My mom was ill for much of my childhood and died two months before I turned 17. Though she’d tried to prepare me for life without her, her death shattered me into a pile of broken bits. If you’d have asked then, I’d have said there’d be no putting me back together. In the days immediately following her transition, I looked at my life and saw only what wasn’t.
In time, though, I allowed myself to be mended. If you look closely, you can see the seams. They’re pale and smooth where they once were red-rimmed and jagged, but they’ve never fully faded away. I doubt they will. I’m okay with that; to be honest, I find them rather lovely. The scarred spots are proof of living—of both hurting and healing. They’re made of long car rides, midnight kisses, squiggly newborns, baby smiles, chubby fistfuls of dandelions, games of hopscotch, pans of bread pudding, snorty laughter, and freshly fallen snow. No gaping wounds remain.
As I healed, I started to see beyond what wasn’t and began to reopen the gifts she’d given me. They’d been with me all along, of course, but it took a willingness on my part to acknowledge their existence before they manifested into the treasures they are.
Life is too short (and too long) to spend it fighting. Acutely aware of the time crunch, neither of us engaged in the tug-of-war common between parents and their kids. I felt no desire to dish out teenage bullshit and my mom not only allowed, but encouraged my desire to choose my own path.
Good enough is plenty good. I’m prone to holding myself to a higher standard than I would expect of anyone else and then beating myself up for falling short. I’ve never managed to achieve perfection in any area, but it sure wasn’t for lack of trying. Only in recent years have I come to terms with the notion that my house needn’t be completely dust-free, my bed can remain unmade, and the size tag on my jeans doesn’t say a damn thing about my value. My mom happily let dirty dishes wait while we built snowmen, played word games, or painted pictures. Thank goodness. I’d hate to look back and remember a spotless house filled only with busy little worker bees.
You totally can. There was no such thing as impossible in the house where I grew up. If you wanted to have it, do it, or be it, my mom was there to cheer you on.
Enjoy the ride. My mom was inclined to judge the value of an activity on its ability to bring joy. On rainy days, she’d move the furniture out of the way and we’d roller skate in the dining room. The surest way to suck the fun out of life is to turn it into line-lists of tasks, and though it took me a while to learn to really stay present, I’m so much happier for following her lead.
Spend wisely. She was generous with her money, but my mom spent only on what she considered valuable. The worth of items was never based on their resale value or their ability to keep up with the Joneses, but on how much pleasure they’d bring. My living room couches are in terrible shape, but I always have a tall stack of books and a container (or three) of ice cream in the freezer. I’m good with that.
Love with abandon. My mom loved with such depth that I carry it (and her) with me to this day. Beautiful.
Words are beautiful things. Okay, I might have been a word nerd with or without my mom’s influence, but her love of the written word is a gift for which I’ve always been grateful. She also passed along this giant forehead, oversized chin, and the gap between my front teeth, but I like the word thing more.
Age is just a number. When she was 49, my mom got a Camaro. Ragtop, SS, and totally badass. My friends’ mothers drove station wagons, and never over the speed limit. My mom drag raced with teenagers and the local cops.
Make your own rules. It wasn’t just the drag racing thing. My mom ran her life her way. I started kindergarten knowing how to read, which didn’t sit well with educators in the ’60s, who made it clear to her and other renegade parents that they believed teaching kids should be left to professionals. Her take on it? My kid, my way. They also didn’t like it when she’d show up at school midday and sign me out of class so we could picnic in the park. Again, a shrug. She didn’t concern herself with what other people thought of her. Her life, her call.
Celebrate your tribe. Not everyone will love you. Some won’t even like you. Some will and then will change their minds. That’s okay. There will be those who will love you for exactly who you are. Embrace those people and hold them close. When my mom died, she was deeply mourned by family, her women friends who were my honorary aunties, her drag racing cop buddies, and even by my friends. All of those people had been part of her heart and they knew it. She allowed people to walk away when they wanted to and didn’t fault them for it, knowing they simply weren’t part of her tribe. But for those who were, her life was a celebration of connectedness.
Feed the fire in your belly. I remember my mom expressing her disdain for mediocrity. At the time, my little worrier self took it to mean that it was okay to excel at something, but not okay to fall short of excellence. In retrospect, I realize two things: 1) My interpretation of her words reflected my own perfectionist tendencies—she suffered no such foolishness. 2) Mediocrity, in my mother’s view, was the practice of being purposefully bland so as not to upset anyone’s comfortable little world. She was a lot of things, but bland wasn’t one of them.
It doesn’t end here. When I was in my mid-forties, my hormones went completely apeshit. I’d anticipated a pretty seamless midlife transition, but instead I found myself on a nasty bitch of a roller coaster that just wouldn’t let up. I was a physical and emotional wreck. At the worst point, I was pretty sure the transition was going to kill me, but only after dragging me down into the depths of madness. Then one night when I was at my lowest point, my mom came to me as I slept. I knew then and believe still that it was a visit, not a dream. She did what good mothers do when their children are hurting. She sat with me, held my hand, and comforted me. She showed me, through words and visuals, that she had suffered similarly. She assured me I would neither go mad nor die, and that once I’d walked through it, I’d be better, stronger, and more fully myself than I’d ever been before. I woke in tears, relieved and refilled. Her visit not only gave me the strength to push forward, but confirmed what I’d always believed: She is with me still and it doesn’t end here.
I was truly blessed in the mom department. My hope is that you too have someone who has lovingly tended you. I know that’s not always the case and for those of you who didn’t start out with anyone in your corner, I’m happy to share my mom. She loved large enough for all of us.
~*~ Today’s first image courtesy of pixabay ~ free and fabulous. ~*~