No expiration date by Ann O’Connor Waters

In response to last weeks’s invitation to readers to submit their writings to The Candle or the Mirror blogI am delighted to share “No Expiration Date” by Kansas City area writer Ann O’Connor Waters.

In a book, I read “there’s no expiration date on motherhood” and was immediately transported back to my mother’s kitchen—a time I was home from college just visiting with my grandmother and mother. Mom, who was in her late 50s at the time and very familiar with her kitchen, went to use the garbage disposal. Her mother said, “Watch your fingers.”

I thought “Wow, I guess once a mother always a mother.”

My grandma never had a garbage disposal on the farm and she lived mentally sharp till the end at age 88. My mother has not been as fortunate. She will be 90 years old in June. I have read the statistics about a growing number of people living with the affliction of dementia.  Now, it’s personal. My siblings and I often find ourselves mothering our mother.  Growing up as one of eight children, all girls except one boy, wasn’t always easy.

As a teenager I wasn’t terribly patient with what I perceived as Mom’s flaws. Now, when she thanks me for something I’ve done for her, I tell her I’m just paying her back for all the grief I gave her as a teen, she says, “I don’t remember you giving me any grief.” Why am I reminding her?

Mom’s frugal nature played a large part in my Dad’s success in building his own business. He started his insurance agency when they already had four children and Mom was pregnant with the fifth. I can still see Mom looking through the grocery ads and making her list of where to go for the best prices. Usually that meant multiple stores. A phrase that often came out of her mouth, “save it,” might have been in regard to some freshly baked cookies, or anything that had to be stretched between all of us. Dad credited Mom with helping keep the family afloat. No doubt her practical ways played a large part in enabling them to send eight children through Catholic schools and college. I must confess, when I make chocolate chip cookies I delight knowing I can add as many chocolate chips as I want—and eat what I want. We don’t have to save them.

In our large family multi-tasking was strongly encouraged—ingrained in us. If you were on the phone for example, you were expected to be folding laundry. For years I was convinced my obituary would read something like “she died blow-drying her hair while in the shower.”

Now with my mom, we do one thing at a time—very slowly.

Growing up, I always felt closer to my Irish Dad who was more comfortable showing his emotions and sharing mine. He seemed to say the right thing at the right time. Mom never quite had that knack. For example, when my boyfriend (now my husband) and I broke up, I was sobbing melodramatically across my bed when Mom came in and pulled out every cliché in the book. “There are other fish in the sea…” Her hands didn’t soothe me; instead she dusted my room. I ended up feeling sorry for her and said, “Gee thanks Mom, I feel so much better.” She gladly left the room.

When I was in the hospital in labor with my second son, perhaps in an effort to make conversation, Mom looked at the fetal monitor and asked, “Do they worry when it’s a flat line?”

One time, hoping to get insight into her feelings, maybe looking for a warm fuzzy word, I said, “You couldn’t have been thrilled every time you found out you were pregnant?” She paused and answered, “Oh I just figured, what’s one more?” For Mother’s Day I sent her flowers with a card saying “Thanks for not stopping at five.”  I was the sixth child.

Now, when it comes to communicating with Mom, I try to remember Fr. Mike’s words, “Meet people where they are.” In some ways, dealing with her is very similar to dealing with a toddler. My siblings and I find ourselves distracting her when she obsesses on one subject, being firm yet gentle when she resists something like showering or getting ready for bed and occasionally we bribe her. The other day when I was taking a shirt off over Mom’s head, I said, “Let’s skin the rabbit” just the way she did when she undressed me as a little girl. As Mom struggles to do things like getting into the car to go on a drive, she says “I can do it” with the strong willed voice of a two-year-old. At church, rather than let a lay minister bring communion to her, something they gladly do for many, Mom insists on walking up the aisle leaning on one of her children’s arms.

Things have come full circle:  I think of how she watched us grow; now, we’re watching her shrink (She wonders why her dresses are getting longer.); she taught us to drive; we had to take her driving privileges away; she will sometimes repeat the same story over and over; and I remind myself that I begged her to re-read my favorite story when I was a small child. The woman who taught me to cook can’t remember how to scramble an egg. Although Mom still seems to know my siblings and me, she sometimes refers to us as her “friends” or “those nice ladies that come to visit me.”

