The light was on in the kitchen and then the small light in the dining room. I saw my daughter setting out a placemat, a bowl and a spoon, a box of corn flakes. Of course, a box of corn flakes. She always ate corn flakes growing up.
“You have to get up, Mom. We have to leave for the airport in a half hour.”
It was 4:00 a.m. The rest of the houses on her street and most of San Diego was dark.
I thought about what she said, reflected on it, the idea of getting up, and was pretty sure that I could do it but it would be difficult and unpleasant. I might faint if I sit up. How will I stand up, take a shower, get dressed? I was so sick.
It was a crime to even think about getting on a plane with a couple hundred people. But it was worse staying. I had come to help her when her newly adopted daughter became suddenly and seriously ill. That was days ago and I had helped but now I was in the way, a fifth wheel on a just coming together family. It was so truly time to go.
“I can’t eat anything.”
“You have to eat. You have to have breakfast.”
She poured the corn flakes and the milk. Sat across from me waiting for me to pick up my spoon. It was her new mothering instinct flowering, I thought. Now she is taking care of me and the sick baby in the hospital. But her face was impassive, matter-of-fact, not worried or concerned, and I remembered, yes, of course, we are people who eat breakfast. She isn’t being a nurse to me. She is doing what she has always done, what I taught her to do. Breakfast. It’s the most important meal, you know.
All the mornings, one after the other, all the bowls of corn flakes and oatmeal, the scrambled eggs and the toast, the English muffins, the peanut butter, the milk and orange juice sitting at our table in our upper flat with the window that looked out on the tops of trees in the backyard and the alley, the day I scolded her and sent her to her room with her plate of bacon and eggs only to go in later to talk to her, sitting down right on her plate while she looked at me with huge, wide eyes, me feeling such narrow inches away from losing my temper and my mind and wondering now if I made her new eggs or gave up, it all came back to me. We are people who eat breakfast, for better or worse.
It was still dark when she dropped me off at the airport on her way to the hospital to relieve her husband and spend the day with her baby who was on the mend but still very sick. I was glad I was getting out of the way.
The line to go through security wound for what seemed like miles. I wondered if I could keep standing, my eyes almost filling with tears of self-pity. ‘You’re not the only person in the world to ever get sick. You can do this. Just keep standing. And stop thinking about it.’
I wanted to have come and gone gracefully. I wanted to be the extraordinarily competent mother who carries complicated recipes in her head and can drive unafraid on the crisscrossing ribbons of San Diego’s freeways. I wanted to have perfect timing, the perfect touch, the wisest word. But it wasn’t like it was in the movies; instead, it was me getting sicker and sicker the week I was there and less useful by the minute. It was what I had been like my whole mothering career, always a bit off my game, as they say.
I inched up a few steps in line, pulling my suitcase behind me, resisting the overwhelming need to put my face in my hands, the combination of being sick and mediocre almost too much to bear for another five minutes.
Then there she was, my daughter, holding her keys and her wallet in her hand.
“Why are you here? I thought you were headed to the hospital.”
“I have some time. I decided to stand with you for a while.”
And now, many years later, nine years later, I remember the dark house and the light in the kitchen and the bowl of cereal and my daughter coming to stand in line with me as if someone had given me a pearl necklace that their mother had given to them but was too precious for them to keep.
So they gave it to me.
Prompted by The Daily Post
#77/100: 77th in a series of 100 in 100