Growing up my mom and I went for walks together almost every day. One of our favorite spots was the rustic pier at the boat marina near our house, in our little town by the sea. We went there often to count the starfish and stare at the ocean.
I started my own little family in the same town, just minutes away from the cul-de-sac I grew up on. My boys and I walk the pier often, it hasn’t changed a bit. The photo you see above was taken a few months ago, capturing my two oldest boys taking in the beauty of the ocean and mountains, just as I did with my mom as a little girl.
I always knew I would become a mother someday. My childhood wasn’t perfect and my memories are often faded and blurred, but I remember so many beautiful things about my mother and how I longed to be all that she was, to my own children one day. I thought her job was so fantastic, there was a period of time I wanted 16 children of my own. Yep. 16. I now have three boys and a generous dose of reality.
One of my most vivid memories was my mother saving me the leftover dough from her pies and bread making and letting me do with it whatever I wanted. I’d often fashion the bits into people or coils and dip them in cinnamon and sugar and bake them. I remember doing this beside her one day and telling her it was the best day of my life. Those were most definitely some of the best days of my life.
In 2009 my mom was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, just a month before I would give birth to my first son. She’d had it for many years, but it’d been missed and she was already so weak. We visited her shortly after he was born and I remember being so grateful that she could even hold him in her shaking, fragile arms. Facing the reality that my mom would not be able to play with my children like she did with me, or have them for sleepovers at Grandma’s house, shattered my heart.
In early 2011 we began to see signs of her memory failing. A small percentage of Parkinson’s sufferers also develop dementia. In early 2012 she was officially diagnosed with dementia and my heart broke again. Not only would she never care for my children, but the days of my looking to her for motherly wisdom were running out. I was losing my mother in so many ways and my kids were missing out on knowing a wonderful woman and grandma.
I remember the last conversation we had during a time when she was still somewhat clear; she gave me advise on letting my children be who they are. She told me to foster their gifts and independence. She told me not to harass them about their homework insufferably or force them to trudge through piano lessons they hated, but to accept them for who they are and honor them in their uniqueness. I try to see them through the eyes she would have seen them, perfect in their own way.
I miss her wisdom, her compassionate heart, and her excitement for hearing about my day, my life, or anything I’d ramble about on the phone with her for hours. She was my best friend and my biggest cheerleader. She is my mother and my children’s grandmother. While she is still alive, because her memory has failed so much, she is gone.
This is my motherless motherhood.
There are days when I long to pick up the phone to call her; sometimes for advice or to share a victory; often just to cry and tell her how hard this mom thing can be. That’s what a mother is for, right? Because the reality is, motherhood is hard. What our mothers did for us, we come to realize, was a daily grind; an eternal sacrifice and the ultimate act of selfless love. And when the going of motherhood gets tough, there is no one who understands more about the difficulties we are facing than our own moms.
When I went into labor with my third son, it was the first time I didn’t call her to tell her a baby was on its way – she wouldn’t have understood. The picture you see is her holding baby C at just a couple of months old. She was overjoyed to hold her 13th grandchild, even in her foggy state of mind.
I wish she could take my kids on her daily power walks and forest walks. She could push them on the swings at the park and sing to them with the voice she loved to use. She could bake them muffins and let them eat too many, read them books before bed, and rub their heads until they fell to sleep. I wish she could be on the other end of the line, telling me I’m doing just fine, that I can do this; that I am enough.
She won’t get that opportunity, and neither will I.
There are two beautiful realities in the midst of all of that has been handed to me. The first is that I’ve been given both a wonderful mother-in-law and a loving step-mother, as well as other amazing mentors and women in my life who serve to enrich my experience as a mom of young children. I am so blessed beyond what words can express, to have all of these incredible examples to glean from and who rescue me in desperate times, just as my own mother would have.
The second gift is that I get to carry on her legacy. Sometimes I will sing to my kids like she sung to me, sometimes I will raise my voice and yell and say sorry, like she did. Some days I will bake with my kids in a kitchen covered in flour, and other days I will send my kids outside to play while I close my eyes on the couch, because I’m too exhausted to play another game or build another blanket fort. And one day I hope my boys will have their mother to lean on when they’re knee deep in diapers and just need mom.
There’s a void, but she’s there, in a way my children will know but not see. I am so grateful for what she left and I know we’ll be okay.