With you around, life was always full of extremes.
"I love you the most, Mama," I remember you confessing with a conspiratorial smile one night before bed. You tossed it out almost casually, like a gift. It was our secret.
A few days later, you took it back.
"I don't love you anymore, Mama!" you screamed one frigid night Papa put together a wooden car for you he bought in New York. You decorated it together, with your current favourite colours, blue and yeh-yow.
It seemed like your previous passions of pink and purple had been cruelly forgotten, cast aside, just like my top status in your heart.
What I did that night thirty years ago to offend you, I don't remember. I just recall the ice pick sticking out of my chest at your childlike utterance.
The way you sat on the stairs outside my room and watched me silently cry, eventually crawling into the room and into my embrace so I could make YOU feel better.
Many years and tears have passed since those innocent, throwaway words, and more mature hurts have sprung up between us. The usual mother-daughter battles we are destined and blessed to go through together.
Not everything is a state of emergency anymore. That I am grateful for. My current ticker couldn't take the excitement. I am old and relieved to be free of certain things like tantrums and slammed doors, but I still remember the way you used to pronounce the word "world" like a man from the 1940s. It would come out sounding weirdly wonderful, like "wieuld," and there was nothing better I'd ever heard.
When you were four, you would always skip the number 15 when counting to 20, no matter how many times we reminded you of its existence. You would also cheat constantly at Snakes 'N Ladders, all coy eyes and side grins. I let you win most of the time, for my own peace of mind. If I didn't, you'd turn your back on me and pout out the window. Or immediately demand a rematch. We must have played it eight thousand times. My knees and hips wouldn't survive that wooden floor now.
I don't have to prepare your breakfast anymore, or cajole you to eat something other than crackers. Do you still prefer Cheerios in the morning and shredded cheese and nectarines for dinner? I wonder if your kids will also be picky eaters. You can blame your father for that. You got that gene from him.
Sometimes when Papa and I are sick of playing cards or watching documentaries or just seeing our own faces, we watch videos of you. Back when you had baby teeth and baby thumbs you still sucked at night.
Now your woman's hands remind me of my own, before time and age spots took them hostage. I wish I could hold yours more. I remember painting your nails for the first time, with cheap Frozen polish that came off nearly as quick as it went on. Now it is you taking my arm as we cross the street. Your eyes that scan the roads for any potential danger. That used to be my job.
It seems like we have switched places in so many ways.
I remember when you got your first ear infection, how you couldn't hear properly for weeks afterwards. "Talk louder, Mama!" you would shout angrily, thinking I was plotting to annoy you. Your father and I would have to hold you down and force the medicine down your throat. Sometimes the ordeal could last a good 20 minutes while you took breaks and deep breaths.
Now it's me with the bad hearing. I long to listen to you hum under your breath. I wouldn't even mind your incessant questions, your constant "why?"s. Your quick video calls these days just aren't the same as seeing you up close, seated beside me on the couch. When you come home on Sundays and lean in and talk into my good ear, it feels like love. It feels like you never left the nest.
It's the only time my heart doesn't hurt in my chest.
I remember that old intimacy we had when I was still young and you were a small child. The way you would depend on me for everything. How you would curl up in my lap for comfort. The way I would croon and rock you back and forth, soothing away a world of hurts with only my arms and heart.
I felt so powerful then, so full of womanly focus and purpose. I was a lioness.
I know you feel the distance, the pain of being growing up. Sometimes you still bury your face in my neck and pull me close when the loneliness gets too much.
There are days when it feels like all I have left are aches and pains and crosswords. Pills and doctor's appointments. There are no more forks in the road for me, just rest and reflection. There is a time for living, and a time for introspection.
Now I get to sip chai tea all day long and finally get around to reading all those books I bought and piled in a tower in the bedroom. I await your visits and the possibility of grandchildren and ponder all the lines on my old lady hands, the ones that have led me to you, my unconditional love.