My late mother and I used to remark occasionally how empty life would have been had we not had children. This was usually followed by my apologizing to Mom for filling her life up so completely into an overflowing not-empty mess. If I were feeling particularly contrite, I would add an apology for moving back to Massachusetts from Pennsylvania, and earlier, California, where I had lived for about 5 years each, a ten year stretch starting shortly after I graduated from college. It’s one thing to give your mother’s life meaning by merely existing. It’s another to do it when she can babysit. A lot.
I recalled these conversations a couple of nights ago when, readying ribs for dinner (using Mom’s recipe, and perhaps the all-time favorite dish of my youngest daughter, Coryne. If it’s not her number one favorite, it’s darn close, as she is really, really passionate about it!). I told the girls, as I was sliding them into the oven around 3:00 to bake for 2 hours, “I’m going to lay down. I’m midwubble.” (“miserable”). Coryne was kind enough to share the cold she had last week with me, you see. So, to draw bright lines around this warm, domestic scene, the child who gave me this October plague, is getting her favorite dinner. This is motherhood, right?
Well, remarkably, Coryne, in that moment, drew the bright lines. She said something to the effect of, “You’re sick and you still made my favorite dinner.” To be clear, it’s not remarkable that my darling Coryne would grasp this, it’s just remarkable to have any (near) 17 year old grasp such a thing. How blessed am I? So, I replied it wasn’t a big deal (it wasn’t) because the really hard days were over. “It’s nothing compared to being sick when you kids were little, honey.” Immediately, Coryne understood what I was saying. “There’s no laying down in bed when you have three under three, sweetheart. That was hard!”
“Oh my God, yeah…” was her reaction. This was the moment when I pointed to the chair in the living room where my mother used to sit and related the “life would be so empty,” story to her, and how making ribs with a sniffle ain’t nothin’. I went on to say to her, “You know, I adore your father. We’d be happy today if we never had you girls… but not nearly so. We might travel more, that’s true. But you guys? You guys bring us more joy. Every single day. I can’t imagine life without you.” It’s true. Sure, I’d like to see the England. I want to travel Italy, Greece, see every state in the union, maybe see more of Canada. But then what? We’d bring home pictures and stories to… who? Some crappy t-shirt to… who?
The other notable thing about this conversation was, “I adore your father.” I do. I deeply, deeply love my husband. It’s a profound feeling. And I’m so grateful for it. And the words echoed loudly and long enough that I am writing this two days after I said them. I am the luckiest person I know for a whole litany of reasons, not the least of which I am able to say, to my children, out loud, “I adore you father.” Hard to think of a better gift to give your kids, huh? (Well, they might suggest a new Mac, a new car… but I digress.) When I think of how many kids have parents who are divorced, or should be, I’m profoundly grateful. As I am for the gift of my children, who, somehow, are remarkable young women.
So, no, Coryne. It’s nice that you thank me for making ribs while I have the sniffles. But that’s not the big deal. The big deal is the mere fact that you had the presence of mind to say it, in that moment, not the thank you itself. Because a rib dinner? It’s nothing, nothing, compared to the gift you are to me, every single day.