Mother’s Day

Every year I think it’s gotten better… Life gets more and more “normal”. The tough, achy times are spread further and further apart. Laughing is more frequent. But then the shake comes back—the one that rattles and quakes its way up to the base of my neck, catching my breath and spinning me into a quiet frenzy before making its home, heavy in my chest. Dizzy, insides roiling, it usually takes me a few days to realize… Oh dear. There’s a big day coming up.

July, 2006

It is times like these that I miss her the most. Times when “Mother” is plastered in every shop window, every spam e-mail, every greeting card headline…

Even her name is soft and comforting.
I remember after she died, I flew with Dad and Brother to Hawaii, her favorite place, to shake her body’s ashes over the crystal blue tropical waters she had loved. Sitting in the airport on a layover from one island to another, my blank gaze landed on a family encamped in the row of chairs across from me. Father, Mother, and two daughters sat in their shorts and sandals, bags and magazines and colored iPods spread out over several chairs. The girls played with each other occasionally, but mostly the eldest sat with her headphones on, while the younger asked Dad for money to buy M&M’s, if she could go to the bathroom, how much longer the layover was, and if Mom had remembered to pack her favorite My Little Pony. Busy and dizzy with anticipation and boredom, she finally settled in the seat next to Mom and laid her head in her lap. She laughed and chatted and haphazardly ran her hands up and down her mother’s legs as Mom absentmindedly stroked her hair while reading a magazine.

Something about the scene hit my heart, and suddenly the back of my throat was very tight. Stinging, stinging eyes, and I tilted my head back, trying to hide the hot tears rolling across my temples in the forest of my hair. It seemed so familiar. So easy. So average and normal that it hurt like a knife coming out. Probably the way a permanently injured athlete feels when they watch the game they can never play again, or what rushes through an amputee when they go to buy pants. Loss afresh.

I watched this little girl with her stringy hair and bunchy shorts strewn across her mother’s lap, and her mother’s calm, tired face as she ran her hands through her daughter’s hair, and the thought came: “Don’t take it for granted. You may not always have this—this ease, this thoughtless love, this perfect informality. Don’t take it for granted!

But then even quicker I thought, “But isn’t that the benefit of a mother?” Isn’t that the built-in perk to the relationship? It is so deep and permanent and constant and unchanging—the most lasting, eternal bond we will ever know… Isn’t part of the greatness of the relationship that we GET to take it for granted? The way that the sky is blue or the sun rises in the morning– it is and was forever. It’s something good you can always rely on, and a blessing don’t have to think about. There are other things to write thank-you notes for.

No, as I sat there I realized the real beauty of what I was seeing was the fact that this excited, bored, restless little girl could sit and laugh and talk with her mom, and never once have to think about whether her mother loved her or thought she was special or wanted to spend time with her. She could just exist in her mother’s love, and not have to apologize for it.

Sunday is a special day. It’s a day when children across the globe honor and thank their mothers—their suns, their blue skies, their eternal love. That day, more than any other day we are encouraged not to take our mothers for granted, but instead to acknowledge their tireless efforts and many sacrifices for our good. I cannot tell you how I wished I had a reason to buy a card this week. How I would love to see my momma in church wearing the corsage my dad would have picked out for her, and sit across the table from her at brunch in the afternoon. How I wish I could whisper, “I love you, Momma,” in her ear one last time. She was an incredible mother, and she deserves more honor than she received.

But more than anything else, more than all these things, I wish she were here to rest my head on her lap. To squeeze myself into the little nook in between the back of her knees and the back of the couch, and curl up on top of her as we watch baseball or American Idol. I wish she was here to show around New York and tell me how proud she is of me for moving to the big city. (“My big girl,” she’d say, “I’m so proud of you.”) I wish she was here to tell all about my day at work and to ask about relationships, and how do you tell when a mango is ripe again? I wish she were here to say, “I love you,” as we get off the phone…

I wish she were here so I could take her for granted. And I don’t regret a single day I did.

November, 1990

Happy Mother’s Day, Momma. I love you.


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