Monthly Archives: September 2014

CrazyMothers

CrazyMothers
By Bethanie Johnson
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This past week, I found out on facebook that a very good friend of mine died in her sleep. I found out first thing on Sunday morning and fell into a deep place of sadness that I know won’t go away soon. Totie was a friend I’ve never met. She was one of those friends that happen online now, since computers came into our lives and not all relationships take place in your town or in your neighborhood.

And since she died this week, and I will miss her book talk, and her crazy family stories (I could relate), and her incredible sense of kindness, I wanted to share how this internet relationship, as well as the others I’ve found in this way, happened in the first place.

Seattle was one of the loneliest places I’ve lived. I became a mom in Seattle, where I lived with my (now X) husband in an apartment in one of the outlying burbs of that immense place. I spent the first few months there with just my daughter and my mother in law who would visit us when she had a chance. My husband was in the Coast Guard, and it was about six weeks (probably the hardest of my life) before he could join us. My daughter Madison happened to be one of those screaming babies. Truly…the only place she settled down was in a stroller, or on an airplane, bus, or train. But those first few months, when we were so alone? She cried all time time and I thought I was going to go crazy, for good.

Then we got our first computer. It was 1997. My X got to Seattle, found a job, and got us a computer. Since he worked long hours, I was still alone much of the time, and since I was crazy, seemed to need a bit more support than what I had. So I went online one day and started “googling” things. Bingo, I found a page that gave all kinds of good advice. Mothers giving advice to other mothers. We all had children around the same age, and we could all share our stories and questions and find some relief.

Madison was less than a year old when I found this group of mothers. Over the years we’ve changed online locations, lost a few people, gained a few others and remained friends. When Madison was four and I was visiting Monterey for a friend’s wedding, I got a chance to meet one of these friends, Karleen, and her son. We made a day of it at the park. During much more dire circumstances I met Amy, who lives in Winston-Salem and took us in during the great ice storm of Charlotte that plunged us all into cold darkness a few years back. That seemed like the weirdest thing ever. I remember my brother, who was also without power, asking me if I was crazy to go up and stay with someone I’d only met online. But we went, and we had so much fun together in person.

Over the years we’ve seen so many changes…I divorced and moved across the country, and have dealt with some pretty tight financial times, worked through Madison’s diagnosis of ASD, and been through so many ups and downs as a parent, I couldn’t even begin to recount them all. Over the years we’ve talked marital issues, children’s struggles, aging parents, and depression. In the CrazyMothers group where I’m a member, you don’t have to sugar coat anything. Your life does not at all have to resemble an IKEA catalogue. These friends have seen my mistakes and my hardest moments as a woman and parent. Things I don’t share with very many people. And I have seen theirs. They’ve also seen my best stuff. When I need a kick in the pants, for someone to be honest without the bells and whistles of Southern niceties, there’s one person in particular who will just put a mirror in front of my face.

My friend Totie died this week and here’s what I knew about her. She loved her children. She loved every bit of domestic life, even when she had migraines that put her in the hospital. She was an obstetric nurse, and that is what she loved to do. Over the years she dealt with a sister who was an addict—I’m pretty sure she was all that stood between her sister and death or jail a lot of times. I know that Totie struggled with weight and with migraines; that Totie loved to read and she could tell a great story. I know also that Totie loved LOVED her grandmother. She told so many stories of her grandmother over the years. Totie’s grandmother was her hero. I know that Totie was kind…she was the kind of person who really didn’t understand why everyone couldn’t just find a way to get along, and that is the main reason her death has hit me so hard, because the world sometimes seem so full of people who can’t get along and don’t see any way to find peace with others, but Totie thought the world was a better place than that. Maybe it was because she got to watch babies being born and she got to see humans in their very first hour of life and so she knew the universe is a miracle. Maybe it was because she loved her children so much and helped so many divergent personalities find peace under one roof.

