My mother’s birthday is just a few days before Christmas. December 21st. Looking back, I am guessing the only time her birthday was a big deal to anyone, except her, was that day in 1926 when she was born.
Since her special day is so close to Christmas, I would imagine all the excitement and attention for a birthday occurring just a few days before the BIG Birthday celebration was pretty much non-existent. I don’t ever recall a special birthday celebration for my mom. I do remember it being celebrated on Christmas day. I do recall birthday celebrations for my dad. And my brother and sister. Myself and her father. On our actual birthdays. Not for my mom.
I thought I would change that this year. I am writing this on her birthday. Happy birthday mom. Many years and a lifetime late.
In 2018 our son and his family were still living in Hawaii. In addition to visiting him, I always conducted a special kind of listening workshop. Ultimate Listening™, I call it. Ultimate, because the one person that it is hardest to listen to, without judgment, interruption, criticism, and with excitement, curiosity, and sense of awe, is ourselves. That requires the best of, ultimate, if you will, listening skills
During these workshops, I typically provide a suggestion for the participants to think about then send them out on their own for a couple of hours and have them practice listening to themselves in ways and about things that they might normally not do. The idea is that everyone practices honoring, in courteous, curious, interesting way, non-judgmental ways, the voice that is in each one of us.
I forget the suggestion I made for everyone that day. I know it was not about birthdays or mothers or Christmas. One of the ‘rules’ is that if something else other than the suggestion comes to one’s mind, participants are encouraged to spend time with THAT thought or memory, NOT the suggestion. After all, this is about one listening to themselves.
The workshop includes a time for us to all come back together and share (if we would like) what happened. By the way, falling asleep, as people sometimes report happening, IS listening to that internal voice that says, “we need to rest.”
Since this year, 2020, it is impossible to be in Hawaii, I thought I would share with you an imaginary conversation I had with my mom, on her birthday two years ago.
As I was walking to a place to spend some alone time, my mom’s image came to mind. I struck up a conversation with her. It was an imaginary conversation. Imaginary, because my mom wasn’t there, and she has been gone from this earth for many decades now. She would be 94 today. This is the conversation.
Me: Hi Mom
Guess what, I am sitting here in a place you dreamed of coming. I’m in Hawaii.
I always wanted to go there.
I know, I always wished I could give you what you wanted.
Mom: You did?
Mom: How did you know I wanted to go to Hawaii?
Well, you always loved Arthur Godfrey, his ukulele songs, his leis, his hula girls.
Mom: But I don't think I ever said I wanted to go to Hawaii.
You didn't have to. You listened to Don Ho on the radio. You listened every week. You didn't have to say anything, I could tell. You would smile. I remember you doing a little Hula move yourself. The first movie, in the first movie theater I ever entered was when I was 10, on Mother's Day. The movie was “Ma and Pa Kettle at Waikiki”. They were living your impossible dream. I saw the tears in your eyes. And heard you laugh. You weren’t laughing much those days. Those dreams became mine. I never imagined I could ever come either, too expensive, too exotic, I thought only very, very rich people could come to Hawaii. You are here with me today. You came to visit me while I am here.
Mom: “How did we get here?”
Mom: I never flew in an airplane.
Well, you can’t say THAT anymore. I know mom, there were so many things you didn't get to do. So many things you didn't get to experience. Remember how you always watched “Queen for a Day” on TV? I always cried on the inside, and sometimes on the outside, at the end of the show when the Queen for a Day was chosen. I so wished I knew who to contact to get you on that show, so that for one day in your life, you might be “over the top” happy.
Mom: I longed for that, too.
Yes, I know. The Queen would get prizes like an automatic washing machine or new stove or refrigerator, and a limousine ride and be taken to a fancy restaurant.
Mom: I know.
I will never forget the day you went away.
Mom: Me neither.
I didn't know where you went.
Mom: I didn't know where they were taking me.
They did awful things to you, didn't they mom?
And they did them repeatedly, didn't they?
Mom: Yes. They took a part of my brain away from me. I couldn't feel anything but sadness, to some degree, for the next 40 years.
Mom: I'm sorry I couldn't mother very well after that. You took care of me, instead of how it should have been, my taking care of you. Thank you.
I wish I could have taken care of you better, Mom.
Mom: How could you? You were just a little 8-year-old little boy. Think of your grandchildren, can you fathom them knowing how to care for their mom and a brother and a sister?
No. I can’t fathom that. I’ll never forget sitting in the Doctor’s office as that 8-year-old, with the doctor asking me if I would like for you to come home, I said “yes”. He said that he was going to allow that but warned me that you would go away again and maybe never come back, if I wasn’t a good boy and that my job was to make sure my brother and sister were good too. I wasn’t successful, because you went away a few times after that.
