A MOTHER'S DIARY by Dede Ranahan NOVEMBER 18, 2013 - DECEMBER 1, 2013

Walkin' the Cat * It's Criminal * Follow the Leader * November 22, 1963 * Happy Birthday, Marisa Elizabeth * Little Things * God Bless Us Everyone * Thanksgiving * Which End's Up? * Topsy-Turvy

To read A Mother's Diary from the beginning, click on the June 2017 archives in the right hand column and read "Before: Scenes from the Trenches."



I've gone and done it. Didn't want to do it in broad daylight, but the way I figure, it's now or never.

I'm still reading Rebecca Skloot's, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Last night, I fell asleep readin' the book. That's why this dialect is stickin' in my brain. I love the honesty, the energy, the music in it. As one of Henrietta's relatives told Rebecca, "If you pretty up how people spoke and change the things they said, that's dishonest. It's taking away their lives, their experiences, and their selves."

Anyway, I woke up this morning with a tellin' in my head — as if I spoke like one of Henrietta's relatives. Perfect timin' cuz I'm not sure I want to reveal what I'm doin'. This way of talkin' will be part of my disguise. Not that my inflection or phrasing is accurate. It's not.

So I been pushin' this new cat stroller round my house for two weeks. I been hopin' The Jazz would get curious and want to ride in it so I can take her for walks. She's curious 'bout everythin' else. She jumps in boxes. Jumps in paper sacks. Soon as I open a cupboard door, if I'm not watchin,' sure enough she's in that cupboard. And she ain't comin' out.

Like an idiot, I'm pushing this kitty carriage around in my house, at night, with the shutters closed. The Jazz loves riding on the seat of GG's walker. She loves riding on the back of my desk chair. But she doesn't even sniff at this stroller. She doesn't get near it.

This morning, I decided the time has come. We have to try this thing out or I'll have to talk it back to the pet store. Got a good deal on it too — half off. I make sure the zipper on the stroller's mesh covering is aligned and ready to zip. I pick my kitty up using a soft voice to not scare her too much. I plop her in the stroller and zip it shut. Fast as I can. She's not happy but she's not screaming, either.

"We're taking a walk," I say. "Out to see the birds and the bees and the trees and the flowers. Out to see the big wide world you never get to see."

I start down the sidewalk and, boy, am I hoping no one is coming out on the street today. I should have a worn a big, floppy hat and dark glasses to cover my face. Too late. I round the corner and wouldn't you know. Here comes a neighbor from the next street over. Orchid Lane. That's the fancy street. She's out walking her dog. She's coming right at me.

"Well, isn't this great," she says. "You're walking your cat. Makes sense since she probably won't walk on a leash."

My neighbor doesn't know how right she is. Her dog's yapping at The Jazz who's hissing through the blue mesh covering. She's got a view out all four sides of the stroller.

"You didn't see me," I say. "We never had this conversation," I say.

My neighbor nods and moves on. I round the next corner and the next corner and the next corner. We're in the home stretch for our first outing. The Jazz is turning back and forth in the stroller. Looking out the back at me. Looking out the front at Lord knows what. But like I said, she isn't screaming.

Back to the front door. I push the stroller inside and unzip the cover. The Jazz flies out. She's glad to be free. Guess we'll keep this pet contraption. It wasn't that bad out there — long as I don't catch eyes peeking through curtains as we pass by.

I'll stop trying to pretend I'm not doing what I'm doing. I'll hold my head high and wear bright colors. Don't know why people can walk dogs but not cats. It will broaden Jazzy's life experience. It will be good exercise for me.

Don't tell my kids about this, though. I'll never hear the end of it.

PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: Don't look back. "A mind that is stretched by new experience can never go back to its old dimensions." Oliver Wendall Holmes, Jr.



More talk in the news today about murders and suicides attributed to guns and mental illness. More talk about the lack of services and beds for the mentally ill who ask for help. More talk about the failure of our mental health system.

