Ma and Daughter Number One wearing matching sweaters.
I miss Ma. Every day. Some days I pine for her in the deepest way. Especially at this time of year. I’d like to sit and have tea and cookies with her. Just one more time. Phone her up to chat. Long distance to wherever she is. There are days when I weep. Uncontrollably. It’s like a sad Candid Camera. When it’s least expected. Tears. I never know when they’ll erupt. Or why. I can look at the same picture of Ma a thousand times and all it does is evoke a smile. But every now and again I’ll see it through a different lens. And the tears fall. Like the loss just happened. Heart broken anew.
Ma was the perfect mother for me. She wasn’t perfect. And she’d be the first to point out her flaws. But only Ma could have given birth to me. Without she, there would be no me.
I had a good mother. And I gave birth to a good mother. I am doubly blessed. Twice heaven-sent. Daughter Number One (DNO) gave me a granddaughter and made me a “boo.” In our family this means grandmother. It was an endearing childhood nickname that we hauled out of antiquity. Ma was already Gran, Granny and Grandma. No other title seemed quite as fitting so we came up with the boo thing. And it just felt right.
I always knew I would be a mother. It wasn’t like I lied awake at night dreaming of the day when I would hold a child in my arms. It was just something I took for granted. Understood would happen. And I am so grateful that it did. I love being a mom. I love being a boo.
When Ma was a young girl, she did dream of being a mother one day. Having a family to call her own. By the time she was ten both her parents were gone, and for all intents and purposes, Ma and her four sisters were left orphaned. They were raised by their maternal grandmother. Ma loved her dearly. But she longed for a mother’s love. I get that. There’s nothing quite like it, especially when you’ve got a good one.
It was from that motherless child’s perspective that Ma’s desire grew. To one day be a mother herself. There was never any doubt in her mind. No second guessing. It was her magnificent obsession. Her four kids were everything to her. As were her grandchildren and great grandchildren. Quite simply, Ma loved kids. Not just her own. But everyones. That was where her heart was. And kids loved her. Drawn to her like Mother Earth. They may have come initially for her cookies. But came back for her kindness. And she had it in spades. Her heart was compassionate. Her understanding empathic. Who wouldn’t want to run into the arms of someone so emotionally gifted.
Ma holding me as we pose for the camera.
It was love at first sight for both Ma and me. I don’t remember of course, but on some level I think we do. Somewhere inside our spirit lives this first moment of meeting. Ma said I was born around noon. It was summer time. Possibly the living was easy. Ma was happy. From what I was told her water broke, she had me, missed lunch and that “I was the cutest baby.” As it just so happens, my three siblings were also the cutest babies. It’s nothing shy of a miracle how every mother has the cutest baby, or babies. I love how equitable the universe is on this subject. But equality aside, this was our moment for mutual admiration. My three older siblings all had their turn. Now this was mine.
Ma said I had dark brown eyes and tons of long black hair. I used to pull it and make myself cry. And then look at Ma like she was the culprit. Ma loved to tell this tale of my infantile masochism. It was her “cute baby” story. And I couldn’t get enough of it. Partly because it made us both laugh. But also because Ma always told it with an air of pride in my crowning glory. Like this was some extraordinary accomplishment on both our parts. And at such a young age.
Me and Daughter Number One posing for the camera.
I remember the birth of my DNO like it was yesterday. I was two weeks overdue. And super-sized. Next to me, an elephant looked svelte. It was the beginning of October and Autumn was showing off as usual. I was hoping DNO would arrive a week early for Ma’s birthday. What a perfect gift this would have been. But that day came and went. Then I placed my hopes on my best friend’s birthday in the middle of September, but that too came and went. By the end of September, the doctor decided that if the baby didn’t arrive over the weekend, he would intervene. Monday came and still no baby. An induction was scheduled for 5:00pm that day. This was the last thing I wanted but by this time, I was compliant. Ready. I hadn’t seen my feet in months. I was swollen. And exhausted. It was time for the bun to come out of the oven.
Perhaps it was just a curious coincidence. Or maybe DNO was finally ready. Because not long after we arrived at the hospital, I felt the first pangs of labor. No need for inducement. This became my “cute baby” story for DNO. Just the suggestion was enough for her to take things into her own hands. Do things her way. This willfulness has never left her. It is one of the things I admire and love most about DNO. It has taken her to wonderful places that I have only imagined. It is the engine that drives her courage. Her strength. Her determination to live life to the fullest. It propels her towards big dreams.
My other “cute baby” story is how she came out smiling. She had a happy spirit right from the start. This too in part defines her. I looked into her beautiful dark brown eyes and it was love at first sight. And I knew. There would be no stopping a girl with a cheerful demeanor and a will of steel. Watch out world. Here she comes.
On some level the birth of my granddaughter was more profound than the birth of my three children. When you’re in labor you’re caught up in the fray. There’s no time for perspective. Reflection. Or introspection. That comes afterwards. But when your child is having a child, you are witness to the miraculous. And you know it. With every fiber of your being. Grandchild number one (GNO) came into my world one beautiful morning at the end of summer and made it a better place. All has been right ever since.
Daughter Number One holding Granddaughter Number One.
My daughter had been in labor for over two days. It was difficult to watch my child in pain. If I could, I would have taken it from her. It’s natural for a mother to want to take the bullet. Jump in front of the train. Walk without shoes. And this was one of those instances where I would have done anything for her. But this was her journey to travel. Her odyssey. Her miracle in the making. Her moment. My job was to wait. To comfort. And to love.
And wait we did. In the final hours before GNO’s arrival, my husband and I sat on the floor outside my daughter’s hospital room. From that vantage point, we listened while my daughter’s partner whispered words of encouragement and love. We listened as the medical folks led her through the final stages of childbirth. We listened as she became a mother. We listened as the doctor declared that a beautiful healthy baby girl was born. Those were the joyful words we were waiting to hear. Then it was time to meet our new granddaughter. I held her in my arms and she looked up at me with deep dark chocolate eyes. Just like Ma’s. And this is my “cute baby” story for her. I remind her often that she has her great grandmother’s black Italian eyes. And that their time together was brief. But they knew each other well.
Ma was a remarkable mother. My daughter is too.
Ma taught me everything she knew. How to bake a perfect ginger cookie. Sew a seam on a summer dress. Tend to an open wound. Mend a broken heart. She taught me how important it was to listen to your child. And to hear the words spoken. And those not. She taught me how to open my heart. And when to keep my mouth shut. She showed me how to make much of little. And to celebrate the birth of a child. For there is no greater gift.
My daughter is teaching me every day. I watch her with my granddaughter and my heart stops. She’s engaging. And smart. Full of all the right instincts. She knows how and when to discipline. She knows how to grow an infant into a little girl into a preteen and one day into a strong young woman. She knows how to entertain her daughter. And when to let her entertain herself. She’s funny. And fun. Kids are drawn to her. They see her great big heart. And welcoming arms. Who wouldn’t want to be embraced by those.
Yes, both Ma and DNO have taught me much. I like to think that I’m a better woman because of these two extraordinary ones.
A few weeks after this photo was taken my granddaughter was born. A few months later Ma was gone. They knew each other briefly but well.