Mother’s Day anniversaries

For more than 20 years, Mother’s Day meant time to go back “upta camp” to rake the leaves, dust off the cobwebs, and watch the lake warm up before declaring it summer-ready and heading back to New Hampshire. Time for my girls to bestow their annual, handmade Pine Tree Frosty gift coupon/card and whatever trinket their allowances allowed, even though I told them to save their money.

“Mumma doesn’t need things,” I’d insist. Being with my family, happy and healthy, and back in Rangeley, was the best possible gift. As my pile of un-cashed ice cream vouchers grew, so did my memories of this fleeting weekend in early May when the promise of warm days by the lake stretched ahead like a mirage. Inevitably school, work, and my maternal duties in my “regular” house crept back into focus so that, by mid-summer, I’d be grounded in truth: I was a split-personality mother leading a seasonal dual existence. My family’s residence—a house with more space but a lot less charm—was three and a half hours away from our true home, our real base camp in Rangeley.

On Mother’s Day 2010, I made a colossal liar out of myself. Sitting in my Adirondack chair watching the lake “turn over” from another winter, I wasn’t the least bit remorseful, though. I’d come to find out there was an even better best possible gift for Mumma. Being right here with my family, happy and healthy, and staying here was all I ever needed and then some. Beginning with that one monumental weekend, I did not need to pack and head for “home” as soon as I got settled in. I was home—for good—a bona fide year-round Rangeley resident! Faith, family, determination, and a touch of insanity bought me my fairy tale. My life was consolidated, my pared-down possessions tucked snugly in my now-just-big-enough cabin. With home base and its newly-added upper stories peeking out of the birch boughs behind me, I faced the lake and let my head align with my heart. I could stay put now way past “camp closing” time, to see the big lake ice over again, to be there still for the next spring turning. “Priceless,” I said, and gave myself a big motherly hug.

This Mother’s Day weekend marks four years since my Big Move. Just before I pulled the plug on my old life (and my higher-speed Internet connection) and left New Hampshire for the last time, I posted the following thank-you note on Facebook:

I will be celebrating Mother’s Day in my “new” home by the lake, sending love to everyone who made the dream possible. To my three mothers….Mum, who gave me life and who shows me every day how love lives on in Spirit; to Prudy, my step-Mom, who helped me love myself as a grown woman while seeing the wonder in all things; and to Ruth, my Mother-in-Law, who taught me just in time, the healing power of unconditional love. To my beautiful, strong, funny, amazing daughters, Helen and Becky, who mother me back, but keep me young at heart and always eager for adventure. (Thank you for chosing me in this lifetime!) And, of course, to Tom, my husband and forever friend. Thank you for the courage to take this free fall, for the wisdom and common sense to bring our “craziness” into the realm of possibility, for keeping my feet on the ground and my head in the clouds, for laughing with me and loving me all ways, and for always  just being with me by our big, beautiful lake.

I’m still saying thanks every day since I wrote that. I thank my three mothers in Heaven for bringing me, collectively and in their own separate ways, to where I am today. I thank my daughters—for knowing I don’t need things because letting me scream like a 10-year-old with them on a mega-coaster or a whitewater raft is better than any trinket. I thank Tom, my best friend, for building this life around me and still wanting to share it with me, even through the long, cold Rangeley winters. I thank my girl friends, my soul sisters, who nurture me like mothers, and love me unconditionally for who I really am. I thank my work family, for enabling me continue my financial security out here in the woods, for helping me prove to myself and the rest of the traditional business world that earning money is just as much of a blessing as having the freedom and the enthusiasm to enjoy spending it. And, more than ever on this Mother’s Day, I thank myself, for just plain being—here and now—hugging myself in my camp chair, at peace with all that I have and have lost.

Forty years ago, I thought my joyful Mother’s Days were over. I’d proudly bought my mother a set of stoneware salt and pepper shakers with some of my $1.80-an-hour paycheck, even though she’d told me to save my money. “As long as you’re happy, I don’t really need things,” she said. “But thanks honey, they’re lovely.” Grinning, she set them in the dining room hutch for “special company.” Fortunately (and unfortunately) I had no way of knowing that was to be our last Mother’s Day. I was 17, madly in love with Tom, getting ready to graduate high school and head into my “best summer ever.” Mum died suddenly a couple months later, leaving me to stare angrily at the salt and pepper shakers and all the nick-knack gifts I’d given her that seemed so hollow. Happy? If happiness was what she really wanted for me, from me, how come she’d just taken all hope of it away with her forever?

