The love you make and Happy Birthday, Mom


Max once asked me, “Why is it that we have to go to school for 15 months a year and we only get 2 weeks off for winter break and only 2 months off for summer? That seems so unfair.” I said, “Max, how many months are there in a year?” He said, “Twelve, why?” I said, “Then how is it that you are going to school for 15 months?” He said, “Don’t question my math when I’m trying to make an important point, Mom.”

My Max, as I did in high school – and sometimes still do, struggles with the structure and immutability of a school system that tries to cram a wiggly star shape into a square hole.  Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for my education. But I think part of why I like my work as a lawyer is because I learned early on, from my mother, that bureaucracies and systems are not inherently correct. And that individuals, especially creative, artistic, badass, bodacious, individuals, have a right to buck those bureaucracies and systems. I sure do love bucking the system. I’m with Max. Fuck the math. Let’s count what really matters. Not time spent trying to accommodate policies that don’t make sense when you are actually doing good and being good.

My mama, who moved in with me in August, was diagnosed with cancer in January.  The first oncologist told us that she had maybe a year to live.  She did not accept that. In the face of unremitting pain and an obdurate health care system, she refused to be crammed into a square hole. Her next oncologist gave her a different prognosis. She has gone through surgery, radiation, and now chemotherapy treatments. And she is kicking cancer’s ass. She is showing me – and my sons – real courage and what really matters. That challenge and inquiry and often rebellion are necessary. If you don’t challenge the status quo and stagnation, you never evolve and get better.  And that courage comes from not giving up. You have to keep  going.  No matter what. That courage leads to doing and being better, for all of us.

Last week, my mom told me, “I am lean, mean, and ready to start kicking ass.” She started walking outside for the first time in months. First to the driveway outside my house. Then down to the end of the block. Last Sunday I walked with her to the end of the block and back. Along the way, she pointed out the blooming trees and plants. “Look how beautiful that is,” she said for each one. And you know, she was right. Each one was beautiful. Hell’s yeah to my mom’s rebellion against cancer’s status quo.

Today is my mom’s birthday, I am grateful, so very grateful, for her. I am grateful to the woman who raised me to be a fighter and to be courageous even when I am scared out of my mind. I am grateful that my mom taught me to question and advocate and rebel. I am grateful to the woman who taught me to appreciate art and music and literature. I am grateful to the woman who taught me that it is important to love and serve those who need us, without judgment. I am grateful to the woman who taught me to be a good mother to my amazing sons.  I am grateful to the badass mamaninjawarrior, who taught me that life is beautiful. And that we should never, not ever, give up a single moment of that beauty to doubt, pain, incorrect diagnoses, or math – none of which matters when you’re making an important point. And that the real mathematical equation and the true point is – love.

“And in the end, the love you take. Is equal to the love you make.” – John Lennon



Shane and Max

Maybe 10  years ago, Max was sitting at the kitchen table doing homework and sighing. Audibly. Then he announced, “This is too hard. I’m going to sue them for giving me too much homework.” The Wasband said, “You can’t sue for that.” Max said, “Yes I can.  They can’t do this to me. It’s emotional distress.”

Tonight an emotionally distressed Max and I were in the kitchen for about an hour discussing existentialism and motivation and the meaning of life. I had a similar conversation with his older brother Shane about five years ago. What does this all mean, Mom? I told both of them, there’s a Buddhist saying. The only way out is through. I wish I could make this journey easier for you. Or completely eradicate the pain and the failure and the difficulty. But I can’t. Because this is important shit. If you don’t suffer, you will never understand human suffering. You have to know this to love and accept other people. And if you don’t fail, you’ll never succeed. Because no one who succeeds has not tasted failure.

I love and miss overhearing the daily conversations of my sons. When Max got braces they discussed potential nicknames for him: “Transformer,” “Gridlock,” and of course the usual “Metalmouth” and “Brace Face.” Later, Max said to me, “Mom, you realize that’s just bracism.” My personal favorite comment from my kids was overheard on a suddenly quiet Sunday afternoon: “Well, we’re out of duct tape. Now what?”

Shane called me last week from Oregon. He’s getting his first apartment on his own. I had forgotten what a huge and momentous occasion that is. He said, “I guess this is what it’s like to be an adult.” Except he had to pay $50 for every application for every apartment he applied to be considered for. Which is bullshit and taking advantage of my 20 year old son who is responsible and just trying to do the right thing. That’s straight up bracism. I’m sending him some duct tape.

Adulting means hanging with our kids in the kitchen having the difficult conversations. Adulting means remembering that once upon a time we were kids trying to make our way in an adult world that maybe judged us based on our clothes and hair and music.  Adulting means putting up with being charged for bullshit that should simply be an experience. Not a cost. Adulting means letting go of judgment and letting in kindness and love. Because these kids are going to be taking care of us. And they are pretty damn amazing kids. I know. I helped raise two of them. You’re welcome.

“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies. ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.'” – Kurt Vonnegut


Love means saying thank you


Max texted me a grocery list, several years ago: “Caprisuns, sushi, bone of chicken, eyeball of frog, cyclops toe, potion vial, chicken strips, rice.” He called me the next day and said, “Mom, did you get ketchup at the store yesterday?” “No, but you’re not going to die without ketchup,” I said. He said, “I’ve got to go, Mom. Goodbye. I’m not going to make it.” I went back and double checked the grocery list from the day before. Cyclops toe. Chicken strips. Ketchup was not on there. There may have been a few things I didn’t pick up. I decided to get the damn ketchup and keep my mouth shut. I never want to call attention to my own shortcomings.

Cancer and cancer treatment affects your taste buds. I don’t know this personally. I know this because sometimes my mama barely eats. So we do just about anything to get her to eat. She’ll  find something she likes, for a day, or a week. And we get it for her. McDonald’s French fries. Kern’s guava nectar. Shredded beef burritos. Rice Krispies. Potato chips. Yogurt. Scrambled eggs. Cinnamon rolls. My mother texts me what she wants to eat: “Lala, order Chinese. The orange chicken not sweet and sour. Veggie rice, broccoli beef, noodles, and what you want. Hahaha.”

In the mornings, I get ready for work and then I clatter downstairs to say goodbye to my mom. Sometimes she is dozing. Sometimes she’s on her tablet. Sometimes she is up and making scrambled eggs for the damn dogs. But every time, she says the same thing to me, “You look so pretty. I love you.”

I flash back.  I am 13 years old, I am wearing bell bottoms and clogs, I am brushing my hair out of my face, I am running out of the door to make it to school on time.  I am insecure as hell. I don’t believe in my own beauty.  I just want to get an A in whatever fucking class I have that day. I am convinced that I am less than. But my mama believes in me so I’m going to try. And I say, “I love you mama! I’ll see you when I get home!” And she says, “I love you baby. I’ll see you when you get home.” All I can – and should – say is, “Thank you.”

Once we were at a restaurant and the NASCAR races were on television. Shane said “I don’t know why people watch that sport. I mean, how hard can that be? All you do is turn left about 10 times really fast.” My kid was right.  It’s about turning into the curve. It’s about releasing the expectation of things being hard. It’s about seeing things as they are. Just turning until you get to where you are okay – or done.

Maybe it’s not as hard as your mind is making it. I hope you don’t wait to say good morning and goodbye to someone you love who has cancer. I hope you say the same to someone else who matters to you, no matter what. I hope you say thank you. Every day. Because it’s a blessing. I think my mom would appreciate that. Just say it. I love you. And don’t forget to pick up some ketchup.