Today was my seventh Mother's Day as a mom myself. Ryan gave me some perfume I'd been wanting and the cutest card with three pairs of bare feet sticking out of the covers--perfect for our little family. Macauley made me some gifts at school, including a list of things about me. The one I've latched on to is: "My mother is pretty." My parents had taken Macauley on a trip to Tulsa this weekend, so we met them for dinner in Joplin to get our boy back and celebrate the holiday. We gave my mom a Life is Good tote with some goodies inside. Before I had Macauley, I knew being a mother is not easy, but I feel like I really only fully understood what my own mom had done for me, been to me, given up for me, wanted for me, when I had my own child. A couple of years ago I made my parents a scrapbook for their 35th wedding anniversay and we all put letters inside. I tried to tell my mom some of what I appreciated about her, learned from her, thought about her. I am a mother today because she was mine, is mine...
6 April 2007
A long time ago, when I made Shannon a friendship quote journal for her birthday, you mentioned that you would like a present like that from me and I have always meant to do that for you but hadn’t gotten around to it. Until now, on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of your marriage to my father. There aren’t many quotes, but the book was a labor of love for me and encapsulates only a small percentage of the many, many happy and identity-shaping moments in our tight-knit family. I’m sure you suspected I was up to something when I kept asking to borrow all the pictures, but I wanted you to be surprised by what I have done. The pictures I included are copies of your originals, which Lindsay reorganized a bit for you in the expandable file, but I did hold on to the shoebox in case that had some sentimental value to you! (I think it might have been the box to one of my wedding gifts from Dillard’s, but I ‘m not sure. I saw it and remembered the day you and Dad and Lindsay and Lane brought all our gifts to our new house after Ryan and I got back from our honeymoon and moved to Knobhill. We made a huge pile in middle of the living room floor—how exciting was that?) I’d still like to add a few things and snoop around in your pictures some more, so we’ll consider it a work in progress. Although, I think I will have to “call it a day” on it at some point, or it could go on forever…I enjoyed making this scrapbook, though, and credit my mother for my creative and artistic abilities. Not that Dad isn’t creative (he has fashioned many a masterful poster for the locker room or camp store), but I have sought to emulate my mother’s handiwork rather than my father’s distinctive up-slanting handwriting with sporadic words, letters and lines underlined emphatically. I would recognize both my parents’ handwriting anywhere.
I have always, always felt close to you, always considered you a friend and a guide and a comfort. I remember asking Coach Lawson for a pass to visit you in the counselor’s office probably every day of freshman Science. He’d shake his head, roll his eyes and mutter, “Cowan..” under his breath, slide open his desk drawer and scratch out the pass over and over. There are many kids who would have been mortified to have their mothers at school with them (to pull up in a conversion van and pile out with their entire families each day!), but I was reassured and comforted to have you there. I don’t know if you remember the day I went into Lana’s room and overheard some older girls talking about how Eric was going to take April Preddy to Prom since I couldn’t go, and when I erupted into sobs, you took me in the faculty restroom across from her room and made me feel better. I am sure, though, that you remember helping me with all my college and scholarship applications, typing them on your typewriter in the office. The computer was new technology, even then, but you had an easy time figuring it out.
I was never embarrassed to have you and Dad at school with me, and I think I most enjoyed having you there because you have always been the first person I want to talk to when I have exciting, funny or terrible news. Probably because you are always just as excited, amused, disappointed or surprised by the news as I am. I remember calling you at the elementary to tell you Ryan had asked me to marry him, and you announced to your office, “He proposed!” Of course it was my mother I couldn’t wait to tell when I found out I was “expecting” (that’s what you call it—you never say “pregnant”); my father, too, although I admit I felt a bit sheepish confirming to my father that I had been intimate with a boy! I don’t know, just embarrassing. But my mother—I can tell you anything. And I pretty much do. I don’t think there is anyone I talk to on the phone more than you. About crises and catastrophes: the day I found out I had to have a c-section and called you in Muskogee and could hardly catch my breath and get the words out I was so upset and you said, “I’m coming up there!” but I told you not to, the day I lost my Emmie Jean and could hardly stop crying to tell you what had happened and you said, “What’s wrong, Hay?” and waited for me to sputter it out. Mostly, though, we talk about the everyday stuff going on, things we’ve bought, magazines and books we’re reading, projects or shows we saw on HGTV, funny people we’ve run into, what Macauley has said or done. We’ve come to share so many interests that it’s rarely difficult to find something to say to you. And when I’m quiet, which is often, you understand that, too. There is just no one else who ever really knows you like your mother does…
We’ve become especially close since I became a mother myself, and although I think raising a boy differs somewhat from bringing up girls like you did, I’ve come to realize that the sacrifices a mother makes are pretty much the same no matter what. I have always been aware that you put your family before yourself, but I just didn’t fully grasp how much of yourself you had to give up for me to be here until I did the same for Macauley. First and foremost, having a baby does a number on the girlish figure, so sorry about that! And obviously babies are expensive (Macauley loves for me to tell him that he cost $12,000, roughly the amount of the hospital bill and only the beginning of his expense account), so your expendable income had to have suffered when I arrived. But forfeiting the freedom and time to yourself and that feeling of “I can do whatever I want, when I want” has been the hardest for me and must have been for you as well. It’s so rewarding to have Macauley, and you never ever made me feel like I was a burden to you, even when I was a silly and obnoxious pre-teen, a grumpy and sometimes withdrawn teenager (except you were annoyed at having to drive Kandi home so far several times and then the time you had to help me find the Greyhound station and then come pick me up in St. Louis over Christmas break—sorry). But I understand now that you must have felt a bit trapped sometimes having so much responsibility. I know I do.
