Mother’s Day used to be a day of phone calls, cards and flower-sending.
Now it’s a day of remembrance.
Today I found myself remembering the girly-girl things my mother taught me. Mom loved style, she loved clothes and make-up and shoes, and she had a particular romance with purses. I was her only daughter, and I am not a girly-girl. I used to think it’s because I grew up with older brothers, but I’ve met lots of women who did and who are passionate about girl stuff, so it must be something else: renegade DNA, a woogie bit of brain chemistry.
Whatever lay between that particular difference between my mother and me, it never stopped her from patiently teaching me the finer points of being female. Like how to do my nails. Mom was expert at manicuring her own, and ever since I was a little girl, I thought she had the most beautiful nails in the world. I still do. She kept them long, with perfectly symmetrical curved tips, the color almost always some gorgeous dark shade of red. I remember the lineup of little bottles—some kind of milky fluid, some kind of clear fluid, the polish itself (no red for me, not at 13; Mom started me off with clear, and later, pale rose). And then there were the tools—orange stick, file, the hangnail scissors in their own special green plastic pouch. I remember the burning-hair smell of nail filings, the sharp odor of acetone. I loved those evenings, Mom’s explanations and demonstrations, the sense of received knowledge, of wisdom passed down. As far as the nails themselves…well, I did learn, and for a while, I practiced. But I never have been disciplined enough to spend time on things that don’t interest me, and sometime during the intervening, nail-clipper years, I’ve forgotten the details of my mother’s technique. To me, that my mother’s nails were the most beautiful in the world somehow seemed enough.
Mom taught me how to put on makeup; how to buy clothes; how to scuff the soles of newly purchased high heels, to keep from slipping on a rain-slick sidewalk. But while I always learned willingly, I never felt passionately enough about these things to make them part of my daily life. Even now, when I see a woman beautifully made-up, right behind my admiration is the thought: There’s fifteen minutes of sleep lost.
I don’t need to be a girly-girl, though, to treasure the lessons my mother taught me. It’s part of her that I keep forever, her legacy to me made in an observation here, an admonition there, a funny story, an explanation, hundreds and thousands of them, over the years I was blessed to have her. I dream and I remember, and I long to have her back. I stand in a fitting room and look at myself in the mirror, and I hear her say, “Cute isn’t enough. What does it do for you?”
To all mothers, in this life and beyond: Happy Mother’s Day.