As a child, I would awaken sometimes in the middle of the night to the hum of the sewing machine. I don’t know if my mom couldn’t sleep or if she was driven, out of necessity, to complete a project for one of us kids. The night before my brother, Jesse, was due she must have stayed up super late to complete my 13th birthday gift. I awoke in the morning, my mom already gone to the hospital, to find a colorful button down shirt and matching flouncy skirt on a hanger, neatly pressed, suspended from the chain of my hanging bed.
I felt sorry for myself that she wasn’t home for my birthday, a little lost in the crowd perhaps. But it was clear to me that my birthday gift was an act of love. A message to me that although life didn’t always feel perfect, that she loved me intensely.
Even though child no. 9 was on his way, I was not forgotten.
She made me an amazing, white, strapless dress with peplum for a Junior high dance I was excited about. Green crinoline peeked out from underneath the peplum to match my green heels. In high school, she dropped whatever else she probably should have been doing to help me whip up, at the last minute, some golden pants (yes golden), with tight little ankles, for a New Year’s Eve party held at the local Greek restaurant of our small town. We never had a ton of money growing up and maybe my mom wished she could have offered us more material goods but she seemed determined to ensure that I felt provided for.
And maybe she knew that I never felt pretty and this was her way of supporting me as I learned to love the body and skin I was in.
In early elementary my little friend, Anna, and I were downtown (by ourselves!) and we stole some erasers and pencils and other really cool stuff like pencil sharpeners from a local shop. I mean, who doesn’t always need more pencil sharpeners? My friend got caught by her mom and ratted me out. My mom made me return to the store, hand over the goods, and apologize face-to-face to the manager. Oh, the dread and shame I felt awaiting the hour. But what a lesson to a little person.
She helped me put a name and a face to my crime.
On a rare occasion I would return home from school to find my mom lying on the scratchy floral couch reading the dictionary. Or a novel that one of my sisters or I had brought home from school. Come to think of it, the only time my mom wasn’t multi-tasking was when she was reading or studying her Bible. She loved words and books, loved to study, and wrote me out bits of her heart in birthday cards over the years, with her round, familiar scroll generally devoid of punctuation. Though I constantly throw things away I am so thankful that I kept some of these.
Reminders that she was my mom, but also my friend. A kindred spirit.
Did you know that when you were born I had to stay in hospital several extra days. I used to tuck you into bed with me for hours + hours at a time and as I cuddled you I would read. I had a stack of books on my table that I couldn’t see over. Maybe that’s why you love books! I still remember the sense of warmth and peace I felt for those days. Being with you is still like that.
In grade nine I wrote a really disgusting note to a boy in my class. It was full of sexual innuendo – ideas that I didn’t know about firsthand or fully understand but had read about in a novel. The boy got mad at me and gave me the note back and I tucked it, ashamed, into one of my school books. Well, it fell out in the kitchen and my mom found it. Seriously, the lady had eyes in the back of her head and a nose that sniffed out trouble. When she asked me about the note I lied and said my friend, Shaeah, had written it as if she didn’t know my handwriting.
But she never said a word again. She didn’t have to.
That same year I was arrested. I had broken into an empty shop with some friends; some people were drinking and had caused minor damage to the property. The cops came and I was one of the last out the window. Since I was incredibly coordinated (ahem) I landed hard on my face and to add insult to injury the arresting officer clasped his fingers in a vise-like grip around my neck and hauled me first to his car then to the station. Charges were later dropped but my parents faithfully picked me up and I think understood that I hadn’t actually known what I had gotten myself into and didn’t feel the need to scold or shame me.
I knew their expectations but also that they were always there for me. Whether I deserved it or not.
The one and only time I ever swore at my mother was the one and only time she threatened bodily harm. I locked myself in the downstairs bathroom as she banged on it with her hairbrush yelling at me to open up. I wasn’t that stupid!
I had crossed a line that I would never even tip-toe up to again.
In grade twelve, a couple weeks prior to graduation, I ran away from home. Not to get away from my family but to escape my small town where bush parties, betrayal and fist-fighting felt like the only things a girl could count on. As a parent I can imagine the pain that I caused them but they never lashed out. Their love and forgiveness, the mercy they showed me time and time again, amazes me all over again as I write. I didn’t believe I was worth fighting for back then.
But my parents saw in me what I couldn’t yet see and their love eventually helped make me whole.
About a year and a half after moving to England with barely a goodbye to my parents I was broken, in pain, certainly not proud of my lifestyle. I had zero self-worth. My dad’s mom had just died and he was broken-hearted, their 12th child was on the way, but I called my mom for comfort. They bought me a ticket back to Canada though I have no idea where the money came from, and opened wide their home and hearts for me to return and rest and heal.
They covered my shame. They were my safe house.
After becoming a wife and mom, my own mother and I became friends and I had the privilege of getting to know her on a deeper level. To hear her heart, learn about her struggles with depression and other hard and painful bits of her past, to listen to her dreams, to watch her wrestle with some aspects of life and faith, to watch her love her younger kids with the fierceness and devotion that I myself had benefited from. I honestly don’t think I am half the woman that she was and yet I also don’t think I would be half the woman I am without her example.
Her honesty with me taught me one of the lessons that I have needed to grasp most tightly to over my adult years: Perfection is not required.
I miss her. I want one more day of her coming to visit and staying up too late into the night to talk, bleary eyed but happy – there was never enough time. I want her to know my kids, to meet my sassy youngest who loves to write like her mom and grandma before her. To stand in the kitchen listening with me as my middle daughter makes beautiful music on the piano and to be there when my son gets married and welcomes his own first child into the world. I miss the children’s books with gorgeous artwork of little brown babies that she would send to my kids, suckers or gum taped into the card for a sweet, little surprise.
Instead, I will remember the lessons she taught me. I will pour out. I will extend mercy and forgiveness and cover the shame of others when they fall. I will love fiercely and speak life over my kids whether they deserve it in the moment or not. I will delight in them. I will hold them accountable sometimes and hold my tongue often. I will be real and let them see me struggle and rise above. I will leave the porch light on and be there for them when they call. I will tell them often that I love them. And how much I really, truly like them.
I will be their mom and then, if they will permit, I will be their friend.