I had a preoccupation as a little girl that people around me would die. Actually, it wasn’t about people around me, it was my mom; I actively worried that I would lose her. There are moments when the pangs of fear that I would feel come back to me, not as fear of losing her now, but that very raw feeling of being 8 and afraid that she’d be swallowed up by something and be out of reach to me.
I think it was in that time, in those moments in our house on the hill, the twists of brown and gold rug beneath my feet and the weight of fearing my mom’s death all around me, that I developed my tendency to say that I was enjoying something.
“I love this walk, I am so glad we decided to do this.”
“I am just so happy we’re swimming.”
“I cannot get over how happy I am that we are here.”
I never for one second wished for anything more from my mom than for her to keep being my mom; she was my perfect. When I was about six, she wore her hair swept back in small knots, a rectangular piece of leather and a small stick holding everything but a few carmel tendrils that swayed behind her ears. Some nights she’d put rouge on her cheeks. I was fascinated by the small compact, with its perfect circle of color. Her usually bare face would look extra, that was the word I used, extra. I can remember being awed that she could even get prettier. We’d watch tv together sometimes and I’d see the Solid Gold Dancers all glammed up in sequins and shiny lip gloss and the stars of Dallas in their dresses and drama, it never occurred to me to wish for a sparklier version of my mom.
It’s why it’s so strange that as a mom, I live in dogged pursuit of perfect. I want to do/be/act/look perfect to my girls, but none of the things that made up the rightness of my mom for me were within her control. It was the way she smelled after a shower or the way she sounded, always whistling, so much so that it was how I’d find her in crowded places—just listen for her whistle, Manda. It always came, she always came, swathing me effortlessly in the comfort of her perfectly, just right.
This year as Mother Day looms, I am aware that I am older than she was when I worried that she’d disappear and that the perfect that I pursue in my own role as mother is something that I already possess. I am understanding more keenly that she will die and that I will die and that perfect isn’t a thing, it’s a fit. This truth has me spinning lazily in a place of utter contentment and anguish.
My mom was the forever that I wished for and the perfect that I trusted. Never having been Hallmark people, the sea of glittery cards hold no appeal, the specially curated Mother’s Day arrangements of flowers feel forced, the responsibility to tidily mark this day stymies me.
Loving those moments as I did, I can still hear the sound of my mom’s floor length skirt feathering in the wind, I can see the way the soil from the garden smeared along the hem of her shorts and caught in the pores of her skin. I know the beginning of it all with my own girls as if right this moment it were that September morning and I was feeling my youngest latch on for the first time with Sean quietly weeping beside me. As I type this with tears streaming down my cheeks I swear I can smell the lotion my mom used and the way it clung to the summer air around me.
We all have different stories—nightmares that torment us, inexplicably simple things that soothe us. We have people we have loved beyond compare. The thing I wish is that as we stutter step to these different holidays that come with so much weight, of expectation or of loss, that we feel bold enough to roll the idea of perfect around in our mouths and taste that we may already have it.
It’s not a size or an outfit, not a relationship without warts or a title without tarnish, it’s a place or a person that fits.
My mom was my first fit, and the comfort and safety of that will be with me always.
Can you put words to your comfort?