In May, we asked, “If you could profile your mother, what salient features would you include — her smell; her habits; her laugh? What did you love about her? What did you hate? What part of her is within you and obvious when you parent your own children?”
Margaret Hundley Parker wrote:
When I was seven months pregnant with my second child, we almost left Brooklyn to buy a house next door to my mother’s in Chapel Hill — my entire family lives in North Carolina and has since the beginning of time. But instead, we moved farther north to a town in the Hudson Valley known for making Union weapons in the Civil War.
My mother, at 72, is a small tornado. She works out daily — at the fitness center, on the tennis court, on long walks with my stepdad — and has the biceps of a 20 year old. She weighs herself twice a day. Fat people offend her, so I don’t like to visit when I’m pregnant or postpartum. She can’t help but give “The Look.” I once drew a cartoon of her on a treadmill with the caption “cheat death cheat death cheat death.”
We are small women with close-set brown eyes and auburn hair. We are writing books. We are mothers. We like Japanese perfume they don’t make anymore. My mom keeps her hair short, home-dyed various shades of red and brown. She is good at wearing clothes. When she dresses for work, her crisp white pants hang neatly from her tiny butt. She always has a fancy car — Porsche, Saab, Miada, and now a black Mercedes convertible.
She plays a pink ukulele and sings homemade songs for any occasion. She is a psychologist and tennis official, shrinking heads during the week and calling matches every weekend. Sometimes on our visits, she’s a ghost. Nothing is more important than Carolina basketball. She and my stepfather came to Brooklyn once during March madness, and saw my daughter for about an hour on a four-day trip. When they skipped dinner on the last night to watch the women’s picks on TV, I was irritated.
They babysat my toddler when I gave birth to her sister. When I came home from the hospital, my mom stayed with new baby and sent me out to a cafÃ© with my other daughter, so she would know she was still loved. I couldn’t even sit in a chair. I wanted to snuggle with my newborn, yet I was standing in line for a goddamn chai latte.
On their last trip, the first one to our Yankee house, I realized my mother isn’t immortal. They’d visited some “old folks homes” and were Facing It Now. We’re all going to die; but I realized with a stab, what that meant. I’d be leaving my own children and husband some day, too. If we’re lucky enough to get old, I’ll want my daughters to live near me.
We spend our lives separating from our mothers, and then trying to get back. Sometimes I wish we’d taken the house next door. But there’s still a lot of life to live in New York. And my mother’s not wanting for activity. Try and catch her on a rainy day, running on the treadmill, cheating, cheating.
Margaret Hundley Parker can be reached at parker2020(at)hotmail(dot)com.