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AeireThere's not really a subject line that fits, honestly.
posted by Aeire

When I was younger, I used to run up to my mother, rubbing my eye and whining (as children are wont to do).

"Mooooom, there's something in my eye!"

And my mother would turn to me, with just the bare hint of a smile, and say without missing a beat, "It's your finger. Get it out."

And that was my mom.

I had...an interesting childhood. When I was two, my mother was cutting coupons out of the paper, and I came over and started pointing at the different coupons. "Parkay! Tide!" or whatever my mother happened to be shopping for at the time. She didn't think anything of this until I ran off and she realized I wasn't looking at the photos - I was just...reading the words. And she thought about this, went 'Well that's interesting', and then continued on her merry way and let me read whatever I wanted.

She used to play classical music for us, along with eight-tracks of Abba (I'm dating myself) and Neil Diamond (I'm really dating myself - and for the record, I can still sing Song Sung Blue from memory). She never really pointed out that it was classical music - when we asked, she'd tell us who the composer was, or who the person was singing, or what the title of the song was, and if we wanted to hear more, she wouldn't hesitate to let us listen to as much as we wanted, or find other songs that she thought we'd like.

And that was my mom.

She never spoke down to us - in her world and ours, we were miniature adults, and speaking to us like we didn't understand anything would make us...not understand anything. But speaking to us as if we were meant to understand created the thirst for understanding - if we didn't know what something meant, she'd point us at a dictionary, or explain it. Once. And we'd remember, because we'd want to, if she mentioned things again.

I don't know if the three of us (I have a brother, and a sister) were smart to begin with, or whether it was the fact that my mother cultivated smartness, just as a result of how she raised us. We were always asking questions - and my mother did her best to provide answers. And since she provided answers, we asked more questions. And when she didn't know the answer, she would tell us where to go to get the answer. One of my first memories after moving to Colorado was going to the library and getting my library card - she took us to the library without hesitation. Much better, in my opinion, and in my sibling's opinion, than going to the movies on a weekend afternoon.

And that was my mom.

In this day and age, people express shock and dismay at what we were allowed to do back then, growing up. Today, parents tend to hide their children from the world, protect them, make sure nothing bad happens to them. When we lived downtown, my mother was adamant about only letting us ride our bikes a few doors down and then back again - she wouldn't let us ride around the block. But she'd let us walk across the street to the park on our own - watching us, I have no doubt, through the curtain in the kitchen to make sure we were all right.

Mom and Dad both worked for a time, and left us to our own devices during the day. We were remarkably self-sufficient. I think she may have worried, but one day, as my siblings and I were devouring cinnamon toast we'd made, we noticed the bread in the bag was moldy, and were horrified because we thought we may have eaten moldy bread, and didn't know what to do. I remembered there was a number for poison control in the phone book, and my brother called and talked to a nice lady who told us that really, the only thing that would happen if we'd eaten a lot of it is we might get a little sick, but we were in no danger of being poisoned. She called back later that night and spoke to my mother, who was surprised and more than a little pleased that we'd had the common sense to call poison control. I doubt she worried very much after that.

And then, then we moved to the mountains. Instead of being stuck downtown, we moved to a house that was perched on the edge of a 35, maybe 40 ft cliff. The canyon in front of the house was all BLM land - nobody was out there really, save for the cactus and the coyotes. And we'd ask if we could go play, and mother said yes, and we'd go hiking, all on our own. And mother knew we'd come back, because we always did.

It wasn't negligence, as some people are so quick to assign to anyone that allows their children to do such things - it was freedom. She gave us the freedom to make our own mistakes, time and time again. And if we came home with scratched knees or cactus spines in our fingers, she'd put medicine on them and band aids and fix us up and soon enough we'd be out wandering again. Because, in the end, the best way to learn whether or not something is a mistake is to try it, and find out. She let us do this, and when we made mistakes, we recognized them for what they were, and we didn't do them again.

And that was my mom.

My mother and I used to fight - oh, we'd butt heads like you wouldn't believe. It was because we were so much alike, I think - we were both stubborn as mules, and thought much the same way, although neither of us would dare admit it. And when you find another version of yourself, the immediate instinct is to steer it in such a way that it won't end up the same way you did. Or to fight it because you KNOW you know better than it does. And we fought.

But in that fighting, it wasn't just screaming matches. There was love, there was hurt, and there was the kind of emotion that you experience in life, day after day. No matter how loud she yelled, no matter how loud I screamed (I swear, she and I are partially responsible for my father having to wear hearing aids), we still loved each other. And it wasn't her yelling at me, it was her yelling at herself. It wasn't me screaming at her, it was me screaming at myself.

Eventually, I stopped screaming. I moved out, to her delight - because I was going out on my own to figure out how the world worked first hand - and to her dismay - because I was leaving the home I grew up in, and she couldn't continue to show me things first hand, or give me the answers I was looking for.

It was okay, because she'd more than prepared me for finding out the answers myself. And I did - it took a long time, a lot of mistake-making, but I was okay. I was always okay, because of her, and because of what she gave me.

And that was my mom.

When I told her I was making comics, she wanted to read them. I gave her the link with only a small amount of hesitation, not really knowing if she'd click it and read. But she did - she loved Queen of Wands, although she said it made her a little sad. I never got a chance to ask her why. My aunt told me it was because in reading it, she suddenly understood - without a doubt, without question - who I was, what kind of person I'd turned into, and what it was that went on in my head every day. She wasn't sad because she was disappointed - she was sad, in her way, because it took her so long to figure it out. I wish she'd found out sooner, I wish I had a way to tell her, sooner. She loved the comic, she loved the way it was written.

And with every word I write, I write it from the heart. She taught me that. That it's perfectly okay to write what you're feeling, that it's perfectly okay to express things the way they are, nothing more, nothing less. My mother never minced words, she always spoke plainly, clearly, and sometimes loudly, but she never darted around subjects with me when they were important. And her sense of humor passed on to all three of us kids - we have a quirky way of looking at the world, and a quirkier way of expressing it. Because of her.

And that was my mom.

Mom passed away last Wednesday night, after a short battle with a cancer that was far too aggressive for her to fight, although she gave it everything she had. She had chemo, she had radiation treatments, they didn't do much good. The last week of her life was spent in a hospice with members of her family sitting beside her, telling stories and talking to her, although she couldn't talk back. She was too far gone.

It didn't stop me from talking her ear off whenever I had a moment alone. I told her much of what I've written here, and said thank you, I don't know how many times. The single most important thing that she ever gave me was life. I would not be here, writing these words, if she hadn't been there to begin with. And as I watched her on those last days, simply watching her breathe, it seemed to me as if she wasn't fighting for her life anymore - she was fighting to get out of the body that in the end, wasn't doing her much good.

It wasn't really dying. It was freedom.

Mother never once had to say she was proud of me. She never did. She simply was. And I will miss her more than words can really say, although I tried to here, in my long-winded way.

I love you Mom. Don't worry, I'll keep my finger out of my eye.


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