“I got it for free,” she says, “Isn’t that amazing? And I’ve always wanted to read it.”
I pick up the book and open the cover. I love the smell of books, and even more I love feeling them in my hands. The pages of this book are dusty, the corners folded. Key points are underlined with a steady hand. While I’m sure most women my mother’s age have heard of it, I have not. I find this tragic and add it to the running ticker in my head, a check list of everything in the world I want to experience or understand before I’m too old or too dead.
It’s an impossible standard because the more I learn about something, the more I realize I don’t know about another. But still, I wonder often how much shorter that list would be had I never allowed my life to be derailed by men. During high school, college and the career that followed I always had a boyfriend or a man I was dating. The relationships, all failing, ultimately took time away from other pursuits. Here’s just one example, after graduating from Ohio University’s esteemed journalism program I declined an internship offer with the Associated Press’ Amsterdam bureau. Partially because of a job offer in Columbus, but largely because I couldn’t imagine being apart from my boyfriend at the time. The boyfriend quickly became an ex-boyfriend and I have regretted the decision ever since.
Why have I always been so vulnerable to being completely and absolutely distracted, often to my detriment, by the men who enter my life? Do I have self-esteem issues? And what does that say about me as a mother? For those of you who have read my eBook, Ms. Single Mama Uncensored, you know about my realization shortly after my divorce that I had been dating the wrong men my entire adult life. I vowed to never choose a man again for the wrong reasons.
I have felt ever since that my choices and subsequent relationships have improved dramatically–but, here I am, still single. Nothing wrong with that and I’m not kicking myself with regret. Here, where I am now, is a very good place to be. But, I am still feeling little echos of need. Of needing someone just to have someone, to feel wanted. And that scares the s&*t out of me, because that feeling of need, that feeling of filling some void inside of me that no man can ever really fill is what always gets me into trouble.
I want it to go away and I can’t afford the therapy bills, so I start reading, hoping Gloria has some answers.
She has me within a few seconds, gripped by a quote from her own Mother that “Children don’t belong to us. They are litle strangers who arrive in our lives and give us the pleasure and duty of caring for them–but we don’t own them. We help them become who they are.”
I look at Benjamin who is curled up on the couch next to me, my little stranger.
I lean over to give him a kiss and then whisper, “I love you more than anything and no matter what.” It’s a phrase he has understood since I started saying it when he was three. No matter what.
I had always assumed he knew that I loved him no matter what, but it was my mother who enlightened me to the fact that I had to say it out loud. That with children that young, as Steinem explores, unconditional love is the only thing that matters. My mother, like Steinem’s, also overcame her own personal childhood trauma to give all six of her children endless and unconditional love during the formative early years of our lives and I still don’t know how she found the strength. I feel drained enough with just Benjamin, constantly keeping my temper at bay. It’s hard; modern motherhood and it’s a wonder half of us are as sane as we are.
I look at my mother now as she models hats she found thrift shopping. One is from Morocco. It’s a giant sun hat and I agree with her that it is quite possibly the most fabulous hat I’ve ever laid eyes on, but then she pulls out the second. It’s even more stunning. Black and wide with a tastefully, faded flower on the side.
“And this one,” she says, “This one just makes you want to smile.”
She smiles then and her eyes seem to sparkle, the bright blue jumping right out and into my heart where I’m smiling back. Forever connected, and it all starts in the beginning of a child’s life.
Then I ask her if I can borrow the book…