Missing the Gold

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When I let my mind wander, I’m a crappy mom. Ask my daughter.

Now, to be fair, my daughter was a prattler. Driving along with her in the car seat in back was like being bathed in word vomit. She would tell herself stories, she would make up songs, she would report on every day’s events at the molecular level, and sometimes, she would ask questions that she already knew the answer to, just to make noise.

As a busy single mother, I learned to tune most out, my mind a sieve that sifted for only the nuggets of gold amidst all the verbiage. Sometimes, I would miss the gold.

Like the time she was sick and the nurse mentioned pneumonia as one possibility. It seemed a fairly remote possibility, so I immediately discounted it, which is why I wasn’t paying attention when she asked, “Mama, is pneumonia serious?”

“Oh yes,” I responded, probably thinking about what to make for dinner. “People used to die from it.”

It was the unaccustomed silence from the back seat that finally got my attention. A tiny little hiccupping sob. Oh.

“No, sweetie, you’ll be fine…”

But even that pales for my daughter in comparison to the time I told her she had an ugly smile.

For the second semester in a row, she had come home with a terrible school photo. My daughter was a cute little girl, but somehow she got it into her head that smiling for a photo meant grimacing and baring her teeth.

When she bemoaned her bad picture with the usual excess of words, I said absently, “You just have to stop smiling like that. It’s not cute at all.”

Again, silence. But I didn’t pick up on this one, didn’t pick up on what she needed me to say, and it wasn’t until later that I heard her crying in her room because her mother had told her she had an ugly smile. Not what I’d said exactly, and certainly not what I’d meant, but she brings it up to this day, and she’s 26.

And today, I still try to listen to what my very verbal daughter does not say…that’s where the gold is and that’s when I can redeem myself for the crappy mom times.

Panning for Gold

GREETING CARD SENTIMENT

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I was standing in the greeting card aisle of Harris Teeter and crying. Not a lot, but the tears had definitely spilled over. You rolled your cart to the end of the aisle, saw the tears, and did a brisk about-face to roll away. Whatever sentiment you wanted to express with a greeting card could wait until this awkward live display of sentiment was over.

I understand. You had no idea I was crying because I was trying to pick out a Mothers’ Day card for my mother-in-law, and all the cards with all the sentiments for mothers stabbed me with words I won’t get to say to my own mother anymore.

I don’t blame you for running away. You came to the grocery for tomatoes, not a crying stranger.

Still, being able to say my mom’s name aloud, even to a stranger, might have been nice. Especially to a stranger, because this is my second Mothers’ Day without my mom and I feel like I may have used up the tears I can share with friends who were there for me through the year of motherless firsts.

Reaching out to a stranger in need is so hard for so many, although it wasn’t for my mom.

I remember one weekend in high school, the age where being noticed or different was excruciatingly embarrassing. My parents were treating my boyfriend and me to a day at the Great America theme park. Inside of the park, shortly after our arrival, we saw some commotion. A young woman sat on the ground crying, her hands hovering protectively over her boyfriend, who lay next to her, jerking spasmodically. Park attendees swarmed past this couple, sneaking glances at the freak show, then parting like ants and continuing on their way. I would have been one of them, but my mom dropped to her knees.

“Is he having a seizure?” she asked. “Is he epileptic?”

My mom stayed with the couple, sacrificing a wallet to put between the boy’s gnashing teeth because she had read he could bite off his tongue otherwise. She waited until medical help arrived, talking calmly to the frantic young woman.

I don’t remember much about the rest of the day. What sticks is the boy’s movements on the ground, ugly and somehow embarrassing even to be around. And my mom, stopping because that’s just who she was. For my mom, there were no strangers when a person was in need.

Last night, my husband called from the ball park. He had been waiting an hour and a half for the trolley and it still hadn’t come; could I pick him up? As I rolled to the curb by the baseball stadium, my husband gestured to a man who was 80 if he was a day.

“He needs a ride too,” he said.

As we pulled away, I remembered that strangers still help strangers, and that the kindness didn’t die with my mom.

 I hope that, if omniscience is granted after death, she knows that kindness continues. Maybe that’s better than any card I could have gotten her.Image