Bicoastal Moms: A Queen and I

My plane from Boston hits the runway at LAX. I text Isabel, my daughter, “I’m here!!!”

“Mam!!!” she replies.

“Lisa in da house, y’all!” she tweets.

Isabel graduated from college two years ago and moved to L.A. to work in the film industry. Ah, destiny …

She picks me up at baggage claim, and we’re off on our second annual mother/daughter L.A. adventure. I’m visiting to see how my only child’s getting on in the world, to get to know her boyfriend, but mostly just to be — to be a mom.

We head to the Farmer’s Daughter hotel on Fairfax, across from the Farmers’ Market. After checking in, we hang out in the hotel’s garden courtyard, order a celebratory concoction, homemade Southern-style biscuits and jams, a luscious fruit salad direct from the Imperial Valley. Oh, yeah, seventy-five degrees. Sultry penumbras, molded by the sun, melt around the leaves of the jacaranda, the hibiscus. I feel like an escapee from Boston’s trifling spring.

“I’m so happy you’re here, Mam!”

I smile because life is near perfect, but my eyes tear up. “So am I!” I say, hiding how sad I am to only be visiting.

That night we meet James, Isabel’s boyfriend, across the street at The Grove, a garden-like outdoor shopping mall. We dine on the patio of one of the restaurants clustered around The Grove’s fountain, while the water dances to music, to a beat. I feel overwhelmed with happiness. Super cheesy, I know, but I tell them, “I love L.A.! Like in the Randy Newman song!” They laugh. They love L.A. too, love each other.

The next day, L.A. empties out for Memorial Day weekend. Isabel and I follow the snake of cars out of Beverly Hills on our way to Brentwood, to the Country Mart for lunch. We top off the afternoon with a visit to the J. Paul Getty Museum, where we take a tram, Disneyland-style, to the top of the hill that overlooks L.A. The otherworldly light, the beauty of the place settles on us like a royal mantle, like we’re visiting one of our palaces.

Inside one of the galleries, we discover items from the Royal Trust Collection are on loan for the exhibit, “Royal Passion: Queen Victoria and Photography.” Victoria and Prince Albert were enthusiastic patrons of the newly minted art of photography, and many of the photographs depict them with their children — an ordinary family, appearing middle class in ordinary clothing, devoted to one other.

A gold bracelet in a glass case catches my eye. I bend down for a closer look. Thirteen linked gold medallions hold sepia portraits of each of Victoria’s grandchildren, the reverse engraved with their initials and birthdates. The exhibit card says Victoria wore this piece constantly until the end of her life. Upon her death, she stipulated that the bracelet be displayed permanently in the room at Windsor Castle where Prince Albert died.

Her sentiment, her tribute gobsmacks me. I think about my only child, about how Victoria ruled the British Empire while she gave birth to nine children and then became grandmother to thirteen. Still I can relate. Her children married and spread out over Europe, yet she held them close to her heart like a mom, the role of a lifetime symbolized by the circle of her gold bracelet. Bicoastal moms: a queen and I.

My last day in Cali, I’m sad to be going back to Boston, sad my daughter lives so far away, that I’ll only see her four or five times a year. Just visits. On the plane back to Boston, I look over the postcards I bought of the Getty, of Victoria and Albert. Stunned by the beauty of the photographs, by art, by what it imprints on my life, I feel like a queen, grateful to explore the world, to visit my daughter, to be a mom.

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