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Sunday, May 8, 2011

I'm (Still) Here Because of Mom

It was probably just a miscalculation.  It makes more sense than the other explanation for the tardiness of my grand entry--my debut, so to speak.  Whatever the reason—mathematical or biological—I was born six weeks after the due date.

I’ve never liked being rushed.

In those days, they didn’t induce labor.  Dad took Mom for a ride on a bumpy road hoping I would take the hint, but it didn’t work.  You can’t rush quality, as I’ve pointed out to my mother on several of my birthdays.  I even held out until a few minutes after midnight, just so it would be a day later.  But I was born on her grandmother’s birthday.  That counts for something, right?

She’s been putting up with odd and willful behavior ever since.

Actually, I was an extremely well-behaved kid until my teens.  I was easily entertained, made good grades, and my teachers never had to yell at me (much).

Then, right after hitting puberty, I was diagnosed with diabetes.  Suddenly, my parents didn’t quite know what they had on their hands.  Still basically a good kid at school, my mother discovered that I had inherited her strong will, which sometimes clashed with hers.

What can I say?  I am my mother’s son.

From her I also got a positive attitude and just enough Cherokee blood for dark blue eyes and skin that tans easily in the sun.  I’ve been told the three make a nice combination.

On the surface, she’s like millions of Southern women from her generation.  She writes Thank You notes by hand and organizes the main food entrees whenever someone at her church dies.

But, she was tough enough to sing to me and my brother when I was four years old while a killer tornado ripped through the town where we lived.  She’d placed us under my parents’ bed, but only her head and shoulders would fit underneath.  There she was, singing to us so we wouldn’t be afraid, while most of her body was left vulnerable to whatever might land on her.  Fortunately, our home was spared.  But, it was my first real hint of the tough survivor beneath the sweet exterior.

Ever the maverick, the nomad, wanderlust took me to Tampa, Kansas City and Dallas.  I was out of college and anxious to experience the world—at least some of the urban U.S.  She stayed in Arkansas and worried about me.  Her little boy was on his own in the big city, an environment she never much cared for.  I had only lived in Austin a few months when the diabetic complications began.  Then I was back with her and my father in their home, terrified of the big, dark question mark that loomed in front of me.

She had to draw up my insulin shots when internal eye hemorrhages made it impossible for me.  She put the drops and ointment in my eye in the first few weeks after I had surgery to remove the blood inside my eye, staring unflinchingly at what must have been a gruesome sight.  She shared my despair and joy as my vision fluctuated.  And that positive attitude never wavered.

A few years later, my kidneys failed, and she was right there beside me; at the training class for new peritoneal dialysis patients; driving the two hours to Tulsa, where I lived, to help me until I regained some strength; and always offering words of encouragement over the phone.

A year later, my parents’ endurance would be put to a big test when I had the kidney/pancreas transplant.  There were a few complications and I ended up spending more than three weeks in the hospital.  They had to watch me struggle and suffer.  At one point I almost died.

But, with their help, I pulled through.  Mom does so much for me and would do much more if my independent nature allowed it.  She sets out to take care of everyone she knows and cares about.  Yes, I got that kind of mother—one who can cook and bakes sweets no one can resist.

She won’t touch a computer, but remembers birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and every other occasion in the lives of people around her.

Over the years, she’s nursed me back to health more times than I can count.  This past year, she did it again.  This time, it was cancer.  There were times I was nauseous and too frail to make it to the bathroom.  I had to use a plastic container, which she emptied without complaint dozens of times.  When the mouth sores made it impossible for me to eat solid food, she spent hours searching the grocery store for something soft enough.  She had to watch her boy take on the appearance of a frail old man.  The worst part for her, like any mother, was watching helplessly while I suffered.

You eased my suffering more than you’ll ever know, Mom.  It’s no exaggeration when I say I couldn’t have survived this without you.  You gave me life, and you keep helping me hold on to it.

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