"We love when she tells us stories about you and how crazy you were."
Okay, before anything else, let the record show that I was not crazy. If anything, crazy well-behaved. But that's it. I was a freaking angel.
It's funny because that's my favorite thing about my mom, too. I love the stories she tells about her life. First because the life she's had from beginning to end is unique and fascinating, but also because I love imagining how she saw herself when she was young and comparing it to who she is now.
I know she was beautiful. I think she was fearless. I know that she snuck cigarettes in the high school bathroom. She liked high ponytails. But when I see pictures of her from when she was young, I notice something else, too.
She is stunning, isn't she? But...she didn't smile much. At least not in pictures. Her face here is perfect, at least to me, her daughter. I did not inherit such a face, or her sleek black hair. And still, the first time I ever saw this picture, she snatched it right up and said, "Wasn't I gorgeous?" (She's funny like that.)
I don't know where I got this from, but I'm a blurter. As in, I have to be really careful to control the stop sign that's supposed to be between my brain and my mouth, and I'm not always good at it. So in that moment, I blurted, "You look like a bitch."
She wasn't offended. She laughed out loud and said, "Well, that's because I was!"
Well okay then.
Tonight is the eve of a Mother's Day where her baby girl is thirty-eight. There are many, many more pictures of my mom now, and though she is older and smarter and, as my children can attest, a marvelous cook, I know she does not like that she has grown older.
I've tried to argue with her, but she usually changes the subject abruptly or gets sad. So mostly I steer clear of the topic altogether. I mean, I'm thirty-eight and I miss being a teenager who used to pretend she was only borrowing the car to go to library and then picked up her best friend and went cruising through South Buffalo with the windows rolled down, looking for boys. I get it. It's just that when I look at my mother, I see something very different than she does.
I see her sitting alone in the morning when it was still dark, a cup of coffee next to her on the table, enjoying the rare silence that mothers crave. I see her standing at the front of a checkout line with her scary eyes demanding that a cashier give her the sale price. Coming into my room when I was younger and upset about some silly thing, trying not to smirk, always able to make me laugh. Always able to make the problem feel small and make my heart feel big. I remember my cousin John Conor being upset about something once, and my mom jumped up just as his chin bunched up to cry, and she took his hand and said, in her trademark matter-of-fact voice, "Come on, let's go see if I have some candy somewhere." When she talks like that, people don't argue. They don't question. It's like a magic spell. They're momentarily confused, probably thinking, "Wait...candy? But...I'm upset. Or am I?" and they follow this woman who confidently leads the way. And within minutes, the only thing any of us ever think is, "God, I love her."
It doesn't matter that she is forgetful and scatterbrained and probably suffering from ADD at some sort of exponential level. When things go wrong, she is the person I want. And I pray with all my heart that in thirty years, that is how my boys feel. And...not just that they will want me. That they know I will always be here for them. I will never say no. Because that's how my mother is for me.
When she looks in the mirror, I know she wishes she saw that sixteen-year-old version of herself, poised in white gloves beside a fireplace and refusing to look at the camera. But look at her now. Do you see the difference? All these years, all these Mother's Days--and birthdays and Christmases and Thanksgivings and grandchildren--and yes, her face has changed. It radiates with happiness. It is the embodiment of love, the real, raw kind that holds on to you and swears it won't let you fall.
I don't think I have ever seen anyone more beautiful.