I got an e-mail announcement from one of those e-card sites.
My mom’s birthday is Feb. 6. Today.
She died in 2010. Cancer. (Yes, f$%^ cancer) It makes sense that the company sent a reminder. The entire reason I sent an e-card had to do with my lacking skill in birthday date recall. Thus, rather than the mail, I had to go electronic.
In grand tradition, I nearly forgot it again this year. Feb. 6.
More than six years after her death, what is her birthday, to me?
It meant that my dad sent my sisters and I a text. He put new flowers and a “Happy birthday” balloon by her gravesite. He noted the balloon kept trying to run away, so he affixed it to the ground, somehow. He sends seasonal text pics of her grave.
My dad remarried in 2016. I’m happy for him. I’m happy he’s found someone to care for, and to care for him.
Of course, I still miss my mom. I wish she were here to know Eli and Laila.
We were so close I called her every day. That relationship hasn’t been replaced by a new one.
It’s just gone.
But I have a family now. And we have each other.
And I should acknowledge that I lean on my sisters during various life crises. And I share with them good news that I’m excited about. And they’re excited too. So’s my dad. Maybe that doesn’t match what I had with my mom, but it comes close. Close is good. Close is not so terrible.
Tomorrow I’ll work hard at my job. I’ll come home and we’ll work to keep Eli well.
Tomorrow I’ll drink a Diet Dr. Pepper. I’ll visit T.J. Maxx, because – hashtag – though she died before hashtags took over – #neverpayretail.
Maybe I’ll think of the perfect comeback 26.987 minutes too late, but I’ll mutter it to myself anyway, feeling clever and satisfied nonetheless.
I’ll have a laugh. Have a drink. I’ll live life.
She shaped where mine has gone. She pushed me to get an education so I could take care of business.
She never spelled out why. My guess is that she wished for me more freedom than she had, when she dropped out of college and got engaged to my dad after knowing him for four months.
Her career choices were limited. She went where he went. I get the feeling she just wanted her daughters to have more of a say, and a good paycheck, a future than she did. Choices.
My parents struggled financially while we were growing up. Not so much that anyone would notice. I say “struggle” and it’s kind of laughable. It’s like – we struggled compared to the country clubbers that pervaded my town. We always had a roof, a Thanksgiving turkey and a Christmas ham. When times were good we trucked it to Disney in Florida.
As a teenager I got jobs and earn my keep. It taught me to be self-reliant. If I wanted spending cash, and later, rent money, I got a job.
My mom and my dad let me bump into choices rather than pushing me this way or that.
My mom danced at the grocery store sometimes.
My dad had this stunning track record of getting her Christmas presents she hated. One of them was a gaudy, floral robe from Victoria’s Secret. Not sexy , mind you- it was like ‘1980s does victorian-floral.’
She put it on, then waltzed down our staircase, declaring, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” before turning away with a flourish. The robe was never to be worn again.
I always felt my mom contained this well of untapped potential. She could paint. She got crafty in the 1980s and painted all of these beautiful pieces on wood. Flowers, mostly. Time after time, after I was grown up, I’d encourage her to take an art class. I would chase down rec-ed brochures and circle the classes she should obviously be taking to nourish her undeveloped artistic abilities.
“Why?” she’d say. “I’m not any good.”
I didn’t get that.
“Yeah, mom, actually you are.”
She never took a class or got back into painting.
My grandmother died in 2006. I barely knew my mom’s family. We traveled to Louisiana to put grandma to rest.
My grandfather, at the house in Louisiana, kept insulting my mom. Everything out of her mouth frustrated him. Her every question was a stupid question.
It took that for me to get it- why she had no belief in herself.
She never said one bad thing about her father, ever.
Only things like, “He’s a little rough around the edges, but he has such a good heart. He loves animals.”
The funeral trip marked the first time I saw my mom as a real-life human being. I was 26 at the time.
It’s the first time I found her remarkable.
Remarkable because, while she never talked about her childhood, I could imagine it, her self-esteem decimated by her father’s disapproving words over many years.
She met my dad.
She got out.
She had a baby named Joanna in 1972. That baby lived for several days. Then Joanna died.
Mom overcame that, stuck with my dad despite what must have been incredible pain and grief, and had three more girls.
She turned around and raised us to believe in ourselves. She never fully believed in herself, but she believed in us.
We are all alive and well today. We have husbands and kids of our owns and careers and friends — happiness. It’s not perfect, because life’s not perfect, but when times are good that happiness is round and full.
It’s her birthday.
She would have been 66 today.
We’d have wished her a happy 29th.