The ring on her right finger is shaped like a sun; a pearl center with small diamond petals radiating from it like sparkly sunbeams. When her mind starts to race, she spins that ring back and forth like a metronome, adjusting her thoughts and her pulse into a coordinated tempo. Sometimes she covers her hands, to hide the bump in her knuckle or the sunspots on near her wrist. But mostly they are folded in prayer, as she refills her spirit with goodness and grace that already abundantly overflows the soft edges of her heart. As she sits beside me, she pats me gently on the knee, and between us passes a warm wave of constancy and a legacy of unconditional love. I know these hands so well I could swear they were my own. They belong to someone named Sunny, and I am her daughter.
Her fingernails are frequently dirty and unkempt, and the object of redundant consternation. Her hands can usually be found cupping her chin, elbows on knees, in clear resignation and signaling her monstrous boredom. She shields her braces from view with them when she laughs, and fidgets nervously with the zipper of her hoodie when you ask her a question. As she sits beside me, she jams one hand into her pocket and rests the other one on my knee, dirty fingernails in situ, and gently presses her shoulder into mine. Between us passes a warm wave of constancy and a legacy of unconditional love. I know these hands so well I could swear they were my own. They belong to someone named Sunny, and I am her mother.
I live and love in the space between the Sunnys and ping between them like a helpless pinball, bouncing from one life lesson to another. I have felt adored, safe, and cherished, and awed, frightened, and blessed. I lean on one, while the other leans on me, and together we form a human domino chain, falling into place with intricate precision. This space has somehow formed me, molded me into a unique shape within the peaks and valleys of their constant presence at my sides… two bookends holding me up on this journey known as motherhood.
The day I became a mother, I was the last one to meet her. While I was tied up with post-C-section inconveniences, my husband had the good fortune of breaking the news to my mom in the waiting room, where she held her breath in anxious anticipation, until he finally said the words she’d waited nine months to hear, “Sunny’s here”.
I wanted to tell her first. I wanted to tell her I had a daughter. I wanted to be the one to introduce them. I wanted to carry her namesake into the room, bundled in pink blankets, and proudly present her with the same wide grin I had the day I finished my finger painting project in nursery school; “Look Mommy! Look what I made!”
Because I knew she’d give me that look- that astonished, wide-eyed, jaw-dropping, face-beaming smile that said, “Honey, you are so amazing! You did a great job.” And into the outstretched hands of the most competent mother in the world, I would share our treasure.
Instead, she gave me that look the first time Baby Sunny burped on command. And the first time I successfully changed her diaper. And the first time I calmed her newborn cries. Yes, my mama was so proud of the mama I was becoming.
And, miraculously, I found myself giving Baby Sunny those same looks, for all of those same accomplishments, and slowly started to recognize the role I was intuitively assuming. I knew exactly how to smile at her, be astonished by her, and cultivate her character from a place of genuine instinct. I heard this familiar voice inside of my own- the same coos and tut-tuts, the same singsong speech patterns that had once been music to my ears. I was delighted to discover the enchanting joy of motherhood, and grateful for the coach in my corner.
Everything I am, and now everything my children are, is because of her. It’s because no matter how trivial my struggles, she carries them for me like a hundred pound cross. It’s because she doesn’t let me doubt myself, and she offers me excuses before I can make my own. It’s because underneath piles of laundry, tired bones, and weakened self-esteem, I have a mother who champions my effort. I have a mother who raised seven kids of her own, who has overcome enormous sorrow and loss, and can still say to me with unaffected sincerity and a shake of her head, “I don’t know how you do it.”
Now that Baby Sunny is an adolescent, feeling the barbs and spurs of the world under her tender feet as she walks her own path, I feel an even greater sense of panic and ineptitude. I now wince at her pains, and find myself shouldering her burdens- anything to take it from her. I have nearly mastered the smile-while-your-heart-breaks disguise as she realizes that she’s not nearly as perfect as I have led her to believe. And in these moments of uncertainty, when I discover that I’m not nearly as perfect a mother as I have been led to believe, I turn to my mom with that same quizzical face, and she answers me with a sympathetic smile and a pat on the back.
Only now I can see the hunch in her shoulders as she loads up my burden once again, and the flicker of sadness behind her smiling eyes. And as comforting as it is to have her in my life to share my triumphs and my sorrows, I now want to carry my own cross- and hers as well. On this Mother’s Day, I want her to know that I can do this. I want her to know that she has succeeded. I want her to rest easy knowing her that her grandchildren, and my future grandchildren, are in competent hands. I want her to know I’ve learned how to do this from the best teacher in the world, and she no longer needs to spin the ring on her finger on my behalf.
But the downside of motherhood is that you never do stop spinning your ring.
I love you so much, Mama. Happy Mother’s Day.