First was the mother who cradled me, belly then arms; the one who checked for breath in the middle of the night and stayed up until dawn slaying fevers, the one who documented first teeth and words, who started a living record in her memory. The mother who held out her arms to catch my first tentative steps.
The childhood mother who encouraged her shy seven-year-old to go out and make friends, a clutch of birthday party invitations in hand, the one who had a secret word with the teacher to make sure her daughter wasn’t friendless on her first day at a new school, the one who sat outside ballet classes and applauded a hundred thousand handstands in the pool, quick with a kiss and a band-aid (an occasional I told you so) whenever I fell.
There was the mother who hung further back while I dove in and started the long, hard swim upstream toward adolescence,the one who took a backseat while friendships got more intense, when independence took the form of kissing boys under porches and coming home when the street lights blinked on, still ready to catch me, but from a little further away.
There’s the mother of the teenager, who saw past the aqua-net and the eyeliner, who bit her tongue over the outlandish, the one who let me cry when a best friend broke my heart, when a boy broke my spirit, when I was still wiggly with who I was, giraffe legs wobbly on the ground. That mother didn’t argue when I petulantly insisted that who I was was the same as who I would be (and refrained from I told you so), the one who let me choose my own road less taken, even though that road led me away from her.
There was the mother during my first few years away from home, tripping and faltering into young adulthood in New York City, a voice at the end of the phone line, the one who let me think I didn’t need her to catch me if I stumbled and bruised my soul.
The mother at the end of the very same phone line when I got sucked feet first into a black hole I couldn’t see a way out of, the one who got into her car in the middle of a weekday night to shine a light for me to follow out; because of course she was close enough to catch me, no matter how far away she was.
There was the mother who bit her tongue through boyfriends who weren’t right, men who didn’t break my heart as much as they broke the person I thought I was, the one who let me figure out how glue the pieces back together to make a different, stronger version of myself.
There was the mother who took the last boyfriend aside and thanked him for bringing a smile back to her daughter’s life, the one who thanked him again at our wedding a few years later.
There was the mother who cried with me all those months when my own hopes of motherhood got flushed away like so much waste, the who patiently tried to understand all the needles and the blood tests, the new-fangled methods, the one who cried with me when those new-fangled methods didn’t work. And then cried harder when they did.
There was the mother who stood back looking on while I took more shaky first steps, this time down the road of motherhood myself, who resisted giving advice or an I told you so, who let me find my own footing, who watched me gain my balance and climb higher than I thought I could.
There is the mother to my adult, the one who shares a bottle of wine and stories, the one who can tell me, now that I am old enough and experienced enough to understand, about all the times she stood behind me, ready to catch me if I fell, even when I didn’t know she was there.
And I’ll be behind her, ready to catch her if she falls.