Driving over to my sister’s house perhaps could have provided me one more reason to complain. We still don’t have a home. I and the three little girls are living at my sister’s while Paul and Elsa are living at his brother’s. But … we have decided on a home and we are close to finding an interim home.
This is good. For the first time in a month, my neck automatically cranes to view a For Rent sign and I can tell myself to relax. It’s all over for awhile.
We chose the little, itsy-bitsy, teeny-weenie house in Prineville in the hopes of eliminating most of our possessions and eliminating some of our debt and keeping our children as happy as possible in the meantime.
And purchasing a cool, pop-top Volkswagen van that will sleep two and has a kitchen and that will take us all over the states. It needs a good enough engine to tow our tent-trailer.
On the way over the mountain, I let the relief wash over me.
For the first time in a long time, I made a joke, and teased Greta, and laughed at their jokes.
I popped a salsa CD into the player and danced salsa in the driver’s seat. Greta joined me. We got a few stares. It’s hard to act proud like a matador when you’re driving a mini-van, but I did my darnedest.
I looked at my little 12-year old, almost 13, and wondered at the fact that she only knows the tip of the iceberg about me. She sees the ‘mom’ part of me which is only a part of me. She doesn’t know that I used to dominate the dance floors of Costa Rica and people cleared the floor to watch me dance. That I had other marriage proposals — some serious, some flippant. Or about the long discussions I had in cafes with college students, or the passionate love affair with Paul that led up to our marriage, the hearts I broke, the breakups I’ve had, the tears I’ve shed, the poems Paul and I loved, the articles I wrote, the long trips we took together, the jobs I’ve worked, the papers I wrote, the thoughts I thought, the conclusions I’ve come to, the prayerful decisions I’ve made, the not-so-prayerful decisions I’ve regretted, the mistakes I’ve stumbled through …
There were times, as a girl, my mother would give me a peek at this life before me. The curtain was pulled back and I was shocked and curious to see my mom as a girl with all the passions and desires and selfish ambitions as I had. She was always so good when I was cognizant of her being. Babies do that to a woman. They help her to shed all the selfishness and force her into blooming into a whole world for a little being.
There is this very naughty, rebellious side of me that has been kept in careful check in order to be an example to my little girls.
And I’m sometimes tempted to let them see it. Listening to the complex salsa rhythms, hearing Celia Cruz call out in her pregon style, “Azucar!”, I am no longer a middle-aged mother in a minivan, but a sexy, sultry dancer with a rose between my teeth, moving sinuously toward my Paul, Latino-style.
Knowing and loving entwine. And sometimes I want to reveal more of myself to my growing girls. Yet, it’s important to be careful. Maybe it’s best to keep it to a jam-session with a salsa CD. We influence far more than we know. It’s scary. I see it in my niece or the SJ girls when I hear them parrot their mothers to my kids. Perhaps they would never admit it, but they just quoted Robin or Elida word-for-word. They even had the same inflections.
Do my girls imitate me like that? If so, it might be best to keep the shining perfection of motherhood in the forefront.
Yet, I had so much life going on without my mother in the know. Perhaps if she would have revealed more, I would have returned the confidence? Who knows? We mothers mother with all of our hearts, doing our very best and sometimes it’s a big flop, but if there is prayer and success involved, the Holy Spirit deserves the credit.
I used to come home after sneaking out at night and find my Bible opened on my bed. My mother swears it wasn’t her. Did I sneak out after reading my Bible? That’s so brazen. Or was it someone else? Was it my mother and she just blocked it out?
All I know is my conscience caused me deep suffering after I discovered it.
All this swings through my head as I teach Greta Spanish and discuss that salsa means “sauce” and they called Celia and her band Cafe con Leche because she was dark and her band members had light skin.
And I let her remain innocent of all the rest of me. Perhaps if she really wishes to know, I’ll share.
And maybe I won’t. Maybe mothers are to remain a mystery. I know my mother still is.
And that’s okay. Perhaps those secrets help to build a wall of protection that allows my girls to make their own mistakes and press and push against the world in their own way. I don’t need to carve the path for them with stories that romanticize or disparage who I was.
They will form a completely separate image of me that is derived from stories I’ve offered or ones they’ve begged me to share. And it will be a cardboard, lifeless thing and sometimes it will … in some unguarded moment with me … spark into life. In their mind, they will say,
“There she is. My mother as a woman apart from me.”
But the spark of life will melt into a little pool of memories of memories. I am their mother. And they are a part of me. They have more of me than they will ever realize. It is all there, inside of them.
Yet they cannot truly know it because they come at it from the other side — from innocence and ignorance and burgeoning feelings that overwhelm everything.
It is later, when they kiss little feet, and get up in the middle of the night in exhaustion that they realize,
My mother did this for me.
And they know that she felt 18 at 23, at 36, at 42, at 51. The older they get, the more they know their mothers, and this is the way it has always been and will always be until the end of the world.