The Mosaic of Motherhood and A Tribute to My Mom

1cdcdbb34620a8ee0bd579c09f44cfaaI hate that I have never written this post before.

In my head I have written and re-written it a thousand times. I have started and stopped. Tried and failed. Left it halfway. Left it undone, incomplete.

I cannot write a blog post honoring my mom and describing her because I don’t know where to start and how to finish and how to make it complete enough and accurate enough and beautiful and fitting so you get it. So she gets it. So it feels like I’ve done her justice. I’m afraid it will fall short and I will be sorely disappointed I didn’t exactly represent her the way I wish to. The way she deserves. (So. No pressure.) But it’s the week of Mother’s Day- which also happens to be her birthday this year–and so it’s time.

(But first let’s all pause for a moment to please acknowledge the big suck of Mother’s Day and your birthday being on the same day: Big suck. Sorry, Mom.)

And so… My mom. My mom and I think the same things are funny, which means I like being around her. Because, you know, it’s US.  And what I love about my mom is that one of her core values is to really know people– because when you really know them, you can celebrate them. She has forever ruined my birthday expectations by making birthdays such a big deal. But how fun, right? She notices and appreciates important life moments and then celebrates all of them. With surprises. And food. Lots and lots of food. She is the ultimate hostess, setting the loveliest tables I’ve ever seen. Because she cares. Because she wants to make life moments treasured and memorable.

My mom is a giver. She is rarely ever a taker. When people say she’s beautiful and then follow it up with the ultimate compliment: “You look just like her”, I beam. I want to look like her and be like her and love my kids the way she has loved me. I know there are no paths my feet have traveled that my mother’s prayers did not first pave the way. I know there are few depths my heart has felt that my mother’s heart did not also clench in agony or beat in exhilaration, too. There are few tears I’ve cried that she has not also tasted their salty sting. And there are at least a million smiles and laughs and memories we have shared with equal joy.

We sort of joke sometimes, my mom and I– because I have had a rather eventful journey- and I have needed her. A lot. Some weeks I promise to lose her number. When she hasn’t been holding my hand, she’s been holding me up from behind. I hesitate to start listing things she’s done, ways she’s cheered and supported, ways she has “shown up” for me, because really, there is no end and no beginning. I simply, literally, could not remember it all. And most of them are really not isolated, listable incidents anyway.

My mom has a way of just being. When I was 18 and pregnant, I lay in her bed for 3 days as she tried to help me figure it out. And when we finally did? She said, “Now it’s not a problem–it’s a baby. Are you hungry? Let’s feed you.” She was in that delivery room for my firstborn. And then for my second born. And my third born. Because there is no one who quite comforts me and gets me like my mom. She took the phone call when the news of my first husband’s accident came–and then had to tell me–and then never left my side.

Years later, as I faced a very difficult confrontation, I remember her charge:

 “You are woman enough to handle this.”

I believed her. And I still hear those words echoing in my heart. Someday there will be a moment when I say them to my own daughters.

My mom was not, is not perfect, because that’s impossible. But she was good. Really good. And twenty-two years into motherhood myself now, I have firsthand empathy for what mothering asks of oneself. Of what it requires. Of the ingratitude and relentlessness of it. Of the dailyness. Of the restless nights wondering if you are truly effing up this whole thing beyond recognition and repair.  (“Effing” I must point out, is NOT from her.) I understand the absolute treachery and harrowing exhaustion of trying to create a beautiful, meaningful, whole life for your children while you are still in the midst of growing and morphing and realizing your own self.  The continual sacrifice of one for the benefit of the greater good.

Mom, you have given so I can take. You have said no so that I can say yes. You have stayed back so that I could shine.

And so in the most poetic and exquisite way, there is blood on your hands, Mom. Because those hands of yours, your fingerprints– are on nearly every inch of my life, creating a mosaic.  You have taken your own cracked life pieces and my fragile broken shards– and you have helped craft this shimmering, fragmented life with me. Bit by bit. Moment by moment. Forfeit by forfeit. And so I am clutching it to my chest, this mosaic. And I understand it better now, seeing the blood on my own hands from trying so desperately to craft a mosaic for my own children. Big pieces. Tiny slivers. Jagged edges. Ill-fitting. Impossible. It is whole. It is shattered. It is achingly and devastatingly beautiful. It is mine. And it is yours, too.

And so I want to end this, probably prematurely, despite my best efforts; presumably  falling short and failing miserably, by saying the one thing every single mom on this planet wants to hear:

You did a good job, Mom. You did a great job. Every day, you still do an impressive job.

My kids think you are hilarious. And loving. And creative. And fun. I’m proud of you, Mom. Thank you.  And I’m raising my glass to you, Mom. My coffee cup. My teacup that belonged to your mom. My wine glass. My beer. My Bible. My apron.  My 13 X 9. My ice cream cone. My dust cloth. The leftovers. The birthday parties. The posters. The babysitting. The ball games. The report cards. The acceptance and rejection letters. The birth certificates. The death certificates. The marriage and divorce papers. The heartbreak. The hell. The happiness. The paid-in-fulls and the debts I cannot repay.

