This is not the post I was expecting to be posting today. I had another one all lined up that was all sharp and witty (this one gets a bit sappy I’m afraid, so I apologize in advance for that), but life is what happens when you’re making plans... or composing great compositions, so this is all I got for ya tonight!
I went to this little Italian restaurant for dinner. I just happened to be passing and remembered it was a Nice Place with Nice Staff, and I was hungry and knew there was no food at home so I stopped in. It was my third time there this year.
The first time I’d ended up in this restaurant was on January 2nd after a day out with my mother. Okay, I’m not going to go into the details here, but my mother and I had not been getting along for a very long time – over ten years in fact – so it was kind of a big deal. There are two types of people in this world; those who understand that sometimes people have problems with their mothers, and those who think to say a bad word against one’s mother is worse than heresy. Please believe me when I say I had tried my best to get along with her, to forgive her for the things I felt she’d done to hurt me – or worse, ruin my life – but nothing had worked until I met this trauma specialist a year ago. As usual, another story for another time, but the result of working with this woman who helped me to “reprogram neural pathways” (don’t ask!) was that I was able to call my mother on December 30th last year and invite her to have lunch with me on Saturday January 2nd.
I remember her walking into the large chain restaurant we’d agreed to meet in. She was flustered, having struggled to park, and she was carrying a box – my Christmas present. I had nothing for her. And here, ladies and gentlemen, is your first clue as to how these two characters operated. For all her so-called “sins” against me, I have to confess, she had never once missed a birthday or Christmas call/card/gift. The gift was nothing fancy – a CD, and a piece of fashion jewelry – but for once I was able to feel gratitude.
The first thing I said to her when we sat down was,
“I don’t want to call you Mummy anymore. I’ll call you Mum, or by your first name, but Mummy connects me to the past and I never want to talk about the past, ever again, it’s water under the bridge; we start afresh, right here, right now.”
She opted for “Mum” and we started to chat – about the weather, about movies, about the latest politician caught with his pants down, probably – and I slowly began to remember what a great sense of humor my mother has, how articulate she is, how well-informed and worldly she is. This was a woman who, when she just started teaching in 1969, took a group of students to Russia and almost got arrested by the KGB! A fearless feminist, whose only real fault was getting slightly blinded by materialism as a result of being brought up by a rather frugal Scottish mother just after World War 2.
We’d met at 1pm for lunch, and by 4pm we were still talking and I suggested (as had been my plan if things were going Very Well) going to a movie. She seemed delighted by the idea so we walked across the road to the local movie theater and saw a Nice Light Comedy. After the movie we retired to the bookstore next door for coffee. On the way to the coffee bar I spotted a book she’d mentioned earlier in one of our conversations. I bought it for her – her Christmas gift from me.
And then I said it was time to say goodbye. I walked her to her car and gave her a hug. It felt strange, but good at the same time. After I waved her off, I realized I was in no fit state to drive. I was shaking like a leaf. I had no idea how nervous I’d been about the whole outing. I spotted a little Italian restaurant and walked in and ordered a glass of wine and a slice of pizza. I only ate half the pizza. That hole inside me wasn’t so big anymore. I’d let a little of my mother’s love back in.
On March 19th I was in the neighborhood again. I saw the Italian place and stopped in for lunch. I was on a little bit of a high to be honest. I’d spent a month on a really intense diet and had lost loads of weight. I went in for a salad, and while I sat there, I called my mother – who lives a few thousand miles away. I told her I was sitting opposite the movie theater where we’d spent our “date” in early January. It was the first time I’d spoken to her (although we’d emailed a few times) since that date. It was a nice call. We chatted about the weather, about movies, about the latest politician caught with his pants down.
Shortly after that, I had a few tricky months. I was struggling a little, juggling too many projects, reviewing a few toxic friendships, and dating guys I really wasn’t into. But things have picked up recently and tonight I found myself at that Italian place again. I was on my way home from a meeting and I stopped in for dinner (slice of pizza and a glass of wine – the diet is history!) and realized I was feeling Pretty Good. Yes I’d had a blah day the day before (yesterday) but many good things happened today (I PROMISE you’ll hear all about them in due course). Suddenly I was sitting in a lovely Italian restaurant, chatting to a guy who I thought was Super Cute (until he went outside to smoke, making him Super Uncute – not judging, I smoked for years, until a year ago actually, but the smell of it on someone just makes me want to puke now) and I was celebrating having a nice fat check in my purse – for some writing I’d done and suddenly I felt happy. It wasn’t just a fleeting feeling of happiness I’d had so many times in my life, I felt happy to my core. I felt happy in my toes, in my stomach, in my fingers, and behind my ears. I felt happy despite all the bad things that had ever happened to me. I felt happy and lucky. And that got me thinking about my mum again.
My mother lives in Another Country and we Skype once or twice a month. We’ve built a nice relationship. Earlier this month it was her birthday and I went shopping and bought her a very fancy shirt and a beautiful necklace with matching earrings. I mailed it to her and, as luck would have it, it arrived on the morning of her actual birthday. She called me immediately, overjoyed. She loved the gifts and sounded genuinely touched. I haven’t seen her since January but we’re making plans to meet at the end of November.
Last week I was at a friend’s house. Her 4 year old was playing with a toy phone. He was pretending a variety of people were calling for her.
“It’s your Mommy!” he said, handing her the phone.
“Hi Mom,” she began, and proceeded to have a pretend conversation with her mother before handing the toy phone back to her son.
He pressed a few buttons to make the phone ring and then offered it up to her again, saying,
“It’s your Daddy!”
Her dad died when she was 19.
“Hi Dad,” I heard her say, keeping up the game. “Haven’t talked to you in a while. Hope you’re okay. Hope to see you soon.” She smiled, bravely, and with such elegant composure (she’s a particularly stunning woman – one of those Stop You In Your Tracks beauties), and then she looked at me and said, so affectingly, “Not too soon I hope.”
I smiled back at her and looked away. I didn’t want her to see any of my tears when she had clearly held back her own.
I have several friends who lost parents early in life. This makes me even more grateful that I am able to pick up the phone and say the words I haven’t said in many years, to living, receptive ears,
“I love you, Mum.”