I was reading a book on the subway when it came to me. I suppose it wasn’t completely random considering the passage I was reading was a mother’s loving words to her son. It was written like a confession in the best form, one that gave away the deep love behind the intention of games she played with him, like tickling his neck just to be able to catch his little boy smell near her.
A memory came flooding back to me then. A memory I had long since tucked away. A memory from a much simpler time, a time when the only familiar place in the world was our home on Lasein Drive in our small town of St Joseph, Michigan. It was a memory of my mother playing a game with my brother and I before bed. We probably had a name for it which escapes me today, but it was something to the effect of getting kissed so crazily by her all over our necks that we were in fits of uncontrollable laughter.
She loved it, that’s what sticks out about this memory now. I don’t know how I didn’t notice it before. Her smile spread across her entire face and she wasn’t even the one getting tickled. There was something she got out of it that I never knew about, something that could only be rooted in her love for us. She spent time tucking us in and playing with each of us before we went to sleep. Long enough to make us forget about the monster in the closet or the cookie we cried about not getting. And it’s sinking in now, the things that I took for granted about her. The things I let be overshadowed by more dramatic actions of hers that left deep emotional scars on us too early in life. She wasn’t a perfect mother, but what woman is?
As the years go by and I find myself in similar sticky spots having made similar mistakes from our similar flaws (darn genes), I’m gaining a better appreciation of who she was at her core. She was loving. She still is, in fact, maybe more than ever these days despite the havoc Alzheimer’s has already wreaked on her brain at the age of 58. She hasn’t lost her ability to love or her ability to be tender; it hasn’t yet gotten to this core of her.
These are the memories to hold on to. This is what, I believe, we were made for. Loving each other in small ways and big ways, in every way possible. Unfortunate things are going to happen, and every single one of us will take fault in them in big and small ways, never grasping the effect our actions and words have on others from our own blind and flawed positions, no matter what our intentions are. If everyone looked at each other in the light of their mistakes, we’d never see a sunny day. What a shame it would be to carry such a dark image of my mother around with me the rest of my life. My mother was scarred and flawed, just like the rest of us. She made decisions that benefited her in one moment and hurt others for life. She prioritized the wrong things every day. She was selfish. And you and me, we’re just as bad.
My mother was loving. She gave me good advice, even when she failed to follow it herself. She was smart and savvy and creative, a perfectionist to the point of OCD. She gave me my passion for art and travel. She wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty but always looked polished and classy. She gave me my confidence by constantly telling me how proud she was of me and how beautiful I am, inside and out. She was fiercely independent but always, unashamedly, in need of appreciation and love. She broke down in front of me during her hard times and held me when I broke down in mine. We cried together in the fears, anger and sadness we shared and somehow came to laughter together in the drying of our tears. We always lifted each other back up, letting go of whatever was lost. She taught me how to be unwaveringly positive and how to get down on my knees and pray. She was, and still is, one of the strongest women I know.
That sounds like a mother to be proud of. A mother that hasn’t stopped loving her children to this very day, when nearly all of her abilities have been stripped of her. It’s undeniable in her, the passion and care that pours out when she sees me, whether she can express it or not. It’s undeniable that we were made for this, we were made to love. It’s the root of our best memories and the fuel of our strength in the worst. It’s the motivation behind big gifts and small gestures. It’s what bonds us (sometimes inexplicably) to our families and what drives us to make the world a better place. There’s a reason we all search for it and desire to give it. There’s a reason we make up games to play with our children just to see them smile. There’s a reason we have odd traditions, take pictures and record stories. We want to create and hold on to our experiences of love, our best memories.
My mother taught me this. Not with nicely arranged words or by perfect example. She taught me this by loving me unconditionally every minute of my life. For that alone, I am forever thankful to be her daughter.
My mom and dad in 1981, age 27.
Mom in her 40s.
My mom and stepfather, Jay, in 2006. She’s 52 here, one year after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
My mom on a walk in August of 2012 when I visited her for her 58th birthday.
Still sharing laughter on St. Patty’s Day last March, 2013.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.