“I have always known that my mother’s was a life of – intricately abashing word! – Excellence…She was so varied: like a tree on which lemons, pomegranates, and prickly pears absurdly all hang together.”
–Cynthia Ozick, “The Seam of the Snail”
As far back as I can remember I’ve been in awe of my mother. I remember sitting at our cluttered kitchen table, listening to my mother recite the lineage of our ancestors back to Wales as she whipped up pancakes the size of sand dollars. I remember her naming off impressionists: Cezanne, Delacroix, Monet, Renoir in perfect French, as we wander from room to room in the Metropolitan Museum of Art; she encourages me to touch the art, to feel the art. I remember her being far more knowledgeable than any adult I’ve ever met – and to this day I have yet to meet someone that compare to her.
The first thing my mother and I did when my father left was travel. Like a shaken soda, she burst from the life we were used to and reached out, covering the unknown in sticky, carbonated enthusiasm. She first conquered the southwest as savvy as an Arizona native, mastering the back roads that snaked around the Copper state. The hot desert wind blew dust in every direction, keeping the red cliffs in the distance a secret. It looked as if the ground dropped off into vastness, the way it appears when you near the ocean. She pulled up to our hotel in the red, rented beater, and we realized the infinite vastness was the Grand Canyon, and we both sat there humbled by the multicolored laceration of rock before us.
Arizona was just the beginning. We saw a symphony at the Sydney Opera House, cuddled kangaroos at the Taronga Zoo, luged down the glorious green mountains of Rototua, soaked in the thermal springs of Auckland – all before my thirteenth birthday. Every night we would journal together, filling it with the fond memories I look back on so often. At the time I didn’t realize I was being trained. She was teaching me to be exceptional, extraordinary, excellent. Well-read, well-traveled, well-versed. What I quickly learned, however, was how arduous it was to live up to her legacy.
She was a freshmen at the University of Maryland at sixteen; I rambled through life after high school, living what I thought to be the ‘bohemian life,’ taking four years to complete a two year degree. She had an established career in teaching by her early twenties, and here I am twenty-four and just now discovering my potential. I frequently look back on my training: the places she took me, the languages she spoke to me, the art she showed me, and I am humiliated of what I have to show for her efforts. As a first-year graduate student, I have spent most of my time trying to discover what I have to offer to the professional world, and as I inventoried my talents I came to a relieving realization: I am slowly turning in to the woman that my mother is. Every ability, forte, gift I have was ingrained in me. She cut, carved, shaped me, and now I see that we were made out of the same material.
10 Things That Only My Mother Would Do For Me
1. Replay Milo & Otis on VHS and The Lion King Soundtrack on tape continuously without complaints.
2. Allow me to turn the front yard into an archaeological site as I dug for dinosaur bones (the grass is still recovering 20 years later!).
3. Be at every ballet recital, soccer game, swimming lesson, and gymnastics practice while knowing that I’ll find a new “passion” next week
4. Stand in Hot Topic while listening to migraine-inducing heavy metal as I pick out hideous clothing.
5. Not killing me when I dyed me hair…and the sink…and the shower…and the rug candy apple red.
6. Paying my first cell phone bill when I succumbed to texting for the first time.
7. Comfort me during my first breakup without saying “I told you so”.
8. Pick me up from the train station after I took the wrong train on my first day of my D.C. job.
9. Buy me groceries when my priorities get twisted and shopping for shoes outranks eating.
10. Listen and advise and share in my excitement, anxiety, and general mid-twenties temperaments.