Seea ambassador Lauren L. Hill shares how she was raised by her single mom, the sorrow of almost losing her to illness, and realizing the depth of maternal love with her own son.
By Lauren L. Hill
Silty grays and browns from toe to sky. I’d never noticed the muted palette of my home beach before. Or the overwhelming sense of straightness and flatness of this land and beachscape. Maybe it’s just me?
This town where I grew up in Florida is exactly the same, but I’m different. I’ve been away for the last four years, experiencing the highest highs and lows of my life: way off the beaten track travel, bringing a baby into the world, not sleeping for the last year with baby, and now on the brink of losing my mom.
The lenses through which I once saw my small world here had not been smashed so much as forgotten in an airport hotel somewhere along the journey back. My relationship to everything has changed in these last years: to myself, to this place, and, not least of all, to my mother.
Lauren L. Hill and her mother.
A ruddy brown pelican swoops to ride a swell line northward as the first pinks and oranges blush the morning sky. Waist high wavelets tumble toward me, a cappuccino of Atlantic sea and frothy white water and I hurl my body into them, something that always makes me giggle from deep within, no matter where in the world I am. I need that medicine now.
We’d planned this trip to Florida months ago, my little family traveling across the world together for the first time. Then crisis struck suddenly: my mom was in the hospital, unwell with a blood clot in her lung. She’s young, 56-years-old, so we figured she would recover quickly, though the condition was painful. If you live far from your family, then you might recognize the particular seed of worry that lives within my body about something like this happening; unexpected, emergent situations where time is of the essence, but it takes a solid 30 hours or so of straight traveling to get here from Australia.
We dropped everything, including our boy’s first birthday party, and flew as soon as we could when we found out my mom was facing amputation of her right foot. Another blood clot was preventing circulation to her extremity. The anticipation of seeing my mama missing body parts made me feel sick. I had nightmares about it almost every night until we arrived.
And then I see her and I hug her and I’m so grateful she’s still here. Over the course of the next weeks, we rollercoaster in and out of her recovery together. She takes a dip for the worst, and we’re not sure she’ll make it. They take her foot, then her knee, then up her thigh. Infection and clotting.
I’m heavy with guilt from all the moments I missed while traveling: the birthdays, the holidays, and the mundane in-between moments that make up a relationship.
Lauren has a saltwater therapy session in Florida.
Lauren's mother, playing in the ocean.
In between hospital visits and living in a hotel, I paddle into the ocean. I look around to make sure no one is within earshot and then wail into the oncoming swell lines ‘mama, mama, mama.’ My chest heaves with despair. I’m snotty and angry and just keep paddling until I’m composed enough to catch a wave. No matter what, each day we all get into the ocean. The 84-degree water is a warm, watery embrace. It is our daily prayer to life; our temple of buoyancy.
The guilt is thick, but more so the sorrow. My mom raised me basically by herself. She went back to work when I was three months old to pay the bills as a single mom. She kept pumping through the first year so I’d have breastmilk while she worked. She took on two or three jobs through most of my childhood so we never went without—so we had a home near the beach and surfboards and always enough food to feed my friends. She took on housemates to help pay the mortgage. She shared my loans for college. She always supported any creative endeavor I ever had: guitar, painting, pottery, reading cheesy YA novels, even surfing.
She loved me so wholly and supported me so fully. The thought of her not being on the planet makes me wonder how much of me can even exist without her. How can I go on if my very roots are torn away?
And it’s a weird feeling because, over the last many years, we really haven’t had that much face-to-face time together, in the same time zone.
But it never mattered. When she finally got up the courage to visit me in Australia two years ago, I had one of the sweetest remembrances of my whole life: my mom is my best friend. She makes me belly laugh like no one else. She’s the person who knows me like no one else can ever know me because she knew me before I even knew myself; before I had the foresight to filter or façade.
Thankfully, after many months in the hospital, my sweet mama made it through that scary time. I spoke with her on the phone the other day and she told me that with the myriad big changes lately, with retiring and losing her leg and all, that she was ready for a name change: Eileen. (Get it, I lean?) It took me a while to laugh, but we did, together.
Lauren and her son.
With a baby of my own, the depth and breadth of maternal love come into focus for me more and more each day. Not one of us would be here—thinking, breathing, surfing—had we not been gifted the love of the woman who kept us alive. Even through that first year of sleeplessness, confusion and the steep learning curve of speaking the same language without any words at all. It’s an extraordinary and irreplaceable intimacy.
I didn’t grow up with a village. I grew up with a single mom who did everything. She is my people. And she always will be.
Love you mama.