Monthly Archives: July 2014

Gardening for Healing

Suki, Robin botie's Havanese dog in Ithaca, New York, in the garden with a beeI’d been up all night with a cough and an upset stomach. And longings. And worries. The cap on my well was cracked. The recent rain made the house leak. And I was waiting for the electrician to show up to fix the outlet by my desk. It was dead and the Internet was dead. The list of things to take care of was long and all the NyQuil, soaked towels, re-booting, recycling, and flipping fuse-box switches had not helped. Nothing was working right.

By midday, it was past the time the electrician said he’d arrive. The well repair company had not called back. My stomach still ached. My head ached. Outside it looked beautiful so I stashed the cellphone in my pocket and walked the dog. Quickly, she did everything she could. She trotted back to the door and waited as I yanked a couple of stray plants. The garden by the front door gleamed with color. Sunlight and shade played on the foliage. Soon the dog and I were both pulling weeds.
“Whoa, look at the length of this vine, Suki,” I said to the dog as I tore it from the earth with my bare hands. She lunged for it as I tossed it aside. “Is this a flower or a weed?” I asked her, deciding to save it and wondering which of us knew more about gardening.

My friends don’t share their bulbs or culled plants with me. For years I warned them anything they gave me to grow would die. But this year I’d made an effort to trim and keep the weeds out of my garden. And every bit of tending had paid off. The daylilies, the daisies, and many mysterious forms of flora bloomed like never before.
“You have hydrangeas back here,” my friend Liz said when she came to saw off the thick juniper branches that bullied the butterfly bushes. We had stood together admiring the dahlias and petunias she planted for me. And now I was ripping up dandelion greens with the dog.
“The first sign of a snake or an earthworm, we’re quitting,” I told Suki.

An hour into gardening, I was singing to the single peony plant. I was singing to my daughter who died. The electrician had not shown up. No one had phoned. My fingernails were caked with dirt and Suki’s fur was riddled with burrs. But all the things that were missing or falling apart in my life had stopped shrieking in my head.


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Who Am I Now?

Who Am I NowIn the photography lab at Tompkins Cortland Community College, a student played back a video she’d taken.
“Look,’ she said, handing me the camera. I watched a silent scene of my instructor patiently speaking with some non-descript middle-aged woman. Wearing my favorite reddish-color, the woman pointed and pontificated.
“Oh my gosh. That’s me,” I said three minutes later as the segment ended and the screen turned black. Who would know me? I hadn’t even recognized myself.

Who am I now? I wondered the first day I came home after my daughter died. Am I still the mother of a daughter?
“What am I supposed to do with my life now?” I asked after traveling alone to Australia to scatter Marika’s ashes.
Who am I? I considered as I wrote the author bio for my book proposal. “Designer and dreamer in Ithaca, New York,” I used to say. For years I was, “art teacher, special education teacher.” Now I type, “writer, blogger,” and remember Marika wanted to be these things. “And Photo-shopper,” I add, feeling I’m getting closer.

On Sunday August 3rd, 1PM at Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, I will read for 30 minutes from my book. If you come to my reading you will not see a bereft, shell-shocked mother with tissues lining her pockets. The depressed, directionless wimp who couldn’t consider tweeting or exposing her fears online will not be there.
You will see someone who still tries to duet with her dead daughter, who appreciates the ways her daughter’s dreams have affected her own. You will see me stretching into my new role, humbled but not devastated by what life has thrown at me. Somewhere in the process of learning to accept change and challenge, I’ve allowed myself to grow.

Some days I don’t recognize myself.


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Tips for a Summer Cold

Sick with a cold, Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, cuddles up with handknit afghan and dog.How did I get a cold in July, I wonder? A full-blown sneeze-blasting, rainy-nosed, head-filled-with-concrete cold. On the most perfect day of the year, filled with invitations to barbeques and boat-rides, I was walloped.
“Do you think you’re contagious?” friends asked. Sadly, I cancelled all my plans.

When my daughter was sick, I loved taking care of her. I’d bring her meals on trays, read to her, and fly down the hill to Wegmans to pick up whatever I could to coddle her.
“Puffs tissues, mom,” she’d insist, “peach tea, and NyQuil gel-caps, not the yucky syrup.”

After my daughter died I had to transfer my caregiver skills to myself. It was not easy. “Take care of yourself,” I’d always told someone else. But it was my turn to need care. Last week, “be kind to myself” became my mantra as I settled in for a long overdue head cold.

My three tips for pampering yourself through a cold:

  • Share. Tell your friends you’re sick. Post it on Facebook. Call your mother. Sympathy feels great.
  • Go outside. Walk the dog or get a weather report the old-fashioned way. Fresh air feels good.
  • Allow yourself to be a slug. If it’s too hard to hold a book or watch a DVD in midday then take a nap.

The first day of my summer cold, I used my last bit of energy to fetch Puffs, Nyquil, two DVDs, and the fixings for chicken soup from Wegmans. Wearing hand-knit socks given to me by a friend, I cuddled up with my dog in the afghan my mother knit for me. For two days I surrendered to being sick.
On the third day a friend called. Then the friend, her daughter, my dog and I went hiking in the rain.


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At Peace with the Past

One duck left at Robin Botie's pond in Ithaca, New YorkSome summers there were ducks on my pond and other summers there were geese. But there were always foxes and coyotes. So nesting never lasted long. And now it is down to one duck.
She does what she’s done for years: sits and waits in the same spot even though this no longer seems to make sense or have purpose. The duck flies off occasionally during the day. But she always returns to the same spot.
“I won’t feel sorry for you, duck,” I tell her from the other end of the pond. The next time she flies off I walk over to where she sits to see if there’s a nest. But her nesting days and mine are over. I find only a few scattered feathers.

I could make up stories about the duck, say she is waiting for her long-gone life-mate to return or she’s grieving her lost ducklings. Maybe I could even say this duck is my daughter reincarnated, watching over me.

But what if the duck is simply enjoying the quiet place she’s always known? Maybe she is finding peace and there is nothing to move on from, nothing to grieve or get over. What if the dashing rains, the sun on her back, wild winds of winter, the mate who landed splashing in the pond with her, sweet broods hatching, lost ducklings, the teeth of the fox, wrecked-empty nests, and breathless flight are all just part of who she is at this moment?

Every summer morning on rising I peek out the windows north and south. First I look to see if the shiny black Dodge Challenger is in the driveway; my son is home.
Then I check for the duck.

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