I notice the way the sun dances on my daughter’s hair. She has my eyes – my mother’s eyes. Her voice is sincere; gentle and confident as she speaks the words.
“I’ve never questioned, not for one day, how much you love me.”
We’re sitting outside North Italia, in oversized patio furniture, and I’m happy we have our own little corner of the restaurant. The smell of moist soil from the planter box mixes with a waft of fresh bread. Through the low, wrought iron fence that separates the patio from the outdoor shopping mall I see a car pull up to the valet parking, and hope they don’t look this way.
The lump in my throat grows and I feel the tears begin to puddle at the base of my eyes.
Those words. She can’t possibly know the impact of those words.
* * *
I’d been scared of my mom. A strict, elegant woman, who withheld affection. When asked to do something, I was to say “Yes, Mother.” Her beauty marveled me, but I knew that I was an irritation to her. Another child, in a long line of children, born because of her devotion to the catholic faith. And then came her leukemia and years of sickness… As a teenager, I read to her in bed, propped up by the pillow next to hers. We didn’t talk. I knew enough to just read, and I was content in being allowed to be close.
Then her death. Cancer’s end to suffering.
* * *
The years brought me womanhood. At 21, with an unexpected pregnancy, I’d gone from being a self-centric, adventurous and carefree college student, to young mother overnight. I was no longer able to sleep a peaceful 9 hours – instead waking at the slightest sound, listening for any movement from the baby’s bassinet. A second, beautiful child came. A sister for the brother.
A proper career was needed. One that would fit with being a mom. More college, a degree, and then teaching. I’d made it my goal that by the age of 30 I’d have a job I could be proud of, and at 29 I stood at the head of my own classroom.
Then divorce. He said he never really loved me.
* * *
As I raised my children, I showered them in hugs and kisses and snuggles on the couch; making sure to give them the affection I’d longed for as a child. We read stories at night and said our prayers. I cut their hair in the bathroom and helped with homework. My son learned to cook and my daughter, to bake. I felt confident in my parenting. Weekends at their dad’s was my respite, so I took art classes, and delved into photography, and gardening.
Weekends were also spent offering my heart to a succession of men – cultivating one-sided relationships, with undying optimism. I’d learned from a young age to love regardless of reciprocation. But, deep down, I knew I deserved more.
As the years passed, my son began to struggle. He was intense, funny, and brilliant; “highly gifted” said his school. But his grades dropped and he retreated into a world of books and video games. It appeared to me to be normal, teenage angst and I blamed it on hormones. I tried tough love by grounding him and lecturing him. He’ll thank me when he’s older, I thought.
Then suicide. My beautiful baby boy, gone. My love had failed him.
* * *
It’s spring, and my daughter’s a young woman now. As we sit on the patio of the Italian restaurant, I admire her. She has the beauty and elegance of her grandmother, and the intelligence of her brother. But, she’s her own woman. We’ve grown together, through the years. She’s experienced a different mom than my son did. One who’s more patient and accepting of myself and others. I’ve learned the importance of asking questions, and listening intently to the answers. I’m the age my mother was when she died, and I understand her now. I know that her inability to love was not about me… it was about her. And I forgive her. She did her best – as I have.
I play my daughter’s words over again in my mind.
I’ve never questioned, not for one day, how much you love me.
She’s looking at me intently. Those eyes.
“I love you, Mom.”
It’s said without expectation. She’s happy and confident in herself. She knows healthy love, and through her, so do I.
There’s a pause while she lets it sink in; wanting to be sure I truly hear her.
And I think, “Yes, she knows the impact of those words.”