My mother has a knack for building traditions.
When I was small, she’d wait until the first weekend in December to decorate for the holidays. Then slowly, over a period of two or three days, hints of the season would begin to appear. Garland on the banister. A wreath on the door. Christmas music boxes and pretty handmade Santas she bought from a local craftsman. Eventually, we would trim the tree together, and she’d weave quick and cheerful remembrances as we hung the ornaments one by one.
She’d host lavish Christmas parties for the neighborhood and insist on doing all the cooking herself: homemade sauce, hand-rolled manicotti, spiced nuts, beef tenderloin, antipasto, red wine. When I was older, she let me invite my friends; we’d act as servers, passing trays of hors d’oeuvres and hiding the homemade candy so we could sneak snacks over gossip in the middle of the night. The next day’s leftovers were fantastic.
Those parties were social—always fun-filled and merry. But more than that, they were open-hearted and generous. People loved to attend, because they adored my mom. They left feeling well-fed and well-loved, energized and ready for the bustling remains of the season.
That’s where my love for tradition began. In my house, we launch the Christmas season the day after Thanksgiving. The boys watch The Polar Express and sip hot cocoa while we deck the tree and wrap a tidy electric train around its base. We spend our days baking cookies, decorating ornaments, writing letters to Santa, assembling Lego advent calendar pieces, and attending and hosting parties.
I love it. But try as I might, I can’t replicate my mother’s knack for celebrating a holiday. Now that we’re under different roofs, I miss the days we slipped aprons over our heads and laughed together with wooden spoons in our hands.
That’s why I kicked off a new December tradition a few years ago: holiday brunch with my mom. She picks the place, and (for once) promises not to fight me for the check.
I’ve wanted to try Rigsby’s for ages. When it opened 20 or so years ago, it almost single-handedly pulled Columbus out of the chain restaurant doldrums and into the realm of fine dining. I’m excited, but I’m nervous, too, because there’s something I should admit: This year, I have ulterior motives for brunch.
A few years ago, I found a list CNN.com reposted from Real Simple Magazine: 10 Questions to Ask Your Mother. That list is in my pocket this afternoon, and I’m planning to blurt out every last question. They’re all things I’d love to know about the woman sitting across from me. I can’t even guess what her answers will be.
1. What’s the one thing you would have done differently as a mom?
2. Why did you choose to be with my father?
3. In what ways do you think I’m like you?
4. Which one of us kids did you like the best?
5. Is there anything you have always wanted to tell me but never have?
6. Do you think it’s easier or harder to be a mother now than when you were raising our family?
7. Is there anything you regret not having asked your parents?
8. What’s the best thing I can do for you right now?
9. Is there anything you wish had been different between us — or that you would still like to change?
10. When did you realize you were no longer a child?
We order the risotto, and I have no idea what we’re talking about. I just keep thinking about the list, the list, the list, and I scold myself for stalling. This shouldn’t be a problem. I should be able to ask these questions. What if I don’t want to know the answer to #9? But also, what if I do? I…don’t know. Maybe I should skip it?
I look up and see my mother’s beautiful eyes and kind face. She’s telling me about a great aunt who is getting ready to celebrate a milestone birthday. The risotto appears, and it’s hands down the best thing I’ve tasted. Ever. In my mind, I fold the list and file it away for later.
It’s funny how little we know about the people we love best. I could interview my parents for hours and never quite scratch the surface. After years of prying with an inquisitive mind, and always getting an answer, I still just know basics. The names of their childhood friends. What their houses looked like. Their favorite subjects in school, the times they caused trouble, the way they met. Bits and pieces of their shared and individual histories.
If they were to sit down for hours and write every facet of their lives they can remember, I still wouldn’t know everything.
Parents are mysterious. That’s just how nature works. They are ornaments in our minds’ eyes, pulled from boxes, held up to the light, displayed in our fingertips so we can recall bits of our shared stories: the way their kitchen smells like spices, how my mother’s face changes when my dad makes her laugh, and all the other little things I’ve observed and recorded in the capsule of my memory all these years. I touch the glass of those memories and think, “that is my mom.” When really, there is so much more to her than that.
I’ll hold on to the list. I’ll memorize it so I can weave it into some thread of a future conversation. But today isn’t the day. We have risotto to eat, and an afternoon to just enjoy being together.
But you know the questions now, Mom. So get your answers ready.
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