Sunday, March 23, 2014

Three Years Later: Max and his Mombo

Coming up on the third anniversary of my mother’s death, I wondered if there was anything left to say on the subject. I’ve spent most of the last 5 years assessing and reassessing my life, making changes (for the better, at least in my eyes) and putting things to bed. I’ve always used this blog as a way to reflect and clarify and about a month before this date, I felt like, maybe I had said everything I’ve need to say on the subject and didn’t have anything new to offer.

Silly, silly me. First of all, I rarely have nothing left to say. Secondly, I really do believe that life is an evolutionary process and if you aren’t evaluating it, you probably aren’t living it fully. So, on the day I said out loud, “I just don’t think I have anything left to add to the subject”, Max and I went out to dinner. Out of the blue, my very, thoughtful, introspective son offhandedly said to me, “You know, most kids my age haven’t been through what I’ve been through.” And he’s right. Max has been subject to, not only the break up with of me and Stephen (which is not uncommon), but having to go through the process of losing two of the “most important people in my life” (his words). In fact, during the same dinner conversation, Max announced, “No offense, Mom, but I’ve lost the most important woman in my life.” That woman was my mother, otherwise known as “Mombo”.

Now, I really couldn’t take offense to that statement. Yes, I was a little taken back at his frankness but, actually, I was more interested in why he felt this way. When I asked him why she was the most important woman in his life, he gave me 3 reasons. First, she always made special time for him. Second, she could simultaneously take care of him and spoil him. And third, she put up with his crap.
My first thought was, I do all of those things. What makes my mother more important than me? And then I thought about what it means to be a grandparent.

I’ll admit I was not very close to my grandparents. My mother’s parents died long before I was born and my father’s parents were not involved closely in my day to day life. My mother, on the other hand, was fully integrated into her grandchildren’s lives. I’ve said before, my mother was a mother’s mother. It was her mission and it was easy for her. That didn’t make her perfect; it just made her a mother.

When it came to Max (and the rest), my mother was the soft place to fall. After a day of being subject to the demands of his parents or school, Max thought there was nothing greater than walking through the door to my mother’s house and letting it all hang out. Special time was nothing extraordinary. It was very ordinary moments spent with someone whose job was to make him feel like he was the only person in the world. It was reading a book, throwing a ball, or singing a song.

Spoiling was not expensive gifts. It was a guaranteed soft pretzel on the planned afternoons they spent together. It was a secret stash of York Peppermint Patties that were passed behind my back. It was getting a gift, just from Mombo, on someone else’s birthday.

Putting up with his crap did not mean he didn’t get yelled at by my mother. It meant her fuse was longer than mine and fundamentally, she understood what a little boy needs because she had been doing this way longer than I had. And she got to send him home at the end of the day.

Max misses that. He misses the special, yet ordinary things about my mother that had, at the time, seemed very routine. The grief Max experienced after losing my mother was a tangible one and very different than what he experienced after my brother died. At 6, Max really didn’t understand what it meant to die. He learned that lesson by watching me fall apart and then by putting myself back together. On the other hand, losing my mother when he was 8 years old was a grief he owned fully. He spoke about it in the first person. He asked me the same questions I had asked my mother after my brother died: When am I going to stop crying? How am I going to stop crying? How can you not be crying?

Three years later, while I’m thinking there may be nothing left to say, Max said it all. He has lost the most important woman in his life. There is always something left to say.