Mothers and Daughters

Kellini today

My daughter, Kellini, is home from college on Spring Break. It’s always a treat to have her home. She loves staying in her own bedroom with private bath. She’s giddy over unlimited access to the washer/dryer and is thrilled with our well-stocked pantry. She appreciates these things even more than she did when she lived with us.

Kellini says we treat her like “a princess.” Of course, we do. Even more than we did when she lived with us.

In between the normal mother/daughter activities like shopping, eating out for lunch, and getting pedicures, we’ve had fun promoting the release of my book, Still Kickin’.

Kellini has always supported my writing career which started ten years ago when she was only ten. Huh, as I wrote that, it occurred to me it’s probably hard for her to remember a time when I didn’t shush her as she approached me working at the computer, talking to the people in my head.

I didn’t allow Kellini to read the first few manuscripts I wrote. They were rated PG-13 and I didn’t want to have to explain the romantic scenes between Jenna and Kenton in his glass-blowing studio—novel number two, I think. Or the angst of Sage, Nikki, Marissa, and Jennifer as they worked out their extra-marital affairs, love triangles, family of origin issues, and step-parenting fiascos in book number three.

Manuscript number four hit pretty close to home since the women in that book struggled with identity crises. Each one of the three main characters was some version of me working through my own loss of identity—loss of marriage, loss of role as a business woman, struggles of dealing with an empty nest as I shared custody of my daughters with their father.

Looking back, writing the first four of my (deservedly unpublished) manuscripts was not only good practice to hone my storytelling skills, but also a cathartic experience for me. I look at those years of writing as a free supplement to the concurrent hours of expensive therapy.

At last, I didn’t make my life journey the center of a story and I sold manuscript number five, Luck of the Draw.

Eek. Again, an epiphany

Truth be told, Luck of the Draw was exactly a reflection of my life at the time. The heroine of the story, Amanda Cash, was in pretty much the same place as I had been when I wrote the book. She and I were both trying to help our mothers during their health crises and final declines.

Amanda was me, except younger and thinner. Amanda’s mother, Clara, was inspired by my own mother. Throughout the story, Amanda works desperately to tell her mother how much she loves her.

Now I realize, I was on the same journey as Amanda. At the same time.

I started writing the book soon after my mother entered a skilled nursing home. As much as we wanted to keep Mom at home, her physical needs were more than we could handle. She had emphysema caused by years of smoking. She was hooked to an oxygen tank 24/7 and had numerous other health issues related to her COPD—Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.

Between visits with Mom, I emptied and sold her home of 45 years, took over her finances, accepted legal responsibility for her, and I wrote Amanda’s story, which was—

—My own story

The premise of Luck of the Draw is also tied to my mother. When Kellini was born, I reconnected with my mom in ways only two mothers can do. I asked for her advice as I hadn’t since I was twelve years old. Many of these lessons took place as we watched Kellini play in my mother’s front yard. My childhood playground.

It was at that time, my mother and I started playing the lottery. She gave me a dollar and I added my own buck to buy two chances. At first, I had to drive across the river to buy the lottery tickets since Nebraska didn’t join the Powerball pool until Kellini was older.

G-ma and Kellini at the zoo

We never won “big,” but we always got our money’s worth. Over and over we discussed all the dreams we’d fulfill with the millions of dollars we would split 50/50 when we won.

One day, when Kellini and I visited, Mom had big circles under her eyes. She admitted she hadn’t slept a wink because the lottery jackpot had toppled over 100 million dollars and she worried how she would spend her share.

“A fortune like that could ruin a person’s life,” she’d said.

Amanda Cash has to decide how to distribute a 200 million dollar lottery jackpot to deserving people. To whom would you give $200,000,000?

Distributing a fortune wasn’t my dilemma while writing the book. Sure, I spent many sleepless nights while I figured out the plot, sub-plots, twists and turns, and relationships of Luck of the Draw. But my biggest challenge was how to show Amanda’s infinite love for Clara.

How does a daughter honor her mother’s love?

Back to my own daughter, Kellini. And the story of our time together this week. We had to decide how best to promote Still Kickin’, and by proxy, Luck of the Draw. A natural fit came to us over crab cake wraps at lunch. We needed to schedule book signings in retirement villages and skilled nursing homes.

