Saturday, April 28, 2012

Contemplating my Calluses

Leaning over my feet in butterfly pose in yoga class this morning, I noticed that the calluses on my big toes have grown much larger than I had realized. TMI? Truly, it's not an opening line I ever thought I'd write for public consumption. Nor one that I ever would have thought would trigger yet another round of grief.

Looking at my toes today, however, I was instantly transported, out of yoga class, out of Eagle Rock, out of today, to a park in Huntington Beach in 2004 when my mother and I were tending to our blistered feet. We were doing the 3-Day Breast Cancer walk from Orange County to Los Angeles, and looking back, I am amazed that we were able to pull it off.  My mother had recently moved to Southern California from Kansas City to be near her only grandchildren, the ones she never thought she'd have because for twenty years I told her that I wasn't interested in being tied down to children the way "her generation" was.  Her 95-year-old mother, who she told me "couldn't be moved," had come to California with her and required constant care. My children were one and two years old then, and they thought they couldn't possibly live without Mommy for an entire weekend. We hadn't lived in our community very long, and we didn't have any backup support network. So the fact that we're able to do this walk at all is a miracle.

My mother and her mother are both breast cancer survivors, though, and so I have convinced her into making this journey. Like all momentous decisions, Heaven and Earth did move to support us.  We eked out precious hours to train for walking twelve hours a day for three days to cover 65 miles. Although my mother hasn't camped since her Girl Scout days (and never had any desire to do so), she had acquired equipment to sleep in a tent at night. After commencing the walk, my mother realized that a medication she just started taking requires her to hit the port-a-potties at least once an hour. We had walked through soaking rain on that second morning, after her first night of not sleeping well in the tent, and all of our rain gear was packed away in the gear truck. It's the most unlikely scenario I could ever have imagined for my mother and myself. It's a most unusual and unexpected time in both of our lives.

By noon of our second day of walking, when the sun had come out, we rejoiced when we finally, finally hit the lunchtime stop. We grabbed food from the mess tent and headed straight for the first open patch of soft, sweet grass. Although we'd invested in the most advanced sock and shoe technology available, our feet were throbbing from the mad rush of blood, frantically trying to get in and repair the damage. We rip the expensive, constricting shoes from our feet. We compare the size, width and shape of the most interesting of blisters. We assess whose feet have sustained the most damage.

"Look at this one," my mother says, "look how purple it is!" In comparison to my feet, however, her feet appear smooth and polished to me. She says, "I'm glad I got a pedicure just two days ago, to treat myself for doing this walk, because look at my poor feet now!" I gulp.

I had done a 3-day walk with my husband a few years prior.  One of the coaches told us then, "This is not a time for fancy pedicures. You build up those calluses to protect your feet during the training. Keep them for the intense 3-day experience." Had I not shared that with her during our hours of walking?? I feel guilty for not.

I was in my early forties when we did the walk. I had moved from Kansas City to Los Angeles when I was twenty-nine, and my relationship with my Mom was frozen in time from that point. Despite my move across country, my marriage, my ten-year law career, and the birth of my two children, I still felt like her child, her "kid." I was still reluctant to share anything with her that might imply I know more than she does. I didn’t yet feel that I have 'permission' to say anything that might sound like a criticism of what something she has done.

I mustered the courage and said, "I purposefully left my calluses alone because I figured they would help protect my feet." She frowns at her feet, and sighs. "That makes sense," she said. In that moment, I knew our relationship has changed.  It was a simple truth, and yet I knew then that I had my own wisdom and my own voice.  That picture of her holding her foot, in that park, on that day, is etched in my mind.

My mom made her transition five years later, at a time when my children, her beloved grandchildren, were just eight and nine years old. As sad as I was for my own loss, I felt exponentially more sad for my children. I know how much my mother cherished them, and it pains me to think that they might not remember her.  I make it a point to tell and re-tell favorite stories about her, so that they will remember.

They have their own memories of her, too.  "Do you remember when Grandma Leutjen would bring you here?" I ask. One of them will say, "Yeah, we always sat in that booth over there and we played Junior Monopoly while we waited for the food to come.  Grandma always got a chocolate coke."  I'm surprised by the level of detail, and then I realize it's like any memory: it's the unusual, surprising, different nature of any event that stands out, that causes us to etch it indelibly, ready to pull out for review at a moment's notice. I suppose it's a survival instinct to catalog and store information about what's out of the ordinary.

My Mom was plenty unusual, surprising and out of the ordinary. When I was a teen-ager, I wished she would just "be normal,” in the same way as my kids now hope and pray that I will not do anything to attract undue attention.  

Now that she is gone, I am glad that she was not “just normal.”  Our memories of her uniqueness have etched indelibly and are available for review upon a moment's notice.  We remember her as she was, not as we might have wished her to be.  It’s her essence and legacy to us. "Always be true to who you are," I can hear her say, "blending in is boring."  My mother was many things: loving, funny, smart, wise, and, creative. She was, above all, memorable.


1 comment:

  1. The more I think about this post, the more I resolve to be as out of the ordinary as possible. My children might not appreciate it now, but they just might appreciate it, as much as I do, later. Above all, I intend to be memorable!

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