Last night, I stood on stage in front of roughly 200 people and read a very personal essay about being a daughter and a mother. It was one of the best and bravest moments of my life.
I was fortunate and humbled to be a part of Listen to Your Mother, a national show that gives motherhood a microphone. I auditioned in February for the Little Rock show. For some reason, they liked me and let me tag along with the other cast members, who are smart, funny, tender and AH-MAY-ZING!
My biggest takeaway — other than the fact that there are some extremely talented writers in Arkansas — is that every one has a story. You have one. You may not think anyone wants to hear it. They do. I do. Find a way to tell it.
My Mother, My Mirror
I have so much in common with my mother. Some of it is hereditary. We talk alike. We laugh alike. We have the same smile, the same hands, the same eyes.
Some of our similarities are behavior I’ve learned by osmosis. We are both avid readers. We both love 70s folk music. We both get verklempt when we talk about a book, song, TV show or movie that moves us.
We’ve both worked hard to build our professional reputations. We’ve both remained committed to our faith, even though at times it’s been seriously tested. And, most importantly, we rarely leave the house without lipstick.
Over the last 18 months, I watched my mother fall in love. It was wonderful, weird and awful … all at the same time.
Wonderful because she is so happy. I haven’t seen her this happy since I was a child. She deserves it.
Weird because, well, it’s my MOTHER. And she’s in LOVE. With a BOY. And she’s GIDDY. And she wants to talk about MUSHY STUFF. The roles are completely reversed and it’s disorienting.
Awful because just as she was falling in love and planning a wedding, I was grappling with the fact that my marriage was falling apart.
My mother and father divorced when I was a sophomore in high school. It was hard watching her grow small. She tried to display grace under pressure and put on a brave face. She put me and my brother first and was right by my side through high school, grad school, first job, second job, third job, marriage, moves, more jobs, and children.
Then about a few years ago, I started noticing something was lighter about her. She looked at me one day and said, “I think I’m finally out of my fog. It took me almost 20 years, but it’s clearing.”
I helped her set up some online dating profiles. We set those filters so tight that only Mr. Right himself was going to slip through. And in the summer of 2013 he did. He proposed later that fall. She made him sweat it out for many months before she accepted. They set a date for the end of June 2014.
As my mother emerged from her self-proclaimed fog, I retreated into my own.
By the time mom and her beau made their engagement official, my husband and I were desperately clinging to the hope we’d make it. I think we both knew we wouldn’t. Anger, shame, blame and hurt had worn both of us down to nubs. Our exposed nerves jangled and caused tension in the house like you wouldn’t believe. We were snappish with each other and with the children. It was my turn to grow small.
For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like I could talk to my mother. I did not want to be the black cloud raining on her parade. I smiled while she talked about wedding plans, while inside I ached and worried. I dutifully accompanied her to register for gifts, choose food for the reception and pick out a dress. Those are wonderful memories, to be sure, but it’s as if I slept walked through the process.
As she and her fiancé consolidated households, I eyed the furniture they were selling and giving away. “You need to tell them to store it,” my husband said. “You know, in case we separate.”
“He means when,” I thought “For when we separate.” But I couldn’t say it out loud yet. Especially not to my mother, who was over-the-moon happy.
The wedding week arrived – and it was full of laughter and joy. Mom was gorgeous. She smiled non-stop for three days straight. I don’t think James let go of her hand once. They were surrounded by family and friends, celebrating their love and commitment and future.
I was determined to be a picture-perfect matron of honor/daughter of the bride, so I smiled, laughed, hugged, joked and served as best I could. I managed to keep my mask intact for almost the whole ceremony. But as I stood at the lectern to deliver my reading, I made the mistake of looking out into the congregation. I saw my husband sitting with a strained smile on his face. I saw my sweet children sitting next to him, oblivious to the pain he and I were in. And then, I caught my mother’s eyes.
My mother. My support. My compass. My heart. My mirror.
My voiced cracked. My eyes filled with tears. I paused and choked them back. I shook my head a bit. I smiled. I carried on.
Months later, when I told her that my husband and I were indeed separating, she listened to my whole story – every last mistake, blemish and failure. She hugged me and said, “You’ve done so much for me over the years while I’ve been by myself. You’ve rescued me so many times. Now I’m going to rescue you right back.”
And she has.
These days, I can feel my own fog lifting a bit around the edges, slowly but surely. My smiles are more sincere. My laughter more genuine.
I look at my mother – so happy, so giddy, so mushy, so in LOVE – and I’m grateful. Grateful to have so much in common with her. Grateful that she’s walked this path of single motherhood before me. Grateful in knowing that I may once again walk the path she’s on now.