Most people outgrow dressing to please their mothers, but not me. I was old and not very wise, but I was smart enough to know that packaging myself well made my mother happy. That was especially true if I hoped to get some information about the secret that she was keeping hidden from me.
As I prepared to visit Mom, I pulled on jeans with brass studs on each back pocket. Loved the fit. Hated the sparkle across my rear. Happily, the white shirt I was wearing covered the flash.
I usually buy my jeans from Costco. The price is right. No flattering salespeople. Questionable fit. But I purchased my flashy denim in a boutique where a saleswoman slathered me with flatter about how they made me look.
And I listened.
Earlier, one of my daughters observed my showy pants. “Those look fine if you like to emphasize your butt, but I have never thought that is a good thing.” Then she quickly looked down at her phone.
She probably thought I missed the eye roll.
Regardless of where the sparkle is splashed, I’m not a flashy gal, so I just tried to wear the jeans to places that didn’t matter to me. A senior center qualified.
Before I left, I remembered that if I showed up in my white shirt, it could be a big problem. Earlier, when Mom was living independently, I went to lunch at the senior center and she observed, “Honey, you need to tuck in your shirt.”
“Oh, this is the style. It doesn’t need to be tucked in.”
“Yes, it does. It doesn’t look right.”
“Styles have changed. See it has a finished hem with side vents so that it can be worn out.”
“But it is still shaped like a shirt that should be tucked in.”
“Not these days.”
“You really should tuck it in.”
“Then I’d have empty belt loops that would stick out all around me.”
“It would be better than a shirt hanging out.”
“Sorry. I can’t do it.”
When we entered the dining room, she had a scowl as if to say, “It’s not my fault this person is so sloppy. Whoever she is.”
I walked with my head high and my stomach tight. I could give her that much.
With that memory, I changed to a sweater that was a hand-me-down from Mom even though it didn’t cover my tattooed rear.
Happily, I didn’t have a muffin top, because if Mom had a good day, a bulge would certainly get noticed.
When I got in my car, I asked Siri to, “Remind me to pick up the mending when I get to Mom’s.” Then I checked to find my best route. Google said that it would take me 43 minutes.
I hated the gap between us.
As I drove, I thought about Mom’s secret and the work I’d done in the past few weeks to find clues from old photos.
Maybe I’m a sensitive person with a touch of paranoia, but for most of my life, I’d known that while Mom loved me, she didn’t really like me. When she called me a surprising blessing, I already knew that right then, at that moment, I was higher on Mom’s “like” meter than I’d ever been in my whole life. I just didn’t have a clue about why I’d started out at such a low spot in her heart.
As I’d done about a decade earlier, I poured over old photos for clues to my childhood anxiety and unhappiness. The only thing that I knew for sure was that both Mom and I lost our natural smiles by the time I was about eight. However, my younger siblings continued to beam with abandon throughout their childhoods.
As I thought about why Mom never expected me to be a blessing, I knew that as an adult I’d filled barrels of grief and rolled them toward all who loved me, including Mom. But I also knew that her issues with me began as a very young child, and for that, I could find no reason.
When I packed the clues away, I only knew what I’d know all along. My dad was responsible for a chunk of Mom’s heartache until she finally divorced him. But, I still had no idea of how his wounds related to me. I could only hope that Mom would have another day of coherent peace and unearth the secret hidden under the sub-floor of her heart.
In the meantime, I would continue to take Michael’s advice and just be happy knowing that I was a blessing.
On the day that drove to visit in my flashy jeans, my mother had been in memory care about nine months.
When I entered Mom’s room, her soft curls were backlit with light from the garden, and they provided a gentle halo to her vibrant self. She eyed me up and down. “You look so cute! I haven’t seen that sweater before.”
Of course, she had.
Mom said that she wasn’t hungry, but she wanted to go to a dining room so that I could get a “good meal.”
On Mom’s very best days she always said she wasn’t hungry. She was ready to head to the next life, whatever it may hold, and from our conversations before she took off hitchhiking, I knew that she thought there were better uses for money than to sustain life in memory care. Mom had dropped hints that she thought she would leave the planet more quickly if she didn’t eat, but on her bad days, she would slurp up any calorie-laden drinks they placed in front of her.
Nursing homes get evaluated on how they maintain the residents’ weight, so she wasn’t going to fade away quickly.
I walked ahead as we went to the assisted living center that Mom had been booted from after she took off to volunteer at the school. As Mom followed me, she exclaimed, “Let me see your jeans.”
I lifted the sweater so that she could see the entire slash of brass studs dancing on each cheek. “That’s so fancy!”
A lousy purchase put to good use.
In the dining room, Mom held her head high and watched the back of my head as we wove through tables of residents. She hated the walker because it seduced her to bend over as her eyes tried to find their way. But with me as a guide, she could walk like a proud woman who was trying to convince her former neighbors that there was no reason for her to have been kicked out from their midst.
When we got to a table by the window, she beamed and said, “I’m so proud of you!” I was an old woman who sat in flashy jeans and basked in knowing that I was pretty darn likable.
I was her trophy daughter that day.
After lunch, I suggested that we go to the art studio. Mom said that she hadn’t been doing much in ArtWorks lately, but she would like to see the art therapists, Sondra and Carrie. So we held our heads high and wound our way to where I hoped five little pieces of clay would prompt Mom to remember her secret.
And then, maybe with the warmth of our love, I would hear the story of my surprising blessedness.