Last Saturday ... oh, last Saturday! Saturdays are busy days for us ... sleeping in means an extra hour of sleep (which I argue is NOT sleeping in ...) and a breakfast pace only a smidge leisurely compared to school days. I have to rouse Cowgirl to head into town for our Chinese class. It is not her favorite way to spend the morning, but it is what we do.
I say we because for years I attended Chinese language class by myself. When Cowgirl was old enough, I started back at book one with her. I held my head high in those early days having mastered "Hello. My name is Lisa. What is your name?" and "I like green. What color do you like?" Not fluent, but rattling off my phone number in Chinese sounds impressive.
Fast forward a couple of years and I can barely hold my chin above water. The class transitioned from conversation to reading and writing which causes my brain to cramp. Seriously. I'd swear you could hear gears grinding and pieces of my mind breaking off with a rattling clattering clunk. And then that hissing sound of an exhausted engine.
I joke (but it is true) that together Cowgirl and I are a B+ student. Divided, we would be crushed under the 公共汽车 (Gong gong qiche - bus). The teacher is very kind, generous and patient which makes it all the harder when the verbal grilling begins. 今天天气怎么样？ We startle, looking at each other in panic, Cowgirl hissing at me "You're suppose to help me!" and me snapping back "You should know this!" We (by which I mean "I") talk a lot about being more kind to each other in Chinese class and about the work of learning and how anything worthwhile is often challenging and requires effort and patience. Yes, Cowgirl's eyes glaze over and I'm sure what she hears is yadda yadda yadda Chinese.
When the hour and a half class is over, there is an audible gasp of pressure being released. Usually we head home but this past Saturday I had errands I wanted to run while in town. So off we went to the Asian market to pick up the rice crackers Cowgirl loves. She gave me grief when I first bought them. "Hello Kitty crackers?!" She was concerned they might tarnish her image (the logos she prefers are KU Jayhawks and Nike) but her fear of trying another brand that she might not like outweighed her disdain of cute, girlie things.
Then we got wild. Impulsive. We bought a new soup bowl (so now we have three! Once for each of us) and a much needed rice cooker to replace the one falling apart. After the market we had one more errand which brought us in the vicinity of the French Bread bakery. "Let's swing in for a roll!" I gleefully suggested. Cowgirl does not like bread products except for artisan breads. Of course. So we ducked into the warm and bustling bakery café. It had begun to snow outside making the bakery that much more inviting, the smells more intoxicating and tempting. We bought croissants, a baguette and some soup to take home for the Husband who was sick in bed with a man cold. We had to wait for the soup. Standing off to the side, Cowgirl proceeded to eat her entire croissant while I eyeballed a giant cookie.
We waited. And waited. Usually (I am ashamed to say) I can be impatient waiting. I am ready to be off to the next event. But this day - with the snow gently falling, the hum of conversation in the café, the whirl of the bread slicer, and the fragrant smells wafting out from the kitchen - I was content to steep myself in the moment. And it was a moment. Golden and rich like the croissant my girl wolfed down. A moment that I could sense transmuting into a memory that I would call upon at some later date. Realizing that, I leaned in to kiss the top of my girl's head and to whisper to her "I love spending time with you."
Then it hit me. A collision of memory. Past and future sandwiched together. This moment with my girl (linked to so many other similar moments we've created or shared) with memory of moments with my mother. Other bakeries (a theme there?), other excursions, adventures in suburban travel, meals in special, tucked out-of-the-way places and journeys through museum labyrinths, movies and books and stories experienced and shared together. It overwhelmed me, the tidal wave of all that memory, of all those moments with my mother, each one a pearl on a long strand looped about my heart.
When I say I lost my mother, I realize what I mean is I've lost a keeper of memories. I've lost the person who could confirm details, fill in the gaps. I've lost a companion who could travel with me back through the delight of treasured moments. With both my parents gone, I've lost the only record to my earliest days, the years before my memory clicked on.
I am finding my mother in new ways. In a song, in the call of the Blue Jay, in a favorite recipe, a joke, a story, the smell of her perfume, and in moments with my girl. I know the foundation for my relationship with my daughter is strong and stable as it rests upon the deep bond my mother and I shared. I know that as much as I may mourn the gradual fading of memories held by myself and my mother, new ones created by me and Cowgirl will flood in to fill the space.
It isn't that I've lost my mother but that I've lost the beginning of my story. I suppose the beauty is I can continue writing the rest of the tale. It's completely mine now and I honor her by living it fully, with gratitude, with awareness of each sacred moment.