Things I hope my mother knows
My mother was 36 when she had me. She wrote the following message six weeks after I was born, in a baby book, on the page titled “A word about me from Mom…”:
Brooke, You were born a beautiful little girl, with a head full of dark hair. You are your mommy and daddy’s pride and joy. You are a good; and happy baby. You are a very special baby because most people had given up on your mommie ever having a child. We love you more than anything in the world.
The first time I read this message was in January 2016, nearly 28 years later. I was touched to read it: I imagined my mother, an exhausted but contented new mom, putting me, her baby, down for a nap and sitting down to commemorate her feelings in writing.
It was news to me, the part about people having given up on her becoming a mom. I’d never thought of 36 as particularly late. She never seemed older than the other mothers, except for when she went through menopause when I was in elementary school, but when that happened, she wasn’t old — the menopause came early.
And of course I already knew she loved me more than anything in the world. I have known it every day of my life.
What I also knew, but that wasn’t written in the baby book, is that my mother was scared. See, my mother’s mother was very sick and was unable to love my mother the way a daughter needs her mother to love her. My mother was afraid she might not be able to love me the way I needed her to love me.
But then when she had me, as the message in the baby book can attest, my mother’s heart cracked open and she felt a love that she could never have imagined feeling.
She loved me more than anything when she woke me up early and brought me to her bed to watch the Disney Channel while she got herself ready for work and picked out “choices” for me. She always gave me choices. This outfit or that? This food or that? This school or that?
Yes, when the Montessori pre-school my mother and I both adored announced they were no longer offering grades one through five, my mother let me choose which elementary school I’d attend. After narrowing down the choices using whatever adult parameters she and my father must have had, she brought me to visit two schools, where I was allowed to spend a day in each classroom, have an interview with each first grade teacher, and ultimately decide for myself. “Okay, honey, this school or that?”
She loved me more than anything when she made a game of out of her fears so I didn’t have to be afraid. “Since Daddy’s out of town on business,” she’d say, “we’re going to have a sleepover in the master bedroom,” when really she was scared to have me all the way across the house without a man at home to protect us. We slept with the alarm on heightened security, where even exiting or entering the master bedroom would set off sirens. We hunkered down together, and watched early episodes of Friends and Frasier, and it was fun.
She loved me more than anything every time she showed me a new movie she knew I would love, and despite my protests simply said, “Trust me, honey.” I did trust her. Grease, Dirty Dancing, and Clueless remain three of my favorite movies — I wonder how she knew.
She loved me more than anything every time she surprised me. She surprised me with a birthday party the year I was having a hard time making and keeping friends, with travel toys I wasn’t allowed to open until I got on the plane, with (sometimes embarrassingly) perfect costumes for school events, and with what felt like everything I had circled in the American Girl catalog on Christmas morning.
My mother loved me more than anything when joint custody was a given in her mind. She knew that loving me meant sharing me with my father, who also loved me more than anything. She gave me all of her when I was with her while letting me go when I had to leave. After the divorce, the first night we spent in our new house without my father, I remember her giving me her presence, which was all I needed and more. She told me she was sad and missed him, too, and that we had each other. Then she reminded me I would get to see him soon. When it was time for me to get on the bus that would then drop me off at his house after school, she smiled and waved and said, “I’ll see you soon!”
She loved me more than anything when she shielded me before the time was right to tell the truth. She let me have fun at a sleepover, waiting until I was in the car with her the next morning to tell me calmly that my cat had gotten very sick the night before and would need to be put down. I can’t even remember if I saw Trouble again after that car ride, or if he had already died, because that wasn’t ultimately what mattered. It was my mother’s care that mattered — it was her honesty and strength. It is her love that I remember.
She loved me more than anything when I was in 8th grade and she continued to let me spend time with the awful girl I called, “best friend”. She barely made her opinion known — it wasn’t until later that my father told me about the times he’d called my mother suggesting they forbid me from seeing the girl. My mother had repeatedly assured him that they needed to trust me, and that I would figure it out on my own. She was right. I did figure it out. And my mother never once said, “I told you so.”
