The Power of a Mother's Voice

Not long ago, I found myself walking in circles
inside a Walgreen's. I went in because I wanted to buy
a couple of sympathy cards for friends, but I ended up
avoiding the card aisles because they were filled with
Mother’s Day cards.

This is my first Mother’s Day without
my mom. People say that when you lose
someone you love, the firsts are the hardest
— the first birthday, the first Christmas,
the first Mother’s Day. Last year at
this time I was terrified that my mom
would not survive her recently diagnosed
cancer, and this year that fear is
my reality.

After finding a couple of cards near
an end cap, I wandered over to the Easter
candy aisle thinking that some chocolate
might make me feel better. That’s when I saw the
marshmallow Peeps. Those were my mom’s favorite,
and I always bought them for her at Easter. Now they
have hollow milk chocolate eggs with a marshmallow
Peep inside: my mom would have loved that.

Before my mom died, she said things like, “I will
always be a part of you” and “You’ll always have me in
your heart.” I couldn’t imagine then what it would be
like to not have her here anymore, but my relationships
with my daughters help me to understand what
she meant when she said those things.

When my youngest daughter was in kindergarten,
she went through a phase where she felt disproportionately
guilty after she had done something wrong.
Her dad and I were over it, her sisters were over it, but
she couldn't get past her guilt—she couldn't move
on. She would say, “There is just this voice in my head
telling me I’m bad, that I never do anything right,
that I’m not good.” Finally, I thought to ask her whose
voice it was in her head telling her these things. She
looked at me like the answer was obvious.
“You!” she said. I laughed and cringed at the same
time. I had never said those things to her, but she had
picked up on my frustrations and disappointments,
and that translated into negative self-talk spoken in
my voice. It was a good reminder that as a mom, my
voice is powerful.

We joke about hearing our mothers’ voices in our
heads, and when we are younger that may feel more
like a curse than a blessing. But we are lucky if over
time that curse turns into a blessing as her voice
becomes a part of us.

In pretty much any given moment, if I quiet myself,
I can imagine what my mom would say to me. I can
still hear her voice, feel her love. Now I know what she
was trying to tell me.

Our oldest is learning how to drive, and in a few
short years she will be leaving for college. Sometimes I
look at her — in some ways she is like me and in other
ways she is so different—and I know it’s happening.
In the day-to-day mothering, I am becoming a part of
her and she, well, she has always been a part of me. It
is what it means to be a mother.

My mom, Carol Stephens.  1941-2013
I think I will go back to the store and walk directly
to the Mother’s Day card aisle. Even though it will be
hard, I will search until I find the card that best says
what my mom means to me, and then I will walk to
the check-out and buy it. And even though I don’t
care for them, I might even buy a package of marshmallow
Peeps — I think I’ll hear my mom’s laugh
when I do.

• Becky Baudouin lives in the Northwest suburbs with her
husband and their three daughters.

reprinted from the Daily Herald, April 16, 2014