When we kids used to ask my mom what she wanted for her birthday or Christmas, she would say something like, “panty hose.” No, she wouldn’t say something like panty hose. That’s exactly what she said. She said panty hose, or stationery, or stamps, or Tupperware lids. (Not needing the bowls, you see, but the lids that always came up missing.) These answers were ridiculous to us. We cracked jokes about them. We cracked jokes about her. We didn’t believe anyone could be so unimaginative, so uninspired by the opportunity to improve herself. She was only interested in the trifling, mundane things she could actually use. Snort.
I’m probably remembering this now because my birthday is this week. Birthdays are rather significant to me. I am of a substantial age. And the product you see pictured here is my heart’s desire. I realized recently that it has long been my heart’s desire, but I have not been open enough with my own heart to express its desire. I am over jewelry; I don’t object to it but I just don’t wear it. Books find their way in and out by themselves. Fine cookware, of late, has energized my meal-making, so I’ve restocked. But otherwise, when I’m asked what I want as a gift, I have to say nothing, in the most sincere way. I’m through trying to dress up the scenery.
Until this year.
So I’m thinking again of my mother and what a mystery she has been to me in so many ways. This anniversary of my birth is the anniversary of her, long ago and far away from her family, barely 23, a good girl, smart, hard-working and fresh-off-the-farm in love with a reckless and insecure boy of 25, giving birth to her second baby in as many years. There would be one more and then she would be 27 and done with the having babies part.
But not done, indeed, never done, with the raising kids, keeping house and doing laundry part; the cooking and cleaning part; the shopping, clipping coupons and scrimp-and-saving part; the worrying night-and-day part; the folding grocery sacks and changing the vacuum filter part; the get-up-and-go-to-work-part; the night school, the ever-onward to the next credential; to overdue promotions; to conventions and committees; to daily troubles and nightly heartbreaks; to writing weekly letters and stamping endless envelopes; and storing leftovers in Tupperware after every meal.
It took me more than 40 years to comprehend a fraction of my mother’s life: the parts we shared and especially the parts we didn’t. But I’ve been coming around on this front, just as you have. We all understand our mothers better now, or so I hope for your sake. My mother wasn’t what I thought she was. She never stopped improving things. She alone kept things going. She took every opportunity to make things better. She knew all along what I’ve only learned lately. Once you put yourself into the effort, your whole heart, your undying love, there’s really nothing else you need.
But the Dyson DC 18 Slim All Floors Vacuum? That little dazzler sure can turn your head.
Written with love to my forever mother.
Your middle one,