Sunday, May 1, 2011

Thinking about Mom

With Mother's Day coming up, I've been reflecting on one of my special gifts: my mom.   So here's a little personal narrative that, hopefully, captures my appreciation for a wonderful lady.

     "You did WHAT?"
     "I told your mom she should stay with us for a week or so after the baby's born.  I thought you'd be happy.  She'll be such a big help," my husband replied sheepishly.
     I was despondent, ninth-month emotional, on the verge of hysteria.
     "How could you do that?  Without asking me?  She'll drive me crazy.  I'll start talking in that tone again!"

     That "tone" is something of which I've never been proud.  A prime example of that "tone" comes back to me every once in a while.  It was the end of my senior year of college.  The phone rang, and I knew her ring, but I figured I should probably pick it up anyway, so she wouldn't keep calling and calling until I answered.  My mom was the type to call back ten times and leave ten messages until I'd return her call.  So I picked it up with a roll of the eyes and a look of disgust.  Snotty?  Yes, I knew I was being snotty, but that didn't stop me.
     "Yes, Mother."
     I never addressed my mom as "Mother" unless I was peeved about being disturbed.  I wasn't doing anything in particular.  I wasn't engrossed in any activity or book or show or school work.  It was simply a bad time.  It was ALWAYS a bad time.
     "Hi sweetie.  What's the matter?"
     "Am I catching you at a bad time again?"
     "Actually, yes, you are."
     "Well, you don't have to be so snippy, Geralyn."
     "I'm not trying to be snippy, Mother.  I'm busy."
     "Well then, I'll let you go and tell you what I wanted to say at another time."
     Another roll of the eyes, and I switched the phone to the other ear.
     "Please don't put a guilt trip me on me."
     "Your father and I were thinking about making a down payment on a car for you for graduation, and I was just wondering if you were free this weekend to go car shopping."
     Silence.  Guilt.  And that was a prime example of Mom putting me in my place.  If I could go back in time and slap my face for every time I used that "tone" with my mom, I would do it.  And it took years of effort to change those habits, to remind myself over and over again of how blessed I was to have this woman as my mom, and if her desire to be my friend and talk to me was the worst quality she had, my God, who was I to complain!

     And so, my husband invited Mom to stay with us.  It was a vulnerable time.  I hated it when I didn't feel in control, and I was definitely NOT in control of my life at that point.  What if she's smothering?  What if she starts offering unsolicited advice?  What if she inadvertently criticizes what I do?  What if...  I sobbed.  I cried for hours.  I wasn't a mean and cruel person, but I dreaded that "tone" coming back and feeling mean and cruel. 
     "Should I tell her not to come?" my husband asked.
     "NO!"  Now that would be mean and cruel.

     So, on a cool and clear October day, my husband and I, with our new baby boy, came home from the hospital.  Our humble bungalow was decorated with a large, cut-out stork and teddy bears; cards and packages of congratulations had already arrived.  I was filled with pure happiness and joy.  Being a parent was an amazing experience from the first moment I held this little angel in my arms.  And when Grandma/Mom arrived with her rolling suitcase and teary-eyed gaze... well, the opposite of my fears occurred.  It was unexpected, but I finally connected, and while connecting I started to remember.
      I remembered sitting in the shopping cart when we went grocery shopping, and I remembered my favorite jello-cake with whipped cream on birthdays, and I remembered her brushing my hair into perfect pigtails, and I remembered the cool washcloths she put on my head when I had a fever, and I remembered her singing "Oh, Johnny" in the a show at our church, and I remembered her tolerating the pains of being a lunchroom lady, and I remembered her presence at my cheerleading performances, and I remembered her humming while seasoning her Italian pasta sauce, and I remembered her at my side in a hospital room when my appendix was taken out, and I remembered her encouraging me to write, simply by reading everything I put down on paper.
     Yes, a strange but beautiful experience took place - my first week of motherhood was also the first time I wholeheartedly appreciated being a daughter.  My mom was, indeed, a great help with the baby; they bonded, and that was important.  But just as important, we bonded - Mom and me.  As mother/daughter, as parents, as friends.  And I cried the day my dad came to pick her up and take her home.  They didn't live far away, a 30-45 minute bus ride if my dad was too busy to drive her (she doesn't have a license), but I cried anyway.

     It's not surprising that Mom was one of the only two readers for my first manuscript.  She is always interested in hearing about my ideas, even if it's a bad time, but I guess that's just what moms do.  For the most part, we've talked daily ever since that week together, and going to the Dells each summer always includes Grandma... I may still roll my eyes once in a while (I'll keep working on it), but seriously, I feel like the luckiest daughter in the world!  Happy Mother's Day, Mom! 

(The ironic part of this essay is the fact that Mom called three times while writing it, and I answered every time, smiling while thinking of what I was writing and who was calling... and I have to say that I truly love my mother.)

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Here are some links to other "mom" related stories/essays written by members of the Chicago Writers Association:

By Mary T. Wagner
author of Running With Stilettos:  Living a Balanced Life in Dangerous Shoes
(sitting at my son's hospital bed)
(taking a weekend trip with my grown daughters, each of us survivors in our own way)
(motherhood measured in foil-wrapped treats)
(my daughter gets cancer and I go pre-surgery shopping)
(watching my young daughter pack things to bring back to college) 

By Libby Hellman
author of Set the Night on Fire
(Click on "Mother's Day -- Bah, Humbug")

By Lisa Sachs