I always seek Kellini’s advice on wardrobe, make-up, and hair when I prepare for any professional meeting. Skidding hangers along clothes racks in my closet, she approved of my recent purchases of sweaters, blouses and slacks in the new spring colors. She has natural talent as a stylist.

When Kellini was four, she declared her intention to become a heart surgeon. She also planned to cut hair in the evenings and on the weekends. It’s good to have fallback skills when you plan a career as a cardiologist.

In middle school, Kellini decided to become a fashion designer. This involved watching endless hours of “Project Runway,” arranging sewing lessons, and numerous trips to the fabric store. I learned from Kellini that my signature color is coral, complemented by a bright pink.

After tweaking my outfit, Kellini and I launched our quest. Soon, I had secured a commitment for a book-signing at The Bookworm, the coziest independent bookseller in Omaha. (Check back to my website for announcement of the date and time.)

The next stop for Kellini and me was the skilled nursing facility where my mother had lived the last year of her life. Mom had made many friends at Brookestone Village, but I didn’t hold out much hope that anyone would remember her since she’d passed away over four years ago.

Janie, the Life Enrichment Coordinator, hadn’t worked at Brookestone when my mother lived there. She patiently listened to my pitch for Still Kickin’ and how many of the scenes in Luck of the Draw were written after visits to my mother’s courtside room at Brookestone. Janie quickly committed to a book event for me close to Mother’s Day in May. (I’ll announce the details soon.)

Kellini and I had mixed feelings stepping through the automatic doors at Brookestone. They still have the baby grand piano in the lobby. They still have fragrant bouquets of flowers and complimentary lemonade and cookies to greet visitors.

The receptionist is new, but she is as friendly as the one who worked there four years ago. She’s accompanied by her well-trained and gentle dog, Target, who is a wonderful addition to the Brookestone team. Kellini and I snuggled with Target as we waited for Janie.

G-ma, Kellini, and me

Business completed, my daughter and I left, noting the ducks swimming in the brook outside the exit. It was a perfect spring day—sunny with a hint of a breeze. But the air felt heavy with the unspoken words that hung between us. We didn’t get to share a complimentary ice cream cone with Kellini’s grandmother, Frances Myers, who was my best friend and the best mother ever.

I took a deep breath of the fresh spring air. In my mind, I blew kisses to her and whispered, “I love you, Mom.”

~~Post Script~~

One month before she passed away, I read the unsold manuscript of Luck of the Draw to my mother. While nurses scurried in and out of her room, over the drone of her oxygen concentrator, Mom listened. Sometimes, she dozed to the sound of my voice. When she was alert, she laughed and cried in all the right places. After the last paragraph, she gave the story her “thumbs up.” It was the best critique I’ve ever had.

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4 Responses to “Mothers and Daughters”

  1. MK Meredith says:

    Terry,
    What a sweet story. I love to see you smack in the center experiencing the joy of being a mother and being a daughter. I am enjoying the experience with my daughter, and as funny as it sounds, live vicariously through her and my friends to experience the joys in having a mother.
    I think the thumbs up from your mother will be your greatest critique ever…even better than the New York Times Best Selling List. :-) All three of you have been fortunate to have each other.
    Thank you for sharing.
    Hugs.
    MK

  2. Mayi says:

    I thank God for had given me the opportunity to meet your mom.
    My tears showed while reding this blog…that made me evaluate my own life and the blessing of to have an amazing mother also.
    Thank you for this special blog.

  3. Teryl says:

    Mayi, I wish you could have met my mom before she got so sick. When she didn’t need to rely on oxygen. She was a different person then. I thank God she always kept her sense of humor and a wonderful perspective on life. I hope I age as well as she did.

    Your mom is amazing. I hope you convince her to come with you when you visit. I will study so I can speak to her of meaningful things and continue to learn from her. She is a wise soul with a fun sense of humor, too.
    Terry

  4. Teryl says:

    MK, it’s fun to look back, but it’s better to live in the present. That’s what I try to do with my daughters. I’m sure you do too.

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