being the things you love most

Months passed, winter easing gently into place, as southern winters do. The sun, warm as a blanket, wrapped Kya’s shoulders, coaxing her deeper into the marsh. Sometimes she heard night-sounds she didn’t know or jumped from lightening too close, but whenever she stumbled, it was the land that caught her. Until at last, at some unclaimed moment, the heart-pain seeped away like water into sand. Still there, but deep. Kya laid her hand upon the breathing, wet earth, and the marsh became her mother.” - from the book, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.

Be the things you loved most about the people who are gone.” - anonymous

The sun, low in the sky, glittered on the water brilliantly as my children sat in the sand getting more bored by the minute. They were pleasant in the beginning of the afternoon but then turned on us. My husband and I sat in lounge chairs, dreamily, trying to ignore them and listen to the waves and gulls, when my daughter told us that she had accidentally said, areola, and that the women sitting near us may have heard her. I like the word areola and it appears as if maybe I say it too much in front of my children, but, next to titmouse, it is one of my favorites. It also sounds like Ariel, a princess I admire for her voice, creativity, and the way she combs her hair with a fork.

When my children wouldn’t stop talking and letting me enjoy my moment in the sun, I turned into my mother, and said to my son, “Why don’t you go play with those nice girls down by the water.” He’s 12. They were most likely 15 or 16 and wearing bikinis. He looked at me as if I had just suffered a stroke and asked why on Earth he would do that. It was a fair question. When I was little and being annoying, my father would say, “Maybe you should play in the traffic.”

My daughter reminded me on the way to school recently of a drive where we missed the exit to get my son from soccer practice and ended up going over a bridge to a different city. By the time we were able to turn around, we were stuck in horrendous traffic. As she panicked outwardly, I panicked inwardly while heat rose to my chest, neck and face. I became my mother. “Look at the dolphins”, I said in a sing song voice. No sooner did I say that, then one appeared. It used to get on my nerves when my mom would distract me while I was enjoying a tantrum or meltdown, but now, I find myself doing the same with my kids. And the tactic usually works.

With every passing year, I realize how right my mom was about so many things. In middle school, she could sniff out the naughtiness of a new friend from a mile away. “There’s something about her that I don’t trust.” And “her” was the one at second base even though she wasn’t a softball player.

Over the years, I heard my mom say a dozen times as she looked in the mirror that she saw more and more of her mother, my grandmother, Nana, in her reflection. And that, “It wasn’t such a bad thing.”

During the Oscars this year as I pulled out my mom’s blue and white baking dish to make artichoke dip, I thought of all of the times that my mom made this dip for us with Triskets, always Triskets, and always in that same dish. My mom would tell me to eat some before my brother came over because once he started, it would be hard to stop him. I closed my eyes and let the memory of her family room, that dimly lit room with the gigantic windows fill me up. The fireplace, the stiff, striped burgundy and green couch, the two cane chairs and the wooden hall table with picture frames, a lamp, an orchid, and a candle burning on it. The stack of catalogues on the coffee table. Jeopardy is on T.V. Betty, my mom’s Cocker Spaniel, is barking at someone at the door. The sound of ice clanking in my mom’s gin and tonic as she tells a story about bumping into so and so today at the dry cleaner. The sound of her voice. Her voice. Her voice. Her voice. The smell of peonies and gardenia wafting in the air. The coziest room in the world and the one that witnessed so much joy and despair.

All I have to do now, is close my eyes. Put on a cardigan. Make artichoke dip. Laugh at myself as I distract my kids with saying something absurd. Notice the birds, the sun, the water. And my mom is right here reminding me in the midst of thunderstorms, shit shows, and traffic, that life is also delicious, funny, warm, and wonderful. And today as I went to the cardiologist (which was something my mom did and didn’t mind doing because she looved her cardiologist) and then went to buy Spanx (which reminded me of when I was a little girl and would see her in her “all-in-one” and would wonder what on Earth was going on and if I was ever going to have to do such a thing to my body) I found myself simultaneously laughing and crying. The answer is yes, I do have to wear one of those things. When I looked in the mirror today, sucking in my stomach in my flesh-toned control top situation, I saw my mom and thought, I wish she was here and she is here and I am her. All in one.