I know my mother. I know her very well, perhaps sometimes better than she knows herself. I have been her student all of my life. I have studied her, the way my children study me. I can visualize the way she sits, and the way she laughs when she finds something exceptionally funny. She closes her eyes tight, and covers her mouth with her hand. She always tears up when she laughs really hard. She proceeds to wipe her eyes while the laughing slowly subsides, but it often starts up again. I can see her in my mind, the way she eats, methodically handling her utensils in a pattern I'm not even sure she realizes exists. I have all these mental pictures I hope that I can keep forever. Especially because I know the way that thoughts of my grandma make her cry. She misses her mother. I will one day, as well. I hope that I will always have the picture in my mind's eye- of her fluffing her bangs, and applying her lipstick. "Even just a little bit of lipstick goes a long way", she'd tell me. I can still see her putting it on, the way she shapes her mouth. As a young girl this was the bulk of my mother's beauty regimen. Sure there were little jars and tubes with beauty masks and other magical potions, not to mention the crazy contraptions like tweezers and eyelash curlers that every little girl horrifically discovers. Or maybe it was just me. Fascinated, yet apprehensive that these things were really valuable or necessary. Perhaps it was her natural approach to beauty however, that inspired my own. All she needed to feel beautiful was lipstick most of the time. And she was. I can still remember when she would wear shorts, she had the most beautiful legs. I still remember sitting in the front seat of one of her cars and noticing how smooth her skin was. Her beautiful brown skin. I inherited my father's light skin color, but I've always been drawn to this beautiful shade of brown that I was nurtured by. Perhaps that is why I ended up with a man who has a similar shade of skin, and also explains why I was so touched when my youngest baby was born with the same beautiful color. In a world where skin color represents and has dictated many things, for me it means beauty- it always has. I identify with it at a basic, almost spiritual level because it is the backdrop from which my life story began and it is here in which it continues.
I've been wanting to write about this force in my life for quite some time. My mother, this woman. Although my parents were divorced since I was young, I was lucky enough to have both of them in my life on an extremely regular basis. As an adult, I can see the impact and force that they've had in my life, and I can see how their contributions to my person-hood are reflected in my choices. For example, if it weren't for my parents I wouldn't have been looking for a home to buy, on my own at age 25. My dad contributed in the sense that he taught me how to build my credit, and protect it. He was the practical force he should have been- and prepared me for the option of being a homeowner. My mother on the other hand, was the less obvious force. At a time when the economy was volatile and most people were wondering if purchasing real estate was the right decision, she pushed me with a simple idea that she has always made a part of her own modus operandi. She encouraged me to take a risk in life, and that if I always err on the side of caution that I might miss out on exceptional opportunities. Life is too short for that. I understood. And here I am. Lucky enough to have a beautiful home with lots of space and in a safe area to raise my children. I have a terrible memory but these memories of her are so vivid. I still remember what it felt like to snuggle in her bed, or her nest, as we called it. I remember reading Steinbeck and Hemingway, tucked under her wing at a very young age. She always made a conscious effort to expose us to ideas of culture and encourage our intellectual development. I owe my own intentional notions of motherhood to her.
I am always aware of the impact I have on my own daughters. I know they are my students, the same way that I was hers, and still am to a degree. Because of this- I am able to see that the decisions I make everyday matter to them now, and in their future. As parents, no matter how old our children are- even when they are grown- even if we are not required to "parent" them anymore- our decisions and actions will continue to affect them, at an exceptional level. Our presence or absence in their lives as children and adults, through death or by choice will send them messages about themselves, their worth as individuals, and their place in the world. The relationships we have with them, around them, and even without them will impact the way they raise and love their own children. This is why the responsibility of parenting is so enormous, it truly never ends. Things may not always be picture perfect, people are not capable of being perfect, and we all make a varying degree of poor choices- but as we grow and learn we have to reflect on the value of the outcomes we create for our children. Just like my mother contributed to my life and the development of my character, we are all doing the same for our children for the rest of our lives.
Today is my mother's birthday. A few years shy of 60, I know her life is in an entirely different place than it was when I was born, but she still loves me. She is still around, when she could be anywhere. She has always been a free spirit sort of woman, always wanting to move and discover and live fully- but her roots have kept her anchored. Now, she is more anchored than ever, because she is raising one of my nephews. In her fifties, this woman had to start all over again. She does it out of love, but it isn't easy. Yet she does it. She sacrifices. That takes strength and selflessness. She is still teaching me lessons, and I imagine she will always do so.
So on this day, I say not only Happy Birthday to my beautiful mother, I say thank you, I love you, and I know you. My sensitive, smart, and loving mother.