There is a lovely little poem by Julia Kasdorf titled “What I Learned from My Mother.” Much of it centers upon a mother’s role as salve and caretaker, and my favorite bit runs as follows:
“I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds.”
This is very much my mother, whose ministrations run from the shockingly specific and intimate (picking up colace for me after mini was born, when I would rather have died asking anyone for such an embarrassing favor) to the knee-bucklingly generous (flying to Rome to hear me read a paper as a graduate student). This passage nails her comfort in gestures of care-taking big and small–and her preparedness, speed, and single-mindedness in accomplishing them. And, bonus: it references a peony, and my mother cherished her peony bushes in our old stone house on Tilden Street in Northwest D.C. so much so that the image of a peony bush and the black ants that tended to burrow into it vibrate through much of my childhood nostalgia, like the focal point on a hand-stitched quilt.
But there are many things I have learned from my mother, setting aside her deep kindnesses as my caretaker and guardian–too many things to enumerate, or to attempt to–but I will share a few today:
To write a thank you note immediately after a gift is received.
To be specific in said thank you note, mentioning where you have placed the gift or why, exactly, you love it and how it will be used.
To stock up on scarves — endlessly versatile and timeless.
To listen, fully.
To keep an extensive back-stock of household essentials: toilet paper, paper towels, tissues.
To pray, often.
To keep snacks and a notepad in your bedside table drawer for middle-of-the-night micro-crises.
To read every day.
To buy butter in bulk on sale and keep it in the freezer. (It thaws beautifully.)
To tell yourself, when you think you can’t: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.” This was a trick she used when toilet-training us (the power of positive thinking!) that I still conjure in moments of duress.
To give other people the benefit of the doubt.
To tilt your head and say, firmly, “Jennifer” when you are about to say something important so that your daughter has a mild heart attack and knows you mean business. (This works — mini will drop what she’s doing and look up like a dear in headlights when I’ve used this voice with her.)
To keep tissues in my purse.
To clip coupons and hunt for sales.
To say “I love you” as often as your children can stand it.
This last one, maybe, the most powerful — as I find myself drawn to repeated affirmations as I attempt to parent my own children. I know that saying “I love you” is difficult for some people, and is not the lingua franca in the culture of some families. But it has always felt easy for me because love was so amply given and volubly communicated by my mother. It is the coda of all phone conversations, the casual good-bye tossed over shoulders on the way out the front door, the unthinking accompaniment to “good night.”
I still learn much from my mother — including, recently, how to calm myself while whizzing through the city alone in a cab, thinking I was going to deliver my son six weeks early — but, aside from the beauty of her frequent “I love yous,” I marvel over the fact that I have learned that I am never too old to need her.
Post Scripts: Mother’s Day Gifts.
Per usual, I aim for gifts under $100. I am always astounded by mother’s day gift guides where the prices drift into the multiple hundreds. I am either stingy or those guides are impractical. Either way, a couple of items I would recommend for a beloved mother or mother-like figure:
+For the style maven: these cateye shades from one of my favorite non-designer eyewear labels, these earrings, or this scarf, which I own in a different colorway and never cease to find a trillion ways to wear.
+For the baker: this cake dome and/or Christina Tosi’s new cookbook. (Or maybe accompany one or the other with a couple 6×3″ cake pans, which are almost always the size called-for by those fancy baking books. I used these exact pans when making our Easter cake this year. BTW, for those asking, the recipe is here.)
+For the foodie: these frozen croissants (they are quite good — you let them proof at room temp overnight and then bake them off in the morning), a bundle of Afeltra bronze-cut pasta (if you’ve not tried high-end dried pasta, you’ve not yet lived — it’s a totally different beast), or a delivery from Levain cookies.
+Over $100, but I carry this tote with me everywhere these days, and it reminds me of my mom.
In case you are, in fact, more generous than I am — or Mr. Magpie is reading…HA!