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Author’s note: As I mentioned in another column, I’m working on a novel that contains a character loosely based on my mother, partly just as an excuse to have her in my head. In the process, I ended up rereading this old essay. The illness described here was not the one that finally got her — she was around another 13 years.
“When My Mother Became The Freaking Buddha” is adapted from my 2005 collection, Above Us Only Sky.
One day in May of 1995, I got a call from my mother. “I was just picking up the phone to call you,” I assured her, knowing she was anxious to hear the latest on a book deal I was hoping to get. I was supposed to call the minute I knew anything, but I hadn’t. Well, only two days had gone by since I’d heard the news, which wasn’t too good, and anyway, one has to balance the pleasantness of one’s mother’s interest in the minutiae of one’s life with its faintly annoying aspect.
Making up for my tardiness, I launched into the tale, and it wasn’t until she broke in and said, “Well, I have to go soon and —”
“I’m almost done,” I said.
“Yes, but I have some bad news.”
“Well… It looks like I have a little cancer,” she said, and then, in the five minutes remaining until her boyfriend Ceddie picked her up to go eat Chinese, and interrupted by my shrieks of what and how and when, she told me that she’d been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, she had known for over a month, she was starting a course of chemotherapy and radiation on Friday, and she had a fifty percent chance of cure. Then Ceddie was there, and she had to run. “Oh, Mommy,” I said helplessly.
My parents and my husband’s parents live close to us (mine, around 20 minutes, and his, within an hour), so we are lucky, especially since we have a two-year old daughter, “Kelsey.” Both sets of grandparents have been around for Kelsey’s birthdays, and we can easily go to both houses for Christmas/Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, etc. This should be the ideal set-up, right? But it’s not.
The problem is that my husband’s parents don’t really seem that interested in Kelsey. They are generous with birthday and holiday gifts, but they don’t spend much time with her. Even though they are all retired, only my parents are available if we need some help with her. To be honest, we have never asked my husband’s parents because they have never volunteered or indicated any willingness along those lines. They even want to be called “Grandmother and Grandfather” instead of much more affectionate names like “Nana and Pop-pop.”
What really bothers me is that I want my daughter (and any subsequent kids) to know all of their grandparents and have a strong connection like I did with my grandparents. I want her to feel special and loved by my husband’s parents like she does with mine.
I’ve wanted to talk to them so that they know how I feel, but my husband doesn’t see any point because, as he says, “They are just different people” than my parents. I feel like I ought to do something since it’s a question of how her life is going to be with them. I just can’t forget about it because I don’t want her to miss out on something so important. What do you think I should do?
Wants the Best for her Daughter
What I think you should do is to refrain from speaking to your in-laws about the way they behave toward your daughter (and especially what they want to be called by Kelsey) Talking to them can only make them feel that you disapprove of them as grandparents, which, of course, will only make them more hesitant to do anything with or for Kelsey.
UPDATE: Local writer, teacher, and jockey Patrick Smithwick won last week the Tony Ryan Book Award for his memoir, Flying Change: A Year of Racing, Family and Steeplechasing. The $10,000 prize and a custom-designed Irish crystal trophy were presented to Smithwick on April 10 during an evening reception at Castleton Lyons farm in Lexington, Kentucky.
See our interview about the book and racing with Smithwick below. Congratulations Patrick!
Originally published on April 5, 2013 – Local writer Patrick Smithwick’s book, Flying Change: A Year of Racing, Family and Steeplechasing has been named a finalist for the seventh annual Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award, a prize for the best of racing literature. Flying Change, about Smithwick’s decision — and the impact on his family — to get ready in just nine months to ride in the Maryland Hunt Cup, followed Racing with My Father, which was also a finalist for the Tony Ryan Book Award, about growing up with his father Paddy Smithwick, a famous steeplechase jockey.
The $10,000 first-prize winner will be announced on April 10 at Castleton Lyons, a Thoroughbred facility near Lexington, Kentucky.
With My Lady’s Manor, the Grand National and The Hunt Cup a few weeks away, we thought we’d catch up with Smithwick, who heads the English department at Harford Day School in Bel Air, to learn more about the acclaimed book.
What compelled you to set the nine-month goal for yourself?
Hello! My name is Faith and I am from a litter of 5 female kittens who were very, very young when brought to BHS. Because my sister Ava and I have been at BHS for so long we would hate to be separated. We are considered a “bonded pair,” which means we need to find a home together. We’re hoping so very hard to find a forever home together! Could it be with you? Just think — two times the love.
There’s no way our 14-month-old son Asher will remember the experience, but my wife and I took him to see the transit of Venus, anyway. The thought of him confronting me about it later (“Dad, if you love me, why did you let me miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event?”) was just too much to bear.
So we got a small crew together (me, Asher, my wife Melanie, and our photographer-friend Monica) and headed to the east end of Lake Montebello with plenty of time and waited for clouds to pass and for local astronomy enthusiast Herman Heyn to set up his bulky telescope.
Monica told us that a few of her friends planned to watch the transit from a rooftop staring through their camera’s telephoto lens (but according to a post-transit text message, “the sun is too bright” for that).
Baltimore-based photographer Jack Radcliffe started taking pictures of his daughter Alison shortly after her birth at Johns Hopkins Hospital in 1975. That’s nothing unusual; what is remarkable is that Radcliffe never stopped aiming his lens at his daughter, capturing her in black lipstick and dramatic eyeliner at age 15, smoking with her long-haired boyfriend at 16, looking sad with a shaved head at 20, eating at the Golden West at age 36. It’s remarkable to view the metamorphosis of a face — and of a person — over time.
“My photographs of Alison, because of the nature of our relationship, are very much a father-daughter collaboration-Alison permitting me access to private moments of our life, which might, under different circumstances, be off-limits to a parent. The camera, early in her life, became part of our relationship, necessitating in me an acceptance, a quietness,” Radcliffe writes. Some of our favorite images are below.