What I Want You to Know About My Imperfect Wife / Your Perfect Mom

We were waiting in line at Legoland for a roller coaster you had been wanting to try all day when you started to get anxious. “I want to get out of the line,” you said. “I don’t want to do this ride anymore.”

I squatted down so I could meet your eye. “That’s fine. We don’t have to do it,” I said. “But I want you to know that a lot of times rides look scarier than they are, and I know you would have fun on this one.” My words did not soothe your nerves, however, so we excused ourselves with apologies to the people behind us and zig-zagged our way back to the main walkway.

I started to ask you what ride we should do next but then I noticed you were crying. “What is it?” I asked. “Are you embarrassed? You don’t need to be ashamed about not wanting to do the ride.”

“It’s not that,” you managed. “I just miss mommy.”

I had wondered if this moment might come. I questioned how it would be for you to see all the moms carrying their kids, holding their hands, taking family selfies, answering some number more than two when the employee asked how many people were in their party.

We sat for a few minutes and missed her together, you crying into my shoulder as I held you and rubbed your back. Between sobs, you said, “Mom was the best mommy ever. She was perfect.”

I thought then of one of my favorite scenes from the movie Good Will Hunting. The title character in the movie is a troubled young genius who puts up walls in his relationships to shield himself from any pain. After beating up a former bully and lashing out at the officers who intervene, Will is compelled to attend therapy, which he does with his typical apathy and irreverence. After burning through several would-be counselors, he ends up with a therapist named Sean, played brilliantly by Robin Williams. When Will learns that Sean is a heavily grieving widower, he tries to exploit that fact to drive Sean away, only to discover that Sean won’t be so easily manipulated. After a tense early confrontation, Will continues to see Sean as the two men slowly begin to gain trust in one another.

During one of the therapy sessions, Will tells Sean that he met someone he is interested in romantically. He explains he’s nervous to spend more time with her because he might find out she’s not perfect. Sean scoffs at this. He tells Will that his wife used to fart when she was nervous and when she slept, one time even waking up the dog. The two of them laugh at that before Sean adds, more somberly:

Oh Christ….aahhh, but, Will, she’s been dead two years and that’s the shit I remember. Wonderful stuff, you know, little things like that. Ah, but, those are the things I miss the most. The little idiosyncrasies that only I knew about. That’s what made her my wife. Oh, and she had the goods on me, too, she knew all my little peccadillos. People call these things imperfections, but they’re not, ah, that’s the good stuff. And then we get to choose who we let in to our weird little worlds. You’re not perfect, sport. And let me save you the suspense. This girl you met, she isn’t perfect either. But the question is whether or not you’re perfect for each other. That’s the whole deal. That’s what intimacy is all about. 

I think I saw that movie for the first time when I was in college, several years before I ever met your mom. It stuck with me, though. I would think about that scene and those wise words frequently during the years your mom and I were married anytime she did something that got under my skin. Or when she would let out a really bad fart.

The scene has taken on new meaning for me these last thirteen months.

As the surviving spouse, your mom’s friends and family feel compelled to talk with me when they are really missing her. They usually want to talk about how great she was. How kind. How selfless. How caring. She was all those things and more, and I’m more than happy to share these memories about all the good things she did in her short time here. Like how she remembered special days, never forgetting to buy me a Diet Coke, Dots, and baseball cards on February 16th to mark the anniversary of my dad’s death. Or how, to the very end, she would greet every nurse and doctor with a smile and ask them how they were doing. The medical staff would always hesitate, and I could see how taken aback they were, being asked this question so pleasantly by someone with such a dire prognosis.

She was spectacular. Full stop. My heart would not hurt like this thirteen months later if she wasn’t.

Ah, but I remember the idiosyncrasies, too. The imperfections. Or, as Sean would put it, “the good stuff.”

Like how she conked out early most nights, leaving it to me to figure out how to get our little night owl to fall asleep, too.

Like her verbal tic of saying “you know” whenever she was having a serious conversation. Sometimes I would be so distracted by those filler words that I would lose track of what she was trying to tell me.

Like her love of the trashiest of reality TV. Why a 40 year-old woman battling cancer would want to watch a show about pregnant teenagers was always beyond me.

And, yes, like her nighttime farts.

As Sean so wisely observed, what mattered wasn’t whether she was perfect or not, but whether we were perfect for each other. It sure seems like we were.

When she fell asleep early, I stayed up late.

When she struggled to get the words out, I found plenty for the both of us.

When she watched trashy reality TV, I built Legos with you.

When she farted in her sleep, I told her about it the next morning and we would start the day off with a laugh. (Usually she’d have a few examples of my own to remind me of, and I’d just tell her our butts were having a conversation.)

And just as I picked up any of her slack, she covered for all of “my little peccadillos.” My lack of organization and planning. My laziness when it comes to cooking and cleaning and all the little errands to keep the house in order. My inability to remember birthdays and get cards in the mail. My tendency to accumulate junk that I think I might use someday.

Now, without her counterbalance, my imperfections just dangle like electrical cords with no socket.

For you, things are different. Your mom was your hero. Untouchable. Beyond comparison. I think deep down you know she was not a perfect person, but you are certain she was the perfect mom. And why, at age seven, would I try to convince you otherwise?

Someday, you may find yourself wanting to know more about your mom’s imperfections. It may be that doing so will open up to you new aspects of her being and make her feel more alive to you. So, when the time is right, if you want to know, I’ll tell you about some of the “good stuff” in our marriage.

For now, though, you want to be reassured of her perfection. And so I assure you.

“Mom was the best mommy ever. She was perfect.”

“Yes, she was, buddy. She sure was.”

One Comment on “What I Want You to Know About My Imperfect Wife / Your Perfect Mom

  1. I get this post. Your dad wasn’t perfect either.🙂. I miss his obsession with baseball cards, the way he cut up watermelon and his inability to help with any housework until we got in a fight. All of these qualities drove me crazy at times. And those are the things I miss the most.

    Liked by 1 person

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