Getting to know my mother is one of the greatest joys of my adult life. Adulthood has peeled back the layers of “Mom” and revealed her deeper spirit.
For as long as I can remember, when I close my eyes and conjure a picture of her, I see what I consider her iconic photograph. She is perhaps age 25 at the time. The backdrop is a surf-pounding Pacific Ocean. She’s perched on a rock that required climbing. Her red hair is flowing away from her face, only contained by a felt, wide-brimmed hat. She’s relaxed, beautiful and fully alive. As a little girl, it became the freeze-frame of what I hoped to become.
She and my father gave up the Midwest for California in the 70’s to chase a dream. My mother would be the first in her family to pursue a college degree. She speaks of attending Berkeley, working her way through tuition and exams with a gleam in her eye even today. They left their hearts in San Francisco before I was born. But that story became the framework from which I began my earliest contextualization of my mother. Its defined by her determination, the adventure she embraced, the love story she and my father shared.
Most of my childhood, I felt different than my mother. I wasn’t able to connect the dots between her spirit and my own. Perhaps it’s because our childhoods were so dissimilar; she reminded me of that fact often. My mother was born in the middle of a brood of nine; love was plentiful but not material things. I am the older of two daughters. My mother doted on us with artfully planned birthday parties and amazing cultural experiences. I know she felt fortunate to provide us with all that we received, but I also sensed that my gratitude didn’t measure up to enough. Spoiled by love and excess possessions, as a child I never felt I did enough to make her feel I appreciated it. I didn’t understand until today the turmoil she may have felt raising daughters in such a different lifestyle than her own.
During my teen years, I saw my mother through the fiery lens of a daughter determined to make her own way. There were daily clashes over clothing, boys and school. Similar personalities fight harsh battles. But despite my teenage angst, Mom always opened our home to my friends. Teenage girl sleepovers filled our basement the majority of my high school tenure. I’m convinced that most of my dearest friendships were solidified over my mom’s Saturday morning pancakes. Although we disagreed on many accounts, I admired, even then, the love that emanated from my mom’s kitchen. She is the consummate hostess. She encourages and embraces a household filled with guests, stories and laughter. She stitched together broken hearts with her pasta sauce and cast wanderlust with her bouillabaisse. Today, food is my greatest love language also. My passion for cooking is directly linked to the nourishment she provided, both systemic and soul-satisfying, throughout my life.
The day of my wedding, I removed the veil from my vision of my mother. In a private moment before the ceremony, she gave me a sentimental gift, looked at me in the mirror and gave me advice that came straight from her heart – not so much as my mom, but as a friend. And in that moment I saw her. I saw her tender hands and deep green eyes as separate from that of my mom, but that of a treasured confident. It was a transcendent day on many accounts; that pivotal moment between me and Mom opened the gates for what has become a deeply connected relationship.
Just weeks after my wedding, my husband and I moved to New Zealand. We have a treasure trove of photographs from that experience. But the keepsake that most touches my heart is a photo that my husband captured of me peacefully perched on a boulder overlooking a surf-pounding Pacific Ocean with my hair blowing in the wind. I looked like my mother in the photo taken so many years before. I only hope my character is as reflective of my mother as the photo; it would be my greatest joy to pass along her spirit.
Today, there are more similarities than differences between me and my mom. Perhaps becoming a mother myself has unlocked those tendencies. I chuckle as I taste my pasta sauce, remembering her gesture doing the same as a child. I find myself cleaning the house on hands and knees the night before leaving on a trip and feel equal parts astonishment and bemusement that you can inherit those types of traits.
Knowing my mother more deeply also has meant finding myself. She is the vase of flowers I carefully arranged on a shelf vignette. She is my decision to leave the house with less makeup because she showed me by example that less is more and beauty is within. She is in the courage I use to chase my dreams, with the wings she bestowed and still bolsters. She is the voice in my head telling me to turn to God, to let my faith carry me on this journey of life and to find what makes me feel fully alive.