I was nothing like my mother. She was shy and elegant. She covered her mouth when she laughed.
She didn’t understand how someone like her could have given birth to someone like me. She didn’t understand where my confidence came from, or how, at five years old, I could have an opinion about the kind of car I’d prefer to be driven in to nursery school. A coupe.
She said she was never scared for me because I was tough.
That I’d get what I wanted out of life because I wouldn’t settle for anything less. That no one would ever take advantage of me — and good luck to the person who tried.
My mother told me to understand that not everyone would like me, but I would be deeply loved by those who did. She told me to always be compassionate; that was my weakness. To be compassionate with people who were weaker, or meeker, or just scared of life. To have compassion for people who weren’t as brave.
She told me to be gentler with my older sister, because she wasn’t built like me; she was more sensitive. That, even though I was the youngest, my sense of self was the strongest. When I’d complain that it was my sister’s fault for not standing her ground, she would reply, “Wouldn’t you get out of the way if you saw you coming?”
My mother knew who I was before I did.
She said I was my father’s daughter.
A few days before she died, my mom grabbed my hand and said, “Please take care of your brothers and sisters, because I know you’ll be able to one day. Keep our family together.” And then added, “your father’s a huge pain in the ass, by the way… You’ll see.”
She died when she was 66, with five of her children holding her hand. Only one of us was missing that day in the room we all sat in, though I knew deep in my heart that he too was there to take her hand the moment it slid out of ours.
He was her oldest, her firstborn. She had had to live through that loss and continue loving us.
I don’t know enough to understand what that must be like for a parent. Or what it means to be a parent, for that matter. But, I do know what it’s like to be loved, because my mother showed me what that meant, even when she should have been out of love herself.
She said that being a mother was like getting your heart broken a million times a day…
I’m 40 now, an age I never thought I’d be.
I hope you’re smiling at me with that flirty little “I’ve eaten something I shouldn’t have eaten” smile. My version of that little smile usually implies something much more naughty than a Snicker’s bar, but you already know that.
There have been days that I’ve picked up the phone to call you, and then remembered. But it doesn’t matter, because I know you’re here. I still feel you.
I did everything you asked me to do. I haven’t exactly nailed the “compassion” part, but I think about it every day, and then, I try again.
You were right. About everything. You knew me before I knew me.
You were right about Dad.
I’m smiling back at you. For the love, the adoration and the belief.
I believe in you, too.
My heart is full.
I know now that I am my mother’s daughter.
To every mother on Mother’s Day.
Thank you for teaching us how to love.
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