Thursday, April 10, 2014

I Remember Your Mother

My old boss' mom just passed away. She was about a million years old, I think. (OK - almost 102! - but that's really, really OLD.) I hadn't seen her since the late 90s and, as luck would have it I was unable to join the family in sitting Shiva, a custom this old Catholic rather appreciates.

So I didn't get a chance to hug my boss and tell him how I love him and am thinking of him. I didn't get a chance to hug his wife or his daughters and I didn't get to share the stories or smile at others' recollections. I didn't get a chance to tell my boss: I remember your mother.

When I first started working for this boss he was at the very top of his game - young, ambitious, not a little bit cut-throat. You had to be in his line of work, and I was at once attracted to and a little repelled by the force with which he managed to shut people down or inject frenetic action into a room. A warrior, he was, fully armed and charged for battle every day.

That is, until his mother called.

You could almost hear the armor falling behind him, clanging like abandoned toys as he would turn and walk to his office.

'Ohhhkaaayyyy,' he'd heavy sigh and, head hung, trot off into the dark, wood-paneled room, casting aside piles of files and urgent messages to hear her admonitions, answer long, thickly-accented questions, and so on.

When he was in a particularly brave mood, my boss would ask me to ask her if he could call her back - never 'tell', just 'ask'. Over the years as she and I got to know one another, she'd sometimes rather prefer to speak to me than to him.

"Don't bother him. He's busy, I know," she'd tell me.

So we'd chat for a moment or two and without fail, most of her chatter was about her son - asking me if he was eating enough, in rain if he was carrying an umbrella, in brisk weather whether he had a scarf, boots to keep his feet dry.

Here was her son, just fifteen feet from me, talking to some of the greatest captains of industry, a stone-and-steel expression on his face, critical transactions being bandied about the office, stacks of importance against every wall and the constant ringing and clacking of a busy, busy operation...

And here I was, reassuring his mom that the boss had a sandwich and that I would send him home with warm, dry clothing. There was so much humanity and vulnerability in her need to watch over him even in that late stage of her parenting, and there was so much grounding in knowing that part of his life. I've sat across from millionaires often in my life since then, and always I smile to myself wondering if their moms call their offices to check on their well-being.

I'm a mother now and I have a son. I cluck and fuss after him and try to make sure he's eating well and staying warm. Every so often, as the winter months forge new generations of Chicago survivors, I pull my son to me and wrap a warm scarf around him and give him a kiss because I love him so, so much.

And, EB, I remember your mother.

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