Love Lessons... From My Single Mother
“Spring is coming and it’s like a mass explosion of men chasing after me,” my 70-year-old mother cried me a river over the phone recently. On the other end of the line I rolled my eyes and flipped through my own datebook, blank page after blank page.
Dad left us quietly five summers ago, despite my mother’s stern orders — while hitting his legs with a pillow — to stick around. After my initial shock of losing a parent muted, the next traumatic realization struck me nearly as hard: My mother is now single. Single like me.
Only not like me, as it turns out. It seems that single in the retirement years is a different animal than single in life’s prime. Let us count the ways my mother’s newfound singlehood differs dramatically from mine:
Mr. Right. My personal ad: SWF seeks healthy sperm count in the form of fit, ambitious, financially responsible male willing to share the household chores. Mom’s personal ad: SWF seeks fun-loving companion to share conversation and laughs and road trips to visit grandchildren.
Dating tactics. Last weekend, Mom went on a four-wheeling date with “The Rancher.” She was too “scared” to ride the four-wheeler by herself (wink, wink) so she climbed behind The Rancher and shared his four-wheeler. That same day, I hiked Radnor Lake with my own date and grew secretly irritated when he couldn’t keep up with me, then downright annoyed when he tried to pass me on the trail. What is this, a competition?
Sex. Still a firm believer in the stork, no matter how old I get, I will forever refuse to acknowledge my parents as sexual beings. Mom, on the other hand, loves to corner her daughters on the topic of sex when she’s not dwelling on her other favorite topic: How to dispose of her body when she dies. Thus, the unbearable afternoon a week after Christmas in standstill traffic on the seventh floor of the Mall at Green Hills parking garage, when she got on the topic of, er, self-love. See, I can’t even say it. I’m blushing. Let’s move on to the next category.
Internet dating. From what I understand, there’s this magical place for the 50-and-over-only crowd called SeniorPeopleMeet.com. One of Mom’s winning strategies is to email the men her age seeking women 20 years their junior and call them on it. “You old crony, who do you think you are?” They love this, and she gets all kinds of dates this way. Meanwhile, I’m over on blasé Match.com, resorting uncreatively to the electronic “wink.”
Communicating. Texting. Skyping. Instant messaging. Not me — I’m referring to Mom and the many modern ways she communicates with her dates. She reports that “The Cowboy” (not to be confused with “The Rancher”) Skypes her each morning at 6 a.m. Never mind the state of my hair at this hour, but who has the time? I need to get ready for work. Anyway, what would you even find to talk about at 6 a.m.? Oooohhh … never mind. It was the stork, I said, the stork! Next category, please!
Self-image. I honestly worry about things like the first time he’ll feel my bare tummy and detect in it the slight curve evidencing the Cupcake Collection stop I made yesterday before hitting the gym. Mom lets him know upfront that her body’s not perfect, but that she makes a mean pan of dumplings and sauerkraut.
The endgame. Maybe it’s because I’ve never found him — or maybe because I’m still in search of a baby daddy — but I devote ridiculous amounts of energy to finding “The One.” So, maybe because she’s already had “The One,” my mother’s goals are entirely different: companionship, simple as that. "The Rancher" and "The Cowboy" and "The Electrician" and "The Beekeeper" weave in and out of her life in a flurry of first dates and giddy phone calls and Skype break-ups. Reminiscent of love at age 16, when marriage and babies were still the stuff of teenage dreams and prom was the end game. The lack of pressure must be nice.
Funny how my mother always seems to know best. If ever we daughters had any qualms about going downhill from here, my mother is living proof that loving only gets better as we age. When we stop taking ourselves so seriously, when we have more time for people, when beauty by force of nature becomes less about our skin and more about our souls … maybe that’s when we really learn to love.
Shauntel Jennings has never slept like a baby. Even as an infant, her mother stood guard over her crib, waiting for her daughter to stop breathing. She shook Shauntel’s tiny body several times each night, rousing her from her breathless sleep.
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