The other day, in meditation - clear as a bell - I heard my mother's laugh.
It was not the de-facto laugh we all have at the ready; but rather the uncontemplated laugh that arises unbidden when the Great Joy of Life is suddenly revealed to us, as a flash in the pan. It was her unique musical score of surprise and delight.
One of the greatest gifts I've discovered as an adult is that I actually enjoy my parents as people. And yet, living as we do on separate coasts, it is difficult to find time to spend together that's not scripted by holidays, occasions, or the entire-family dynamic.
Which is why, when I fell mysteriously ill three years ago almost to this day, it turned out to be such an incredible gift for my mom and me - a rare chance to surrender our individual-adult narratives, and remember what it's like to share the story of mother and child.
One day I was fine, stepping out of a cab in South Street Seaport to attend a third-round job interview. The next I was in a hospital bed, quite suddenly unable to walk and completely vulnerable in a way that no 26-year-old ever expects to be.
My mother put her business on hold to keep watch at the hospital. Although she only ever showed me optimism and strength during these seven days of darkness, stories would later emerge about the things I didn't see: the phone call from her best friend that made her lose it in the hallway; the fierce lioness she became to convince the doctors to release me early.
When I was released early, rather than transfer to a rehab facility, I slept in her bed for four weeks. Every morning she woke me up with gifts: a fruit-and-vegetable smoothie, a bowl of chocolate ice cream with crushed meds mixed in, a fat cat in a snuggly mood.
I had to ask her for help with the tiniest things. "Mom, when you have a moment, do you think you could come put my socks on?" She would cross the kitchen to my yellow armchair, perform the task with her signature grace,and then we'd take a moment to beam at each other - basking in the sunshine of seeing, and being seen.
(As the healing process dragged on, the requests devolved into "Mom, socks on! Mom, socks off!" But not once did she hesitate, heave a put-upon sigh, or give me the look that says: "you're really pushing it right now.")
I will always think of that summer, challenging though it was, as a time of brightness for us. It's wild, now that life is back on track and the projects and deadlines have returned in full swing, how far away it all seems - and yet how easy it is to remember.
My mother always told me that having kids is like watching your heart exit your body and go galavanting off into the big, scary world, where any number of things could happen to it.
"One day," she'd say, "when you're a Mom, you'll understand."
I am not yet a Mom - but I do happen to have been born on Mother's Day. So this time of year has always belonged, in a way, to the both of us.
Last year, I invited her to San Francisco, and we drove four hours north to a giant house that groaned in the cold spring wind. The only grocer in town let us walk out with three days' worth of provisions, on the promise that we would return the following day to pay when their credit card machine came back online.
We passed the weekend feeding the wood stove, reading in silence, exploring the coast, drinking wine, playing scrabble. We discovered a petrified seal in the cove below our house, swaying gently with the tide, and on our last morning we drove to the edge of a cliff and stepped out of the car just in time to see a mama grey whale surface with her baby, not 200 yards away.
This year, I have to tell my mother I will not get to see her on Mother's Day. Instead, I will come visit the following week, after my birthday has passed. Although she receives the news graciously, I can tell she is disappointed, and I hang up feeling tricky and pleased.
Sneakily, I have already arranged with my sister to arrive four days earlier than Mom is expecting.
When we pull up to the house, Dad greets us in the driveway, Lucy the dog singing her excitement. Inside, my mother stands at the stove with her back to the door, stirring a delicious-smelling mushroom sauce. I sing-song a greeting in the voice I share with my sister, for whom dinner is intended.
Mom turns with a ready smile, arms opening, saying "hi, sweetie..." - anticipating the daughter who lives just an hour's drive away, and not the one who lives on the other side of the country.
It takes three full seconds before the realization hits. Her mouth falls open in disbelief; the look on her face is priceless. When she says my name, her voice comes out several octaves higher than her first greeting. Happy tears make her eyes shine.
This morning, while Dad makes banana custard muffins, my sister asks Mom to tell us about the day I was born.
Apparently in the morning she went to church with my dad, which they never did, and she wore a pink dress that made her look "like a balloon." But she couldn't sit for long on that hard wooden bench, so they left and went to brunch.
After brunch, although I wasn't due for another week, I made it clear I was coming NOW. They had to pass my brother off "like a football" through the car window to my grandmother on the way to the hospital. I came so fast, there was no time for an epidural; the doctor just stuck something in her IV and said "it'll feel like three margaritas."
Once I'd arrived, Dad said: "What'll we name her?"
Mom: "I don't know, what do you think?"
Dad: "Patti, I'm tired."
So Mom pulled out a column of first names and a column of middle names, and together they chose a name that gave me the same initials as my dad.
"You had a cute little button nose," Mom says now, dreamily. "You had more hair than Nick, and you were chunky. 9 pounds 5 ounces. When you stretched out, you did this thing with your eye and your foot. It was the same, how you'd open your mouth real wide to eat,and your one eye would do this little roll, like a fish about to eat an enormous meal."
She laughs, remembering. "Like, if you were going to do it - you were going to get real good at it."