When I was a little girl, moms were not real people. They were mothers. Moms were kinda like s guardian angel, who kept kids on the right path, only no wings. Sort of like that picture Grandma had in the bedroom I slept in when I stayed over. The one where the angel kept a boy and a girl from falling off a cliff and getting killed, and the kids just walked along happy as larks, never even realizing they were in danger. A mom never ran and played, or caught frogs, or fell in love with boys with silky hair like Warren, or stamped her feet because nobody would listen. Sure, moms got mad, but that was only because their kids were naughty or shoes were lost. A Mom never got her feelings hurt or wished for things to be different. I remember the first time I got a clue that Mom was a real person.
I was way upstairs in my bedroom. I was supposed to be taking a nap, but I was jumping on the bed, ’cause I was in kindergarten, almost in first grade, and I wasn’t the least bit tired. I jumped right on top of my white bedspread with all the bumpy tufts on top that I was supposed to pull back before I got under the covers. All the ballerinas on the wall danced in the different poses as I flew higher and higher. I could almost touch the pointy crystals dancing around the light fixture way up there on the ceiling; the fixture my best friend from the bus Betty said she thought was so spiffy ’cause it made rainbows dance on the walls so it looked like my room was filled with ballerinas and fairies all at the same time. Betty asked me if I was rich, ’cause of those crystals. She wanted one crystal to take home with her. It’s kinda strange how someone else looking at something can make it seem so different. I never even thought about those crystals. I thought every girl had rainbows in her bedroom. Sometimes Betty was a tinsy bit nuts, ’cause if Mom saw one of those crystals missing, for sure she would have a screaming banshee fit. Losing stuff made Mom go crazy, especially when shoes went missing, and especially on Sunday morning right before church.
“Stop jumping on the bed.” Mom yelled up the stairway. Mom was just so darned smart. How did she know I was jumping on the bed? I stopped dead, and quick, hunkered down into a ball, closed my eyes and breathed deep snore breaths, like Doc in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I could hear Mom’s footsteps on the stairs. She laid down beside me, put one hand on my back, and just laid there, looking at me fake sleeping. I could feel her eyes drilling into my head, seeing that I was pretending to be asleep. Fake sleeping was probably the same as lying, ’cause there’s all kinds of lying besides the straight, flat-out lie, like just leaving some stuff out, or not volunteering the truth, unless the truth was that somebody’s slip was showing, or their socks were dirty. Lying about those kind of things was called being polite.
I laid there thinking I could open and close my eyes fast enough so Mom wouldn’t see me peeking. No such luck. Mom’s brown eyes were looking straight into mine just as calm as calm could be. I threaded my fingers through Mom’s wavy-thick chestnut hair that smelled like Breck shampoo and made her look just like one of those Breck ladies on the back cover of Good Housekeeping. I felt around in the back of her head for those special Mom-eyes, she said were back there. She was way the heck downstairs when I was jumping on the bed. Maybe those special Mom eyes had some kind of Superman powers to see through floors and walls.
“Now, you lay here and rest. No more jumping on the bed,” she said. Then she got up, smoothed down the front of her dress, and started down those stairs just as calm as when she came up.
“I hate you!” I screamed, when I figured she was out of earshot, but half hoped she wasn’t. She wasn’t. Mom came back up the stairs and into my bedroom, just as calm as if she were putting clean, fresh-folded laundry in my drawer. She laid back down beside me, and held my hands in hers. I could see the ballerinas over her shoulder, and for some reason, I kept looking at the
ones in third position, the ones with one arm outstretched on one side of the seam and the hand all by itself on the other; and I was remembering how Mom hated that wallpaper because of that arm-hand matching she and Dad had to do, and how I loved it so much ’cause she let me pick it out all by myself: She clicked her tongue in the back of her throat, and clenched her teeth together so hard, that little ripples went up her jaw and disappeared behind her ears. Dad just pulled his eyebrows down, so no one could see his eye, but I knew they were dancing, ’cause the corners of his mouth kept twitching. Dad knew a lot more about keeping quiet than I did, even though he sometimes had to keep swallowing like I did, so words stayed in his throat.
“I will always love you.” Mom whispered with her eyes jittering back and forth looking first in one of my eyes and then in the other, like she was searching to see if I really hated her. “Now take your nap.” Her eyes looked wet, like she was about to sneeze, or like she just yawned, or maybe like she was sad. Maybe what I said really mattered.
I found out much later that Mom did all sorts of crazy things with her brothers, like stuff a potato in a grumpy old man’s car tailpipe, and tip over outhouses, and leave pretend groceries in the middle of the road. When she got to be a teenager, she sneaked into college dances and went to Chicago and danced with men from the Navy before they went off to The War. She was always one step ahead of me, not because she was an angel, but because she had already been down that path and she knew where the cliffs were.
One thing is for certain, Mom told the truth to that little girl who hated her with fist clenching passion. She always loved me, even when I hated her, even when she disagreed, and even when she searched her heart to understand and came up short. A mom can’t always prevent her child from falling off the cliff, but she can offer a safety net to break the fall. That’s the best a real person can do. That’s what love can do.