Earlier this week, I was minding my own business at work, typing away at a report while the sun shone brilliantly outside, illuminating a perfectly cloudless day while many of my other mom friends enjoyed trips to the playground and play dates at the Nature Center. I pushed those seemingly idyllic lifestyles from my mind and focused on the task at hand, snapshots of family and construction paper cut-outs of baby hands surrounding and sustaining me instead. My phone buzzed, and a voice over my intercom said, "your mother's on the phone". For a split second, I struggled to figure out what was happening, my brain fumbling to recognize this unfamiliar and impossible turn of events. "My mother is deceased, so this call can't be for me," I said. The voice replied "well, she SAID Carrie". I sensed the annoyance in her tone and thought, "oh, you want to argue with me about this?" "The call is for someone else" I said, and hung up.
I sat at my desk and started to cry. I know it was a simple mistake, a misunderstanding, but it felt like a joke, salt in the wound, sand in the eye. It made me realize something else, too, something I hadn't thought of for a long time. People get calls from their moms while they are at work. Some people probably have that happen regularly. "It's your mom again" says the voice over the intercom. I know it might seem strange to suggest I didn't already know this, but it's just something I had put out of my mind. I thought of my coworkers casually taking a call from their mom, or even brushing her off to get back to work, and felt that familiar heavy sadness I feel when reminders of my mom's absence jump out unexpectedly, shining a harsh spotlight on the missing piece of my life.
Friday after work, Brian watched Dora so I could run some errands. I stopped at the fabric shop for some zippers, then to Target for cleaning supplies. A mob of people surrounded the card aisle, jockeying for position in front of a huge display. I thought, "What is going on?" Graduation? Happy Spring? Oh, right. Mother's Day. How could I forget? I felt that familiar sting again, the reminder that I'm part of this "club", as my friend Gretchen calls it. I hurried away from the crowd, tears stinging my eyes. Mother's Day is a time of emotional push and pull, a fine balance between celebrating the beauty of my daughter and lamenting the loss of my mother. It is a bittersweet day, to say the least.
This morning, I got up early to hit the grocery store alone before church, just me and the dads sneaking out for last minute gifts and flowers. I came home and there was a sweet card and an iTunes gift certificate for me, and Dora said, "Happy Mother's Day, Mommy". We went to church together, colored, played in the yard. I baked Kulich, a Russian feast bread my mom used to make at Easter-time. Later, the three of us went for a hike at Bent Creek, chasing blue butterflies and waving at cyclists. We went to dinner, then toasted marshmallows in the backyard over our new fire pit. At bedtime, I snuggled into bed next to Dora, rubbing her back to help her fall asleep. I thought about my mom, wishing as I often do for one more day, one more chance to ask her the questions I have now, one opportunity for her to see my beautiful girl, my good marriage, my life as it is now. Dora put her arm around me, her eyes sleepy and closed, and whispered, "Happy Mother's Day, Mommy".
A week ago, as our quick visit to the beach drew to a close, I tiptoed out of our hotel room as Dora and Brian slept in the early morning. My mom loved walking on the beach in the early morning, the birds, the angle of the sun, the ocean in its most natural state. I walked along the waves slowly, the hood of my sweatshirt up against the strong breeze. I thought about my mom, pictured her on so many mornings like this one on the shores of North Carolina, watching sandpipers chase the edge of the surf. I was nearly back to the hotel when I saw what I was looking for - a rare beach treasure my mother was notorious for spotting. A tiny sparkle in the sand revealed it - a small shard of opaque white sea glass. The advent of recycling - something I practice religiously - has rendered sea glass nearly extinct. Though I know it is a good sign that it is uncommon, I still look for it, still always feel that no beach trip is complete without a smooth glass splinter riding home in my pocket. On that early morning beach, reaching to the sand for the sea glass, I felt surrounded by my mother's spirit, by all the things that remind me of her. I smiled, squeezing the glass in my hand and heading home. "Thanks mom", I thought.
Although the reminders of my mother's absence are all around me these days - even popping up unexpectedly at work or as I run errands - the reminders of her presence are here, too. I see them in nature, in my daughter, in myself. Like a tiny sparkle of sea glass against sand, it often takes a discerning and attentive eye to notice these artifacts of her spirit around me. But they are here, nonetheless, maintaining our connection, shaping my life now, our love one long continuous thread as infinite and unbroken as the ocean horizon.
"Happy Mother's Day, Mommy" I whisper. I love, love, love you.