My mom bought a Nintendo for Christmas. I was five. And even then, I knew it wasn’t for me.
We played Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda for hours. But what we liked better was watching our mom play. She was better at it. We sat and cheered her as she made it to the last level in Mario, as she negotiated her way through the labyrinths of Zelda. We watched her like prime time TV, made maps and kept score and never minded when she took over the game, because we knew she’d beat the baddies and save the princess.
My mom also loved to paint ceramic figures. But when we went to the craft store, she never just bought them for herself. My sister and I each picked out an animal. And we got to use real acrylic paint on them while she painted her own. Ours never turned out as good as mom’s. But we did it too. She included us.
Then, because my mom always wanted riding lessons, I got to take them. Soon we were taking lessons together, the instructor calling my mother “Mom” because she never bothered learning her real name. I got a horse. Then she got a horse together. We spent hours riding the trails together, just the two of us. “You tell your husband,” she always told me. “Love me, love my horse.”
I didn’t love everything my mom did, of course. I hate fishing - and I got dragged on numerous fishing trips that ended with me wandering in the woods, poison-ivy covered and happy. I still hate fishing. But my kids love fishing. So when the kids visit, Nana won’t let them stop her from doing what she loves: she’ll take them out, all three of them, down to the stream. She’ll teach them how to bait a hook and play a trout on the end of line. That’s her job.
My mom doesn’t let kids keep her from doing what she loves. Even when that means playing The Legend of Zelda for hours.
So when my kids popped out, I didn’t let them stop me either.
At first, that meant dragging a four-month-old in a Moby wrap to an oyster bar. But as Falcon got older, that meant lining the bathtub with trash bags, stripping him down to his undies, handing him some rubber-banded tshirts and letting him go to town with the tie-dyes. Sure, he looked like a multicolored mess for a week afterwards. But he was so proud that he got to tie-dye with mama. Even if his tie-dye didn’t look so good.
I don’t let my kids keep me from what I love. That means we don’t listen to KidzBop in the car. I like to listen to the Ramones. So my kids like to listen to the Ramones. I love and talk about it: What did you like? What didn’t you like? What should we listen to next? My mom did the same with Steve Winwood and Little Feat. I do it with the Pixies and the Velvet Underground.
We paint together in my house, all four of us. Sometimes we use acrylics. Sometimes we use watercolor. But everyone gets a brush, and everyone gets a piece of paper, and while my pieces looks a whole lot different from the smears my eighteen-month-old produce, they’re all proud. We did this together. I took my three-year-old’s spin art, glued it to some painted canvas, and hung it on the wall. We made something together.
I also love to ice skate. Even though Falcon’s only five, and his little brother’s only three, we all go ice skating. Daddy watches the baby while they wobble across the ice. Falcon’s getting good at it, and his brothers love when I pick them up and fly them around the rink, as fast as I can. They will learn to skate because I love to skate. Wobbly as they are, timidly as they skate, they love it. They love it because I love it, and because that love is a gift I can give them.
And I know that one day soon, when Nana comes to visit, we’ll hook up the old eight bit Nintendo. We’ll put in Mario Bros. and give the kids the controller. But they won’t mind when we take a turn. Our love, our time is not only a gift to ourselves, It’s a gift to them. When we share what we love, we share ourselves. And that’s all our kids want, really: not to play Nintendo, or ice skate, or ride a horse, but a chance to do what they love, together with someone they love.
I still love video games. I love to paint, I love to ride horses. I love Little Feat, and Steve Winwood and all the bands she played for us on those long car rides.
But mostly, I love my mom.
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