Sunday, May 12, 2013

2013.05.12 Mother, Mom, Mama, Amma—and So On

This poor “holy” day often gets so sentimentalized that it has lost its clout and its roots, always in mothers making political statements about rights, war, booze, et. al. Hard-edged voices, those moms.

But seriously, can you imagine anyone more important in your life, for better and for worse, than your mother? (I’d add father but it is, after all, mothers’ day.)

All my four children remember to call on this day each year, even if the last call trails in breathlessly at 9 p.m.  It matters a lot, a lot.

This year I received an unexpected gift. My oldest daughter wrote a blog post called “Every Day Is a Mom Day.”  It is brilliantly honest, humorous without being sarcastic, as she writes about her own hard feelings, her own difficult mothering experience with two daughters of her own, and her love. 

Here is a bit of her post:
      I’d like to say I’m doing young motherhood better than my mom – I think she would agree.  Generationally alone, I have a leg up on her.  I’m not as alone as she was.  I’ve benefitted from the equality fights she and others before me have won.  I had a ton of therapy before I had children whereas she had to do it all when we were growing up.  So, all said and done my odds at having a successful career while raising children without screwing up one, the other or both are far better than hers ever were.
      I know my mom did the best she could. And over the years her honesty, willingness to hear my pain and that of my siblings, and her absolute commitment to me at every step of my adult life have served to heal and grow our relationship.
       Do I still wish I could have sewn curtains, learned to iron or baked cookies with her growing up?  Yup but it’s okay.  And if I’m honest with myself, I’d admit that baking cookies with my kids is over-rated and sewing with them interesting but generally sort of boring for all of us.

I cried of course, and said thank you and I love you, using just the right amount of a few too many words, as I do. There is no honor much greater.

The best way to honor her and me and all my children, the mothering presence of Godde, and the mother-heart in all people and animals, bio-mothers or not, is to write a letter to my own mother.

Dear Mom,

I know this is too late. I know I could have, or should have, said more of what I say now before you died.  It’s always wondrous to receive a tribute while one is alive and not when one is strewn in ash somewhere or bones enclosed in a coffin with large gold handles so the angels can hoist it up when the time comes. 

But I couldn’t do that for you, mostly because I was still worried about my own failings as a traditional mother, and partly because I had not yet forgiven you for over-mothering me, nor myself for under-mothering my children. We both knew and know all about that so it’s not worth restating. It has taken me a long time to appreciate our differences without hating you for them. I’m sorry, Mom.

Here’s my eulogy:

My mother was a strong woman. She gave me the message that a girl or woman could do anything she wanted. She always smiled and was gay and frivolous, and she could be feisty. One of our best moments was when I, furious at her for some unremembered reason, turned to her and shouted, “Bitch!”  She  rose to her full stature and said, “Bitch!”  We were women together—proud fillies, competing and loving at the same time.

Another proud moment was after a fall when Mom was near 80.  We took her to the hospital in the wee hours. Coming home, I moved ahead to get the door open and heard her weak, almost child-like, voice call out, “I’m going.”  “Where?” I called back. “I’m going,” she repeated till I got it.  I helped her up into the house, cleaned her up, and put her to bed. It was a tender reversal, both of us hated and both of us accepted.

My mother followed the prescribed route of her generation (wife and mother), yet she gave me my feminism, even though she would not have called it that. She worked hard to start a kindergarten in NYC so I could go to school because she knew I loved books. Back then kindergarten was a progressive idea. She always encouraged me to try new things, and if I failed she was still there with more encouragement—until I thought I’d die of over-praise and too much cheer.  Still, I think that’s the way I found my own ways and way.  Thanks, Mom.

When Mom was dying I raced to make it to her bedside, for exactly what I don’t know. Maybe one more love effort, or a goodbye. I didn’t make it. I arrived just after she died. Her mouth was open and I tried to close it. It wouldn’t budge—so mom. I laughed.

She had bright red lipstick crookedly painted on her thin lips. I guess she was prettying herself to meet God. She had told me once that when she met God she would put her head in his lap and everything would be all right.  My mother gave me God.  Thanks Mom.

What I remember most about my mother is how hard she tried to make things work well for me, Dad, my sisters, and everyone in her life whom she loved, and some she didn’t love, but adopted and tried to change.  Today that behavior is called codependent caretaking. It’s become a way to pathologize, mostly women.  What bullshit. It was her way of loving. No one loves perfectly. Most of us try—and trying is divine.

Thanks Mom.