When I was young, my teacher shared that her cat had just had a litter of kittens and asked if any of us would like one. Without a moment’s hesitation, I jumped up and shouted,
My teacher instructed me to confirm with my parents that it was OK, after which she would bring the kitten to school for me.
That evening, I told my parents about the kittens and asked for their blessing to bring one home. My stepfather said unequivocally,
Mother was silent.
The next day I went to school and confirmed with my teacher, “Yes, my parents said it was OK.”
A week later, my teacher arrived at school with a big cardboard box. Inside the box were several cozy blankets and a tiny white kitten with the bluest eyes. I was delighted.
My grandmother picked me up from school that day and called Mother to tell her about the surprise. I braced for the worst.
Mother immediately left work, came home, walked in, smiled, and reached for the kitten. Mother tucked the kitten up close under her chin and they both cooed.
“Ok, here’s the plan,” Mother began, “Take her outside and coat her fur in dirt. When your stepfather gets home, we’ll tell him that we found the kitten wandering in the woods out back. Now, what is her name?”
One day Mother took me to the pawn shop downtown, which was filled from top to bottom across several floors with everything I had never thought of before.
There were old tricycles, jack-in-the-boxes, wagon wheels, tea sets, spindles, dressers, mirrors, dolls, porcelain, rifles, arrowheads, and pocket watches.
Mother walked up to the counter, which was hidden between the lamps and silver spoon racks, reached into her purse, and pulled out several pieces of gold jewelry. The pieces had once been gifts from the man that had once been my stepfather.
The old man behind the counter retrieved a magnifying glass from his pocket, inspected Mother’s treasures, weighed each piece, and made her an offer.
We walked out with a few hundred bucks and for a brief moment, we were rich. Mother suggested that we head to the chocolate shop a few storefronts down and treat ourselves; that was mother.
I picked chocolate covered almonds and she picked chocolate covered espresso beans.
In the mornings Mother would get ready for work and I liked to stand close by in the bathroom and watch her do her makeup. In Mother’s makeup case were more tubes of lipstick than I could count, each lined up in rows upside down so that Mother knew which color to select to match her outfit. She had crimson reds, mauve reds, maroon reds, pink reds, brown reds, and rose reds.
Mother would select a color, pop the top off, twist the tube, and in two motions, apply her lipstick. I would be ready with a folded up piece of toilet paper so she could blot her lips.
The years went by and Mother and I continued in our rhythms, until one day, I moved away — first to college and then to a city for work. I called Mother often at times, but also less and less.
When a boy broke my heart, I bought a flight home and when I arrived, Mother was still asleep in bed. I crawled under the covers, curled up next to Mother, and cried.
“I’m so sad,” I told her.
“I know you are,” she said.
A few more years went by and I moved to yet another city for work. This time farther away. Mother came to see me and we visited quaint English pubs, Bavarian castles, and Paris. A few months later, I called home to share the news,
Mother was silent.
“Will you come to me when the baby arrives?”
Mother came and so did the baby and each day, Mother held the tiny child in her arms. The days went by, then the weeks, and then, Mother had to go.
“Please don’t go,” I pleaded, with tears in my eyes.
“I have to go. You will be fine. You’re a Mother now.”