Monday, April 14, 2014

Sorry, Mom

There have been a number of times in my life when I felt compelled to pick up the phone, dial my mom, and just say, "I'm sorry." Not because I wronged her in some way (although there have been plenty of those instances as well), but because I had some sort of epiphanal experience that illuminated how remarkable my mom was during the most difficult -- or perhaps the most banal -- periods of parenthood and how I never properly appreciated it at the time.

This happened once after I spent a long, rainy weekend in Blowing Rock, NC, with my best friend, my 24-month-old godson (who called it Uh-Oh Rock), and my 23-month-old daughter.  In planning, we had envisioned a weekend of wandering around the lake, climbing on rocks, and enjoying the Main Street playground.  In reality, trapped indoors by a late-spring monsoon that turned the paths around our condo into raging rivers and mudslides, we exhausted our Duplo building possibilities, drove to nearby Boone and camped out in a used bookstore with a children's section just large enough to house a train table, and finally, in desperation, dashed into the local fire station and begged them to let us touch the trucks.  On the last evening, I remember turning around from plating dinner in the kitchen to find the two kids playing chase on top of the dining room table and telling my friend, who had until that point resisted introducing her son to television, that it was time to corrupt her first-born with a DVD.  The next day, during the two-hour drive home, I called my mom, who had survived not only my but also my boy-girl twin siblings' terrible twos.

"I'm sorry, Mom" I told her.  "I never realized…"
Thanks, Mom. No matter life's twists and turns,
you always hang in there.

It happened again when my older daughter, now a middle schooler but sometimes still acting like a 23-month-old, decided to dedicate herself heart-and-soul to horseback riding.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I love that she has a passion and that her passion requires equal parts athleticism, humility, self-confidence, and manual labor. (Yep, she shovels her own $#!%.)  But her passion also requires a daily 50-mile round-trip and the planting of a new money tree in our backyard every spring.  Still waiting for those suckers to sprout.  My daughter would give up anything for riding, just like I would have given up anything for theater when I was her age. [Cue the aha moment music.] Just like I would have given up anything for theater, and the emotional ups-and-downs of auditions, and the daily practices, and the late-night tech rehearsals, and the performance schedule that conflicted with my 7th grade class trip to Williamsburg.

Ring, ring, ring.  "Hi, Mom. It's me. I just realized something..."

The latest in this series of events involves a book.  Now, when it comes to books, I'll be the first to admit that I tend to be somewhat pretentious.  It's obnoxious, I know, but when you major in comparative literature, they make you swear an oath on Jacques Derrida that you will never again crack the spine of a David Baldacci.  This pomposity manifests itself in a number of ways.  I avoid most tomes with the "Oprah recommends" sticker on the front (even though I would have given my eye teeth to get one of those stickers for one of my authors when I worked in publishing).  My book club groans when I recommend something on the esoteric side. ("Should we read Eugenides's The Marriage Plot in conjunction with a Victorian novel so we can compare and contrast?" was the comment that almost got me kicked out of the group.)  I voluntarily joined a Facebook group rereading Ulysses during the month of February.  Admittedly, I'm somewhat masochistic on this front, so if it's heavy--and particularly if it's Russian--well, then, I'm your girl.

Gift from my Mom
So when my mom, who is on the waiting list for every new Janet Evanovich and Dorothea Benton Frank novel, sends me something to read, I admit that I'm sometimes a bit cynical a total snob.  For instance, years ago when she sent me Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea (her go-to gift for anyone facing one of life's major turning points) with a lovely bookmark and handwritten note, I shelved the slender volume, unopened, in my guest bathroom.

Last month, however, when my book club finished The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin, I stood in the doorway of the guest bath and looked at the book I had exiled there. Was it true that Anne Morrow Lindbergh had run away from what the public thought was a charmed life in order to sort through and write down down her feelings about balancing the demands of marriage and motherhood with her own desires for intellectual stimulation, satisfying relationships, and self-fulfillment?  Was it true there were essays inside by a well-read, career-minded woman who, mid-life and mid-marriage, had trouble defining her place in the world?  How prescient.  How modern.  How… perfect for me.

My mom probably knew that all along.

I read chapter one and it knocked my socks off.  I read it again, barely able to digest all the lessons it contained, not sure if I had the capacity to absorb any additional truths recorded on the subsequent pages.  For someone whose new year's resolution has simplified itself into this prayer/mantra -- "Help me be satisfied with where I am, if I am where I'm supposed to be" -- this was indeed a gift.  For someone whose life in a landlocked state had become a little too metaphorical, Lindbergh's coastal reflections were both as penetrating and as stimulating as the salt air itself.

"Perhaps this is the most important thing
for me to take back from beach-living:
simply the memory that each cycle of the tide is valid; 
each cycle of the wave is valid;
each cycle of a relationship is valid."

I'm not sure I actually recognized how badly my pride desired validation -- for my choices, for the matters in which I feel I have no choice, and for the place I find myself as a result of the ebb and flow of those forces -- until that validation was proffered in a book that pride itself almost kept me from opening. As Alanis Morissette might write, "Isn't it ironic?"  Sometimes one has to be humble and patient and faithful in order to understand how remarkable the most difficult -- or perhaps the most banal -- moments of life can be.

"Hello, Mom?  It's me.  I just wanted to say I'm sorry… and thanks… again."