It was a cold October morning in 1968 – the 18th to be exact – and three little cherubs were fast asleep in a camel-colored hide-a-bed. An assortment of blankies mixed with the simulated leather, and thumbs were securely planted in three pursed rosebud mouths as the door to the room opened a hairline crack. A narrow beam of light bathed the innocent faces. “Kids, wake up. It has happened. I have great news to tell you!”
I was barely six-years-old, but sophisticated enough to know that my mom’s usual Barbie like figure was not just getting fat these past nine months. Her belly was not expanding as a result of all the fudge and barbeque potato chips she devoured daily. No, something very special was developing in her womb. A little person was growing and about to become the fourth child to Jack and Lassie Madden.
Like rockets shot out of a cannon, my brothers and I bounded up and out of our deep slumber began bouncing wildly on the bed. We could not contain our excitement over this fabulous, long-awaited news. “You have a new baby brother and his name is Michael!”
At the sound of this information, Dave and Tim soared even higher on the bed with their heads nearly reaching the ceiling. I, on the other hand, seemed to freeze mid-jump, then fell planted and still in complete and utter shock. The news crashed over me again, and I did a swan dive back under the covers and began to sob. “No! Say it isn’t so! Not another boy! God, what are you trying to do to me?”
For the previous nine months, I had envisioned a precious, sweet and innocent little sister to rescue me from a home full of masculine insanity. I was expecting someone to play dolls and dress-up, someone to share secrets with, but mainly, someone to help me protect my feminine side from all that overwhelming testosterone.
Later that morning, my eyes still red and raw from crying, my father piled us all into the family car and drove to the hospital in San Francisco to meet this new creature. Staring out the window in the back seat of the family navy blue, four-door Ford Fairlane Sedan, I couldn’t help but dwell on the unfairness of it all. I instinctively knew that for the rest of my life, I’d be out-numbered and never get my way in any family decision.
From the pained look in my eye, my mother could see how desperately disappointed I was and wrapped her one free arm around me while she cradled this new, so-called “bundle of joy” in the other.
“Honey, it is what it is. Everything will be just fine and you will grow to love him.”
“I don’t think so,” I mumbled under my breath as I turned away.
“Believe me sweetie, you will,” she replied pulling me close to her.
From that moment in time, those five little words – “it is what it is” – became my mother’s mantra, no matter what was happening in our house.
As the years passed and I grew to be a self-center pre-teenager, I became unhappy with various aspects of my life, I would cringe when I saw that familiar knowing look on her face. At any given moment, I knew that those words were about to float in the air and spoil my well-celebrated pity party.
“Well, guess what! I don’t like what it is!” I cried as tears welled up in my eyes. “I don’t like the fact that my hair is so curly and I hate the fact that my body looks like I’m one of the boys.”
“Sweetie,” she gently said, as she gave me a loving hug, “It is what it is.”
As the hands of the clock circled around and around I began to realize there was an unspoken second part to that infamous line. There are times in life when an unplanned situation presents itself that is not necessarily wanted and the only fitting response can be “it is what it is.” But my mom later added (when I was grown up enough to understand) “now what are you going to do about it?”
Yes, that is the real question. What do we do with those moments that “are what they are?” Do we do nothing and move on? Do we try to change it or fix the stiuation? Or, do we accept it for being a fact and learn how to live with it?.”
My courageous and loving mother lived as a problem solver. Fixing an issue or situation gave my mom drive, excitement and a purpose. When it came to us children, however, it was not about taking the problem away or being the “helicopter mother” that hovers over head making sure everything is perfect for her child. No, she didn’t get the teacher to change our grade from a D to a B. She didn’t get the coach to give my brothers more playing time and she didn’t go running to Suzie’s mom because her little darling was being mean to me (I have a feeling my mother knew I deserved it!).
My mom took those painful growing up experiences and used them as lessons to prepare us for the rest of our lives. Her help didn’t change our situation, but it did give us the strength to get through the difficult moments.
In the last 30 years of her life, my mom suffered every painful ailment imaginable. Her physical demise began with breast cancer. Next, there were the degenerating hip sockets and spine where she endured one painful surgery after another. There were the debilitating migraine headaches, rheumatoid arthritis, spinal stenosis and finally, a prolapsed intestine that was not only excruciating, but humiliating for she then needed diapers and her daughter’s help.
With the onset of each new disease or ailment, my mom would get all the information she could, leaving no stone unturned to seek a cure and a way to live a pain free life. In the end, unfortunately, there were no more surgeries, no new physical therapies to try, no more medication that would be legal to ingest. She often would writhe in her agony trying to get into a comfortable position. Sitting by her side, holding her hand with my heart broken because there was nothing I could do for her, she would gently repeat, “Honey, “it is what it is” and this time we just have to accept it.”
My mother passed away on July 20, 2003 and I find myself repeating those words daily to my own children. “I’m sorry Tim, it is what it is and finals ARE a part of college!” There are solutions to everything life throws our way. Sometimes we can physically change it – most often it is our attitude that needs transforming. Every morning we are given the gift of choices – you can chose to be positive or you can chose to be a negative and crabby individual. What will your choice be tomorrow when “it” arrives -and for the rest of your life?