After sharing a couple paper scraps with you last week in A Paper Scraps Confession, I felt compelled to reopen the manila folder of my mother’s notes last night. This time, I sat in the middle of my bed and went through each and every note – each scribble – rediscovering vignettes and stories from my early childhood.
I ended up with three piles.
1. My Firsts
Included in this pile are the following: my first sleepover, my first dentist appointment, when I learned to blow my nose, when I learned to snap my fingers, and when I became officially toilet trained. (Although it appears I may have relapsed back into diapers for 4 months since there are two scraps with different dates declaring my accomplishments in this category.) More importantly, however, I can now pinpoint the date my love for party shoes was born:
2. Making Sense of Dad’s Death
This pile includes dialogue between my mom and me as I discussed last week. In one note, my mom wrote that she took advantage of a pet fish’s death to teach me about dying when I was 2 years old. The fish can’t swim anymore, she pointed out, because he is dead. Then, the following:
This is a catch-all pile for things my mom overheard. One day, she jotted down a conversation I had with myself as I tried to remember where my uncle lived. “Cownafawnya! Cownafawnya!” I proudly screamed when I remembered, the note says. On another day, she listened as I tried to count carrot sticks on my plate. My favorite example from this pile is below:
*** For those having trouble reading the above: June 22, 1985 – Michael to Lauren when heat lamp went out as they were taking a bath: “We’re lonely, right?” Lauren to Michael: “I have you – special friend.” ***
I love this scrap not only for its visible age and weathered, faded appearance but because my mom did not insert herself in the story. She listened. I like to imagine that she was right around the corner in the hallway, within earshot, giving us time to learn and lean on each other for support when the lights went off. (For those who don’t know, Michael and I are childhood friends, born 10 weeks apart and we grew up attached at the hip. Today, I consider him my brother tried and true.)
While most of my quintessential firsts are behind me, and I’ve had over 25 years to adjust to fatherlessness, this last paper scraps pile is most applicable today. Last week, I got into a painful squabble with a friend. The second things started to escalate, I longed to call my mom for her advice and support. Although I hated not having her around to lean on, I was forced to navigate the dynamics of the squabble, confront my discomfort with conflict and just deal.
There is some reassurance and comfort in knowing — thanks to this third pile — that she was not by my side every second of my childhood, helping me do everything. Sometimes she let me figure out stuff on my own. Sometimes Spectator superseded Mother. And that was just fine, because that her choice.
So, today, although she doesn’t have a choice, I do: I can choose to miss her and long for her to solve my problems or I can take on new challenges like the ones my mom let me figure out on my own back then. And if I’m feeling lonely, I have a couple special friends to call on when the heat lamp turns off.