Friday, June 22, 2012

Remembering My Lines

"Honey! Time to get up. You don't want to be late for your last day of school!"

A few months ago, the jBird and I were lying on the floor reading together. In the book she was reading, the main character's mother said this to her daughter. jBird read it to me in that sing-song voice that denotes a friendly and warm adult.

"Can you say this to me when it's my last day of school?" she asked me.
"Sure," I said. "You want me to remind you it's the last day of school?"
"No, I want you to say it to me just like that," and she repeated the line in the same sing-song Mother voice.
"No problem," I said.
"You have to remember to do it."

The mothers in the books she reads are either perfect or absent. The perfect ones are attorneys, astrophysicists, veterinarians. But they always seem to be on vacation. They always have the correct words to say to their daughters. They are warm and loving when they need to be, but stay out of the way most of the time. They are these benign, flat characters who serve a certain purpose and then fade into the background. The absent ones are another sort of wish-fulfillment, I suppose. My jBird is intrigued by orphans. Some of the mother characters are so horrible that it is a relief they are gone. Others are an ephemeral snapshot of beautiful perfection kept close to the child's heart, but not interfering all that much when they want to go chase fairies or something. These things fascinate my independent little girl.

Her books never say things like:

 Daisy's mother was a complicated woman. Her jeans never seemed to stay up. One of Daisy's favorite games to play with her mother was to yell 'Coin slot!' and stick her finger in the spot where her mother's jeans had slipped down. Mother sometimes drifted off in the middle of sentences and left Daisy wondering what she was even talking about. She was by turns dreamy and disconnected, crabby and blunt, present and attentive; but she was always loving. Daisy was never exactly sure what her mother did. She would sometimes spend hours at the computer or writing in a journal and then she would suddenly get up and go on a mad cleaning spree or take Daisy and her brother to the park. Mother could talk for what seemed like forever about certain things, but then other times answered with a distracted 'Mmm-hmm.'

They just don't write moms like that for kids. I'm not even sure that they should. My voracious little reader escapes into books for hours at a time, her favorite place to read is sitting in the tree in front of our house. She absorbs these characters and scenarios and tries to fit them into her world. She is still young and doesn't quite realize that her world is richer, more textured and interesting than the formulaic stories she reads. After all, she has no real fairies that come and talk to her or clans of cats who come to her for help. I remember being eight. I remember imagining the worlds of my books while playing in the woods. I remember thinking sometimes how much easier my favorite characters had it. I remember wishing my mom would be more like the moms in the books. These were things I never would have dared ask my own mother, so it thrilled me to my very childish soul when my jBird asked me to say the lines from her book. That kind of openness and innocence in a gesture of wishing is something that brings me to my knees with gratitude. I am more than happy to oblige.

This morning we woke up on the couch. My jBird suffers from chronic insomnia and last night was a little rough. In the wee hours she had finally fallen asleep and she lay there snuggled against me, warm and safe, mouth open and breathing her little snaggle-toothed halitosis into my face. She's getting older, but when she's sleeping, she looks every bit of my baby girl still. I watched her sleep for a few minutes, trying to squeeze the last drops of silence out of the morning, trying to give her just a few more minutes to restore that whirring mind of hers. I kissed her forehead, stroked her hair and said:

"Honey... it's time to get up. You don't want to be late for your last day of school..." in that lilting voice of fictitiously perfect mothers.

She stirred and smiled a tiny jack-o-lantern for me, and snuggled closer. I often miss my cues. Sometimes I step all over other people's lines. Sometimes I burst into the scene and start reciting a soliloquy from an entirely different act. Almost always, I improvise and confuse the other players. But sometimes, sometimes... sometimes I get it right. I arrive on cue and remember my lines. My ovation is that little smile and an extra snuggle.

jBird and her real mom.
In time, she will realize that life is not like her books. That people, even people who love her with all they have to give, are fallible and messy and real. She will come to see that this drama we live is a rich story unfolding without formula, without a script. I know my daughter and I believe she will come to appreciate this. Just as I hope that she comes to appreciate that even though her mother is not the glossy perfect mother she reads about, that she is a real mother. A woman who tries and sometimes fails. A woman who loves her more than she even knows how. A woman who will say the false lines that she requested to show her how real the love is she has for her.


  1. I read this immediately after I yelled, 'Stop putting your cheese on me!'. So sweet, so pretty.

  2. This is perfection. I love it. I love love love it. Send it out.

  3. I tried to read this three times before I succeeded, because I knew from a quick glance it would make me cry. It did, and I loved it. (I so miss that little girl halitosis and silent cuddles, and I so identify with your motherhood identity observations.)

    Please print this for Jbird, to read five years from now, ten, twenty... And when she has her own child.

    Wishing you a million ovations just like this, they are the best kind. xo Thanks very much for sharing.

  4. I love this! Being a flat, perfect mom would make our children's lives so dull. We're keeping them on their toes. ;)

  5. I need to cut and paste your last paragraph and send it to my daughter - thanks for writing this. Even when your little girl is all grown up, the pangs and insecurities are alive and fluttering.

  6. Love this post. But you know how much I value imperfection....

  7. So beautiful. Sorry I'm so late to read it! Your description of yourself could so be a description of me that I had to read it three times. Maybe that is what it is to be a writerly mother. Or maybe that's why I like you so much. Now that I have teenagers–well, almost plural–one almost 15, one nearly 12, I can already say that what you predict is true. They have come to know me as a person and gotten over their fascination with my role. They sit around the table saying ridiculous things and saying "You should write a blog on that, Mom." and they know I love my garden and my animals the way I know that they love their soccer and their Tae Kwon Do and their music. We have already started to touch that place that is not fiction, that place of love where misfit mothers can find welcome.

  8. I'm straddling the two worlds- one where my little ones believe in those make believe moms, and the other where my teens and adults (ack! I have adult children!) know better. I have found, though, that when they get older, they see your imperfections, but they can also sense your effort and the absolute love you've tried to cultivate in their lives. There is nothing more satisfying than when my 16 year-old daughter throws her arms around me and proclaims that I am the best mom ever.

    (I'm trying to decide which is more beautiful- your writing or you. What a gorgeous picture.)

  9. Oh my goodness. I love this. I love your writing. I love that photo - pure bliss!


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