My mom was a strong lady. Crazy strong. Like show-no-fear, put-the-world-on-a-leash strong.
Or maybe it was just me that was on a leash.
It wasn’t that I felt the need to please her.
Or maybe I did.
I just wanted to be good.
She had a way of getting me to do things without actually telling me to do them…It’s chilly. Do you think the baby needs a hat?... I’d grab a baby hat.
Or changing my mind about things that I was certain I stood firm on…If you won’t put a dress on her, at least put a bow in her hair. How else will people know that she’s a baby girl? (This was usually accompanied by her bouncing away with my daughter on her hip and cooing to my child, Mommy dresses you like a little boy, huh? Poor, poor, tomboy baby.)…I’d stick a barrette in the baby’s hair.
She also had an uncanny talent for complimenting and insulting my cooking at the same time… Your macaroni and cheese was very tasty. I would have put a bit more salt in mine. And a bit more cheese.…These I generally ignored.
Ah yes…sweet, sweet memories.
My mother was wise in many respects. As I got older I realized she was also very rigid and could be small minded in many ways. She was brilliant in her bubble. Outside of it, she could seem out of place and at times too simple, not in a naive way but in limited way. To her everything was black and white. Right was right. Wrong was wrong. There was no grey area, no nuance with my mom. That used to bother me a lot.
March made it two years since my mom passed. By the time the cancer took her she was essentially a vegetable; not moving, eating or speaking. We kept vigil by her bed for three weeks; watching her sleep, listening to her breathe, holding our breath when her breathing became labored. Waiting and bearing witness as her life slowly drained away.
They say that when you die, your entire life flashes before your eyes. I wondered how it worked when your death takes weeks. Witnesses to death seem to have some sort of life review as well. During those weeks, my mind was flooded with memories I hadn’t thought of in years. My mom’s face during the birth of my first child. The trips we took as a family when I was growing up. The whuppings I got as a kid (most, duly earned).
And the advice—years and years of advice my mother had doled out to me during my lifetime seemed to float into my mind verbatim. Advice I never took because I found it too simple or not right for me. After all, what did she really know?
Of course she had been right about many things. Things I ended up learning the hard way. But there were also the things that she didn’t say.
My mom never remarried after my father died more than 20 years prior. She worked. Maintained a home for my brother and me. Put me through college. Retired early (because she could). Sold the house, and moved back to her childhood home. She cleared her land. Built a new house from the ground up. Bought a new car. Traveled when she wanted. Sat on her ass and watched TV when she wanted. Visited friends and relatives. Planted a garden. Shopped way too much. And years, later when the doctors said there was nothing they could do, she went to her house to die in her own room surrounded by her family.
How I missed the lesson of a woman living her life on her own terms, right in front of my frigging face is the biggest mystery of my life.
My mom kicked ass.
If she were here now to see what I’m going through, she would be confused I think…
You know what you want to do. You know what you need to do. So do it.
Simple as black and white.