Tomorrow will be the first Mother’s Day in the history of me being a mother that I will be away from my children. My husband and I are in Europe as we speak, eating our way through every bakery in Paris if all is going according to plan.
It will be strange to not be woken up Sunday with breakfast in bed carried in by a ragged parade of pajama-clad kids singing “Happy Mother’s Day to You” to the tune of the birthday song. I’ll miss them climbing all over me as I struggle to sit up in bed to accept their early morning offering, marveling even through the chaos of it all at these little humans who made me into a mother, with all of my quirks and glorious imperfections.
This year, their particular brand of Mother’s Day mayhem will be lavished on their Grandma Gloria – my mom – who is watching them while we are away.
She’s the kind of mom that shows up at my door with either a hot pizza or a toilet plunger, depending on what is needed at that exact moment (often both). She’s “clutch,” to use a term my kids assure me I am not cool enough to say but that means “there for you exactly when you need it.”
She was there for my older brother when he came home from school one day in third grade complaining that some kids were bullying him on the bus. The next afternoon, wanting to see the bullying first-hand, my mom rode her 10-speed bike up to the bus stop, intending to watch from a hidden distance as my brother and the bullies got off the bus. But as she was looking around to stake out her hiding place, the bus came rumbling up the hill and slowed to a stop directly across from where she was standing. She threw her bike and herself behind a pine tree and willed herself to become invisible, but pretty soon a chorus of little voices could be heard through the open windows of the bus:
“What’s that lady doing behind a tree?”
“Does she think we can’t see her?”
And finally, “Jonathan, is that your mom?”
My brother got off the bus, avoided eye contact with the crazy tree lady, and walked the two blocks home with all the angst a 9-year-old could muster.
When we drive by that tree today, we remember that story and laugh. Because, as the saying goes, you can either laugh or cry, right?
My mom chooses to laugh.
One night when I was a teenager, I was in bed trying to fall asleep when I started hearing loud belly laughs coming from my mom’s bedroom, which was directly above mine.
Wild peals of laughter were not common in our household at that particular time; my dad had passed away just shortly before following a brutal year-long fight with brain cancer. So to hear my mom laughing alone in the room they had once shared was a little bit alarming. It finally got loud enough that I decided to go upstairs to see what was going on.
I found her sitting in bed, reading a book compilation of Erma Bombeck’s greatest columns, and laughing her head off. I curled up next to her as she read to me, and laughed along at Erma’s anecdotes about family life and motherhood, most of which I wouldn’t fully understand until I became a mother myself. For me, that night was the equivalent of a toddler taking a tumble and looking for her parents’ reaction before she decides whether or not she’s hurt. I saw my mom finding joy even in her grief and felt reassured that this pain, though intense, wasn’t terminal.
Now that I’m a mother, I marvel at how my mom pulled not just herself, but her three children as well, out of our overwhelming abyss of loss. Even when I’m at the top of my mothering game, I find it difficult to help a child through something as trivial as losing a school election or moving away from a best friend. To guide and love and mother three devastated children out of darkness and into light, when you yourself are fighting not to drown under the weight of it all, is beyond my comprehension.
Faith. Love. Laughter. That’s how she did it. As usual, it was just what we needed.
Julia Ditto shares her life with her husband, six children and random menagerie of farm animals. Her view of family life is firmly rooted in the Spokane Valley. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.