Once again, I find myself in Houston for the week, Which is fine. I don’t mind being here, really. It’s the travel part that I’m not a huge fan of.
Airports, and crowds and waiting, oh my!
The flight is right around 2 1/2 hours. Usually I catch some sleep, but last night I felt like being entertained and passing the time with a movie. I pulled up the entertainment that American offers and looked at the “Drama” section — my go to movie genre — and found “The Joy Luck Club.” Not one I would normally gravitate to.
I couldn’t immediately remember if I’d seen this one previously, though I had read the book years ago. I can feel myself slipping into becoming my mother slowly. She once swore up and down she hadn’t seen Sophie’s Choice back in the days of Blockbuster Video. She sent my father there at 7:00pm on a Friday night in search of it. You can imagine his delight after waiting in long lines to bring it home when reaction 10 minutes into the movie was, “Oh, I’ve seen this!”
That’s what I exclaimed to myself after a bit of reel had rolled for me as well.
Having seen the movie before didn’t stop me from watching. I figured what else would I do with 139 minutes that the movie promised to provide? So I settled in and began to watch.
For those of you who missed this beauty of a story, it’s the saga of mother’s and daughters. Mothers having unlimited hope and want of good and better lives for their daughters than they had, or that they felt they may have deserved, and daughters seeking absolute approval and love from their mother’s, never quite feeling they are worthy of it. And the tragedy on both sides chasing these dreams when the reality of their love for one another is right there before them.
The movie hit me in so many ways last night.
My mother and I had a rocky start. I was a stubborn, loud, bullyish child. An Enneagram 8 from the start. I was never shy with my opinions on how I thought things should go – even at four years old. My mother was quieter in my earlier years. Soft spoken and kind. She so wanted me when I was born. The baby of a large brood of kids ranging all the way to age 19 by the time I came along.
After years of turmoil in our family, things began to calm down. My parents difficult relationship began to heal and I started to realize there were people in the room whose feelings mattered as much as mine. Through the difficult years my mother emerged as a very strong, outspoken and determined woman. This was the state of things about the time I turned 17.
At 17 I began to see my mother as a person. Not just my mom, there to serve my whims and needs. I started to learn of her struggles as a young girl, young woman, young married and young mother and began to embrace the inner strength she possessed to carry on in the face of difficulty and disappointment and dreamt of becoming more like her one day.
I had the privilege of watching her be a mother to my beautiful special needs sister not learning the difficult start she had in that world when Cathy was born in 1953 – a world that was even less kind to those that were different.
I also had the heartbreak of watching her lose my father, the love of her life, far too soon.
I was 24 when my father passed, newly engaged and embarking on my life as a young adult. My mother was so excited for my future. We shared many laughs and cries as my wedding approached. Not long after our wedding, my mother announced she would be moving down to Phoenix to be closer to Frank and I. Frank had formed quite a bond with my mother by this time as well, so we were both excited at the news.
We soon settled into married life and after my mother had bought a new build in a developing neighborhood in the SE suburbs of Phoenix, we followed suit and wound up buying and building 10-doors down from her home. I was pregnant with our first at the time and we moved in soon after Jacob was born. From that day, and for the next two years, we visited my mom for breakfast every day.
And then came the cancer. Back for round two with a vengeance.
Just prior to Jake’s birth, my mother had been having stomach issues. We searched out an answer for five months, and finally her doctor decided she would need surgery to explore what was going on. Once they opened her, they found a tumor in her pancreas – cancer for sure, but it was in the early stages – not a usual story with the pancreatic kind.
The surgeon removed a portion of her pancreas and closed her back up and told us we might have until Christmas so make the most of our time.
My mother emerged from the hospital determined to keep going. Christmas ’97 came and went and we started to let down our guard.
Mom and I spent so much time together those two years. We traveled to Vegas and Sedona and the Grand Canyon. We took Jake to petting zoos, spent time in her pool and enjoyed Sunday dinners. And I never gave her illness another thought. Until I had no choice.
My mom passed in September of 1999 after another short bout of recurrent pancreatic cancer. By the time she was diagnosed she left us five days later. I am thankful I didn’t have to watch her suffer much or long. But the loss, the loss I still feel today.
So much unlived life, so many unstarted and unfinished stories we should have. I feel cheated sometimes.
As I continued on, I carried the story of my mother with me in my heart. Her strength, her struggles, her hopes for me. They aren’t a weight, they propel me to do better, be better. And as my husband likes to point out, carrying these things in my heart has led me to be more like her. In all the ways. And what a blessing that is. My kids who have no memory of her can see her a little from time to time within me. And my daughter who never met her is like her as well.
Being a mother with a daughter is a gift. My hopes and desires for Kenzie run deep. Though I hope I don’t weigh her down with expectations. What I hope is that she knows how proud I am of her, how much I like her, not just love her, and how I hope she experiences all the wonderful things life has to offer. Through my relationship with Kenzie, I have come to understand my mother’s relationship with me on a much deeper level.
Though I mourn to take back my younger days – the ones that caused her so much heartache and pain – I am thankful for the years we had together that created a deep, healing bond between us. My mother was a great example of what a mother can be. And I hope I have fulfilled the hopes and dreams she had for me.
I am thankful for a movie that gave me a moment to reflect and miss her – because in the missing I feel like I get to spend just a few more moments with her.
Forever, mom, I love you more than tongue can tell.