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Mom is a Sunflower-and I'm working toward being one too

Vail Sunshine

I was surprised to see the picture of me framed and on display in my moms tiny living room. It was taken this winter on a work trip in Colorado. We had just arrived, and I was sitting outside on this sunny red bench that had beckoned me through the window. As soon as I saw the photo, I saw my mother. It was classic Anna. Face toward the light, warmed and golden like a sunflower.

I sent it to her, with a note saying it reminded me of her. She understood right away. I imagine she smiled and took a breath as she saw herself in that photo soaking in every sunbeam. Maybe it was reaffirming to her as a mom to see that one of her sunflower seedlings had grown up to appreciate the same.

My mom never missed an opportunity to lift her face toward the sun. Norwegians live through the winter months in a state of darkness and any glimpse of light is not wasted through a window. It was not uncommon to find her planted in a snowbank with a bottle of champagne, or on a beach chair pressed up against the sunniest wall of the house on those blue bird winter days. For her in those moments, there was nothing else. Just warmth and light. The same feels true in the picture of me on the bench--there was no pandemic, no quarantine, only the beautiful glow of a moment in the sun.

I had no idea what being a mom was like until I was one. I couldn’t have imagined the exquisite joys and unexpected magic of motherhood, nor could I have understood those unspoken moments that are so very hard. I never knew how much crying was involved. Tears of joy and wonder, tears for beauty, tears for lack of sleep and tears for things we cannot mend for our children. Only now can I give my mom the credit, only now do I recognize the magnitude of motherhood. She is a remarkable woman. I tell her that every chance I get.

My parents moved to this country when my mom was twenty-nine. They had two young girls under the age of four, and mom was very pregnant with me. They had no family in the US for support, and she had no friends to depend on in those moments when she needed them most. Just her, the girls, and a husband with traditional values--this is code for she did everything. Three little ones, a new country, a new language and a very busy husband. While my dad focused on a future for us, my mom created a life for us. This country girl from a small town in Norway wasn’t daunted by the idea of driving the Chrysler wagon into NYC, hitting the streets of Chinatown, popping in to the Guggenheim or the Met with three tiny blonds in tow.

She took us camping in the Adirondacks for six weeks every summer. In a tent. No running water. No electricity. Cooking three meals a day on a propane stove, doing dishes, changing diapers, digging trenches around the tent when the rains threatened to wash away our summer housing. She was a one man army contending with outbreaks of chicken pox, stubbed toes and poison ivy. How did she do it without complaint, without signs of stress, without completely melting down and abandoning ship? Maybe there was vodka involved, I’m not sure.

I asked her this week if she thought it was hard, or if she was stressed out on those extended camping trips. She laughed and said they were some of the best times of her life! She said “give me the outdoors, a tent, and some sun and I am happy!” I could see the sparkle and life of those memories twinkling in her eyes. She looked ready to go back right there and then.

Today at 85, my mom has her bad days. Sometimes she wakes up in so much pain she can’t walk. She still worries about her three girls who have long since left the nest. Once a mom always a mom. She has endured this pandemic and the loneliness it has bestowed upon so many. But when I talk with her and she’s having a tough day, she always says, “it’s ok, because I know this is temporary and better days are still ahead”.

I am in awe of her. As moms, heck, as humans, we need those reminders on the days when we just want to plop on the floor in a puddle of tears. How we feel in that moment is not permanent. There is still light, in which we can find those glorious moments that nourish us from the inside out, and give us strength to grow, to feed the little birds and carry on.

I woke up the other night thinking about the picture, my mom, and her sunflower like nature. Even her bedroom is decorated with them. I googled something I had read on Instagram about how on cloudy days sunflowers face each other for warmth. It turns out this is not true, just a lovely thought. But in my late night Google session I did learn something about them that really resonated, and full disclosure, it made me cry. It was beautiful, and it was my mother. I hope one day it is me.

Did you know that mature sunflowers no longer follow the sun through out the day? As their internal clocks start winding down, they stop chasing the sun. Instead, they rest facing east. They have learned through time that the light will return, even after the darkest night. This is how I see my mother, my sunflower, facing the East in her mature years, reminding us that even on the toughest days, if we are still, the sun will rise and shine upon all of us once again.

my mom the sunflower

Happy Mothers day to all you sunflowers.

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