I keep thinking about a writing prompt I read recently. It was actually a call for writers to write about what their mother taught them. Oh, a loaded question, right? Because the prompt had those funny ideas that aren’t really funny. Such as, did your mom teach you to mix a perfect cocktail? Let’s laugh at this thing that might hide something dark and scary.
So I didn’t take the writer’s prompt that day and write. No, but I thought about it. And today I read Momastery’s beautiful blog about her own mother. And I remember Karen Mazen Miller’s blog post about motherhood. She talks about how we like to blame our parents, that we all lacked something in our childhood. And then we have our own children. We hold that first child in our arms and we think, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, my parents felt this way about me?”
At least that is what I thought about when I held my dear Caroline in my arms days after her birth. The world was all her; the world became all about her in those long days after I was lucky enough to give birth. That feeling has never changed. My world is about my two girls, and that world encircles my husband.
But it always circles out, right? Last night I threw a party for my husband Chris’ 47th birthday. His mom arrived early, right when I was flustered about getting everything ready for all my guests. I didn’t know how to fold her into my home, and then I remembered that she loves Chris. She wants to prep food for her son’s birthday. I set her to work. She feels about Chris the way I feel about my girls. Welcome to my home.
She asked me, “Is this how you want it cut?”
I turned to look and there was this beautiful slice of watermelon, with the deep red lining up against the white part that butts up against the green exterior. “Yes! Wow! You cut watermelon so well.”
Later, I tasted that watermelon and exclaimed it was the best watermelon I had ever tasted.
“It’s because of how I cut it!” said Grandma Johanne and she laughed.
How far I have come that I can see how much she loves my husband. Later I drove her home. We pulled up to her apartment only to discover she had dropped her keys on my street before we drove home. She felt bad but I didn’t. We stood in the cold, dark evening air and I felt the breeze on me and I thought about her own husband, now dead since my second was a baby (10 years), and how he would want me to stand right there and tell her I didn’t mind that Chris had to come bring her the apartment keys while I waited with her. The one thing my father-in-law taught me very well is how to ask someone else how they are and then to listen. So I stood there and thought of him and listened to my mother-in-law while we waited for my husband.
This is what I think of when I think of what my mother taught me. My mother taught me what my daughter taught me as she laid in my arms on those very first days of her life. This is what it means to love someone without limits. The conditions we have for the rest of the world fall away. My kids can yell at me. They can be mean to each other. They can lie to their friends. They can wreck the car. And I get to love them.
They picked me to love them. The sheer awesomeness of this is staggering. And it brings me to why I love my mom. A friend asked me once, “What were the best parts of your childhood?”
His question stopped me in my tracks. So often I want to tell people about the hard parts of my childhood. This of course includes all those things the writer prompt was asking for when it said, “Did your mother teach you to mix a perfect cocktail?”
My mom taught me to sit by the window and stare out at the darkness and try to be quiet while your mind races with worry and to-do’s. I see her by the window and I hear myself ask, “Why are you sitting here alone in the dark?”
Last night I couldn’t sleep with all the worry and the to-do’s racing around my head. So I climbed out of bed and somehow ended up laying on my kitchen floor. The red marmoleum felt just right: cool and calm as it supported my entire body. I stretched out my tight muscles. I thought about how my girls ask me for everything and I get tired of giving to them all that I am.
My mom gave to me all that she is. What were the best parts of my childhood? That time I threw a complete fit during my deep, dark senior year depression and I threw the shampoo bottle against the wall and then collapsed in tears at the bottom of the stairs. Because then my mom held me and cried with me and told me she totally understood. And I knew she did and it made all the difference in the world to me. She is exactly who I need her to be: my mom.
As Mother’s Day rolls around, here’s the answer to the writing prompt that asked what my mother taught me. My mom taught me it’s OK to lie on your kitchen floor in the middle of the night and think about how hard it is to love your children so much. Because after that thought, the love rushes in, and you think, yup, lucky me. I get to love those girls with my whole heart, my entire body, all of my essence. What more could a girl ask for?