I spent a little time in my hometown last May. It was the first time I had visited there by myself as a grown woman. That also made it the first time I had ever driven those old familiar streets.
I expected for it all to feel strange and dream-like. What I didn’t expect was at every turn, at every familiarity, I thought of my mom.
It wasn’t a particular memory, like Oh there’s where she taught me to finger paint! or That’s where we went out to that fancy restaurant and laughed about all the funny things!
Maybe memory montages happen that way in the movies, but I didn’t have many specific memories of anything as I drove through downtown, past our old house, or to the elementary school where I learned to read. Instead, it was more like a blanket of memory, singular. It was simply a familiar cloud of an old life brought near but not quite.
I kept picturing Mom, younger than I am now, just being our mom. I kept imagining, everywhere I was, that Mom was close by and I needed to go on home to her. Her presence was a deeply safe place for me as a girl, something I’m not sure I realized until this very day. And it’s not because she mothered us like some kind of super-hero. She didn’t. But she was there, she was with us, she loved us, and I knew it.
It’s a strange experience to grow up and become a mother myself, to look into the eyes of my own children and realize that many of their childhood memories are behind them. If you were to ask her, I’m sure my mom would tell you about some things she wishes she would have done differently. Often, it’s the smallest things that seem to break her heart.
I’ve heard her tell a memory she has of my sister standing at the front door, watching the ice cream truck go by.
“Why didn’t I just buy her the ice cream?!” she’s said with tears brimming.
I’ve always heard that getting starting on something is the hardest part, but in my experience finishing is even harder. It’s one thing to take that brave first step toward influence and action. It’s another to accept when it’s time to let it go, to release it into the world, and carry on.
It seems to me that the work of a mother is often a years-long first step. And then, just when you maybe begin to grow accustomed to the rhythm of it, it’s time to release your children into the world, ready or not.
As a mother myself, it’s a comfort to realize how my memories of growing up with my mom are rolled together as one – that it wasn’t necessarily about the particular things she did right or wrong everyday, but more it was about knowing she was there, she loved us, and she took care of us in the ways we needed caring for.
Wandering through those familiar streets reminded me of what it means to mother well. Now that I have three of my own, I realize fancy is great, but it’s probably not what they’ll remember.
Even today, Mom is there. She loves us. She takes care of us in the ways we need caring for. And that’s why she’s an artist who influences.