November 1, 2010

The Comfort of Tolstoy

Posted in Books, Family, Health, Women tagged , , , , , , , , at 6:49 am by Liliana

Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

I am not sure when I read my first book by Tolstoy, but I know this – he was in my life long before I was born.

Tolstoy was my mother’s favorite writer.

We had old, worn out, hard cover copies of his books sitting on our bookshelf. I don’t know where they came from, maybe my mother’s schoolgirl days.

Each book was divided into a number of volumes. The books were bound in soft, stained red leather. The paper inside was fleecy white and had a distinctive dusty, book-y smell.

The feel and the smell of those books has been imprinted on my consciousness forever.

And the characters and the stories? They live with me every day.

I named my daughter Natalia (nicknamed Nena) after Natasha Rostova in War and Peace. Sam’s middle name is Leo (Tolstoy’s first name.)

Both my mother and I reread all of Tolstoy’s books many times during our lives. We talked about them again and again. We changed our minds about different characters and interpreted events and relationships in contrasting ways. Tolstoy gave us the vocabulary to discuss themes and subjects that we might not have had the courage to discuss otherwise.

As my mother grew sicker from Alzheimer’s Disease, she grew fearful and suspicious of the world around her and all its inhabitants. She slept less and less. Nothing seemed to follow the rules of behavior that her reshaping mind dictated.

Except for Tolstoy.

In the last year of her life she could not read. She hardly slept. She did not know who any of us were. She had lost most of her connections to the outside world.

But many nights, Jeff and I found her lying on the living room sofa tightly holding on to one of the volumes of the soft, worn out copy of War and Peace. She pretended to read.

Sometimes she held the book upside down.

When none of us could bring her comfort, Tolstoy did. Not with direct words anymore, but with the deeply ingrained memories and shadows of the world he created. Of the girl and woman that she once was. It was the one stable, unmoving constant in a life rapidly degenerating out of control.

My mother held on to that book until she died.

March 3, 2010

Mothers are Strong

Posted in Children, Family, Travel, Women tagged , , , , , , , at 8:10 am by Liliana

Mother and Child

Mother and Child

I have always looked at my role as a mother as one of mentor and guide. From the moment my  first child was born, I was in awe of the honor and responsibility bestowed upon me. I wanted to be worthy of the mission that I was entrusted with.

I have not been a perfect mother, far from it.  There are many, many moments that I look back upon and wish I had acted differently, more maturely, with greater patience and deliberation. But one thing I know – my love for each one of my children is limitless, and my loyalty to them equally beyond measure.

The most difficult part of motherhood, for me, is letting go and allowing my children the freedom to make their own mistakes, to experience their own pain. My instinct is to hide them from the harshness of the world, to cherish and protect them.

Mothering for me means forever balancing on that beam of protectiveness and championing. I do the best I can. I encourage my children to travel. I gently push them out of the nest. I trust them to do what is right and good.

Still, I worry. Mike is in Argentina now, far away from my reach. He is about to travel to Chile, which is still reeling from the recent huge earthquake. Just before they left on their trip to South America, Mike’s girlfriend, Karen, and I talked about traveling children and worrying mothers. I told her then what I have always believed. It is the nature of youth to be fearless and to want to explore. And it is the nature of mothers to worry. And I also said – mothers are strong. We can handle it.