Mom has mellowed considerably.  I hope I have too. I spend every Thursday with her cherishing our time and learning lessons from dementia:  selective memory is not a bad thing; multi-tasking is over-rated; perhaps we should treat our family members at least as well as we do our friends; and slowing down and leaning on a loved one’s arm can be a pretty good way to walk through the world.

And, there’s no expiration date on daughterhood.

An invitation

Thank you all for reading and commenting on the posts I’ve written on the blog – known as the Candle or the Mirror – during the past three weeks. The Facebook, blog and email responses have been so touching and supportive of my work. Some of you have shared how my writing has inspired you to write. Thank you. It’s an honor to be trusted with your truths and to be able to trust you with mine. To inspire and be inspired is a gift!  Thank you.

Now, you are invited to be the candle. What this means is I welcome you to submit a poem, story or anything you’ve written. Other readers and myself will be able to comment using this Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA) guideline: From what you read, what stays with you? What did you like? What was strong?

When you submit a writing and/or a comment, they are not automatically posted. I have to approve them before they go live. Following the AWA guidelines and the need for me to approve submissions and comments should keep this forum safe and supportive for all.

So, please, give yourself  and readers of this blog a May gift, your light and words.

If you need a prompt to get you started try one of these:

“My mother birthed me and now I am birthing…”

“The gifts my mother gave me…”

“Mother, I forgot…”

I try to post once a week, so please send your words by Saturday, May 5.


Grand Canyon sunset

“All that we are concerned with is turning your attention to the real things outside.”

John C. Merriam, 1925, Founder of the Yavapai Point Museum, Words found on a museum plaque

This week my husband and I traveled to Sedona and Grand Canyon, Arizona. I suggest you make the trip yourself sometime because my words or photos will not capture my or your experience.

For now, I invite you to practice John C. Merriam’s words: turn your attention to the real things outside. Just take a mini vacation right where you are, wander or wonder for awhile, then return to read.

For me, I am back home in my one bedroom condo in Seattle. There are piles of mail, newspapers, catalogs, clean clothes, dirty clothes, and dishes, all shorter than yesterday. I am sitting in my black desk chair; my posture is poor so I shift to a better position to continue my work. Out my window there are layers: snow white mountain tips, shorter darker mountains in front of them, and the closest layer is the greening of Bainbridge Island trees across the Puget Sound. It must be windy as there are white caps and no boats on the water. When I lean forward I can see the sail boats at Elliot Bay Marina and the red steel  tip of Alexander Calder’s Eagle sculpture in Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park. My breathing is relaxed and I feel happy.

Back to what’s going on inside my head, I must: get to those piles; get ready for tonight; tend to banking details and finish this post. My shoulders are getting tighter. The day after my husband and I left for vacation the Boston Marathon bombings happened. With all the beauty and inspiration we were experiencing, we could not forget the few images we saw on the news, in papers or on Facebook. At times, I chose to give the news no attention. Large flags flying at half mast, standing straight out in the strong winds, would not let me forget.

I gave my attention to the real things outside: the flapping flags and the grandeur of the Canyon. In doing so, I found that I was better able to deal with the real things going on inside. The inevitable pain and struggle we humans experience is not unlike the Grand Canyon. Uplift. Erosion. Colliding. Drifting apart. Relentless forces of moving water. Beauty. Inspiration. It will always be a changing landscape.

After hiking much of the South Rim and with little daylight left, we decided to take the shuttle bus to Hermits Rest on the west edge of the South Rim. I was a bit tired and queasy, but wanted to see the river along the way – all I could in a day.  I was on the wrong side of the bus to see the Canyon during the drive, so my attention was on the baby in the seat in front of me.  Her curious eyes landed on the the silver bar of the bus seat and widened. She reached.  The mother shifted her body so her baby could touch the bar. The girl looked, struggled to reach,  and when she finally did touch the bar, she smiled.  She continued to explore with her pointer finger and then her entire hand, tried to lick the shiny bar, went back to touching, smiling and  squealing with delight. The silver bus seat bar was her real thing outside which she attended to for the entire 40 minute ride.

