Sunday Edition 4/11/18
My mom was an avid coffee drinker. She’s been gone twenty years, but I have her old mug. Dad brought it to me a couple of years ago. Seeing it again caused some feelings of ambivalence, so I tucked it in the back of the cabinet and decided to think on it later.
If mom had been alive during the age of social media, and there was an option to declare the status of mother/daughter relationships, ours would have been “It’s Complicated.”
The relationship has rested solely on my shoulders for two decades now, and it’s still complicated. There’s just so much to sort through, and so many realizations still being had. Perhaps that is the nature of all mother/daughter relationships.
I’m finally older than she was when she died. I hit that milestone just before Christmas. I realize now how young she was, and how imperfect I still am. We expect a lot of our parents, and then one day we realize they’re human beings striving to do the best they can as they work out their own soul’s journey. In her case, she’d only been on this earth for eighteen years when she found she was to be responsible for another soul. She had her work cut out, getting me off to a good start with odds stacked against her. But she did it well, and for that I am grateful.
They say if you like who you are, you must give some credit to your parents. Good or bad, they had the greatest influence on you. I like who I am even though it took a while to get here.
My mom taught me that life and learning were about experiences. If there was an experience to be had, and it was within her means, we had it. I was in third grade when we moved to Tennessee so my parents could attend college. I remember mom’s enthusiasm over the university plays and events we would be able to attend for free or nearly free. As a child, I saw Macbeth, Arsenic and Old Lace, The Taming of the Shrew, and countless others. I attended concerts, symphonies, and formal music recitals. And occasionally she took us to sporting events; not because she was interested in sports, but because she knew that every experience you have in life expands your mind.
When she found out the woman living on the corner was from Greece, she had us introduce ourselves. We were welcomed into the woman’s home, and I had my first taste of Baklava.
When she met an elderly lady whose father had been in the Civil War, she took us to her house where we sat in an elegant parlor and sipped pink lemonade from fancy teacups while listening to childhood memories. Mom encouraged us to be cognizant of the fact that when we shook her hand, we were touching a hand that had once held that of a Civil War soldier. She understood the significance of “degrees of separation” long before the world heard of Kevin Bacon.
When I skipped going to college, opting instead to work for a year, she told me to go at least for a little while. “No one will care how long you were there,” she advised, “but it’s important to be able to say you attended.”
I went for one semester before dropping out to get married. There have been literally hundreds of times throughout my life when I’ve been glad I was able to say that I attended college. Mom was right. Nobody cares how long I was there, but having attended causes me to be perceived more positively in today’s society.
The mug caught my eye this morning. I hesitated for a moment, contemplating how I would feel drinking from it. I decided it would feel good. At 48, I’m living life my mother never got to see. I owe it to her to live well, and to have experiences for both of us. Our relationship is complicated, but today we’re sorting it out over a cup of coffee.