I've fought the battle for better mental health care for a long time. Between 2001-2003, for example, in the university system where I worked, I produced seminars titled "Mental Illness in the Classroom - How to Recognize It and Who Can Help." Teachers, kindergarten through university level, were hungry for this information and came to these workshops from throughout California and from out of state.

For one symposium, Tipper Gore sent a personal video message to the audience. For another, we featured the award-winning KQED documentary, Hope on the Street. In the film I narrated our family's anonymous story, which was one of five stories. With the KQED producer, I travelled to the Carter Center in Atlanta, at the invitation of Rosalyn Carter, to show the film there.

In spite of worthwhile projects and sold-out attendance at our conferences, university resistance to dedicated mental health programs was entrenched. Deans were interested only if programs would bring in big bucks for their schools. Some professors said, "Forget it." In a focus group for faculty readiness, one professor told me, "I'm fed up with students making irrational outbursts in my classroom. I'm a professor because I want to teach. I've no time for this other nonsense."

Resistance was widespread. A ranking member of the State Department of Education said to me, "Please don't educate teachers about mental illness. They'll become more frustrated than they already are when they learn there are no resources to make the changes that need to be made."

When my position at the university was cut, my mental health programs languished. I found out, later, that certain administrators and faculty members experienced mental illnesses within their own families. The powers in charge, however, could not or would not connect the dots. Much stigma and shame existed.

In 2013, there is still much stigma and shame. I get asked, from time to time, to get back in the fray. I say, "My energy, these days, is concentrated on my son."

I know that younger advocates will continue the struggle, but it's sad that getting timely, appropriate, stigma-free mental illness care remains a huge challenge. For those who suffer from serious mental illness, priority for their care continues to sink to the bottom of the proverbial heap. 

It's criminal.



Kerry and Regan are at a parent-teacher-student conference so I'm with Ayla. We're in the backyard. Ayla's blowing bubbles and Piper's trying to catch them. She jumps and chomps at them in mid-air, and makes them pop.

Ayla says, "Popping bubbles is Piper's favorite thing to do. She was born to chase bubbles. She's a crazy dog."

It's windy so we go inside. Ayla has an idea. "Let's play my cherry tree game."

Ayla sets up the game and explains the rules. We start playing, but we're running out of cherries. Ayla makes a unilateral decision.

"This game's too hard for you, Mim. Let's play another game."

We're playing CandyLand. For Ayla, CandyLand isn't a competitive game — it's a team sport. The red, green, yellow, and blue plastic people must all advance toward the CandyLand castle together. If one plastic person draws a good card, all plastic people get the same good card.

"I'll be the leader," Ayla says. "The rest of you come with me."

Now, we're building something — a tower slide for marbles. Ayla knows exactly how to fit the green tubes and purple tubes together. She holds up a silver marble.

"This is the test marble. Let's see if it goes."

The marble rattles down the tubes to the bottom. Our marble tower is a success.

Kerry and Regan are home. Regan got all T's on her report card. T stands for On Target. Boy, have things changed. On my report cards, we got E for Excellent, S for Satisfactory or U for Unsatisfactory. If I'd gotten a T, I'd have torn up my report card and run away from home. I'd have thought that T meant Terrible or Terminated.

Kerry takes me upstairs to Regan's bedroom. She shows me the dresser she's spray-painted white. It used to be my dresser when I was 15. I didn't like it at the time. Made from solid maple with tongue-in-groove drawers, it seemed like furniture for old people, not me. Today, the dresser has been passed down to my granddaughter. It looks modern painted white. It has clean, classic lines. It will, most likely, be in the family when I'm no longer around. I could get sentimental. 

Ayla's rolling on the floor. "Look at my butt, Mim."

Kerry says, "Stop, Ayla. you're not being polite."

Ayla's laughing. Butts are funny. One can't get maudlin with Ayla around. If we follow the leader, we'll find lots of fun things to do.

