I talk to my mom a lot. It probably isn’t a lot by her standards, and who could blame her, I’m really fun to talk to; however, I converse with her far more often than with anyone else (excluding, obviously, those that I live with), and she has never complained about the collect calls. I like that.
It would be easy to look back at the faded photos pinned to the timeline of my youth (thanks, Facebook!) and think my mother somewhat cruel, but that could not be further from the truth. The fact is that I had terrible hair—super thick and hating gravity (which I would give anything to have back), and she made me get those perms in an attempt to control it. She did it out of love, and frankly, it isn’t your place to judge her. But I can totally see how you would think that. I looked awful.
My mom is actually a very caring person, sensitive and quick to worry, characteristics that did not fall, thankfully, far from the tree. Much of what I am, in terms of empathy and compassion, I owe to her. She has also greatly influenced my wine appreciation.
There are moments from my childhood that stand out more than others. I keep them tucked just behind my eyelids, and when the day grants me time enough I watch them play across my mind like so many home movies.
Scene one: We shopped a lot. Although, to be fair, I don’t remember ever buying anything other than the occasional KISS t-shirt or Star Wars figure. But there were tons of stores, and they were filled with things of wonder like escalators and popcorn. To this day I cannot enter a mall without some sense of nostalgia. Also, nausea, thanks to the lingering cloud of Axe Body Spray that now fills the spots once scented by Polo, Obsession, and Drakkar.
Fast forward through a montage of smiling years to find my mother crying in the kitchen. I don’t remember which parent it was, maybe the memory is my own concoction, a heartbreaking mix of the two, but I walked in the door and she was standing there, crying, lost in loss, and I knew right then that there was pain coming for all of us, and that tears are kind and worth it.
She hates the story about the day that she broke my Spider-Man doll, but every story needs a twist in the third act. She was mad, and I am sure her anger was justified. A button had been pushed and when she swung her arms back in dramatic disgust the toy, which she held tightly in her hand, hit a surface on the backswing. When it came forward again there was much in the way of traumatization. No amount of glue could fix it, and even Spider-Man’s webbing disintegrates eventually.
She is still embarrassed by the moment and apologizes every single time I bring it up, but I can’t help myself. I bring it up because I understand it, and as a father of two young boys I have stood there with heat on my voice and something they love held tightly in my hand. I have stood there, seeing the scene from all sides now, and that moment has given me cause to breathe, release my grip, and watch their eyes grow gradually smaller. Spider-Man made a sacrifice that has kept my anger in check, and that is the stuff of heroes. My mother, albeit unwillingly, had something to do with that, and I thank her for it.
These days we live in different states, and where she barters with my memories, I counter with her grandchildren—this leads to as many reunions as possible, which is nowhere near enough. The moments hit the now and they loop again beneath a soundtrack heavy with laughter and bits of melancholy. They will play until my eyes open, my alarm the ringing of the phone with my mother often calling. We will talk, she will ask about my life and offer support as needed. It is needed more than I care to mention.
The last thing she will do before hanging up the phone is tell me that she loves me.
I will tell her that I love her, too.
Editor’s Note: We’re celebrating Mother’s Day by celebrating leaning in to motherhood, and by recognizing the extraordinary women that are our own mothers. We hope that it will inspire you to thank your own mother, or the mother who most inspires you. Find more letters and stories about leaning into motherhood here. And, of course, find your own Lean In inspiration at LeanIn.org.
Read more from Whit Honea at his site Honea Express and the popular group blog DadCentric. You can follow Whit on the Twitter or Pinterest (his opinions are his own and do not reflect those of Babble or most rational people).