A story about my mom
If you ever saw the movie, Big Fat Greek Wedding, that was my life in the making. We even owned a family Restaurant, actually a Snack Shop. At twelve, I was already behind the counter learning to be a waitress.
In our home, there was no talking back. If we were told something, we had better listen.
“We’re going shopping for shoes,” mom said.
While I was glad for the opportunity to get new shoes, something in me resisted the idea of having to go with my mom. I was getting older and I so wanted my independence. My mom and I were definitely not on the same page.
Mom didn’t ever drive because she said she was too nervous, so any shopping expedition meant we were taking the bus. Dad was at the Snack Shop, so we were on our own.
Day after day, I was reminded in school how I lagged behind the other kids. There was talk of “going with someone,” whatever that meant. I saw some girls start wearing make-up. Yes, I really was lagging behind. Here I was shoe-shopping with my mom at.
The bus arrived and the door opened. What mom didn’t know was that I had made up my mind. I would go shopping with her, but I would not be with her on the bus.
I followed mom on, who put the money in for both of us. Of course. And then I saw her take her seat.
Gathering up all my courage, at least that’s what I thought it was, I walked past my mom and took a different seat.
For me, it was a victory. But as a mom now, I cringe, thinking how that must have hurt her.
After all, wasn’t it just weeks earlier that I announced I was too old to give her and dad kisses? Another regret I would have to hold onto.
The shopping trip was non-eventful. I can’t even tell you what my shoes looked like, but I’m sure she picked them out. She picked everything out for me.
One time, I decided to verbalize my feelings about one dress she had bought me. Clearing my throat I began,
“Mom, you know the turquoise plaid dress I have?”
She looked up and said, “Yes.”
“I don’t like that dress.”
There. I had said it. No longer were my feelings locked up inside of me. It felt liberating to free them. After all, I had a right to my feelings, didn’t I?
But what followed was not expected.
“You will never be satisfied,” she said. And for the next few minutes she berated me. I felt as small as the piece of candy I stuck in my mouth. I waited till she was done and slithered out of the room. Making a mental note. Never tell her how you feel again.
I took my ungrateful heart and locked it up.
I wish I had gotten to know her longer. But a couple years later, when I was sixteen, I had been working with my dad who was covering for mom. She had not felt well. And that in itself was unusual.
When 8:00 came, I grabbed the hamburgers for my hungry siblings at home and walked the six blocks home.
Once inside the back door of our bungalow, I heard mom call from their bedroom.
“How did it go? Was your father alright?”
“It was okay, but he was crabby.”
Talking with her one day and the next we watched as an ambulance wheeled her out of our home and our lives. For she died the next day, leaving five kids without a mom. Without a dad too, but that’s another story.
Right before she died, Dad said, “She squeezed my hand. She knows it’s me.”
But my hand remained unsqueezed.
Death is the opportunity regrets wait for. It is then they parade in our minds occupying every thought. And it happened to me as well.
I stood there looking at the only mom I had. The one I had stopped kissing because I was too big. The one I had walked by on the bus. The one who thought I was ungrateful and would never be satisfied.
And I said goodbye to her. But her accusations hung around for years. And whenever they felt like it, they would resurface, reminding me how bad a daughter I was. Except now as an adult and I see all the dysfunction we had. And I’ve learned to reframe a lot of things.
What was seen as a pulling away from her was normal. I was trying to exert some independence.
I wish things had been different. I wish she would have lived longer than 43 years. I wish I would have gotten to know her. Really know her.
But that’s not what happened. And I am left sorting out all my feelings.
This is the conclusion I have come to. My mom did love me. But she struggled in her life.
And her inability to give me freedom came from a place of never having freedom herself. She was the oldest of eight children. Never being able to make her own decisions. She even had the decision of who to marry taken away.
When we get older we have a choice to make. We can keep looking at our lives through the same lenses, or we can reframe those same experiences.
For me, I’m sorry I didn’t understand my mom. But I do know that the things I told her were not out of spite.
Mother’s Day is almost here. And it will be another one without a mother to give a gift to. I won’t be crying about it. That stopped a long time ago. But I will think about her and one Mother’s Day in particular.
I didn’t know what to give her. And she said, “You know, some of the most meaningful gifts are those we make ourselves.”
And so, I took what she said to heart and bought her a tiny plant and wrote her a poem.
The poem talked about how my love was like this tiny plant.
Watching her face as she read my poem said it all. I touched her heart.
Little did I know that memory would warm me so many years later. So many years.
Mothers. They are one of God’s gifts to us. And I am thankful for my mom. I’m sure we both had things we wish we would not have said or done. Everyone has that.
For me, I’m sorry I didn’t sit with her on the bus that day. I’d give anything to sit with her now.
I never meant to hurt her.
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