When I was a little girl, I would wave to my mother frantically from the school bus as it pulled away from the stop. I clung to every last second I was still able to see her face smiling back at me from the curb. Every year, when my parents make their annual visit back to Greece, I feel that same tinge of childhood attachment flushing back into my heart. Don’t get me wrong, I want my parents to enjoy themselves, their siblings and friends, and the homes they have worked their whole lives to build back in the “homeland”. But I also want them here, close enough to reach when I need my fill, or even a quick taste, of the comfort that only a mother can give to her daughter.
As kids, my parents would send me and/or my sisters to Greece in the summer, alternating stays between my mom’s four brothers and my father’s sister, while they remained in New York to work. We would swim endlessly in the picturesque beaches in my mother’s village, Domvrena, a small town in the larger city of Thebes and enjoy late night dinners in the village center where my uncle owned a cafeteria (think coffee, spanakopita, ouzo, and ice cream). One of my mom’s brothers, Theo Manoli, and his family would be my main hosts most summers, traveling Greece with me, showing me sights I never would have seen otherwise (secret beaches down cliffs, caves with ancient etchings, and many of the thousands of ancient relics Greece is famous for). He and his family helped me get over my homesickness with infinite swims in the warm sea and special birthday celebrations. With Thea Nantia, my father’s only sister (and the person who truly knows his soul as they weathered the murder of their father, exile, refugee life and the German Occupation in WW II together), we would sleep on the rooftop of her city apartment on hot summer nights and listen to stories of our mischievous young father. How could my parents NOT want to go back to the comfort of their beautiful homeland, filled with family and friends–especially now, when their home in the States slowly becomes more and more devoid of their friends and family?
My parents have recently lost countless close friends and relatives. In the last six years alone, my parents have lost two brothers, three dear sister in laws, and a myriad of friends. My father lost his only brother, Niko, a Clark Gable look-alike with a calm, sweet demeanor and a love for children, and a long list of lifelong friends. My mother lost her best friend in my Thea Eleni, Theo Niko’s beautiful wife . To say they are saddened by these losses is an understatement. When we think about our parents aging, we usually think about them dying and lament our own loss. We never think about how our parents will feel as the “survivors” of the inevitable end of life that their loved ones have already, many prematurely, faced. At the recent baptism of our youngest son, my mother, despite wanting to be happy, confessed that the event was slightly depressing for her as there were so few of her nearest and dearest people left at the “grown up” table. Before, our events were filled with (sometimes too) many tables of my aunts, uncles and parents’ friends—you know, the “older crowd”. This year, at Marco’s baptism party, there was only one table of “grown ups”.
In a recent conversation, my mother was complaining to me about something, and quickly apologized, telling me she was sorry for burdening me with her feelings: “I don’t have anyone to talk to anymore,” she confessed. “I used to tell Thea Eleni all this stuff, but now that she’s gone, I have nobody left.” The truth is, I was happy to hear what she had to say. I felt honored to be the keeper of her otherwise-private emotions. I felt honored to be her friend. I believe that sharing the role of mother is what has bonded us recently, beyond that already ultra sacred mother-daughter connection–into the realm of true friendship.
Sharing the intimacy of motherhood with my own mother is a precious experience. One I am grateful to experience and one that I will never take for granted. When I need to tell someone something, it’s my mother I call. She’s my number one go-to gal for most topics (I do save some special topics for friends and sisters of course). Who else is interested in what my post-pregnancy body is doing or the inevitable sadness that ensues when I have to leave my tiny baby to go back to work? Who else cares when three kids are vomiting all over the place and all I can do is cry and wait for my husband to return from work? Who else wants to know the funny little things my kids say day in and day out? Who else wants to see picture after picture of my kids doing everything from breathing to going on their first boat ride? I know not you, Facebook friend who has probably blocked me for the plethora of pictures of my spawn. But my mom cares. The boys’ grandmother. Their yiayia who feeds them cookies and chocolates at 9:30 am just because she can.
I connect with my mother over the phone mostly every day; in person usually once or twice a week. We live thirty minutes away from one another, but her lack of a driver’s license and my busy schedule precludes much more time spent together than that. In a really lucky week, we’ll see each other three times. Still, even if I only see her once a week, it’s usually a rather long visit where we only leave if someone is having a meltdown. Our weekly visits sometimes go from morning to night. Other times, I confess to my husband that I feel badly I haven’t spent more time with her or my dad; there are sometimes weeks that go by that our schedules just haven’t meshed or the kids have been sick or something–life happens. So we talk on the phone a lot. Sometimes for too long and I forget about my own mom duties. Once, Giorgie literally had to puke all over the couch before I felt like it was okay to hang up with my mom (complete truth). You see, she has become my go-to person. Besides my husband, there is nobody else in the world who is genuinely interested in the daily going-ons of my children. When Marco says a new word, Giorgie makes a new discovery, or Jube reaches a new milestone, it’s my mom that actually wants to hear me go on and on about it. Moreover, she’s the person in my life who understands what it’s like to me a mom to three kids—she gets the everyday battles and victories of raising three little people. Unlike most people, she is super happy to have a one hour long conversation discussing the many uses of vinegar, sharing what and how we’re cooking for dinner betwixt various cries for help from a 1, 3, and 5 year old. She is unfazed by the boys’ interruptions, and typically has a bit of advice for handling the issue at hand. For that reason alone, she has become my best friend. And I think I have become hers. And despite our difference of opinion in raising kids at times (she SWEARS chamomile heals all wounds and thinks that babies sans undershirts are waiting for an illness. My kids are usually barefoot and naked. You do the math…), she really demonstrates respect for me as a mother. And I appreciate that so much. Goodness knows I have learned everything about mothering from her (the 40 books I read when Jube was born shy in comparison to the lifelong lessons she has taught me). And I am also there for her, to listen to the iterations of a woman who has led a life full of beauty and sadness–and to support her when her own friends have left her for that other, most peaceful place.
I have a slew of wonderful friends, who have been with me forever and will likely stay with me until our old bodies are ashes in an urn somewhere (please don’t snort them, boys), but the truth is that many of my closest friends don’t live nearby. As busy professionals and moms, we often don’t find time to connect in person or over the phone as often as I know we would like to (except my college bestie, Maura. Somehow her techno-unsavviness has kept us on the phone-realm–thank goodness!).
Who knew the woman who used to yell at me every single Sunday before church because my outfit was unsatisfactory (who said ripped jeans, a Nirvana t-shirt and black lipstick WASN’T okay for church?) would become my go-to gal? Who knew the clean freak who used to pull my hair in frustration because I just wouldn’t clean up my f#$king room (not that she ever cursed) would find comfort in me—her messiest daughter? My best friend has been there all along. She was just too busy raising me to inform me of her impending friendship. I’m glad I waited.