Thursday, May 7, 2009

Missing Mom As Mother's Day Approaches

It's easier getting through Mother's Day now that I'm a mom. I look forward to the secret gifts the kids have made me at preschool, which are never very secret: they tell me they've made me something secret, and invariably one of them tells me exactly what it is. I like that when I show up at preschool for the pre-Mother's Day tot shabbat, my kids spot me from afar, and their faces light up, as if it's been years, not hours, since we were last together. I like that they delight in giving me a card and helping daddy present a gift on Mother's Day morning, coming to my warm bed and filling it up with their little arms and legs and still-pudgy faces.

But every year, as the day draws near, I'm always a bit wistful, having endured 12 motherless Mother's Days between the time my mom passed away and the year I became a mom.
It's inevitable, I guess, that it will always be bittersweet for me. Mom didn't get to see her grandchildren born, or even get to see me marry, though the part of her that lives in me sure was kvelling on those blessed days.

I was on the phone with a friend recently and heard myself telling her one of the things I like about my job is that I get asked my opinion every day (though those who do the asking don't always listen to it). As soon as I said this, I flashed back to a story about a dinner party where the guests included, among others, my mom, my dad, and famed sportscaster Howard Cosell, a man not known for his timidity when it came to self-expression. At some point during this dinner, my mom must've been at her pontificating best. I know this because my dad later told me that Cosell turned to my mom and told her, "You are the most opinionated person I've ever met."

My mom could never resist giving her opinion. She had opinions on politics (liberal) and food (ethnic and spicy were her preferences) and art (she loved Miro, Picasso, Monet, Michelangelo) . She read voraciously, novels and nonfiction, and could give you a New York Times Book Review-worthy critique of each book. She traveled extensively and shared knowledge of those travels just as extensively. If she found out you were going to Europe and only had a four-hour layover in Madrid, she no doubt would've steered you to just the right restaurant.

My mom never went to law school, but she could argue like a lawyer, and she could sound right even when she wasn't: she simply spoke with authority and many people believed her. Once when I was late arriving at New York's JFK airport on a delayed flight, and she and my dad had driven out to meet me, she occupied herself by manning what had, until she showed up, been an unmanned information booth. She appointed herself a one-woman expert on all things one might need to know on arrival in New York, and began doling out advice to all who came asking. No one -- not even airport personnel -- had the temerity to stop her.

We had our arguments and conflicts over the years, and she could be domineering, exacting, nosy, as well as searingly honest; there were no unexpressed feelings in our household. I'm a lot like her, for good and for ill. To this day I can't always help myself when something's better off unsaid, or at least said at some other time. But I also believe that relationships based in honesty beat the alternative every time.

Mom prepared me well for my professional life, that's for sure. I make a living giving my opinion. I can't help but believe she had a lot to do with this.

One thing she surely taught me was how to love. I feel her presence every time I cup one of my children's soft cheeks in my hand, and they respond by leaning into my touch. I know she's the reason they know how much I love them, because I learned to express it by the way she expressed it to me.

So here's to my mom as Mother's Day '09 approaches. I hope she's manning an information booth somewhere otherwordly, and dishing out her opinions -- wanted or not -- as only she can.

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