How do you talk about your mom? That’s what I asked myself as I stared at a blank page, wondering how to write something worthy of my mother. So complex a mother and daughter relationship can be that to document in detail would take years to complete. So, I made some CliffsNotes for you. Below are little mile-markers to explain our relationship through the years – each a definitive time that I called out, “Moooom!”
…I said, the voice of a seven-year-old girl searching our house in Honolulu, Hawaii. I checked all the usual spots – the kitchen, living room, and the lanai (or covered veranda). And after what felt like hours, I found my mother dressed and freshly showered, preparing herself for the day. I climbed on my parents’ four-poster bed, and belly flopped on the mattress as my new baby sister sat quietly in a bouncy chair nearby. From the bed, I had a perfect view of the bathroom. I’d watch my mother put on crimson red lipstick and blow-dry her black, shoulder-length curls into place. She’s so beautiful, I’d think. I hope I grow up to be like her one day.
…I said, the shriek of a girl in the midst of her teens. Sixteen years old on a Sunday night in Augusta, Georgia and I’m trying to solve the vital decision of what-to-wear to high school the next day. I yell for my mom to help pick out an outfit, but after surveying my closet, she reaches for the last possible thing I would ever choose to wear. “Meggie, what about this one? A boatneck top with bootleg jeans? It’s cute!” My eyes grazed the ceiling and my insides started to burn. Strike one. “How about this dress? This floral print looks so pretty on you,” she said. Is she serious right now? Strike two. “No, mom! Those choices are ridiculous. You don’t know me at all!” I said, taking my teen angst with me as I stormed out the door.
…I said, greeting her with the excitement of a girl in her late-twenties. My mother came to stay at my charming, pre-war home in downtown Charleston, South Carolina for the weekend, just like she had fistfuls of times before. On Sunday evenings, friends would gather in the kitchen while my mother filled our plates with seafood paella, gumbo, or some other kind of magic. Then, as nights warmed into summer, we’d eat outside on the long wooden porch, drinking red wine, laughing, and solving the world’s problems until it was time to turn in.
“…I have a drinking problem,” I said, months later, waking up from the biggest hangover of my life. Confused, my mother asked if I took medicine before we went out, the last ditch effort to explain my behavior from the night before. But it wasn’t pills; it was whiskey. And the look on her face as I stumbled into the bathroom that morning told me that my issue with alcohol wasn’t a secret anymore.
…I said, smiling at the miniature golden record she just bought me at the Elvis Presley gift shop in Memphis Tennessee. I fastened the souvenir to my key ring and piled into the SUV. Months had passed since I quit drinking (the first time) and my sights were set on the West Coast. I had dreamed of California my whole life, and although she dreaded me living far from home, mom knew a move like this could change my life. So, in good faith, she sold me her SUV for a dollar and we road-tripped through Asheville, Nashville, and to my grandmother’s house in Lawton, Oklahoma. A week later, I hugged mom goodbye as she flew back home and I drove toward a new life out west.
…I said out loud as I prepared dinner in my very own apartment in Carpinteria, California. As I chopped carrots for a homemade coconut curry dish, lessons from my mother hit me all at once. How I placed the tasting spoon on a small saucer to keep the counter clean; how the dishrag hung on one shoulder for spills or to quickly dry a dish; or how I set the table with cloth napkins and fresh flowers even if it was only me. Although we were now over two-thousand miles apart, at that moment, I felt closer to my mother. I finally understood what unconditional love meant to her: It meant we always had what we needed and more. It meant beautifully set dinner tables and homemade meals daily. It meant always believing in me, even at times when I didn’t.
And after dinner, with gratitude in my heart and tears in my eyes, I picked up the phone to dial her number, thankful for these moments I can still call my mom.