

She would argue that she stopped really being my mom when I became an adult but I regularly try to convince her that moms are forever and we always need them. You're welcome to try and convince her too, because so far I'm not winning this battle.

I'm the second in a line of 4 girls. That means she was a mom before I came along, but I wasn't there so I can't attest to her earliest mothering skills. I came along in the middle of the coldest blizzard that January had ever seen. My grandpa was teaching himself to crochet to stay busy in the waiting room with my older sister while my mom was busily attending to the business of pushing out a 10lb baby. She bred big babies.

All was successful and I came out with all my fingers and toes. I can't tell you much about those early years, baby brains and all that, but I'm pretty sure she did a great job, since it seems like any nastiness would have stuck with me.

Not long after I was born, our little family made the move to Kalispell, MT. We began life there in a big rented house uptown. My mom managed to keep our household afloat through a series of tragedies. My dad's temporary blindness, my older sister breaking her leg, my younger sister splitting her chin open and the arrival of my youngest sister (not that she was a tragedy, she was a blessing.)

Back then, she was still deciding what kind of parent she would be. She would try out different parenting styles. She and I went through a battle of the wills at that time. I was a horrifically stubborn and indignant child. She tried to get me to eat food, I mean she really really tried. I wasn't having it. She would send me upstairs to time out when I had disobeyed and I had to do things my way so I would only go to the top of the steps, never to my room where I'd been sent. She had such a level head as we endured these battles, I never remember her raising her voice at me as I worked my hardest to push all of her buttons. She seemed to love me through every bump I forced her to endure.

We moved outside of town to the Evergreen area just prior to me starting preschool. It was a very small apartment, in a very small apartment complex, where we all shared one small long skinny yard. It was directly across the creek from my grandparents house.

My mom kept her cool as she got my sister to school, me on the bus to preschool, handled the 2 little ones at home, and volunteered with our church. She allowed us a lot of freedom to explore and we felt the world around us was magical at that age. There was never much money, I know that now, but you never would have guessed it as a child growing up in my family. She made every birthday special and holidays were filled with family time.

We didn't stay in that apartment for a long time. According to my hazy preschooler memory, it was a little over a year. Then we moved into my grandparents basement temporarily while my parents were figuring things out. My sisters and I loved it, but I now know what a challenge it must have been for my mom. It's hard to ask for help and in her efforts to keep things separate etc... we lived like we were camping so as not to intrude on my grandparents life as much as possible. We were in close quarters during this time and I only remember order and quirky solutions to daily conundrums. No yelling, crying or frustration. If I had been the adult, this wouldn't have been the case. But that was my mother throughout my young life, stalwart, loving and filled with ingenuity and resourcefulness.

A few other bumps in the road occurred and brought my family to the place where we would purchase a yellow trailer with brown trim and place it on my grandparents property. This would be my home until I left for college. My mom would spend countless hours working to make this a home for our family.

Now that we'd finally settled, or maybe because I was a little older, I remember a much more complex mom during this time. I was in elementary school and I discovered that most mom's took their kids to school and picked them up after school. Not my mom. She had the hardest time waking up in the mornings. She would stay up all hours of the night, get up in the morning to help us get ready for school, and go straight back to bed for the rest of the morning. It's something she still struggles with today. She likes to say that her schedule runs opposite of everyone else's. She was also on a permanent diet. There was always some new eating plan to try, and we weren't included in it. She made her food separate from ours and we all knew that we were never to touch her diet Coke, some things are sacred.

My sisters and I filled life with challenges for my mom during the next few years. She met each one head on as she helped us navigate schoolwork, cultivated a love of reading in each of us and showcased her creativity as she regaled us with magical made up stories and read us The Chronicles of Narnia series with all the vim and vigor that she could muster.

I learned more from her during this time that any other. She showed me that you don't need money to solve problems, that everything can be researched and understood and showed me the value of hard work. She worked diligently with my grandpa on a garden that ran the entire length of our trailer. A lot of food came from this garden and we all helped here and there. But it was her love and passion. She was up every day working on it, checking on it, harvesting it, and caring for it throughout each spring and summer.

Reality had to hit at some point. I do remember my mom yelling during this time in our lives. It was usually related to chores that we weren't doing. She would rearrange rooms regularly as a way to get things clean, you never knew what to expect when you walked in our front door. She would draw out plans on graph paper and create a map to follow of how she wanted things to be. She always had ideas for how to make something that would make our lives easier or prettier. These ideas would go on my dad's and Grandpa's to do lists or we'd come home from school to find her like a whirlwind, whipping through a project that only she could envision.

My grandpa passed away when I was in 8th grade. He was my mom's best friend, she was his youngest child, and they had a very special relationship. From that point on my mom made it her mission to take care of my grandma as well as the four of us girls. It meant that she took a big step back in our lives as she worked to find her new balance. I think this was probably a very hard time for her.

As my sister's and I got older and started heading to college my mom let us forge our own paths, as long as they didn't spark her infamous "bad feelings." If my mom had a bad feeling about something, it wasn't going to happen, no matter how much you begged, pleaded or rationalized. That bad feeling was rarely every wrong and saved us from quite a few scrapes. I chose my college this way. My mom's bad feeling about my top choice led me to my second choice, where I met my husband and started a life here in Hawaii.

My mom poured herself into my grandma. She usually made my sister's and I check in on her daily, I think they got frustrated with each other sometimes and it helped them have breaks. She took her to all of her appointment's, shopping and wherever else she wanted to go. She completed to do lists, that my grandma would create, of ideas she had and things to be done. She memorized all her medications and preemptively knew when she'd want to go see a friend or invite family over.

In turn, my grandma helped our family immensely. She financially covered gaps and pitfalls and she hosted every holiday. I loved our family holidays. I miss our family holidays. Everything felt special, everyone felt loved and the focus was always on being together.

Then I went to college across the Pacific Ocean. As I mentioned earlier, my mom thinks motherhood changes at this point, which it probably does to some degree.

Over my years in Hawaii she would come to visit me. She was here for some of my most important moments, like when I got engaged and when my sons were born. She came and helped me as I began life as a new mother. Her role was definitely redefined as she became my support. Her support role holds true especially when it comes to prayer. My mom is a prayer warrior. She prays often and she prays fiercely. She helped me learn the importance of prayer and see how it brings us together in celebration and  support.

My mom weathered her mom passing away and moving out of that trailer that we'd lived in so long, and into uncertain rentals that wouldn't feel quite like home. She had a stroke and was diagnosed with a degenerative disease. She endured a brutal divorce and fought to find herself and support herself.  There were some very dark times where I wondered if I had lost my mom. But slowly she began to reemerge.

Her declining health, at the age of 62, brings us to the here and now. We just passed the one year mark of her coming to live with me. I get to support her and drive her to appointments in the same way I watched her support her mom when I was growing up.

She now has the opportunity to build relationships with her Hawaii grandchildren. I'm so excited for them to get to know my creative, hard working mom who is filled with ingenuity and God's love. She has a lot to share and a chance to rest and recover alongside a family that loves her. It does my heart good to have her here. We don't always get along now as we figure out this new life together. But we both are sticking it out and making it work. I don't say enough nice things to her so this is part one of my efforts to do that more.

My sisters, and other friends and family, may have different memories or perspectives on my mom so far. I'm not infallible and I'm sure I didn't get it all right. But I know that we can all agree that she love the Lord and she loves us and she always will. Being a mother is only one part of who she was and is, but it's the part that made me, so it's my favorite.

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