The Memory Box – A Life In Letters: Short Story

I’d like to thank Alex Grey for her short story submission “The Memory Box – A Life In Letters” a touching tribute to the memories that make up a life gone by.

After a lifetime of writing technical non-fiction, Alex Grey is finally fulfilling her dream of writing poems and stories that engage the reader’s emotions. Her poems and short stories have been featured in a range of publications including Siren’s Call, Raconteur, Toasted Cheese, Short Edition and Little Old Lady Comedy.  Alex is married to her long-suffering partner of 36 years; she does not have any children but is “mum” to two fur babies – greyhounds Alex and Saffy. Her ingredients for contentment are narrowboating, greyhounds, singing and chocolate – it’s a sweet life.

This story is a fictionalised account of a remarkable life and is dedicated to Renia, Alex’s mother-in-law, whose courage and resilience has always been an inspiration.

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The Memory Box – A Life In Letters

That day, the nursing home’s ever-cheerful Activities Leader told us to use a memory box to reminisce with our loved ones.

I groaned. I knew the Activities Leader meant well but chasing my mother’s memories had become a tedious scavenger hunt as dementia hid them in the distant recesses of her brain and destroyed the clues that might lead me to them.

“We’re going to use the alphabet to think about places that your loved ones may have visited. Remember, don’t ask them to remember…” she paused, waiting for our weak laughter, “just ask them to tell you a story about a place that begins with that letter. Take your time and see how far you get.

I sat at the table with my mother, her blue-veined hands tapping out a tune that only she could hear. She smiled at me vacantly. I knew she couldn’t remember who I was, though she seemed to acknowledge that I was benign, something simple and pleasant like the institutional tea set and the cheap biscuits. My mother devoured them greedily, like a little girl at a rival’s birthday party. The activity room had a dozen tables like ours, covered with cheerful chintz tablecloths and circled with residents and their visitors in various degrees of torpor.

My eyes met those of another woman sitting at our table; her mother slumped in a wheelchair, crooning. We smiled briefly and looked away. You’d think there would have been some spark of empathy between us, but the long goodbye we were enduring was too painful, too personal to be shared.

“OK!” trilled the Activities Leader. “Let’s make a start. As you complete each card, just drop it into their memory box.”

“Look, we’re going to put things in here today.” I said.

I rattled the vintage biscuit tin that we were using as her memory box. I remembered when she’d bought the tin as a souvenir of a rare sightseeing trip to London; we’d eaten the biscuits with ceremony every Sunday teatime for a month. The lid had a picture of the Tower of London and the crown jewels.  When it was empty, she kept her sewing things in there. Every time she reached for it to darn a jumper or patch a dress, she would rattle the tin and laugh,

“Will we find jewels in here today?”

I remember looking over her shoulder excitedly; she always hid a treasure in the tin for us – an amber bead, a tiny rag dolly or a fat toffee wrapped in shiny gold foil.

I shook my head; my mother’s sewing days were over. Today the faded and rusty-edged tin contained some trinkets and photographs from a previous memory exercise. On good days, we would take them out and she would nod, her wandering mind briefly meeting mine at a waypoint. On bad days, we drank tea and stared, the tin a bewilderment of junk between us.



I forced a smile and picked up the first alphabet card. My mother looked the other way, distracted by the conversations going on around her. I touched her hand and she frowned, unwilling to concentrate on the activity. She had always enjoyed people-watching, that was the best part of being in a nursing home, she told me, back when she had been aware of where she was.

“Look, mama.” I said, “Can you tell me a story about a place that begins with the letter A?”

She fingered the card, and then started talking. I wrote little notes on the cards – it helped me to keep track of her disjointed thoughts.

AUSTRIA: My uncle saved me from the slave farm, a miracle; I had a bath, when I was free of filth I was as light as an angel in heaven.

BELSEN: They measured me there, height, hands, head – I was judged – Aryan enough to live, but not enough to be free.

I sighed; she’d been telling us tales of her wartime enslavement all of our lives. We’d always moved her on, embarrassed, but now I was afraid that her mind would be trapped in that nightmare for the rest of her days.

“No mama, don’t think about the war, what about our lovely holidays?”

She looked rebellious, then carried on…

CHECKPOINT CHARLIE: We went to Poland with treats for my uncle hidden in the car seats; frightened, we willed the children not to betray our innocent smuggling.

DULWICH: We made our life there – our own house, large enough to last a lifetime, a green place to raise our children, respectable, rich, peaceful.

