Sunday, May 10, 2015

Listen to Your Mother: "Do You Know How Much Your Daughter Loves You?"

Yesterday, I had the great privilege of sharing a stage with a dozen talented writers, as we brought the inaugural show of LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER to Southwest Michigan.  I am so grateful to Kim Jorgensen Gane for having the vision to bring the show here, and to her co-producers Meagan Francis and Beth Haire-Lewis, for putting on such a heartfelt production.

This was the piece I presented, which, according to my father, "made his eyes leak a little bit." Happy Mother's Day, Mom...

“I’ve been thinking of my mother a lot lately,” Mom says as I walk in the door. “You’d have liked her. She was here. You just missed her.”

“No, Mom,” I say in the tone of voice I’ve heard shrews use to neuter their husbands – rich with condescension, laced with exasperation. It’s a tone I never once heard her use on my father. I hate that tone. I try to sing a new song.

“Mom... Grandma couldn’t have just been here. She’s been gone a long time. Grandpa, too. Remember?”

Mom and me: I'm 2 weeks old.
Mom peers at me. Focused. Deliberate. Concentrating on remembering. Finally: “I know that.”

And she does know. For ten, maybe fifteen minutes. Then her eyelids start to close, like an owl in the daytime, blinding her to the present and returning her to her murky thoughts.

Long ago when I had more time than money, I bought a sweater and cross-stitched a floral design on the front of it as a Christmas present for Mom. The sweater wasn’t expensive. Though the needlework I added was involved, I enjoyed doing it because I knew my mother would like it. When she unwrapped the gift on Christmas morning, her joyful reaction made the extra effort I’d put into the stitching worthwhile.

To be honest, I didn’t think about the sweater much afterward. My husband and I returned to our home 500 miles away and picked up our routines where we’d left them.

About a year later, Mom related a conversation that she’d had with a colleague at work. When asked where she had gotten her sweater, Mom explained that I had done the design. Her co-worker examined the stitching closely, then said, “Do you have any idea how much your daughter loves you?”

Mom beamed as she told the story. But it made me wonder. Does my mother know how much I love her?

I remember “helping out” in the kitchen when I was too small to see over the countertop. Mom’s friends would shake their heads. How could she stand to bake with me in the way? She never listened to those who said she could get things done faster if I weren’t underfoot. Instead, she let me sift the flour and the soda, pack down the brown sugar, and measure spices. Today, my kitchen is one of my favorite places. I owe my love of cooking to my mother. Does she know?

One of Mom’s mottoes has always been: “if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” I heard it every time I didn’t want to finish a project I’d agreed to do. I heard it every time I tried something and wanted to give up. Mom’s mantra has shaped my attitude toward work and toward myself. I owe my sense of commitment to my mother. Does she know?

My mother is a deeply spiritual person. Me? I still struggle with the idea of putting myself in the hands of Someone beyond me whom I can’t see or hold on to.

Shortly after she married, Mom chose to change churches, shifting from the denomination she and my father shared to a completely different theology. Now, more than half a century later, suffering from the debilitating effects of a serious fall last summer, compounded with Parkinson’s and dementia, she has remained firmly grounded in her faith.

In our little country church, Mom held a multitude of offices including organist, teacher, lay speaker, and treasurer. She arrived early and stayed late every week. And, when I lived at home, so did I. For years, I begrudged my attendance. Yet, Mom’s unshakable love for God led me to love him too. Does she know?

Mom and me a year later.
Does she know how fortunate I feel to have grown up in a loving home? How lucky I count myself to have had her and my father as parents? Their example as best friends and partners for the fifty-three years of their marriage has been a priceless foundation for my own.

Mom showed me how to disagree without anger, how to stand firm without defiance, and how to forge a vibrant love that does not fade with time. My relationship with my husband is stronger because my mother showed me that nothing on earth is better than a good marriage. I hope she knows.

Some days, Mom knows who I am. Some days...

On the days she doesn’t, she talks to me as if I am one of the aides in the elder care facility where she lives, or one of my school friends, or one of her friends from Pennsylvania. More and more, lately, she is unaware of what she doesn’t know.

And yet...

Mom still has her sweater. It remains one of her favorite things and it still looks great – after all this time. Even when she doesn’t know who I am, she knows I made it for her. When she wears it, she’ll point to the needlework and say, “Do I know how much my daughter loves me?” And I smile. Because I think she does.

I’ve been thinking of my mother a lot lately. You’d have liked her. She was here. You just missed her.


Stephanie Precourt said...

Oh my goodness. Absolutely stunning. Thank you for sharing this!


Ami Hendrickson said...

Thanks for reading and commenting. I am honored. :)

Melisa Wells said...

My husband and I were there to see you read this, and it was one of our favorites; thank you for sharing your story with LTYM and with your community!

Ami Hendrickson said...

Thanks so much for traveling to our show. And thanks for the kind words. I am honored.

Alyson Peterson said...

Ami, that was absolutely beautiful. I need a tissue now.