Mom always said to nurture yourself

Personal Essay

I anticipate my mother coming home from work everyday, the moment she’ll open the door, greet our cat, and set down the items she left with early that morning–a lunch box, her purse, folders with her company’s name across the center. Her return fills our home with warmth, provides each of us with what we’ve been lacking that day. Stabilizing our uncertainty. Depleting our loneliness. Even after four months of being away, studying in a foreign place, she has changed little. And I like it this way.

In high school, after hearing her car door slam in the driveway, a self satisfying comfort entered my chest. It was like the moment you finish a paragraph that required tireless editing, rewriting sentences, constantly adding and deleting words. Or taking time to journal. Or rearranging your bedroom, gaining a new perspective on the space you call your own. I’d rush downstairs to meet her, see what she wore that day, tell her about the pasta we made in the Italian club. I liked being the first one to see her. I liked hearing her dialogue with the cat and answering yes to her when she asked if I cut up the peppers for dinner. How she’d change into leggings right away, a way of inspiring herself to go to yoga. She’d make salmon for dinner with a side of salad, red peppers within it. She’d tell us all to put lemon juice in our water, to add ginger if we really wanted the cancer fighting effects.

I give her more space now. I try not to crowd her first moments at home away from the office, giving my brother and step father the opportunity to be the first to greet her. The front door creaks differently when she opens it. The air smells cleaner. The couches feel softer. Even when I am up in my bedroom I can feel her rejuvenating presence beneath the door frame. I can feel everyone’s eagerness to touch her, talk to her, ask her about her day. We all gravitate toward her.

My mother turned my bedroom into a greenhouse when I left for Rome. She stacked a miniature wooden bench onto a wooden nightstand, creating two levels. A succulent and a budding lemon tree sit on the first level, two house plants on the second. She watered them every Saturday morning, sent me pictures of their progress. After months of being the same height, the lemon tree finally grew. My mother, in collaboration with the sun, nurtured these plants. She provided them with a space to grow. And I want to thank her for doing the same for me. For packing, organizing, and sending me to Rome for four months where I was able, gradually and subtly, to move closer to the core of who I am.

Last Saturday, my mother showed me how to care for the plants. She showed me how much water they need and where to place them for optimal sunlight. We observed how water pools beneath the lemon tree’s pot, onto the plate it sits on. We drizzled the extra water into the soil of a plant in more need of hydration. It was an unceremonious way of giving me permission to nurture my own plants, and, ultimately, to nurture myself, something that solidified into my being during my four months in Europe. To nurture yourself, I’ve found, is to be mindful of what your body is revealing to you. Your body is always revealing something. Give it what it needs. Treat yourself gently like you are a child again in the arms of your mother.

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