Monday, November 19, 2012

What I Wish I Knew: The Mom Edition

My mom seeing me off to sleep away camp, circa 1983. My dad sent me this picture a few weeks ago and it was like an early Hanukkah present. I saw it and immediately burst into (happy) tears. I'd never seen it before, yet after staring at it for a few moments was able to piece together exactly when and where it was taken. Isn't memory a funny thing?

In many ways, as the years go by, it gets easier not having my mom here.

Of course I miss her. But the proverbial It is What it Is springs to mind. And thankfully, the grief is no where near as raw as it once was. With every year that passes, she gets farther and farther away. For this I feel equal parts heart broken and pragmatic.

In the old days (read: before I had children), I often pined for the things we used to do together. Now that I'm nearly forty years old, I'm not embarrassed to admit that my mother left a huge, gaping hole in my social life when she died (or at least, the social life in my mind, since we lived 3,000 apart). Of course I missed her, her very essence, but I also longed for our afternoon walks at Laurelhurst park; Saturday matinees at the art house theater, followed by chocolate chip cookies and lattes at Grand Central Baking. She was more than my mom. She was a confidante. She was almost always the first person I went to for counsel and advice (back then the "hard stuff" now seems blissfully benign: research papers, and roommate conflicts were my biggest concerns back in 1999.)

As delightful as a Saturday matinee sounds right about now, I have found myself missing something else about my mom lately.

Her wisdom. And her experience as a mom.

Of course, it's easy to romanticize it all. If she were here and I went to her with a question or seeking advice about one of the babies or the kids, surely we'd be in full agreement and she'd say just the right thing! Because we all know that adult daughter/mother relationships are never complicated or fraught in any way.


I just have so many questions. There were so many things I never asked her, because at 27 years old? Having children seemed a lifetime away, if not improbable all together.

My longing for her ebbs and flows. I can go weeks-months even, without thinking of her much at all. I mean of course I think of her, but they are mere flashes of memory. Or I'll see a movie or book and think, She would love this. And then other times, at little mundane moments, pulling sweatpants up on a chunky thigh, wiping a baby's little heart shaped mouth, reading a book that I loved as a child (Corduroy--which Ellie recently announced she "doesn't like anymore"), downloading a photo sent by Leo's teacher of him proudly holding an "A" spelling test--these are the moments I get a little stabby feeling in my throat. She's gone. She missed out. On all of this. And she's never coming back. And it's so unfair that it's almost unbelievable. Strike that. It is unbelievable.

Lately I think she's been on the forefront of my mind because Ellie and I have been...having some disagreements.


In addition to Ellie's kindergarten portrait, the Thanksgiving projects started rolling in last week. And it's official. This year, Ellie is "Thankful for herself."

God bless her, really. If you knew Ellie, you would understand that this statement truly does summarize her, at age five. She is a little force, that one.

She also rolls her eyes at me. Often. She grows impatient with my inability to get her chocolate snack biscuits RIGHT NOW (and, unintentionally, feeds on all of my guilt over the babies and feeling like I can't ever pay enough attention to anyone, that invariably someone needs something they're not getting...sigh). She commands me to "Stop talking!" when I explain to her why we can't do something right at that moment. (An example: Why can't we go to the birthday party now? Hmm...well, because it doesn't start for another six hours?) I know! I'm such a stickler!

She asks mind-numbing questions like "Why do I have to get dressed for school?" And when I calmly and quietly begin to explain why she roars "I know! I know! Don't tell me to do it!"

Part of me wants to strangle Ellie. And part of me wants to slam the door on her, hide in the bathroom and call my mom and ask her: Was I like this (secretly I am pretty sure of the answer)? OK I know I was no peach as a teenager, that I remember, but five years old and already with the attitude?

Of course, Ellie can also be incredibly sweet and kind and loving. She draws hearts with the word "Mom" in the middle and stuffs them in my pockets. She can never get enough about snuggles and can't understand why she can't sleep in our bed every night like she did when we were without power for ten days after Hurricane Sandy. Sometimes I catch her gazing across the kitchen table at "her babies" with more affection and love than I would have ever thought possible (though she did confess to me the other night in the midst of a particularly vocal tandem crying jag "It's hard having babies...but I love them." Well there's one thing she and I are in full agreement of).
Happy to see Mommy at pick-up.
Happy and surprised to see Mommy at a recent school pick-up.

Why does any of this matter? Why do I care what my mom would say? Who knows if she would have anything to say that would help. Hell, maybe I just want commiseration. Oh Mom. You wouldn't believe what Ellie did this time. She would probably get some amount of satisfaction knowing that what goes around comes around-moms of snarky little girls unite!

After Leo was born, I was pleasantly surprised by how whole I felt, once again, for the first time since my mother died. Somehow, becoming a mother myself made me feel complete, awash in a glow of purpose and strength, feelings I hadn't had in years. And with every baby, more fulfillment, though always tinged with disbelief: She isn't here to see them, to share this, to share them, with me. But it seemed that looking into their little blue eyes (yes, three out of four kids have blue eyes, just like my mom and unlike me) grounded me. Gave me purpose and forced me, to be brutally honest, to think of someone other than myself.

I walk solidly, mostly confidently with this band of little people, this family I have that surprises me almost every single day. Becoming a mother of so many has made me more decisive, less wish-washy, less prone to grief and regret than I was as a twenty-something in mourning. But all of this will never keep me from wondering, what could have been.



Crittle said...

The picture of you and your mom is divine. I wish I had some words of wisdom on dealing with Ellie's phase.

Rog said...

That last picture in the post of your fiercely
individualistic, confident daughter says something way beyond words about who she is and will become.
I just hope I'm around to see her mature. It will be something. Reading your words I felt deeply the connection between the three of you:
you and your mom and the granddaughter she never got to know. Poignant, amazing post. Thank you!

geraldine Wendt said...

Maya, your Mother knew what your personality and your capabilities were when you were together all those years. Other than reading about being a mother, she was your example and teacher of what a mother should be. Mothers are not perfect. We all make mistakes, but do the best we can. From what I have seen, you and Erin have your priorities in order, are setting examples for all your children as great hard-working mothers and have always put them first in your lives. Ellie will learn from you like you learned from your Mother. Just like your personality was shaped by your Mother, Ellie's personality will be shaped by you. All of the pictures are just beautiful.

Cate said...

I have so many thoughts but I am in too much shock. Doesn't like Corduroy???

Jody said...

What a great post....Ellie's confidence shines thru in all these pictures....just be persistent in your role as mom - the "meaner the better" sounds awful but you HAVE to set tone for the whole gang....the kids will all respect you in the end..

Jillian said...

1) I have to stop reading your posts at work - the tears are getting hard to explain to co-workers
2) You are such an amazing, eloquent and gifted writer - when are you turning this blog into a memoir (complete with photos!)
3) I am glad that I don't have the only eye rolling, strong willed, opinionated 5 yr old (and yes, I believe this is some sort of divine payback!) – Can’t wait to get them together <3