Mom: I'm the one who is sorry I failed you. I failed your brother and sister and your dad. You would have all been better off if I had just died.
I don't think so, Mom. You showed up as only a mother's love would allow for me.
Mom: I don't believe you.
Can I tell you some of them?
Mom: Sure, go ahead.
When the house was so cold in the morning, you would sometimes iron my shirt and blue jeans so I could feel the warmth as we left the house to get on the school bus.
Mom: Yes, I remember.
When my 5th grade teacher put me back in the 4th grade for talking back to her, you raised holy hell. When I walked into school the next day, the teacher met me at the door and apologized and took me to my desk.
Mom: (Smiling), I sure did.
You did that even though you had said if I ever got in trouble in school I'd be in double trouble when I got home. I also know you pestered the band director to allow me to be the student conductor at my senior band concert.
Mom: (Smiling again, saying nothing)
And when I graduated from college, you whispered in my ear that Dad was proud of me.
Mom: He was.
I believe that, but you were the one to tell me. If you hadn't done that, I would have never known. Your relationship with your Uncle Harry showed me how his love for you was so powerful. When he would come, he would bring you salt and pepper shakers from all over the world. I'm that kind of Uncle and Grandfather, except I just bring magnets. Because he loved you so and would revel us with stories of his life at sea. Before, during, and after World War II as a chief Petty Officer of a destroyer. I developed a love for that era and dreamed of being able to go some of the places he talked about. Guess what? I have.
I also want you to know that I saw your tears sometimes when I was bleeding and in a lot of pain and despair. I know you probably nagged my dad into giving me that motorcycle for Christmas that one year. I mean look, to give a 15-year-old kid with hemophilia a motorcycle for Christmas, or anytime of the year for that matter, wouldn't be something that someone would do without being forced to.
I appreciated the care packages from home when I was in college. I have a grandson who has your face just before he smiles. It reminds me of the pain you were living through every day. I'm sorry I didn't understand addiction sooner. I'm sorry I judged you for the things you had no power to change. I'm sorry I didn't have the ability to unconditionally love you and not be ashamed of how you looked.
What are you doing in Hawaii?
We mom, we are in Hawaii. Brad and his wife, Joni, live here. You have two great-grandsons who live here. We get to come every year to visit. I bring a group of people out here every year and they work at living better. And this year you came. That’s where you are.
Mom: Every year?
Mom: Wow, you must be rich!
Not the way people normally think of rich, but I am, Mom. If I told you how, you wouldn't believe it and would have trouble understanding what I mean. I have trouble counting my richness. Guess what?
I go to Pearl Harbor every year.
Mom: You do? Why?
I get in touch with the sounds and sights and the smells and sweet moments of when we were all together at Dad’s motorcycle shop, and the machinery on the farm. Guess what else?
Mom: There's more?
Yes. Remember the music you loved so well?
Mom: You mean the Midwestern Hayride and Hee-Haw and the Grand Ole Opry?
Yes. I get to work with the people who make that music. And you know the stock car and motorcycle racing that was a part of our lives?
Mom: (Smiling), yes. You get to work with them too?
Mom: Oh my.
And really, Mom, I don't think any of this would have happened without things being exactly the way they were.
Really. And oh, I've written some books with your grandson Brad. And your granddaughter Brenda, is an incredible mom and brilliant executive. We all work together.
And guess what else, I get to work with people who are in movies and on TV. I've had dinner with presidents of countries, and a real Queen.
Mom: Okay, now you are lying.
No, Mom, I'm not. You were part of why that is true. (my tears well up), Thank you.
Mom: She sighs and looks away towards the sea with tears in her eyes. She looks back, our tears connect. I step forward, kiss her on the forehead, and she turns and walks down the beach towards the ocean. Just before entering the water, she turns around and shouts, “Do you work with normal people, simple people like me?
“Yes, Mom, we're all normal.” “Welcome to Hawaii.”
Mom: I love it. Thank you for bringing me here.”
It's better than I ever imagined and now I can stay here as long as I want.
Smiling, she turns away, walking into the sea. With each step, she sheds the years and the pounds, becoming younger and lighter, eventually becoming that 18-year-old mother, who gave me, her first born, life. She bends and dips her upper body into the sea and momentarily disappears. The very last I see of her, is the flip of a mermaid’s tail.
If you have some sweet memories and a conversation that you could gift a loved one with, I’d encourage you to do it. It’ll be good for the soul. Yours and theirs.