My mother loved me more than anything when she made sure I was on birth control and that I felt comfortable talking to her about love and sex and everything in between. She supported my every move even though she was terrified of perpetuating the familial cycle of unplanned, too-young pregnancies she herself had (hopefully) finally broken by waiting to have me.
She loved me more than anything when my first love broke my heart into a million pieces, and again when he broke it a second time, and then a third. She listened to my stories and sat with my tears. Even though there were times the heartache made me so depressed I could barely get out of bed, she never judged or told me what to do. And each time he fell back in love with me, she welcomed him back into my life — and her home — with open arms.
She loved me more than anything when I opened the acceptance letter from my college of choice. She jumped up and down and cried tears of joy even though this moment heralded a future that would ultimately take me thirteen hundred miles away from her.
My mother loved me more than anything when she allowed me room to change and grow, even though from time to time it may have felt like she was losing me. When after each semester I came home from college a seeming-different person, she was sure to adjust the food and drink she offered me according to my current tastes and prejudices.
She loves me more than anything when she feels that I’ve been slighted, or when the world doesn’t see me for who she knows I am. She pushes me with love, always reminding me of my talents and potential even when I forget, especially when it seems no one else can see me. She has gently but persistently reflected back to me what she sees in me — she knew I was a storyteller a decade before I saw it myself.
She still picks up the phone — she always carries my tears and gives me her sympathy. She sometimes gives advice, and only when I ask her to.
She fights for my current partnership even though she lost the fight for partnership with my father. She advocates for the forgiveness and vulnerability and patience and communication and compassion she knows my partner and I believe in and are capable of.
From day one she has balanced respecting me like an adult while protecting, supporting, and nurturing me like a child.
My heart bursts open, but it also aches. I don’t know why.
Maybe it’s because my strong, beautiful, brilliant, generous, hilarious mother gave me everything she wishes she’d had. I wish she’d had it, too. My mother has had to figure out for herself how to love me. She’s had to figure out how to love without smothering or spoiling, how to properly prepare me to survive the world. She’s had to figure out when to shield me from what I could not yet handle and when to tell the truth. She’s had to decide which fears were founded and which were not — which nightmares could actually come true and which could not — which devastating things were just phases and which were harbingers of changes set in stone. She’s had to make it all up as she went along.
Or maybe it’s because there were so many times I was depressive, anxious, and ungrateful in spite of what she gave me, which was everything. And for that, I feel sorry, even though I couldn’t have done it any different.
Or maybe it’s because I grew up, and it feels like a loss somehow, like I somehow missed it even though I was there. Like I’m somehow missing her now, even though she’s here, even though we’re spending Mother’s Day together.
Or maybe I feel guilty now because I know I can never pay her back because that isn’t how it works. But I hope she knows I will pay it forward.
I hope she knows her love worked. I hope she knows I know what love is, because of her. I hope she knows I know I am loved, and always have been, and always will be, because of her. I hope she knows I know I am made of love, because of her.
I hope she knows that everything she did was right, even when I acted like it was wrong.
I hope she knows that here I am, not even thirty years old, already having achieved a genuine, sublime, and lasting happiness that most people work their whole lives to achieve, because of her.
I hope she knows that I am proud to be just like her — that I will show up to be brave, and respectful, and caring, and fun, and nurturing with my future babies, her baby’s babies, even when it’s hard — especially when it’s hard, because of her. And when I screw it up from time to time, because I will, I hope she knows I will mend and repair, which will take the most courage of all. I hope she knows that I’ll find new ways to be even better than she was, even though I can’t right now imagine what that will look like.
I hope she knows I’ll love her forever even though I tell her almost every day. I hope she really knows.
This piece was originally published on Mothers Day, 2016 at brookebishop.com.