This is What it Looks Like to Become Real

to become real
Inside: to become real hurts and once you’re real you can’t be ugly. But not everyone understands this yet.

Naked in her room or tub, she’d let us come in. I suppose it was hard to find time alone when mothering so many. I learned what I would look like by watching her but I have no point of reference past 53. I find it curious that she found it easier to bare skin than soul.

The last time we went out together when she was still able – we sat, holding hands, at Tim Horton’s of all places. I stroked her smooth nails, polished to the end. Her tin of colored polishes firmly imprinted in my childhood memory as deeply as fresh homemade buns and blueberry muffins.

I lotioned her legs when her face seeped and one eye no longer tracked and she could no longer pluck her own eyebrows. I wish I had done that for her too but even at the end we left too much unsaid and I offered lotion instead. She never asked me for anything.

She was fiery and fierce and would fight for her babies no matter our age or what we had done. Teen pregnancies, juvie, collect calls in the night – she knew heartache and fear but she had our backs. Watching her, I learned what it meant to leave the porch light on.

She didn’t talk to me about body changes or hot flashes but I saw the fan that helped her sleep. She plucked chin hairs as we watched TV. She loved to write and had a fabulous vocabulary but I don’t think she had yet found words for everything she wanted to say. It took me years to understand the strength in vulnerability.

I watched her pull chocolate bars and coke from the freezer – this is how she kept going mid-afternoon. I remember snippets of conversations and feelings – the women working on weight loss together, and how she rarely rested or asked for help. I learned what it meant to not care much for yourself.

Near the end when she couldn’t open up to eat or chew and she was skinny at last, she declared a fast. She would refuse to let cancer steal anything from her. They poured coke down the feeding tube – coke of all things – and there was an uncomfortable, bittersweet irony in that.

She never quite fit in, I don’t think. Not into her family, church, or the ladies who met for coffee. She’d rather be alone reading, exploring meaty things. I’d sometimes come home and find her on the couch reading and she told me she used to read the dictionary for fun. I discovered over time that we are very much the same.

But you wouldn’t have known that at first glance, babe to breast and laundry piled high. She left her career in the 70’s to come home, a radical feminist act of her own. Money was tight and they both worked hard and I watched what it meant to carve your own path. In sweat equity.

I think she tried to be a good girl and suppress her own rage but it simmered there sometimes and I stayed out of the way. She could throw a shoe at a kid from 20 feet away. One time she tried to break down the door with a hairbrush; I called her a bitch and she was furious. And I learned that I would never disrespect her again.

She’d stay up late Christmas eve filling stockings and working hard to ensure that each one of us knew we were loved. Trinkets and bags were pulled out of her closet, a year’s worth of heartfelt hunting and gathering. When I was older she let me join in and I learned that filling a stocking is much like whispering a prayer.

In the year or so before she died, people crossed the street to avoid her eyes and she felt like she was wearing a mask. It burned and felt foreign and I understood then that she’d spent her whole life fighting to become real. And real hurts and we loved her and once you’re real you can’t be ugly. But not everyone understands this yet.

Krista xo

NOW WHAT? She kept her favorite book, The Velveteen Rabbit (referral link), tucked into her top drawer. I didn’t understand fully what it meant to become real until long after she was gone.

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16 comments on “This is What it Looks Like to Become Real

  1. I probably should have read this in the middle of a work day. Now i’m trying to work with tears in my eyes.
    Thank you for sharing you and your mum’s story Krista. How absolutely beautiful. This is too raw for me, having lost my darling mum-in-law 18 months ago, but this is something I will need to come back to. And will share with my sisters. xo

    • Thank you as always for reading, Emma (and in this case for sharing with your sisters). I am sorry for your loss. I’d love to write one day about my dad too – he has been gone about 4.5 years now already and somehow it doesn’t seem possible. I miss them both.

  2. This is the mom I remember too – also the new things I recognize since starting my own messy mothering journey!
    God that woman was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known & I also desperately want to be mothered by her again xx
    Really amazing words Kris ❤️

  3. I see myself in this description, unfortunately, not my own mother. Not much nurturing there, but I can see myself ‘retiring’ from professional accounting job to stay home with babes and always exhausted, sewing treat bags in middle of night for birthday parties to hide in woods. Thank you for sharing – brings back alot memories and few tears (sons are far away)

  4. Krista,
    I read each word you write and then think and cry and maybe think some more. But I rarely know what to say. So here is my bit of silence to let this sink in.

  5. Your story is beautiful and beautifully written. Thank you for sharing. I find mother-daughter relationships to be some of the toughest and most profound. My mother (with whom I often had a strained relationship – but whom I never doubted loved me) passed in March — and I wonder how my 16-yr-old daughter will view me.

    • I had a beautiful friendship with my mom in the time we had together and I think a lovely relationship with my girls. But I know they will likely need to forgive me for things and I will need to stay humble and open to hearing how I can better support them or where I’ve gone wrong.

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