Sunday, May 13, 2012

On mothers, and my mother in particular

I just finished Joan Didion's book Where I Was From, a book discussing the complexities and contradictions of California identity, the development of Orange County and a nearby community in Long Beach, and her own family's history of wagon-crossing the country.  What I didn't expect was for the final section to become personal, settling on the loss of her mother.  Didion says, "It would be a while before I realized that 'me' is what we think when our parents die, even at my age, who will look out for me now, who will remember me as I was, who will know what happens to me now, where will I be from." 

Her questions hung on me like wet crepe paper as if I were hearing that mothers can die the first time.  Ben's mother died nearly two years ago.  Several of my friends -- most of them male -- have lost mothers.  I watched, from afar in many ways, both my parents lose their mothers.  But somehow, I haven't really entertained the thought of losing my mother.  It's unlikely that I wouldn't have imagined my way into Didion's questions given how quickly I imagine the worst and the vivid morbidity of those imaginings.  But I haven't, or hadn't until this week.  

The morning after I finished Didion's book, Annemarie sent me a blog entry that was meant to be comforting -- regardless of how insufficient you feel after perusing pinterest or reading others' blogs, when it comes down to it, your children just want you: your smell, your texture, your arms, your voice -- but there was a middle paragraph about the author's mother, at 70, being hit with dementia.  The blogger says, "What I really meant was, 'I miss being able to talk to you, Mom.  I miss lying on the grass while my children make a hopscotch and savoring our long phone conversations.  I miss you remembering all those secrets I used to tell you.  I miss you asking me if I'm okay.  I miss seeing you read books and hearing you sing while you do the dishes and having you drive out to my house without getting lost.  I miss you remembering how much I need you.'"  Echoing Didion, she names the joint-memory and side-by-side living that is lost when a mother is lost. 

Today, on Mothers' Day, I am on my bed (bed retreats, you know) reading Kelly Corrigan's Middle Place about "that sliver of time when childhood and parenthood overlap.  One day you're cheering your daughter through a swimming lesson or giving her a pat for crossing the monkey bars or reminding her to say 'please,' and the next, you're bragging to your parents about your newest trick -- a sweet potato recipe, a raise at work, a fix for your ant problem.  It's a giant Venn diagram where you are the only member of both sets."  (29).  And isn't that it?  Until this week, I've been basking in the middle place of unshakably being both mother and daughter.   

Living here in my parents' house for the last six weeks of transition, I have soaked in the company of a mother, my mother.  We can push each other's buttons, certainly, get impatient and contradict each other, yes.  My unresolved insecurities about identity and self can trigger in her presence when my 3 year old, 14 year old, and 35 year old selves collide -- all so fully known by us both.  And our wiring is different, our approaches to daily tasks, to planning trips, to how we feel our way through the world, but what's mattered these last six weeks has not been our differences.  

What I've felt, and probably wouldn't have articulated without these three writers, is that through these weeks, my mom has known.  She has known when my eyes shine glassy mid-conversation, and I turn the other way and change the subject.  She has known to send a text at 8:50 after I dropped Silas off at school and am silently crying driving Eden to preschool.  She's met me on the floor of the pantry -- the "situation room" since my parents build this house when I was 16-- and let me pour my fears out there.  She's seen my eyes ringed with tiredness and has wooed the children away with stories of foxes and you tube videos of fanciful instruments.  She's known what it's meant when I've bought a bag of meyer lemons from the store, when avocados and mangos relentlessly appear on our joint grocery list, when I sink inside myself and don't surface for a while.  

Though I often disregard it, assuming that my self-discoveries trump all outside observations, my mom has been paying more attention during much of my development than I have.  There have been several times over the decades when she's named a little piece of me I hadn't put words to, and suddenly, I was illuminated, seen.  When Eden was a baby, she verbalized what I'd only known by instinct: my home-love, how I create homes where I am, gather people I love together, insist when we're far that we overlap together in some repeating location that will grow familiar enough to equal a "home."  And she's right, I love home.

Tonight driving home from a big family dinner, squeezed between Silas and Eden in the backseat of the car, all they wanted was for me to tell them stories about themselves -- of the nights they were born, of finding them at the kitchen table covered in syrup, or covered in lipstick or covered in Vaseline, of finding one of them stuck under a bed or sitting behind a chair playing with power cords -- and Silas belly-laughed listening in a way he seldom laughs at anything.  They loved hearing their own stories.

For now, during this time of being home and homesick, my mom is, again, remembering for me and telling me my stories until I laugh.


1 comment:

roberta martin said...

What a lovely reminder of what it means to have a mother who really knows you. Mine is no longer with me and she knew me like your mother knows you. It is a priceless gift. Thank you for putting it into beautiful words.
Roberta Martin