EALING: We all went there after the war; we spoke Polish and dreamed of the old country. Some sneered that it was just a new ghetto; stupid people – we had freedom, money, education. I went to college, met my Olek and made a new life.

I missed my father so much; he’d looked after Mama when she first became ill, back when we pretended that she was just tired, that it was normal to forget things from time to time. We told stories to make it alright, but it wasn’t. He died of grief and worry, leaving me with this responsibility.



I realised that I’d drifted off – I held up the F card…

FRANCE: A truckstop on the road to England; so scared; so alone, each girl so alone, together only in body and hope.

“Not the war, Mama, please…”

GHANA: Olek’s business trips, violence, distrust; I worried at home with the children; the money never came home, but Olek did. I was grateful.

HARRODS: The SALE on our doorstep, a proper sale – I bought a fur coat for a song; I was an aristocrat again.

That fur coat! I loathed it, but mama’s friends from the old country wore fur, it was what they did, a symbol of how they’re recovered from their refugee poverty. Who was I to tell her it was wrong when she was so proud? She made me try it on, said it would be a legacy for generations if I looked after it and kept it in the freezer. I cut it up and turned it into dog beds, horrible thing.

ITALY: Our first holiday after the war; We went to the eternal city. We went to St. Peter’s Square where the Holy Father prayed with us. I was so sick, I thought it was the food, but I had been blessed, with YOU my daughter, reaching for life.

Suddenly she reached for my face and looked straight into my eyes. A lump of hope leapt into my chest, I’d so longed for her to know me again.

“Mama!” I said

“Sandra.” She said, “Are you here to cut my hair?”

I turned back to the cards, trying to hide the tears in my eyes, the heat of my hope igniting my anger. She couldn’t help it. I gritted my teeth; she really couldn’t help it.

She grabbed the next card…

JAMAICA: Our first Caribbean cruise, the sun so hot, the island so green, the sky and sea so blue.

KRAKOW: We bought amber in the market, dined on Fois Gras in Wierzynek; toured the salt mines, grateful for our freedom; we bowed our heads and sobbed in Auschwitz.

We’d all sobbed there. I hadn’t wanted to go. I still wish that I’d never been there, but Mama said we must never forget. I will never forget. I hoped that she could let the camp’s silent eloquence slip away, but some experiences refused to sink into the pit of her lost memories.

LINZ: The slave market, sold into hard labour; I had a price, yet I was worth nothing.

MAGNIFICENT SEVEN: The undertaker said Olek should have a magnificent seven burial. I said yes, of course, Olek was a magnificent man, his ashes went to Brompton, where we had joined in marriage – I told him we’d meet again there.

NAZILAND: A plague of evil; they came to the house, took my father, shot him dead in the woods; my beloved daddy, his only crime was teaching the truth.

I willed her memory to reel back to happier days, before the war destroyed her childhood, even if meant that her memory of my childhood would be destroyed too.

ORATORY: Brompton, where we married; where we ate Polish doughnuts filled with rich plum curd.

POZNAN: Home with daddy and my beautiful mother; they were tall, like me. I remember servants.  My sisters played with their dollies, but I wanted to run with my brothers, mother frowned, girls don’t run; daddy laughed. It was always summer in the sunshine of his smile.

QATAR: Olek’s business went international; so glamorous; we sipped vodka in our expat compound and forgot the world.

RUSSIA: Betrayal – they destroyed the Third Reich for you, but we paid the price; the bear steals babies in the night, unseen, you didn’t know?

SEVEN SEAS: The children left home; we cruised the world. Oh, the on-board buffets, food 24 hours a day.

TULSE HILL: Olek left his soldiering behind and became an architect. How hard he worked – apprentice, partner, owner – his business was a lifeline and a legacy for our children.

UNIVERSITY: Daddy said I was too clever to be a girl; after the war, welcomed me, I became a draughtswoman, I became someone.

VICTORIA MANSIONS NURSING HOME: They said I wasn’t safe at home, I pleaded with mother to let me stay, but they took me away. They are kind here, servants bring my tea, mother stands by the desk and watches them. I clean my plate like a good girl.



I let go of a breath that I hadn’t realised I’d been holding. Moving mama into the home had been the hardest thing I’d ever done. At first, she knew where she was, visits were difficult as her eyes accused me, but we were past that now.

“You’re almost there,” said the Activities Leader.

Her voice made me jump. I had been lost in my thoughts, but I felt a touch of satisfaction when I saw how far we’d come. The other old woman at our table was fast asleep in her wheelchair; her daughter had vanished – I could hardly blame her.

I took a deep breath, willing the last of the alphabet to pass quickly.

