My mathematical constant 2

My mother turned 70

Actually, as I write this, she hasn’t yet.  I am not going to publish this until after her actual birthday… she should get to see it first. So, if you are reading this, she is now 70!

I can’t even begin to lay bare my soul as to just how deeply I am grateful for my mother.

I just can’t.

She has given me so much. Selflessly, gladly, joyfully, painfully, gleefully, happily, guardedly…

She has just given, and given.

I try to wrap my head around the multitude of sacrifices she has made for me and I just can’t… I can begin to appreciate it more now that I am a mother myself and have been touched by that visceral protectiveness that I had hints of when I became an aunt.

I think back on her and I think the first tell for how deeply she has given to me comes from an experience I was barely even at. I hadn’t been born yet, though she was pregnant with me.

She told me of a time once that happened just before I was born. She and my father were walking down a street market in Colombia. Her pregnancy was not easy, she was nauseous and fainted a lot and happened to faint and drop straight unto the street. Her water broke. My father, being a male and unaccustomed to these biological matters was embarrassed and thought she had urinated… he seemed distressed and upset, and knowing him it might (I hope) have been a way to cope with the helplessness of the situation. My mother came to and there was an indigenous woman at her head, making sure she was OK. This woman spoke no Spanish and certainly no English. But, as my mother tells it, their eyes met and held. This woman whose only way to communicate with my mother was non-verbally managed to do so. My mother tells me that when their eyes met, she could tell that the woman knew what was actually happening and a shared moment of motherhood happened. I like to think that this small gesture was a human connection that transcended everything we know. I would like to think that woman became a conduit between the world of science and the world of faith. I would like to think that woman knew what my mother had gotten herself into and was sending my mother her deepest and whitest of thoughts and wishes. I want this event to have more meaning than it probably does. Because I see that exchange as having a deep influence on my life.
That story… the indigenous woman who dared to meet my mothers eyes…. I can’t impart how out of the norm it would have been for this to happen… even when I first heard it , it resonated so deeply with me. I am not completely sure why. My best guess is that it gave significance to my actual birth, about the woman I was to become. That I was blessed by that visual exchange with a capacity to see beyond that which is right in front and to understand matters which can not be spoken… the communication that is passed from woman to woman and has done so for time immemorial.

My mother was whisked away to the hospital where I imagine she was taken care of. Where I was born and where my mother and father began to adopt a when in Rome attitude about raising their kids… and give in to the nurses that so desperately wanted to pierce my ears. Thank you for that, mom.

My mother is a harsh task master. I have disappointed her more times that I care to tell. She set the bar high for me and has never let it fall. How she managed to communicate that she still loved me when I fell (and continue to fall) short is beyond me. I do the same with my son and with those I love. I am the same harsh task master, but I am just not sure my ability to let my son know that it is not conditional stretches as far as it should to allow him to feel loved in spite of failings. I try, but she is so good that I feel I can’t emulate some things as well as she does them.

One of my earliest memories of her is when I was deep in a bout of three year old sibling rivalry. Living in Spain now. I was terribly, horribly jealous of my brother. One evening I managed to lock myself in his room. His crib was hand made by master craftsmen, beautiful but not without a flaw that I somehow figured out. His crib had a pin that when in place would hold the crib still and when removed allowed the crib to be rocked. However, the way that it was made actually would have allowed for the bassinet portion to make a complete rotation. So, I had figured this out, I was locked in my brothers room and I removed that pin, and I moved to the side of the crib and with my tiny little arms I tried to push it so that he would fall out. I don’t recall wanting to hurt him any more than I thought it would be if I fell off of a low chair. The “what could have happened” frightens me now.. but then, I just wanted my mama back. I am thankful that my age and stature would have prevented anything terrible from happening, but oh how jealous I was. So, I am pushing his crib and he begins to cry and our nanny and my mother come to the door to his room to check on him. I recall them pounding on the door yelling at me to let them in…  in moments, they rush in and my mother grabbed me and I saw in that moment the seriousness of how I felt and what it meant to her. I was terribly ashamed but that is a complex emotional valley for a three year old to navigate and I threw myself in her arms as she picked me up and went to my brother. I recall that moment as the time when I became his fiercest defender and loyal advocate.

