Happy Birthday, Momo

When I was ten years old, my mother and I dubbed 1995 “The Year of Hell”. It was the year my father took a job in Pennsylvania, commuting three or four (or more) hours over the border every Friday and Sunday night; giving his weekdays to his work and his weekends to his family. It was the year I transferred to the school for “smart kids”, where I was profoundly unhappy and teased incessantly. It was also the year my mom opened up a daycare out of our home, only to become the caregiver to a five-year-old boy who would soon vandalize our treadmill and dining room table, and start a pee fight with my little brother in the downstairs bathroom.

“The Year of Hell” was a bit much as titles go. We had the utmost of first world problems. My father was excelling in his career, while equally determined to spend time with his family. I learned how to defend myself and was intellectually challenged. My mother learned… how to turn down parents who are seeking a second year of daycare. But these problems were ours, and we needed a way to laugh about them, so we wrote off 1995 as a dud, and hoped for better years to come.

As I grew into a teenager with a Gilmore Girls-level relationship with my mom, we started naming all the years. We did it as a prediction on Christmas cards, and somewhere along the way doubled up with birthday cards, too; if you were turning a year older it was a new year, right?

“Happy birthday, may this be The Year of Adventure/The Year of the Marathon/The Year of I-Don’t-Need-No-Stinkin’-Regular-Job.”

“Merry Christmas and a happy new year, and may January bring The Year of Clarity/The Year of New Beginnings/The Year of the Perfect Man.”

There were also markedly less optimistic and sometimes inexplicable Years, including those of Mud, Unsustainability, Priesthood, and Investing Dangerously. (I have real cards for all of these.)

Today would have been my mother’s 59th birthday. It is the first time in my conscious life that I have not sat down to write her a birthday card on June 22nd. Instead, I’ve spent the past two months beginning and giving up on drafts of essays that could somehow encompass what I’ve felt since we lost her. None of them are good enough. None of them can possibly include all the things I want to say. But today is her 59th birthday, so I did my best and I wrote her this card. She definitely has wifi in her version of heaven.

Happy Birthday, Momo!

I’ve given a lot of thought to what we should call this year. It’s been The Real Year of Hell, because I’ve lost you, and it hurts every day. It’s been The Year of Bureaucratic Garbage and Piles of Paperwork. The Year of The F*cking Bank. It’s been The Year I Was Most Grateful you Gave Me a Brother.

It’s been The Year of Nasal Congestion and Kleenex Sales, and The Year I Realized Taking Someone for Granted Could Be a Compliment Instead of an Insult.

The Year of Growing Up, The Year of Nostalgia, The Year of Can We Please Just Have One More Conversation. The Year of Everything-on-this-Earth-Reminds-Me-of-You-Even-the-Rice-Pudding-in-a-Grocery-Store.

But above all these things, I’ve decided to officially dub 2017 The Year of Thank You. It’s going to be the year I lost you, but also the year I stopped and appreciated you the most. The year I read through old cards and your letters to me at camp (“Have you lost any teeth yet? I was trying to think of ways to do that…Maybe you could get someone to shoot them out in archery—JUST KIDDING—DO NOT TRY THIS!!!”), and saw with adult eyes what a great mom you were. The year my brain dredged up a slew of old memories faster than I could write them down, and the way that almost all of them made me belly laugh, even when I was crying.

Thank you for teaching me how much it’s possible to love someone you just met. Thank you for teaching me how much it’s possible to love someone you’ve been waiting 27 years to meet.

Thanks for showing me how to walk, how to talk, how to read and how to write—you got there even before the teachers did.

Thanks for your stubbornness, and each of its many uses.

Thanks for being an exemplary model of procrastination, and equally so, the kind of woman who stops messing around and just gets shit DONE.

Thank you for being angry at me instead of our dog, when I ignored your suggestions to stop pulling on his tail, and he finally bit me in the face “as a warning”. Thanks for passing down the “one is never enough” pet ownership policy, and showing me how to argue with my dad about keeping a troublesome dog/adopting a new cat/buying a bigger turtle tank (and win every time).

Thanks for the demonstrations of cat’s cradle, Gimp necklace-making, and Hot Loops headband artistry.

Thanks for instilling in me a lifelong appreciation for the curative properties of sugar.

Thank you for being brave.

Thanks for the guidance on being a big sister, including the tip about not rubbing my little brother’s head until he cries, because you were right, that isn’t very nice, and he will eventually fight back.

Thanks for taking on the roles of Santa, the tooth fairy, the Easter bunny, and Pamela Packrat.

Thank you for giving your kids all the things we needed, without turning us into entitled assholes. It took us a long time to figure out, but there are actual economic reasons for which Bi-Way makes more sense than Baby Gap when outfitting a growing child.

Thank you for showing me how to make a cross for the grave of a deceased pet mouse using two drinking straws, and helping me say goodbye to an animal I have loved.

Thanks for making me hug my brother when we were both crying. We can even do that on our own without prompting now.

Thank you for crying every single time an audience ever clapped for us, even when it was only pity clapping.

Thank you for your sense of humour.

Thanks for the tutorials on curling ribbon, mending hardcover books from the library with Elmer’s glue and elastic bands, latch-hooking, button-sewing, and friendship bracelet-making. YouTube has nothing on you.

Thank you for throwing the best and most elaborate Halloween parties, achieving ultimate success only when at least one kid cried (and then comforting them like a surrogate mom to make sure they were ok).

Thanks for keeping drawers full of cherry Halls, a bathroom cabinet stocked with Milk of Magnesia and Bactine, and a bottle of Advil in the kitchen spice rack.

Thank you for being a walking contradiction, and still making complete sense. Thanks for showing us how to take care of everything, even when you’re tired.

Thanks for imparting the deep shame of returning a book to the library past its due date.

Thanks for teaching me how to drive… that one time, until I nearly backed into a concrete post and you wisely left the rest of the dirty work to my father and my Young Drivers instructor.

Thank you for helping me survive my first heartbreak, and giving me the skills to survive a few more on my own (the modern equivalent of “if you teach a man to fish…”). Thanks for leading the charge on successfully creeping your adult children’s dating lives through social media.

Thank you for helping us stockpile memories and lessons and carry them with us for the rest of our lives.

Thank you for being my mom, and for being so present in my life that I’m always going to hear what you have to say, even if it can’t be out loud anymore.

Happy birthday, Momo. I’m so very glad you were born.