The thing is – the older I get, the younger my mother looks. Not in the physical way, but in the life experience way. My entire vision of my mother is a reflection of her grief at an age that is now younger than me.
My mom likes to sit at the dining room table after she made the morning coffee and work on puzzles. Anagrams, crosswords, or now silly Ipad games that have no end. She wears silk pajamas to bed. On many mornings, she’ll wear her pajamas until 10a, doing her puzzles and reading the local paper. She will cut out things for me – even now, 15 years later – an obituary of someone I might have known, an article about something I might be interested in. She’ll send the clippings in the mail, or stack them up in my old bedroom so that I can find them when I visit.
She has off-the-wall sayings that I assumed were very common for a long time – like “don’t call the kettle black” and “what’s good for the goose..” She prides herself on not taking sh*t from anyone, for always speaking her mind, for never ever once parking in a handicapped spot, and for finding the best deal on lasagna noodles.
Physically, i’ve never known anyone to have the figure my mother does. In some ways, we look alike. But in silhouette, only our legs would show that we are related. Her chest is distractingly large, gigantic, over the top, a triple D. When people make jokes about your momma having boobs so big that… * I always thought that mothers must look like this, but I think my mom is special.
Especially when I was small, she liked to collect things. She’d write to famous people asking for a signed picture, and they would send a signed picture in the mail. She collected Hummels, making it easy to know what she wanted for Christmas. They went with the book, supposedly showing their current value, like a baseball card. She had hundreds of ornaments on the tree, and Christmas was an ordeal for everyone. My mother started shopping before Thanksgiving long before Christmas music started in October. The refrigerator was always full of magnets, so that you had to be careful when you opened the door.
She wanted to go to China. That was the mission. Now, when she has the means to go to China, this isn’t really where she wants to go, she says. But when I was young, she would always talk about the Orient. Now, living half way to the Orient, it seems a little funny. But this was her way. She liked to talk about it. With the freedom of retirement, she won’t travel too far because she doesn’t like to leave my father, and can’t imagine going to Europe (except on a cruise).
She smoked cigarettes for a long time, and I remember her picking us up from school in the white Previa with the window down so she could smoke. One day she quit cold turkey. She still drinks a lot of diet soda, and I’ve never seen her exercise. Besides the cup of coffee (only one), she’ll eat very little throughout the day. A back injury in her 40s left her in a lot of pain. Her ailments are always serious and incurable. She suffers from psoriasis, which is frustrating and painful.
If you want to argue, you can talk about how doing laundry is not real work. That always causes an argument. Because she did go to nursing school at the community college, but just graduated when she was very pregnant with me at 26. And she does volunteer as an EMT in the town ambulance corps (but would never consider getting paid for it). She watches shows on TV about medical mysteries and women who have traumatizing labor on television. My younger self remember a lot of resentment, and to this day, my mother isn’t all that good with children.
My mother cries easily. Sometimes, it is for very good reasons. Sometimes, not so much. The Great Sadness in her life was three-fold. First, her older sister and aunt were killed by a drunk driver when she was not even 21. No… let me go back. First, her parents had an awful, abusive divorce which involved alcoholism and physical violence to her own mother. Then, when I was youngish, her remaining brother began to continue the violence against my grandmother, putting my grandmother into the hospital and him into jail. Today, she visits the grandmother once a week in a ward for Alzheimer’s patients, and dreads every last visit. And of course, I live 5000 miles away. This is a lot to cry about.
But there is also a lot not to cry about. She ended up marrying a moderately stable man who provided the 2-story house in the suburbs, with good schools, a two-car garage, and three children who successfully moved out of the house at 18. She never had to work a real job a day in her life. She is retiring into a house in a nice Caribbean locale. She has a King Charles Cavalier spaniel that loves her dearly and sits on her lap while she watches Seinfeld. She has three grandchildren who live close by, and health care, and she goes out to dinner at least twice a week. She gets her nails done by the nice Korean ladies (“because I struggled as a child”). She buys a large assortment of soaps, shampoos and beauty products when then are on sale. She goes to the thrift store and finds used Louis Vitton bags. And, now that her grade school friends are retiring, she again hangs out with her old friends.
When she’s at her retirement home in the sun and the sand, enjoying a margarita, waking up to a sunrise over the water, I can imagine a mother before she had children to resent, who was carefree and trying to make it in the world. These days, she smiles more, and is excited for “it to be all about her now”. I look forward to watching her re-invent herself – even if I need to keep my distance for the time being.
* (Obligatory science yo’ momma joke here: Yo’ momma’s wave function is so chaotic, she’s uncertain even after it collapses!)*