A friend finished From My Mother in one sitting. She went out of her way today to made sure I heard one thing:
“Darcy, you and me are the same in a way. With our mothers, our childhood was so different than the average kid. I want you to know something. With your children, you are going to get to live your childhood.”
I blinked at her, absorbing her word. “Live”, not relive. I didn’t know what to say. I told her “Yea, when I look at Eli’s opportunities, he is able to do so much more than I was as a child.”
“Yes. And I bet you didn’t even know what you were missing as a child. But now, as a mother, you will see so much and love it. And when he is 18 like mine is, you’ll look back at his childhood and realize you lived so many of those opportunities for the first time – through him.”
From My Mother opens with me reading to my son, a nightly ritual I hold sacred because my mother did for me. Chapter one juxtaposes me sitting next to Eli’s bed to read with a scene of my mother reading to me as a child. I’ve never thought to myself “I missed my childhood.”
Looking at that opening scene, I could see how a woman who could relate to the childhood upheaval of being raised by a mother in a complicated situation might come to that conclusion after reading the book.
Below is a snip of the first three pages of From My Mother. You can read a longer excerpt by peeking inside the eBook on Amazon (or buy it and read the whole thing…)
Worth Two Books
I leaned back on a three-foot stuffed polar bear propped against the bedroom wall while reading Goodnight Moon to my son, Eli. He was sprawled belly down across his Winnie the Pooh sheets, arm curled under his chin. The soft blue fabric of the blanket my mother made curled along his back, resting just under his bony, pale shoulder.
I read “Goodnight light, and the red balloon” in gentle, soothing words to lull him to sleep. Beneath his close-cut blond hair, his brown eyes scanned for a mouse he knew hid on each page. “Goodnight Bears, Goodnight…”
“There he is!” Eli exclaimed in a nasally toddler voice. His arm shot out, and his short finger pointed to the mouse sitting atop the clothes rack on the page. A dozen baby teeth peeked from his smile, and his wide eager eyes were alert.
“That’s right, Eli. There is the mouse. Remember, it’s sleepy time.” I pursed my lips and gave a mother’s look. He snapped his jaw shut and smiled, his youthful dimples below scrunched eyes. Readjusting my shoulders and pushing farther back into the polar bear, I took a deep breath and repeated in a low, calm voice, “Good night Bears, Goodnight Chairs.” Eli leaned toward the edge of the bed, inches from the book.
I finished and said, “That’s the end of reading tonight,” as I flapped the book shut.
His head shot up to shout, “More books, please!”, dragging “please” into a widemouthed grin. His smile got me.
“You want more after I read three? I have the book for you.” I grabbed If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. “This book is about a mouse who asked for more every time he was given something.” I made eye contact and paused for emphasis. “Good thing the mouse was in the care of a boy who loved him…” Eli was asleep by page 10.
Watching him sleep reminded me of myself. Smiling, I snuggled farther into the polar bear I always leaned against during reading time, the one that belonged to my mother, the one we had kept in the hospital in her final days. If Eli were like the mouse who asked for more every time he was given something, he came by it honestly. I did the same to my mother. As Eli slept, I reminisced of a time my mother read to me.
My bed, with Strawberry Shortcake sheets and a Care Bear blanket hand sewn by my grandmother, sat under the window. Across the room on the first shelf of my bookshelf sat my collection of Golden Books. My mother, Jo Lyn Bartz, read to me every night she could. We started our night ritual brushing our teeth together. I watched her face behind mine in the mirror; she had long, flowing black hair with wavy curls, pinned back to keep the hair from her eyes. A lock of wavy hair sat in front of her small, well-formed ears. Her cheekbones were high and soft, her lips pouty. Strong dark eyebrows sat evenly and trim above blue eyes that were lighter than mine with gold flecks near the center. We had the same birth mark, a type of stork’s bite, with veins in the middle of our forehead that made the track of skin between the top of our nose to the tip of our hair line a slightly darker complexion. My mother was beautiful; fourteen years prior she competed to be Miss Otero County of 1978 as Jo Lyn Woodard.
She noticed I was staring, wrinkled her nose, and stuck out her tongue. I giggled and hunched my shoulders. I stuck my tongue out too and tilted my head in attempt to mimic her expression. At age six, I couldn’t scrunch my nose easily. I wanted to; my mother could.
She laid her hand on my shoulder and pointed to the sink, giving the mother look that said more than words. I returned my tongue to its proper place. After finishing, I ran for the bookshelf to find my favorite Golden Book, Peter Pan. Perusing the shelf, I found Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. I pondered my options then considered Mother’s smile in the mirror. I grabbed both books, snuggled them to my chest, and bolted for the bed, trying to get under the covers before being told to take one back.
Mother walked in and eyed the two books as she sauntered to the chair by my bed. Her slender finger tucked wispy curls behind her ear. She looked at me. I smiled broadly. She reciprocated, but with tight lips. I hadn’t noticed the puffy, purple circles under her eyes until I lay in bed. She shifted her weight, grabbed the back of the chair, and sat with stooped shoulders. She sighed audibly. She still had chores.
“Okay, Darcy. I’ll read two tonight.” Her posture sunk further into the chair. “It’s been a long day, but you’ve been good.” Her melodic voice sounded drained as she gazed against the distant white wall. “We haven’t had much time together this week,” she said without making eye contact. She blinked twice in quick succession. I looked eagerly at her hands around the books. Her nail polish was chipped. Her chest heaved, and she purposefully smiled. With that composed countenance, she turned to face me.
I soaked in my mother’s presence as she read me stories I had heard before but that I heard again because she loved me, because she wanted to spend time with me, because she thought I was worth two books.
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