My mom got her ears pierced last week. She’d been talking for years about wanting to get a second set of holes, but was always too afraid of the needle to do it. I get it, of course–if aliens were to observe our planet and witness us voluntarily stabbing ourselves in the body, all because we think it looks cute, they’d probably pick another planet to invade, like, pronto. Humans are nuts. But as someone who has gotten stabbed multiple times in the ear herself, and in the belly, and really thinks that a sharp stick to the nostril could be kind of neat, too, I guess I’m on board with the rest of the wackos. So stab away, oh strange man in a mall kiosk. I want to be pretty.
Anyway, back to my mom. She’s 69. For my entire life, she has been someone who is a perfectionist, particular. She’s someone who likes to know where her life is going to go and to have her bed made every morning. When I was growing up, the house was cleaned top to bottom every week, and then looked pretty much immaculate in the days in between. Dinner was served at 5:23 p.m. and we went to the PX on the town’s army post every other Thursday, and to the library in the summer every other week. I went to school in a gym uniform that was ironed and starched until the creases in my nylon shorts never came out, even after a wash (BOY did those shorts hold up in a stiff wind!). She and my dad had very high expectations (now I say thankfully so) of me–of my grades, of my behavior–and it was just assumed that I would not let them down. My mom–my dear mom–was the oldest child of a big military family. She liked order in her life, and enough of a sense of control to keep all the extraneous parts in line. If you think we butted heads during our lifetime together, you’d be right. If you think she’s one of my favorite people in the world, you’d also be right.
(Bonus to growing up this way? I can fold a mean hospital corner, even on the top half of a bunk bed. Yeah. I just bragged about that.)
But Thursday? Thursday I invited her to go to the mall with me (I was on the hunt for shoes), and told her that, on a whim, I’d decided I was going to get my ears repierced (there were a few holes I’d let close up in my twenties that I’d wanted done again, because I’m clearly heading into a midlife crisis). I also told her–my 69-year-old mom–that I wanted to give her those second holes she’d wanted as a Mother’s Day gift (what’s a good idea for the woman who has everything? AN EAR STABBING!). She balked.
And then she got her ears pierced. Didn’t even flinch. And now she’s rocking those cubic zirconia starter studs like the rock star she is. Next thing I know she’s going to be getting an ankle tattoo and you’ll have to peel my passed-out self off the floor.
(Note: Saoirse also got her ears pierced that day, which is a whole other blog post for another time. EAR STABBINGS FOR ALL.)
I was just talking to David about this–about my mom, I mean–in the week pre-piercing. And what I can’t seem to get over recently is how much my mom has changed in the last few years. It’s been ever since my dad died, if you really want to know. After those terrible first couple of years, she’s sort of emerged out of this shell of sorts. Is she still grieving my father? Of course. That doesn’t ever go away. Is she still Mrs. Ferguson, wife of Donald? Absolutely. That’s not it. It’s something else, and something kind of amazing to see. She doesn’t get worked up over the little things anymore. She doesn’t care if the furniture–while still clean–doesn’t reflect her image back when she looks at it. She doesn’t let stuff get to her. She’s just so much more relaxed than she used to be–than I am now, then most of my friends are each day. She meets her friends for lunch and makes plans at the last minute and hops in her car and heads off if she feels like it. She’s on jury duty this week, and she told me that she ate lunch by herself in a local cafe yesterday. She swears she’s done it before, but my mom–my mom–would never have felt that comfortable with solo dining years ago. I told David that I don’t know if it’s actually a negative fallout from my dad’s death–like, she just truly doesn’t care anymore–or if it’s a result of getting older (and I pray it’s the latter), but there’s just this new sense of I-don’t-give-a-you-know-what about my mom that has turned her into a bit of a bad ass. And she’s someone I now look to as a benchmark for my own outlook. She’s the one, when I’m standing on the edge of the cliff hoping the wind doesn’t shove me off, is sitting back on a bench idly drinking a glass of moscato and telling me it’ll all be fine. She impresses me so much.
I have an author talk to do tonight in David’s hometown. I am terrified, if you want to know the truth. Scared out of my mind to talk about me and my book and my writing life. I wonder how long it will be before I can own this–this new identity as an author, as a writer still trying to master her craft despite that ever-present fear of not being good enough. I used to be so much more confident: when I was teaching, when I was in an office, when I was walking down a street like Mary Tyler Moore, feeling like I knew I could do anything I wanted. Maybe I care about this more. Maybe being at home so much has turned me into a hyper-introverted hobbit in desperate need of an eyebrow wax. I don’t know.
But then I look at my mom. My mom with her four earrings, the mom who shrugs and tells me she thinks a nose piercing (for me, not her. Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves) would be kind of cool, the mom who forgot to make her bed the other day because she was rushing out to do something in the world at the last minute. The mom who prays the rosary and goes to mass every week and rocks out to Creedence Clearwater Revival in the car and likes her margaritas with extra salt. She’s the mom who only says good things about us, who openly compliments our parenting and whoops loud when I pass along good news that David’s mom just got. For someone whose world might have ended when she lost her husband, I feel like my mom has started existing in the world in a new way. She’s not fighting it so much as throwing her arms out and kicking a little as the waves carry her along.
David tells me to stop avoiding my own fear and just go through it–that the work, whatever work that is–will take me to the other side of it. I look at my mom and see that I can do that. She’s showing me how. I think I’m more proud of her than she is of me, and that’s saying a lot.
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