This Mother's Day, I feel a lot of extra love to the women in my life who are the mothers who came before. My mom was with me through my early diagnosis with Jude. She came to Athens to first distract me, then sit me with through my amniocentesis and finally to be there when we got the news. I know she was scared but she was also unfailingly positive. She immediately bought books and threw herself into research. My grandmother reassured me that Jude would be welcomed into a family who would love her not matter what, and I know she was praying for us. My mother-in-law never even blinked an eye when we told her that Jude had Down syndrome, and two days later when she was holding Jude, she held her like she held all of our babies. She shared stories of people she knew with Down syndrome, and like my mom brought light into a situation some people would have brought mourning into. Each of these women have given me gifts of mothering, and I want to use today to honor those gifts as a way to say "Thank you for paving the path."
The Gift of Stories
When I reach back into the past, my memories can always conjure an image of my mother reading. She always had a book in hand whether we were hanging out in the living room or at the lake swimming. We always joked that once Mom was in a book you'd never be able to reach her. We'd chant "Mom, Mom, MOM, MOM, MOM!!!" And when she finally looked up, "What?" we'd all dissolve into laughter. Even now, my mom always has a "book" in hand...these days it's usually on her Ipad but she still gets lost in those worlds.
My teenage years were angsty which is a nice way to say rough. I look back over those years as a time when I seemed to have lost my mind a bit. The decisions I made were painfully poor and lead me into bad places. They were filled with chaos and self injury. The fact, I survived them still kind of floors me. My poor mom tried so hard to reach me, and to reach out to me, but I had walled myself away from her. I did not spend much time with family during those years. But I would sometimes curl up on my mom's bed while she read to Adam, my youngest brother. Even with the alienation I felt from them, I still remember feeling soothed as we all piled onto my mom's bad and listened to her read The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. My mom always read to us, and she was an excellent reader. She could read a book and quickly captivate you with the story. When you're a teenager in pain sometimes the best way out is through escape, and I didn't always make the best choices in how I choose to escape but listening to my mom weave worlds was one of the best choices.
Today this gift is found in more ways than just reading books. I am convinced that my love of stories, narratives, and writing comes from my mother. This gift informs not just my writing here but my academic life because my mom taught me the importance of narratives. And when I read to the beasties, I remember those nights sprawled on my mom's bad soothed by far away fantasy worlds where evil took the tangible form of a Snow Queen defeated by a lion and four children.
The Gift of Magic
I don't know how old I was when my grandmother lived in the pink house. The house was a tiny ranch style across the road from the Kennebec River. I spent many nights there torturing my teenage aunts whom I adored, sleeping with my grandmother while she told me the "Ink spot" stories, helping her to make lunches in the little kitchen. My grandmother had the ability to turn everything into an incredible imaginary game. Washing my hair was a trip to the beauty parlor. Preparing lunch was working in a diner, and I got to be the waitress delivering the food. Bed time was spent preparing for the "Ink spot" stories where my grandmother created a wonderful tale of a tiny family, as small as ink spots, who went on incredible adventures.
One night during one my sleep overs, it snowed, heavily. I woke up snuggled against my grandmother to the deep silence that comes when the land is buried beneath a cold wet snow. My grandmother and I both got up quickly and went to the window to watch the snow fall in fat slow drops upon an already carpeted ground. Thoughts of breakfast were quickly erased with some intense snow playing plans. I was quickly bundled up in a snowsuit, hat, mittens and scarf. My grandmother had to put my boots as I couldn't bend over. I could barely walk. Once outside, I rolled around and fell into snow piles. I made snow balls, and a snow man. I played until I was exhausted and my face was red, chaffed from the cold wind.
My grandmother called to me from the door, "Gingy bring in some snow! I have a surprise!"
I quickly gathered up a big handful of snow and ran to her. She held out her black frying pan, and I dropped the snow into it. "Pack in there tight." she instructed. I patted the snow down as hard as I could. Then she ordered me to stand by the door while my aunts undressed me. I could smell the sweet heavy scent of maple syrup coming from the stove and I was eager to get to the kitchen to see what magic my grandmother was planning.
She pulled up a chair for me at the counter, and I quickly climbed up. Carefully taking a pan of boiling maple syrup off the burner, she walked over and handed me a spoon.
"Carefully get some syrup on the spoon and then drop it on the snow." she said.
I did as she instructed and watched the syrup harden into a hard piece of maple candy. Once again, my grandmother created magic from the ordinary. I think of that candy every time, I create with my children. That memory of how magic comes from the simple things is important when I go about the day to day with my beasties. Magic comes in the simplest of ways not always in the most elaborate of spectacles.
The Gift of Letting Go and Being There
Horacio and I got married pretty quickly. I was pregnant, and starting to get worried that H wouldn't be able to stay. Getting married was the easiest way to get us the visa we needed. And of course we were in love. But we needed to do this quickly so we planned a very simple ceremony. I bought a blue velvet dress from JC Penny. H invited his friend from Connecticut to stand with him. We found out his brother had a conference on the East Coast and would be able to come and see us after the wedding. But I was still sad that H's parents couldn't be there. I knew H wanted them there but with the short notice (we planned this all in about two weeks), it was unlikely they could attend. H didn't say anything but I knew he was a little bummed. He was very close to his family despite them all being scattered about the globe (sister in France, brother in California and parents in Mexico City).
Two days before the wedding, I got a call from H's dad. He had memorized enough English to tell me that his wife was flying into Portland tomorrow evening at 6pm. H, my roommates, and I were all running about making plans to pick her up, getting her a place to stay (she stayed in H's neglected dorm room), and just generally being excited to entertain this "foreign" visitor.
And poor Pilar arrived during one of the coldest times of the year. She embraced me like a daughter, this woman who was marrying her son and carrying her first grandchild, a woman who was a stranger and did not even speak her language. She cried quietly while he got married and held onto us warmly afterwards. She told me that I was her daughter. She suffered through a Maine blizzard, puzzled I think as to why anyone would live in this hostile environment. And she went home.
I often think how hard it must be for her to live so far away from her son and grandchildren. She visits us of course but it's not the same as having your child there. And it's not just H who lives away. Her daughter lives in France and for a while her other son lived in the US. One would think this distance would hurt her relationship with her children but it doesn't seem to. She is very close to her kids no matter how far away they might be. She calls us, video conferences with us, and visits (much to her grand children's delight as this means yummy Mexican food and tons of spoiling).
Pilar has shown me the hard gift of letting your children go. It is hard to imagine this sometimes but as my children get older and push me away a little bit each day, I am reminded that sometimes our children have to be cut free to live their own dreams. And no doubt that flying away is painful and a little heart breaking. But Pilar has let her children go with grace and love. She has opened her arms to free them but also to welcome them home.
Happy Mother's Day to you three ladies who have passed on gifts that inform my everyday mothering. I am grateful to you for giving me these lovely things to pass to the beasties. Thank you for loving me and loving them.