Thursday, April 10, 2014

learning to listen: confession of a hypocrite

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I'm a big ol' hypocrite. Like, the mother of hypocrites.

Sometimes I say one thing and do another. Sometimes I am a proponent of something in public, but in private I have a hard time measuring up to my own standard.

For example, I tell everyone they should recycle. We have recycle bins in our garage. We even carry off the recycle bins ourselves, since we don't have recycle pickup at our house. 

But sometimes we don't take the bins off for weeks at a time. The bins get full. Then they get overflowing. When they get overflowing, I get lazy.

And the recyclables go in the trash. Hypocrite. 

Another example: I'm in this great show called Listen To Your Mother that is produced across the country to honor Mother's Day. This is the inaugural show in Charleston (SC) and I'm thrilled to be part of an amazing cast

I'm excited and nervous about being in the show, about hearing everyone's stories, about reading one of my own stories aloud before an audience for the first time.

And I love the theme: "Listen to your mother." I mean, who can argue with that?

Well, turns out, I can. I don't listen to my mother very well.

See? I'm a hypocrite in the 1st degree. A black-belt hypocrite.

It isn't my mom's fault really. She is a great woman. She's beautiful, resilient, relentless. She's talented and loving and giving. She taught me how to cook and how to sew, how to serve with gratitude and how to love without reservation. All she ever wanted to be was a great mom, and she is.

She's a powerful woman of strong faith, strong convictions, strong mind and body. I once wrote she would have made a great pioneer. And actually, I suppose she has been. She's faced many life-threatening, life-crushing, life-sucking circumstances and survived with her body, soul and spirit intact.

So why do I have such trouble listening to her?!?

I love my mom. She loves me. But sometimes we don't like each other. We don't always see eye-to-eye on things. And sometimes we just plain don't understand each other.

Especially now that our mediator is gone.

That was my dad. From the time I was a teenager, my dad ran interference between me and my mom. He loved us both, knew us both. She was his soul mate, I was his little girl.

And I was a lot like him - quiet and bookish, an introvert with a penchant for puns. I had no problem listening to him. Not that he talked that much. He and I could sit outside at night and look at the stars for hours on end without saying a word. I felt he got me.

My mom, however, doesn't like sitting still for long. She's an extrovert who needs to be around people, to talk, to move, to do stuff. All that talking and moving and doing and being around people wears me out. We sometimes have a hard time getting each other.

So through my turbulent teens and young adulthood, when my mom and I had trouble communicating, my dad would stand in the gap. He didn't take sides. He listened to both of us and tried to help us understand each other. It was as if we spoke different languages and he was our interpreter.

He was my father first of all, so if I got mouthy or disrespectful, he clamped down hard. But there were times when he saw my point and asked my mom to be more reasonable. Somehow the three of us came through each confrontation successfully without too many scars.

Then the unthinkable happened. He left us.

It was sudden. One morning, he and I were in the hospital corridor after his first stroke, looking out the window, him telling me what he could see and me explaining what was missing in his vision. Then I was home, fielding a phone call that he'd had another massive stroke and was in a coma.

That visit in the hospital was the last time he ever spoke to me.

His body lived for another 16 months. But his mind and his spirit were gone.

And so was his voice of reason.

It was a hard 16 months caring for a strong man who had become a mere shell.

It was a hard 16 months watching the woman we both loved slowly being crushed by the weight of responsibility and fear and loss, watching her power go out.

Somehow, through the grace of God, we made it through that time. Somehow we made it through his death. Somehow we made it through the aftermath.

And then it was time to build a new reality without him. The empty place he left was epic.

Communication was the hardest. My mom needed love, needed support, needed someone to lean on. And I didn't know how to do that. I was grieving. I was selfish. And I was scared.

How was I supposed to communicate with the woman who gave birth to me without my father?

The first five years were the worst. Yes. Five years. Some griefs are heavier than others. And even when you're grieving, life doesn't stop. No, it keeps slinging things at you, stacking bricks on top of bricks, knocking the wind out of you just as you start breathing again. That platitude "God never gives us more than we can handle"? Not scriptural, not true, not anything but BS.

So what happened five years after death that made a difference?


Five years to the date of my father's death, on 27 December 2001, I gave birth to my daughter. She was named after her grandmother. She had my red hair and my dad's grey-green eyes.

My daughter redeemed a tragic day just by being born.

I prayed that her birth would help break the shell of grief that surrounded my mother. I prayed that my mother's love for this tiny namesake, this daughter of her daughter, would rekindle her power. And I prayed that somehow God would use this child to create a new normal in the relationship between my mother and me.

That was twelve years ago.

My daughter is now big and smart. She is a kind person but she is also a force. Sometimes she gets mouthy. Sometimes we don't see eye-to-eye. Sometimes we don't understand each other. And sometimes we even need a mediator to help us interpret what the other is trying to say.

Deja vu.

At 70, my mother is still a powerful woman, a force to be reckoned with. And my prayer was answered.  She and I have a new, better relationship. We still don't agree on everything. We have different styles, different ideas, different worldviews. I hate talking on the phone. She wishes I would call more than once a week. When we talk, we don't always understand each other.

But we both try to listen better to each other.

I still find it difficult. I still argue. I still misunderstand. I still take offense even when no offense is meant.

I know sometimes she thinks I'm not listening at all. But even when I act like I'm not, I am.

And don't tell her this, but in my heart of hearts (as much as it kills me to admit it), I'm betting she's right.


  1. Enjoyed reading this. Love the Deja Vu. I think we must all have our own versions. Blessings.

  2. As Christina said, de ja vu. Had a similar relationship and experience with my mother. I wonder if some mom-daughter relationships ever get to "understanding" each other.

  3. Oh made me cry. That was beyond beautiful, and I am, once again, humbled and honored to be a part of this cast with you. Just beautiful, my friend...


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