Sunday, May 13, 2012
Happy Mother's Day
Writing about my mom is not an easy task. If one was to ask me to write about my dad, I could recount lots of shared experiences, and how he was always (mostly) proud of me; stuff like that.
I didn't have a lot of shared experiences with my mom. Our relationship wasn't like that. In fact, I don't really like the flowery prose stamped inside those pre-fab greeting cards one finds at Target. Because most of that stuff isn't necessarily true. "Mom, you were always there for me." No, you weren't...always. "You always showed such patience" (that's not how I remember it). "You always encouraged me". Okay, if "don't embarrass me" is a form of encouragement, sure.
First of all, my mom was too busy to spend time bucking me up. Moms didn't tend to do that back then. "Don't embarrass me" was, in fact, one of the best pieces of wisdom a mom could impart. Those words served to keep one on the straight and narrow, at least while within eye shot of one's mom, anyway.
I've written before that my mom and I rarely saw eye to eye. We were just too different. She was disappointed in me, because I wasn't like her. Parents want to see themselves in their kids. I wasn't necessarily the weirdest weirdo of the six kids, but I was "different". I was more than happy to live in my own fantasy world; in fact, I preferred it. Sure, I might have been called a loner, but in my defense, I was the middle kid, with several years separating me from the rest, and so, there on the farm, I didn't have anyone to pal around with (except sometimes the stray farm cat that I had adopted and tamed).
So, I was either outside (alone) in the summertime, wandering along through the trees or down the gravel road, humming made-up songs to myself, or on the backyard swing, pretending that I was a trapeze artist, or standing atop the picnic table, picturing myself as a famous singer. In the wintertime, I was upstairs in the spare room, creating my masterpieces of hand-drawn designs of something or other, or "sewing" Barbie doll clothes out of spare bits of material and bric-a-brac, which I, of course, was convinced I would be able to sell at a roadside stand; a road that saw maybe four cars a day, tops.
Meanwhile, my mom was downstairs, waxing the kitchen floor on her hands and knees, or slaving over a hot stove, canning jars of green beans from the garden she'd planted and weeded.
I was oblivious.
I think, once or twice, she made me dust the living room. It probably only lasted a whole two times, because I did such a lackadaisical job.
Once we moved off the farm, and my parents bought their own business, my mom was under constant stress. It wasn't just the demands of the business, but she was dealing with my dad's drinking. I was a pre-teen, and I had my own hormonal issues. The only interaction I had with my mom entailed her yelling at me about something, and me slamming the door and hiding away in my room.
I think I even embarrassed my mom at my own wedding, because I was too immature to get married, and it was all a lark to me. A lark that my folks paid for. I was a month shy of nineteen (which equates to about age 32 in today's world of "kids"). I had no business trying to be an adult, and yet I wanted everyone to see me as one. No wonder my mom was disapproving. She had all her relatives there, and there I was, parading around like a junior high school kid; more interested in yukking it up with my friends than in taking the whole thing seriously.
Once I had kids of my own, my mom cut me a bit of slack. I don't think she necessarily approved of my child-rearing ways, but the kids were always clean and fed, and they were happy. They were having fun, and they weren't dolts. They were smart and funny and talented, so although I couldn't take credit for a lot of that, at least my mom could say that I did no harm.
My mom and I tried a few times to go on outings together. They were uncomfortable; strained. We didn't have scintillating conversations. We saw "Saturday Night Fever" together, and if we want to talk about being embarrassed, well, that's really not the kind of movie you go to with your mom.
My mom liked to play bingo, so sometimes I went with her to do that. She did love her gambling. It was something we could do together, and there wasn't time or opportunity to chat, since she had to be ever watchful of the eight bingo cards that she was playing.
She wasn't one to make friends easily (hmmm), but then again, she never did have a whole lot of opportunities to do so. But when she became a regular at the bingo parlor, she became friendly with some of the ladies, and later, she and her hairdresser, and her hairdresser's mom, began going to country music concerts together. I was happy for her.
One concert that the hairdresser and/or the hairdresser's mom didn't attend was the Garth Brooks extravaganza. My mom and I went to that together. She loved it. It was a spectacle, I must say. I felt good about seeing that concert with my mom. We had seats in the second row, and she was really excited. That was the best time I had with my mom, ever.
Generally, however, the whole family got together at my parents' house. Holidays, or a Friday night card game. There were a lot of people around. I could talk, or not talk, as the case may be, because everybody else took up the slack. There was a lot of laughter and ribbing of each other (mostly of my dad, because he was always eccentric). At the end of the night, my mom would serve up some home-baked pie and put on a pot of coffee, and I would go home and lie awake the rest of the night from the damn caffeine (speaking of dolts).
The only time I could truly say that my mom was proud of me was when I became a "career professional", and I was in charge of a bunch of people. She liked that, I believe, because she was smart, and had the times and circumstances been different, that was the kind of thing she would have done. That was the one time she saw herself in me.
Later in my life, I made a big, big decision, and one that she heartily disapproved of. She called me and called me, and harangued me to think (think!) about what I was doing. I think she even mentioned that I was embarrassing her. She didn't speak to me for about a year after that.
But, the thing about my mom was, she came around. She came around when nobody, except my sister, had. I can't say that my dad didn't come around, but he was mightily confused by then, so I just managed to confuse him even more.
I don't know what changed her mind; maybe because I had moved away, and maybe she missed me. I did get some lovely letters from my mom, and I had some lovely phone conversations with her. My husband and I went back to see her one last time (the last time, except for my dad's funeral). She was really welcoming. She even said to me that I was justified in what I had done. She became a person that I wished I had known during my life; not just for a couple of years.
I don't think I had changed. It was all her. Maybe I will find out one day, when I get to a certain stage in my life, that it will be time to drop all that "stuff".
I will always have mixed feelings about my mom. One can't erase years of strife, and years of just wanting her approval, and usually not getting it.
I understand her better now, though. Maybe I finally grew up.
Kids (you 32-two-year-olds), maybe it's time to cut your mom a little slack. She makes mistakes, and she's difficult to understand. Maybe she doesn't love you the "right way"; the way you think she should.
But she loves you in ways that you don't get; that you don't see. I bet she thinks about you at least once a day.
I think about my mom now, almost every day.
I would love to send her flowers for Mother's Day, and to ring her up and just hear her voice.
I'd like to be sitting in her living room; she in her blue recliner, me on the couch; listening to her gripe about my dad, and me smiling, because that's just what she does. She, refilling my coffee cup, and asking if I'm sure I don't want another piece of pie.
Okay, I miss my mom.
Say, "Happy Mother's Day" to your mom. And try not to embarrass her.