Today my mom celebrates the completion of another year. 25,933 days of life, most of which have garnered scant attention from me. I think, perhaps, that has always been one of the most generous gifts she gives me as my mother: our relationship has never been primarily about her. Mostly it has been about her giving me the care, support, resources, faith, confidence, and love to lead the best life I can live.
But, for today at least, I want to celebrate her. I want to acknowledge what she has done for me and just why she is the kind of mother and person who is worth celebrating. Happy Birthday Mom!
My Mother’s Kitchen Ceiling
I remember the ceiling in my mother’s kitchen
the bumpy surface of mid-century construction
random bits of plaster
shapes in silhouette
that take form in the imagination of a child.
My favorite shape was an oblong patch
off-balanced by a bulging side.
My mind’s eye saw there expectation,
a mother waiting for the life inside to soon burst out,
cradling love, protectively, with a sheltering arm.
Over the years I spent hours staring at that form,
because it looked down on the sink where my Mom washed my hair.
Lying on the counter,
my back pressed against peeling formica,
I would passively, unthinkingly, accept this act of care.
I didn’t like water in my eyes
So, Mom would clear the counter for my ever-growing body to stretch out.
She would cradle my head in one hand while testing the water’s heat on her own fingers,
and she would wash my long, thick, often tangled hair
while I stared dreamily up at the ceiling,
letting my imagination explore familiar, abstract shapes.
I remember so many ways she made space for my mind to explore:
books she read to me and asked me to wonder about;
projects she created for me to practice my creativity;
time she gave me to play, to learn, to explore
with the confidence that grows when a child is not constantly corrected,
told the right way,
told to follow the rules.
Of course we had rules in our house,
but only the necessary ones to keep us safe and healthy,
the rules to help us grow in care for others and our world.
Not rules to make her job of mothering easier.
What I don’t remember is her ever complaining about her lot in life;
how tired she was;
how she never got a break;
how her back hurt.
I don’t remember hearing any of the complaints my children echo back to me.
A witness to how much I must complain.
What I don’t remember is her ever interrupting my long, hard-to-follow child stories/
or her not having time to listen/
or her demanding that I wait until she was free to hear/
in painstaking detail/
about my latest discovery, or hurt, or question.
What I don’t remember is her distracting me with mindless activities so that she could do her own thing.
No television babysitter,
or “why don’t you go color in the other room,”
or “if you’re bored, I have a chore for you,”
just to keep me busy
so that I wouldn’t bug her as she cooked, or cleaned, or hung-up laundry.
What I don’t remember is her ever worrying about money –
although I know she must have done so –
in the lean years when we wore hand-me-down clothes
and got surprise gifts from “Angels Anonymous” to replaced the sagging, stained, green thrift-store couch.
She always found a way to put a full meal on the dinner table,
and if I complained about the frozen lima beans
she never heaped guilt and shame on my plate
by telling me it was all we could afford.
I don’t remember her complaining.
I don’t remember her being too busy for me.
I don’t remember her feeding me distractions.
I don’t remember worry.
But I remember the ceiling of my mother’s kitchen,
and I remember the space to dream.
It is a good memory.