Being with Mom
My alarm went off at 4:50 this morning. My mother was already up, fully dressed for swimming, and munching on cereal at the table while reading the newspaper.
"It's Distance Friday!" she says happily as she drives me through dark city streets. "On Fridays, Marg and I always do Distance Friday." Marg is the other woman in her 60s on the team.
Even on the mornings she doesn't swim, she's still up early and getting in her bike ride or her gym workout or whatever it may be. "I just like to have my workout done," she says. On Saturday when I wandered into the kitchen grasping half-blindly for coffee, my mother sighed and said to me, "I really over-slept." She paused, shook her head. "I don't know why I did that." She hadn't gotten up until 6:30.
Gardening is part of the reason. Even after a full day, she'll head out into the garden as soon as she gets home to weed and thin plantings and move compost around. In the winter, when it gets dark earlier, you can find her planting bulbs with a headlamp on. In the rain.
She also trains dogs to help with police search and rescue.
Very protestant is how her coach describes this kind of work sensibility. My mother does actually trace her roots back to the Mayflower. A people who banned Christmas trees and referred to such "eating and drinking" as is associated with the holiday leading to, well, "impoverishing of the realm." So fa la la, now start weeding.
My mother eats one banana every day (and always before 9 AM), she has worn the same very practical white hat for being out of doors for as long as I can remember, and she will not get up from the dinner table until she's conclusively determined how many people will want oatmeal in the morning.
There's a downside to all this protestant work ethic, too. It doesn't leave much time for quiet introspection or mind-wandering. And I sometimes see my mother lashing out in strange ways. My sister and I have both read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but when we recommended it to my mother she says, "Well it's your father who's the the problem. John is the one who needs to tidy!"
But I'm learning to see my mother as more than My Mom. She's also a person, imperfect and doing her best. Her adherence to routine and to what's practical can still embarrass me. But I'm learning to resist the impulse to judge her and to fix her and to only see how she's making my life hard.
We went to yoga together yesterday (as prescribed per her Training Peaks plan). She came out into the kitchen dressed in spandex shorts and a blue technical t-shirt. "Why do you wear shorts to yoga?" I said, "instead of, like, tights?"
"Well I get really overheated in pants," she says. "And it's just really embarrassing to ask the teacher to turn the fans on."
This is one of those moments where all you can do is place the heel of your palm on your forehead and then remove and replace repetitively with slight force. I Am A Super Judgmental Asshole.
At the yoga studio, I spoke to the teacher about my mom. And the fans were on through the entire vinyasa flow.
I have to be tender with my mom. Curious. There's a vulnerability in her I never saw as a teenager.
In the final meditation, this image came to me of my mother as a great big brown bear. She opened up her big bear arms and I snuggled into all that warm fur. I was so small that my entire body could nestle in against her chest.
That night at home, while she was having her evening tea, I said, "Mommy, can I sit in your lap?" Just like the bear in my meditation, she didn't have to say a word, she just opened up her arms for me.
"Am I too big?" I said. Unlike my bear mom, I don't really fit in her lap and my head is well above hers.
"No," she said, "you're not too big."