I have worked in public education long enough that it is not uncommon for me to encounter former students, some of whom are now married with careers and children. It is always surreal to meet these adults who, just a twinkling ago, were writing in their composition books about who they would become when they were all grown up. Likewise, they are incredulous to learn that I am now the mother of a daughter who is older than they were when they were my fifth grade students.
Equally perturbed by this scenario and all its implications is my daughter. It amuses me – my former students confronting the truth that there really was more to me than being their teacher and my daughter forced to face the reality that once upon a time I was not her mother, and other people’s children took up most of my time (and they also thought I was cool with great taste in clothes, music, and hair).
And, before that, there was another time when I was as young as she, with my mother at the ironing board, telling me, “Daughter dear, the world is your oyster.” As a bored teenager, I probably didn't think she had a life before I came along or that she had once been a hopeful teenager, or somebody's best friend, or the one with the great sense of style. Of course she was all of these . . .
South Derry is so far away from where I sit in Arizona, the distance between us all the more poignant on Mothering Sunday. A phone call or a visit on Skype will help minimize the miles between Castledawson and Phoenix, me falling softly into the comforting colloquialisms of home. But it will not be the same as handing her a bunch of fresh flowers that she will immediately arrange in a crystal vase on the hall table.
My mother is wholly responsible for my appreciation and my expectation of flowers as an apology, a get-well wish, a thank-you, a birthday greeting, or a just-because (like the bunches of flowers my father used to pull from our garden and hastily wrap in newspaper as a present for my primary school teachers).
Even though she says not to waste money on a card, I know my mother loves to hear the tell-tale soft thud of an envelope falling through the letterbox. This year, it was a friend’s Facebook picture of a bouquet from her children that reminded me that I had forgotten Mother’s Day again. The inconvenient truth is that Mother’s Day cards won’t appear in stores for another month. Because the American Mother’s Day arrives on the second Sunday in May, after St. Patrick’s Day, Passover, Easter, Administrative Professional’s Day, Cinco De Mayo, and Nurse’s Day, if I want to buy a card for my mother, I must rely on my memory almost a year in advance.
I always thought I had a sharp memory. Until during a typical early morning Facebook exchange with my brother in Limerick, during which I shared a spectacular, cringe-worthy – and, let it be noted, extremely rare – example of my forgetfulness. It reminded me of Meryl Streep when she was so frazzled by not getting the Donegal accent quite right for her role in "Dancing at Lughnasa" that she forgot her lines. “I never forget my lines!” she tells a fawning James Lipton inside his Actor’s Studio. Like me, Meryl Streep has a phenomenal memory that she can always count on. At least she did, before menopause.
Unlike Mr. Lipton, my brother did not think to grovel his way back into my favor, by bringing up my stellar ability to remember great chunks of Seamus Heaney’s poetry or dialogue from "When Harry Met Sally" or "Goodfellas" or what my best friend’s boyfriend’s sister wore to a disco in 1982. Of my memory lapse, and without missing a beat, he typed back: “I know you have had a traumatic couple of years, but really my dear, that is CLASSIC you. You’ve a head on you like a sieve!!!!!!!
A purist who rarely resorts to the exclamation mark, my brother clearly believed the words flying from his fingers. Or maybe he was just trying to get a rise out of me. Opting for the latter, I protested with a sprinkling of playful question marks, exclamation points, and various other symbols, wondering if he was confusing me with somebody else, like our mother. She will tell you herself that she can’t remember anything. But he wasn’t having any of that.
Emphatically and with even more exclamation marks: “No!!!!! Your memory and recall of specific events, places and things has always been appalling!!!! You do have good emotional recall. You’ll recall how you felt about a thing, but damn all about what actually went down.”
And then he had the cheek to add a ubiquitous little smiley face :-) to soften the next blow: “Oh, sorry. I’m probably just overstating it now. But your memory was never, never, ever, by any stretch of the imagination, “amazing.” In any way, shape, or form.”