Monday, May 22, 2023
Do you know what today isn’t?
Want to guess what word I saved to use on Mother’s Day and then 100% forgot like there was never any such word?
Don’t make me say it.
The good news is that I didn’t forget actual Mother’s Day. I didn’t send a card, because that’s a bridge too far and besides, if I did, my mother would probably faint from shock. It would not be a nice thing to do to her on Mother’s Day so I don’t send cards for that reason.
I did, however, send a gift. Two weeks early so I wouldn’t forget.
The other good news is that there is no need for a specific day to celebrate mothers, mine in particular. So I’m going to do that today, in snippets, in stories, in words that are inadequate to tell you who she is and not remotely up to the task of expressing what she means to me.
Here is what I am not going to say: I am not going to say that my mother is my best friend. She is my mother.
I feel like the best friend thing says more about a mother’s inability to mother than it does about a close relationship. Sorry, people whose mothers are their best friends.
My mother doesn’t make me feel like a child, but she does make me feel like her child, with all the care that implies. She is the person I can count on to tell me everything will be ok, and make me believe it with a cup of tea.
She is the person I can count on to be there to love and help and protect me, and burn down forests for me and roar at the universe in defense of me and pull her claws out to save me whenever I need it. Forever. Unconditionally.
Being best friends with someone implies that you are equals. My mother and I are not equals. She is bigger and more than I will ever be.
Being best friends implies you share and share alike, your woes, your successes, your cake. My mother takes all of my woes, rejoices in all my successes and always give me the biggest slice of cake. It’s impossible to let her do otherwise.
I don’t need to share all my woes with my mother to feel better simply by talking to her. A day can be full of irritations and whoops-we-encountered-an-error and dead mint plants and other angsty things, but a few minutes talking about our latest bread recipes or how much pepper should really go into meatballs is enough to bring everything back to center.
My mother, in case you haven’t figured it out by now, is a magical unicorn.
It wasn’t always that way. There was a period when I was around 17, 18, when she was pretty annoying. She was kind of half-witted, and got everything wrong about being a teenage girl in the 80s. I don’t know what happened to her or why she devolved, but the good news is that it passed fairly quickly and within a year or two she regained her sense and was wise and benevolent again.
I’d actually like to think of some way in which my mother drove me crazy, but sadly she was always just so… saintly. I mean, she did deal with me and my buzzing gnats, every time the universe put a ding in my day and the swarms enveloped me and half the people around me.
To say she was patient is like saying she breathes air. Who else but my mother could sit at the kitchen table with me and count out pennies to demonstrate how if you have two, and take one away, you’re left with one? Over. And over. And over. Because my feeble math brain could never conceptualize the absence of a penny.
Who else but my mother could host cookie baking days with twothreefourfivesix of us with one rolling pin? Not just once, but every holiday, year after year, from the first memory I have of baking cookies right through… well, Easter this year?
Who else but my mother could tolerate clothes shopping with me and still go out to do it again? Every pair of jeans that didn’t fit, every dress with a stupid tie in the back, every shirt that was too low or too sheer or too something, every complaint and gripe and frown and black cloud that permeated the very essence of my existence when we went clothes shopping… and never once told me to get over it or grow up or deal with it or so much as rolled her eyes.
I adore and admire my mother, but as much as I may try I can not be her. A pencil rolling off my desk sends me into a rage of injustice, can you imagine me trying to deal with someone like me?
We do have a lot in common though. We both get lost in closets and forget why we went in there in the first place. Neither of us understands why people have to take up a whole aisle in the supermarket or what happened to the price of butter. And if there’s a seashell, we have to pick it up and put it in our pockets.
When I was bullied in school, my mother showed up at the principal’s office and had stern words. When there were class trips my mother showed up to chaperone them. When I wanted to tour colleges, she visited every one with me. When I went away to college she cried.
That’s not to say she thought I could do no wrong. I did plenty wrong. I was sent to my room as a kid, chastised as a teenager, corrected as a young adult. My mother mothered.
She did not criticize, yell or demand. She taught, she set an example for who we could be, and she let us be who we were.
She taught me how to say please and thank you, and the proper way to answer a phone. Whenever I called my father at work, she made sure I said Hello, this is Carol Lynn calling, may I please speak to Matthew?
She enforced the “may I please be excused” rule and rotated chores so one of us had to dust the furniture and another set the table.
She made us clean our rooms.
