When I was little, my mom would ask me how much I loved her. I’d stretch out my arms as far as I could and say, “Thiiiiiis much!” She’d ask again. I’d stretch out my arms again and say the words again and she’d tickle me and I’d just laugh and laugh.
She was a great cook. On some weekend mornings, she’d make some of the best grits. Never early, as I recall — usually at around 10 or 11 — making sure to make enough for the neighborhood girl who’d sometimes come over. She always wanted to be the “cool mom.”
Some of my first driving experiences were with her, out on a dirt road in the country while visiting her family, most likely before I was 15. That’s where I learned about Alanis. And thanks to some of her lyrics, which Mom was happy to explain when I asked, I learned about a lot more than driving in that truck.
When my parents split for the final time, I recall spending time with my mom at her job, in a bar on Jacksonville’s Westside. Men would flirt with her and give me quarters for what I called the “claw grabby machine” and I’d go play. I got a lot of new toys that night. And I remember helping her clean the place up when the night was over.
As I got older, Mom was rarely what I would consider “appropriate.” She sometimes put me in precarious positions when I’d visit her house. She’d ask me questions that would make nearly anyone blush. At one point, she told me she and her second husband had taken bets on whether I’d lost my virginity. She thought I was a good Christian boy. He thought I was a growing teenager. Neither were completely wrong.
After my parents divorced, here’s what I recall most, though: Missed events. Showing up late or not at all. Missed calls. Not listening when we did talk. Trying to convince her to not listen to her sister because she was a good mom, all while believing her sister more right than wrong. Trying to connect with her, time after time, failure after failure. Weirdness. Awkwardness. Drunkenness. Death.
I learned that you can grow up thinking your mom is going to die prematurely and yet it can still surprise you. You can spend time thinking about what that might be like and it still won’t prepare you. You can think about what you could’ve done differently, but it still won’t console you. You can think about how much you know she loved you, but it still won’t fulfill you.
So why am I telling you this on what would have been her 52nd birthday?
Despite the negative, she was one of my biggest defenders and fiercest supporters. She would’ve moved a mountain for me, if she could’ve. Growing up, if anyone messed with me, she always told me she’d “kick their ass.” I’m sure she’d still do the same today.
I spent so much time refusing to accept that I had been influenced by her in any way. Yet here I am. Short. Brown eyes. Brown hair. A pretty consistent smile. I talk a lot. I talk with my hands. I tell stories. I repeat myself. I try to help others. I care. I’m sometimes quick to anger, but I also sometimes fume silently when I’m angry. I love Alanis (old Alanis). And Celine. I’m a fan of beer. And how can I ever forget, as she always told me, I have her butt.
Truth be told, I never thought I’d miss her as much as I do. I never truly considered what it would be like to not have her available to me at all. Period. Did I need her to make it through life? No. But that’s partially because of her. Goodness knows she was independent.
You know what sucks? Plenty of people don’t call their mom, even on their birthdays. They don’t see them. They don’t get them a card. Nothing. Maybe they rarely talk to them at all. I understand that some moms are truly terrible moms. But, for the most part, they aren’t so terrible that you can’t at least reach out to them every now and then.
Your mom could die tomorrow. You could die tomorrow. Consider that when planning for today. Make it count while you can.
Oh, and Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you thiiiiiiiis much!