In a few days, it will be the 15th anniversary of my Mom’s death. I’ll be on the road, but I’m reposting this because I want to. It’s from April 30, 2012
Are you my mother?
Remember that P.D. Eastman book from when you were young? A little bird that has tumbled from his nest approaches everything in his travels, wondering if one of them is his mother. I love that book. We still have it, and it’s the copy from when I was a kid. I knew it off by heart, and the ending, with the little bird hopping back in the nest to cuddle with his actual mother was always greeted with barely contained excitement. I know my father used to wonder how I could get wound up about a book when I knew how it ended. I just always felt it was me snuggling into that nest. I was so happy for that bird.
I play a version of that game myself, now. When I least expect it, I find myself searching for my mother. When my head is pounding from a never-ending migraine, it’s in the middle of night that I want her cool, cool hand stroking my head. My sons occasionally call for me if they’re sick, and I wonder how she did it all those years. She called me the Six Million Dollar Kid, a puzzle for modern medicine from my head to my feet. She was with me through all of it, including when I handed her Christopher, her first grandson.
“You look good in yellow,” said a friend the other day. When I hear this, I want my mother. She loved me in yellow or red, drawn herself to bright colours and happy when I’d finally ditch my ever present black. When we shopped together, if I chose clothing in yellow or red, she would always pay. I thought I was getting one over on her. Silly me; she was winning the whole time.
As I tug my yard towards spring, I carefully clear around the giant bearded irises that will soon emerge in their flirty splendour. That was my mother’s name: Iris. These are her flowers, tended by my father for decades. I want my mother now, to see that I’ve helped them spread throughout the gardens in spite of my limited skill and worse luck. These beauties will dance, just like my mother did.
It sneaks up on you, this searching for your mother. When I toss a box of granola bars into my cart, I remember how she used to bake batches and batches for us, altering the recipe for her picky brood. No raisins for Gilly, chocolate chips for me, almonds for Roz. A batch would show up on my counter while I was at work. I knew that tin would also signal the arrival of whatever was on sale that week: shampoo, detergent, soup, soap. I would sometimes find a bottle of Blue Sapphire in the cabinet, the cabinet otherwise empty because she knew I couldn’t afford gin. My mother was pretty cool.
I keep a calculator going in my head, drawn to women who are the age my mother should be. Gone at age 70, it’s now been 12 years. The women are getting older, and I worry what I’ll do when they too, are gone. “Are you my mother?” I ask them silently.
We had a rocky couple of years near the end, each of us making choices the other didn’t understand. It couldn’t be mended with red dresses and blue gin, and the only thing that would have helped – time – was no longer an option. She told me what I needed to hear just before she died. I looked at my sons differently after that, and I recently caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror.
Maybe I’ve found my mother.
(I know I’ve posted this pic a bunch of times. But I love it; it’s before all us damned kids came along…)