WARSAW: We went to the old town, it was good as new, as if the war had never been, as if the past had never been torn from the future. We drank coffee in the old market square and laughed.

I flipped the X card over quickly, but mama grabbed my wrist.

XOCHIMILICO: Our first cheap package holiday to Mexico. I never knew so much colour could exist; travel, holidays, it was freedom beyond imagination.

I laughed, she was full of surprises, but I knew from her photo albums that this memory was real, unlike some of her more colourful fictions.

YESHAK: A saint’s school for my children. I wore my fur coat to the school gates so they would know we had money, that my children were not the spawn of poor immigrants; that my children belonged in England.

ZAKOPANE: My uncle’s farm in the lovely mountains; I am there now, skipping with the dogs, mother frowns, girls don’t run, but daddy smiles….

My mother dropped the last card into the box, her transparent skin luminous with joy as her face was lit by sunshine from another time, another place.

The old biscuit tin bulged with cards; her jagged memories captured by my spiky handwriting – her life in letters. Her remarkable life in letters. I kissed her forehead, promised I’d see her next week. Her carers wheeled her to the dining hall; she was already asking about pudding; she’d always had a sweet tooth.

***

To this day, I do not know who she was smiling for when she put that last card in the box.  Maybe it doesn’t matter; I know that my last smile was for her, my beloved mother…



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Troops 123’s Annual Popcorn Fundraiser: A True Story

I’d like to thank Margaret Koger of the US for her true story submission “Troop 123’s Annual Popcorn Fundraiser”, a sentimental tale about the joys of grandparent duties.

Margaret is a retired school media specialist with a writing habit living in Boise, Idaho. She says she writes in hopes of adding small strands of connective tissue to our shared web of life. Most of her recent publications include poetry and short stories published locally and online. One of her favourites can be found at https://www.idahomagazine.com/contests/fiction-writing-winners/christmas-in-central-cove-2015-first-place-adult-division/.

Margaret tells us “My memoir recounts the days I spent helping my grandson earn money for his Boy Scout activities and for the troop he belonged to–actually Troop 123. Of all that I did for my grandson as he went through the teen years, this was the best. I stood in the background watching him walk door-to-door for his fundraiser–how he presented his invitation to buy and how people reacted. Truly a Grand Mum experience and an honor to write about.”

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Troop 123

Troop 123’s Annual Popcorn Fundraiser

When I arrive at my grandson’s home, Ramsey enters the living room dressed in his uniform: tan shirt, red tie, Boy Scouts of America (BSA) tie clasp, green khaki shorts, and a worn, billed cap with its official logo. ‘Ah’ I think ‘shorts’. It’s October, the poplar leaves are turning color and there is an abundance of crisp air circulating at ground level. Never mind, I have my coat, hat, and gloves and I’m ready to walk with him as he rings doorbells and makes his pitch, trying to raise enough money to pay for next summer’s scouting activities.

He positions himself in front of each door, his sales placard front, and center, his legs spread a bit as if the opening of the door could blow him away. “Hi, I’m Ramsey and I’m here for our annual Troop 123 fundraiser. This year we have our one pound white cheddar, our …

In the short ride to Cobbler’s Creek where we’ve sold popcorn for the last four years, I have a chance to talk with the eighth-grader. I tell him the stories of his infant times when I took care of him while his mother worked. He’s fifteen now,  six foot two, recumbent where he’s seated in my little Subaru like a willowy sapling bent down and ready to spring up when released. I turn the radio on and we discuss music, the “Okay” radio station because it plays everything. “Really I like 80’s and 90’s music.”

I’m sure I’ll recognize and enjoy some of the popular songs from these two “long ago” decades so I say, “Yes,” even though I’ve become a classical music fan, mostly listening to CDs from the late 19th and the early 20th Century.

“So much of the new rap is nothing but a joke.” he adds.

I think of one reason he loves music so much. Band is his favorite subject where he specializes in percussion: drums, xylophone, cymbals, and so on. His junior high music teacher leads an after school jazz band where he gets a couple of extra hours of rhythm twice a week. “Why you love music so much?” I ask. “Well, when you were a baby, I played a symphony for you every day. Every day the same symphony, written by a Scottish musician named Bantok, celebrating the Hebrides Islands off the northeast coast of Scotland. I’d hold you to my chest and we’d dance around the living room. It helps with brain development so I gave it a try.”


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A song by Sam Cook comes on the radio: “She was only sixteen, only sixteen/ I loved her so/ But she was too young to fall in love/ And I was too young to know.”

