I wake up this morning, wiping the sleep from my eyes and the corners of my lips. As the mental fog clears, I remember that today is Mother’s Day. A quiet tension begins in my belly, crawling up toward my heart, born of the obligation attached to this holiday. It’s pushed along as I roll over and pick up my phone, scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, seeing the posts already flowing through – profile photos changed, quotes shared, faded photographs of skinny children with smiling mouths too big for their faces, their hands caught up in their mothers’ larger ones.
I see all of this and I feel quiet. I feel still. I anticipate the morning that’s in front of me because I know it’s not going to look like anyone else’s. What my mother wants to do today doesn’t include dressing up and going to brunch. It doesn’t include a trip to church, or flowers and a gift. It doesn’t include any of the typical Mother’s Day celebrations, nor honestly, the way I would choose to celebrate her.
As I drive to pick up my mom, as I wait for her to get in the car – her white sneakers peeking out from underneath her black dress, her pixie haircut that she gave herself framed around her face, the scent of lavender drifting off her body – I know what I have always known, that I have a mom who isn’t like most everyone else’s.
Most days I love this fact. I love the uniqueness of this woman, and how she wears her life around her like a scarf, the mixture of threads a tapestry of originality that means I never know which fabric will come next. It also makes loving my mother a process that requires will and skill and patience, because she wants to be loved and shown love in a way that matches her individuality.
On this Mother’s Day what my mom wants to do is run errands; in specific she wants to go to Costco to pick up the VHS recordings that she’s recently had transferred to DVD. And so we maneuver through traffic and parking lots, stand in lines, load and unload 24 large parcels of DVDs and VHS tapes. We spend three hours organizing and sorting and labeling – we double check contents, we stack and make piles. I follow my mom’s instructions; they make sense to her if not to me, and at the end of it all I feel a little sad that we spent her Mother’s Day “working.”
As I go to leave, I pause at the door and my mom talks about the details of this massive DVD project. I stop listening as I watch her talk. I look at my mom and my heart aches because I think of the all ways I could love her that would feel so much more natural to me. And as I think about this, I realize how much she would absolutely hate it all. And I realize that sometimes the best way we can love another person is by loving them in the way they want to be loved.
Suddenly, just like those VHS tapes, my mind rewinds the day, replaying it through my mom’s eyes. Understanding the beauty of a morning spent being driven around by her daughter, her daughter who listens to her talk, who helps her as she gets out of the car, who asks the cashier the questions my mom meant to ask, so she can understand her purchase. I see our childhoods through my mom’s eyes – the DVDs representing all the years she spent raising us, all the dance classes she took us to, trips to the zoo and the last videos we have of her parents. I think about the labeling and the sorting and the organizing – I think about the gift of being present as she sorted her life out, as she sorted our lives out, as she sorted out her identity as a woman with six children. I think about the lasting gift we’ll now have in these memories she’s wrapped up in a digital format. And in this moment I also realize she’s taught me, yet again, about the best way to love another person.
I wanted to love my mom today in a way that would look and feel “pretty” to me. I wanted to celebrate my mom in the way I felt she should be loved. I wanted to enjoy a morning out doing things I thought would be fun for us which, consequently, would include activities my mom couldn’t care less about.
It hits me hard, these understandings, and my mom stops mid-sentence, seeing me see her. In the next moment she shoos me out the door. I tell her I love her on my way out, I stop at my car and I thank her for my life. She laughs loudly and says “it’s a good life too…because you make it good.” And I’m astounded, yet again, at my mom’s wisdom and just how much she teaches me in moments that I’d miss if she were anyone other than herself.
One of my mom’s favorite sayings is “I yield.” And so do I today. I yield to pure, authentic expressions of love. I get out of the way of forcing how love should look and instead, I listen. I listen to my mom and I love her in the way I know she wants to be loved. And through this new lens, I save a mental snapshot of the prettiest Mother’s Day that was never photographed and shared on Facebook.
Photo credit: Thea Bea/Devian Art