Monday, March 15, 2010

26. Birthday

Last week my mother turned 80. So many feelings have been stirred up because of that...I hardly know where to begin. How can my mother be 80? How is it that I am old enough to have an 80 year-old mother? How much longer do I have with her? What will I be like when I'm 80 and Emily is 50?

First of all, I am so very sorry that I was not there to help her celebrate this notable occasion. Missing this particular birthday ranks high on the list of reasons not to live in Maine. And what would I have done for her? I would have had a party-all of our family that could possibly come and any of her friends, too. A house full of flowers and a marvelous meal. A cake, either homemade or the best one I could afford. For reasons too complicated to go into here, my mother did not have a birthday cake this year and that breaks my heart.

Hidden beneath the smooth veneer of good Southern manners is a somewhat strained relationship between my mother and myself. As a teenager and young adult I did not go to her for advice or to confide, fearing her stern admonition and disapproval. She had her Baptist mind set and did not like my pushing the boundaries. Throughout those years we somehow managed to get along; she, worried all the time and I, craving someone to talk to. In hindsight I'd say we were equally at fault in this impasse, unable to cross the imaginary line keeping us from intimacy and hurting because of it.

Only once in my entire life do I feel she has let me down. Being human, that is unfortunately what I recall foremost rather than the hundreds of times she has stood by me. When I left my first husband and it became clear that we were not going to reconcile, she would not speak to me. I remember calling home and talking first with my dad, and when I asked to speak to Mother, he said She doesn't want to talk to you. She might as well have slapped me in the face. But time intervened, I married a man she has come to adore, and I gave her Emily, her first grandchild. She has been the best grandmother I could possibly imagine and Emily loves her dearly.

Since my brother's death in 2004 and my parents' subsequent grief and illnesses our relationship has changed, and for the better. There have been times of closeness that would not have been possible earlier. My mother's intense desire to always do the right thing and make the right decision has been tempered by tragic experience and unwelcome accidents. We have been able to talk about death, religion, homosexuality and a host of other topics that once would have been off-limits. To my surprise and despite my left-leaning tendencies I believe she has come to see me as a wise woman and actively seeks my advice and counsel.

Sometimes, when I look in the mirror I am caught off-guard because...yes, you guessed it...I see my mother. But all in all I am grateful for that because she has taught me so much about the importance of love in this life: loving a spouse, loving a child, loving friends and loving being alive.

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