My mother turned 75 this past fall. One night a few months before, I’d asked her what we could give her that she would really like.
“Maybe something big, that all three of us can go in on?” I encouraged, knowing that my brothers and I would cough up whatever it cost while also suspecting that any gift she might think up would be of a piece with birthdays past, bath salts or a wrinkle cream she’d saved a coupon for or possibly something mysterious but affordable like 2001’s request for a paraffin wax bath (for “softer, more youthful hands”).
“I know exactly what I want from you kids,” she said, like she’d loaded this gun a month ago.
“Really?” I went from eager-to-please to anxious. What if she was thinking a trip to Hawaii? A bathroom remodel? A new sedan? Had my magnanimous phrasing put us all in a corner? (Was I a jerk already?)
“Absolutely.” She nodded in that way she does when she is dead sure (a not-infrequent state).
She seemed to be waiting for me to ask again, so I did. “Well?”
“If there is any problem that you or your brothers have that I can help with, I would like to know about it.”
Astonishing. What a woman. She lives to serve. Oh, that I could have an ounce of her Marine-devotion.
“God, Mom. You’re killing me here,” I said, holding out my arms so she could see the raised hairs.
She put her finger up to indicate that she was not quite finished.
“And if there’s any problem that you or your brothers have that there is nothing what-so-ever,” she said, punching out each syllable, “that I can do to change, I would like to not know about it.”
Astonishing. What a woman. Oh, that I could be that clearheaded and direct about my own needs.
“Listen, Kelly,” she said as if I didn’t already understand her at a visceral level, having parented for a mere 13 years, “I’ve been a mother since 1964, and …” She looked out the window, searching for words to characterize that experience, but there were none. “And, well, I would like to stop worrying and get some sleep.”
Oh, Ma. I got you.
I will spare you casual mentions and long-form reports about bad backs, new cysts, dustups at work, dollars lost in the stock market, sewage trouble in the basement, parties the girls were not invited to. I’ll stick to the 30,000-foot view—of the girls (who are really doing fine, come to think of it), of Edward’s life at the new start-up (which might actually make it), and of my health, which is (knock wood) currently perfect.
You’ve carried us long enough. As of your 75th birthday, your status shifts to Matrem Emeritus, a mother retired with highest merits. Take off your glasses, your tight shoes, your damn bra. Pour some jug wine over ice, mute the phone, and open a book. And when sleep comes, let it. You’ve done fine, fine work, Ma. Nobody could have done more.
Kelly Corrigan is the New York Times bestselling author of the memoir Glitter and Glue.
Copyright © 2014 by Kelly Corrigan. Medium.com (September 24, 2014).