As we celebrate Mother's Day, I felt it necessary to pay tribute to my own mother.
My mom comes from a big family. She grew up with four sisters and one brother. She was number 4 in the chronological lineup, and because one of the older siblings was the only brother, my mom was a true middle child. She wasn't the oldest...(the leader), wasn't the youngest, (the spoiled brat), but she was lost, right smack in the middle of the bunch. She was always well behaved, did well in school, and wanted nothing more in her childhood life than to please her mother.
Her dad, who I have never heard a kind word about, died when she was eight years old. From the eight years she knew him, she doesn't have a single happy memory of him. He was a bartender, and often came home drunk, accusing his wife of running around with other men, and often showing her why she shouldn't. She never was, of course. But sometimes, when a person is guilty of betraying the one they are supposed to love, they can try to alleviate their own guilt by projecting it onto the very one they have betrayed.
Because he worked nights, he slept during the day. The house had to be quiet so he could sleep. NOBODY wanted to interrupt his sleep. But in a house with six children, quiet is not an easy feat. On the days he was disturbed, God help the one who was in his line of vision. Very often, it was my mother.
She went to school with terrible bruises on the backs of her legs...so bad, that her brother would often walk behind her, to hide what happened when daddy's sleep was disrupted. He couldn't keep the beatings from happening, but he could keep his sister from feeling ashamed if anyone were to see. He was a good brother.
When my grandfather died in a tragic accident, my mother's youngest sister was only a year old. He died on her first birthday. I'm pretty sure my mother felt nothing but relief when he passed away. She doesn't talk about it much, and when she does, she looks completely unnerved, as if she feels guilty for never having missed him.
Mom spent the rest of her childhood trying to please her mother. My Nana worked hard, having to earn a living to feed six kids, and as each child became of age to get a job, they each did, and helped with the household expenses. Once my mom was old enough to work, she brought home every paycheck, and handed it all right over to Nana. Nana never dated. She never found someone to help her. She never took a moment for herself, to even try to find love for herself. She focused completely on taking care of her kids. She raised them on the straight and narrow, and grew them into responsible adults. (So much for the runaround hussy Grandpa tried to make her out to be!)
Fast forward to the time when my parents meet, fall in love, get married...all on the way to "happily ever after"...
My dad came into the marriage already divorced, and with a four year old son. My parents took custody of my brother, and I came along next. Then every two years, a brother, a brother and a sister. So five kids in our happy home. Five...wild...wacky kids.
We all got into our fair share of trouble. My mother beat the crap out of us, with whatever household apparatus she could grab quickly...a shoe, a belt, a wooden spoon, a hot wheels track, (those bitches hurt like a...well, a bitch!)...back then, that was how you handled unruly children. She had an almost boomarang-like slipper, and none of us wanted to piss her off when she was standing close to the silverware. We all learned a million lessons, and whatever emotional scars we took away from it all, they were nothing compared to the strength we gained from how much she loved us.
Besides the military style discipline, my mom enjoyed every minute of the fun stuff she gave us. We didn't have much money, but mom always found a way to make things special. She did crafty stuff with us, she cut our sandwiches into holiday themed shapes, she was the Brownie troop leader, she got all the boys to baseball games and practices, let me take guitar lessons at the afterschool center, and made me a candy covered corsage for every birthday. We had special weekend mornings, when we would sit together, drinking tea and eating fresh baked corn muffins with butter and jelly. Sometimes, we would stay up late, and play cards, while we snacked on cold cereal. When I think of those times, I can close my eyes and smell the Cocoa Puffs.
In addition to raising her own five kids, she often had her nieces and nephews with us. As all four of her sisters went through divorce, (one of them 3 times), and headed into the full-time work force, my mom often helped out with summertime child care, and she would be with us all in the yard from right after breakfast, (and making us all clean up the house, make our beds, and whatever else needed to be done), until the moon was high overhead, and our fingers and toes were deeply "pruned". And even though we didn't have much, I always compare her attitude about having extra family to feed, to a line from a song in "Oliver Twist"..."Who cares? What...ever we got, we share!"
I entered my teens, and became a rebel. The stories of my adolescence are definitely the subject of another post, but let's just say, I was NOT an easy teenager. Even after I moved out at almost 18, and spent some time not speaking to my mom, she has always been the "constant" in my life. There was NEVER a time I really needed her and she wasn't there. She told me when I was wrong, and then she told me she loved me anyway.
When I was 18, and I was in the hosptal with a ruptured ovarian cyst, my mother never left my side. When I broke her heart and moved to Texas with my boyfriend, and then a year later, I called her to say he had given me two black eyes for Easter, and I think this was a mistake, she held back her "told ya so" until much later, and she bought me a plane ticket home. When I moved in with that bartender with the gorgeous blue eyes and a motorcycle, she cringed, and still invited him for holiday dinners. When, after seven years together, I told her she was going to be a Nana, and NO, I wouldn't be marrying him right now, she was with me every step of the way. When my boy was four months old, and I told my mom I didn't want to raise my baby with this drunken, cheating asshole anymore, she said, "Come home". Throughout my 22 years wth MAC, she has been there for every important moment...for the good and the bad. Now that I'm on my own again, she is still the one person I know will always be there for me.
Now, don't get me wrong...my mom has made plenty of mistakes. She is crazy as the day is long, and could give lessons in how to be a superbitch. She tends to overanalyze everything, she takes everything personally, and uses anger as a shield when she feels hurt. She was a scapegoat for all her father's anger, and even though he's been gone for over 65 years, she carries a deep defensiveness everywhere she goes because of it. She is insanely jealous, and God help my poor father if he happens to be looking up when a pretty girl walks in the room. And God help the woman who has her hands on my dad or a few seconds too long. Mom would give her left arm to help someone in need, but if you hurt one of her loved ones, she would just as soon cut you without blinking. And even at almost 74 years of age, my mother is NOT a woman to be trifled with. If you ever see her eyes widen, her jaw move forward, and that deep crease between her eyebrows appear, just run.
My mother may have given us our fair share of beatings as kids, but all five of us would kill for her. And dysfunctional as we are, because of how she raised us, we would kill for each other, too. We have a fierce bond because of how she raised us. In a family of five kids, there is something to be said for that kind of loyalty.
There are so many individual stories I could tell to honor my mother, but I think the best way to show my gratitude for all she has done for me, is to continue being the very best mother I possibly can be. Because of my mother, I know that even though I will make mistakes, there is nothing on this planet I wouldn't do for my kids. And my kids know that. And they know I can go from zero to superbitch if they screw up, and I will hold them accountable. So I guess they can thank Nana. And I can thank her. Thanks, mom.