I never met Totie in person but I loved her so much. I love and have been blessed by this group of women, the CrazyMothers. I am here today because those women kept believing we would make it, encouraging me and also giving me a kick in the pants when I needed, though maybe didn’t want, it. It’s been over sixteen years of fun, truth, advice, sorrow, pride in our children and most importantly, love. Totie is the first to leave us in this way and the loss of her has left a big hole in my heart. She was so real, so true, and such a light in the world. And now her light has gone out, so it’s going to be a little darker for a while.
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Plaza Midwood Tuesday Night Ride, a Lesson in Community

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By: Bethanie Johnson

Almost a year ago now, I started attending a motley bicycle riding group on Tuesday nights. I had begun bicycle commuting to work, and my friend mentioned this group as a way to meet other people who also rode bikes. My first Tuesday Night Ride happened around Halloween. I was supposed to meet two friends at the ride, so I got there early to scope them out, and I waited. While I was waiting several people came up and shook hands with me and introduced themselves. I was skeptical, especially since so many were dressed in crazy costumes (a red wedding dress is the one I remember most). It was dark, the cycles were lighted, and everyone was getting ready to go. My friends were no shows, so I got very nervous–I hate participating in new situations by myself. It’s just easier with company.

I should mention I had a terrible bike. It was a freebie, borrowed from a friend because my last bike had been stolen. The breaks were a hopeless mess; I had to plan pretty far in advance to stop. So I stood there, contemplating making a quick exit on my terrible bike. But then the whistle blew. Everyone gathered, we rode to a designated area, we discussed the rules. The rules were all traffic centered. Keep to your lane, obey all traffic signals, don’t pass the leader, no horselplay. Just the basics. I decided to just go for it, as nothing seemed quite so ridiculous and funny as people in costume, riding around the city at night. It was dark by the time we got on the road. There was a mass of people. All kinds of people…college kids and old dudes with beards. Middle aged men, some married, some single, and twenty something work-out goddesses who attended yoga and ran. It was the same with the bikes. There were sparkly brand new road bikes and riders wearing kits. There were beat up old mountain bikes (mine included), and a guy on a kids bike with a pink banana seat. I looked around and saw my favorite thing to see, every kind of person. People who looked like they didn’t earn much money, and those who looked like they spent a good portion of throw away income fancying up their bicycles.

The best part was this. That was ok, because we were all just riding bikes. Some of us in hopelessly silly Halloween costumes.

We rode slowly, and for a long time. A few times I fell behind on my terrible bike, and someone stayed with me to make sure I was ok and not getting lost. When a group of us fell way behind, someone who knew the route stayed with all of us to make sure we’d make it back. Along the way, one of the bike gurus noticed that I was riding a terrible bike and offered to trade with me just so I could have it a little easier. I didn’t know who that guy was then. I wasn’t sure about his motives. So I thanked him and just kept riding. And then we stopped for sandwiches and the bike guru called his friend out (the one who stayed behind with everyone) to work on my bike a little. They eventually made it so that I didn’t have to plan quite so far in advance for stopping. I stood there not knowing how to react to what looked like, from where I was standing, a compelling act of kindness. In the months I’ve been riding since then, I’ve mentioned this to several people on the ride, these two dudes who stopped and took time and helped me ride better. They roll their eyes at me and say, “Meh, that’s just how they are.” These acts are taken for granted.

The guy that always stays back with new people to make sure they are ok….just what’s done. The lady who leads us and made sure to introduce my daughter, the first time she rode (she doesn’t like new situations either), to the only other person there remotely close to her age, that’s how she is. The bike guru who gets used bikes and fixes them and offers a good price to people who could use a bike at a good price–he’s nice like that. And the very best thing I remember, a husband who rides, inviting his wife who doesn’t, and then holding his bike with one hand while using the other to support her back on the way up a particularly terrible hill. It’s just how we roll I guess.

But to me it feels special. To me it feels like at the Common Market, on Tuesday nights at 8, some kind of magic happens that I can’t really account for. A whole lot of people of different economic standings, of various religious or non-religious beliefs, of different races and ethnicities and political beliefs, come together and treat each other like gold. Everyone smiles and people say hi. And when they ask how you are doing, they mean it. I’ve met great friends in this space where riding bikes is the equalizer. It’s why I go, and it’s why I keep asking others to come ride PMTNR. Of course it’s partly because I love cycling, but the other part is that community is an essential part of life, and sometimes, it’s missing. It’s missing when we go inside and stare at screens. It’s missing when we think that all we are is our views, our opinions and our beliefs instead of living, breathing people in need of kindness, eye contact, smiles, music and laughter. It’s missing when we line up under our labels of them and us, or poor and rich or gay or straight or black, white, other. Sometimes we are so lost, that we don’t even know it’s missing, But then someone invites you, and you show up and find what you didn’t know you’d missed in the first place, and if you happen to break the your pedal arm off your bike, a friend will offer to tow you along.