I saw your tears, Mommy.
You didn’t think I was there as you straightened up and dabbed the tears from your eyes. You had no idea that I watched you steel yourself and put on a brave, happy face as you looked into the bathroom mirror. You didn’t see the sadness in my eyes as I watched you.
As you helped me into my coat and ushered me off to school, you never imagined that I worried for you, in my own way. Just as you donned your smile like a mask of strength and dignity, I donned mine because you needed me to be strong and happy. I made you laugh with my silliness. I know you feel better when you laugh.
You never heard me tell my classmates about you. How you work hard and love animals. How you were really smart and going to school, just like us, only really hard school. You never heard me tell them, when it was my turn to say who my role model was, that it’s you and always has been. You never saw the poem I turned in to my English teacher with the words “Dedicated to My Mommy”.
You got the call from my principle, though… Another call to say my grades were slipping and they feared I might have to repeat the grade. You listened as they told you I wasn’t paying attention in class and that I could never sit still. You heard them explain that they had found worksheets I was meant to do for homework stuffed deep inside my desk, ignored and forgotten.
You came to pick me up that day. I didn’t know, then, but you had to take off early from work to do it. I wouldn’t have understood that to be a bad thing. I still had some of my innocence yet. You asked my teacher what was to be done. You never begged, but you implored her to help you come up with solutions to my inattention and restlessness. She said I just didn’t care. You wouldn’t accept that answer. You never did.
You cried that night. I think you believed I was in my room playing or asleep. I saw you, though. I told you “It’s okay, Mama” and hugged you. I didn’t understand why you seemed to cry harder after that. I stood with you quietly as long as one so young as I possibly could. You never told me it was my fault. You never let me think that I had made you cry, or contributed at least.
I saw your love, Mommy.
You thought I was too busy to notice you saying how proud you were of me for my good report card; how you wanted to send it off to that horrible woman that said I didn’t care just to prove her wrong. You thought I didn’t notice or appreciate that you came to every event. Every choir or band performance.
I saw you relax and brighten each time you came to help with some musical event at school. You were happy, there, in the choir room or behind the stage. You were always happy planning an event. I saw you, still coming to every event even as others stopped in the later years. You never gave up on me.
I never made it easy for you, but you kept stepping up and fighting for me.
When I shut you out, you were still there. You still told me you loved me on the rare occasions we spoke. When I started to let you back in, you never pushed me to change my mind for you. You knew it was pointless… that fighting only made me fight harder. I can be quite the contrarian, sometimes.
When I came home, at last, you held me as though you’d never let me go again. You never said “I told you so” or thrashed me for my mistakes. Mistakes I had defended for over a decade. You just said, “Welcome home” and showed me to my room as though I’d never gone away.
I know what you did for me, Mommy, and I never said this explicitly…
You never wanted to burden me with your tears when I was younger. You didn’t want me to see you sad or unhappy, if you could avoid it. You’re only human, Mommy. I saw that, as I stood there with you, patting your arms and telling you in my tiny voice that it would be okay. I realized, each time I caught you sitting in an empty room, sniffling, that you are a person just like me. You taught me something, in those moments. It’s okay to feel and to be overwhelmed, but when the morning comes, you pull up your pants, straighten your blouse, and do what you have to do. I wouldn’t really appreciate that lesson for a fair few years yet, but I promise, I figured it out eventually.
We’re not blind as children. In fact, I sometimes think we see more when we’re young than we do as adults, in some ways. I saw that you struggled trying to make ends meet. I saw that you fought to be a part of my life even as you worked hard to provide for us. I saw how you endeavored to protect me with your smiles and reassurances.
You knew I didn’t love myself and I saw how that made you so angry and sad that you could hardly keep it in. Sometimes you couldn’t keep it in and you cried and screamed. That was okay, too; the screaming. Sometimes it helps, being loud. Let’s the pressure drop. I understood. Even as I screamed back, I knew you loved me. Even as we fought like cats and dogs, I knew you’d always fight to protect me, even from myself.
I’m sorry, Mommy. Sorry that I took you for granted for so long.
Look who I’ve become, though. I’m a survivor, just like you. I fight for what I believe in and I try to stand tall and proud in the face of adversity, even as I cower and panic on the inside sometimes. I know how to be strong for my loved ones, and how to let them be strong for me when I must. I still love dogs, just like you always did. I know how to stand up for myself, but I also know how to forgive.
I finally did it, Mommy… became the ‘happy and productive member of society’ you wanted me to be. That’s all you ever demanded of me… You’d tell me that after a long lecture or fight about my grades (again)… “I just want you to grow up and be a happy, productive member of society!” I don’t know if you meant to, but you always emphasized ‘happy’ a little more than ‘productive’.
We made mistakes. People do that.
I saw your strength, Mommy.
I saw you protect me from my dad when he flew into a temper. I saw you shut the doors so maybe I wouldn’t be woken by the fighting. I don’t remember much… my therapist says it’s ‘selective amnesia’. It’s not your fault, Mommy. I’m pretty sure it’s his. You did your best. You left, when you saw it was hopeless and dangerous to stay. It was so hard for you, I know, but you did it. I later learned that it was to protect me that you finally left. I don’t remember that night, but you told me once, how he threw me out of the way and almost hurt me in the process. He was coming at you. I don’t remember if he ever hit you. I can’t really say much about him because I don’t remember much. An image here or there. One or two memories of particularly bad fights.
