Caitlin Shetterly, author of Made for You and Me, on the words she's hearing in a new way.
The week my husband Dan and I went west to seek our fortune, I got unexpectedly pregnant with our first child. In January of 2009, our son was born. Then the recession hit California—and our lives—hard. Eventually, we packed up and drove back across America to move in with my mother, in Maine. This Mother's Day I'm thinking about the courage it took my mother to let me—a daughter with whom she did not have an easy rapport—into her home and life. And I'm remembering all the things she says to me (annoying and comforting) that I've carried with me into my own motherhood.
"Gifts do not always come in packages you expect." For most of the nine months of my unanticipated pregnancy, I was sick with a rare condition that kept me in bed. But when my son came out he was the best gift my body—or anyone—has ever given me.
"What's the worst-case scenario?" My mother likes to approach every dilemma from the worst possible outcome. When we were broke in California, I called her and said, "What should we do?" For the first time in my life, she didn't have a quick answer. Fears of worst-case scenarios pulsed between us through the phone line. Finally, she said, "I don't know." The next day she called and said, "Come home, Cait. You can live with me."
"We're downwardly mobile with a vengeance." In 1969, despite Ivy League degrees, my parents packed up a VW bus and drove up to Maine to go back-to-the-land and become artists. For most of my young childhood, my brother, Aran, and I ran feral through the woods. My mother taught us that living in the woods and paying attention to the land and the animals we shared our piece of earth with, would teach us deeper lessons than any material acquisitions.
"It's what you do with what you got." This is an old Maine expression and my mother must have said it to me a million times. When we were broke in LA, I put her words to good use: I started baking bread, soaking beans and stretching a small hunk of meat into week's worth of flavoring for the beans.
"I love this day." I did not think I wanted to move in with my mother at age 35, but somehow, this is what I needed. Every morning, while Dan poached eggs for breakfast and my son nursed and gurgled, the windows open and the spring sun folding onto our laps, my mother would say, "I love this day."
"Practice good sleep hygiene." I have no idea what this means. But when I had more than a few sleepless nights worrying about our lives falling apart, I thought of her saying this: "Always make your bed. Take a hot bath, have some nice chamomile tea and listen to the spring peepers outside—you'll conk out in no time."
"You're driving me to drink!" Ok, mom. Whatever you say. (Except now that I'm a mother, I understand.)
"You can make your best friends in books." This might explain why I spent most of my high school weekends in my old spindle bed reading. These days, when I catch moments alone to read before bed, I still make close personal friendships on those paper pages.
"Let Dan drive." My mother is probably the worst driver in the world—she's so hard on the clutch, I call it dry-heave driving—but she has this idea that I'm a bad driver. I think I'm a good driver. Still, when Dan and I finally moved out of her place, she pleaded, "Please let Dan drive. " I did. He now drives us everywhere.
"Let me talk to my grandson!" This was inevitable. I'm yesterday's news. She'd now prefer ten minutes of silence on the phone with my two-year-old to speaking with me. Which is fine. I also think he's the best thing since sliced bread—yes, that's another thing she always says.