today is my mother’s birthday



I’m not sure how old she is. I mean if I thought about it for a solid two minutes I could probably figure out…

2013- year she was born = age. 

But still, I’m not sure how old my mother is. 

When I was in Kindergarten we were supposed to answer questions about our parents. I came home with a carefully conceived list of words that described my mother. Age? 25. I remember then, or maybe I remembered years later or maybe I’m remembering now–but my mother laughed and laughed at “25.” She was grateful, I think, that her daughter thought of her that way. 

My mother taught me that “age is just a number.” After all, she did fall in love with a 26 year old man when she was just 18. They “had a connection.” When I was 16  and broken-hearted, my mother joined me in the dark on top of the picnic table that faced the creek. She told me that it would get better. And then she told me about her great loves. Sitting there in between my house and my dock, I did feel better. Not about my heart, of course. That would mean I’d have to stop wallowing, and for a few months, that just felt too good.

No, I felt better about something a little bigger. I saw my mother before she was my mother. I saw how you can love a lot before you finally love someone just right. I felt 16–not the invincible kind. More like the kind that needs her mother and father and sister and brother and a house full of pets and maybe someone else to love a little later. And my mother? She wasn’t any age at that moment: she was all of them at once. She was herself, but she was me too. 

My mother was 33 years old when my sister and I were born. For 33 years she existed without a Mary Scott or a Connelly. For almost 37 she existed without a Charlie. These names didn’t come from nowhere (and neither did we). A Mary (her mother). And a Scott (her husband). A Connelly (a common Middleton middle name). A Charlie (Charles, Chuck, her father).

Why do we celebrate age on birthdays? Shouldn’t we celebrate names? Layers? Life? It’s almost ridiculous to call ourselves some number. My mother wasn’t an age the year she was married–she was Laurie Hardaway! The year my father bought our dead-rise, she was Lolly Ann. She’s been “mama” for the majority of the past two decades, with different intonations each year. 

As my sister and I graduate from college, and my brother graduates from high school, “mama” seems like the perfect age for my mother this year. I want and need nothing more than comfort, support, and an endless stream of “everything’s going to be okay.” 

When my mother graduated from college she went to law school in Chicago. She lived alone in an apartment and went for ten mile runs every night to keep herself from going insane. She kept warm by frequenting tanning beds. She primarily dated men with mustaches. “Mama” was Laurie and she was brave, independent, and determined. 

Today is my mother’s birthday. I’m not sure how old she is (really–our text conversation just informed me that I was 2 years off). But as I leap into the abyss of the real world, I know that everything really will be okay (because my mother’s always right). I hope to be the kind of Connelly that looks like the Laurie that existed before I did. And if that doesn’t work out, I can’t imagine that it will be all that bad. There’s a house and a creek just a few hours from anywhere. My mother’s sure to be there–waiting on the top of a picnic table, ageless and hopeful and everything I one day wish to be.