What Did Your Mother Used to Say?

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I am re-posting one of my very first blog pieces, written when my now seven-year-old was a two-year-old.  Enjoy… and as always, thank you so much for reading.  Treat your mommas right this weekend!

 

Mother’s Day. This isn’t my first as a mom, but it is the first when my oldest daughter can actually say, “Mommy.” She can also say “Oh My God Kingee, do you need a haircut!” and she can tell her dad that she’s not “digging” the song he’s singing. It is what I say and not necessarily what I do, these days, as Caroline makes our language her own. She grabs words and phrases like candy—with parental perseverance, she’ll accept table manners just as voraciously—and most of the time, I love it. I love hearing myself interpreted in a musical little lilting voice. She rolls the “r” (something I could never do) in “Caroline,” Italian flair. “Baracuda” (Dave taught her that one) rings from her mouth like it’s a kind of perfume, not a toothy fish.

There are car rides, however. There are missteps and moments when I forget that her eyes are on me, and when I say eyes, I mean globally big and blue, and when I imagine all that those eyes see, I envision raptors atop mountains scouting prey. This girl is watching … and listening. Will some future Caroline wistfully reminisce: “My mother used to say, ‘Get off the road, you Jackass!’”?

What will Caroline and Lexi remember about me? Will I envelop them in catch-phrases; will I sit them down for lectures? Will stuff just come out and stick? Should I be developing some teaching strategy, as the little sponges soak me in? 

What am I doing?

My own mother was not a motto-mom. She may have doubted her ability as sage, but I like to think that she knew her audience. I probably wasn’t going to listen. Though I do remember, when I was in junior high and convinced that everyone was better, brighter, and prettier than I, Mom did assure me that Susie Slatkin put her pants on just like everybody else. My mother also had this tip for relieving tension: shape out the alphabet with your head when you’re showering. I attempted the ABC’s of stress relief just the other day, wrenching my neck in the process. Water cooled and decreased in pressure down my back as I stood rigidly, waiting for the pain to pass. Of all that my mom and I had shared through the years, why on earth had I remembered that little nugget?

Had she ever walked me through exactly how she raised four kids, lost weight after pregnancy, managed to be the smartest woman I’d ever met? I wish I’d listened.

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When my mom was sick with cancer, I had this aching desire to ask her for final advice, wisdom that would stay with me forever, guiding me towards a not-yet-materialized loving husband, aptly-nurtured future kids, and a good life. I had this brief but powerful feeling that maybe she would say something to me that I’d be able to keep, to mark down on delicate paper with a thin-tipped caligraphy pen—those go-to words that would get me through. I knew then that I was being silly because that had never been her way. She had been showing me her way for 34 years. By then, I had sense and I had love. I had strength enough, even, to say good bye to her.

I know that Caroline and Lexi will hear what I do so much louder than what I say. They will see what I do with color and clarity, and they will remember, not all, but pieces of me, just as I remember my mother—the pink of her pedicure; our shared penchant for the scent of a flowering gardenia; the sound of her stifled laughter when my brothers’ misbehaved.

I imagine I’ll not impose words to live by—I hope my daughters just spend their time living. And I hope that what I give is so soaked and saturated into them, that when I’m gone, they won’t be able to separate themselves from the memories of me. I hope they remember the feel of their mother’s hug, the sound of her singing voice, and the wave of her fingers as she stands on her porch watching them leave after a visit. Just as I remember my mom, I hope my girls will remember me: not all that we say (because how could that be possible?), but the familiar way we sit across from each other at the kitchen table, dipping spoons into our coffees, content in the talking.

 

TALK TO ME: What have you learned from your mother?  A favorite quotation?  A good, solid life-lesson?  Something quirky??  Anything!


Mother’s Day

I miss my mom.  She’s been gone almost 10 years.  I miss her voice; I miss how she took care of me, even from miles away.   And I miss what we never had: shared time with my children, her granddaughters.  She never met them.  She never even knew that I ended up marrying that nice guy who grew up down the street, the one I painted houses with, the one who drove me home from work one time.  Dave says he walked me to the door and met my mother that day, but I don’t remember.

I don’t remember a lot, especially about when I was my girls’ ages.  I cannot count the number of times something has come up as I’ve raised these kids, and I’ve wanted to ask my mom some question:  Did I want to do everything first but finish my dessert last, like Lexi?  Did my front teeth take a long time to grow in, like Caroline’s?  When I was little, did I plan my birthday parties months in advance, down to the details of how many fairies and butterflies would be on my red cake with rainbow sprinkles?  Did I even go through a fairy phase?  

I am blessed to have had her for as long as I did; I know this.

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I took Lexi to one of her first swim lessons at Riva Swim Center last week.  There was a mom there with her mother, and as they stood around the pool, watching the little girl in Lexi’s class, I caught myself leaning in trying to listen, wondering what conversation I’d be having if my mom were there with me. 

I would have asked about my first swim lesson.  Did parents dote as much as they do now?   A handful of mothers stood or sat near the wall watching their kids kick water as if the children were actually walking on top of the water.  Cameras and camcorders and cell phones were poised like Michael Phelps was about to unload on the 200m fly.  Moms grinned and waved, eyes wide, reaching their long arms, free styling in the air, blowing make-believe bubbles.   They were, I will say, actively engaged. 

And I was right there with them.  Lexi wore her new goggles, which she kept flipping around and fooling with.   I was so worried they weren’t fitting comfortably; I considered jumping in to help.  After every stint with Mark-the-instructor in the pool, she’d  scootch herself onto the edge, adjust her swim suit straps, then knock around a bit with her goggles before looking over at me, her eyes magnified and a bit mushed.  She’d give a nod then a thumbs-up, a miniature Maverick in Top Gun. 

Right back atcha, Lexi.  In a half hour, I’d say we exchanged about 23 nods and thumbs-up.  We were like a pair of dolphins in some insane Sea World act, mimicking each other, lifting our bottled noses into the air, again and again and again: “You’re great!”  “No, you’re great!”  “No, you’re great!”  “No, you’re great!”

If my mom had been there, I would have asked, did you hover like a helicopter?  Because I don’t remember that.   It seemed like you were more normal than I am.  I know you worried.   You were fully aware that bad things happened to good people.  You knew the risks of parenting.  But you didn’t try too hard to control things.  You watched from the wall, keeping a healthy distance.  You probably didn’t do a ton of thumbs-upping— but I always knew that you were there.

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Lexi loves the water.  She has spent so much time hacking around in the pool during the last few summers, that she’s developed some habits Mr. Mark may need duct tape to fix.  But when Lexi sits on the edge and Mark in his booming voice asks, “Who wants to go first?” her hand flies.  He looks at me and smiles.  Then looks back at her:  “I didn’t even tell you what you were doing yet!”  

Lexi greets the water like it’s a dear friend she hasn’t seen in ages; she runs to and hugs it all at once—part jump, part dive, part love.  She splashes in then raises her head quickly, water lifting around her, legs and arms moving, happiness everywhere.  Mark settles her, gets her to put her face down, her legs straight, her toes pointed.   He booms, “Swim to the edge!” and she does…with her face up, her legs dangling, and her arms running.  He looks back at me again and smiles, “She’ll get there!” while Lexi scootches herself up onto the edge, waiting eagerly for her next turn.  

I believe she’s already there.  She is fearless, and she is having so much fun.  I want to live like Lexi swims.

Dear Mom, I really hope you’re catching some of this.    

Happy Mother’s Day.