I don't remember when my mother started asking me for advice. I only remember I thought it was weird. Why would she be asking me for advice? She's the one who tells me how to get every manner of stain out of clothing and how to get over a cold and how to stand up for myself and how much of life is what you make it.
She made a point of it though, usually at the end of cross-country visits to me when I was living in San Francisco in my twenties. She would get a very serious look on her face, elbows resting on the flea market kitchen table, and give me a look that said I really want to hear.
I don't know what I told her; I think I usually hemmed and hawed and told her not to mix navy and black or you really ought to try Ethiopian food, it's amazing, honest.
Whatever I did say, she always nodded solemnly and thanked me.
She still does this, from time to time, ask me for advice, though I'm now in my late thirties and much more apt to give her advice, unsolicited. Don't freak out about the computer, Mom, it only makes it harder to figure it out. Read this book, you'll love it. Get rid of that shirt, it makes your boobs look weird.
She takes them all in stride, probably because there is undeniable respect and love behind every conversation, even the pointed, opinionated ones.
Maybe, even, especially those ones.
Z was watching me exercise the other day and I asked her if she wanted to try what I was doing. It's called "swimming", I said. Because it looks like you're swimming, BADLY.
She set about trying it, declaring with premature confidence before she even hit the floor, That's EASY for me.
This has become her favorite response to trying new things. It replaces last month's favorite, an equally strenuous and equally presumptive: I can't do that.
Both responses drive me nuts, because they're closed, preemptive. They don't allow for experimentation, they don't let the experience unfold.
So I took a breath and told her all that. I told her that life is about trying new things and allowing experiences to surprise you. That I hoped she would be open-minded, curious, adventurous.
She nodded in the resigned way of people used to being told what to do by people who think they know everything, so I said, for the first time, That's my advice for you. Do you have any advice for me today, anything you think I could work on?
She looked at me, looked at the ground, and told me that I could work on not losing my temper when she does something wrong.
I thanked her, hugged her and told her I would. I will. I want to work on being more patient and thank you for the reminder and I love you so much.
And she smiled and said, Now we both have something to work on!
Always, darlin'. Always.
This is a special place to be, sandwiched between my mother and my daughters. To feel this kind of love, the kind that gives and receives advice of the very best and hardest kind, from both a mother and a daughter? It is one of the richest, most blessed places to be.
Happy (almost) Mother's Day.