This is the first Mother’s Day without my actual mother available to take a call. I’m trying to change it to revolve around the friends I have who are mothers, because they are even more special to me now that my own mother is gone. Their mother love and mother wisdom sustains me, whether I am talking to them in person or watching their funny kid pictures scroll across my Facebook feed. More than one mother has told me that they’re making up that “mother wisdom” as they go along and hoping it actually turns out to be wisdom…. in some ways, I think that’s the best part. You have no idea what will stick with your kids and what won’t.
Here’s what’s stuck with me about my own mother:
- She was so, so funny because she did not have either my dry-witted sense of humor or Lindsay’s ability for physical comedy, so when she was funny, it was often unintentional or uproarious because you couldn’t see it coming. She always got great big laughs because she was not the person you expected to say it.
- She was more kind than me, something to which I aspire and often fall short.
- She always gave away more than she took.
- Having disagreements with me never overshadowed her overwhelming love for me, and in my later years, pride in my bravery and writing accomplishments.
- I took out a loan from her and every time I paid some of it back, she wanted to make sure I knew that those payments were still available to me, that she was just going to keep them in her checking account for safekeeping in case I ever needed them back. She refused to charge me interest, but I paid it that way, anyway… The fact that she thought of being paid back as just a safety net for me says so much about her ability to give, and being somewhat embarrassed because she didn’t want to take my money at all…. and she died before I was finished paying it off, which horrifies me to this day, because being able to pay back her kindness was a sense of accomplishment for me. I was trying to get it done as quickly as possible, paying 10% of the loan every month, not because I didn’t owe more to my medical debt, but because she was the most important and deserved to be paid back first. I never wanted her to think that I’d forgotten the huge gift she gave me, her recognition that everyone needs help now and again. I just have to focus on the fact that I was able to pay as much as I could, as fast as I could, and for her, that was enough.
- I am ashamed that I’ve lost out on all the mother wisdom she had to give me, because I didn’t show up. Even when I was in front of her, I was always lost in my own head.
- My favorite memory of her is that she always assumed that if it plugged into the wall, as an IT person I knew how to fix it. She called me when her printer was broken, her cable box was on the fritz, she needed help setting the timer on her VCR, she needed her router locked down and help connecting to wi-fi, she needed help with her fancy new alarm clock. The reason this is uproariously funny is that she also thought I could do these things over the phone from 1835 miles away. The miracle is that most of the time, I could.
- She always sent me clothes that looked ridiculous on me that I only wore in front of her. She got an A for effort, and as I got older, she picked out more and more things I actually liked, because she was listening.
- She would regale me with stories of my childhood, and every year on my birthday she would call me at 9:59 AM and tell me the story of my birth. I knew it by heart, and we’d tell it together. The funniest part was her disdain at all the women who were screaming. She thought it was better to bite her pillow to grin and bear it, so that she did not become one of the women you could hear down the hallway.
- It became a recurring theme, waging cold war with quiet charm. There was never a time in which she wasn’t Southern and polite, even when she was seething inside.
- For instance, when she was mad at me for cutting up at church, she would pinch my hand until there were tears coming down my face and I stopped laughing butt-quick, because when something funny happened at church, because it was inappropriate and I started laughing, I couldn’t stop. I would just lose it and not be able to get it back together because again, if it was inappropriate to laugh, it made me laugh even harder.
- There was never a time in my life that I wasn’t grateful I became a soprano and she was an alto, because once that happened, her pinches couldn’t reach me. That began a series of looks that could’ve killed. Her heart was in the right place, that all eyes were on me and I needed to act the part.
- I was spanked as a child, and it was a victory when I got too big to spank, wriggling out of it to the tune of you just wait until your father gets home.
- She never gave me a curfew when I was an older teenager, figuring that since all my friends had curfews, I’d just get bored and come home. She was never wrong.
- She didn’t always agree with the gay thing, but that didn’t stop her from giving Kathleen and Dana as big of a present as she gave me…. with birthdays as well, especially considering that she shared a birthday with Dana and it was easy to remember.
- She was messy for Lindsay’s and my entire childhood, and we thought it was hilarious the way that when people were coming over, it was a series of stuffing everything into closets and under the bed. I have kept up this tradition, for better or for worse. When she moved in with Forbes, there was never anything out of place, and one time Lindsay made me double over with laughter to the point I almost didn’t recover… we were on the phone and she said, “remember when mom was messy?” I literally thought I was going to die of laughter, because asphyxiation is no joke.