President and Mrs. Kennedy November 22, 1963

President and Mrs. Kennedy November 22, 1963

NOVEMBER 22, 2013: NOVEMBER 22, 1963

It's 10:45 a.m., November 22, 1963. I'm in Father Fagothey's philosophy class at the University of Santa Clara. I'm sitting in the fourth desk from the front in the third row from the left. My off-again-on-again boyfriend, Jim, is sitting in the desk next to me on the right. A student enters the room and hands a note to Father Fagothey.

Father Fagothey's reading the note. He's not moving. He's looking down. The room is silent. Father Fagothey looks up and says, "Class is dismissed. President Kennedy's been shot."

There's a collective gasp. Students run out the door. Jim picks up his books and disappears down the hall. I'm walking across campus back to my dorm. It's a crisp, clear day. Leaves are falling. Like the leaves, students are scattering in all directions. Some are gathering in small groups. Everyone's crying. I'm crying. I pass Jim. He's sitting in his white Ford Thunderbird in front of the student union. He doesn't see me. His eyes are closed.

The TV's humming in my dorm lobby. I don't stop to watch it. I go to my room and throw some books and clothes into a small bag. I'll drive home — it's minutes away. I'll watch the news in my living room. I'm praying that when I get home and turn on the TV, the newscaster will say that the President's in surgery and expected to survive. The President's going to be fine. The country's going to be fine. The world's going to be fine.

I know, fifty years from now, I'll recall I was in Father Fagothey's philosophy class when I learned President Kennedy was shot. I hope I'll also recall that, when I got home, TV reports said he was out of danger and receiving good care.



Tomorrow is Marisa's 40th birthday. This weekend Megan and Kerry have joined her in Seattle for a sisters' weekend. They're posting photos on Instagram. They're all smiles and hugs. A candle is blazing like a sparkler on Marisa's birthday dessert. 

I'm pleased that my daughters are good friends. Not all sisters end up being friends. I hear. I don't know. I never had a sister, really. I say, "really" because my mother did give birth to a little girl, Loretta Marie, when I was four. I didn't learn about this until later. She lived a few hours.

I was excited that my mother was having a baby. I couldn't wait to hold it. Then Pop walked in the front door empty handed. He said, "They were out of babies at the hospital today."

That was it. No further discussion. What? How could this be? The day my mother goes to the hospital to get our baby they're out of them? Could we only get a baby on this one day? What about tomorrow? Will more babies be coming in? I didn't ask these questions. I mulled them over in my four-year-old mind. Thinking about this, now, my chest feels heavy. I've never talked about it.

About six years later, when I was ten, my friend's mother was expecting. I was jealous. Mary Jo was about to have a baby in her house. I knew, by then, that hospitals didn't run out of babies, that babies grew in mothers' tummies. I understood I had a baby sister who died. What if Mary Jo's baby would die? The thought crossed my mind. Then Mary Jo's little sister died during childbirth. Did I wish that and make it happen? The thought haunted me. I was a terrible, terrible, little girl with evil powers. Another thing I've never talked about.

Wow, Marisa's birthday and the subject of sisters has gone in an unexpected direction. Back to my daughters. Once again, I'm jealous. I have a perfectly okay brother. I'd also like to have a sister. And Jim would probably like to have a brother.

I talk to my cousin, Annette, in Kansas City. "You need to come out here," I tell her. She says she'll think about it. She doesn't like traveling and making trip arrangements. Maybe, if I tell her I have to have a sister and she's it, she'll come.

Meanwhile, Happy 40th Birthday, Marisa. I love you and Kerry and Megan. And Patrick. And Jim. We mustn't forget the brothers. Here's to at least  40 more years — for all of us.



First thing this morning, I called to wish Marisa "Happy Birthday."  I asked her about the wine and chocolates I'd ordered for her room. And about the note that said, "Have a Wonderful Sisters' Weekend."