But neither did I know then that mother-daughter chats wouldn’t stop, that the wisdom and support would come to find a different, more powerful, communication channel. I didn’t know then that, today, I’d be so relaxed in my camp chair, a mother of two grown women myself, surrounded by what I choose to bring into focus, nurtured by laughter and love that never dies. Happy. Blessed. Rooted in Rangeley—with a huge stack of coupons to the Pine Tree Frosty yet to be cashed.


For more Mother’s Day messages, see:


My Mom’s special because…..

“For you, Mumma,” said Becky. It was almost Mother’s Day circa 1991 and she’d just finished her first “uptah camp” breakfast of the season: a Pop Tart skillfully warmed in the toaster oven, our favorite appliance, and handed to her on a paper plate by her big sister. She placed before me a handmade gift which, as usual, was a cross between art and nature and full of kid folklore. This offering was a human image, hand-carved onto glistening paper in shades of neon.

Ooooh, it’s nice honey! Who is it?” I had to ask.

“It’s you Mumma, you in your bathrobe. Happy Mother’s Day!” How could I not have known? The pointy little head atop the pear-shaped silhouette fringed with hair spikes. The zipper extending all the way down to the crow-like feet. Nobody, not even myself, could ever see me for who I am like my family.

A year or two later, our local paper began running short stories entitled “My Mom” submitted by school children. I remember reading with amusement (and trepidation) some of the sentiments the little nippers thought proper to fit into three or four sentences:

“My Mom has curly hair and green eyes like mine. She works in an office. She likes ice cream.”

“My Mom used to clean house a lot, but now ladies come in a special truck and do it for her.”

“My Mom is a nurse and she takes care of sick people. I am proud of my Mom. Sometimes she gets grouchy around suppertime. She works real hard and needs help. Her hair was gray until she turned it back to brown.”

That was the year Becky’s kindergarten did a similar synopsis, published on a huge scroll of craft paper. “What does your Mom do?” the teacher wrote at the top. The list she transcribed in huge magic marker letters ranged from little kid stream of consciousness drivel about their maternal care givers to the generic “My mom cooks, vacuums and watches Oprah Winfrey.” Somewhere along in the middle was Becky’s response: “My mom goes to Hannaford and types on the computer.” (My circa 1993 priorities in a nutshell, and in the right order, too.) Yup, and in between all that shopping and word crunching, I managed to slap together a few thousand sandwiches, watched her stage debut as a raccoon, and had the alphabet song emblazoned across my brain.

“What would you write about your mother for the newspaper?” I asked Helen. I figured, at age nine, her seniority would afford greater depth of vision.

“Hmmm…I’d write that you love camp, and Dad, and us, and Eric Clapton, but you hate Easter grass…and that you have exactly the same color eyes as mine, only redder.”

So much for aged wisdom! “Nobody has asked you to write anything for the newspaper, have they honey?” I asked, suddenly deciding that was the year I’d settle for magic marker immortalization and hope the media would not be interviewing my offspring. She’d given me my day in the spotlight though when, at age 5, Helen used all her crayons to win the Mother’s Day art contest sponsored by (you guessed it) Hannaford. “My Mom is special because she cares so much about me” it proclaimed to all ‘neath a butterfly-adorned rainbow. No Mommy stick figure to further distinguish me that year, just a short, sweet, primary-colored sentiment posted in the window above checkout aisle 3. And that, plus the $100 grocery gift certificate, was as good as it got back in 1988. Course that was BC (Before Computers), way before I could snap a pic with a smart phone and broadcast my celebrity status to everyone drawing breath. And my babies couldn’t begin texting me as soon as they got manual dexterity and an unlimited family roaming plan either. We didn’t have the wherewithal to universally “like” our kids, to plaster their Facebook walls with little heart emoticons, or to instantaneously show how smiley-faced we were over their ability to share a perfect digital rose postcard with us and 65,312 other one-of-a-kind, “truly soul inspiring” Moms. Back then we had local papers capturing middle class motherhood small-town-America-style, and TV commercials showing kids what they should buy at JC Penney to make Mom look extra special when they took her to dinner at Friendly’s. But, even back in 1988 BC, I do remember attaining some notoriety with my own low-tech social media campaign. “My daughter drew that,” I’d point out to any shopper who happened to wheel past checkout aisle 3. “For me.”

It’s antique artwork now, preserved, framed and hanging above the desk in the upstairs hallway where I store my other Mumma memorabilia. There’s a folder of handmade cards in the top drawer that still gets my attention, even if I’m only rooting around for a pencil. Stuffed full of toddler scrawls, sophisticated custom hallmarks, and everything in between, it holds my personal dog-eared history as seen by my next of kin. Looking back through it all now, I’m glad my daughters took notes, reporting without censure and with a flair for vivid color. Over time, their Mother’s Day messages tracked who I was, how I hoped to be seen, and where I was in my work/life balance spectrum.

