Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Happy Birthday, Mama-Too

I've never been a stickler for celebrating a birthday on the exact anniversary of the birth, but my nonchalant attitude about it didn't come from my mother. Her birthday was her special day, and any acknowledgment of it before or after that exact 24-hour period didn't count. Today's the day, and I'm not about to let it pass without recognition.

My mother, christened Wanda June, acquired a new name on this day when she held my firstborn child. As much as she loved my new daughter, she was less than thrilled at the idea of being called "grandma." After all, she was only 38 years old. Before the day was out, she had named herself "Mama-Too"--as in, "I feel like I'm her mama, too." More grandchildren followed, and the name stuck.

For most of my adult life, I've lived geographically apart from my mother. We kept in touch by mail or long-distance calls, and in the last two decades of her life, I lived near enough that we could visit two or three times a year. Always, though, I was acutely aware of the distance between us.

Her death in 1999 came unexpectedly. The shock of it left her children and grandchildren with a pain so raw and open that, for a number of years, it was her death, not her life, that came to mind when we thought of her. I can still tap into that pain in the span of a heartbeat, but time has been kind. In the memories that come first these days, she is very much alive.

I'd read enough to expect that the grief would diminish with time, but something else has happened that I never would have imagined. The distance I always felt between my mother and me has completely disappeared. In fact, I feel closer to her now than I ever have, and the whole idea of that just knocks my socks off.

In the first years after Mother's death, I'd frequently catch myself wanting to pick up the phone to call her and talk about something I'd seen on the news or something that had happened in the family. Each time was a fresh reminder that I couldn't talk to her anymore. And then, one day, I discovered I could. She doesn't talk back, so it isn't exactly a discussion that we have, but we do have a connection.

This reconfigured relationship with my mother isn't a "ghostly" thing. I don't see her or hear her. I don't "feel her presence" in a literal sense. Somehow, I just know she's with me. In fact, it seems that she's with a number of us, and she's chosen a unique way to make us aware of it.

My mother was famous in our family for her uncanny ability to pull into a crowded parking lot and find an empty space right in front of the door. It happened so regularly that we began to take it for granted, and it never failed to delight her.

I don't know how long it was after Mother died--a couple of years at least--before I noticed that I'd been having a string of exceptionally good luck finding parking places. I began to pay attention. It doesn't happen every time, but more often than not, I'll drive in and find a prime parking spot without any extra effort. Soon after I noticed this unusual good luck, I got in the habit of saying, "Thank you, Mama-Too," each time it happened.

After a while, I mentioned it to my daughters. Both of them told me they'd begun to notice the same phenomenon as they ran their own errands. They, too, began responding, "Thank you, Mama-Too."

After a year or so of privileged parking, I went on a road trip with my sister and her husband. Miles and miles into the trip, while we were talking about Mother, I risked raising their concerns about my sanity by telling them, in a joking way, that Mother had been helping my girls and me find good parking places. To my surprise, this wasn't news to them. "The same thing's been happening to us," my sister said. "It happens all the time, and every time it does, we say, 'Thank you, Mama-Too.'"

Now, you might think our fortunate parking experiences are just random events in the universe. Or you might think that nothing's changed at all, that we just pay more attention to the good parking experiences than the bad ones. You might possibly be right, but don't even think about saying those things to me. All I know is that every single time it happens--and it happens a lot--I get a huge rush of joy and an immediate mental image of my beautiful mother, laughing out loud in delight at her own cleverness, letting us know she's still around.

Happy birthday, Mama-Too, and thank you. Thank you for everything.


  1. Isn't it strange after you become a Mama you are always one. I was at J C Pennys (I am sixtyish) and I heard a little kid yell "Mama"
    I whirled around immediately looking for where the sound came from...and I could feel the same
    anxious Mama feeling that I had so long ago when my own two girls yelled for me!

  2. I think I look more like your mother than your sister! I think I even had those same plaid pants.

    And isn't it wonderful that we can become grandmothers at 38 or in my case early 40's?

  3. What a wonderful story! It's so nice that you all have this connection. It keeps her alive in your hearts.

  4. My brother in law died at age 49. It was so difficult for his wife and college age daughters. They missed him so much. It was a sudden death, no one even got to say good by. Several months after he was gone my sister in law had lights burning out all the time. Sometimes several days after she replaced the bulb. This went on for years. He's been gone 15 years now. The light bulbs no longer burn out, but they ALWAYS flicker when the whole family is together, and we all say in unison.."There's Kenny."

  5. Thanks for the vote. :) You get my vote for best family stories and vicarious sharing of loving family life. Those of us who didn't have it appreciate knowing there are families out there who really do love each other. Carmon

    PS - posted photos of the handsome Duffy.

  6. It was a joy to read your comments about Mama-Too. In my life I hold a connection to family I've loved and who have died in much the same way. No, I don't mean with finding parking places, but with a feeling that there's a loving oversight I feel whenever I think of them.

  7. I firmly believe there are no coincidences. Having said that, what a beautiful photo and reminiscence of your mother. Enjoy your special parking "privileges"!

  8. well i don't know what to make of this post. do you think your mother is hanging around parking lot after her death? i have to say i think this is foolishness.

  9. Sweet-Sister, you're right. And your own kids are always your babies, no matter how grown-up they are.

    Noel, my first grandchild was born when I was 43, and I was definitely ready for the experience. The best thing about grandchildren is that we can spoil them and then send them home.

    Thanks, Janet. Whether it's real or only in my imagination, it's a comforting idea.

    Harriet, I loved your example of Kenny and the flickering lights. Thanks for sharing it.

    Carmon, I checked out your photos of Duffy. He's gorgeous!

    Annie, I'm glad you understand the feeling I wrote about. Your words "loving oversight" describe it perfectly.

    Sunflower, thanks. Coincidence or otherwise, it's a pretty cool experience.

    Patsy, what I think is that it's fun to consider all the possibilities. Now, if you LIKE "foolishness," come back again; there's plenty more where that came from.

  10. i've been thinking about the parking lot deal. so say you die and then you find out that you can hang around your children after you die and do some things to make their life better. you think and think assumeing you can think when you are dead and you finally come up with an idea, you say i know i will follow them around and make sure they get a good parking space. it will be a reAL KICK IN THE HEAD FOR THE KIDS WHEN GAS GETS SO HIGH THEY CAN'T BUY GAS! so just in case you go before i do, not likely, if they let you do something nice for your on line friend. do something for me other than parking space.

  11. Patsy, if my mother is somehow finding us parking spaces, she wouldn't be doing it just to be nice. She'd be doing it because that's the one "inside joke" that we'd all connect with HER and her alone. And I'm not saying I positively, 100 percent, believe that's what's happening (but I do find myself getting mildly irritated at her now when I DON'T get a good parking place).

  12. well you mean she has fell down on the job? sometimes ?

  13. Yeah, Patsy, I figure that when I DON'T get a good parking spot, she must be hovering over some of my family in Texas.

  14. i hope you have a good sence of humor and i think i will stop while i am a head, or maybe while i am behind.

  15. Lovely story Velvet. I wouldn't even try to analyize it, I'd just be thankful for the joy you feel. My mother was my best friend. I still have moments when I almost reach for the phone, after 17 years she is still with me.

  16. Thank you, Sandy. I am thankful, and I'm glad you understand why.


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