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I Read You Like A Book

Into each life, a little rain must fall.

To sleep perchance to dream.

To thine own self be true.

I know you better than you know yourself. I read you like a book.

These are the most quoted adages of my mother. The first is what she would tell me in varying tones of voice when I experienced disappointment. The tone of voice ran from comforting to admonishing depending on the degree my disappointment was tinged with selfishness. It was always true, but it was also cold comfort. I never knew this was a line from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow!

To sleep perchance to dream. This is how my mother would bid me good night. Not every night, but often enough to be memorable. This was her version of ‘sweet dreams’.

To thine own self be true. I was, and am a pretty serious procrastinator. When I would bemoan yet another homework assignment that had been put off to the penultimate moment, when I was crying in sheer exhaustion cramming or worse trying to figure out a series of incomprehensible math problems late at night, this was what I heard over and over. Again, very cold comfort. But what’s really funny to me about these last two mommyisms, is that she never took me to see a play by Shakespeare!

And then there’s my favorite. I read you like a book. Nothing could set my teeth on edge like this one. Being a teenager, I fancied myself a mystery still unfolding. I didn’t know everything about myself yet, so how could my mother with all her outdated sensibilities claim to know me? So many of our arguments were fanned to flames with this one - I hated it so much! Decades later and long after her death, when my own children were coming into their own, I saw the absolute truth in her words. Of course, she knew me better than I knew myself - she cared for me before I even attained consciousness. All mothers know their kids in this way! I have observed my own dear offspring for lo these past 24 years and they are who they have always been. Of course, they have changed styles and slang, and favorite foods, but in essence, they are the same.

And then there’s my mother’s last most oft-quoted words - Youth is a wonderful thing, it’s a pity it’s wasted on children. This was her paraphrased version of George Bernard Shaw’s quote. I despised this one too. Somehow, whenever she said this, I felt judged. My mother has been dead now for 34 years - longer than the 33 years she was married. And now that I am older than she lived to be, I see the truth of these words as well. However she meant it, I look at my ability to let things go, in a way that I NEVER could in my youth and think what a pity.

Smoker, drinker, storyteller, dancer, friend, sister, wife, daughter. Of all the things she was, she was my mother. I still miss her, however much she got under my skin as no one else could.

All of us have been mothered in some fractured way or another. But we have been known, for better or for worse. From my poor old, beaten, beautiful, well-used, open heart - Happy Mothers Day, my friends.

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