Grandma had been in the house for less than twenty-four hours.
I had just finished explaining to a grumpy Robin that while ordinarily she and her sisters were pretty high on my list, this week, things were going to be different. Grandma was in town, I told her, and while my mommy was visiting I was going to focus on being an exemplary daughter. “You guys are going to have to muddle through without me,” I said. “Grandma will only be here for ten days.”
Then I said this: “You’ll have me for the next forty years.”
Having voiced that prognostiation, and being nearly equal parts faithful and superstitious, I threw imaginary salt over my shoulder post-haste, and began saying the rosary in my head.
But I didn’t stop talking. “Grandma doesn’t visit us very often, and every time I see her I never know if…” My voice trailed off here as I considered whether my sixth grader really needed to ponder Grandma’s mortality. My dad died nearly two years ago and the girls had known the heartbreak that comes with the loss of a close family member. A dear friend’s mother had just passed away, too.
That’s when Robin said it: “Wow. Forty years is a looong time.”
After I pinched her on the soft underside of the arm where it really hurts, we both laughed. But in that instant, it hit me like never before. This motherhood journey wasn’t all smooth sailing. It certainly hadn’t been so far; and it wouldn’t be going forward. In fact, if the last few months had been any indication – with the girls all in double digits at 10, 12, and 14 – the waters were going to get plenty choppy.
I’m guessing that Robin’s picture of the mother-daughter dynamic at work was slightly different than mine. How many times, for example, in the span of the four decades to come, could one woman remind her to practice piano, or ask her to unload the dishwasher, or attempt to teach her how to use a broom and dustpan properly?
Forty years is a looong time, after all. Would I ever figure out that she really could live on Frosted Mini-Wheats?
Then there’s Mommy’s big picture. Forty years of interacting with this trio of girls who will grow into the three most important women in my life. It’s the sense that effective mothering has a lot to do with recognizing the highs, lows, and plateaus, realizing that tomorrow is a new opportunity, and yes, even a bit of a challenge in seeing whether I can do, or say things differently or better this time – with this daughter, or in that situation.
And I can. In due time.
That’s why it’s not implausible that one of my daughters will tell me I’m the best mommy in the world one day, and think I’m the worst thing that ever happened to her the next. When you were a kid, did you ever consider what life would be like with your mom out of the picture completely? Gasp! Did you ever wish for it?
I sure did. Yet, I can’t fathom the kind of woman I would be if it weren’t for my mother’s influence. And it’s probably because my mother, who was, and still is, the best mommy in the world, never wanted to be my best friend.
Which brings me right back to where I started.
While she was visiting, my mom did something she never would have had the patience or time for when she was younger. She taught Robin how to make her two signature treats, homemade fudge and pepperoni rolls. Eavesdropping, I heard her comment on what a fabulous listener Robin was, and how adept this granddaughter of hers was in the kitchen – things no one would have said about me when I was twelve.
But then I remember that big picture, and God willing, the gift of time we’ll have to work on it. Yes, forty years should do it nicely. Knock on wood.