“Happy Mother’s Day to the best darn technical writer in the world!” Becky wished me circa 1998 with a creation she printed off our state of the art 300 DPI color printer. It featured a clip art rendition of me, lounging on the beach, snorkel in one hand and pina colada in the other, enjoying the fruits of my new profession with a family vacation. At the time, I remember feeling equally as proud that she put “happy mother” and “technical writer” in the same sentence as I was of the fact that she’d mastered PowerPoint and fancy fonts in the limited time I allowed her to boot me off the home PC.

“Here’s so you can spend Mother’s Day with your favorite people!” Helen proclaimed artfully in another memorable Mumma folder moment. It was during my Mustang years and, with just a bit of help from PhotoShop, she’d morphed our extended family (here and long gone) into my new red convertible along with me and Bono from U2.

After reaching that high-tech pinnacle, the girls’ greetings gravitated away from glitz and back to homespun, to simpler pictorial essays about being my grown-up daughters. Some were spoken, some printed on PostIt notes, some filled all available space in the “blank inside” store bought cards. Each told a tale of love and support, of silliness and adventure, of my special brand of mothering. And the best ones—the ones that said it all—were just words whispered, from younger women to their older one. 

“I think you’re beautiful, Mumma,” Becky said softly. We were sitting side by side on the couch the other night and I’d just made one of my more candid body image confessions. I had to laugh at myself and the fact that, after all these years and all her heart-felt affirmations, most days I still couldn’t bring myself to agree. While I’m glad her image of me progressed from those early zipper-bodied, crow-footed impressions she had when she was four, I still need her mirror to show me at my best—to convince me I’m less Dilbert caricature and more classic da Vinci.

It’s been 30 years now since I received my first Mother’s Day card. It was from Tom, who promised me he couldn’t imagine anyone else being the mother of his children. I remember resting the card atop my hugely pregnant belly, crying a few estrogen-fueled tears, and imagining that maybe, hopefully, he was right. And now, thanks to Crayola, HP, and my two lifelong travel correspondents, I have plenty of evidence.

Happy Mother’s Day!


For more Mother’s Day messages, see:

Alike mother

“No mistaking where those two girls came from!”

People never wait for Mother’s Day to point out the mother-daughter similarity in my family.  When the girls were small, folks called it to my attention so often I started saving them the trouble by introducing Helen and her little sister, Becky, as “my clone kids.”

Twins born in different years—carbon copies exactly like me, they said. While triplets inspired amused curiosity, and same-day maternal twins sparked attempts to tell which name went with which baby, we got sidelong glances as though I’d never gone to the maternity ward but out to the garden to generate pods.

“Cripe, are you sure you went through labor and didn’t just crank out a duplicate?”my dad asked, gazing down at his second tow-headed granddaughter in her hospital bassinet. It was his first meeting with half-a-day-old Becky and, as usual, he couldn’t help but mark potentially poignant family moments with stand-up comedy.

“Yes!” I asserted with a bit too much postpartum fervor. “She’s exactly 11 ounces smaller than her big sister was, and three inches shorter. Besides, she’s got a little birthmark just below her right wrist.”

As Becky grew and the mirror image of her sister and me as babies didn’t fade, I felt tempted to show people how they both had crooked left incisors and bits of red in their hair just like their dad. But before too long, I just nodded at folk’s clone comments, taking full credit, hoping someone would alert the National Enquirer so I could sell my story for the girls’ college tuition.

There was never any arguing who gave birth to either one of them. They got their mother’s blonde hair, their mother’s brown “Oreo cookie” eyes, and I got the road map of their gestation where I used to wear a bikini. But those who swore we were just “three peas” straight out of the pod never saw Helen riding a bicycle at age six or Becky bending her dad to her will just by bringing a tear to her eye. I was never able to do either.

“I’ve been riding Katie’s bike,” Helen said casually at breakfast one long-ago May afternoon.

“Where?” I asked, trying to sound calm.

“On the road by her house down the big hill.”

“A two-wheeler bike?”


“With training wheels, right?”


No training wheels down the big hill?” I didn’t know how that could be. She was much too young, too little. By the time I learned how to balance a bike, I’d stripped the rubber off my training wheels and had been riding them for months on the rims.

“Who’s been teaching you how to ride, Helen?”

“Why should anybody have to teach me? I just hopped on and went!”

