Till There Was You


In my teens and 20s, I spent the better part of most evenings alternately listening to recordings of Broadway shows and crying into my pillow. Depending on the trauma of the day, I may have had a slighted ego, a face full of acne, out-of-control hair, or a broken heart. The music helped me cry, and the pillow kept the whole neighborhood from noticing. But no matter how quietly I cried, my mama always tiptoed into my room to wipe away my tears and change the CD in my stereo from Les Miserables to The Music Man. She’d march around my room singing “76 Trombones” or “Till There Was You", and my grey skies would brighten as the tears dissolved into laughter. And then we’d go shopping.
As a kid, I figured it was Mama’s job to mend my broken pieces. Like a roofer hammers nails and shingles into a leaky roof, Mama patched me up and sent me back into the world to weather another storm. I’ve always considered my Mama my best — and truest — friend. And somewhere in my logical brain I understood that she spent these afternoons and evenings managing my crises because she loved me. But I had no idea what “she loved me” really meant.
And then, I became a mama myself. Remembering those early days of rocking my baby boy in his darkened nursery still brings tears to my eyes. But discovering my own true love was bittersweet. While I was raising my son, my own Mama was 500 miles away. I couldn’t help but think of how anxious and incredibly sad I would be if my child were far away, and as the days turned into months, I craved the relationship I had with my mother.
I’d walk down the streets, pushing my baby boy in his stroller, and as I’d pass by shops and restaurants, I’d see mothers and daughters carrying parcels and drinking sweet tea. I’d choke back a tear as I dug for my mobile phone in the bottom of my diaper bag; I burned more mobile minutes calling Mama than I care to admit to. I’d lived all over the world in the 10 years preceding my son’s birth, but being away from Mama — as I was discovering how to be a mama myself — was truly excruciating.
I came home happily before my son’s first birthday and bought a house just two miles away from Mama’s. And if my husband thought we’d spend less time on the phone because the miles between us had been reduced by 96 percent, he was dead wrong. My own bond with Mama grew even more intense as we both watched my baby walk, then talk, then become a big brother to my second son.
But it wasn’t until six weeks ago that I truly understood those teenage afternoons in my bedroom all those years ago. I held my own newborn daughter in my arms with my Mama leaning over both of us, and something clicked in my heart like the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle. And while I cooed over my new baby just like most new mothers do, I wanted to turn to my Mama and moon over her, too. Because it wasn’t until that moment that our bond made sense. When I was hurting, she hurt, too. When I was crying, she cried, too. And when she cheered me up, she was brightening the dark spots in her own day when she worried she wasn’t mothering well enough, or loving fully enough, or giving enough of herself. Mothering isn’t a roofing job at all; it’s an instinctual drive to protect and nurture, and it’s as strong as self-preservation itself.
Perhaps my imagination is a little overactive, but I could have sworn that I heard violins there in the delivery room and Shirley Jones singing in a sparkling soprano, “There was love all around, but I never heard it singing. No, I never heard it at all, till there was you.” And I wasn’t sure if the you I was singing was my Mama, or my baby, or all of us there together in that beautiful, shining moment, smiling and crying, and welcoming another sweet girl into our fold.
And if I can be a good mama to my own sons and daughter, it will be because I was mothered so well, loved so fully, and lucky enough to have a friend who has known me since even before I was born.  
I love you, Mama. Happy Mother’s Day. Now, let’s go shopping!

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