There is so much that I wish I had asked her. The problem is, at nineteen years old, I didn't yet have the life experience to know what to ask. I write her a letter every year on Mothers' Day in which I ask some of these questions--but oh how I wish she could come take me to lunch once a year so I could hear all of her answers and wisdom.
Today is her 57th birthday. I love thinking about her on this special day. I love remembering her and celebrating her. As I grow older, I realize more and more the sacrifices she made for her daughters--sacrifices that I was unaware of as an oblivious child and teen.
My mom waited up for us to get home from being out with our friends. She said she couldn't sleep until she knew we were home safe and sound, and I actually looked forward to going home and talking over the events of the night with her. We would sit on my bed and talk for at least an hour, often about the decisions (good and bad) that my friends were making and my hopes and dreams for the future. My mom knew that I was more likely to open up to her late at night. She knew that I was more likely to talk to her about what really mattered to me--the worries and questions on my mind. So she never mentioned the late hour. She let me talk as long as I needed to.
Only now, as an adult, do I realize what a sacrifice this must've been for her. Now that I am a mom, I realize that moms are tired at the end of the day. Moms want to go to bed by 10:00. On top of all of the normal exhaustion associated with being a mother, my mom was not healthy. She battled breast cancer for 13 years, and even when she was in remission, she often suffered the effects of having no immune system due to numerous rounds of chemotherapy. She caught every sickness and faced every health problem in the book. And yet, she was awake and waiting for me at midnight every weekend. I wish that I could thank her for that.
For me, it was late-night chats with Mom that worked best; for my sisters, it was different times during the day. Mom figured out when each of us would be most willing to open up, and she made sure to be available to us during those magic moments. My freshman year of college, I was talking to my mom on the phone one afternoon when she suddenly said, "Sorry, Rachel, but I have to go! Laura is pulling up, and if I don't grab her now and get her talking, I'll never find out how her day was!" It was during that conversation that it dawned on me that my mom was extremely deliberate in the way that she mothered us. She knew us intimately, and she was always searching for ways to connect with us. This is something I hope to do for my children. When my older sister spent a semester teaching English in China, Mom would wake up very early because she had calculated the time difference, and she knew that Sarah was likely to be online at that time. I vividly remember waking up to the sound of my mom laughing hysterically in the office over some story that Sarah had shared with her via Instant Messenger. In spite of the thousands and thousands of miles between them, my mom was still searching for ways to connect with her daughter.
I miss her. I always will. I wish that she were here to give me advice about how to be a good mother. I've never known someone who mothers better than she did (though I will admit that I am quite biased), and I would love to hear her words of wisdom. But since that is not an option, I am hoping that, over the years, I will be able to remember the many moments that we shared and reevaluate them through my new perspective as a mother myself--so I can see the lessons about motherhood that were always inherent in those moments, though I may not have been aware of it at the time.
She may not be here to tell me how to be a good mother--but she was showing me all along.
Happy birthday, Mama. I love you, and I will never forget.