Who, I remember wondering, was that person previously inside my 40 pounds of  stretching-by-the-minute baby skin? Whoever she was, she was somehow wearing my face from long ago but didn’t need to bother asking for assistance before plunging headlong into life. No child of mine! And who exactly was the two-year-old little sister version shoveling in cereal next to her who could engage passersby with a grin and then entertain them with one of her three personalities? None of my doing!

With both my baby girls, I played the producer’s role to the hilt. Laying in my hospital bed, I accepted the flowers, ate most of the chocolates and let their father wait on me as much as possible. Every muscle in my body told me I deserved it. As soon as I began to walk again without wincing, though, the exclusiveness wore off.  Could flesh of my flesh be so perfect? Six weeks later I’d be puzzling over such mysteries, the origin of  symmetrical ears and other flawless features, when their newborn smiles appeared out of nowhere.

“Hi honey,” I whispered. “Where in the world did you get that beautiful smile?”

Certainly not from me. I was a face full of furrows rarely smoothed by sleep.

By the time the girls were gooing and gaaing and semi-upright, I’d attributed most of their milestones to ancestors other than myself. Fruit of my womb would not bounce repeatedly while suspended from a Johnny Jump Up spring inside a door jamb for half an hour and love it. Then, far too soon, Helen just bounced right past me without any support—soaring full speed ahead until my safety net was nothing but threads—showing the way for her little sister. On her first day of school, she created a time warp of sorts for one veteran teacher. She told Helen she’d been at school for my first day, too, greeting a dark-eyed girl with the same sun bleached hair and much the same dress. When Becky showed up four years later, the poor old teacher felt like her classroom was stuck in a parallel universe.  I guess she saw a legacy where, some days, all I saw was an inherited passion for peanut butter off of a spoon.

“Mommy, how did I get in this black and white picture?” Helen wanted to know soon after when she came across my first-grade school picture.

“That’s not you, that’s Mommy,” I said, examining the image for the first time in 25 years. “That’s me when I was your age.”

Later, Becky saw the photo propped on my desk when she came to say good night. “What’s Helen doing in that picture?” she asked. I brought her into my lap to tell her what I’d told her big sister. But when she swung her legs around me and bunched up to nestle under my chin, I kept quiet. Even back then, I wondered where the time had gone since my girls could curl up against my heart without adjustment.

With their growing-up years now a bright but hazy blur, I know for sure my daughters are passing through me more than coming from me. Because of them, the sun has shone over “my hair” in so many incredible places and “my eyes” have seen far beyond where I stand.  Meanwhile, they’ve certainly done their dad’s DNA proud, too. Especially during science fairs and athletic events—anything requiring eye-hand coordination and more common sense than God gave geese—they’ve made it increasingly apparent how much they do take after Tom.

And now that they’re in their 20s, they’ve brought me to a place where I feel I need to broadcast my connection just in case there’s any question. Turns out, those newborn smiles were just the beginning of what they had in store.

“I’m Helen’s mom!” I announced recently to anyone I figured would wonder what the heck I was doing at the poshest party this side of Manhattan. It was Helen’s cast party and I’d just witnessed, front and center, how she put on a stellar production at the Portsmouth Music Hall Loft featuring costumes she designed. Just as I was flashing back to her as a fairy princess—the last homemade Halloween costume I mustered—there we were in a penthouse overlooking Market Square, eating miniature Beef Wellingtons and toasting my daughter’s success. When did this beautiful, red-headed woman teach herself to sew? How did she take flight when, if not for Super Glue, I couldn’t have managed to give her the golden fairy wings she’d asked for so long ago? Her true origins still remained a mystery on that magical night, until we made the exact same yummy dessert face over Kahlua cheese cake and it was plain as day.

There are still times with Becky, too—especially when I’ve matched my blonde to her particular shade—when our resemblance elicits comments and a bit of confusion. “That’s your mom, right?” one of Becky’s Bahamian friends asked. “For a second I thought she might be your older sister!” Slurping on my second rum punch at the dive resort where Becky worked, I knew I was probably starting to act like there wasn’t 31 years between us…but look like her? Not even in paradise on my best day! “Bless you, I’m her Mumma!” I gushed. Even though leading shark dives was her specialty—and when she wasn’t doing that she was teaching kids how to navigate Class Five rapids on the Colorado and scale the same canyons featured on I Shouldn’t Be Alive—people can see we’re cast from the same mold.

Coming across my old first-grade picture again the other day, I had to admit I saw it, too. Years faded into one sweet memory of holding each daughter next to my heart. Who knew? The three of us had probably been in the same portrait even way back then, long limbs and all, waiting to unfold.

