I watch my mother paint the toes of my youngest daughter, probably the last grandchild that will be born. She is very precise, letting daughter choose two colors and painting precisely the toes specified. Mom concentrates on each toe, much smaller than what she’s used to. She squints and I watch her.
I would never be this patient. It would be a slap-bang job and, boom!, on to the next activity. This is the stuff of grandmas.
We are in a hotel room in the Twin Cities, my graduation weekend in May. My oldest daughter chose, rather painfully, to attend her class trip to the water park capital of the world in lieu of watching mommy walk across a stage in a voluminous gown of polyester and velvet. She’s rocketing down a tube full of chlorinated liquid with her end-of-elementary school friends while the rest of us sit for 4 hours and have but 5 minutes of joy therein.
Who’s the smart one, here?
I watch my mother, here from the west coast hometown. She’s tired from the flight, but luminous with joy. Her bright white hair seemingly lit from behind, rather like a halo in its glory. She’s a former natural red head; we turn white earlier and easier than all other hair colors. Our color fades in our late 20’s or early 30’s. It’s like our brilliance wanes as soon as we procreate and the color drains from both our face and our hair.
My mother and daughter are both in their nightgowns. I can see just above my mother’s knees. To her, her legs are ugly. To me, they signify strength.
I see strong thighs and a back that was always all in for manual yard work and laborious projects at my father’s behest. Hands hold delicate nail polish brushes that have also held brushes for painting rooms (last Thanksgiving), furniture and faces. Hands that typed numerous times a day, her screen saver password when I was at my lowest, janais33. A reminder that I am an adult and she was but an adviser, when appropriate.
The exact right thing to do and say to me at that time was, I trust you, I’m praying for you and not much else.
I look down at my hands now, three months later as I type, and I see the same hands. Stumpy, fat fingers that were always a ring size larger than all the other girls. Deeply freckled backs of hands and rounded nails that split and splinter. Big knuckles from the bad habit of popping I picked up from my father and dry, hard cuticles from the biting habit that I picked up from my mother.
I lament my body shape and the lumpy bumps that have emerged now that I’m on the cusp of my 40th year. My mother sports the same. Around the middle we have blossomed with age. We camouflage with jackets and layers. Rolls are unavoidable.
She’s here to witness my dream, and does. This woman with a dream herself, who has never dissuaded me of mine.
Her dream? To retire and go back to school.
She informed me of this dream sometime during my last visit and I, like a dumb ass, immediately asked why. As in, why would you want to do that if you’re retired? And, why is this such a big deal now?
Her response? Because I love school. I want to get my English degree.
Still riding the wave of ignorance and insensitivity, I suggested starting small, like with a 2-year associate’s degree.
Adamant, she said, No, I want my 4-year degree. Stubborn and insistent. I wonder where I get that…
At no time did she ever discourage my dream of a Ph.D. even when my life was crumbling 2000 miles away and my resolve was faltering. At no time did she ever hit the kill switch on the long term goal of obtaining the title “professor.” At no time did she doubt, question, or insensitively ask, why? Isn’t something less good enough?
You know, like I did of her. <smack>
She knew less-than wasn’t enough. She’s the only person who has been at all of my graduations besides myself: high school, bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate.
Farther than I ever dreamed I’d go, she’s been my cheerleader.
I forgot her birthday on Friday. I feel like a schmuck. I told her she needed to get a different birthday because having one at the dead-center of August, which is the deadly calm before the eye of the school-starting hurricane season.
She took it well because she knows I’m terrible at birthdays, the self-centered and over-scheduled human that I am.
This is my mea culpa to my mother.
Her dream is now my dream for her, to finish her degree. I start to walk it out in my head, the stuff of escapist daydreams. She finishes at WSU and I, somehow, manage to wrangle my way up on stage, robes bellowing behind me, elbowing the president and trustees to hand my mother her degree holder (you know they mail them, right?). And I will be bawling and she will be bawling and our respective mascaras will run and it will be the ugly Oprah cry.
And it will totally be worth it.
How has your mom or dad impacted your dreams? Leave a comment below.