Big Sister was infatuated with the P.D. Eastman classic “Are you my mother” when she was very little. Along with a few other titles, it is a children’s book that I have completely memorized. This came uniquely in handy when she had forsaken the crib for a big girl bed. My husband and I found ourselves, on many nights, reading to her from the floor, flat to the ground before transitioning into a backward army crawl to exit her room. We didn’t dare breathe loudly, or God forbid, sneeze, or she would sit bolt upright, arms in fixed positions, like Frankenstein in movement and the ability to strike fear in our hearts. Needless to say it was a long process. Over and over I repeated the words to her, singling out who definitely was not that bird’s mother until we came to the bird that was.
I have been incredibly fortunate to know my Mother not for who she isn’t but who she is. I have seen her through the eyes of a child who picks up on only one vibration – love. I have known her through my teenaged defiance, through my adult annoyance, in times of grief and times of pushing boundaries so hard I can’t believe we survived. But I can say with complete certainty that I know her. I know what color her eyes are when she is worried about me. I can tell what she is thinking in the short space of hesitancy before she finishes a sentence. I feel allied in the sisterhood of motherhood with her even though we had different journeys and circumstances.
The tendencies that drove me completely up the wall, such as getting into conversations with complete strangers, picking up sticks of plants from neighbors refuse piles and transplanting them, saving plastic bags to reuse or return and foot sweeping (taking a socked foot and collecting dust or dog hair into a pile while usually talking on the phone) are all habits I do now. Though reserved in social settings with lots of people, she will easily talk to anyone in a grocery store or at the library. If you are in a plant nursery or the garden section of Home Depot and you are debating between two plants – forget about it… She needs only to know (and honestly) how much time you want to devote to the plant and sun and water the availabilities of the area and you are all set. I’m not quite at that level horticulturally, but I can point you in the right direction at Publix, ditto to your library needs.
The word I use most to describe her is kind. Though that is not the flashiest word, the act of kindness is really quite dazzling. Society will tell you that when you are compassionate it will be used against you – that the world will see a pushover, but my Mom never bought into it. There is strength in resilience, in having the “Elastic Heart” Sia signs of so beautifully. It matters.
When I was a little girl we had gone to get lunch one day after school and before swim practice. There was a woman in front of us at the counter ordering for her two kids, I’m not sure what the situation was but she didn’t have enough to pay. My mom handed her the money, patted her back and assured her that we “had all been there”. We ourselves weren’t without financial struggle; ordering lunch instead of packing sandwiches was a treat. The woman tried to refuse it, but my mom folded the money back into her hand, saying if she didn’t use it for lunch, she should use it for something else. The kids sat quietly as their mom paid, thanking my mom.
Years later, at a gas station, I pulled up next to a station wagon where a lady was trying to get her kids into car seats. As she closed the door, she started to cry and I noticed a large zip lock bag of quarters in her hand. I asked her if she was okay and she said the cashier wouldn’t accept her money because it was change and it was unrolled. I handed her a twenty which I had from babysitting the night before and she tried to put the zip lock in my hands. “There is fifteen in there” she said, “I can run inside and get you five back”. She started to get the kids unbuckled but I said no, telling her to keep it. She looked at me a little sideways, and then asked me if she could hug me. She patted my back and thanked me over and over. There are good moments and bad ones too, but what defines you most is not the legacy you aren’t a part of but the one that you are and I feel lucky share that kinship with my mother.