A Late Winter Reflection

This is what I remember about my mother—that she was beautiful and happy when she dressed up to leave us. A square dance, a costume party, a “ladies aid” meeting, even a drive to the Dairy Queen, these things sparked her eyes and lifted the corners of her mouth. Dresses with petticoats floating and flowing, sheer stockings, bright coral lipstick were sure signs of happiness. Plus, Chanel #5, so special and rare we weren’t even allowed to smell it in the bottle. Dad was pleased to go out, but he seemed equally happy to see us at the end of his long day or when we brought food to the field. We made him happy just by being his girls.

I avoid remembering making cookies or play dough in the kitchen; Mom in her apron and smelling like sugar. We never did it right. Always she would take over with a despairing shake of her head; a jerking, grudging takeover that left me sad and mad at once. When winter cold locked us tightly in that house of cards we would spend hours in our little room — three of us and our big bed. Connie was a baby and not good for much except being a dolly just then. But she laughed a lot and learned fast. Then Billy came and she found a better friend in him. Christmas brought a tea set and candy and new dolls with clothes that Mom sewed. So she must have loved us.

It did not occur to me that we were her long day, that not seeing us could be a real treat, until I learned to get tired of those I love. I was a poor young mother when I understood that she sewed doll clothes so we would have more gifts and to save money and because she enjoyed that creative act. She loved us as well as she could. A lot of mothers love better — her own children are all better at parenting than she. And she knows this — she told me so, apologized. We cried together a little.

I believe we were blessed to have a gentle father. But my siblings and I have different versions of that story as well. Being first, I may have experienced the best of him, still young and in love, not yet worn out by stress and regret.

Our stories of being parented belong to each individual and are made of light and shadow playing across a screen. We now think memory is a construct of thought, feeling, and need woven into the stories we tell ourselves. Brain science is still young, making all certainty highly suspect. This, combined with the understanding that we can change the stories we tell ourselves, even the oldest, darkest, truest ones, is the greatest discovery of my later life, so far. I’ve been practicing changing my stories for about five years now, ever since my brilliant friend Carol illuminated that truth for me on a backroads journey home from Colorado. The changes are tricky, even slippery, and falling into an old script has a familiar solidity. I’m finding it challenging to know what and how to rewrite/retell so I still return to my experience of Self. And in simple act of writing that sentence I’m asked to confront how my experience of Self also is malleable. Would changes to that belief reveal a bigger, better Self—a higher Self? We outgrow our stories. We grow into our potentiality. And becoming the Higher Self is the goal of incarnated life.

I see that growth in my Mother as she nears 92 and her essence is more and more etheric. Her physical vitality is nearly gone. It doesn’t matter. She seems more her Self now than at any time in my life. Our Dad died unexpectedly at a young 62. I would have liked to have know him as an ancient man. He would have celebrated 101 years this March. Even with some of the necessary role reversal we are experiencing, Mother is still parenting me as I am still parenting my sons. I find it both amusing and healing. I am grateful for the long journey.

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