- The only time I remember her losing it like that was when we went to see Beaches at the tiny theater in Daingerfield, TX. There was this woman who was crying so hard that she was literally honking into her Kleenex, and she couldn’t keep it together. The last thing she wanted to do was embarrass this poor lady, so again, it was a biting a pillow sort of situation. I, however, was shaking with tears and snot pouring down my face and shaking uncontrollably trying to keep sound from coming out. It did not work.
- The most profound thing I learned from her was while we were working together. I’d get stage fright and skip a measure or something, and she’d skip it right with me, always giving me the feeling that no matter how bad things got, she’d be there to catch me.
- My grandmother had a series of strokes that left her with dementia, and one of the things that her physical therapist recommended was music to get the different parts of her neurons to reconnect. She watched one of these sessions, and came to me with tears in her eyes, saying, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard my mother sing.
- Mother’s Day was always loaded for her, too, because my grandfather died that weekend, and it got worse when her own mother died. I tried the best I could to be extraordinarily compassionate, but at the same time, had no frame of reference for her pain. This year, I am bathed in it.
- I honestly thought I would be a mother by now, able to appreciate her sacrifices with my own frames of reference. If it ever happens, which I am slowly starting to doubt, but it’s not impossible, I’ll just have to take all I learned from her… and at the same time, having tiny moments of what’s the point in having children if she’s not there to see them? In my best moments, I think that having children is another one of those “kicking the shit out of Option B” moments that Sheryl Sandberg & Adam Grant said I’d get. I also learned from her that biology doesn’t matter in the slightest, but I am still very sorry that she didn’t get to see a grandchild that had her own features, parts of her personality…. perhaps the ability to get lost under any circumstances, even with a GPS.
- There was never a time in my life that she wasn’t up for a manicure, because even when I am dressed in my favorite “cute boy” clothes, I still wanted strong, smooth nails with either outrageous colors or airbrush designs. For Mother’s Day one year, I got my nails painted black and had the white piano keys airbrushed over the top.
- I was always her page turner, a job that made me feel very important… well, right up until I turned two pages at once and had to scramble to get her to the right place during the two measures she had memorized.
- She didn’t like coffee until she was 45, and with that palate change came many trips to Starbucks…. and technically, she liked making coffee at home and buying enough mocha peppermint powdered creamer at Christmas to last her the whole year. She mostly went to Starbucks because it was one of my favorite places and not hers…. just another example of how she made me feel important.
- She taught me how to find all the good stuff at Dollar Tree, and where it was important to splurge. I have never departed from this advice. For instance, it was where I bought all my Martini glasses, because I had a knack for knocking them over and exploding them into a thousand pieces. In fact, I’m pretty sure that I have spilled more Martinis than I’ve drunk.
- Speaking of drinks, our thing was discussing sodas. She didn’t like alcohol that much, and not because of any moral obligation to be sober. She just didn’t like the taste of it. We were over the moon about Dr Pepper 10, because she was a fanatic about her diet. It was a sad day for me when she switched from Diet Coke to Coke Zero, because you cannot imagine how many Diet Cokes we’d shared together over the years. I believe it is the official drink of all musicians, particularly sopranos.
- How many sopranos does it take to change a light bulb? Two- one to drink the Diet Coke and one to go get the accompanist to do it.
- That joke works on so many levels because I’m a soprano and my mother WAS my accompanist. This link is to the concerto movement I played my ninth grade year for Solo & Ensemble. I don’t think I’ve ever been better than that…. I never made it to being able to play the whole thing. 🙂
I can only hope that the children that come after me have a better appreciation of how important it is to show up for their moms the way they show up for you. I could have been a much better daughter than I actually was, but the thing is that we were starting to become that mother/daughter team when her life was cut short. I can be grateful that we started the process and angry it wasn’t finished at the same time. Believe me that the possibility of losing your mother in an instant is real, the thing you never expect because there was still so much to live through together.
So, if I have any advice for which you did not ask, remember that tomorrow is never promised. You will not all get the time to prepare that you need. There are those of you that will grieve loss and possibility all at the same time…. picking up the pieces of the life you thought you’d have and trying to turn them into the life you will.
Option B, for all the miracles it holds, will at least for a time render you speechless, walking through the haze of not being able to remember even the simplest things. For me, at least right now, it shows itself in chores. Something will be incredibly dirty, and miraculously clean without having any idea where you were while it was happening. What seems like a moment lost in your own head could, in reality, be hours on end.
It also happens with driving. I use my GPS even in my own neighborhood, because if I get lost in thought, I will either end up in a familiar place with no idea how I got there, or forgetting where I was going altogether. “Recalculating” is a common theme of my life, in all areas…. but literally missing a turn and having to wind my way back around to where I need to go.
Figuratively, I think this is self-explanatory.