A Lot to Live Up To
It’s happened. I’ve officially turned into my mother. Not in the “back in my day” sort of way, but more of an embodiment of my actual mother.
By Janice Llanes Fabry
It’s happened. I’ve officially turned into my mother. Not in the “back in my day” sort of way, but more of an embodiment of my actual mother. Sometimes, I catch myself making her gestures and facial expressions. Other times, one of mom’s aphorisms will fly right out of my mouth. While it’s a little uncanny, it always makes me smile. It also reinforces a Helen Keller quote a close friend shared with me at the time of mom’s passing. “What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”
Indeed, Pilar is as much a part of my life now as she was before she died five years ago this month. Although I couldn’t bring myself to write about her since my eulogy, not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. While I am Catholic, it was a rabbi’s message that resonated with me. In addition to the passage of time giving us a new perspective, we can add depth to our lives by honoring a loved one’s memory and living according to her ideals.
Besides offering some solace, that tall order certainly gave me a lot to live up to. My sister and I were the center of mom’s universe and the lucky recipients of a surplus of unconditional love as both children and adults. I used to ask myself, could mom really be that happy to hear my voice every single time I call, which was every day, incidentally. Then in my middle age, she’d call me and ask, “Am I catching you at a bad time?” and beam at my reply, “Mom, you’re a breath of fresh air.”
As a small child, I remember having difficulty with a homework drawing. After sharpening a pencil, she, herself, drew the tiny giraffe I needed to complete the assignment. Although antithetical to today’s parenting manuals, mom always knew when to step in and save the day. When I was an adolescent, that meant keeping a few things from my strict dad so I wouldn’t get in trouble. When I became a young mother, that translated into moving in with us for a couple of weeks at the birth of each one of our three children, taking vacation time from her job to do so.
An executive secretary who could “take a letter” with her speedy shorthand and type it so fast you would hear a constant “ding” at the end of each line, mom was a hawk-eyed editor. My number one proofreader, she’d spot a misspelling or a misplaced comma every time, even from a hospital bed years later.
When my sister and I married and had families of our own, mom managed to embrace husbands and six grandchildren exponentially, always making each one feel special. A family highlight came 13 years ago when she introduced us all to her other love, Cuba, after a 50-year hiatus. Guiding us through her hometown, she shared moments of a previous lifetime, which up until then we had only heard about.
The quintessential mother, more than anyone in the world, she informed who I am, what I do, what I eat, how I talk, how I love and how I parent. I, along with my husband whose own mother died when he was eight, credit mom for the doting affection we’ve fostered within our own family.
Whether it’s cooking and freezing that extra pot of black bean soup for our adult children or picking up a few extra rolls of Bounty paper towels for their apartments, I’ve begun to morph into her. The kids and I may not phone each other every day, but we definitely text.
As for a future with grandchildren, I can see the writing on the wall. “Mama,” as they called her, never missed a first day of school, a birthday, a sacrament, a recital, a play, or a sporting event. She pretended for hours that Jena’s baby dolls were real, served as a guinea pig for Jesi’s cockamamie cooking concoctions, and played knee hockey with Jason for way longer than three periods. I have my work cut out for me.