I'm bummed. Marisa didn't get the wine, or the chocolates, or the note. I can't reconstruct the situation. This error can't be undone. I call the hotel and ask to speak to the manager. I'm connected to Edward. "I'm looking at your daughter's hotel record," he says. "I apologize. We totally dropped the ball on this. I can offer a discount on the next booking of our hotel. I'll send you an email to track this offer."

I'm waiting for the email. I'd rather have had an excited text from Marisa at the beginning of her birthday weekend about the surprise in her room. Maybe whoever "dropped the ball" won't do it again. Maybe he or she will remember, next time, that little things can mean a lot.

An email exchange with Pat.

"Hi, Pat. See you Thursday at Kerry's. Can you pick up GG at 4:00 p.m.? Kerry and I will be cooking. I have a postcard here for you. I'll bring it on Thursday." Mom

"Hi, Mom. Yes, I'll pick up GG on Thursday. I think, after the last payment to the bankruptcy lawyer we owe three hundred sixty dollars. I made a little money last weekend and I'm wondering if we could pay off the total if I give you half — one  hundred eighty dollars. Thanks." Pat

"Hi, Pat. If you can pay half, that is a huge help. How did you make the money? At the church?" Mom

"Hi, Mom. I made the money helping a friend of mine with his screen printing business at an Irish dance competition at the Sacramento Convention Center. I'll call and verify what the total is. So, if I pay half, can we pay the total and get this over with?" Pat

"Hi, Pat. Yes, let's get this over with." Mom

"Hi, Mom. Thank you." Pat

PATICK'S FACEBOOK POST: I just spent two days helping a friend with his vending business at one of the most bizarre cultural events I've ever witnessed. It was called Oireachtas 2013 and was the Western Region Competition of Traditional Irish Dancers. There were about 2000 young girls competing for national and world qualifications and most of them were anywhere from 5-13 years old and they were all done up like beauty pageant contestants in full costume dresses, wigs, and makeup. I might have some serious nightmares tonight.



Whoa. I just called Irene. She's always the same - calm and grateful. Ed has taken a turn for the worse. Irene says that hospice has moved in full-time. "They're wonderful. And my daughter, Eileen, who's a nurse is here, too. I couldn't manage without her. Thankfully, we're able to keep Ed comfortable. And the grandkids have decorated his room with deer antlers and photos to make his room look like his room at the ranch. That's his favorite place to be."

"Is he awake?"

"He comes and goes. He's such a nice guy."

Irene and Eddie have been married 51 years. What a wonderful thing to be able to say after 51 years - "He's such a nice guy."

"I won't keep you, Irene, but I want you to know I'm thinking of you."

Irene wishes me "Happy Thanksgiving." She and her daughters are planning to fix a turkey and celebrate with the grandkids and with Eddie in his room. He won't be leaving it again. More of my friends are dying with grace. I'm thankful for their example. God bless us everyone.


Photo credit: jozjozjoz/Flickr

Photo credit: jozjozjoz/Flickr



First time, ever, that I haven't hosted Thanksgiving. I used to have 25 to 30 people for Thanksgiving. Then it dwindled to ten.  Now, I'm passing turkey day to Kerry.

I'm at Kerry's. We decided it would be fun, as long as we're both spending the afternoon cooking, to do it together. I'm preparing a new recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts. They remain attached to the stalk. They'll serve as both the centerpiece and a side dish. My cell phone rings. It's Pat.

"Mom, I'm having a really bad day."

"What's happening?"

"I can't find my wallet. I've looked everywhere. I had the cash in it that I planned to give to you today."

Here goes my stomach. I've already put $360 on my credit card to pay the bankruptcy attorney. Pat is supposed to give me half today. I've been feeling proud that he's earned some money and offered to pay some of the bankruptcy expense. Is this for real? Have I been set up? Why do I never know how to handle situations with my son? They always catch me off guard.

Pat arrives at Kerry's. "Did you find your wallet?"


I'm home again. We had a scrumptious Thanksgiving dinner, but this money thing is throwing me. Why the drama? On Thanksgiving? I'm forgetting about the things I'm thankful for. I send an email.

