“Do you want a cup of tea?” Mom asked.
No, I really wanted to say. I’d rather have a hug.
But Mom’s not a hugger, and, truth be told, neither am I.
“Sure,” I said.
“Since you’re right there, why don’t you start the water?”
I grabbed the electric teapot, the third or fourth of its kind, by its plastic handle and carry it over to the Brita filter. Mom can drink straight tap water for herself, but she swears the filtered water makes better tea. Tea is all important in our family, just as it is for Mom’s own mother and, in a strangely shared moment, for my father’s mother as well.
I carefully poured the water into the pot, thankful that the flip top metal lid has already been lost and I don’t need an extra finger to keep it from flipping closed under the stream from the pitcher. Then I plugged the pot in and stood beside it, waiting for it to boil. A watched pot may never boil, but an unwatched pot whose whistle has already broken will not only boil, it will spit hot water all over the counter as well. While I waited, I put down our cups and tea bags.
As always, Mom has a precise order to her tea making procedure. Years ago, she used to simply put a bag of Lipton original into her favorite mug, pour the water, and then remove the bag after exactly two minutes. I didn’t use to think that she timed it, but now, knowing her background as a nurse and having watched her check the second hand of her watch, I remember those swift wristward glances and am certain that she did. Exactly 120 seconds. Then she carefully measured in a teaspoon of sugar and stirred until there were no visible crystals. Exactly the same, every time.
Mom no longer drinks her tea that way. Instead, she uses Tetley’s British Blend. She fills up the cup until it is five-eighths of an inch from the top. Then she measures in one teaspoon of Splenda mix and two packets of Truvia. Add to that three teaspoons of Nestle’s Coconut Crème sugar free sweetened coffee creamer. There’s a medicine cup beside her mug to ensure precision. When everything is added, a mere eighth of an inch remains between the top of the hot liquid and the brim—just enough to allow stirring and transporting without spillage.
But Mom, for all of her meticulousness, is not making the tea today. I am. She’d probably prefer that I leave the bag in for only the desired two minutes, but she knows I’ll stop making it if she insists on it. I’ve been accused of leaving a tea bag in until my tea gets up and walks away. Anyway, Mom is flexible enough to handle imprecision on that point. The other stuff needs to be just so.
I bring in our tea. Hers just so, made to the specifications above and mine with just a slosh of milk. We sit next to one another and talk. I don’t tell her yet what’s bothering me. She’s never been where you go for a sympathetic ear. It’s not her strongpoint, and it never has been. She’s more likely to ask, “Well, did you deserve it?” than to say, “Aw, you poor thing!” And in Mom’s opinion, hardly anything is completely undeserved, and if I can’t take that cool logic in my present mood, I know not to bring up the problem. I cannot make my mother something she is not.
So we sit, talking about things but not talking about any real issues, and I slowly gain strength from just the sharing of the cup of tea. Mom doesn’t have the hug to give. She doesn’t have the sympathy in this case. She would die for us, yes. She loves us absolutely. She doesn’t have the soft cuddly warmness of the stereotypical mother.
But that’s okay. God never promised my mother’s grace was enough to supply all my needs. I’ll get my hug somewhere else. For now, I’ll take comfort in the tea and her presence, and, when I’m ready, I will appeal to her logic because, once I’ve sorted through these emotions, the logic will get me out of this mess. But not yet. In this moment, we’ll simply sit together, pretending everything is normal, sipping our tea.