I’ve been so excited to start something new here on the blog–an opportunity to share some of my favorite women and writers. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and it seemed the perfect time with a new baby coming (we’re still waiting). Over the next couple of months, in between regular posts, I will be sharing the words and photos of other women–women I feel lucky to know, women who’ve become my friends and have offered advice and support and community, women I’ve admired from my side of the computer screen for their ability to share a bit of their quest to live their one wild and precious life–and all because of the Internet.
My goal? Well, to relax and settle in with baby, for one. But I also hope these posts echo the important message of community and women celebrating women. I didn’t set out to ask women and mamas who were just like me to be a part of this. In fact, what I love about this group of women that I’m sharing is that we are different. Different backgrounds, different writing styles, different parenting methods and different stories. Each of these women seeks to find the good and has created a space online where she brings her unique voice and style and love of life to readers. Some of these women have big blogs, some have little blogs, most are mamas, but all of them are making their mark on the world while supporting and celebrating those around them.
I hope you enjoy their contributions and discover some more love out there.
The first contributer is a friend I met through Instragram/e-mail. One e-mail led to another, and another, and another–and soon we were exchanging phone numbers and discussing heart-of-life issues. We both have two daughters, we both have experienced grief, and we both wrote about our stories in memoirs–our first books that came out last year. Consequently, we’re hoping to meet each other in New York next month if all goes as planned, as we are both nominated for a Books for a Better Life Award.
Claire Bidwell Smith is genuine and kind and is wholeheartedly digging through life’s experiences like the rest of us, finding meaning in both the good and bad, the extraordinary and mundane. Her book, The Rules of Inheritance, slayed me. “Damn girl, can you write” was, I believe, my e-mail to her after two chapters in. Read it. It’s gripping.
I’m so honored to share Claire’s words today.
Finding My Mother
by Claire Bidwell Smith
One of my favorite memories of my mother probably isn’t one she would want me sharing as often as I do, but it so perfectly sums her up that I can’t help but revisit it.
In the memory I’m about thirteen years old. We’re living in Destin, Florida and we’re headed to the mall. I am an only child and my mother and I are close. Things I love to do with her: hang out in the kitchen while she cooks, hang out in the bathroom while she gets ready for an evening out, and go shopping with her.
All of those are pretty basic mom-daughter activities, I know, except my mom wasn’t your basic mom. She was messy and creative, uncommonly beautiful, and stylish in an utterly head-turning way. She was also incredibly outgoing and quick-witted, and she brought so much wild beauty into the lives of my father and myself that it’s a wonder we weren’t blinded by it all.
Oh, and did I mention impulsive? She was that too.
So, this one afternoon we’re driving around the mall parking lot, looking for the perfect spot. My mom had this thing about finding a perfect spot. And suddenly it happened: a car started pulling out of this tiny stretch of coveted spaces right in front of the entrance.
My mom yanks the wheel, turning us into the one-way parking aisle, and snaps on her blinker. Then she turns and gives me this smile of wonder and pride. But as the exiting car backs out towards us, another car suddenly zips into the parking aisle from the wrong direction and puts on its blinker too.
I watch my mother’s eyes widen. “That woman is NOT going to steal my space,” she mutters. She then makes some desperate hand-waving gesture at the other driver, receiving only a catty shrug in return. We watch together as the original car backs out of its space and then as the other waiting car pulls in before we have a chance to.
My mother’s jaw drops. Her grip visibly tightens on the wheel, and her mouth closes into a hard line. She pulls up behind the newly-parked car and lowers her window. I am pensive in my seat, scared but also excited by this unfolding of events. A woman emerges from the car and begins to walk towards us.
“You just stole our parking space,” my mother says tersely, “and this is a one-way.”
“Yeah, well too bad,” the woman replies. She flips her hair over one shoulder and walks right past our idling car.
My mother is so stunned that she just sits there for a moment. And then she throws the car into gear and drives quickly to an open parking spot near the back of the lot. “Come on,” she says through her teeth, practically yanking me from the car, and we fast-walk towards the mall.