“I heard this song in Portugal last month,” I say. “You used to love it!”

“I still like it, it’s just not one of my favorites now,” he answers.

Other days we talk more about school, his friends, my activities, and his family—even about my teenage years—revealing how the angst of being a teenager continues with many of the same challenges in discovering one’s identity. After ten or fifteen minutes of driving, we arrive and park. It’s time.

With Ramsey, even selling popcorn is rhythmic. Beyond the ring of the doorbell, the wait, more waiting, the sometimes appearance of a person, managing the door, the screen door, the dog, and the all-important pitch. For a couple of hours in the evening, after the workers arrive home and settle in and even during dinnertime, people will answer the door and buy popcorn although we get plenty of unanswered doorbells and “not interested” responses.

Others don’t want popcorn, but they donate cash, anywhere from a couple of bucks to $10 or even $20. One evening as we looped back from a culdesac a woman came out of a house where no one answered the doorbell. In bare feet, she crossed the street to hand Ramsey a $20 bill. “We don’t want the sweets, but I wanted to help you guys out,” she said.

Older people like to draw Ramsey out. “How long have you been in scouts?” “What does the money you raise go for?” “My husband was in scouts and both my boys.” One remarkable young man says, “I see the order form hasn’t changed since I was selling!”

“You again!” one woman exclaims. Each year she’s reported on the health of her husband, a former Eagle Scout and WWII Medal of Honor winner. Last fall she thought they’d have to move because he couldn’t climb the stairs. Then, last summer he died—and she still doesn’t know how much she’ll receive in benefits—she’ll have to pass on buying this time. “You may have read about it in the paper. He was ninety-two,” she says. “It was time. I’m ready too, I’m eighty-eight, and I’m tired.”

“So sorry,” we reply. “So sorry.”

This year, for the first time, several people have insisted we both come inside, “You too,” they say as they wave for me to come in. For some, it’s a change that quiets the dog, for others, it’s about hospitality. “I won’t bite,” says the owner of Jana’s Haircutting Store. Another woman is watching Ken Burns Viet Nam program on public television. “It’s so awful,” she cries. “We didn’t know and those protesters did!”

“Did you say when the delivery will be?” an older buyer asks. “Just before Thanksgiving,” Ramsey assures her.

“That’s such a long time from now! We’ll forget we ordered the popcorn,” she exclaims.

“Well, we have to have a lot of time to sell,” Ramsey replies.

And I know he’s thinking of all the streets we walk, up and down, offering the caramel corn and yogurt pretzels that many people are wary of—giving up sugar, not eating corn, bad for our health—and how they often buy anyway. Who can resist a six-foot-two beanpole with short hair and a face reddened by the chill holding such luscious illustrations of popcorn?

“I’ll be using whatever I buy as gifts,” one buyer says and she orders large bags so she won’t be tempted to open them for her own use. It was as we left her house that Ramsey said, “Sell now, sneeze later. I just found out I’m allergic to cats!”

Since seventy-three percent of the sales apply to camping fees, troop activities, and funding for the national organization, each sale is really a donation. But I know the sugary temptations increase the buyer’s desire to help. Ramsey and his brother Riley have sold enough popcorn in the past to completely fund their camp excursions, as well as adding to troop funds, which earns them praise for being role models to younger scouts.

But I think the contact with people in their homes and the push of learning to talk with strangers has been the most invaluable part of the activity for the boys. As cute little guys, when they rang the doorbell, lots of people were charmed into buying. Now it often takes a man answering the door. He may have a hard time saying no to the gangly eighth-grader who prompts memories of his own youth when growing up was so hard to do.

Selling popcorn door to door wasn’t anything I ever expected to be a part of; however, as I stand on the sidewalk holding the order sheet and pen at the ready, I’m eager to smile and wave to whoever opens the door—yes, he has an adult with him and she’s glad to be here.


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After The Fire: A True Story

We’d like to thank Claire Taylor of the US for her short story submission “After The Fire”, a dramatic true story about a traumatic childhood event which shaped her feelings and perspective’s into Motherhood.

Claire Taylor is a mother, writer, and Licensed Massage Therapist. Her poetry and short fiction has appeared or is upcoming in Yellow Arrow Journal, The Loch Raven Review, Capsule Stories, American Writer’s Review, and Canary Literary Journal. Her writing about motherhood and depression has appeared on Scary Mommy. She is the creator of Little Thoughts, a monthly newsletter of original stories and poetry for children. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland (United States), and can be found online at clairemtaylor.com and you can follow Claire on Twitter @ClaireM_Taylor and Instagram @todayweread.

