There is a young Asian woman living across from me. She has a new baby, a young child, a partner and a mother. I’m aware of this not because I know her, we’re both relatively new to this neighborhood, but because throughout my day I catch glimpses into her life. My writing desk is situated close to a large window that looks down directly into the back of her home. Like us, that family has a large glass sliding door in their kitchen and that’s where I often see the young mother rocking baby or feeding baby or singing to baby. I also witness this when I’m in our kitchen sitting at the table. What has struck me the most from witnessing all of this is the longing I feel, not for a baby as many might imagine given my age, but for my mother.
This woman’s mother is tiny. She wears her greying hair tied up in an Asian style knot where her glasses often rest. She shuffles about in slippers and wears a light pair of pants and a heavy mauve sweater that comes almost to her knees. Buttons run the entire length of her sweater on the back and she wears a turtle neck underneath, even when it’s sunny. It’s not like I’m spying on the family. Our glass windows face theirs and they spend a few hours a day on and off the patio, especially now that the weather is so warm.
What I’ve been noticing are the little things. How the old mother is so helpful; stepping inside the house for a paper towel that she hands out to her daughter with the baby, taking the empty food bowl from her daughter and bringing it inside while daughter rocks baby in the shade. This adorable little mother comes out with the mop when her daughter has taken the baby inside, and she rinses it out over and over, presumably after mopping the kitchen floor. I’ve watched her spoon feed the baby until the child’s mother came out, in her black and white tie-dye pajamas, ready to take over. I’ve seen her water the family’s plants and sweep dust from the doorstep.
These are the things I notice that touch me deeply because I am without my mother. It’s not that she lives far away or that I don’t get on with her or anything like that, it’s that my mother died and there is no hope that I’ll ever get to see her again. And so when I witness a woman with her mother, doing everyday things that most people take for granted, it stirs several emotions. Sometimes there’s jealousy and sometimes sorrow, and almost always that sudden intense reminder that I am motherless. Even after all these years. But there are other emotions too. Strong ones. I feel a rush of love for this mother and daughter and for the bond that they share. I want to dash over and tell them how lucky they are and how lovely. I’m certain that many daughters don’t realize how blessed they are in the moments. When that woman is holding her daughter’s baby, cooing into its ears, rocking it to sleep so that her daughter can have a little break, that is a gift so precious to behold.
Every relationship is different and I understand that mother-daughter relationships aren’t always smooth. I’ve known women who’ve lost their mothers after a tumultuous life-long relationship with them and yet they miss their mothers dearly. Each relationship is unique but from my point of view I know what I am missing. I’m missing a dear woman who would love to be a part of my life today and if I could have any of these little moments that my neighbor has with her mother, with or without the baby, for even a minute, I would take it. I would look deep into my dear mother’s eyes, I would touch her soft hand and I would say “Thank you. I love you.”
I’ve heard this quote though I don’t know who originally said it-
“Life doesn’t come with a manual, it comes with a mother.”