Mama-As Is

The Next Family

By: Rebecca Martin

It’s hard to see your mom get older. We hadn’t seen each other in almost a year. That’s long in the early
and the late days of life. Exponential changes happen on both ends. I loaded up the car, with the kids and all our chaos (and, hopefully, chaos-dispelling gear), and drove a few hundred miles up the coast to her house. Just like when I was a kid going to my Grandma’s, there
she was, her head smiling out the door, the kids running and throwing themselves at her legs. Her hair had ribbons of white she didn’t have last time. Eyes sunk in a bit more, a limp.

She had warned me on the phone – “I’ll do my best, but . . . you have to take your Mama “As Is.”

My mom and I both had our kids on the latter end of the spectrum, which makes an older Grandma. But when I think of who I was in my 20’s, I am at peace with having used my endless energy years sleeping
on hard floors in other countries, always in search of an adventure, and saving these slightly slower years to meander after little boys in a park, watching the light on the mountains change from afternoon to

She was recently diagnosed with diabetes. And I didn’t tell her that I had gestational diabetes three years ago when I was pregnant for the second time. Something about how I can never “out – story” her, or somehow it gets heard in a way I don’t like, or over-worried about. So I have this little secret. I watched in awe as my Italian mother who as long as I can remember lived by pasta and breathed by cake, spooned herself a little barely half-cup of low-fat ice cream. “This is all I can have,” she said. When I was growing up, she non-verbally taught me to manage a wild tirade of anger with just-baked cookies. And here she is now, telling me how to eat to keep blood sugar low.

I did my best to keep the little boys quiet around her, but after the four magical hours of reunion where we played and loved and talked and coo’d, the chaos broke out. The chaos that defines my days and nights,
the chaos that exhausts me and heals me and drives me crazy. I am accustomed to it –the crying, hitting, loud talking, pushing things over. I think she was too, a long time ago. She did it four times, after all. But by day two she was sitting in her green recliner saying
she needed rest. It’s harder to be with kids in someone else’s home, especially when you are being the ambassador of good will and happy family relations; meanwhile, the boys are spilling plant dirt all over
the white carpet, taking her CD’s out of their jackets, eating toast all over the house, and I am getting lectures about discipline and how her kids were never like this. I suggest further childproofing, putting things on higher shelves, perhaps. “I never had to put things
up; my kids just knew.” She told me later it was because of that little slap on the hand the doctors advised in those days. Ah, that’s how they “just knew.”

So here it is Mother’s Day. I am back home in Los Angeles. The family is out of the house giving me the present I asked for – a moment alone, to remember who I was before I was a mother. And here I am
thinking of my Mother. How much I want to embrace her and be different than her at the same moment. How I want to do something new with my kids while still honoring her. How I want to balance everything – to help them learn how to be in someone else’s house while still being free and wild. To curb my own desires for sugar before I have a diabetes diagnosis.

There is nothing that deepens the mother bond more than becoming a mother. Now I see why she worried and puzzled and yelled and why she told the stories of us as babies over and over and over. And that it is true that to her we will always be babies. There’s no other way to say it. It’s complex, complicated, painful, but the bond is there. And anyway, love is always about taking each other “As Is.”

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