She stares at my pictures and my hands and my face like she's searching for something.
My mother was just here for a week, and she comes here fairly frequently--maybe 2-3 times a year, and stays for several days. We are together non-stop when she is here, and she enmeshes into my day to day patterns for a moment. When we are apart, we rarely talk except via text messages. It's an ebb and flow, as are most relationships I suppose. She knows me in a way only a mother can, and is kept at arm's length in a way that you only keep your mother.
Mom grew up very poor in deep rural Kentucky. This wasn't your average poor...Mom actually just told me this last time she was here that she didn't taste meat until she was about 7 or 8--old enough to remember her mother cutting the head off a chicken. Only vegetables from the garden (funny how poverty has flipped from vegetables only to processed, terrible foods only as accessible to the poor.) Running water didn't enter her home until she was 16. She and her sisters grew up, in her words "as poor as church mice," but she graduated high school and then went to technical school to be a secretary.
She moved to Frankfort, our Kentucky state capitol, which was several hours away from her home, to work for the state. To be very clear, my mother moving in the early 1970's to Frankfort to work all by herself at the age of about 20 is almost an exact parallel to her own daughter fleeing to Washington DC, another capitol city all by herself. I joke that if I am to have my own daughter, she will probably flee to NATO headquarters to work.
But that is where the parallel's end. My mother didn't have the help I did -- she didn't have a father's help to springboard from, as I did. She ate the free crackers from fast food restaurants, and put the free ketchup on them, and those were her meals. My father, when he met her, said she kept all her belongings in a cardboard box. Money was sent back home to her own family, and she still kept enough out to live.
I know her and my dad were happy for a little while. She then gave birth to his clone (in personality, and looks). I am her only child, and the very replica of her former mother-in-law.
My mother loves me. So much that I know it brings her to tears if she thinks about it for too long. But, she is also baffled by me -- me, and my quick humor and liberal tendencies and career that she doesn't understand. But what means the world to me...is that she tries. I telework when I can when she visits, so she hears me on conference calls and meetings. She'll always ask alot of questions when they're over and sometimes I catch her watching me with this mix of disbelief and fondness and...something I can't put my finger on.
We were watching TV one night and I showed her a cut on my hand. She caught my hand in hers, and absentmindedly studied and prodded each finger, each nail, for several minutes, like she was trying to find her baby's hands in there somewhere. I let her.
I know she is proud of me. I know she would probably prefer if I were about 25 pounds lighter, and maybe given her a grandchild by now (or if she had any hope of ever getting one). But, she ended up with me, her baffling daughter. She says frequently that I "raised myself." I did have to do a fair amount of solo trudging through the divorce and subsequent stepparents and stepsiblings and all their accompanying drama. But, I was always cared for and loved.
I just wish she would give herself more credit for the extraordinary life she has lived, simply by wanting more and making that 'more' happen. I wish she could realize what I know --that from the ashes of poverty, she rose to scrape out a better life. And I stand on her shoulders, scraping out mine.
Mom looks out the window at her childhood home, being torn down; 2013