14 May 2023

My Mother Gave Me Permission

This memory exists in sharp detail: Nine-year-old me, lying on my bed in a sweltering attic bedroom with sun-yellow walls and a nubby, multicolored rug. I'm listening to the radio: country music of course. I don't recall the name of the song that was playing, just that it was incredibly sad. A story of lost love, heartbreak, and loneliness. 

I felt all of it. I felt the devastation and the overwhelming grief. The pain of loving and losing. The longing in the singer's voice. At 9 years old, years away from truly understanding a broken heart, that song made me deeply, massively sad.

I dissolved into tears, weeping little girl tears over grown-up heartbreak, tears of recognition that the world--and specific people within it-could stomp on my heart. I remember drenching my pillow and feeling bewildered. Where was this strong reaction coming from? I knew I was too little to really get it, but my heart went on that journey anyway. And once I started, I couldn't stop: the wailing went on far longer than the song.

My mother must have heard me. Suddenly, there she was, sitting on the bed beside me, concern on her face. 

"What's wrong, Mon?" 

I told her I had just listened to a really, really sad song and it made me cry. As a mother now myself, I imagine she might have been relieved. No broken bones, no blood, no trauma, just good old-fashioned sadness. She asked what the song was about.

I felt silly, but blurted: "Someone broke up with the girl, the singer, and she was really sad about it, and the song was the story, and it was SO SAD!" Fresh tears erupted, rendering me a puddle once more.

She hugged me, rubbed my back, and let me be sad. She told me she understood, that songs can really make us feel things. I felt silly telling her why I was crying, but she didn't treat me like I or my feelings were silly. From a mother's point of view, she did a mundane mom thing: made a kid feel better about something kind of small. But this small thing has stayed with me my entire life.

I have often wondered why. It was a tiny moment in a busy, loud, sarcastic household. It was a blip, a sliver, a shred. There was no postscript or profound conclusion. It remains just a snapshot of a moment in time.

But the little girl who felt so much in response to a song? That's who I have always been. I've always been a crier. Tears come easily and I treasure them, knowing and trusting their cleansing power. My heart is stirred by the tiniest slivers of things: curtains lifted by a breeze, revealing a wall of family portraits; trash collected at the side of a freeway on-ramp, items once used, or loved, or needed by someone; a broken down barn on the side of a road. Always, I yearn to know the stories hidden in these blips and slivers, and frequently, I'm stirred to strong emotions by them. That's who I am, and that's who I was as a little girl.

My mom let me be that girl that day. As I grew up, I took pride in being "a feeler." It became, and still is, a big part of my identity. Being a feeler has helped me forge strong connections with my wonderful network of dear and plentiful friends. It has helped me be a mom when I see strong emotions in my kids. It has always been a portal to understanding other people. 

So maybe I remember that tiny moment because it was a memory of me being just 100% me, all in my feels and wailing away, and because my mom's response was to let me be 100% that person. Maybe I remember it because her hand on my back, and her soothing words, told me I could let myself feel everything, that I could just be myself. Maybe each time I remember that day, and see that 70's snapshot in my mind, she is still telling me to be exactly who I am.

Life is lived in the slivers and shreds that stay with us.

Happy Mother's Day, mom.

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