“I stood up and got into my truck and drove away from a part of my mother. The part of her that had been my lover, my wife, my first love, my true love, the love of my life.” – Cheryl Strayed, “The Love Of My Life”
There are days when I feel this way about my mom: that she’s the love of my life. I talk to her daily, on average. Sure, there are stretches when we don’t speak. Last week it was two in a row, book-ended by two scandalously short check-ins. But there are also days when I call her on my way somewhere, again on my way home, and just before bed so I can tell her that I love her one more time.
She knows when I’m upset without me saying it. “I can tell you’re feeling homesick,” she says after I ask what’s going on in Indiana. “I’ll send you pictures of the trees… of the dog… of your dad… I’ll skip the cat.”
She listens to me tell her what I think was the funniest part of the day, and she laughs with me. Someone counting calories from a tea bag? She thinks that is as ridiculous as I do.
We speak the same language.
“Who’s the guy in that alien movie?”
“Tom Cruise or Will Smith?”
“Neither. He has those eyes.”
And then there are other times when I’m wholly certain that this woman is not the love of my life. She doesn’t get me, and if my own mother doesn’t get me who ever will?! (These moments usually occur once a month.) (Hmm.) There are times when she seems completely unconcerned with the “problems” in my life. There are times when I want to tell her that she’s no longer allowed to make fun of herself. There are times when I’m staring at the gaps in my preparation for the world, and I take to blaming her fiercely.
I love her, but the love of my life? Hmm.
Then I take a breath and realize she’s unconcerned with my “problems” because she doesn’t see them as an issue. She’s certain I’ll succeed, certain that there’s a way through them and I’ll find it.
She makes fun of herself because she can, and that’s so much better than the alternative. We’re two Bridget Joneses, she and I, and if we don’t laugh at accidentally calling “adenoids” “gonads,” we’re in for a dull life.
As for the gaps, I’d be worried if she covered everything. There are times when I wish that she had pushed me into books more or hadn’t let me quit track after one day. But she let me discover books. She made me get outside. She prayed and hugged and taught and poured out love and truth. Those are the things that get me through the gaps. Those are the things that matter.
(And if I really wished she’d take one thing back, it would be making me go pick up my sports bra I dropped in the school parking lot on the way to the car.) (Everyone saw, or so it felt.) (I’m not bitter.)
Thad started a tradition in our family that we often use on our parents. It goes like this:
“Mom. Mom. Mom! Mom! MOM!”
“I love you.”
And that’s it. That’s all we say because we don’t know how to put into words what we feel about our mom. We don’t know what to say to this woman who gave us all the important stuff. I don’t know how to write her smell and how warm her skin is and how she’s the face I know best in the world. I don’t know how to describe her crooked thumb nail and golden cross necklace and fidgeting hands and beautiful hair and loving voice. I think “love of my life” is close, but maybe it’s better said with the hugs and the laughing and the hair rubbing and the crying and the talking and the living. Maybe it’s just “Mom, Mom, Mom, I love you” one more time before bed.