It’s funny what triggers a memory of my mother. In that first year after her death —  two months before Mother’s Day — it was nearly everything: grocery shopping, television commercials, magazine covers. The memory of her perfume, Obsession, was so strong that I would wake up smelling it. I would dream about her, and wake up hearing her call my name.

I felt bombarded with reminders that I didn’t have a mother anymore.

Of course, my mother wasn’t perfect, and it's easier to see her that way now that she's gone. Now that I am a mother, I find myself wishing I could ask her questions about how I was as a baby and how she handled it all.

Thinking about her in that way is bittersweet. I want to remember her, but it comes at a cost.

As I cooked dinner the other night, my husband came dancing into the kitchen with our 8-month-old daughter laughing in his arms. My mom came to me then. I held onto the moment as long as I could. 

She was the "fun" parent; my dad was the practical guy, the one who taught us to fish and drive. But Mama — she would dance around the kitchen with a wooden spoon as her microphone, go sledding with us on snow days and take us for breakfast picnics in the park before school.

I’m afraid I can’t ever be like my mother in that carefree way — I’m too guarded. Frankly, after years of grief and loss, I think maybe I lost track of how to enjoy life.

Fortunately, Emma, with her grabs at the cats' tails and her pleasure in making soft raspberries with her mouth, makes every day an adventure. I don't know what she's going to learn from one day to the next, and being with her makes everything new to me, too.

I am a different person because I have my daughter. She won’t know me as the person who lost herself in care-taking roles for my mom and grandfather or worried over whether the house was clean enough. Good enough is my new philosophy.

I’m learning, by holding Emma's little hand, to slow down and enjoy things. Emma is teaching me to look at my surroundings for the details. Blades of grass on the kitchen floor that the dog brought in. Chains on the sides of the swing in our backyard. Colored beads on a bracelet — she loves my bracelets. With Emma, simple things bring joy.

My mom could read me as well as anyone in the world. She knew when I got stressed and needed to step away. She'd just remind me, in the useful language of cliches, that there's more to life and that I shouldn't sweat the small stuff.

Now Emma is doing the same.

Laura Johnston is an interactive news editor at the Missourian.

  • News editor at the interactive copy desk and an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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