“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.” ~Iain Thomas
Looking back, my most cherished childhood memories can be traced back to my rosy mother.
Intricate forts in the backyard with Spice Girls playing in the background. Sleepovers using Limited Too’s finest sparkly lotion, eyeshadow, and lip gloss. Rainy afternoons filled with friendship bracelets and Lisa Frank activity sheets. Children and teachers showing off their wild side at my mothers’ signature talent shows at the local theatre. Arts and crafts in a room surrounded by floral couches and mauve wallpaper. Flea market field trips to select the perfect charm bracelet. And, loads of buttery birthday cakes with the words Be With Your Dreams written all over them.
Sadly, we grew apart during middle school when she abruptly uprooted our sunlit lives in exchange for a nomadic lifestyle. After traveling with her to two states, I grew tired of the “new kid” title and moved in with my father.
With each of her subsequent moves, my resentment morphed into a towering boulder that blocked her love to seep through. Our tug-of-war relationship continued for six years into early adulthood.
I still remember the day that everything changed.
I was at a work conference when I received an unexpected call from her. I grudgingly called her back in a crowded hallway.
“What?!” I said in a pompous tone.
She whispered, “I’m so sorry to hound you but I need to tell you something. I have cancer. ”
“What do you mean?” I said as my throat sealed.
“I’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer—I am so sorry.”
A few days later, I visited her home in Key West, Florida. I can still picture her galloping towards me as I exited the puddle-jumper. She had a mop of loose curls, a wide smile, torn army green cargo pants, and a swollen belly that resembled pregnancy.
For the first time in years, we bonded without the heaviness of the future.
We became giggly movie critics. We strolled the shoreline in search of magical conch shells. We frequented our favorite Cuban restaurant and oohed and aahed over zesty soup. We bought vintage aqua blue tea sets for future tea parties. We swapped stories that were once forgotten.
Instead of cowering in embarrassment, I encouraged her roaring laugh in public. I embraced her hippy lifestyle as we basked in the sun, with Key Lime Pie sticks in hand. I co-directed one of her renowned talent shows featuring local YMCA kids. Her trailer became a treasure trove filled with wispy white pillows, the aroma of velvety hazelnut coffee, and new beginnings.
With each day that passed, the towering boulder of resentment I once had dissipated into raw love.
She didn’t have standard health insurance, but she saved black pilot whales in her free time. She didn’t have a steady job, but she made others smile as she sold handmade bottlecap jewelry at Mallory Square. You see—if you’re fixated on expectations of who someone should be according to your standards, you can’t love them for who they really are.
My mother once wrote me:
“Those stressful days are gone, and I don’t think I’ll ever see them again. I don’t have the meetings and high-powered days like I used to. I drift to work somehow gazing at the blazing sun, aqua blue ocean, hibiscus blossoms, and the marshmallow clouds. I wear island dresses in the endless cool breezes with my hair in a wet bun. Most of the time, I hide my bathing suit underneath it all so I can hit the beach right after. I’m dreaming of my toes in the sand, laughing, giggling, and snoozing while listening to music and chirping birds. Remember, life is beautiful. You need to find your happy – promise?!
My mother appreciated every moment, even if the highlight of her day was glancing through a window in a sterile hallway. She described the hospital’s cuisine as divine. Although she could barely walk, she somehow dragged her flimsy wheelchair through sand, just to inhale a whiff of the salty ocean air. And at every opportunity, she looked up at the clouds in awe of being alive.
As her soft body turned into brittle bones, I learned the importance of her famous motto, Be With Your Dreams. She taught me how to live an idyllic life filled with nature, wonderment, and positivity. She proved that having a raw, openhearted approach to life was superior than any cookie-cutter mold I once envisioned for her.
In my mother’s last days, she shared tenderly, “Britt, I think of how I left you behind sometimes. I know I wasn’t a perfect mother, but I’ve always loved you so much, baby girl.”
I waited for that moment for fifteen years. And in that moment, I felt nothing. Zilch. Nada.
Time was the only thing I longed for. As tears streamed down my face, I wondered how many more memories we would’ve had, had I learned to appreciate her for who she was years ago.
Most of us wait to resolve our conflicts “later.” The unfortunate part is that minutes and days turn into months and years. There’s a good chance we’re missing out on a relationship right now that could change our entire lives. So…
Open the door to your heart and choose love. Be kind instead of right. Remember the good times. Let go of pain disguised as indifference. Take responsibility for your part. Stop the judgment. Be the bigger person. Forgive the small things.
For goodness sakes, say or do something! Pick up the phone. Write an apology letter. Drive to their house. Plan a trip. Text a nostalgic memory.
Don’t you see… there’s only time for love. And, who knows—if you’re lucky enough, they might just show you how to Be With Your Dreams.