My oldest child was born by emergency c-section after I’d been in labor for over two days. (Yes, you read that right, and no, I don’t really want to talk about it.) My memories of his birth are somewhat muddled and indistinct. This is due, I’m sure, to a combination of both exhaustion and fear.
There is one thing I remember very clearly though. After it was all over and I sat shaking in the recovery room, everyone (the nurses, our family members, my husband) left to follow the baby to the nursery to watch him be weighed and measured and bathed.
Everyone but my mom.
She stayed right next to me, holding my hand. Watching me shake. Watching the heart rate and oxygen monitors. Watching me. She sat vigilant and fully prepared to sound the alarm at the first sign of trouble.
You must understand: My mom was more excited about this new baby than perhaps anyone on Earth. He was her first grandchild, and she’d been anxiously awaiting this day for years.
And yet she stayed with me. The moment is etched sharply into my memory; I can recall the antiseptic smell of the recovery room and the scratchiness of the hospital blanket and the soft hiss of the blood pressure cuff. Mostly I remember the gentle pressure of her hand on mine. I will never forget that moment. I was so grateful for her then.
I am so grateful for her now.
Keeping watch over me on the day of my son’s birth was merely one single lesson from the master class in parenting my mother has taught me throughout my life. I think back over the years and other memories surface easily, with just as much clarity and detail …
I am eight and in third grade. My class draws names for Secret Valentine, but on the appointed day when all the gifts are snuck into cubbies and desks, no one delivers a gift to me. I am crushed, sad, embarrassed. The next day I arrive at my desk to find a red plastic heart container filled with trinkets, and I am relieved and happy, convinced my Secret Valentine must have been out sick yesterday, or accidentally forgotten the date of the class party. Only months later do I learn that my mom snuck that plastic heart into my desk.
I am 14 and a freshman in high school. My mom surprises me with new, cool pajamas — the kind I have been wanting for months. The next morning I am awoken at 6 AM by members of the high school dance team. They have come to “kidnap” me for breakfast to let me know I made the team — one of the most thrilling experiences of freshman year. My mom, of course, knew they were coming and made sure I was appropriately attired for the early-morning event.
I am 19, and have a nasty fight with my freshman year college roommate. I call my mom crying, and beg her to come pick me up from the university dorm and let me spend the weekend at home. She gently but firmly tells me no, that I need to work things out like an adult, and that I will be fine. She is, of course, 100% correct.
I am 22 and midway through law school. My mom, who lives an hour away, unexpectedly appears on my doorstep, supposedly to ask my opinion on a new dress she’s bought. After a half-hour of small talk and laughing, she reveals the true purpose of her visit: She has come to tell me that my ex-boyfriend, who I dated for four years and thought I would love forever, has gotten engaged to his new girlfriend. She didn’t want to tell me over the phone or have me hear from anyone else. She holds my hand, tells me I am better off without him, and through some sort of magic, she makes me believe her.
I am 24 and waiting to find out whether or not I passed the bar exam. My job offer from a law firm is contingent on my passing. Results are obtained by typing a user ID and password into a clunky, hard-to-use website, and I am so terrified that I fumble the password twice. My mom steps in, literally pushes me out of my chair, and briskly types in the password. The results pop up: I passed. She smiles in a self-satisfied manner, and from a cupboard she pulls out a bottle of iced champagne and two flutes.
These are just moments, of course. Just brief scenes from my life that replay in my head sometimes like a movie reel. These are only five of a million memories I could offer up to illustrate how lucky I have been to call my mom my mom.
I think about her kindness, her empathy, her insistence that I develop grit and resilience and the ability to stand on my own two feet, and I am almost overwhelmed at the thought of trying to mother my own children as well as she has mothered me.
But mostly, I just feel gratitude for her, and for everything she is. And I feel determination to do right by my children, just as she taught me to do.