Actually, if you donâ€™t count Bush, Mandrell or Streisand (whose parentâ€™s were startlingly phonetic with the spelling), I only know four â€œBarbaraâ€™sâ€. One Barbara is a mentor, another a colleague and the last two are me and the woman I was named after. I usually just call her â€œMomâ€ but, whatever. My parents will never be renowned for their creativity (Iâ€™ll give you one guess who my brother is named after), but they have a bevy of other traits that make up for it. My mother is the typical familial matriarch. None of us were ever under the impression that we were living in a democracy. â€œHer way or the highwayâ€ wasnâ€™t a playful turn of phrase, it was the eleventh commandment. None of us minded this really, because she is beautiful and strong, vibrant and honest and I think we are all as captivated by her force of nature as my Dad.
As the stereotypical, eldest (of three), female child, I share a lot of my motherâ€™s traits and characteristics. My mom taught me if there â€œainâ€™t no way then MAKE oneâ€, and so I have her self-confidence and an innate self-esteem that is the single most valuable thing a parent can give a child. To her, it wasnâ€™t a question whether or not I would go to college. The question was where? It wasnâ€™t a question of whether or not I would receive a lucrative job offer. The question was which one did I want? When I told her I was going to Africa for a month? She braided my hair and didnâ€™t laugh at me when I modeled my wetsuit for her. When I told her that I wanted to leave my well-paying job and travel to Latin America, she (and Dad) bought the single most expensive piece of gear that I would need. She constantly affirms my abilities and decisions in such a way that I have never struggled much with self-doubt, nor been prone to second-guessing myself all that often. I hope she would say that in my own way, I have been an equal member in our mutual admiration society.
I had assumed that should anything happen to her that I would be strong and stoic, helping our small but close-knit family keep it together. That I would go about â€œtaking care of businessâ€ as she would say, with her grace, class and authoritarian way that constantly reminded everyone that though this was a dictatorship, she was happy to have you in her castle (and you generally realized you were happy to be there too). Unfortunately, in early 2000 she suffered an aneurism. Fortunately, it was caught before it burst. Unfortunately, she had to undergo emergency neurosurgery, a long hospital stay and a month without her cigarettes. Fortunately, she is fully recovered and still handily reigns the kingdom with cigarette in hand. You need only know how she handled the event to understand my motherâ€™s approach to life. She checked HERSELF out of the hospital and wheel-chaired to the emergency entrance, she smoked a cigarette, and then took off for Mexico with two of her sisters telling us: â€œIâ€™ll be back when I get back.â€ That sounds like a cruel thing to do, but she knew it was what we all needed. My Dad and I needed to pick up our professional lives; my siblings need to attend to college courses and children. I presume she needed tacos and tequila and to regain her footing, to not have us underfoot treating her like some fragile invalid. If she had stayed at home, none of us would have strayed very far for a while.
I tried to appreciate her strength and grace, her power and class but I didnâ€™t understand what she really meant to me until we almost lost her. We were all so stunned by the event that I donâ€™t remember my Dad sleeping for the three or four weeks I was home. I tried to keep him company as he used the salve of the “shoot ’em up” Westerns that he loves to watch to deal with the situation. We had these crazy, incomplete conversations at 2 a.m. in which heâ€™d say things like â€œMarriage isnâ€™t 50-50, if each of you is only giving 50%, youâ€™re already in the hole.â€ I simply nodded and prayed that sleep would come gently for him.
Like everyone else on the planet, I strive for a gratitude that shows itself daily, but my narcissism, short attention span in the face of shiny objects and generally amiable disposition get in the way. I donâ€™t tell anyone I love them as often as I would like, Iâ€™m not sure that anyone does. Iâ€™m not sure that weâ€™re supposed to really live every day like it could be the last. It isnâ€™t a sustainable lifestyle and statistically the numbers play out such that youâ€™ll be here for a while yet. I prefer the idea that we live everyday as if itâ€™s the first, that way we are at once grateful and hopeful, aware but not afraid. And though I am incredibly fond of the other Barbaras in my life, there is only one that I am truly afraid that I cannot live without.