I try to be sensitive, listening to friends detail their struggles and discord with their mothers. I don't want to rub it in, don't want to seem arrogant or unsympathetic. But secretly, I defend my secret - my mother is as good as you can get. Having done nothing to deserve such a gift, I aim to be humble, knowing that just as easily, I could be someone who discusses the weather and the news with my mom while yearning for a deeper connection. But I'm lucky - i get to know what it feels like to have the kind of mom who embodies the title of mother.
There were the years of teenage hell where I saw faults and shortcomings everywhere I looked. The year that I gave my therapist a mother's day card and lived with relatives. There have been the moments of frustration and wishing for that tv mother who never is overwhelmed and always pays attention without trying to multi-task. There were words of anger and episodes of distrust between both of us. Thank g-d, those years have passed...and knowing that there will always be disagreements and times where neither of us are in the best moods, still, at least we're both grown-ups - most of the time.
And of course, none of us are saints. There was the time she set my new apartment on fire while trying to broil some chicken (note to self - don't keep oven mitts in the broiling drawer unless you are hoping to attract firemen to your place of residence) and I will admit, the attention to detail while describing, say, how to find a taxi from the airport can be a tad excessive. (Ok Lauren, when you walk out of the door, go to the right and you're going to have to cross the street. If you look across the street, there'll be an island, so you have to walk over there, and then walk down a couple of yards to the large 'taxi' sign...ok? Door, to the right, to the island, to the sign" - never mind that I’ve lived in phoenix for most of my life and am familiar with the whole taxi cab getting scenario.) However, despite these minor traits, which only give us fodder for birthday roasts, my mom stands in a league of her own.
Miriam Thea Kent Bottner - she is the one I call upon receiving good news, in the midst of tears, and when I need a hand to hold, even long distance. She is unfailingly on my side, even when she may have her doubts about whether I deserve it. She laughs at my jokes and saves my letters. She cares when I'm hurt and knows how to listen to the spaces in our conversation, interpreting what I’m really feeling when I can't find the words to explain it. She made play-doh when we were kids, letting us pick the colors we wanted, and ensuring that the mix of flour, salt, and water allowed for the occasional inevitable ingesting taste testing. She sat at the kitchen table and shared the crayons with me, insisting that my drawings were just as good as hers, that mine simply were more 'abstract' than her artist quality sketches. I have boxes of cards that she's send over the years, filled with 'just because I love you', 'notes of encouragement', 'I’m so proud you're my daughter' and 'thought this would make you smile'. She shuffled carpool, Hebrew school, flute lessons, dance lessons (not my finest hour), with all of my brother's after-school activities, and still found time to hang our artwork on the fridge. She was the one in charge of planning vacations, planning dinner, planning birthday parties, with her quiet brilliance that made it all seem easy. The first time I tried to plan a vacation with a friend this year, I had to call and ask her, "How the hell did you do this?? I'm going crazy - which hotel, which airlines, which dates?? Where's the book that teaches you all of this?"
But it's not the tasks she completes or the things she does for me that make her the one I'd run back into a fire for. It's the way her soul sees the good in those around her, the way she searches for the silver lining, even when I want her to wallow with me. It's the simple twirling of my hair or cuddling on the couch just to keep me company. She is the mother hen, running around tending to her flock: me, my brother, my dad; always cataloguing who needs an extra pep talk, who could use some mothering. Sometimes to her own detriment, she is the one that holds our family together. It's like a mothering gene that's dominant in her, she sees the struggle in those she loves and sets out to help in any way possible. And it's not just with our immediate family. She fills the role with her friends, her siblings, and in a painful way, with her mother years ago as the roles were reversed.
I used to watch her try to conceal the pain in her eyes as she mourned her mother, my Bubby Ida. I'd hear her describe the daily visits and efforts to find 24-hour care, the way she would fill the house with loving cards and pictures, trying to make her mother's last years as pain-free as possible. I can't imagine that agony of being the sandwich generation - mothering both your children and your parents, with no one to mother you. She had a sick daughter, a sick mother, and despite extraordinary efforts, couldn't fix either of them. After losing her father 14 years ago, and then her mother 2 years ago, I wonder, who takes care of my mother?
I used to wonder why my mom still cried every time she mentioned her father, my zaidy charlie's name after he died. Why, one year after her mother died, she still got chocked up at the smell of a gardenia or the passing of McCormick Parkway, where bubby Ida lived. I didn't understand. I didn't understand that it doesn't matter if you are 15, 35, or 65; you always want your mom. I didn't comprehend that becoming a mother yourself doesn't extinguish that longing for your mother's approval, for her soft hand to hold, for her smile when she lays her eyes on you. I didn't know that no matter what, whether you're sick, happy, in crisis, or celebrating, it's your mother's face that you seek out in the crowd, simply because you want her near, you want to share your life and all of it's twists with her.
And then I moved to California and I began to live a life that almost resembles that of an adult. After living in my parent's home for a year, I had forgotten what missing them felt like. And now, I get it. I understand how I'll never be ready to live in a world without my mom. I'll survive. I'll manage to keep on putting one foot in front of the other, which is more than I used to think - believing that without my mom, I would lack the air to breathe. So I’ll live - but there will always be that one face missing. The inevitable searching of the crowd for her smile and coming up short. The treasuring of her drawings, her sweatshirts, and her candlesticks as a weak substitution for her hugs.
And so, in defiance of that saying 'you don't know what you've got till it's gone', I am grateful for Miriam Thea Kent Bottner today. I am grateful for her daily, not just on Mother's Day. I look forward to her visits and save her cards. I call to share the news - good and bad, to share a funny sighting on the side of the road, to share a wound, to share my fears. I see her name flash on my phone, and I think about how lucky I am, how unbelievably fortunate I am to have been gifted a mother that loves me no matter what, lumpy parts and all; a mother who believes in me despite years of disappointments and lies; a mother who cares about more than the events of my day and the weather, but rather cares about if I’m happy, if I’m hopeful, if I’m lonely.
I don't want to rub it in, and I know that on Mother's Day, everyone says that they love their mother. But my secret is that I love my mother every day, and am secure that I am loved, when I make her proud, when I make mistakes, when I let her down, and when I do nothing else but get out of bed in the morning. That’s what I don't want to rub in - the knowledge that I won the gold medal of mothers.