twenty-eight years late
The photo above is a picture I secretly took of my mother, Vicki. She's standing in the doorway between my daughter Brooklyn's nursery and bathroom, reading The Tale of Three Trees by Angela Elwell Hunt, one of my favorite children's books. It's 3am on this past Tuesday morning, just hours before she was set to leave to go back to Houston, the place where I grew up and where she still lives with my dad.
This is a picture I never want to forget.
Earlier that night, she and I sat down on the couch in my basement, watching The Bachelor:
"So tell me about these girls who are left . . . Oh! I hope they don't go into the fantasy suite! What do they do in there? . . . He's clearly not into this one as much as he's into the other two . . . yea, she's going home . . . A virgin?! Good for her! . . . You're right, Ashlee, her voice is a bit too perky."
My mom cares nothing about The Bachelor. But I was having a hard time that night, and so she watched it with me and pretended to care. She also asked if she could rub my feet while we were watching. When I reluctantly said yes, she sprung up with enthusiasm, ran to her room, and came back with her lotion, immediately grabbing my calloused feet that had been worn by hardwood floorboards and many nights of pacing back and forth with Brooklyn.
In the three days before that, I silently witnessed her Swiffering floors and washing dishes and making breakfast and sorting my laundry and checking in on Mema, my 92-year-old grandmother. She took business calls and took me shopping. She kept Brooklyn with her in the basement for a few hours so Delwin and I could get some uninterrupted sleep.
She's done this many times before on her trips to see me since I was 18 and starting college at USC. She's Swiffered and done dishes and made me breakfast and has done laundry, time and time again, from Los Angeles, to Schaumburg, to Arlington Heights, and now Fox River Grove.
And this trip, for some reason, was a milestone one for me.
I truly felt the weight of the fact that she doesn't do these things because she has to do them. She knows I'm capable of doing these things myself. She does them as a result of a raw, driving, unstoppable force called a mother's love. It's a kind of love that, as a teen and early-twenty-someting, I saw as smothering and invasive; as anxious and unfocused: "Mom, just leave me alone, I can do it," I'd think to myself. "Mooom!" I'd say to her as she picked up another project to complete around my dorm/apartment/home or as she tried to crack a joke to make me feel better. I'd be short with her, or worse - sarcastic - as I tried to prove my independence and maintain an air of "cool."
It's cool to not need your mom when you're prideful and naive.
But this trip was different. Maybe being a mom for 65 days has helped me appreciate her more, maybe it's the fact that I see myself through Brooklyn's eyes and would never want her to be too proud for my love.
So on the couch, while watching The Bachelor, I apologized. "Mom, I'm sorry for all the things I've said and done to you that hurt your feelings. I love you." With lump in throat, I melted into accepting the sea of truth that she's known all along. She repeated it once more and reminded me that she loves me, no matter what I say or do, no matter what. I wept and she didn't, proving once and for all that she truly is a kind of motherly royalty that maintains a fierce kind of strength in her love: one that is beautifully and humbly unassuming, that is quiet and persistent in its many expressions, but one that is so sure and deep and forever. With a warm smile she hugged me, received my apology, then said:
"So when's the finale?"
It's like she knew exactly what that moment was for me, and she didn't see a need or have a desire to make me feel any worse. Again, proof. I think she'd been there before, perhaps in her relationship with her mother. Perhaps that's something that happens between many mothers and daughters.
I feel like I'm twenty-eight years late in realizing the pure beauty of the gift of her love for me, the kind of beauty that is much like the picture: quiet, unassuming, but present and powerful in the most mundane of moments. It's the kind of love that will care about something as silly and mind-numbing as The Bachelor, the kind of love that will rub my nasty feet, the kind of love that will find purpose in repeatedly helping with household chores. I want to love more like that.
It's not Mother's Day. I thought about saving these words until then. But it's a perfect day to put down "cool" and be washed over with a love that's fierce and forever and maybe almost too much to handle at times. I simply wanted to drink it in and be ok with the gratitude that welled up inside of me because "cool" is overrated and gratitude, in addition to never running out, is always relevant.
Pride will keep us from feeling human and being grateful in the moment, that nasty little booger. So here's permission to not have to wait for a grand occasion to be human and to be grateful. Today is perfect for both.
Thanks for being patient with me, Mom. I love you. See you at the finale. #teamBecca