A Lasting scent


My mother loves to tell me stories of my devotion to her as the youngest child. She generously shares her best memories of when I was desperately in love with all things ‘mommy’. “Mommy” was where my world began and ended. A sliver of a moment to learn how to do life, from someone who never did it all that well. A mother has this fragment of time to teach her children something they can take with them, something they can hold onto, and something they can tuck away neatly in their pocket for a rainy day. It’s the time in life when a woman is the most important person in the world… to at least one soul, weather good or bad, right or wrong. She has an interval on the stage of life to build a place her children know well so they can return when necessity beckons.

My husband is away for two weeks. I am tasting single parenting in mouthfuls. In order to survive I am, like my mother, turning a blind eye to things like: wet towels on the bathroom floor, open boxes of Cheez-its littering the kitchen counter, letting the kids watch TV until 9:30 on a school night and trying to get out a little. Last night I had a workshop to attend. I asked my neighbor to watch the children, while I enjoyed a night of crazy freestyle writing. When I returned home, my daughter greeted me with a death gripping hug.

“Mommy I missed you sooo much.” her little arms wrapped tightly around my waist, her head buried into my belly, she looked up at me with tenderness. My older son rolled his eyes and told me later on:

“Hannah wouldn’t even come into the living room with us,” with disgust in his voice. When I saw a single picture book on the couch; I envisioned my little 8 year old sitting in the room with tears in her eyes as she read through the story alone to feel me close. As I climbed into my nearly empty bed, which I temporarily share with the dog, silent fragmented thoughts ran through the events of the day. School. Work. Writing. Laundry. my failed attempt at searing tuna… and… Hannah missing me, my mind stayed there for a moment. It stayed there as if something was stirring, a memory, an idea, a connection to life and maybe even a story.

I remember missing my mother like that, at night. Calling her at work, begging her to come home, banging on the upstairs window as she said goodnight to her “friend” in the driveway under watchful eyes. I remember missing her when I visited my father or when I went on vacation without her. I missed her when I was sitting alone on the school bus, or when my grandmother was getting us ready for school in the morning, at parent nights and open houses, which, I had anticipated like everyone else. Excited like everyone else to be showing off the content of my days work. We were not like everyone else, maybe that’s what I missed. My mother, who worked the night shift as a nurse, my mother who was stretched and pulled and sifted like wheat for my entire childhood and hers. My mother who could have won an award for her brilliant ideas, and could have been incarcerated for the times she abandoned them. My extroverted, socially electric; life of the party; absolutely overwhelmed and broken hearted mother. I knew what it was like to desperately search for ways to bring my absent mother into my present moment.

I wonder how Hannah comforted herself while I was away. What rituals of mine did she embrace for solace? I wondered if she sat in my chair to journal, perhaps she got into my bed, maybe she talked to God, or cried while lying on the bedroom floor. Suddenly, it surfaced. Somewhere between the memory and the memory of the story mom so often told, like looking at an old photo to comfort herself in the midst of past regrets. A verbal reminder that she was loved.

There I was 4 years old, maybe 5. My little body curled up into a ball. My hands and arms, no doubt fastened securely onto my green Winnie the pooh blanket, my eyes closed in the innocence of childhood, fast asleep surrounded by dirty clothes. I had emptied the laundry basket and position my mother’s clothes all around me in the bed, forming some type of mommy scented nest. Mom just getting home from an overnight, would see me and smile, though how do I know I was asleep and she never mentioned her response to my attempt at confidence. Maybe she just crawled in next to me, maybe she carried me into my own bed, or maybe she wiped away a tear. My sisters and I were young enough for a sitter but poor enough to never have one. My sisters would “watch” me although being 6 and 7 years older than I, it was more like we occupied the same space. I was alone often. The sliver was closing, the moment passing.

It was a way of consoling myself, fitting my body snugly into the midst of all her dirty laundry. Willing to do just about anything to feel her near I didn’t have enough of her. The scent though probably not marketable was to me the scent of safety and love. The scent of her wisdom and her knowledge and her experience in a world I am only awakening to now. I needed her perhaps that is the story she remembers best.

I wonder now since I am the most important person in the world, what routines will I create and which ones will I maintain to generate a safe and familiar nest for my children to snuggle up into when they are alone, when they are missing me, or afraid, or stuck. How will I teach them through what I do every day, what to say, and how to love or to cope with the battles life so relentlessly pushes them into? How will my behavior prepare and equip them when there is nothing else but piled up dirty clothes and the scent of someone who loves them? Although I am a grown woman and don’t need mommy the way I once did, in my reality, perhaps she still is the most important person in the world at least to one soul. I still miss her when I am lonely, and I still want her when I am sick, and I still imitate her routines when I am lost or scared or uncertain of life. I still look back on her ways when I need a voice or a lesson on how to survive. Isn’t that what legacy is all about, isn’t that the true essence of a lingering scent, even if It is the scent of the dirty laundry of my mother’s life over the sweetly cultivated roses which decorate the lives of the privileged. Because ultimately the clothes do get washed and life is clean and good again, and after all out of the dirt the roses grow, that is what my mother taught me in her moment of time, though fleeting it remains.

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