I hear the sound of my mother spraying starch on my father’s shirt. I can see hot steam bellowing from the iron, then dissolving into the cotton. In the background, Days of Our Lives is playing on the television. The picture comes and goes—the antenna needs to be set just right. I can smell tomato gravy simmering on the stove. I love that smell, because I know that she will make a special meatball just for me. She will fry it, then instead of placing it into the gravy, she will give it to me. All at once, I feel nourished, loved, and cherished. When I look at her, I see the most beautiful woman in the world. I am four. My mother is thirty. She is grateful to be a mother.
At that time our family consisted of my two brothers, my mom, dad, and me. Although he was a good man, dad had his demons to work through. It wasn’t that he didn’t care about us— surprisingly it was that he cared too much. Sometimes what looks and feels like abandonment is actually emotional paralysis. So though he never left us, he was never really there. The worry made him numb.
Over the years, as I went to work, I could see the pride in my mother’s face when, at age twenty-seven, I became vice president of a public relations firm. Years later, I decided I wanted to start a family.
It is early morning on Aug. 6, 1999. New Jersey has just declared a State of Emergency. We are in the midst of a drought and intense heat wave. The air conditioning has been running all night, and still I am sweating. I am unable to sleep. My ankles are swollen, and the baby is pressing against my sciatic nerve. I slowly get out of bed, and walk over to look out my bedroom window. Brown and yellow straw-like blades of grass are being scorched by the searing sun. I feel anxious today—not quite myself. I walk to the thermostat to set the air on cool, only to walk back moments later to set it even cooler. I am on fire. What’s wrong with me today? I don’t feel any contractions. Nothing like the prenatal classes described. I lie down on my bed. I know my husband has so much work to do today, so I tell him I am fine, and he should go. I try to rest, but I cannot. Maybe a shower will help. I walk into the bathroom and undress. I feel the baby pressing on my cervix. My body is preparing for this birth, but my head is not ready for this. Not here. Not now. I call my doctor. I call my husband. I call my mother. I am terrified. I am alone.
My mother is the first to arrive. She runs to my bedroom. She finds me standing, immobile, next to my dresser. I am in shock. She quickly brings me to my bed and tells me to lie down. She looks at my body. I can tell by her expression, she sees my baby crowning. There is no time. My fingernails are beginning to turn blue. I am forgetting to breathe.
My mother holds my one hand while my husband holds the other. In the distance, I hear a man calling out for clean towels. The people around me are moving at a frenetic pace. Beautiful strangers. All are there to help me. I am thankful. I remember to breathe.
It’s a girl! My husband gently rests my daughter in my arms. I gaze at her sweet, round face. I am in love. I give her to my mother. I watch as she meets her granddaughter for the first time. My daughter’s tiny hand wraps around my mother’s finger. Behind them my bedroom window—and raindrops.
In a world full of sad stories, this is not one of them. This is a story of appreciation. For my mother, the woman who raised a boy who would later become a sergeant; this woman who raised another son who now is a police detective that must wear a bulletproof vest to work every day; this woman who raised my sister, a stay-at-home mom who put her career as a corporate trainer on hold while she raises her young children. To this woman who raised me. Thank you for taking me to shop for school clothes, though your own clothes were tattered and worn. Thank you for making me laugh when I felt like crying. Thank you for always being my biggest fan, my truest confidante, my best friend. You are my Earth Angel.
Today I brought my youngest daughter to my mother’s house—the home of my childhood. I held my six-year-old daughter’s hand in mine while we walked up the stairs. My mother is standing at the door, watching us. She is smiling. She is still the most beautiful woman in the world. My mother is sixty-seven. I am forty.
I am grateful to be a mother.