This is for Peggy. And, of course, for Maggie.
Maggie texted me that there was something she had to tell me. I texted back “what’s up?” she called and she said, “My mom died.” Her baby is three weeks old. There is a picture of her mom holding him, smiling up at the camera, new grandmother pride, and the baby is JUST born, his face still scrunched and peaceful. My mind doubles back, getting confused, folding time into new, impossible arrangements. She can’t die, I reason, because she looks too young in the photo. She can’t die, because she is a grandmother now, and because she is in perfect health. I think I see her jogging on the side of the road. See, that’s her! She’s just missing. It’ll be fine. She can’t be dead because it’s Maggie’s first Mother’s Day now.
“Mother’s Day was invented by Hallmark,” my brother Jake reminds me when he calls to wish me a happy one. “I mean, no offense, since you’re a mom now and stuff. But it’s kinda a bullshit holiday.” He’s laughing, he really doesn’t mean any offense.
“Mother’s Day is the best holiday ever,” I say, laughing too. “It’s the best thing Hallmark ever did! Everyone should thank their mom. Moms are a big deal.”
“Yeah, figures you’d think that now,” he says and we talk about a thing happening at grad school.
When Maggie and I were growing up together, two little homeschooled girls running around in the woods, always covered in dirt (“soil!” my mom reminds me), our mothers were in the background of the photos. We are front and center, in Revolutionary War costumes that we made for Jake’s colonial-themed birthday party that year that all we read about was the American Revolution. I had a crush on Ben, who was the tallest, oldest boy in the homeschooling group, and Ben had a crush on Maggie, who was always so pretty even though she never for one second cared about clothes back then. The drama of being ten and eleven and twelve played out in the local parks and at the skating rink, where we did endless turns around the yellowing ice every Friday late morning through early afternoon, when the homeschoolers reigned over empty community spaces. That our mothers were doing something radical and huge and daring and weird with our childhoods, with their adulthoods, was not considered. What was considered was that Matt hated having his green baseball cap stolen, so it was everyone else’s mission in life to steal it.
Maggie went to school later on and then got into the Ivy League and studied mathy things I could never understand. She’d been two textbooks ahead of me when we did Saxon math as kids. I was always pretending to do the practice tests, she actually liked them. Later, we met up in New York and we started this blog together on a whim. She was already a blogger, I was a grad student. She was a computer programmer—she designed the original webpage in a few minutes and got it running. We had a fight. We missed each other’s weddings. We didn’t speak for a couple years. We started talking again, it was a relief. I got pregnant. We sat out in my parents’ backyard, back in NJ, me hugely pregnant, in the haze of full summer, talking about life with our computer science-y husbands. I felt peaceful. I felt like the sky was settling into the right place above me, and I was sitting in just the right spot below. I had Eden, and Maggie was the first friend to visit. She held her and she told me that she was pregnant, too, she’d just found out. We were all so happy we couldn’t stop being happy for even a second all day. She wanted my amazing midwife’s contact information. I couldn’t wait for her to become a mother, too. I kept texting her about her pregnancy. At the end, I couldn’t hardly contain my excitement. When her son was born, I showed everyone his picture, bragging about how gorgeous he was. I didn’t try to understand or explain my commitment to her little family, but I felt so grateful for them, almost as though they were another version of me, a parallel life, a matched set, a completion of something. We were in it together. Thank god. Even though I still can’t do math.
(our babies and our legs)
It’s so strange, being a mother. I love my own mother even more. I let her hug me for longer because I want Eden to let me hug her for longer, later. I remember the things that I poked at her for over the years, and I find them stupid instead of enlightened. I have figured out my mother’s issues a million times. I find myself caring less and less about them. I watch her with Eden- they are grinning at each other, sharing inside jokes already, and I am only happy. I begin to wonder what it was like for her, when we were little, when we were babies and then toddlers and then older and older. My perspective loses its sturdy footing and shifts closer to her—I am trying to picture where the moms were sitting in the park, what they might have talked about at their picnic table, when we were running away from Matt with his green hat in our hands. I look down at my hand over Eden’s hand and I see that her hand is new and pink and soft and mine is tougher, already old compared to how I remember it from childhood. And my mind slips and swirls around the idea that to Eden, I will always be old. And to Eden, I will fade into the background of the photos, even as I am the most basic thing in her life. I am like a house. Shelter, structure, safety, warmth, but once you’re living in it, you don’t have to think about these things so much anymore. How have I transitioned from myself to Eden’s mother? How am I Eden’s mother and still myself? I don’t know. It’s just life. Life is just a series of shocking transitions that should take a lifetime to adjust to, but instead we just do it, we just move through it, we just keep going.
“Where’s Mama?” I say, in my special silly voice for her. She starts to smile already, at my hands over my face. She tugs at one of them. “Peekaboo!”
I duck behind the counter and she crawls after me. I pop out, surprising her, but not really. She knows I’m going to surprise her.
“Where’s Mama?” I run around the corner, flattening myself into a doorway. I am a kid again, because she is a baby, and because you have to be kind of a kid with a baby.
Sometimes I look at her and I feel nothing. There is a blank space that stretches to breaking, an openness with no information. How am I supposed to be now? How am I supposed to feel? I try to make sense of her face, the face I made. I feel like I’m looking at it through the wrong side of the binoculars. It’s very very small and far away, even though she’s right in front of me. My life has lengthened and narrowed and distorted and my future is both far away and right in front of me.
“Twenty years ago…” my parents say, easily, watching old family videos. “Remember us twenty years ago? Look at my hair! Look at that color!”
And I think for the first time that maybe twenty years will not be so long for me, either. For anyone. Which is the wrong way to think, I tell myself, because that’s Eden’s whole childhood. That’s so many important, big things. But there is a blurriness now that wasn’t there before. I catch myself sometimes thinking of myself as a bridge between things, a transmitter, a passer-on of traits and love, a connective joint. I am not the climax of the story the way I used to be. It’s disorienting and comforting. I feel a little like the Borg.
I don’t know if Maggie feels a little like the Borg, too. If maybe she has some sense of her mother continuing in her own motherhood. God, I hope so. I see that in her already—the bravery, the willingness to be different just like being different is normal, that huge, unapologetic love. It’s a gift our mothers gave us both, I think. “You can ask any question you want,” they suggested, with our whole childhoods. We won’t always choose their choices, but we will probably always be comfortable asking.
I want so badly to help, to do something, and I feel like I’m just standing here with my hands hanging, useless.
“I love you,” I say, on the phone, hanging up after she tells me. It’s the only thing I can think of.
(I can’t seem to land those bunny ears…)
In the photos, we are little girls together, our arms slung over each other’s shoulders. Now we’re mothers together. It shifts, slips, turns. I glance around, blinking, startled. We are replacing our mothers at the picnic table, day by day. We are beginning and ending all the time. I guess that’s always how it goes.
Here. I am here.
(the only photo I have of us with the babies, so far)
* * *
Unroast: Today I love the way I look with Eden on my hip. I think I must look strong, because this baby is huge.
I was on the radio recently, reading a piece I wrote about being pregnant at 26 in NYC. I’ve always thought my voice is weird and unlistenable, so I can’t bring myself to listen, but if you want to, you’re welcome to. Here’s the podcast.
This is a piece I wrote about my mom and what she’s taught me about parenting, for HuffPo, for Mother’s Day.
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