When you ask me whom I admire, there is always one person who first comes to mind. The answer is easy, but the explanation is lengthy. Nonetheless, I’d like to attempt it. I never knew anything but love from my mother, starting with my very first memories of her. They are hazy, distant recollections.
I am 4, maybe 5, and I wrap my arms around her waist, burying my face in her stomach, breathing in the scent that is hers only. She tells me she loves me as she gently pulls me to her. We both pull each other in, a hug that is not just meant to convey love now, but love forever.
I sit at the kitchen table. I am 6 years old and eating brown sugar cinnamon oatmeal. My mother stands behind me, braiding my damp hair into tight plaits. My belly and heart are full.
I am crying in the middle of a basketball court. At age 7, I have just committed my first foul in my Biddy Basketball league. I am swimming in my oversized pink tee shirt. (I have “needed” an adult medium for way too long.) I look to the bleachers, where my mother sits, watching me intently, needing to comfort me, but also needing to let me handle it myself.
Mothers Day 1997. I am 10 years old and cooking. I hope my mother is still asleep. I set the table with her breakfast: juice, pancakes with syrup and butter, bacon. I smile at it, hoping this will please her, knowing that nothing I do will make her love me more.
I am 13 and angry. I am a good girl, compliant, but even the best of us have our grumpy days. I am easily annoyed with everything and thus easily annoying to my whole family. I slam the doors. I don’t dare to utter curse words. I sob, thinking I am alone. But I’m not.
I have dozens of volleyball matches, all around west central Indiana. As a junior, I still play junior varsity. I am not impressive, but my mother shows up at almost every single game. She, her presence, is unchanging and stable and I come to rely on it.
I am 18 years old and shaking in my high heels. I am speaking to my high school classmates at graduation. It is 5 minutes; it is an eternity. The speech passes and I do not mention the people who got me here. But they know. I know they know. I smile at them as I am handed my diploma, signifying the end of childhood and the beginning of so much else.
It is steaming hot in Kentucky in August. We all sweat as we stand in the hot sun, determined to make the most of the last few minutes. My father cries unabashedly, but she holds out. Thank God she holds out. I am fragile, about to fall over the ledge of homesickness, but her stoicism keeps me there, safe. We say one last goodbye and I am alone, but not. It takes 3 weeks before I break down and cry.
I graduate on a clear day in May. She wears a sundress and a smile. We picnic in the meadow, eat strawberries and drink wine. I am wearing a sash to give to the person who made it possible. There is no doubt whom that will be.
I am in another country. I walk the historic streets, drink fantastic red wine, and miss her. I think of her when I read something funny, when I need to cry, when I don’t know if my shoes match my outfit. I look in the mirror and see her.
Thank you, dear mother, for giving me life, for giving me the strength to be alone, for letting me know that I am not, indeed, alone. I love you.