Photo Credit: Frederick Medina on Unsplash

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After the fire

After The Fire

I was seven years old when my mother nearly burned down our house. My brother, sister and I were watching TV in the den while Mom was getting dinner ready. She poured oil into a heavy cast iron pan and set the pan on an open flame to heat. We were going to have french fries. The phone rang and I went into my dad’s study to pick up the call. 

“Mom!” I shouted to her from the opposite end of the den. “Phone!” I set the receiver down on the desk and went back to my spot on the couch. 

“Who is it?” Mom asked as she came out of the kitchen and made her way toward the phone. 

“Aunt Denise.” 

“Oh,” she said, and gently closed the study door behind her. 

I can picture her sitting back against the cracked vinyl of my dad’s office chair, her feet up on his desk, distracted, at ease. I remember the sound of her laughter rising over the din of the television. I remember the flash of orange reflected in the TV screen. The brief moment that felt like slow motion minutes as my brother and I turned toward the kitchen, confusion melting into understanding and morphing into panic. I remember the fear in my brother’s voice as he shouted, “fire!” and that same fear on my mother’s face as she threw open the study door and paused for a split second before racing across the den and into the kitchen. She pulled a container of salt down from the cabinet and poured it over the tower of flames. They raged on. She frantically looked around the kitchen, her head on a swivel searching for aid and coming up empty. She caught sight of us in the kitchen doorway–three little wide-eyed faces–and without hesitation, grabbed the handle of the pan and carried it out of the kitchen and through the living room. She pulled open the front door, letting in a breeze that blew the flames back over her hands, and flung the burning pan into the air. It landed facedown in the middle of the yard with a thud, suffocating the flames and charring the grass. 

The front door remained open as my mother stood at the kitchen sink, shoulders hunched as she ran cool water over the blistering backs of her hands. My sister, so young then, had disappeared into our bedroom in search of a stuffed animal. She wasn’t with my brother and me when my dad came home from work to find a pan sitting in the yard, the front door ajar, his wife somewhere unseen, and two of his three children racing toward him yelling, “She’s burned! She’s burned!” He thought we meant my sister until she came toddling into the living room with a teddy bear tucked beneath her arm, until he turned the corner into the kitchen and saw my mother leaning against the side of the sink, her eyes swollen from tears. I remember the way he wrapped his body around hers, pulled her into his chest, his embrace. The way their foreheads pressed together, radiating warmth. 




That fire was the source of my insomnia. For years I’d lie in bed thinking I smelled something burning, or wake in the middle of the night from dreams in which my room had been set ablaze, the house slowly turning to ash and disappearing all around me as I sat trapped in my bed, powerless to stop the flames. I was constantly afraid that everything would catch fire. I turned the ceiling fan off at night despite the insufferable heat and humidity of Texas summers because I was certain the whirring sound meant it would spark and the whole house would burn to the ground. Well into my thirties, I still turn to my husband whenever an appliance makes a funny noise, or a lamp flickers when the air conditioner flips on and I ask “do you think it will catch fire?” It has taken him a decade to calmly reply “no” without first giving me a puzzled look. 

I blame my mother for these anxieties, for my need to get out of bed each night and double-check that I turned off the stove. How irresponsible does a person need to be to leave a pan of hot oil sitting unattended on a gas range? What kind of mother forgets about the safety of her children? Forgets that she was in the middle of making their dinner? 

I have a box of old photos in my living room that my son likes to look through. He pulls it from the shelf with his tiny thick hands and dumps the photos into a pile on the floor. There are pictures of my siblings and me dressed up and sitting in front of a Christmas tree. One of my brother, towheaded and round-cheeked, awkwardly holding a wrinkly, swaddled newborn me. There are school portraits, family vacation photos, and way too many images of my sister and me wearing hideous dresses or high-waisted floral patterned shorts. But my son’s favorite photograph is one from my mother’s 35th birthday. She’s sitting at a kitchen table, a cake in front of her with those number candles, 3 and 5, lit up in the middle of it. She’s smiling brightly despite the fact that three small children are climbing and hanging all over her, each of us scrambling forward to blow out the candles. 

