I never particularly liked ballet, but mom did. And now that I’ve grown out of my prepubescent chub and awkward buck-toothed smile, I can recall fond memories of ballet recitals which I dreaded. No matter how many times I tripped over my own ridiculously purple ballet slipper or twirled into a group of coordinated, graceful little ballerinas, I could always look forward to a beautiful, congratulatory smile and a warm, loving hug that was inevitably followed by a breathtaking bouquet of roses.
I wish I had kept one flower, just one, as a symbol of her approval and acceptance.
These are bitter-sweet memories for me. Like my haphazard performance as a ballerina, I have grown accustomed to another kind of recital; one that is not scripted or rehearsed but is performed by those whose ignorance drives their need to console in ways that only frustrate. If only there was a polite way of conveying the truth: sometimes the less spoken, the better.
I remember cowering in the corner of a banquet hall full of mourning strangers, hiding behind a small army of my fellow fifth-graders, feeling awkward and broken. “Your mother would be so proud.” Several of my friends’ mothers were able to infiltrate my carefully constructed barrier of loyal peers and felt it necessary to assure me, as if I was a four year old, unable to grasp the concept of death, that my “mommy was in a better place….with Aunt Camille and Papa.”
“I know! I’ve heard it before!” I wanted to scream in their tear stricken faces. But of course I couldn’t, I didn’t. Instead I somberly replied with a timid “Thank you” and reluctantly accepted their emotional embraces. I wanted badly to ask what my mother would be so proud of. Perhaps my lack of external emotion that my father insisted would “catch up with me when I’m older and when I least expect it”. Or maybe the sudden disconnect from the rest of my family that I could only assume was caused by my inability to accept what could never be undone. My mother was the strongest, bravest woman I have ever known. I am certain that the insecurities and doubts I developed gradually, during her seven month battle with cancer, would neither impress her nor make her proud.
Over the past seven years, I have learned not to resent the naivete that engulfed many of my mother’s friends in their quest to comfort and heal me, but rather to embrace it, making it the primary factor in the choices I make. Am I living my life in a way that would make mom proud?
I constantly search for ways to ensure my mother’s approval. Whether it is something as influential as the example I set for my little brother or the decision to reject the first cigarette offered to me, my mother will always be there, reminding me that pretty ballerinas would never smoke.
I did keep a rose. Perhaps it took a while to find it, buried under self-consciousness and insecurity. But I believe that through growth and self actualization, I have realized that my mother will always be with me, forcing me to make intelligent, selfless decisions in a continuous attempt to make her proud.
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