Spring Cleaning

Here we are, smack-dab in the middle of spring break and in the midst of a blizzard that would have unquestionably resulted in a snow day if school were in session. I don’t feel too bad about that. If we’d had to call a snow day, we’re at the point where we’d have to add a day at the end of the year. It’s also not surprising, given that March is usually among the snowiest months in Colorado.

The snow is wet and heavy, clinging to trees just budding, weighing them down, and we look anxiously out the windows, hoping the branches, now touching the ground, will hold. I think at least one branch on our neighbor’s tree has cracked. My lilac bushes against the back fence are just low-to-the ground mounds of snow at the moment.

On such a day, cookie-baking is de rigueur. It’s a fairly mindless activity, measuring ingredients I nearly know by heart, checking the recipe just to be sure. I was spooning dough onto a cookie sheet in a kitchen nearly spotless. Monday and Tuesday the temperature was in the seventies, so I threw open the windows and rented a carpet scrubber. I’ve dusted baseboards, shaken out curtains, cleaned nooks and crannies. Today, even as I was mixing, I automatically put each utensil in the dishwasher as soon as it had measured its last ingredient, and I wiped up all the bits of flour before I started scooping out cookies. Suddenly I remembered all the times I baked with my mom, and her admonishment that baking was much more enjoyable if you cleaned as you went. I can feel her body in mine as I tidy and wipe. I know we move much the same.

My mom died just a little over a year ago. I was very exacting with myself. I gave myself one year of unrestricted complicated grieving. Guilt, relief, all the less noble emotions that often accompany the death of a parent—not for all, but for many of us—all were allowed. I could berate myself for not always having been the daughter my mother wanted me to be. I could be angry with her for not allowing me to be the daughter I could be. I could wish and wish that our relationship had been simpler, less painful for us both.

When the year was up, it was time to move on. To fully accept that both of us had done our best, that the pain was a shame, but couldn’t be undone, and to remember the simplest, best of times. Like baking together. Like our last luncheon and shopping trip, just three weeks before her death.

I suppose I should add here that today I learned that a friend, the woman who has cut my hair for nearly 30 years and in whose chair I went into labor with my now 25-year-old son, died last night of the same illness that took my mom.

The sun will come out tomorrow. (Stop singing; that really is the weather prediction.) As is the wont of Colorado spring snows, this will have melted away by Easter Sunday. I’m not a Christian, but spring is archetypically a time of resurrection. It seems to me that when we are ready, we can recreate relationships with people who are gone. It’s not about denying the past or trying to forget it. It’s about coming to the place where we choose what to bring to mind. Where nature and we focus on all the good that lies under the snow on the trees and the dust in the house. The promise of summer awaits.

About admin

Paula is an author of historical fiction as well as a wife, mom, and teacher.
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2 Responses to Spring Cleaning

  1. Barbara Gal says:

    That paragraph beginning “My Mom died…” really hit me. My mother is still going strong at 92, but I know when she goes it will be as complicated for me. Right now I have to tell myself she has forgotten all the ugly times, so I have to do the same. Working on it!!!

    • admin says:

      When we moved my mom from the hospital to hospice, she was really angry. She had been trying to get out of bed at the hospital (one of those last adrenaline rushes that can come as the body shuts down and the brain fights to live), and my brother had tried to restrain her, worried that she would hurt herself. At hospice, she was railing about my brother holding her down, and I said, “It’s over now, Mom. It’s behind you. No one will hold you down anymore.” I will never forget the look of calm in her eyes, the way her body relaxed. There is much to be said for letting the past go.

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