My mom was here last week; she actually stayed with us for 9 days. She lives in Florida, and usually our visits are timed around funerals and holidays. It’s usually hectic and emotionally charged, but this peaceful visit was one of the best we’ve ever had. I learned a lot about my mom, her as a young wife and her a busy mother. I know a lot about who my mom became after my dad died, but this was the first time I’ve really asked her about who she was before.
My mom is kind of amazing because she never tells me much about parenting myself and my three sisters. When Emily and Julianna were born, she had infant twins, a 3-year-old, and a 5-year-old, living 10 hours away from her family on a farm a quarter-mile back from an isolated country road. Yet she has never dismissed my complaints about being home part-time with two little ones (SHE SHOULD HAVE. I HAVE DAYCARE AND PLAYCAFES. GEEZ). She has watched four children grow at different rates, but has never compared our development to Milo or Elliott. She has had to juggle her schedule to accommodate childcare and working overnights and being a wife and a mother and a daughter and a sister, but she’s never given me a single suggestion about my routine, even when I’m writing out agonizingly long paragraphs about how I NEED TO FIGURE THIS SUPER HARD THING OUT. She knew how to handle it, but her encouragement usually stuck to, “You’re doing an amazing job. Your children are clever and beautiful. I’m proud of you.”
The thing that must have been killing her, is she HAS the answers; she knows tips and tricks for handling schedules, meeting other mothers, staying creatively engaged. She knows the stresses of adding kids to a family, of feeling like you do nothing but change diapers, of wondering if they’re hitting the milestones on time. I only found out what she knew by asking her, pointedly, “Mama, what did you do?” And she told me. About sharing daycare with other mothers, so that sometimes each woman was watching 6 or 7 kids at the same time, switching off so they could pick up shifts at their hospital jobs. Of learning to shower the night before, lay out clothes, make specific charts so you don’t buy food you don’t need or forget to pay a bill or feed one baby twice and the other not at all. She casually mentioned that she had an organizational mentor, a woman who she admired and asked, “Teach me.” To this day, we tease my mom that she loves to send us really detailed itineraries, and after talking her, I realize that her organization started as a survival mechanism, and now it’s a part of who she is.
The thing I love most about my mom is how she KNOWS me. Already, since she’s left, I’ve really felt on top of my game. Part of it is how she did most of the chores for 9 days and spent a ton of time with the boys, so I got lots of rest and special one-on-one time with each of my sons and my husband. But part of it is that I’ve already started using some of her tricks that she told me about, and prioritizing my day, and spending time with other moms who are in the trenches; her advice instantly started helping. And yet Mama knew that if she ever gave me her secret clues before I was good and ready to ask for them, I would have stubbornly shot her down. “No, Mama, things are different now. Things are different for me. You don’t understand.” It took me 18 months of pregnancy and 18 months of motherhood to realize that she probably understood as well as or better than anyone else.
So, yeah, I’m a huge brat who can’t take unsolicited advice. I will do the opposite of that which I’m directly told to do, with a little smile on my face. And my mother lived for 17 years with that. If it’s any consolation to her, I see it in Milo. When people crowd him a little too much, or think they’re going to show him the way to do something, he turns his golden head and falls silent. This morning at the table it was fingers in his tiny bowl of cereal with milk. He wanted to touch the milk. I wanted him to use the spoon correctly. And we went back and forth, sliding the bowl out of his reach, agreeing that we would try again, and his little pointer finger edging towards the surface. Ben watched us and chuckled. ”The immovable object meets the unstoppable force.”
But I know it will be okay, because when I step back and watch him from the edge of the playground, he can breath. When he has his space, I can see him remembering my words, stepping high over the little wall, going up the stairs to use the slide. And then his head goes up and he finds me, and he grins, and I wave, and I realize that my biggest flaw is also one of my greatest traits, and I’m glad he has it, and I’m glad I know him, exactly like my mama knows me.