At 36 years old, I sat in a small storage room with the remainder of my mother’s belongings. She had passed away ten years to the day, and when my father moved into a nursing home, he handed me the key and explained, “it was all the things of your mothers I could not let go.”
Part of me was terrified to open the ten boxes I never knew existed until now. I felt as though she would be staring me in the face when I opened the first box.
Instead, it was an old stack of notebooks. As a writer, my mother had hundreds of notebooks, and my father wasn’t able to get rid of any of them, even the ones with just random little quotes or drawings that didn’t seem to mean much.
I had read through notebooks my whole life, raising my kids after she passed away. It was one of the only ways I got through sleepless nights and vulnerable moments as a parent. She stopped writing through times of stress or worry, as far as I had known anyway, due to writer’s block. This was a room full of the moments my father had considered never letting us read—notebooks and journals about her struggles, her worries, and her weakest points.
As I looked through the boxes and loaded them into the back of my car, I reached a box marked ‘2020’ in my father’s handwriting. After opening the box, it was full of letters, notebooks, and random stacks of papers of many colors. She started her business in 2020 during the pandemic. I had assumed this was her documentation of that experience until I saw a short letter on the top of the stack that read:
Hubby, I wrote 800 words today on whether or not a squirrel can eat avocados for a client. The house is a mess, the kids did 10 minutes of school, and if you’re reading this, it is because we are all napping while we wait for you to get home from work.
Did the sun come out today? Are there still other people out there? Please advise.
Love Always, Your Wife
I laughed out loud when I read the date ‘April 2020’, only a month after the pandemic started. A flare for the dramatics and a sense of humor always added her personality to her writing. Curious as to why my father had hidden this box, I pulled out a hand full of papers and sifted through them. Notes about articles she had written, planners with how her business progressed on every page, and of course, journals and poems, some she had never even finished.
My son had just turned five years old, and that was the age of my older brother during the pandemic. Her journals had skipped right over that time period, assumingly because she struggled through the pandemic, so I did not have her guidance as I had through the rest of my life. I shuffled through the pages and briefly looked over them.
was doodled onto a sheet of paper in big letters with a design in pen all around it. Instantly I pictured my mother’s smile as she held the phone up to her ear and doodled to distract herself from the mundane conversations, as she always did.
Random thoughts seemed to be scribbled throughout her work planners, thoughts like;
Kids starting school: Drop him off with virus-ridden strangers? Or have someone you know for a fact is incompetent to teach your brilliant baby?
One on the first page of a new planner, dated December 2020, read;
Kids are asking about Santa. Is Santa a super-spreader going to everyone’s houses? Do I eat the cookies? WHAT WOULD SANTA DO?
Reading through my mother’s day-to-day was a sight to be seen. Some days were filled with tasks she had accomplished, and some days simply had a date at the top of a page. I had learned at an early age; her handwriting would change based on her mood. Constantly finding little handwritten notes throughout my life. My favorite remained a note I found at 19, sleeping on my parent’s couch, sick with pneumonia. I woke up and went into the bathroom to find a stack of medications and a note with the medicines and the dosages on them. At the bottom, it said;
If you stay up all night sick and alone without waking me up, I will ground you again.
My mom never was ashamed to pull the ‘mom card,’ even when we were grown and moved out. Journal entries about depression and anxiety, feeling scared for her children, and worry was sprinkled in among random thoughts, bragging about her children and what was happening in the world news. Articles and drafts she had written about the challenges people face and letting them know they were not alone are the ones she published, and I had read every single one of them. She always said it was “in hopes the one person out there that might need it might find it.”
At the bottom of the box, an article typed out but never published, that I knew of at least, was titled “Coming Out Of 2020, We Survived,” was dated December 31, 2020. I sat down in the dim storage room, and I pictured her smile and heard her laugh. Expecting humor because of the title, I was surprised at the first line that said,
“Not all of us have made it through this year, and those of us who did, are not the same people we were in January.”
She went on to talk about schools closing and fear among the community. She was slowly coming to the realization that this was not going to pass quickly. Being home too much or not enough, she worried about my brothers and sister and the guilt that my father worked so hard. Then, all of a sudden, the tone changed.
“We are finally walking out into the light to enjoy the feeling of the sun on our faces. We are thankful for the chance to shake a hand or receive a hug. The children laugh harder at the playground and share willingly because they are thankful for the ability to do so. Parents are making more dinners at home, and teachers are proud to stand in front of their classes.”
I thought back to realize that my mother homeschooled us through a majority of our elementary school, she worked from home from then on out, and our family time was never sitting in front of a screen. When we ate at restaurants, it was always a special treat. I realized her world had changed that year.
The last paragraph read;
“We stand stronger as a community because we know we can stand strong on our own. As we come into a new year with new hope, we should embrace the change and continue with our ways. Let this lesson not be forgotten, and let us be smart enough to be grateful for all that we have. We may mourn, mourn those we have lost and mourn the life we once had, but we must also be thankful for the ability to stand here today and for the lessons we have learned. The smoke is clearing, and we have the chance to make changes, to learn from the before and change the after.
In parentheses, she wrote “really corny.” As I stack the papers and notebooks back in the box on the top as I go to close the box, a note from my mom said;
“2020, the year of COVID-19, Murder Hornets, Rigged Elections, Dirty Butts, Toilet Paper shortages, riots, Amazon.com, and Uber Eats…we have not come this far only to come this far.
It’s all worth it to try to provide a better world for my children.
May my breakdowns be short, my hair ties stay tight, and my music sing the songs that touch my heart.“
As I loaded the last box into my truck and slid into the passenger seat, I thought to myself; I never knew things were wrong on the outside. We were loved and safe on the inside.
That’s a feeling everyone should know.
Maybe the world would be a better place if they did.
-The Un-Traditional Mother