The first time he held up that photo, it occurred to me that I was only a little older than my son when that picture was taken, and only a little younger now than my mother was on that birthday. I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to be 35 with three children under the age of six, overwhelmed as I was by the demands of caring for just one toddler-aged child. I looked at the photo, at my little sister not yet a year old in the image, and flashed back to a day when my son was around nine months old and increasingly daring in his efforts to cruise around our living room from one piece of furniture to the next. He was holding on to the side of our sofa and reaching out to grab the coffee table. He’ll never make it, I thought and I moved toward him to help him navigate the gap, but at the last second, I stopped myself. How will he trust himself if I’m constantly stepping in to make things easier, I reasoned. How will he learn his limits if I never let him test them? So I held back and I watched him reach out for the table. Watched him let go of the sofa. Watched him fall forward and bash his chin against the edge of the coffee table. Blood filled his mouth instantaneously, muffling his howls of pain. 


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I couldn’t get the bleeding to stop and I couldn’t think clearly. I tried to push him to my breast to comfort him by nursing, but he pulled away and screamed even louder. Should I call an ambulance? Rush him to the emergency room? Was he going to die? It was just a bump on the chin, but I didn’t know what could kill a nine-month-old. Everything, I assumed. I felt panicked and desperate. I called my husband to have him call the pediatrician, and then I called my parents. My dad answered the phone, and though he is calm and comforting in a crisis, I remember thinking how much I wished my mom had been home. 

As I drove to the pediatrician’s office, my son still crying and bleeding in his car seat, I pictured my mother on the day I fell on the playground in preschool. I was climbing up the side of a big metal fire truck and slipped on the rung of a ladder, whacking my chin against the metal. It split open, requiring stitches. I waited in the office of the church building for her to come pick me up and bring me to the hospital, and I can still recall the heartbreaking relief I felt as she walked through the door. 

I pictured my mother kneeling on the bathroom floor, gently applying bandaids to scraped knees. My mother pulling the sheet back to let me crawl into bed beside her after a bad dream. The sound of her voice saying, “oh honey.” The weight of her hand smoothing over my hair. My mother holding a bag of ice to my swollen cheek as I sat on the edge of a hospital bed waiting for x-rays. My mother wiping tears away from the tip of my nose. My mother carrying a pan of fire out of the kitchen, not right through the den, just a few steps to the backyard, but through the living room, the long way out of the house, away from the area where her children were waiting, and out the front door, holding tight even as the flames blew back, scalding the thin tissue of her hands. My mother, overworked and overtired, enjoying a brief adult conversation, a moment of respite in a long day of parenting young children. My mother making a simple mistake, a forgivable error. My mother staying calm and clear in a moment of danger, knowing better than to throw water on a grease fire. My mother not nearly burning our house down, but heroically saving the house from catching on fire, sacrificing her own safety to protect her children. 

My hands trembled as I gripped the steering wheel and glanced back at my son’s angry red face and bloody lips. I pictured my mother’s hands, mottled and scarred in the spots where the fire had burned her. I pictured them reaching out, gently cupping my cheeks, and I knew everything would be okay. 




Thanks

Thank you for reading this blog. You can read more stories HERE and if you’d like to submit a story for consideration to be published, please visit our submissions page.

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Accomplish more IN a fraction of the time

The pace and intensity of our lives, both at work and at home, leave many of us feeling like a person riding a frantically galloping horse. Our day-to-day incessant busyness — too much to do and not enough time.

With this ebook you will learn to approach your days in another way, reducing stress and getting results through prioritizing, leveraging and focus!

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‘Domesticating Mom’ with guest blogger Almondie Shampine

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Some of you may remember a Mum Life Story I posted back in October about a mum named Almondie Shampine. Almondie told us of her experience of being a working mum and how her perceptions and goals changed after her health took a turn for the worst. Now a stay at home mum, author, blogger and a book publisher she has graciously decided to share with us once again.

This touching, thought-provoking article describes the evolution of a Mother from a teen mum to a mum of teens and how her desperate cry for freedom was extinguished by the love of her children.

This page contains affiliate links which may earn me a commission (at no extra cost to you) if you click through and make a purchase. Affiliate links are how I keep this blog running, thank you.

Photo by Katie Emslie on Unsplash


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‘The Institute’ by Stephen King (Buy it now)


Domesticating Mom

11/5/19

I’m 37 today.

(Funny, aside of me visualizing a little dance, swaying my arms in front of me and behind me, while singing ‘It’s my birthday. It’s my birthday.’)

I hated my birthday for a good three or more decades. I’m sure many can relate. The birthday goes downhill the moment one’s mind gets caught up on it being ‘a special day’, and the expectations are quick to follow. One minor disappointment thus leads to frenzied overcompensation to make it ‘the best birthday ever’. It becomes an emotional roller coaster, as what goes up must inevitably come down, and special occasions are full of those ups and downs.

