I had spent most of my 20s doing what I assume most twenty-year olds do. I was self-absorbed. I lived entirely for myself. I worked, I studied. I wandered the streets of NYC looking for myself and for someone who was going to help me make sense of it all. Amazingly, this completely inefficient process yielded success. By the end of my 20s I had found such a partner. Through it all, my mother was always just a phone call away. Whether my schedule varied or not, she would always know exactly when to call. It was as if she had lojacked me. The moment I stepped into my apartment she was there, on the other end. Tell me about your day, tell me about you.But her picture of me ended there. She knew me only as that person: as the young woman, newly married. She left in the first couple of months that I became a mother. She saw me literally enter this chapter of my life but she never knew me as a mother. She knew me as the tired, frazzled, scared, nonsensical person you often are in those first few weeks of having a newborn. You don’t become yourself again, or certainly the new version of yourself until months later. Until you’ve found your footing with parenthood, and a large cup of coffee, and the realization that you can actually do this, logistically speaking, and love your baby and love yourself and carry on a conversation and maybe even do all of three of those things at the same time.
She never saw that me. She never knew me in my 30s which, for me at least, has been entirely defined by the growth of my family. About finding my footing and me in the raising and loving of them. She never read anything I wrote. She never saw my house. She doesn’t know me now.If she were here, I think she would make me pumpkin pie on my birthday and get on the floor and play with my babies. She would remind me that my family is my home, and that a house is just a bunch of walls. She would tell me to try to live and love fully in whatever moment I am in; to not hold on to it, or to worry about losing it or obsess on the fleeting of it. It is what it is. Just be in it because it does move fast.
I think she would tell me to wear lipstick and iron my clothes more often. She would remind me that she made a lot of mistakes. That none of us are perfect. That this of course is not what it is about and that there is no value in treating someone like a saint, whether they are alive or dead. She would say she lived her life as she saw fit and that I should do the same. And that doing this at its highest level should mean letting her go. That she wasn’t big on living in the past. She would tell me there is enough happiness and problems and love to go around right here in the present so why bother looking back. Then she would tell me to pass the chocolate and Kahlua.I think she would tell me she loved me. She would tell me to keep some Kleenex on hand just in case (emergency Kleenex was very important to mom) and when I left, to call her when I got home. And even if I already know most of what she’d say, it sure would be nice to hear her voice on the other end.
And I can’t wrap this post up with a bow. Some sort of feel good ending about her looking down or what she left behind. It isn’t that I don’t necessarily think it’s so. It’s just that sometimes it’s not what you need. Sometimes what you need is a familiar voice wanting to hear about your day. Moms like hearing from their babies because their stories and struggles fill them up and give them purpose and joy. And babies, sometimes more than they realize, need a mom to share that narrative with.Staring at the phone and thinking about all this as I get ready to blow out the candles on 36. It won't ring, but I guess even big kids aren’t too old to make silly wishes on their birthday.