Thursday, May 16, 2013

mother’s day redux: the catharsis of writing

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“Art is the only way to run away without leaving home.” - Twyla Tharp
I am happy another Mother’s Day is in the bag. That's probably no surprise since I wrote about how much I have disliked this holiday for most of my life. But I am not here to beat a dead horse. I am here to turn over a new leaf.

For the first time, my post-Mother’s Day happiness is not because it’s over and I won’t have to think about it for another year. I’m happy because I received so many gifts this year. I’m not talking about stuff, although I got that, too. I’m talking about timeless gifts that stay with you. And make a difference.

Gift #1 – Flexibility

To start with, we celebrated on Saturday. This is a huge departure for us. To my mother, holidays are sacrosanct, and celebrating on anything but the actual day is unthinkable. However, the choice was this: get together on Saturday for a long and leisurely day with nearly all the immediate family, OR have a stressful Sunday lunch with very few people rushing from here to there with little time to visit and no time to rest. Saturday won hands down. After Mom gave us her imprimatur, of course.

Gift #2 – Generosity

My sweet baby girl and her loving father went out early to shop, since he had been out of town on business. During a quick trip to the mall earlier in the week, she had asked me whether I liked this or that, and made mental notes of things I commented on. She is always thinking of what she can do for others, and then following through. Very much like her Grandmother and her father. And like my brother and sister-in-law, who coordinated the meal with me and brought half it from their home 1 ½ hours away. The meal was plentiful and delicious and totally from the heart with no drama. I am blessed to be around such generous, thoughtful people.

Gift #3 – Humility

Normally I insist that my mom not participate in the cooking for Mother’s Day, as the point is to give her a break. However, I finally realized that asking her to stop cooking for her family was like asking her to stop loving. To her cooking is part of loving, and keeping her out of the food preparation is not a kindness but a cut. So she added her touches to the menu, fresh collard greens here, a crudités platter there. A pineapple dish to complement the pork loin. Fresh spinach and strawberries from her garden to supplant the ones I brought for the salad. Once upon a time, I would have interpreted her suggestions and offerings as a judgment on my city-bought produce or ability to plan a meal. This year, I received it as the gracious and fortunate blessing it was. Which blessed her in return.

Gift # 4 – Family Memories

One of my gifts to Mom was a DVD of transferred family VHS movies. I have tons of video tapes and 8mm movies still to transfer, but the ones I brought just happened to include video from exactly 24 years before, on Mother’s Day 1989 and the celebration of my Dad’s 50th birthday.

We sat down as a family to watch snippets of the DVD. We watched Dad open gifts and cards, taking his time and making thankful or funny comments about each one. We watched as my twin cousins Jason and Brandon, now big hulking men but then adorable four-year-olds, helped their Uncle Ray and offered their own hilarious commentary. I must have been manning the video camera, because when Dad read my card, he looked at the camera, smiled and gave me an OK sign. I had almost forgotten the sound of his voice, but never that smile.

We watched my nephew Trey as an infant trying to army crawl across the carpet. My brother Ray was only 21 then and looked like a child. I couldn’t help but watch grown-up Trey as he watched himself as a baby, at a time when everyone around him treasured him and adored him. Those were not always the memories he has had. Sometimes the best memories are the ones hardest to keep. I turned away as his face began to glisten with tears for the lost years and for the Papa he misses so much. Now Trey is expecting a son of his own in a few months. It is good for him to remember that he has a legacy worth passing on.

We watched as Mom, Aunt Shirley, and Ray played Duck Duck Goose with Jason and Brandon in the backyard. As the boys went around the circle saying “Duck, duck, duck….” they smacked each person on the head, except for Aunt Mary (my mom), who got a gentle tap. It was fun to watch my aunt, still wearing her business clothes, jumping up spryly to chase one of the twins when she was “the gooser.” It was fun to see my mom, 46 at the time, running on both legs just like I remember, scampering around the yard like a teenager. And it was fun to watch my brother and the twins race to see who could roll down the hill the fastest or do the best flips. I’d pay good money to see any of them do that right now!

Gift #5 – Laughter

Laughter is an amazing gift. There was laughter in the video during celebrations and during ordinary times that just happened to be caught on film. There was laughter in the living room as we watched old times and shared new ones. And there was joyous laughter looking at the sonogram videos of our two newest family members who will be born later this year to two different nephews. A family who can laugh together has a much better chance of surviving all the times when laughter seems impossible. And sometimes, laughing even then.

Gift #6 – Perspective

In the video, after Dad blew out the candles on his cake someone asked him to make a speech. The camera slowly zoomed in on his face as he became thoughtful. “Well,” he said, “I’ve had a good life. If you have people you love and family around you that loves you back, I don’t know if you could ask any more than that.” Little did we know he would be gone from us in seven short years.

This Mother's Day, I chose to lay down the chip I have been carrying for so long. By writing about how I was feeling, I was able to identify a problem, confront it, and resolve it. I feel so much freer and lighter than before. And that was by far the greatest gift of all. 

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