Then you raised me, all alone. Sure, you had your family and friends, but in the end it was all you. You were the one that took the phone calls from the school. You were the one who signed the detention slips. You were the one who cried and begged me to just care about myself, my school, or anything at all. You were the one who had to say no or to cave when I begged to bring home another animal. You were the one who had to dole out the punishment and then pray I’d still love you in the morning. You tucked me in at night and you woke me in the morning. You paid the bills for two in a world where the single-income household is all but dead for all but the wealthiest and luckiest of families. You scraped and begged to ensure we could afford as many field trips as possible, every band or orchestra instrument I wanted to try, and every dreadful taffeta dress for choir.
You taught me to cry, yes. You also taught me to laugh and to smile whenever I can. You taught me to fight back and to protect myself. You taught me that sometimes the struggle is worth the payoff, and if it’s not, then maybe it’s time to leave. In the end… you taught me that it’s okay to make mistakes and admit you’re wrong.
I saw your weakness, Mommy.
I bawled when you went to the hospital for that broken arm. Then the MRSA kept you there for so long… Christmas in a rehab center. It wasn’t fair. I cried and cried, when I wasn’t smiling at you; being strong for you. Not because of the broken arm. Many people break their arms. Not even because of the MRSA infection. No, all of that was bad and scary in its own way, but what drew out my tears and wrapped cold, hard fingers around my heart was the realization that my Mommy, who could do anything at all, was not actually ten feet tall and bulletproof.
I saw your joy, Mommy.
You never thought you’d get to see my wedding. Not after all we’d been through together. You nearly burst with happiness when I told you it was happening. You didn’t let me rush it or skimp any more than necessary.
I watched as you hobbled through the city gardens taking engagement photos, even as your back ached and you struggled for every step. Your eyes said the most… you were so tired, but so extremely happy. You would not let us give in without getting as many lovely pictures as we could. I was going to have the best wedding you could give me, and that included the process of getting there, in your eyes.
It was cooler when we did the bridal shoot. I wore out before you, but still, your hands shook and you bent forward as you tried to stave off the constant pain in your back. So many years and so many struggles had taken their toll on you.
You stayed up half the night before the wedding with me, making wedding mints and finishing boot-in-ears… falling into giggle fits over silly mispronunciations of “boutonnieres”. You were up before I was, packing the car and getting ready for my next great adventure. You never said aloud, that day, how much you hurt to know I’d be leaving to move to another state with my soon-to-be husband. No, you were all smiles, that day.
Before you kicked me out of the reception hall so the final decorations could be a surprise to me, I saw you working on that beautiful cake you and your best friend, my ‘second mommy’ after a fashion, had prepared. Three tiers and still you delicately, carefully worked the intricate lace patterns onto every inch of it, even as your hands tried valiantly to stop you, trembling and jerking from weariness and pain. You were so stubborn. You wouldn’t take your medicine… you didn’t want to fall asleep or be less than coherent on this day that you’d dreamt of for so long. This day that you wanted to make perfect for me. Nothing I or anyone else could say would change your mind.
You suffered that day, as you had always suffered for me. You put your pain and weakness aside and slapped on that beautiful smile, all for me… just like you always had. It was possibly the most beautiful day of my life so far, largely thanks to you.
I saw you blink, Mommy.
You weren’t all there, when I arrived in the dead of night. I’d driven a fourteen hour trip in twelve hours, crying my eyes out and screaming at the universe most of the way. Somehow, I think a part of me already knew what they were going to tell me now that I was here. I think I knew before I even started that drive.
I hadn’t been there for you. I had never been there for you like you had been for me. I wasn’t going to abandon you now, even as I knew I was about to get the worst news I’d ever heard, and possibly ever will.
They were all there. I had to weave through the crowd to get near you. When I did, your sister stepped back and let me close. I wasn’t sure you were in there at all… had you already gone? My aunt nudged me and told me to say something. All I could manage without completely cracking was “I’m here, Mommy.”
And then you blinked. Just barely, only a couple of us even noticed it, but your eyelids flickered and I knew you’d heard me. You knew I had not abandoned you. I never did right by you, but I knew you had forgiven me. I knew you loved me anyway… and I knew that you knew I was there. That was the last little sign of life I remember seeing in you, that night. Others came and went, spoke to you, but you didn’t so much as twitch.
The rest of the night is something of a blur. The decision was made. The plug was pulled. The last clear thing I remember is looking at your empty body, knowing you’d gone… It was over.
29 years and change… I wasn’t ready to let go of what I had finally learned to appreciate… but it was over.
We spent a good long while alone, Mommy. I need you to know that even though **he** wasn’t there for us, you did a damn fine job. Sure, you made mistakes, we both did, but that’s not the stuff worth remembering. You were an amazing Mom, and all the parent I ever needed.
To every single parent out there who things their children don’t see or don’t care, I’m here to tell you… we see; we hear; we care.
We’re foolish. We make mistakes. We mess up. We lash out. We don’t know how to cope.
In the end, though, we’ll remember every hug and cherish every smile. Every special event you manage to attend or every late night you work to make sure we can go on that field trip next week. We may not understand why you cry, when we’re little… but then again, perhaps we understand better than we let on.
You are an amazing person. Whatever put you in this position of raising a child without the help of a second parent isn’t the important detail. The important detail is that you’re doing it. You’re surviving and you’re taking care of us. Every time you defend us, we see it. Every time you cheer for us, we hear it. Every time you sacrifice yourself for us, we know it. Sometimes right away, and sometimes not for years, but we see.
Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Never stop fighting. Thank you for being the amazing person you are. I promise you, we notice.