Last Christmas, I met my mom as a grandmother. She takes care of my niece, Anna, four days a week, while my sister is at work. As I watched my mother play with Anna, I realized that I was seeing her for the first time as she was 32 years ago, coaxing baby Jamey to crawl and eat and talk.
Over the last few years, I’ve met my mom as a caretaker. My grandmother is 90 years old now, and she requires a team effort from all of her sons and daughters. My mom and my uncle live the closest, so a lot of the responsibilities fall to them. It’s endearing to see the roles reversed–instead of mother taking care of daughter, daughter takes care of mother.
Several years ago, I met my mom as a cat lover. This was highly unusual to see, as my mom is allergic to cats and had never cared much for them, even though she always took the time to ask me about Biddy on our weekly phone calls. Two stray cats had started hanging around the house, and my mom fed them and kept an eye out for them. I liked seeing that side of her.
Five years ago, I met my mom as a wife. Of course she had been married to my dad for about 30 years at that point, but I had always viewed her as my mother, not my dad’s wife. Something changed when my dad got a very important promotion, and without any kids at home, my mother dove into the role of being a supportive wife–making lunches for my dad, bringing gifts to the office for my dad’s direct employees on holidays, and keeping an eye on my dad’s health.
Eight or so years ago, I met my mom as a passionate history buff. I always knew that Mom loved history, but I didn’t realize the extent of it until she signed up to be a history museum tour guide for the greater Richmond area. She soaked up knowledge about the south and was able to relay it in interesting ways.
Fifteen years ago, I met my mother by saying goodbye to her when my parents dropped me off at college. That was a big step for her, because I think she was genuinely convinced that she’d never hear from me again. Thus became our tradition of weekly e-mails or phone calls–in a way, I think we’ve gotten to know each other better through those phone calls than if I had been living at home this whole time.
Twenty two years ago, I met my mother as a universal mother. This was really important for me to see, because kids are possessive of our mothers. I was playing in an indoor soccer game when someone on the other team sprained his ankle. My mother was nearby when it happened, and she was the first to reach out to him. I saw her out of the corner of my eye the rest of the game, taking care of this kid, making sure his leg was elevated and stable. I was jealous, and it translated to anger after the game. But when I cooled down, I realized that my mother wasn’t mine and mine alone, nor just of my siblings. A mother has a level of compassion that extends to all children.
Thirty three years ago, a few days after I was born of a different womb, I met my mother for the first time. I wish I could remember it, but all I have are the stories: That I was a few weeks late, that my parents had gotten the call and flown up from Virginia to pick me up, that I was wrapped in a soft blanket, that I looked up at my mom with big blue eyes and was immediately and unconditionally loved.
And that, cats, is how I met my mother.