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My mom got into an accident this weekend. She was driving a moped with her friend Patti in Phoenix, took a turn too fast, and flew into a gravel median strip. After two surgeries, she is breathing on her own, and for the first time in 5 days, I was able to hear her voice this morning. When my dad held the phone up to her ear, and I heard her familiar voice, so much softer and slower than it normally is, I started to cry. I told her I was coming home to see her and I could hear her smile and she said she loved me. The only words she could get out were those words.

“I love you.”

“I love you, Mom.”

I’m not used to a whispering mom. 

It’s a tale as old as time – when I was a teenager, my mom and I fought unstoppably. Over anything, really. My room wasn’t clean, my grades weren’t good, I may or may not have doctored a grade report in the seventh grade so she wouldn’t see that I was getting a C in Spanish.

I was a sensitive kid, and my mom is a force to be reckoned with. She would not bend to my will, my whining, my pleading, my doe-eyed negotiations. It took me years of piecing together my mom’s stories to figure out how she learned to take no shit from anyone.

My favorite Debbie story is the one where she dropped out of school for a quarter in 1969 and drove out to Colorado from Iowa with some guys. She spent the winter in Breckenridge, knitting sweaters (two of which I still have), learning to ski (or at least sliding on her butt down the mountain), seeing people do drugs on the streets of Boulder, and digging into the weird mountain culture of the 1960’s West. She said she did mescaline once in a cabin and all the knots in the logs turned into spiders, so she never did it again. Fair. Spiders are terrifying. 

That’s who Mom is – she’s the type of woman who will trample off for a while, have fun, and never lose herself. She is the best example of wild and responsible I’ve ever known. For instance, she went into labor with me while she was in a meeting.

She was taking meetings while 9 months pregnant.

Along that vein – my dad tried to convince my mom to have a kid for years, and she stubbornly said no. She had my brother, and she didn’t want another kid. So my dad gave up. As soon as he stopped pestering her, she decided she wanted one. And so they had me. I am the child of contrarianism. 

 

She kept her job until her teenage daughter got too sad and too ADD in middle school to function, and then figured out how to work from home so she could be there when I got back from class. She told me once that she could never be a stay-at-home mom, not because she didn’t think it was a great option, but because she would get so restless she would end up going crazy and do I want a crazy mom? I said I already had one. She agreed. 

She taught me that women need to support one another, that feminism was getting rid of the myth of the “other woman” and that women need to stop tearing each other down. She pushed me to make good women friends. She still goes on a yearly trip with her college girlfriends, a couple of whom I grew up calling “aunt” without realizing they were not at all biologically bound to me. But they were bound to my mom, and that was enough to be called family. 

Mom and I worked out our differences in college, when I realized that she is the glue holding our family together. She married a sensitive man, had a sensitive daughter, and as the oldest of five kids, she was used to keeping people looking ahead, occasionally prodding our feet when we were too navel-gazing to move them. 

When I developed my eating disorder, which had claimed Mom’s youngest sister Wendy just a few years prior, the strong woman in front of me did something I didn’t know was possible. She both softened and grew fiercer, she both protected me and pushed me back into the world when I was better. She prodded my feet, made me look up to see that she was there, that everything would be ok, and that I could make it ok. That I didn’t need rescuing. That no one could rescue me, but people could help blow up the life raft. 

Since then, we’ve spoken almost every day. My mom knows everything about me. Everything. The most tawdry details, the worst thoughts that pass through my head. She is my diary, she is my best friend. We comfort each other, commiserate, trade recipes, trade stories. She mercilessly points out my unhealthy patterns, and then reminds me just as forcefully of my goodness. All my friends know about my mom. I’ll finish a story about her, and friends will affectionately sigh, “Debbie Tarrant.” 

Once I took her to a friend’s show, and she spent the whole set making some of the funniest comments about them and the music that I’ve ever heard (ie: “Did they all plan to wear that much plaid?”), so I wrote them all down and gave them to my friends, who were tickled.

She is goofy, she is wise, she can’t sing on-key, she taught me to make silly faces, she throws herself into new creative endeavors and succeeds, she is patient, and she is so so impatient. She starts making cookies for the holidays weeks in advance until the freezer looks like Otis Spunkmeyer’s wet dream. She is the voice in my head, and the nudging at my back. 

She is going to be ok.

I just wanted to write this all down because no one’s ever written an Ode to Debbie Tarrant before, and while she has no voice, I think it’s my job to let the world know what it sounds like when it’s ringing. I didn’t even know how much I would miss it until it went away. But when we were on the phone this morning, and I was crying quietly, selfishly wanting her to just be ok so I wouldn’t feel like my world was crumbling, she just sighed in a sleepy way and her smiling, strong, nudging voice called out from a hospital bed in Phoenix;

“I love you.”

I love you, Mom.

 

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