We All Want to Belong

Mom has been coming over to my house on Fridays for awhile now. She usually she just sits on the couch and sips her tea and writes inscrutable things in magazines and catalogs while the kids play. Every now and then she’ll pipe up. “I bought Spencer a potty. He’s old enough to use one now.” Or, “The gluten free pasta is really what he needs. I’ll send some.” Sometimes she’ll take a bath or a nap.  And she always empties the bathroom trash.

A few weeks ago the sun was shining, and when that happens in the Pacific Northwest, you get outside, stat. Quinn and Spencer and I were weeding while Mom sat on the couch. Quinn was filling up her watering can and watering the flowers and the weeds both. Spencer had a child-sized rake that he pulled along behind him as he followed me from one garden bed to another. Mom came out the door while we were working on the strawberry patch. First she sat in one of the Adirondack chairs with her eyes closed. Then she got up and walked around the perimeter of the yard. After watching for a few minutes I went back to work, building my pile of those blasted shot-weeds that are trying to conquer everything. Next thing I knew Mom had made her way to the shed, found the aerator, and started working on the lower section of the lawn. After a few rows she took off her sweater, and it was just the family, doing yard work together.

For some reason, I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. Besides the  professional looking white blouse, she looked like anyone doing yard work in her jeans and the rain boots. Wisps of hair fell out of her ponytail and into her face, and she kept tucking them behind her ear in between the step and pull of the aerator. She was totally devoted to her task and she wasn’t going to stop no matter how many times I told her she didn’t have to do it. She wouldn’t stop because she wanted to help, just like she wants to take out the trash and “buy” us food. She wants to be part of our lives, to make a contribution. To feel valued and part of something bigger than herself. Just like everyone.

As I watched Mom working alongside us, smiling in the sun, I was struck by what a crucial difference these Fridays make in her life.  I though about my decision not to go back to India but to come here and start to rebuild our relationship. For so many years after making the choice to move to Seattle I berated myself for being cowardly, for choosing the “easy” life over the sacrificial life in the slums of Kolkata. Even though I felt guilty about it for years, times like these cement the thought that maybe it wasn’t a mistake. Maybe it wasn’t my fear or selfishness. Maybe it was just the right thing to do, out of many good options. Maybe it’s what I needed. And what Mom needed too.

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