“Who wants more freshly-baked banana oatmeal cookies?” our play date hostess asks.
With a quick scramble and expressing good manners, the four children sit down at the kitchen table to nosh on the treats. Kathy (not her real name) smiles at the sight and comes over to offer me one. I shake my head politely and cross over to the table to help my two-year-old to open her water.
“How do you have time to bake?” I ask.
“Oh I make time. Nothing packaged or processed for my kids.” She sweetly declares.
I sigh as I reflect on my cupboard back home, filled with packaged and processed goods. It’s not that I don’t want my kids to experience freshly baked treats; I just don’t have the time with them and my work-at-home job. Chuckling inwardly, I know I don’t even know how to bake or cook except for a few recipes.
Memories of my own childhood come to mind. My mom adored her new microwave, becoming our new household appliance when I was seven years old. TV dinners in front of the TV watching the latest VHS tape that my dad rented were my norm.
My mom spent her time with us when she wasn’t napping after her latest chemo treatment. I didn’t know that moms cooked or baked from scratch daily until I became a mom. Since my childhood I have learned how bad microwaves can be. So we don’t have one. My girls play pretend with their plastic kitchen toys.
I break from my nostalgic space to realize that everyone has finished their snacks and went back to playing in the next room.
Watching my oldest daughter play with the toy microwave in the kitchenette makes me miss my mom so much. It is that pang on my heart that I remind myself that my kids won’t remember that I didn’t make a three-course dinner every night. It’s my hope that their childhood memories will be filled of me playing dress-up with them, or just being there.
My youngest girl races over to me demanding to pick up. I know that is my cue that we need to go. Over my oldest loudly protesting we say our good-byes. I buckle them snug in their car seats and head home.
Since being a mom I have started to let go of ‘being the mom I think I have to be’ and more of the mom that I am. I now understand that is what my mom was to me.
We get home and I settle my two-year-old for her nap. I curl up with my oldest to watch a DVD.
It is amazing how for many years I forgot major parts of my childhood. Now being a parent the memories arrive daily.
I have since dug deep into the years following my mother’s death, my father’s abuse and when I left home at sixteen. I swore that I would never be a mom. Nowadays, if I feel my anger boil, I either walk away or scream into a pillow. In this house hands are for hugs or high-fives only.
My oldest squeezes me into a big bear hug and says she loves me.
“I love you too.” I whisper into her ear.
I do know that my mom loves me wherever she is now. My greatest gift to my girls is to love them like my mother loves me. Learning of what I didn’t like as a child and repairing my past for my children’s future is one of the best parenting skills I own, packaged food included.
I wake up with a jump. Realizing it is my two-year-old calling me; I slip out from my four-year-olds sleepy hug and race upstairs. After a potty break, I settle my toddler down to a snack and change the TV to one of her shows. My four-year-old wakes up and asks for a Bear Paw. I un-wrap the packaged food and smile at the irony of today.
I settle down on the couch hearing the kids munch away. When they are done I gather us up to go outside and to walk to the park. In foresight, I know I need to let them race around to burn off the extra energy so they will go to bed at their regular bedtime.
“Come on, mom! It’s your turn!” my oldest bellows at me breaking me from my memories. I climb up on the slide and hold both my girls as we all slide down together. After three rounds I beg for a break. I sit on the bench and watch my kids play and race around the park.
With a nostalgic smile, I see in my memory my mother having races on the swings of who would go higher. As I grew older I would win. I recall her pushing me to ride my bike alone on the way home. She would be steps ahead calling me. I knew she would be there if I needed her. When she died, it took me years to realize that she will always be there for me. I just couldn’t hear her back. Being a mom, I now hear her.
She didn’t make housework a priority, and she used the new kitchen gadgets to speed up her time in the kitchen. Crockpots and TV dinners were the regular feasts. I used to give myself heck trying to be the supermom- in my mind the mom who baked and cooked from scratch and kept a spotless house. I thought I would be the mom who knew what she was doing.
I will always miss my mom. Yet I know her more than ever today. For the ten years I knew her in real life, she was always there for my sister and I. The hugs were always given. The “I love you more than a million oceans’” expressed several times a day from her. She showed me that it was not being perfect, but present, was what is most important in being a mom.
I drink in the beauty of my daughters playing in the bright sunny afternoon. While I turn the same age this year that my mom died, I am no longer fearful I will have the same fate. I live each day making good memories and regrettable mistakes in parenting, and I know I will make more. I am certain that this is what my mom felt. Holding her cancer fears away from us as young kids, we got to enjoy her as she was. Our mom.
One look at the clock on my iPhone, I realize that we need to go back home to make dinner. My husband will be home soon. We work hard to have dinner together every night. We talk about our day while we eat. My heart swells when I hear my oldest daughter tell her playmates that we have to go home for family time.
As I walk with my girls, the stroller packed and our skin lightly tinted pink, my grief over my girls not having their grandma subsides a little. Without realizing it, I became my mother. I parent with what I know. It gives me strength to keep doing what I am doing, which is being like my mother with my own spin.