This baby girl reminded me to wonder, to take regular moments to wonder wherever I am, whatever the real thing outside is. Someday it may be the silver metal bar of a hospital bed, walker or wheelchair. If so, I hope I can still wonder, return to whatever the real thing inside is – my breath.

The silent daughter of hope becomes a flower with a voice

Born in the Buckeye State

Today, I woke early, full of joy and gratitude for life, for all!

Fifty-five years ago I was the fifth child of nine born to Marion and Robert Abare. I never learned about the horse chestnut or the Buckeye State. I was just a sleeping baby when my family moved from the place I was born, Cleveland, Ohio. In my treasure box I keep a buckeye to keep me grounded in where I come from: creation, stars, my parents, and Ohio.

The ocean and the California Poppy helped me to have faith when the skinned and scabbed knees from roller skating and heart break moments of my childhood introduced me to doubt. Once in a moment of anger,  my mother, a peaceful spirit-filled women, threw a glass of ice tea at my dad uttering words we were forbidden to say. I can still hear the glass breaking against the wall and see the brown splash and stain.

Childhood sanctuary

One night my dad came home drunk, tripped over my brother’s bike. I woke up to see my brother being flung from the bunk bed above me into the closet while my dad hollered, “This will teach you to park your bike in the garage.” I didn’t sleep the rest of that night. I can still hear the thud of my brother’s body up against the wall. Once, when I was sad after visiting people, including children my own age, at the State Hospital, I was told, “You’re too emotional.” And, when my first poem, “Camp” was published in the Orange County Daily Pilot, I imagine I must have been filled with 11-year-old joy and possibly pride when I likely taunted my siblings with my prize Kennedy half dollar. What I remember was being told, “Get off your high horse.” I dismounted.  It has taken me years to put my feet back into the stirrups, to write the poem. I no longer have the 50 cents or the taunt; I still have the poem. I still have the poem.

He loves me,
he loves me not

Like most beings, I set out to heal my wounds, wounds not yet visible to me. I wanted to love and be loved and married my high school sweetheart when I was 18. After 33 years of marriage, I am no longer madly in love. Each day I say, “I do.” I love my husband John madly and joyfully. And, he adores me. He loves me differently than I love him or I love me. Yes, finally, after all these years, I love me. I have learned until we love ourselves, we can’t really love others well, but in trying to love others well we learn to love ourselves. It’s a great heart mystery I’m no longer trying to solve, just trying to live and love fully into.

Perhaps our sole purpose on this earth is to learn to love and to love to learn, in that order. For years, I did it all in my head. I do think and believe in my heart that world peace could be achieved if we all learned to bring our heads beneath our hearts, bowing to each other and the earth. I still love the beauty of a single daisy, but I have outgrown the myth, the story and game of  picking the petals saying, “He loves me, he loves me not.”  We are loved into being, made visible by love, even messy love.

The silent daughter of hope becomes a flower with a voice.

“…It is the secret in the seeds, in the smile of the rich soil, eager to welcome the silent, daughter of hope, hidden in little nasturtium seeds.” These words from Joyce Rupp brought me home to my soul.  She moved me to share some of my life secrets: the faith and doubt planted in my childhood; the love, imperfect but infinitely perfectible, I’ve given and received; and the silent hope that can no longer remain silent. I am a fully blooming flower with a voice. I look forward to sharing our stories, our gifts, our faith and love to touch each other’s lives and the lives of others. It gives me so much hope. I am awake and grateful for life and life-giving words. You are invited to share your stories.


The candle or the mirror

“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”

– Edith Wharton

When leading WritersGathering, this quote often comes to my mind. This blog will be a place for me to do just that, a place for me to share light and inspiration, and a place to reflect the light and words of other writers.  You are invited to share your inspiration and your words. I call this blog The Candle or the Mirror. I look forward to being both.