In my earliest memories, she wears a long blue robe and smells like coffee. My dad offers goodbye kisses to her, my little sister and me. Then he goes to work. He’s a high school Spanish teacher. My mother’s work is us.
She is young, in her early twenties, ironing clothes in our den. Love, American Style is on TV. Or Gilligan’s Island. I Love Lucy. She uses a water bottle to dampen the fabric which helps smooth out the wrinkles. She sprays my sister and me and we giggle. The room is small and safe.
When she cleans the house, she puts albums on our record player. The Fantasticks might be my favorite. We all dance around shouting, “Why did the kids put jam on the cat?” We have a cat. His name is Pumpkin. He licks ice cream from our bowls.
Mom sings to us at bedtime. Goodnight my Someone, Puff the Magic Dragon, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Scarlet Ribbons or Lemon Tree. I’ve got no idea what the lyrics mean, but I like the sad songs best.
She bakes our birthday cakes and sews new dresses for Easter. She reads Time magazine and keeps books of love poetry on her nightstand. She tells us we’re smart and lucky. That we should be kind and grateful. She is right.
There are camping trips and beach days. Movies at the drive-in. We drink Slurpees after swimming lessons. Why not? We’re already freezing! Our dog’s name is Migas which means ‘scraps’ in Spanish. She won’t stop playing ball. We play Clue and Parcheesi and Sorry! Cribbage and Yahtzee and Scrabble. When Trivial Pursuit comes along, Mom always wins. You want her on your team.
There were also hard times. As a teenager I’d lie to her and sneak. Fight. Scream. I hate you! My mother was wrong. Stupid. The meanest. She stuck to her guns because she wasn’t any of these things. If you asked her now if she was a good mother then, she’d probably laugh.
We didn’t worry about stuff like that. We were just trying to survive.
Over the years my sister and I have taken turns being difficult, giving our mom her share of reasons to worry about or be frustrated by us. But she always had our backs. She has her parents’ backs, too. Ask her now if she’s a good daughter to them, and she’ll probably laugh.
Thank goodness for wine.
We still laugh a lot in this family. We tease each other and make fun of ourselves. She tells me I’m a good mother and I believe she means it. She’ll admit I’m not a good disciplinarian, that my children and dogs run the household. But she also thinks they’re wonderful. She is right.
When I talk about my kids with my mom, I often get teary-eyed. I’ll tell her a story I’ve shared with others and find myself choking up. Why? Why do the feelings spill out with her even when I’m not sad? I don’t have the right words to explain it. I’m not sure the right words exist.
But tomorrow is my mom’s birthday, so I’m writing about her anyway. This year is a milestone. She (hopefully) won’t mind my saying it begins with a seven and ends with a zero. Seven. Tee. It looks good on her. Aging gracefully is easier when you know exactly who you are.
My mom still loves my dad, he still loves her, and they both still love TV. She dubbed her grandchildren The Fab Four, and joined Twitter and Snapchat to keep up. She’s into mah jongg, mimosas and crossword puzzles. She’s discerning in friendships and works at speaking her mind. If she says Yes or No, believe it. She stands by her principles without apology. She is stronger and tougher than I am. But I’m learning.
My daughter’s learning, too.
So at the risk of getting teary-eyed, I’ll say Thanks for being you, Mom. I’d bake a cake but that’s Nancy’s thing, not mine. You love me anyway.
I am grateful.
You were right.
My mom Diane, me, my daughter Karly, and my sister Nancy.
To purchase Letters for Scarlet, go here.