Mother’s Day is coming up. Driving home Thursday, I sighed with relief that my sister Candice had saved my ass on the mama-appreciation front, hunting down the leather flower-adorned sandals in Anchorage that I hadn’t found in Seattle or online in time to give to my mom before she left on a trip. Mom won’t be back till after Mother’s Day.
As I arrived home, I found on my doorstep a brightly-wrapped package: a Mother’s Day gift for me. 10 days early. From none other than my mother. Profoundly generous, endlessly energetic, as intelligent as she is sassy, my mom is an inspiration and a friend to me. Of course, through my teen years and early twenties, we had our differences, but I have always loved and nearly always enjoyed my mama. But only in the past four years, as I have become a mother myself, have I begun to truly understand the depth of her love for me.
Each year, Mother’s Day reminds me to cherish her and to thank my lucky stars that she’s only 19 years older than I, so we’ll likely get to spend many many more years together on this planet. I came inside after finding that package she’d so thoughtfully sent, and I did my best to express my love.
I’d seen a message going around – unattributed – on Facebook a few days earlier: “a letter to a daughter” from an aging mother, asking the daughter to be patient and kind as the mother became – perhaps – slow, difficult, and dependent. Maybe turnabout is fair play, y’know… Considering. I expanded upon the inspiration of that message and wrote the following to my mom:
As you get old, mama, I promise you I’ll do my very best to be patient. I will try to understand what you’re going through. If, when we talk, you repeat the same thing over and over, I won’t interrupt you to say, “You just said that a minute ago!” I’ll just listen to you. I’ll remember the times when I was little and you read me the same story over and over. Or answered endless questions. Or helped me think of word families. Or asked me 10,000 times to pick up my toys. I’ll give back a little of the patience you’ve poured so abundantly into me.
When you don’t want to take a bath, I won’t get mad or shame you. I’ll remember all the times I didn’t want to take a bath or brush my teeth or sit still while you made my hair pretty, and how you devoted the patience and love and energy to make sure I was clean and well-dressed and well-groomed and healthy. I’ll give back a little of the love you’ve poured so abundantly into me.
If you’re challenged by technology or logistics, I won’t get frustrated with you; I’ll teach you or help you find a simpler way that works for you. I will remember all the years you spent patiently teaching me to do things (things I didn’t always want to learn to do – like tying my shoes). I’ll remember how “incompetent” I started out, and how much your love helped me grow into a capable, confident woman. I’ll give back a little of the teaching you’ve relentlessly poured so abundantly into me.
If your walking pace slows down… if ever I am able to outshop you (can’t imagine it!) or you grow tired or you need me to do things for you that I might wish you could do for yourself, I promise to be energetic and enthusiastic in moving at your pace or helping you. I’ll remember how you used to dress me and THEN wake me up… until, like, fourth grade! And the homework you used to help me with (till I had the best project in the class!) so tirelessly and enthusiastically. I’ll remember the way you read my papers all the way through school (including my MA) and how you’re still so generously willing to edit anything I want you to read. I’ll remember all the wonderful parties you made for me – from 1st grade with ice skating to my magnificent wedding, to Cooper’s Big Fat T-Rex Birthday. I’ll give back a little of the enthusiasm you’ve poured so abundantly into me.
If you’re grumpy or in pain, I won’t be mad at you for not being cheerful. I’ll remember how resilient you were in the face of all my demands, whims, and pecadillos. From insolence and moodiness to spandex track pants (that you generously made me by the dozens) to tight jeans and big hair to “I don’t eat beef” to “I don’t eat damn near anything,” to “I drank your vodka and took pills to a party with my delinquent friend,” you rolled with the many punches. I’ll try to emulate a little of the resilience you’ve poured so abundantly into me.
Right now, mom, you are so full of life and vigor and creativity and generosity and mobility and intelligence and spunk, I can’t imagine a world in which you will get old. But if the rest of human history can stack up to Hurricane Patsy (and it may well be unable to!), you will, in fact, one day show signs of aging beyond the few gray hairs that have been your only concessions to date. And if that day comes, I will trust that it has come because, at last, I am full. All the patience, love, teaching, and resilience you’ve shown in being my mother will be ready to be poured back into “daughtering” you.
Who I am as a mother already – the care, patience, love, teaching, enthusiasm, and resilience I can show my children – is because of who you have been for me. And I know that your generosity on all levels with me has been for its own sake. Still, it makes me proud to know that for as long as we both shall live, you’ve given me the qualities I’ll need to take as good care of you as you STILL take of me, today. You may not know what to do when the time comes that you need to receive more than you give (it’ll probably piss you off all to hell), but in a way, I look forward to it.
‘Cause, see – and I write this with tears flowing down my cheeks – until that day, there’s no way for me to show you how much I love you. How grateful I am to you. How much you inspire me. How much kindness and generosity and creativity and patience YOU deserve.
So although I seldom get my shit together to send you a card on time or a gift or a thank you note and it seems what I want to do for you can never stack up to all you do for me (including the Mother’s Day gift I found on my doorstep today (SOMEBODY’S got their shit together!)… I trust my day is coming. Please don’t think me morbid for thinking that way. Just take comfort in knowing that I love you today, and I deeply appreciate all the ways you take care of me still, and you will always be loved and taken care of, no matter what.
Pinching myself and thanking my lucky stars that YOU, of all the mommies on the planet, are MY mom, I love you. I love you. I love you.
I post this today to Roots of She, because we as women are all daughters of women. And whether your mom has shown you the care mine has shown me or not, I have no doubt there is some woman in your life whose devotion, example, and energy have helped you become who and where you are today.
May we use Mother’s Day as an opportunity to stand in solidarity with those women who lift us up, and may we resolve to repay the strength they give us… either back to them as they need tender care, or forward to the women whose ascent needs our inspiration and mentoring.
Much love to you and the women who have loved you into being.