"Pat, I'm counting on that $180 for Christmas expenses. I wasn't planning to put $360 on my credit card." Mom

"Mom, hopefully my wallet will turn up soon and I'll have the money to give you. If not, I'll get the $180 to you as soon as possible." Pat

"Pat, I took you on good faith and I'm disappointed. I can't keep being the financial fall guy. I'll deduct the $180 from the bills I pay in December." Mom

"Mom, I had the money set aside to pay you. You don't even care that I am out nearly $200 if I don't find my wallet. Please give me some time to either find my wallet or come up with the $180." Pat

PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!



Early morning email from Pat. 

"Mom, I hardly slept at all last night. Not only am I upset and worried that I lost $200 that I intended to give to you and that I worked very hard to get, I'm terrified that you're going to cut off my cable, internet, phone, and renter's insurance.

"I'm already having a terrible time finding work, but without these things it will be basically impossible for me to look for work, send out resumes, or reply to employers via phone.

"Please don't do this to me. I feel like you are punishing me for something I shouldn't be punished for — losing my wallet. I realize that I still owe you $180 and I fully intend to get that to you as soon as I'm able, but taking away my communications with the outside world is not going to help me achieve that." Pat.

No matter what I do, I always feel like I've done the wrong thing with my son. I've been too lenient or too strict. I call Pat. "I'm coming over to help you look for your wallet. Maybe a different set of eyes will find it."

I'm at Pat's. His house, as usual, is in disarray. Dirty dishes in the sink. Dust everywhere.

"The last time I used my wallet was at Walmart. I don't remember seeing it after that."

"Do you think someone took it out of your pocket?"

"I've thought about that."

"Call Walmart and see if someone turned your wallet into lost and found."

Pat calls. No one's answering the phone.

"Okay. I want you to go there and check with customer service."

I look upstairs, downstairs, inside, outside, in the garage, in the car. There's no sign of a wallet.

"I worked really hard for that money. I was feeling good that I could buy Lexi's dog food this month and pay for her shots."

I'm home again. I get an email from Pat.

"Hi Mom. I forgot to ask you if you could drive me to my MRI for my brain tumor on Tuesday? I'm supposed to take an Ativan and not drive. Thanks." Pat.

Everything's so mixed up and convoluted with my son. Every day I question my own judgment.



It's 8:30 a.m. The phone's ringing. It's Pat.

"Mom, I think I'll have some money to give you tomorrow."

"Did you find your wallet?"

"No, I sent an email to the church and told them what happened and I think some of the people are going to help me. I'll let you know, tomorrow, how much I can give you."

Back and forth. Up and down. I'm feeling topsy-turvy. Also, I'm hiding out.

Six months ago, a dermatologist determined that chemicals in my hair products were the cause of my then swollen, itchy eyes. He prescribed a new shampoo and my eyes cleared up. Yesterday morning, I woke up with two bulging eyes. By evening, they were much worse. I called a hospital advice nurse. She scheduled an appointment with the dermatologist this coming Monday.

Meanwhile, trying to think of a clever metaphor or simile but nothing's coming to mind except a cliche. I look like shit.

Not a fun way to begin the holiday season.

PATRICK'S FACEBOOK POST: I picked up a Christmas tree a few months ago. It's fake with pre-strung lights. I put it up today. Gaping holes in places, two strings of lights don't work, top is broken and leans off to one side. It's a Charlie Brown Christmas! Funny, sort of, because it's unfortunately true.


Please share my blog/book with "other wayfarers who might catch a resonating echo while wandering in my woods." Thanks.

Hiding Out * Keeping On Keeping On * It's Complicated * It's Idiopathic * Nelson Mandela * Abundance and Hunger * Snow * Showing Up * The Thrift Store * Give This Man a Chance * Back to Square One * Hiding in Plain Sight *Christmas Gifts * From My Now to Your Now

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