My mother was surprised to find that the photo booth was broken. She spent hours taking advantage of it. There is a box full of evidence. My mother gave it to me, like a gift.
These are some of my favorite pictures of my mother. Not because she looks particularly beautiful (which she is), and not because she looks so foolish (which she is not), but because I see in these photographs the many faces of a girl I didn’t know, but am certain I would have adored. I see in these photographs hints of the woman she would become, the woman I have spent every second of my life loving, and admiring, and hoping to be. I see in these photographs proof that we belong to each other.
I have them framed and hanging on my bedroom wall. I like that they are silly and creative and fun. I don’t look very much like my mother, but I can see myself here. I can see where she comes from, and where I come from, and the way I will always be my mother’s daughter. I am proud to walk through life with such a title.
Today is her birthday, and I find it only fitting to share one of my favorite stories about her. I have already written about her depth, her wisdom, her strength and beauty and grace. I have already shared her eloquence and elegance, and the precedence she has set for dignity. I have already expressed the many ways in which I find her phenomenal. It’s easy to see these things in my mother.
And so it is surprising to find her in moments of embarrassment. It is delightful to discover in her the unexpected. It is one of the many reasons I so greatly love this story.
My mother has always been a city girl. She was born in London, raised in New York City, spent her young adult life in LA, and then settled in Philadelphia. She has travelled the world and can read a map better than anyone I have ever met. She has an extraordinary sense of direction and unparalleled good common sense. I have never known her to be lost anywhere or lost in anything.
So when she was invited to a surprise party out in the suburbs, she didn’t bother looking up the address. She had been there before. She would find her way again.
“I’ll leave the door open, just come in and find a spot to hide,” the birthday woman’s husband had told my mom over the phone. All of the houses on the street were dark. She parked a few blocks away to ensure the surprise. She walked in and found an open spot behind the island in the kitchen. She sat down and waited.
A few moments later a couple walked in, chatting loudly. My mother, always one for rules, was annoyed with them. They were supposed to be quiet and hiding. She sat there growing agitated, looking around to see if anyone else was becoming annoyed as well.
And that’s when she began to notice that the house looked differently than it had the last time she was there. She didn’t remember those shelves. Were those new couches? Did they paint?
You can see where this is going.
There were many who were surprised that night. The couple who returned home to find a stranger hiding behind their kitchen island. The birthday woman whose squeal of excitement could be heard in the kitchen next door, where my mother stood horrified and humiliated. My mother, who after finally arriving at the right address and saying all of her hellos and apologies for being late, looked across the room to find the couple who’s house she had just broken into, laughing among a crowd of people, undoubtedly telling the story that would later leave me in tears.
It’s not surprising that I found this hysterical, but what I love most about this story is not that my mother was so uncharacteristically foolish. It’s that she told me. It’s that she shares it. It’s that she embraces these moments of embarrassment, and in doing so, she turns them into something beautiful and special and fun. They become stories of wisdom and depth and grace. They become my mother.
When I look at these photographs, I see a young, happy, silly girl who had the whole world ahead of her. I see the elegant, beautiful, remarkable woman I know to be my mother. I see the many faces of the person I hope to become.
And it is no surprise at all that with each passing year, I discover that the depths of my love for her are limitless. It is no surprise at all that I am proud to be her daughter.