My mom was 23 when she had me - her third daughter.
When I was little, I would sometimes sneak into her bed in the mornings and she would be watching David Mainse on 100 Huntley Street. i can still feel the soft stretched skin of her stomach. I'd be fingering the silvery marks under my index finger and feeling the wonder in knowing that i helped put them there.
I still have some faint memories from the time that I got to spend at home after both my big sisters were in school. I remember one time, them coming home, and i ran up to them, clinging to them, smelling deeply that unfamiliar smell - school. I still got to stay home and bake with mom... she let me eat the leftover pieces from the gingerbread house she made at Christmas time while i hid behind the couch. I got to tag along on grocery shopping. I got to play with my dollies and go to her ladies bible study - and i don't remember minding.
I remember when I enrolled in kindergarten. We lived close enough that I could walk to school. I remember coming home and getting tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. My mom loved to hear my stories from kindergarten - and I loved to perform. Still to this day, she's always saying how my retelling of the story "Little Miss Helpful" was remarkable. i was five. I'm pretty sure it wasn't remarkable - but it was to her.
i remember how i studied her face and found it unreadable when we would tease and beg for a baby brother... i begged as hard as my sisters did... but deep down, i always wondered how it would feel to lose my "baby of the family" status... i never got to find out.
I remember in grade three, coming out of the school. I didn't say a word - and maybe that's how she knew, but she pressed me and I could hardly choke out in gasping sobs how my teacher had humiliated me in front of the class.
"Wait here for a minute... " She said as she slipped out of the vehicle and through the doors of the school.
She wasn't furious - but I knew that she had my back.
I remember one time my mom came to school to drop something off. She was wearing a new white spring jacket, and all my friends thought she was pretty... and I did too.
And weaving itself between little individual memories are the innumerable memories of the hours spent learning harmonies, blending parts and stumbling piano. There was always a half empty forgotten cup of coffee resting on the side of the piano in those years. After I'd go to bed, i would hear her play The Homecoming - often stopping and starting - a lifelong work in progress. Neil and i heard it come on the speakers in a restaurant when we were out for breakfast one time and i had to bow my head to hide the tears... There is a soundtrack to my childhood, and that song is on it.
One time, my mom and i were waiting in the sanctuary of the church for something. i was just a little girl and my mom opened a hymnal. "Do you know this one?" She asked as she started to play... She played song after song after song... and i remember not knowing so many of them. And so she taught me - she took us to seniors homes and we sang the hymns - she whispered the alto lines in my ear during church and so many of those songs became precious to me as they soaked in trough the fabric of my being into my heart, nourishing my very soul.
I remember when my sisters got "ghetto blasters" and they would record on tapes the rock music off of 630Ched; Peter Cetera, Glass Tiger, George Michael, Van Halen. I was just a little too far behind, a little too young, a little less cool... I snuck out to the yard and my mom was gardening. She likes growing things... she went and got us each a fudgesicle and we sat on those cedar house steps, and as the sun beat down on the top of my head, that memory stored itself deep inside my mind with the silence punctuated only by the sounds of chirping birds and whispering grass...
I remember moving in grade 6... and watching her car out the back window of the bus as she followed me to my new school on my first day.
I remember her olive green bikini and how brown her skin would get... how much she loved the water and her willingness to get her hair wet.
In high school, we hiked. Often in silence... or maybe we talked, but i don't remember talking a lot... i loved hiking Kalamoir. It made my lungs hurt - and the view made my heart explode. i would always delay lifting my eyes from the hill that was freckled with brown eyed susans. i would wait till we were at the top... and then let the beauty of the sun on the lake shatter me in a million ways as i drank it in, in great thirsty draughts.
Later, we biked. i wonder how many miles we biked together around the Okanagan valley?
i remember going to school in grade 11 to write my physics exam and then the freedom of skipping out early, meeting her in the parking lot and heading out on a bike trip. Both my sisters had moved out - and i missed them. Those trips distracted me from the things i needed distracting from, and gave me memories to carry when i experienced a premature baptism into adulthood, finding myself a pregnant, unmarried 19 year old.
My parents were reeling - how could they not reel?
But i could tell she didn't want to be a part of any destruction of these sacred memories of engagement, matrimony and first child...
So, she worked to bring out the sweetness - coaxing it like a flame from a damp log. Embossing butterflies on my reply post cards, beautifying each little detail that i was too sick or busy to attend to, sewing me a dress...
i remember feeling like maybe i wasn't supposed to talk about my pregnancy. i did talk about how miserable i felt, but was talking about the baby off limits until the wedding was over? i didn't know what was allowed...
One afternoon, i was at her house so she could see how the dress fit me; my body kept changing...
It was that afternoon that i felt Cairo's first kick... Timidly, i told my mom - and she smiled as we talked about it. She didn't shush me, she wasn't over the top - but she just let me be... and share that little piece of wonder with her.
It was a similar feeling - one of not knowing the rules - when i lost my first son a year later. i remember she came to me even though she lived two provinces away. i sobbed to her that i didn't know how to grieve. i didn't know what i was supposed to feel - how i should act. What were the rules??
She told me to feel what i feel.
And that was that.
My parents did so many things right.
i think so often, I've had a personality that has trouble remembering exactly how things were. My memories are whispers rather than shouts. Lately, I've seen the value in shuffling through those memories and pulling out the ones that are worth preserving... putting a little effort into exploring that dusty, cobwebby past - and making discoveries that climb up my limbs and whisper in my ears that i have been loved.
Mama, i know this isn't pretty or well organized - but I'm so grateful to you for having me. I'm grateful that you love beauty. I'm grateful that even now, you're constantly changing growing and learning.
I'm grateful that you're my mom.