Buying a Card

(Some posts are harder to write than others.)

My mother likes to get cards in the mail. I like to give cards. It’s a good combination.

Because Valentine’s Day was coming, I stood in front of a wall of pink and red cards, needing to pick one for my mother. In prior years I have been careful about the choice—something nice but fitting for what this family was. “Best Mom Ever” and lengthy prose were passed over, as was anything that used the word “love.” “Wishing you a Happy Valentine’s Day” was a frequent choice.

But this year I used a new approach. What if I set aside my stories about my family? What if I let all that go? What if I just bought a card?

My criteria for the card were few, gossamer compared with the leaden requirements of prior years. The card had to say “Mom” somewhere. It needed to be a card that Mom Now would like and a card that Me Now would like.

One card peeked out from the wall, a shiny red “Mom” and two kola bears on the front. This was a good start—my mom likes animals and nature in general. The bears were fuzzy and that was good too—mom likes cards with some texture or depth, something you can run your fingers over and feel. The inside message was simple, something like “I love you, Mom. Happy Valentine’s Day.”

Choice made. 

Mom loved the card. She said it was beautiful. She said, “The words were so nice.”

Hanging up, I wondered what it’s like to be the mother of a daughter who holds some resentment against you, not for a day or a week or month or year but for decades. I thought I had forgiven my mother, both of my parents, but I haven’t. Not completely. It is as if those stories were a giant sheet that I was holding in a strong wind. I let go with my hands but kept a corner clenched in my teeth.

I thought about resentment and how it is like me turning my mother on a spit over a low flame. It’s an odd enough image with an old woman but I’m doing the same thing with my father and he’s dead. I pictured a skeleton turning on a spit, which is a funny image but not funny.

I wrote a song once. It has a line, “Lay down, lay down all those oughts and shoulds and have tos.” It was a privilege I wanted to grant myself. It is a privilege I have never fully granted my parents. It is time to change that. 

Past time.

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