I became a teen parent, pregnant in my 18th year of life. Instead of sending out my wedding invitations, which had been the original plan, I was making phone calls to share the news of my pregnancy with the shamed side note that there wouldn’t be a wedding, as my then-fiance had walked, taking all my dreams of my desired and aspired-for future with him and changing the entire course of my life.

A whole life ahead of me, a life I’d barely just begun, and I was to be a Mom, first and foremost, for the rest of my life, and a single Mom, at that. Three years away from being able to have a legal cocktail, yet responsible for raising and supporting a tiny human all on my own. I could no longer fit in with people my age due to being a Mom. When they were partying downstairs or next door to me, I would outwardly complain that their music was too loud, their swearing too much, or that the stench of their pot-smoking was making its way into my apartment, while feelings of loneliness and betrayal ate away at me on the inside, because they’d been my friends, and not a single one of them made that 13-step trek up the stairs or took the three steps next door to my apartment to see how I was doing – not throughout my pregnancy or thereafter. They’d stopped inviting me, stopped asking me to drive them places, stopped even asking if we could talk or if I could give them advice on something they were going through. It was as though I just stopped existing.

I began frequenting places where I could find other Moms, such as parks, and tried making friends with coworkers that had kids, but they looked at me like I was too young and would treat me like the ‘typical teenager’ that I couldn’t be, wasn’t allowed to be, and would never be able to be. Many times I made the mistake of thinking that interested males were making the choice of wanting to be with me, while accepting I had a child. I assumed that meant they knew that I was looking for commitment, so it would devastate me when, after the fact, they’d tell me they weren’t ready for a family, or didn’t want to be a family guy. It confounded me to no end. Until I watched movies like American Pie and all-the-rage young adult movies at that time that talked about MILFS, single moms being perceived as ‘being more experienced’, and the idea that single moms or older or more mature women were great for casual affairs, but nothing more than that. This led to many years of false hopes.





Time was my enemy. It was torture. Being so young, it seemed to pass intolerably slow. It was only thoughts of the future that kept me dragging myself out of bed most days on so little sleep. At first, it was just waiting for me to be old enough for people to start respecting me and taking me seriously. I creeped through my 19th year; my 20th year passed even more slowly. My 21st birthday was celebrated with my Mom, because I’d lost all my friends. For a short time, between my 21st and 22nd year, I believed I’d found the person I’d spend my life with, and the years prior faded away as having all been worth it during that time. …Until he disclosed that he didn’t want to be a family guy after it was disclosed to him that I was carrying his child. 0 for 2. 2 children conceived from 2 different guys that weren’t ready to be a father by the time I was 22. I could kiss any future, healthy prospective relationship goodbye; nor could I ever hope to be respected for anything other than being that single Mom with two kids from two different fathers.

My 22nd birthday was spent pregnant and alone, just like my 19th. My 23rd spent trying to get back on my feet after having lost everything due to childcare being more than I could make with a full-time job. My 24th was spent battling for my life. Single Mom, poor, living in the worst (cheapest) side of the city, not having any friends or any family that would even notice my absence for quite some time, made me a really easy target for predators. That was the year I began counting down the days. Every exhausted night before bed, I would put an x on the calendar marking the end of another day. I began celebrating the end of every week, the end of every month, the end of every year. It showed me forward movement. The passage of time.

Every birthday, I hated, because all it meant to me was just the beginning of a new year, where I’d have to fight through another 364 days to get to the end of it. I’d count down the years of my children being grown. 15 more years. 12 more years. 10 more years. All I could feel was time just looming ahead. So much time. Too much time. Every year I was crushed with the overwhelming anxiety that I would not be able to make it through another year. I’d barely made it through the last, how would I possibly make it through another? I felt terribly alone. Terribly lonely.

My heart had been made to love. I was a lover. A nurturer. A helper. I wanted a family. A full family. A true family. I wanted a partner to share my life with. I wanted the forever. I wanted marriage. I wanted the growing-old with someone. I needed deep connections. Needed someone I could call my best friend. I felt like a neglected flower – once so full of bloom and vibrancy, wilting and withering away to decay.

I waited for people my age to catch up to me. I watched them form partnerships, get married, and begin families of their own. I looked forward to cookouts, our kids getting together, family-oriented celebrations and parties, but still, I didn’t belong. My kids didn’t belong. I was never invited, nor would anyone else show when I threw cookouts of my own. My kids were much older than their kids. Those parents were married living married life. The last thing they wanted was a young single mother, a bachelorette, walking around to remind their men of the single life. I would try to make friends with my children’s friend’s parents, but my youth and my being unmarried maintained me as being the oddball out.