I recall Spain as the most domestic of times. She taught me how to cook when we lived here. I would make tiny pies out of jar lids for my father. I would sit on the counter next to the bowl and mistakenly pour copious amounts of salt into a cookie dough. I recall my first sleep over and miserably kept up the mother at whose house I was staying with desperate pleas to please get me home only to feel completely at peace once I felt my mothers arms around me. I recall train trips and injuries. My pink Keds and getting car sick. I remember being on the pilgrimage route of Santiago de Compostela when I went to visit our nanny’s family home in a village so small that there was no electricity or indoor plumbing. Her patience, as I explained my enchantment with the chamber pots that served as their indoor plumbing and their fridge, a gift to her parents by our nanny, that had a doily with a fake rose  in a beautiful vase in it since it served no other function.  I remember telling her about these adventures and how, rather than redirect me, she allowed me to feel that these things were the absolute luxuries that I perceived them to be. I recall her delight, on a visit to Ireland, when I insisted that they did NOT speak English and I spoke to the Irish in Spanish.

I can understand that all so much better now that I have a little boy that delights me in such a similar way.

Ecuador was a special place. I developed a deep devotion to it and consider myself loyal to the country. In so many ways it raised me. Ecuador brought us so many adventures; both good and bad. Both joyous and horrid. I learned my own resilience there. I actually recall one of my mothers birthdays there. The first of HER birthdays that I remember. My father had taken me out to go find her a present. We were in a record shop and I was attracted immediately to the vinyl records molded in bright colors with half nude young women on their cover proclaiming something about “La Music Del Siglo”… those vinyl records were so pretty with their pinks and oranges and blues… I was convinced my mother would love them.  My father, thankfully, told me that my mother was not a fan of the kind of music those had and took me over to a section where he handed me an album printed by  Deutsche Grammophon. It was Mozart or Handel – Eine Kleine Wassermusik… I can still vividly recall the album. It was so boring, the record black, the cover shades of brown except for that yellow logo for DG. I could not believe that this would be something my mother would love, but decided my father would know. So, that is the first birthday gift I can recall giving her. Classical music, and especially opera, filled our home. I grew to especially love Die Zauberflute. I can recall that when she opened the album I gave her that she went to play it. She seemed delighted and as the music came out of the speakers I recall thinking that my mother knew and understood beauty in a way I had yet to appreciate. The sounds were magnificent.

Ecuador brought me so much that was new yet so familiar. I saw my first millipede. I hung out with writers , musicians, and poets that were friends of my mothers. We visited towns all over the country that had specialized art forms. We visited the jungle and I rode in dug out canoes. Ecuador brought to me many life lessons. Significant moments and experiences all directly linked to my parents, most with my mother. The most significant, though there are two that fall in this category, was when my grandfather passed away. My maternal grandfather. Grandpa Honey.

We were on a family tour of the Galapagos Islands. We had chartered a yacht to take a bunch of us on a tour.  He died on that trip. It was a devastating time. There was a shift in the world as I knew it. I have written about it, as has my mother. Her story appears in a book about what happens when humans die. It was THAT moment. The moment when I knew my world would never be the same. The whole story involves so many images. A rainbow around the moon. A man I believe became a Greek god that night. Arguments. Faith. Sleep. Feelings of utter helplessness. Military whores. The difficulty of a forced laugh. Bribery. Even Barry Goldwater figures into that story. I am not able to fully tell that tale. Yet. I have tried. It has so many parts. It is still such a gaping wound. And it was the beginning of what I believe is that second significant moment. This was the only time I every saw my mother slump, but she stayed strong.

My parents separation. A tale even more dramatic and painful. The first time I saw my mother cry. The feeling of being given the divine task of being my mothers most loyal supporter. Watching my mother navigate being separated in a country hostile to that situation. Moving to the United States and being completely culturally lost. Watching my mother put my brother and me first and foremost through what I know now were amazing hardships.

So we reach gratitude. It is so easy to shirk the responsibility of being a parent and giving in to ones selfish ego. I see people do it all the time; allowing their weakness and self-pity to overrule parenting choices. I struggle to try to not do the same. My mother, I don’t know how she did it. I know she worked as many as eight jobs at once to make ends meet, to do that while caring for two children and getting her masters and PhD. I am just in awe. I am completely sure that I could not pull the same situation off as she did, with the same grace and strength.

On occasion, she laments that she failed my brother and I. My heart breaks when she says this. Not because I think she failed us, but because I have been unable to prove to her that she didn’t.

Mother, you never have failed us… if anything, it is us that have failed you…

I love you mama.


Photos from her party:

Her place of honor at the table
Enjoying the lovely weather

Posing with “THE SUNGLASSES” from the painting

My mathematical constant

Auntie A
Uncle Squid

Love the new iPad
The cake
Her father named her Foodle, it is short for Confucius 
Watching the steak master
The box with the book of letters
Accidental horns on Mom
Auntie A with horns
My turn for horns

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