On Mama

I’ve written a good bit about my dad.  Specifically, I blogged about him a couple of times, and when I was in 3rd grade I chose to make the pop-up book we created in class about him and how hard working he was (sidenote: I always think this is funny in looking back on it, given that the rest of the stories were about dragons and whatnot (exactly what you’d expect!).  I think it speaks volumes about what I’ve always found to be the most interesting subject matter for writing: The True).  I’ve also written about the father of my best friend Kelsi, and about my own Mom’s father.  I have not, however, ever ventured to write about my Mom.  How could this be?

On the surface, it might seem that I did not admire her in the same ways or that I had some kind of troubled relationship with her.  Not true (although aren’t all mother/daughter relationships troubled on some level, just by definition?  This is the only relationship in which I feel it is okay for love to hurt, especially from the mom’s end.  It is impossible for a mom to love her child like most mothers do without feeling hurt for every single one of her daughter’s own hurts, struggles, failures and disappointments.)  I love my Mom very much and think she was the best mom I could have wished for.  The problem is, how does one write about something as monumental as MOM?  Where does one begin?

To begin at the beginning is impossible, since of course I don’t remember it.  But from what I know, I can say my Mama was amazing.  She got pregnant with me when my brother was only 5 months old.  Having a 9-month-old myself, I just can’t even imagine this.  I can’t imagine trying to pick him up with a big ole belly getting in the way.  Or smelling poopie diapers when nearly every strong smell, even the ones you used to like, makes you wanna gag. 

But even getting through the pregnancy part, I *really* can’t imagine what it was like to have a toddler and a newborn to take care of.  And it’s not like she sat around the house all day.  I know (because I’ve seen pictures) she used to take us out all the time (before noon, no less) and not only were we always both fully dressed (in clothes that were clean and went together), I always had some accessory in my hair (or, later, an actual hairstyle).  I’m sure these seem like pretty basic things to some people, but the Mamas of young ones out there will know why I’m marveling.  Furthermore, the house was always clean.  No, I mean CLEAN clean, beds made, dinner on the table when my dad got home from work.  See, THAT’s how stay-at-home Mom is done.

Some of my earliest memories of my Mom were of walking with her to drop off and pick up my brother Kris from Kindergarten.  The school was about two block away, and I remember walking by her side, pushing a dolly in a miniature stroller.  My thought then, as it is now, was that when I grew up, I wanted to be like her.  Back then, we used to say it simultaneously while pointing to each other: “When I grow up, I wanna be juuuust liiiike yoooooouuu.”  Then we’d giggle.

Now, (in case you didn’t catch it) the sentiment has changed slightly to reflect my adult perspective.  I don’t want to be just like her.  That would be ridiculous if even possible, first of all.  But what’s more, to wish to be just like her is to dishonor that the ways in which we differ represent some of what I appreciate most about her.  For example, I’ve come to realize that I am not really cut out for stay-at-home-Momness.  I could never be as thorough, tireless, organized, or tidy as her.  But I am grateful for the experience of having her home with me all throughout my childhood.  It was so reassuring to know she was right there, whenever I needed her.

And now that I myself am the mother of a young child, I appreciate her in this role all over again, with one slight change:  she is a stay-at-home Nana, taking the best possible care of my son that I could ever hope for.  If I hadn’t known he’d be in her strong and capable (and now 10-times-more-playful-on-account-of-the-grandparent-mojo-that-has-inevitably-seeped-into-her-bloodstream) hands, I would not have gone back to work at all.

Also, she is creative and truly visionary, in ways I know I’ll never be.  You could give her a rusty pork n beans can, a shoestring and a dried-up booger, and she’d think of some way to make it beautiful.  She’d tell you all about her plans for it beforehand.  And you’d just kind of smile and nod and then go about your business, forgetting all about it until you came over the next afternoon and there it would sit—right on the counter: something beautiful that came together just exactly as she’d said it would.  See, I can’t even think of something specific to say it would be, and you have no idea how long I’ve been sitting here trying as I write this.  Yet in the time it’s taken her to read this (because of course, supportive Mama that she is, she is reading this), I bet she’s already brainstormed at least three possibilities.

When I was pregnant, I started having all sorts of flashbacks about my childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood, and I would think specifically about all the times my Mom supported and looked out for me, and all the crazy opportunities I gave her to worry.  From traveling to a remote village in Chiapas with my gal pals in the midst of an insurgent uprising, to dropping out of school and—on more than one occasion—simply settling for less than I should have.  Yes!  I gave her plenty cause for concern.  And she always handled those mini-stroke-inducing actions on my part with her signature blend of caring, appropriately-expressed anger, grace, and been-there-done-that-don’t-make-my-same-mistakes wisdom.

Being a mom now, I can appreciate much more the kind of strength it takes to let go and watch your child try (often unsuccessfully) to navigate the landscape of her life.  (Was that a cliché just now?  It sounded like one.  But then most clichés earn their hackneyed status by being so damned true, they are simply destined to be repeated again and again.)

There was a time in high school when I was nursing a two-year-old crush on a boy who had, yes, given me the time of day but had no, not ever been close to “asking me out” (“out” meant “going steady” in the 90’s).  This crush’s birthday was coming up, and I wanted to do something special for him.  Something that would show I really put some effort into it.  I shared this with my Mom, and she took me to the grocery store to buy some pre-made cookie dough (okay, so not SO much effort) and helped me carefully package those slightly burnt, lopsided disks into a package that screamed I Like You!  No.  I LIKE You Like You!

How does a mother do this?  How does she watch her little girl—not just watch but encourage her little girl (no matter what her actual age) to take such a leap?  She knows that there is joy at stake (however temporary that may be in high school), and she knows there is also heartache at stake (however permanent that may feel in high school).  But she also knows she has to find that balance of protecting and championing, guide her daughter as best she can for as long as her daughter will listen, and then…just…let go.  God!

I take one thing back from what I just wrote.  A mother doesn’t have to do all those things or any of those things.  There are all types of mothers in this world.  But I am indescribably grateful that I have the kind of mom who did.  She was and will always be an inspiration to me, and I will often think, when the many many opportunities to wonder what on earth to do in response to the perils of motherhood arise: ‘what would my own Mama have done?’  And maybe I will call her and ask.  Or maybe I will just take that flying Mama leap on my own.  But if I do, at least I’ll have the comfort of knowing I had a great teacher.

And while all this sounds like a blog that was meant for Mother’s Day, what I really mean to say in all of this is Happy Birthday Mamala.  I love you now and for always.

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