Cheers to you, Mom, and the perfectly imperfect mosaic you’ve created for all of us.

{If I failed in epic proportions, please let Michael Buble say it better~}

It’s All About Food

Jerry Seinfeld once said that relationships are the only thing we have to keep us from thinking about food all the time. Is he not embarrassingly right? The role of food in our lives has moved way beyond a source of fuel for our bodies–it’s an activity. And I love it. But sometimes, I will admit, the whole food thing is a bit much. Last week I looked around my kitchen counter at one point and almost felt despair: Coconut cupcakes, Apple pie and leftover Carrot Raisin bread. Various take-out containers in the fridge. It had been my birthday week, true–so that does tip the scales a little bit (Oh. Horrible pun. Horrible. Sorry) But still. It was a lot. And if I’m honest, my birthday week leftovers are not all that different from my regular week leftovers. Truth is, my mother is Italian, so this explains a lot. I’m not trying to lay blame here, but if you have an Italian mother, are an Italian mother, or know an Italian mother, then you could just stop reading right here because you already know how the story goes. It’s a wonder we’re not all 300 pounds…

Here is an excerpt from a real life conversation my mom and I had this week when I stopped in at her house:

Mom: Are you hungry? Can I make you a salad? Sandra and I just got back from the Farmer’s Market. There weren’t a whole lot vegetables there, but we bought some amazing cheese and some gourmet coffee and some bread. What can I give you?

Me: No mom, I’m good. Really. I just ate lunch.

Mom: Oh but you have to try this cheese. Just try some. It’s not like regular cheese.

Me: Really mom, I’m full. I really don’t want any.

Mom: Why don’t you want any? It’s so good. How about some of this bread?

Me: I really am actually full, mom. I just don’t want any. ( This I said as I put a bite in my mouth.)

Mom: Then have some of this coffee. Will you have a cup of coffee? You need to drink more– all the running around you do.

Me: Ok, Mom. I’ll have coffee.

Moments later, as I’m stirring in my cream, she slips into the dining room  and I already know what’s coming. She comes back in the kitchen and sets down a foil wrapped square of dark chocolate and smiles at me. “This is just a little sweet thing to have with your coffee.”  Oh, to be so loved. To be so taken care of. To be so full at every moment of the day. As a mom myself, (and obviously, a part Italian mother) I do relate to this. This need to feed my children, this feeling of nurturing them through food. The older they get, the less you have to do for them– but eating is one thing we never outgrow.

My husband has come to affectionately refer to the size of my mother’s servings as “Pat Servings.” This means regularly unbuttoning the top button of your pants to make room for the obligatory 2nd piece of cake. And if she’s trying to finish up another dish, you have to help the cause. In other words, you can have cake, but it comes with a free serving of fruited Jell-O. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t ask for the Jell-O or said, “No thank you.” We’re trying to finish it up and you have to help. Why are we trying to get rid of it? Why did we make it if no one really wanted it? It doesn’t matter. We have to make room for what’s coming next. And don’t think you’re leaving without leftovers. No sir. No one gets away easy. One night, after much protest, my brother once told my mom that he was going to throw the food out the window on the way home. That’s how much he did not want to take it with him. And here’s the crazy part–she didn’t care! As long as it seemed like he was taking it with him and she didn’t have to have it in her fridge, everyone’s happy. Or crazy. But one thing’s for sure–we’re full.

Now, all of this is regular food fodder in my family, but there is one Italian Mother Food Story that takes the cake, so to speak. My girls and I had gone along with my parents to visit my much-loved and missed Italian grandmother’s grave. It was a beautiful sunny day and they were going to be planting flowers and cleaning up around the stone. As my parents were digging and planting, the girls and I were just sort of roaming and looking around. After a little time had passed, I wandered back over to them, and low and behold, it was snack time. There sat my youngest ON TOP of my grandmother’s stone, legs dangling above my father’s head as he was weeding, eating brownies and Twizzlers. Evidently, my mother had brought snacks along because, well, that’s what she does. You know how hungry the cemetery can make you. For real. Does it ever end? But Granny was no doubt smiling from heaven, and like a true Italian grandmother, loving every minute of it.

There’s a side story to the cemetery story that has to be told–while I’m recovering from the shock and awe of the snacks, my other daughter, who is a sensitive and deep thinker, had been reading nearby  family stones that said things such as, “Father, Angelo. Mother, Katherine” and so on.  But she came upon one that she was not expecting–it read “Father, Frank. Mother, Theresa.” Running back to me, hand to her chest, she gasps, “Mother Theresa is buried here!” What could I say? It was like a circus. All I could do was smile. “Yep. That’s right Sweetie. All the way from Calcutta, India to Niagara Falls, New York. Here, have a brownie. They’re good for you.”