It’s such a beautiful day today and I know how much you love warm sunny days and taking every opportunity to spend your time outside during them.
One of my earliest memories is sitting on the back step watching you with clothespins in your mouth, carefully hanging all our whites out in the sun so they would be dry by noon, and the line ready for all the heavier clothes to dry in afternoon heat.
You always seemed so much happier outdoors. It was like the sun soothed you, and the fresh air somehow carried your many worries away with the breeze. You would find any excuse to be outside the house, whether that was coaching baseball, spontaneously deciding the house needed repainting, or just sitting in a lawn chair in the evenings, having coffee with the neighbours or my friends as we grew old enough to take part in adult conversations.
While going through your things, I spent a lot of time picking through pictures in a box- snapshots in time of you as a child, and teenager. Formal shots lined up in front of Grampa’s stunning flower beds, and silly shots of you being at the lake with your Mom.
Those pictures made my heart ache for some reason. I never knew that carefree you, with the ear to ear grin. I wondered at what point in your life that apparent sass left you and the more somber, reserved you appeared.
Was it Dad and the price you paid for loving a broken man like him?
Was it the weight of carrying all the responsibility for keeping us all alive, as the only adult in the room?
I so wish I could have magically traveled through time just to spend one day with you back when your smile was like that and your eyes sparkled with fun and mischief. If we could have somehow been contemporaries, living in the same time and place- would we have been friends? I think we may have been, you know. I see traces of myself in those pictures of you. I had that same trust in my eyes looking at you, as you had looking at your Mom. Not crystal-clear and evident in a quick glance, but there if you spent the time analyzing the snapshots closely.
Definitely there, Mom.
We always struggled, you and I, but always came back together, after a time out- a cooling off period. You would just suddenly call like nothing had ever happened, and I would respond back in the same vein, our problems buried instead of resolved.
You never apologized once for any disagreements or arguments we had. I felt so overpowered by your opinions and beliefs that I could feel myself shrinking in your presence, fumbling, stuttering for the words that I could never seem to find in order to defend myself or my choices, or my actions.
You were right in the end about oh so many things, Mom, and I should have listened to you and followed your advice. I certainly became the queen of cutting off my nose, to spite my face, now, didn’t I? I can hear you laughing right now at me dusting off that old gem. I still use “gallivanting” and “jack of all trades, master of none” on at least a monthly basis, though, so your words didn’t totally fall on deaf ears. I heard you even when I was pretending not to.
My boys adore you, Mom, and did from the first time they looked into your eyes as infants and felt your overwhelming love for them. Your most uninhibited and loving moments were your moments with my boys. Mark and I would laugh about how you transformed into a woman we didn’t know at all with them. The woman who would give potato chips on the side rather than vegetables with a sandwich. The woman who actually cut the crusts off the bread for the picky eater, or who suddenly thought Popsicles and Freezies were suitable main courses for that same picky eater, while simultaneously coaxing Flintstones vitamins into him.
Watching you with my children thawed something inside of me, Mom, and made our relationship better than it had ever been in the past; closer, more authentic and honest. I would frequently ask your advice and heed it, knowing you knew better than I did and had raised children to adulthood, while I was still a novice. It was suddenly me, rather than you, coordinating time with each other. It was me calling you you crying and scared about how high a fever could go before it was an emergency, and it was your calm, soothing voice I clung to for dear life, as you explained all the times you had sat up yourself with feverish babies and children during the night hours.
Showing up at my door after working all day and insisting I hand the colicky, screaming baby over to you so you could walk with him, which allowed me to take a shower and get out of my pajamas at 5 P.M. Reassuring me that he hadn’t stopped crying for you because I was a horrible mother, but had just cried himself tired and that he sensed my fear, so kept reacting to it. Then you told me to grab my purse and go for a walk or a drive- to go away for an hour or two and leave you with him and his brother. God, if you only knew how much that hour provided me with the strength to come home and start it all over again. I cannot even remember if I thanked you properly for that or not and that dismays me now. Thank you, Mom- your help made me such a better mother than I could have ever been on my own without your sage advice and counsel.
You have always, always, been there for me, along every stage of my life and I know I have hurt you over the years, as our children always do.
I remember the way your face fell the day I looked at you incredulously when you commented that we were best friends, and I let a lifetime of feeling oppressed by you colour my response to your perception of our relationship.
I remember your trying to comfort me following Dad’s death, and my pulling away from you, and suggesting in my grief that I would be just fine and that your attention and comfort would be better received by Mark, your favourite. What an utterly bitchy, mean thing for me to say to someone reaching out to care for me.
I know you understood and forgave more for it. But I also know I had a part in taking some of your shine away that day forever.
Every December 20th for 42 years, the first thing I heard was your not so great voice singing happy birthday to me either in person or over the phone line. That makes me smile and feel so loved and wanted, Mom, and always will.
In the time since 2006, I now have to purchase purses, pillows and my own underwear, which has turned out to be a colossal pain in my ass. I know that makes you laugh, as well, and I am sitting here laughing with you.
It provides me with so much comfort that you and Mark can talk daily now, as you were always so close, but makes me sad that I only have this one day in the sunshine with you.
Sitting in the sunshine here with you now, I see you raise your face up towards the sky and close your eyes, much like you did another time we were sitting together outside towards the end of your life.
I watch the worry lines fading from your face, and suddenly you are once again that sassy, beautiful young girl outside and away from the walls that surrounded you most of your life.
I reach over and take your hand in mine, put a soft kiss on your cheek, and whisper to you that in spite of the many times you doubted it, I always loved you best and realize now that I would not be where or who I am without you as my guide.