Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Letter To My Mother, With No Swearing (Just As She Prefers It)

I suppose this post could be for mothers of creative, strange children everywhere, but mostly, it’s for my mom. My original plan was to write this note for her on a piece of stationery, but then I looked around my office. Somehow it didn’t seem very meaningful to give her something jotted in Sharpie on a Scorpio Races postcard or the corner of a Shiver bookmark or on the back of a Raven Boys bookplate or in the blank part of an index card that already has fourteen plot points scribbled on it.

Then I thought, no, my blog is my finest stationery. A thank you note on Mother’s Day is nice. A thank you note on Mother’s Day that is searchable in Google results is even better.

So here it is.

Hi, Mom,

I decided to write you a note for Mother’s Day. I’m sure this seems out of character, as I normally eschew all holidays that don’t involve cake or trees. But this year I looked at the jug of fancy conditioner I had bought you for your Mother’s Day present, and I thought: one day, this conditioner will be all gone. And then you will not remember my affection for you. This fancy conditioner won’t last for a year. It’ll last for a month. Then you’ll have eleven months of wondering if your middle daughter truly appreciates you.

Conditioner is transient. And once it has passed from this world, it’s just . . . gone.

So I tried to think of something more permanent. I considered artwork and furniture and knicks and knacks. However, I know that our idea of interior design differs. You have nice prints and wreathes on the walls. I have rusty metal scissors and twisted license plates hanging on mine.

And what is more permanent than the written word? Nothing.*

*with the possible exception of Gangnam Style

Here we go.

I know I haven’t been the easiest daughter to have. I remember well that I was a small, cranky, sullen, black-hearted, violent child. I pinched my siblings and punched my classmates. I didn’t really eat food. Mostly I ate the same four or five items for weeks on end and then, just as you had stocked the house with these a backlog of these items, I would remove them vocally from my diet. I’m still sorry about that letter the school sent home in third grade. Hey, at least I knew you weren’t starving me, right?

I was not very huggable. I liked things my way. I was a bad child and a worse teen. I had a very particular plan for my life and when I became interested in something, I would obsessively pursue it to the absence of all other things. I cut off all my hair because I knew you didn’t want me to. I swore because you frowned when I did. I street raced so often and got so many speeding tickets that I came within a hair of losing my license. And at no point was I sorry. Also I wore black all the time.

I was just terrible.

But despite my terribleness, I wanted to tell you that I think you did an amazing job. Especially now that I have my own children**. I guess I took it for granted how you always had an art project or a book for me to read or a piano lesson all ready. Until I had Thing 1 and Thing 2, I didn’t realize how much time and consideration it took to prepare something like that every single afternoon. You took all of us to the library nearly every week and let us browse in the stacks for hours. As a kid, I didn’t even think about how you might have other ways you wanted to spend your Saturday. And even though you were allergic to dogs and cats, we had about a billion of them growing up. I remember thinking you were being unfair by drawing the line at rodents. No doubt you said this with the traditional tissue you kept in your pocket — for when the dander of six or seven dogs or cats finally got to you. How crushed we were! HOW ABOUT A LIZARD, MOM? A KOMODO DRAGON?

**At first, I typed “my own kids” there and then I thought . . . no, now that I have goats, that is too unspecific.

I grew up surrounded by all sorts of different art stuffs and books and scratch paper and musical instruments and I just thought that’s how everybody lived.

Man, it takes a billionty hours a week for me to pull off even a quarter of what you did with me and four other siblings. I still don’t really know how you did it. But I didn’t want you to think I didn’t notice. Maybe I didn’t at the time, but I do now. Better late than never, right?

Here’s the most important thing: you never told me I couldn’t be a writer or an artist or a composer. You always made sure I had the tools to learn how to be the best writer and artist and musician I could be. We had our bumps along the way, but really, you were there at every step making sure that I could pursue that dream. Whether it was taking me to the library or setting me up with clay or hurriedly packing my stuff into a car so I could switch to a college with a Music Composition degree two weeks before the semester began . . . and then helping me switch colleges again when I left town after my morning classes six weeks later.

At the time, I thought, of course.

Now . . . well, I would have killed me. Or at the very least sent me to a distant boarding school with padded walls.

Thanks for making me who I am, Mom.

Love, Maggie

P.S. I will bring your conditioner out next time I’m at the house. It’s just great stuff.
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