Morning with Mom

Happy to Announce Original Voices! All profits go to Mary's Place.

Happy to Announce Original Voices! All profits go to Mary’s Place.

My writing time, in recent months, has been working towards the publication of Original Voices, a book of writings by The Women of Mary’s Place, a day center in Seattle where I facilitate a weekly writing group. I hope you get a chance to read it and follow Original Voices on Facebook and Twitter.  My daughter, Elie, produced a beautiful video, where you can see the beautiful women reading some of their pieces.

Today I went to Seattle’s Listen to Your Mother. A dozen people read their funny and touching stories. What a treat. It inspired me to share a story I wrote about my mother and me. To mom with love.

 

Mornings with Mom

I’m not a morning person. My mom was an early riser, 5 AM. She claimed it was the only quiet time of her day. With nine kids, I’m sure it was. After two hours of peace and a pot of coffee, by 7 AM, Mom was raring to go. I, on the other hand, was always trying to get just a few more minutes of sleep, especially during those cruel trick-of-nature years when menopausal mothers and pubescent daughters shouldn’t be allowed to live together.

So the scene goes like this: The door opens. I wake to my mother’s sweet voice, “Julie.”

I put a pillow over my head. A few minutes later, Mom sings her “Oh what a beautiful morning…” song.

“All-right. All-right. I’m getting up.”

I hear her opening my lime-green, orange and hot pink flower power curtains. Through squinted eyes, I see her dinner plate eyes. She sits at the foot of my bed. I roll over, reach for the cassette player on my nightstand to turn on some music.

Even then, the words to Carole King’s Smackwater Jack weren’t lost on me; he wanted a shotgun, was in the mood for a little confrontation. If Mom left my room as soon as I put my feet on the floor, things went well. As I dressed, I even seemed like my mother’s daughter, though I wouldn’t have admitted it back then, singing along with Carole, “You’ve got to get up every morning with a smile on your face / And show the world all the love in your heart.”

But if my mother stayed and, well, talked, especially if she gave me a “to do” list, I wanted a shotgun. Not really. I loved my mother, knew she loved me, but we never said, “I love you.” And, I could be explosive.

No one talks to me during my first waking hour. No one. If Mom did, I covered my ears, yelled, “Mom, you don’t understand,” dressed quickly, ran down the stairs, slammed the front door, and sat on the front stoop until my ride to school came.

Years later, married with children, I put the cereal boxes out before I went to bed. When the kids woke they had to fend for themselves or talk to their dad. Most mornings, about all my kids ever heard from me was my hollering, “I love you,” as they ran to catch the school bus.

During my parenting years, Mom lived 750 miles away. She called me about once a week. Guess what time? 7 AM. Seriously. Maybe it was the best time for her. Maybe I never told her that my husband and I, after many morning fights, figured out my need for quiet time after waking. Certainly, I wasn’t the best phone chatter, but I never hung up. Always, we ended the call with an awkward “I love you.” At the time, saying those words to each other was new; neither of us grew up hearing them. A Bible banging stepmother raised my mom, and her father, a sea captain, was often out to sea.

During the last four-and-a-half years of Mom’s life she coped with a terminal illness. In between hospitalizations she tried to live fully, traveling and visiting all of her nine kids. One summer she asked me to take her to Daytona Beach. At our seaside timeshare, in the mornings before 7 AM, while Mom slept, I tiptoed out for a walk before the heat of the day. When I returned, I prepared coffee, breakfast and then pushed Mom to the beach in a plastic wheel chair; it looked like a Little Tikes riding toy. We soaked up the sun and the days together. Though neither of us said it that week, I imagine she, like me, thought: This could be our last time together. It was.

Months later, Mom was in the hospital. Again. Seven-hundred-and-fifty miles away. On my way to work I called her. Yep, around 7 AM. She was hooked up to all sorts of machines, couldn’t talk. I described what I was seeing: the vivid red, orange and yellow sunrise and sang her beautiful morning song. She died later that day.

A few months after Mom died, the phone rang at 7 AM. I was afraid to answer. After I don’t know how many rings, I picked up the receiver to hear, “Hello, is this Julie?”

“Yes.”

“I’m Sister Mary Jo, your mother’s spiritual advisor.”

I remembered meeting her at the funeral. “Yes, hi Sister.”

“Your mother asked me to check in on you. She said, ‘Make sure you call at 7 AM.’ I hope it’s not too early.”

“No, sister. It’s good to hear from you.”

“Your mom wanted you to know how much she loved and appreciated you, especially the way you accepted and loved her, even when she wasn’t so lovable.”

Through the tears, I told Sister Mary Jo I was doing fine, how I wasn’t a morning person, how my mother never figured that out.

She laughed, “You think she didn’t know?”