I’m balanced on a bar stool with my mother at Cha Cha Cha’s, our tried-and-true for calamari and sangria-induced confessions between thrift-shopping on Haight, when she turns to me with that expression. I imagine it’s the same she donned upon my first destined-to-be-sensitive cries in the hospital, a look full of genuine wonder that this pudge of pink and mess of curls was hers, all hers. Even now, 25 years later in the dim light of a gussied up tapas restaurant, I can tell she is looking at my cheeks pulsing with wine and bubbling conversation, hair still flying from the wind outside, and thinking to herself, “I can’t believe this woman is my daughter.” She begins her praise and I wave it off, dismissing the compliments with a simultaneous reach for the pitcher and her glass.
It’s always been a source of contention, really. That she could be so lovely on her own and accept a goodness in me I’ve never been able to find. As I groan on about my bleak dating prospects, joking I’ll never meet the man of my dreams doing what I love (i.e. double fisting totchos and a beer at home in the buff), as that would be creepy and necessitate a restraining order—I become increasingly frustrated with her adoration, that bemused smile. Because she knows, as she proceeds to tell me, that everything happens for a reason. Each choice we make falls into the next, the daisy-chain of our presumed fuck ups or successes ultimately leading us down the path we were supposed to be on. She means this to be reassuring, but I begin playing with the paella, unsnagging my tights from the seat. Fidgeting to the rhythm of my nods.
For it is in these moments that I feel my worst. Feel like I’ve failed her. I do not see the world this way, with a freeness, this je ne sais quoi-laissez faire she wears so goddamn well. And perhaps it is difficult for me to relate to these words, the well-earned mantra of a woman who has fiercely loved herself through two marriages, four children, and a constant slew of shit from all, because I am young. And purposefully not naïve. And more prone to over-analyze and subsequently pick apart each petal that makes up the stupid daisy-chain rather than appreciate the beauty of all the flowers. My mother is a woman who unabashedly plucks the roses from the bushes of her neighbors because she just loves them so. I am the woman who calls her a klepto and hates that part of my character wishes hers were less vibrant. I am still, after all, my father’s daughter.
Our relationship has always been delicate and relentless, a tight-rope extravaganza that made puberty a real treat for all involved. As I get older it seems easier to think of her more as my best friend, thus abandoning any expectations of the standard parent-as-role-model fare. Which, of course, has its own complications. It’s obvious in the way I write: “mama” in personal texts (the “hot” always implied); “mother” anywhere else to create a false sense of formality, distance. It’s in the way I tease her about her boyfriend, always with a girlfriend-like candor but all too aware our taste in men aligns all too well. We bash on her family as if they weren’t my own, eager to ignore my poor track record as a granddaughter and niece and place the blame on others, though I suspect it hurts her inside. That’s how it’s always been—me, taking far too often for being raised by such a giver; her, beaming at my shortcomings, giving anyway.
When the tab arrives, her arms are already outstretched, everything open. We stare at each other in silence, and I try my hardest to keep our gaze. To stop parsing the big picture “I love you.” Let her nuance take hold.