Inside the doors my mother heads straight for a candy shop that sits adjacent to the food court.
“Mom,” I plead, “what are we doing?”
But she doesn’t answer. All she does is depress the lever on a large dispenser of gumballs, and I watch as the colorful orbs pop out and into a plastic bag she holds open. She is hardly finished paying for them before she thrusts several into my hand.
“Chew,” she instructs, grabbing my hand and pulling me towards the entrance of the mall again.
As we walk, I slide the gumballs over my tongue, my mouth instantly smarting with their sweet flavor. In less than a minute we are outside in the parking lot again, the intense Florida heat shimmering off the cars around us. I follow my mother to the car that now sits in our coveted space, and I stand beside her, both of us furiously chewing our gum. I stare at our reflection in the window, my lanky adolescent figure timid next to her glamorous and stately one. In that moment I know that I will say yes to anything she will ever ask me to do.
“Okay, now smear,” she says, grinning at me, light dancing in her eyes.
Carefully I remove the giant wad of gum from my mouth, holding it between my thumb and index finger, and I watch my mother do the same. Then, working quickly, we spread them out across the windshield and driver’s side window. Within seconds we are done and walking away, leaving the gum to bake in the hot, afternoon sun. I let out a breath I hadn’t known as I was holding, and my mother does the same, except hers sounds more like a giggle.
Several months later my mother is diagnosed with stage four-colon cancer, and five years later she is dead.
It’s now been sixteen years since I’ve held her hand or heard her voice. In that time I’ve grown into a woman. I’ve traveled the world, gotten married, and become a writer. But all these years, through everything I’ve done and everywhere I’ve gone, there’s been the sense that something is missing. There’s always been this little (and sometimes not so little) space inside my heart.
But then three years ago my daughter Veronica was born. Seven months ago my second daughter Juliette was born.
And in the moments and days and hours and months that have occurred since their births I have become a mother.
And in this wildly unexpected way I feel as though I have been given my mother back. Time and time again I hear her voice in mine, I feel her hand in mine. She is there with me when I’m teaching Vera how to bake cookies, or when I’m up in the middle of another sleepless night, cradling my smallest.
It’s not even that I feel like she’s been given back to me, but that my mother has been given to me anew. I understand her in a way I never did before. I see her in a way I never did. When I tuck my girls into bed at night, when I smooth Vera’s hair away from her forehead when she has a fever, or scoop Juliette into my arms after a tumble, my heart spilling over for them, I often find myself breathless with the realization of just how much my mother loved me.
They will never know her the way I did. They will never call her grandma or experience any of her mischievous adventures. They will never get care packages in the mail from her or cook with her in the kitchen as I did. But they will know her in the way that I love them, in the way that I see them and hear them and name them.
It’s funny the stories that stay with us. To this day I refuse to look for the perfect spot in any parking lot, always preferring to park in the back, no matter how far the walk. And in all these years, no matter how much I have tried to emulate her, I have not become my mother. I would never dream of smearing gum across a stranger’s windshield, no matter their misdeed against me. I am also not nearly as messy, nor as beautiful, as my mother was.
But she lives within me somewhere in a very real way. And I know that each of these moments and days works to create a world in which my girls will carry me within themselves as they move forward in their lives, no matter what lies ahead.
Claire Bidwell Smith lives in Los Angeles with her husband Greg Boose and their two daughters. Claire is an experienced therapist specializing in grief and the author of the memoir THE RULES OF INHERITANCE (Penguin/Hudson St., February 2012).
Claire has a bachelor’s degree from The New School University in Manhattan and a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University in Los Angeles. She has written for many publications including Time Out New York, Yoga Journal, BlackBook Magazine, The Huffington Post and Chicago Public Radio. She has also worked for nonprofits like Dave Eggers’ literacy center 826LA and most recently worked as a bereavement counselor for a hospice in Chicago.