I can see her bare legs in front of her on the porch floor, her ankles crossed and a train of ants walking across them. They look like my legs.
I can see her silhouette at the bottom of the stairs, casually warning me to give up my attempts to somersault down to the living room.
I can see the barrette in the back of her hair as she sits at the table.
But I can't see her face. I cannot assemble these pieces. My mother is an invisible force of nature, a supernatural entity made of love and discipline and constant presence.
I looked at my father. I studied him, this person I loved, who lived with me but who's comings and goings from a mysterious place called "work" carried the weight of disappearances and reinvention. I never had to look at my mother. I was always confident that she was there. Maybe not in sight, but near by. If I screamed she would appear. If I misbehaved she would reprimand me. If I was suddenly scared or hurt or sad, I could run to her and wrap my arms around those blue jeans and her elegant hands with their narrow wrists and simple ring would run through the hair on top of my head, and her voice would echo from the everywhere of motherhood.
I can hear her voice, my thirty year old mother, but I can't distinguish the words. It's a hum that fills the universe, that permeates every fiber in existence, that rumbles through my bones and soothes them. I can hear its cadence.
At thirty years old, my mother was invisible to me.
Now I am her. Like my father, these birthdays matter to me. I don't know why exactly, but they do. Superficial, I know, but I feel it. And like my father, I feel helpless to give this event some kind of meaning. I sympathize with him so much, this twenty nine year old father of three. I understand him.
And I believe I understand my mother. But to me she will always be something of a mystery. No matter how closely my family parallels hers, no matter how similar our struggles and joys and the mundane details of our lives, no matter how much I understand her as she is now, I will never be able to put my feet into her shoes and sympathize with her life the way I do my father's.
|I'm there for her, she doesn't need to look at me.|
And in a way, this makes me feel closer to every mother. To every other woman who has been a shadow, an omnipresent force in their children's lives. To every stay-at-home parent who's children don't bother to look at them when they come or go, who rush past and ignore them because they will always be there. It makes me feel closer to them, and at the same time it fills me with a grief so deep I can hardly name it.
I am this vibration, this mysterious force. And in my own ethereal, faceless way, I will also be erased from my children's memories, continuously replaced by the constantly changing, constantly aging face before them.
In my memories, if I must picture my mother, I see her now. Maybe a little less grey, maybe somewhat thinner, but still- as she is now. Familiar glasses. Familiar lines on her face. Not the slender, black haired twenty-something girl I know she was.
That girl, that young woman, she is somebody I will never know.
I feel the grief that I have already lost part of my mother forever.
Maybe it's just me. Maybe I was the only child so self centered that they never bothered to look up, but I doubt it. I see it in my own children who once stared forever at me unblinking as they lay swaddled in my arms, and now run past without so much as a glance when I remind them to wash their hands or hang up their coats.
Maybe it isn't turning thirty that bothers me. Maybe it's losing myself in motherhood. Maybe it's the fear that I'm already gone, replaced by this ghost who's voice will soothe my children's memories, long after I've died.
And while I mourn this former me, I am filled with a guilt and a joy so great they bring me to tears.
I have always wanted to be this thing, immortal and benevolent and profoundly loved. Loved until I dissolved into the enormity of the word, until it absorbed me and replaced me with the all powerful phantom caring for every child, every person, with a fierceness so raw and so bold and yet so constant that they disappeared into it.