Sunday, May 9, 2010

11 Mother's Days

It's Mother's Day. It's a nice concept, meant to give people an outlet to celebrate their mothers, or the mothers of their children, people who generally are unappreciated throughout the year, or who you gave a lot of grief to growing up, and who are utterly indispensable.

The Dude is on the phone with his mother, catching up, wishing her a happy Mother's Day and getting her French onion soup recipe. He's making it for me tonight. I'm no one's mother. I also have no mothers, not even a grandmother. This day all at once means nothing to me, hurts me, and makes me dread and look forward to the future. Someday I'll be a mother, which I want very much, and I'll be without my own mother's guidance and support. It'll be bittersweet.

My mom liked Mother's Day. She was a single mother with an ex-husband who was trying and spotty with support payments. The Kraft Dinner and beans and wieners I ate as a staple in childhood was more of necessity than preference. She did her best on a tight budget. We didn't eat out often, but when we did it was a treat. We were always told not to expect much on Christmas, but I never recalled feeling disappointed. We didn't generally vacation, but trips to the beach and a cottage some years were adventures.

Once when my brother and I were young, my mom picked us up from our after-school daycare and we drove past our house. We were confused and bugged our mother to explain herself. All she said was that the car was making the decisions and we'd just have to wait and see where the car would take us. Turned out the car drove us to Pizza Hut. Then afterward, the car wanted us to go to the movies. My mom was cute like that.

My cats, Smokey and Jerry, were a surprise that I came home to one day. And she liked to fuss over their wellbeing. Mostly, if we fought in the house, she'd tell us to stop because we were upsetting the kitties. When we tore the wallpaper from my bedroom walls and the kittens romped in the scraps, she'd laugh that kitties think everything is there for them. She'd often wonder out loud if the cats were happy, and be concerned that they weren't.

She was shy about sex and talking about it. When we watched PG-13 type movies together, she'd want to fast-forward the mild sex scenes, even though I was 12. When I reached my menarche, she was happy, but in the end could only advise me to stay away from boys for awhile. When I required a bra, perhaps she was waiting for me to ask for one, but I had absorbed her embarrassment over the subject. In the end, I think it was her sister who prompted her to buy me one. I was put on the pill when I was just under 16 for medical reasons. This prompted our one and only sex talk, which she delivered on the way home from the doctor, and it went something like this:

"You know the pill doesn't protect you from STDs."
"Yeah, I know. I'm waiting till marriage anyway"
(This was a convenient stance for me to take at the time, being generally nervous about the topic as a whole and figured putting it off was a relief)
"Okay, but you might change your mind. You need to use a condom."
She cleared her throat and that was that. And she wound up being right.

My mom liked to tackle other important topics with me, like feminism, domestic abuse, eating disorders and body image, and empathy. Her strong messages on those issues still resonate with me today. She wasn't afraid to speak her mind.

When she got cancer, at first I was terrified. Then I reasoned there was no way my mother could die. You never think it could happen to you. I couldn't imagine a world in which she didn't exist. I couldn't see how my life could move forward if she was gone. So I didn't think about it. I wouldn't think about it.

Things started to matter more. Talking to her about my day, for example. My inclination was to be secretive. But I didn't want to chance missing out on conversations while I could still have them. One hug stands out in my mind. We were in the kitchen and she was standing there, bald from chemo, and I asked for a hug. She was happy to oblige and we stood there holding each other for a long time. And I love that memory. She was so easy to make happy.

Our last real conversation was in her bed. She had this habit of reading in her room, under the covers, and like a typical teenager, that was the only time I wanted her attention, when it was focused on herself. And I think she liked that. It became a ritual. A few months before she died, it was the summer, I was 16 and she told me how she felt about me as a person. I don't remember the conversation. But I do remember how she ended it. "I know that no matter what happens to me, you'll be okay."

And that stuck with me. When I feel lonely for my mother, or if I feel like I need her, that's all I have left. But it's something. I have her faith in me.

I miss her. Until you've been unmothered, you have no idea just what a hole it leaves inside of you. But it's left me with some unexpected gifts. With each passing year, I've inherited more and more of her traits. I have complete autonomy, and in the absence of needing a parent's approval, I default to being my mother's daughter. I think I'm more like her than I ever would have been if she'd lived. I channel her a lot. The strangest things have become funny. I take myself less seriously. I take morbid pleasure out of being embarrassed, a quality of hers that made me cringe when I was a child. I'm gullible, like she was.

But I'm stronger, too, because I've had to be strong. Necessity is the mother of invention. My mom, in her good parenting, me strong enough to sustain losing her. That's the irony of losing a good mother. You can withstand losing such a valuable person because they were so valuable.

My mom, on a dark day, once morbidly said, "I'm worth more dead than alive." In a response that only one her children would have replied, I said, "No mom, you have sentimental value."

Happy Mother's Day to you, Mom, wherever you are.

1 comment:

  1. Well, that made me cry at work. :P

    You're a great writer, Jenn, and, never having known her, I can still say with some confidence that you're certainly your mother's daughter.