Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, and the conversation somehow turned to mothers: our own, other people's, how the state of motherhood for her is imminent. And I allowed myself to vent, a little bit, as we riffed on the annoying habits of Mothers We Had Known In Some Capacity. I skewered my mother for what is--when I am feeling charitable--a fundamental aspect of her character, and--when I am feeling otherwise--her most maddening flaw: a congenital need to vocalize every. single. little. butterfly thought that happens to alight for an instant in her brain. This often takes the form of rhetorical questions, in life ("Why is there so much traffic?" or "What is it like, this restaurant to which neither of us have ever been?") and, more torturously, during movies and t.v. shows ("Wait, who is that guy? Is he the murderer? What did he say?") I'm pretty sure that my mother, most of the time, is paying scarcely any more attention to what's coming out of her mouth than I am; she just can't help it, likes to hear her own voice, the bright noise of syllables tumbling over each other, dit-dit-dit-dit, like the flurry of hash marks that denoted Woodstock's dialogue in Peanuts.
This is one way in which we're completely different, Mom and I. I like to craft and hone my words, whether spoken or on the page; I consider (and probably overthink) every sentence, given the opportunity. I dwell on other people's words, too, and this has led us to some crises, my mother and I. She has a formidable gift--and maybe this is simply the province of moms, something they all can do--for blurting out a comment or opinion that will cut me to the bone, excise a little chunk of my soul with surgical precision...and after nearly 40 years I honestly believe that she doesn't intend it to hurt, doesn't realize when it might, as unconscious as she seems to be to her own every verbalized momentary notion. Again, as is my nature, I will hoard and mull over a wounding remark, stewing for a week or three months or 21 years, depending. In recent years, when I've had the courage to confront Mom, after some interval of aforementioned stewing, she is always apologetic and contrite; she'll swear she never meant to hurt me...and then she'll more quietly admit that she doesn't remember saying whatever it was that caused me to have my latest private tantrum breakdown.
Mom's traveling right now, two weeks overseas; she won't be here to celebrate Mother's Day proper. Maybe that spurred me to open the floodgates a little wider, at lunch? I snarked on my absent, vacationing, dreamily oblivious mother; it was like my 20-minute set onstage at the Improv, and together my friend and I rolled our eyes and laughed and agonized. Mothers! Can't live with 'em, can't throw 'em from the train. What are you gonna do? You are gonna suck it up, and then you are gonna take them out for Eggs Benedict on Sunday like everyone else in America, or like I'll have to do next weekend, the end.
When I got home yesterday, there was a letter from my mother in the mail.
Not a postcard from Croatia, either: an envelope, a greeting card, mailed locally. I admit that I opened it with some trepidation, thinking What now? What'd I do? Had she psychically known that I'd been taking the piss out of her that very afternoon?
But I was wrong. Today, May 9, would have been my father's 65th birthday. That was what my mother had written me about: she anticipated that this would be a difficult day for me, and she wanted to tell me not to be too sad. That I had been a good daughter, and that Dad had known this too.
She'd thought about this, and she'd written it out beforehand, in between packing and consulting her guidebook and obsessively checking twenty times (a trait we do share) to make sure she had her passport and her blood pressure meds and, like, six pairs of reading glasses in her carry-on. She'd considered this in advance, and then she'd timed it, left the letter and instructions with her housesitter so that it would be mailed a week after she'd left. So it would arrive on the right day, when she knew I'd need to hear it. She knew, before I ever knew, that I would need to hear it.
And this is my mom in a nutshell, really. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, she's blithely orbiting Planet Margo, nattering, distracted, and I'm convinced that she is paying no attention whatsoever. And then she will have a moment like this, of purest grace; she'll set the bar that high, and then clear it by at least a foot, sailing effortlessly over it, and I am astonished and touched and humbled by her gesture. Made small, and then redeemed, by my mother's gaze when suddenly it falls on me after all. Mama, you don't often connect with a pitch, but when you do, you get all of it. That ball is still rising.
I know she'll read this eventually, when she's home. I hope she can read between my lines, and will know that these words, like any others, I have been carefully shaping and pruning for 24 hours now. I hope she'll take this in the spirit it's intended, a portrait as honest as I can make it: perhaps not entirely an ideal rendering of her, but one in which I flatter myself far less. I love you, Mom. Thank you for being you. Thank you for being. Your mimosa awaits.