Mumma energy

“I got a nice dose of Mumma energy last night,” Becky called to tell me awhile back. She was going through a bit of a rough spot and really needed me in person, but had to settle for one of my cross-country pep talks instead. She’d been to a meditation/healing circle, led by a holistic Moab woman with “Mumma hands,” a giving heart, and wise, empowering words. Once again, my younger daughter had found just the surrogate she needed for that specific moment in her worldly travels.

“Oh, I’m so glad you feel better, honey,” I sighed. “Why don’t you book a couple office visits with her? That would be nice, huh? Think of it as my Mother’s Day present.” 

“Uh, Mom,” Becky said, “you do know that Mother’s Day is when I’m supposed to give you stuff, not when you tell me to give stuff to myself?”

“Right. But I’m telling you this is what I want more than anything. If you give yourself this gift, you will actually be pampering me, making my heart glad.”

“What is it with her?” I imagined Becky saying after we hung up. Every Mother’s Day for as far back as she and her sister could remember, I’d told them not to fuss over me, not to get me anything. As long as my girls were happy and healthy, I assured them, I had everything I needed. I meant it too, wholeheartedly. Of course, they’d still give me plenty of little trinkets and tokens, including their annual hand-drawn coupons for ice cream at the Pine Tree Frosty. I’d stash those in the glove compartment and promise to cash them in as soon as we got “back up to camp.” Last count, I had eight of them stacked under my snow scraper, never redeemed. We still enjoyed our share of Rangeley soft serve, regardless, lapping up the late spring sunshine as we fed the pond ducks even more than ourselves. Fortunately, all my Mother’s Days perfectly coincided with opening up camp, with no formal gifts necessary because the earth was warming up, the road was drying out, and we were returning to Rangeley. And, now that I am home here for good, I know it’s thanks to my three mothers, my beautiful daughters and husband, and all the nurturing, creative “Mumma energy” that works in mysterious ways to give us this life.

“Oh, honey, you didn’t need to give me anything!” I remember my mother telling me as she unwrapped my Mother’s Day gift. I was 17, and had presented her with a set of stoneware salt and pepper shakers I’d proudly bought with some of my $1.80-an-hour paycheck. “All I need is for you to be happy, really,” she insisted, setting them on the dining room table for “special company” and hugging me.

When Mum died suddenly a couple months later, I couldn’t imagine happy being a possibility for me ever again. Smiling was forced torture. And for years laughing was only a release mechanism that left a pain deep in my chest. Happy—as in sitting in the sunshine humming and wanting to hug myself? Well that, I believed, was forever on the other side of the big, dark wall where I’d left my previous life. But then, in spite of myself, slowly but surely Mumma energy began trickling back into my world. It came from Prudy, my step-mom, who helped me love myself as a grown woman while seeing the wonder in all things. It came from my Reiki teacher, Holly, who channeled Mother Earth energy into my heart and hands, empowering me to heal myself and those I love. It came just in time from my mother-in-law, Ruth, when—after holding each other at arm’s length for years—we finally embraced the power of unconditional love. It came from my Mum, who shows me everyday how love lives on in Spirit. (For more of this story, see my Come and Meet Those Dancin’ Feet series.) And, the Mumma energy came full circle in Helen, my mother’s namesake, and her sister, Becky.

“I couldn’t have chosen anyone better to become the mother of my child,” Tom wrote in my first Mother’s Day card. “Really?” I remember thinking, resting the card on my enormous belly. “Will he still feel that way a couple months—and a couple decades—from now?” I was seven months pregnant with Helen, my first-born, and my attitude towards motherhood had just barely switched from “Babies are cute, but keep them away from me,” to “As long as my natural instincts don’t fail me, I think maybe I could be a mom.”

Fast forward past college graduations, a wedding, and mother-daughter memories better than any Hallmark could anticipate. My Mumma energy is pumping just fine, I’m glad to report, triggered just as much by giving birth and from holding my babies as it is by having my daughters mother me back. It’s more ethereal than any biological process, flowing within the laughter that bubbles through the phone line, in long, tearful goodbyes, and those that went unspoken. It’s in the sweet, mysterious grace that keeps me here—alive and well—as a middle-aged mom, riding roller coasters and rapids, or dancing in a concert crowd to the songs that bind us together. Turns out, it’s the gift my mother asked for so many years ago, the one that never needs wrapping. I am grateful I found it, in the kindness of friends and strangers, in the courage to live my legacy, to create my own health and happiness every day. Thank you, Mum. Thank you, everybody. I really don’t need anything more.