I’m sitting in my brown chair. The one we bought six years ago when I was pregnant with Juliette. The one that is a little broken, having been sat in one too many times by people slightly too large for it. The chair in the middle of my living room.
My three little girls are just more than arm’s reach away, watching Jake and the Neverland Pirates on the living room floor. This is not the place I’d usually choose for writing, but right now I just can’t stand to be too far from my children. I’m feeling nostalgic.
I just cashed out the remnants of my mother’s IRA. My inheritance. It wasn’t huge, but it lasted almost four years. I never imagined I’d close it out entirely, but unemployment leads you down roads you never thought you’d travel.
I guess I should be scared. I’m not really. Mostly, I’m just sad. As long as that account was there, no matter how little was in it, I felt like my mother was waiting backstage, ready to step in and save the day. That was a novel and wonderful feeling.
I gotta be honest. My relationship with my mother was… complicated. She was my best friend. My closest confidant. She was also, hands down, the biggest contributing factor to my need for ongoing therapy. She was the first person I called, the last person I wanted to talk to. Maybe that’s how it is with mothers and daughters. Still, I think we might have had a triple dose.
My mother did wonderful things for me. She showed up at my house whenever I had a baby – no matter how irresponsible she thought it was. She sent Christmas dresses for my daughters. She made me a hair appointment every time I came to visit. She made dinner when she came to stay. (Never more than three days… she loved to quote the idiom about fish and company.) She called morning and night, just to check in.
Even so, she wasn’t very good at simply showing up, or showing up simply. She’d come, if it was convenient, but she travelled with no less than three bags and six tons of judgement. So, I tried very hard not to give her any reason to worry, tried not to throw any fuel on her fire of criticism. Look, I was certainly no prize, either. We all have our faults. I’m just trying to say that for all of her wonderful attributes (of which there were scores), being a soft place to land was not among them. Essentially, my mother was the last person you’d dial with your one phone call from jail.
When she died (very unexpectedly) I was the sole beneficiary of her IRA. This was money she’d put aside during all the years of her secretary/single motherhood. Money that was slowly growing while she remarried, while we rubbed each other’s feet, while she scoffed at my educational choices, while we sang in the kitchen, while I disappointed her, while she disappointed me.
Here’s the thing about money: it doesn’t actually cover a multitude of sins. It doesn’t erase hurt, it doesn’t soothe grief. But you know what else it doesn’t do? It doesn’t judge. It just shows up when you need it – to replace a transmission, to pay the doctor, to pay the bills when you’ve lost your job.
That money, my mother’s money, was like a comforter that made me feel safe, warm, looked after. Every time I tapped into it, (a hundred dollars here, a couple hundred there) I felt my mother wrapping me in the unconditional love she wasn’t quite able to express when she was alive. It was like a secret message from beyond…“I’m showing up now. No baggage.” Every single time I felt profoundly grateful.
But now, it’s done. No more rescuing from Mom. This lovely reprieve I’ve had, this idea that somewhere out there I have a savior… it’s officially over. My mother is dead. She has been for some time. She did what she could for me, no matter how imperfectly. I did what I could, riddled though it was with flaws and self-interest. It will have to be enough.
My girls are now giggling in the bathroom, getting ready for bed. In a minute they’ll come out, macaroni and cheese breath waiting for a kiss.
“You are kind. You are smart. You are important,” I’ll say. They will grin deliriously, with no idea that I stole that line from The Help.
“I love you,” I’ll say.
“No matter what?” they’ll ask.
“No matter what,” I’ll answer.
Then they will trudge upstairs with their father, climb into their big girl beds, and be covered by comforters purchased two years ago with my mother’s money. They will fall into sleep, safe, warm, looked after, sure that I can protect them from any ill thing that comes their way.
I will fall asleep wishing that it was true.