She also always finds me the best earrings and periodically fills my mailbox with chocolate bars and ginger candy and occasionally a hand-knit scarf for Hello Kitty.
Whenever I visit, she cooks and feeds me like I’ve been living in a third world country and always has a stash of my favorite tea and honey.
I think the word for that is spoils. She spoils the ever loving heck out of me. It’s why to this day, on the worst of days, I can still find myself thinking I want my mommy, even though I’m theoretically grown up and self-sufficient and in a pinch even have a husband.
Random thing I remember: one Halloween when we went out looking for a pumpkin a bit too late. There were still pumpkins, but they weren’t perfectly round with just the right amount of stem. And if there is one thing that we needed as kids, it was a perfectly round pumpkin with just the right amount of stem.
Not a lopsided pumpkin. Not an oval pumpkin. Not a pumpkin with a green spot or a rough patch.
We lamented this lack of a perfect pumpkin so grievously that my mother drove to every nursery in every neighboring town on the hunt for this perfect pumpkin.
We joke now about the Halloween we had a brush with The Year Without A Pumpkin, but I occasionally wonder if “crazy” is a synonym for “patient,” at least when it came to dealing with horribly spoiled, ungrateful children.
We couldn’t possibly have been appropriately grateful for her perseverance that year. Only in our adult years do we look back and feel mortified and call it gratitude.
I have the first letter my mother ever wrote me. I was four.
She wrote me a letter in her lovely Catholic school cursive telling me that I was going to be a good big sister to my new baby brother.
I also have a collection of letters in a box that she wrote me all through college, and every note she sent me since I’ve been married, even the one-sentence ones on a sticky note left on a table or refrigerator.
Do you know what I don’t do with my mother? Video chat. Ralph asks me all the time why I don’t video chat, so we can see each other, since we now live 900 miles apart and don’t get together as often as I’d like.
The answer is… it’s just not what we do. She’s usually putting the chicken in the oven or I’m folding clothes or she’s coming home from the grocery store or I’m taking a walk and we spend an hour on the phone yapping away like teenagers who haven’t talked in five minutes. I suppose we could sit down in a chair and look at each other through a screen, but talking on the phone while continuing whatever it is we were doing, which preferably does not include falling out of an attic or slicing one’s hand off on a mandoline, somehow makes it feel like we’re just living life together.
Favorite time spent with my mother: having a glass of wine – or, let’s be real, a bottle – at night after everyone else has gone to bed, and sitting around talking about everything great and awful and fun and not fun and serious and hilarious.
The hard part about trying to describe my mother and my relationship with her is that I’m doing it on a Monday night with no practice. I haven’t sat down to make notes or come up with memories or thought about what I might want to say. So inevitably I’m going to think of something I missed.
It will probably be about food.
My mother and I love to talk about food, almost as much as we love to eat it. From age 15 until I got married and moved out, we were always on some sort of diet together, doctoring up recipes to leave out the butter and use applesauce instead of oil and cut calories and add flavor.
Through all of high school I’d come home after class and we’d have a snack together, usually a diet Coke and whatever we figured was healthy at the time. Maybe low fat string cheese. Or a Snackwell.
When I taught kindergarten, I’d leave school during my lunch hour and go home to have lunch with her.
We even joined a gym once and went to aerobics classes together.
My mother and I have the same metabolism genes. That means we talk about bread a lot, but we also spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out how to get the strawberry muffins to taste good even without the sugar.
My mother makes the best eggplant parmesan I’ve ever eaten, and I don’t even bother trying to make it for myself because it just isn’t going to be the same. So when she makes it for me, she makes an extra pan and freezes it so I can take it home and hoard it and be very happy that Ralph doesn’t like eggplant.
Her eggplant is so good that I’ve forgiven her for making me eat the shoe-leather pork chops that I chewed for about 20 straight minutes as a kid before she would let me leave the table.
Many words have been written in an attempt to capture a hint of my mother. I hope I’ve been at least marginally successful. And if I remember something brilliant in the middle of the night, I can always find another way to write about it tomorrow.
To say I’m lucky to have the mother that I do ignores the miracle that she exists in the first place. So I’m going to leave these few words here and hope all the ones that fail me are written in the spaces between.
Photo top: me and mom. The poster probably gives you an idea of the date. People always say I look like my mom, and that makes me happy. In the background, some blankets and a scarf she made for Kitty.
Photo bottom: me and mom sometime in the past decade-ish.