But when it comes to handling the responsibilities of motherhood and marriage with grace and generosity and humor, I look to you as my example. You took such good care of us. I will always have an image of piles of folded laundry on the living room floor for us all to pick up and put away—we might have taken turns folding from time to time but the bulk of the work fell on you. One of my favorite pages in the scrapbook is the one of all of us cooking with you on Easter last year and the picture in the lower corner of the table you set with your Blue Willow. I may not share your love of cooking, for sure not your abilities, but I do love dishes and a beautifully set table just like you! What an accomplishment to be able to run a household the way you did, to work all day, shuttle daughters to and fro, and still put a home-cooked meal on the table most every evening. A balanced one, at that: a meat item (often Hamburger Helper) and at least one, if not two, sides, bread and butter, and a pitcher of sweet tea. I remember helping set the table and putting out potholders for each of the Corning Ware dishes or crocks or platters, choosing which set of dishes we would use--the blue and white flowered set Grandma Cowan gave you, the country-themed Pzaltzgraff, the Blue Willow, the blue-speckled graniteware--or going out to your garden to pick a tomato or green pepper for you. We all have fond memories of your Sunday lunches, often roast and potatoes and carrots you would get up early to start before church, lunches that were open to all the friends and boyfriends I ever brought over. Andrea loved your cooking (“Barb, what the heck is that?”) and so do I, especially your beef stroganoff and potato soup. The potato soup I’ve gotten close on, but I have never quite been able to replicate the stroganoff (and in fact quit trying after getting sick from a batch I made when I was pregnant—like you and Long John Silver’s when you were expecting Lindsay). Thank you for being the one to not only plan and prepare all the family meals, then and to this day, and also being the one to clean up afterwards.
I also really enjoy having you and Dad visit my house so I can show you all the things I’ve made and bought and moved around, and to just hang out and run around and have you here. I got my love of decorating and keeping house from you and I appreciate being raised in a home that was clean and cute and made an attempt at being original and beautiful rather than store-bought and plain. My friends have always commented on your decorating ability, and when people now do the same of mine, I credit you. I immensely enjoy lying around on the beach in Mexico with Ryan or shopping in Vegas with Molly, but I have to say my dream vacation would be to hop in a two-seater cargo van with you and take off East or towards Round Top, stopping at any antique store and flea market and tearoom we wanted to, filling that van to the brim with “treasures” until our “legs is wored out.” Someday we will do it…
I always look forward to visiting you and Dad at camp, feeling taken care of again, and for a while not having to be the one “in charge” like I am at home. What a relief and comfort. I especially found your house to be a retreat right after I had Macauley, when I was sleep-deprived and fat and frazzled and completely overwhelmed by how much work that little boy was. I needed my mother so much then. Do you remember all the crap I would haul down there, thinking I needed absolutely every little thing to take care of him? Poor Dad would help me load it all in and out of my 4Runner, even when he had his broken leg and had to lug it all up the (super steep—I know you love those) steps to the house from camp. My son needs far less “gear” now, but it is still such a respite for me to visit your house with him and be able to let my guard down a little, to entrust him to your care so I can sleep, shop on my own or just take a break from the endless questions and demands. Ryan and I have both so appreciated having you and Dad as back-up so we can get away on vacations or just have some time to reconnect and rest with each other. And I don’t think there is anywhere else Macauley would rather be than at camp with his Nana and Papa. His eyes light up at the prospect of seeing or talking to you, and it means a lot to me that you don’t just love him, but that you delight in him, that you know him and understand him and so want to be in his life. I wonder if you see some of me in him? If he reminds you of your own foray into motherhood taking care of me? I see a lot of your influence on him, and I appreciate the lessons about kindness and nature and gardening and books and music you are teaching him. He will remember you and what you’ve taught and been to him as long as he lives.
You and I have talked before about how you sometimes feel a bit unfulfilled or unsatisfied with your life, like maybe you’ve missed out on something or haven’t used all your talents and potential or done everything you might have dreamed of when you were young, and I have felt the same. Many women have—wasn’t it that same sentiment, that same sense of losing your “self” in the process of being a wife and mother and running a house, the “problem that has no name,” I think she called it, that Betty Freidan wrote about in The Feminine Mystique? That question you don’t really want to say out loud: “Is this all?” And it’s true: we could probably all do more, be more somehow, and who knows? Maybe you and I will. Maybe we will open our tearoom and shop or do something else ambitious and fabulous and creative and life-changing. But maybe we won’t. Maybe we will continue to be who we’ve been all along, knowing that there are many people who have been and done much less. We can both, understandably, get a little bogged down in how ordinary our everyday lives might seem, but I think we both feel that compulsion to make each day of that life a little more beautiful, magical, meaningful, whether it’s by writing a letter to someone we love, planting flowers in pots outside our backdoors or finding the perfect spot for that little “tchotchke” (thank you, Christopher Lowell!) that makes us smile every time we see it. Because of you, I’ve never known to live any way other than graciously, generously, comfortably, creatively and authentically, with kindness and confidence; because of you I’ve always believed I could be and do whatever I dreamed up and that I could do well at anything I tried or be okay if I didn’t. Thank you for that, for making me the person I am.
I am an exceptionally emotional person, but not one who is effusive with my compliments or affection. I’ve never been a gusher or a hugger or especially emotive; still, I think you know how much I love you, how much I appreciate all you’ve done for me, my sisters, my father, my husband and my son, how much I admire the woman and wife and mother you are. But I hope you also know how much I will always need you. You are such a good friend to me and the soft place I know I can always fall.