A Fresh Way of Remembering Mom

05/07/2015 05:30 pm ET | Updated May 07, 2016

Every May, as Mother's Day approaches, I make time to think about my mom.

That can hurt, as I lost her so long ago, but this year was different. I watched my sister raise her children, who are now raising their own, and that has changed my perspective.

I know how hard parenting can be. Now that I'm divorced and my step-daughter is an adult, I attend family gatherings alone. I enjoy catching up with everyone, but always set aside time to quietly observe.

Watching little kids play is a blast. It doesn't take me long to remember that innocence, that ability to completely surrender to your imagination. This is a good thing, because usually I end up laughing out loud and blowing my cover. Kids never play as freely if they know an adult is watching.

After reconnecting with my inner child, I watch the parent-child interactions, because once again I can see both sides. I'm all too familiar with reacting as a weary, responsible adult and failing to see the humor inherent in some situations.

I spent this past Easter at my niece's house. After a full day of observing and playing with my great nieces and nephews, I'm able to revisit some memories in a fresh way.

When I was little, I'd get so involved in playing that I didn't want to stop to use the bathroom. My mom would notice me trying to hold it in, and called it "wiggling and jiggling." Once we were in the cashier's line at the store, and I noticed her doing a little dance.

"Mom, do you have to go pee?" I asked, loud enough for everyone to hear.

She tried to shush me, to no avail.

"But you're wiggling and jiggling, don't you have to go to the bathroom?" I pressed.

I think that was the first time I saw her blush, although I didn't yet know that word.

In the summertime, Mom would talk to our neighbor by the backyard fence. During a pause in their conversation, I flat out asked the lady if she was fat. She was an obviously large woman; I was just curious if I was using the word correctly.

I remember having a long talk after that one.

Once I got separated from Mom in a grocery store. We were looking for each other, but our paths never crossed. I remembered that the man behind the service desk sometimes talked into a microphone and everyone in the store could hear it. So I went to the desk to have her paged.

The guy was startled when I looked up to the desk and asked him to talk into that thing to help find my mom.

"What's her name?" he asked.

"Mom," I said confidently.

I didn't understand why he laughed.

"What's your name?" he inquired.

"Tommy C!" I replied, proudly remembering how I wrote my name at kindergarten.

"Would the mother of Tommy C please report to the service desk?" he announced.

She showed up with a funny look on her face. Eventually I learned the appropriate word was "sheepish."

Mom was patient and understanding, but as I grew older, I learned she could be unsympathetic if I did something she had clearly told me not to do.

In the early 70s, it was still legal to have fireworks in Illinois. Every July 5th, I'd hop on my Sting-Ray and scour the neighborhood for unexploded firecrackers. I loved to light them in my hand, and throw them in the air.

One particular Black Cat was sticky, and wouldn't release from my hand at first. It exploded just inches from my fingertips. Scared, I ran into the kitchen and found mom on the phone. I had to interrupt her to tell her what happened. After making sure I had all my fingers, she gave me an "I told you so" look and calmly continued her conversation.

Another time, I was being a complete brat to my brother John, who was lifting weights in the basement. I went too far, so he picked me up and threw me up the flight of stairs. I landed and skidded across the kitchen floor, where Mom was doing dishes.

I looked up; she looked down and gave me the look. I went upstairs without a word being spoken.

My mom was only 5 foot two, so I was as tall as her when I hit the lovely pre-teen years. I was talking back to her once, and she slapped me. Instead of taking the hint, I laughed in her face as if to say "you can't hurt me anymore."

Wrong. I'd disrespected her, and she gave me a look that reduced me to a pile of ashes.

Sorry, Mom. How I wish I could hug you again.