This coming Saturday, I will mark my mother’s 72nd birthday.
Except it’s not her 72nd birthday, because she’s not here to celebrate it.
But her children are.
I’m turning 36 this year.
That halfway point in our ages hit me as I walked up the stairs yesterday afternoon, puzzling over my priorities and choices, life tasks and duties. I had the same thoughts as my mother probably did at this age, and probably a whole bunch more.
I pick up on all the similarities between us now – where she made choices in her life, and now I see those same ones reflected back in my own. I untangle the ones I haven’t made her way, and glue even more stickily the ones I have. Hell, I see her in everything. Everything I do. From the way I talk to my dogs, to the way I parent, to the way I can sign people off from my life when it is required. That steeliness? That alleged flippancy you see from me when I am actually just implementing self-preservation?
I get it all from her. But the underside of hurt that I bury underneath it burns the same. Like the fire in her eyes that I knew could engulf a room or embrace a stranger.
That fire, the one that lived within her but she never extinguished, no matter how many times people and life tried to hose it down. That fire always had a purpose, and a place. I used to feel pity for people who met it, when they irked it awake. I used to feel great shame for them when they would hurt someone she loved and cared for. That fire, that begins with grace and ends in obliteration… I’m still learning how to manage it.
And as I realised all of this. I also remembered that I will be the age,this year, that my mother was when she gave birth to me.
I am ever aware that, at this age — the part where she gave me life — I need to use the flame more, the way she did and did not.
I need to carry on learning to choose my anger, and find my answers.
But in many ways, as I realise this halfway point, I see my own mortality too, and question the impact of my own life. Have I done enough? Have I done the things I loved? Do I do them every day? Am I helpful? Am I useful? Am I changing the things that need to be changed? Am I learning?
My mother was an eager learner. So much so that she changed careers and paths more times than I can count. She was always reading, always learning, and never scared to encourage someone else to flex their mental mettle.
As I look at that halfway point, the strange one that hit me as I walked up the stairs of my house that she never got to see, never got to know, never got to feel. She never will know the rhythm of the home I live in, that my little family created together. But underneath the rhythm of our family, there lives a beating drum that has never stopped in tempo. Just as she beat the drum for our family, she taught me how to continue it. Beneath the rhythm of this home, with crazy dogs, to do lists and funny magnets, askew on the fridge… if I listen very carefully, I can still hear that drum.
Today, as I walk up the stairs and contemplate that halfway point, I remember her too. And I hope like anything, that you’re proud.
Happy Birthday, UM.