Cover Art

‘Mangoes & Monkey bread’ by Emily Joop (Buy it now)


Every future hope that would keep me waking to the present and keep me tackling each and every day would never come to pass, where I’d grasp on to another future hope, all relative to the passage of time, to my children getting older with me inevitably getting older alongside them. Me holding onto the optimistic view of it being a good thing I started my family young because I’d still be fairly young when they were grown, was crucial towards my continued hopes that one day … One day things would be different.

One day I’d be able to go on those road trips. One day I’d be able to experience that youth I missed out on. One day I’d be able to go bar-hopping, or go dancing, or be able to have a fancy date. One day I’d know what it’s like to go to a spa, or to a hairdresser, and I’d know what it’s like to spoil myself, pamper my body, get all dressed up and go out on the town. One day I’d be able to attract a decent man without him being turned off by me having children, and I’d be able to have friends and go out to eat and be a human being, a person, a woman, and not just a Mom. I’d be able to cherish romance and walk around naked again and spend an entire day luxuriating in physical pleasantries and allowing myself to feel love, both the giving and the receiving of it, uninhibited. I’d finally be able to live my dreams fully, and commit myself to them 100 percent, instead of so frequently having to put them on the backburner. I’d finally be able to have the life I was supposed to have, the life I was meant to have.

All these years I thought I was raising and grooming my children to get them to the point of being adults. I thought I was getting them through all the developmental milestones of being full grown. I thought I was training them to survive independently, self-sufficiently from me. As a mom, it was my number one job to support them, provide them safety and security, guide them through their growing years, teach them how to overcome those obstacles in life – first, to carry them, second, to be their step-ladder, and third, to be their spotter as they made their way over those hurdles all on their own. It was my sacrifice to them. 18 years of putting their needs, wants, dreams, desires, over my own while my life remained dormant. On pause. Waiting. Waiting for the time when I could start living again.

37 years old. I’m celebrating the passage of those 18 birthdays that I waited for for so long. I’m looking back. Shaking my head in wonder. Realizing that I’d gotten it all wrong all along. Like a wild feral cat that only lives for their own survival, their own comfort, their own needs and desires, I was captured in a crate just by the beating of my kids’ hearts, imprisoned within a home that always had to have heat, and food, and a place to sleep. No matter how much I mewled and scratched at the door to escape, they would distract my attention away by wanting to play with me or forcing me to curl up with them. They never left me unsupervised, and would always call me back if I strayed too far.

They forced me to take care of myself. Made me get up when all I wanted to do was sleep. Made me eat when all I wanted to do was starve. Made me fight to live for everyday I felt like dying, and even saved my life when I actually was dying. They urged me to swim when I was drowning and made me weather every storm. First, they taught me to climb mountains, and then they made me move them. They showed me that no obstacle is too high and that dead-end roads are only an illusion -there’s no end of the road, only a road not yet built. They showed me that the only thing truly impossible in my life was the ability to give up. They were scrupulous and rigid. Demanding and inflexible. They’d conditioned me by rewarding me with happiness when I was on my best behaviors, and simply ignoring me when I was not. Not once did they give up hope. Not once did they lose faith. No matter how much I resisted.

With patience and unrelenting vigor, they kept at it, day after day, week after week, year after year, for 18 years. And then on this birthday, they gave me my most-desired gift. They opened the door and they offered me my freedom. “You deserve it, Mom. Go have fun. It’s your special day. Do whatever you want.” I stood at the door, looking out, listening for that call of the wild that had been so strong and enticing for so many years; it sounded so differently than it did before. Cold. Dark. Mournful. Lonely. Miserable.

That’s when I knew. All along, my children had been grooming me for 18 years. Taming me. Domesticating me. I never would have survived out there in the wild. My heart too big. I was never cut out to be a hunter or to prey on other things. Nor was I ever capable of running with a pack. I wasn’t a follower, but neither did I have what it took to lead. I would have been the hunted of the hunter, the preyed upon of the predator, the hider of the seeker. Instead, my children provided me safety and security, warmth and belonging, nurture and affection, and a forever family, giving me my best chance to become my best self. All while letting me believe that I was raising them and providing them the tools they needed to survive without me, it was they all along providing me the skills I needed to survive without them.

Almondie

You can visit Almondie’s website at www.freebirdexpresspublishing.com or follow her blog at www.freebirdexpresspublishing.blogspot.com

If your on Quora, you’ll find her profile here https://www.quora.com/profile/Almondie-Shampine

And you’ll find her books for sale on Amazon HERE (Available in both paperback and e-book).

Thanks

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