"It might have appeared to go unnoticed,
but I've got it all here in my heart.
I want you to know I know the truth,
I would be nothing without you.
Did you ever know that you're my hero?
You're everything I wish I could be.
I could fly higher than an eagle,
for you are the wind beneath my wings."
I love this performance of "Wind Beneath my Wings," by Bette Midler. It is the perfect sountrack for this Mother's Day story...about my hero...my mom.
I'd looked forward to the day for weeks. All the younger children were finally in school during the day, Dad would be at work, and I was going to have an entire day alone with mom. Just the two of us, no babies, toddlers, diapers, peanut butter sandwiches, or whining. Just my mom and I for a whole day, sigh. I could not remember it ever happening before...ever.
The day started out great. We got everyone off to school, cleaned up after breakfast dishes, made beds, and started the laundry, then Mom made tea. We sat down at the kitchen table with steaming mugs.
I'd longed for time alone with her my entire childhood, and here it was. I was sixteen, there was so much I wanted to know, so much I wanted to say, so much I wanted to hear her tell me about her childhood, falling in love, her life. I'd thought about a day like this every time a conversation at the kitchen sink was interrupted by a younger sibling who needed pajamas or a towel. I'd thought about it when surrounded by friends at school, and all I wanted to do was hangout with my mom folding clothes at the foot of her bed. I'd thought about It whenever I saw other mothers and daughters holding hands and whispering conspiratorially, while walking to school just in front of my sisters and me.
But no matter how many times I'd thought about having time alone with my mom, I didn't know what to do with it when I got it. It was as if everything I'd dreamed of saying, or hearing, was bottlenecked in my throat and heart.
Then I remember mom talking about her dream house, and asking me what kind of a house I would like to have someday. And I heard myself saying, "oh, I don't want a house, I want a penthouse apartment in New York City...all modern, black lacquer tables and white leather sofas, concrete floors and big windows, stainless steel sculptures and huge abstract painting in primary colors." My mom actually gasped. I felt like throwing up.
I knew exactly what I was saying, and how it would make her feel. I knew that my mom loved all things warm and cozy, blues and yellows, checks and florals. I knew that what I was saying, was that I wasn't anything like her. I did not share her tastes. I did not share her sensibilities. That she'd had no influence or impact on my sense of home...my sense of self.
I could see the sad horror in her face. She was hurt and I knew it. But I couldn't stop myself. Something in me seemed to need to say, in some unspoken way, "I am not like you...at all."
The sad part was that I didn't mean it...at all. I loved everything about my mother. I wanted to be exactly like her in every way. I loved her sense of home, style, mothering, community, being a neighbor, gardening, fashion. What was I doing? I was horrified.
Our day was wonderful, nonetheless. Mom didn't let my desire to make it clear that I was nothing like her, interfere with our time together. We planted bulbs, took a walk down to the stream at the bottom of our hill, had a picnic under the big tree in the yard, and talked about a million other things. But I never forgot our conversation about home and my answers to her genuine interest in my own future dream house.
Then one day I was talking to a friend of mine who described a similar conversation she'd had with her own daughter and how sad it made her feel about her daughter's love for everything "not like mom." And my morning at the kitchen table with my own mom came rushing back to me. I walked around for days feeling badly until I finally called my mom about it.
In the ensuing 35 years she had become very, very wise...and kind. She explained that yes, she had felt sad and shocked that I was entertaining such a cold, harsh sense of home at the time, but that she had since (four other daughters later) realized that I was just trying to let her know that I was my own person.
I'd also found my peace about the conversation when I discovered that it was actually healthy that I wanted to let my mom know that I was an individual. It meant that I was becoming a woman, and that because I loved my mom, I wanted her to see, and respect, me as an someone with my own unique identity, with a sense of individuality and self-possession.
This is what some girls do when they love their moms. As we go from being girls to women, we need to individuate, to let the person we love most, know that we are whole-souled adults and have fully-formed ideas of our own. We want them to admire us for our uniqueness and creativity. We want them to want us as interesting women friends. My sisters and I are all very uniquely individual, and in many ways, very much alike...like our mom.
And about that sense of home...well, by the time I had my own first apartment, I had learned to strip old pine furniture, collect quilts, search flea markets for butter yellow bread bowls, and perfected the hand waxing of wide-planked wood floors.
My sense of home was born in her hers...warm, cozy, colorful, well-worn, and soft. Golden pools of lamplight playing on pine tabletops, soft quilts piled on cupboards layered with years of paint, floral pillows on black and cream checked upholstery, shuttered windows and photos of my children. My home looks like my mother's heart, and both are my favorite places to be.
My mother is my hero. She taught me eveyrthing I love...how to sing lullabies, how to pray, how to take care of my children, how to be a good neighbor and friend, how to be generous, how to listen, how to love...and on, and on. When someone tells me that I am like her, I am shocked with delight. You couldn't say anything more wonderful to, or about, me...or my home.
Happy Mother's Day mommy...I love you,
Kate Robertson, CS