Mostly My Mother


A few weeks ago, a friend and I left the babies at home and hit the nearest Turkish restaurant for some hummus and sis kebabs.  Our eyes sparkled and flashed as we sat there so unencumbered, talking about our lives both as moms and as people.  We delved into our histories like twentysomethings on a blind date: she telling me about her sisters, her brother, her mom; me explaining my own familial relationships and seemingly ancient history.  We reached the point two women always seem to reach in such conversations, swearing upside down and backwards that we won’t be like our mothers.  Blah blah blah.

Thing is?  I’d actually be quite pleased if I turned into my mother.  She is kind and generous (with her time if not always her money, although as I get older I see how much more meaningful the former is than the latter).  She knows how to laugh and never takes herself too seriously.  She is creative – so creative – and spent her time when I was a kid running her own sewing and screenprinting business and leading us kids in projects.  We made ice cream and paper.  We cut single sheets of paper into hoops big enough to walk through and learned to levitate our arms by standing with them pressed firmly into door frames.  We tied crepe paper to hand mixer blades and made thick, sturdy crepe rope that could be coiled into all kinds of sculptures.

She is, as they would say north of Boston, wicked smart and, unlike a lot of moms of her generation, knows that this is true.  She’ll kick your ass in Scrabble without batting an eye and runs circles around the folks she works with.  She’s the mom that other kids always wanted for their own.  My best friend from elementary school once asked, in complete earnestness, if we could trade.  Her mom was pretty mean and so I declined.

Plus, as moms went, I knew I had a good one. 

I’ve learned since then that she basically raised us according to one principle that she learned from her mother-in-law: say yes whenever you can so that the kids know you really mean it when you say no.  I see lots of moms fighting their kids on every little thing – saying no when there’s really no good reason to – and I realize how right my grandmother was and how lucky I was that my mom adopted her philosophy.  If your 11-year-old son wants to grow his hair long, just let him.  It’s not hurting anyone.  Save your battles for something that really affects his health, safety, or wellbeing (or the health, safety, or wellbeing of someone else).

I was also, without knowing it, raised on the Serenity Prayer.  We weren’t religious (my mom took me to a different church each week when I was young and eventually let me choose one where I liked the other kids and joined Sunday School and the choir and then let me say when I didn’t want to go anymore (which was in 2nd grade)), but the practicality of this prayer permeated our house.  Whenever I was upset, one parent or the other would basically ask me this: is there anything you can do about it?  If the answer was yes, then I was to stop crying and do it.  If the answer was no, then I was just to stop crying.  It was never as harsh or as blunt as this, but you get the basic gist.

I was in eleventh grade reading Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater when I first discovered that this was the Serenity Prayer and that the Serenity Prayer was a staple at AA meetings.

I’d say that this is one of the few ways my dad’s alcoholism ever had any longterm effects on me, for which I am lucky.

My mother, I think, feels the effects much more acutely, even twenty-some years later and even with my dad pretty much out of her life.  She spent the bulk of her twenties being the wife of a still-active alcoholic, keeping my father’s secret like it was her own.  This meant that she didn’t have a lot of friends.  She was turned away by her own father when she tried to take me and leave.  So in the absence of support and love from outside, she made friends with us kids; together we made a fun, wonderful life.  For the nearly 28 years my parents stayed together, most of the fighting and conflict that happened took place between my dad and me, and after I moved out, between my dad and my sister. He quit drinking when I was young, I think right after my sister was born, and our fights had more to do with dad-daughter relationships and good old-fashioned personality conflicts than with his quote-unquote problem.  Looking back, all of us have more-or-less happy memories of growing up together.  My mom somehow put her marriage and her relationship with my dad out of her mind and focused on her life with us.  Even now she’d say she has had a happy life.

And yet there are so many ways in which she still suffers.  These, of course, are the things I think of when I say that I don’t want to be like my mother.  I don’t want to be so hard on myself.  I don’t want to believe that I am unloved and unlovable.  I want to be more confident than she is.  To be less afraid.  I want to take more risks and have more vices. 

I hope, though, that I will always smile and laugh as much as she does.  That I will act like a kid like she does.  That I will be as thoughtful as she is.  That I will send letters to old friends and relatives like she does and knit hats for the babies at the hospital like she does.

I do find myself turning into her, more so every single day.  There are even days when I look in the mirror and see her there, just for a moment, just a glimpse.  Sometimes it freaks me out but mostly I think it’s not such a bad thing at all.


7 Responses to “Mostly My Mother”

  1. Wow. What an amazing post, and a great tribute to your mom. I feel like I understand how you write, I can hear you speak when you do- it’s inspiring, and I’ll tell you, this blog thing is theraputic. It’s nice to hear from a new-ish mom and a 2-year veteran of marriage. It’s all a hard gamble, and it’s glorious in the way it challenges us. Keep writing, and I’ll keep reading. :-) TD

  2. Your mom sounds amazing. To be able to teach you and your sister so much, while battling her own marriage problems shows her strength. Sounds like she is a great example to follow in many ways.

    My mom had her own tough road, and like you there are aspects of her I hope to never inherit, and others I hope I will. She married too young, too quickly, had kids too quickly, and was quickly divorced from an abusive marriage. (I’ve already skipped that by taking my time in all matters.) She raised me as a struggling single mother, and while things were tough at times, I never knew it growing up. She did her best to spend as much time with me as possible, despite her insane work schedule. I hope I can be as selfless and giving to my girls without losing my sense of self.

  3. This is really quite a lovely tribute to your mother. I hope you show it to her.

  4. 4 mom

    thank you, j….i love you very much…i am a blubbering idiot at this moment….i know that i tell you all of the time how proud i am of the person you are…but you just made me even prouder :-) i have been extremely lucky in my life to have 2 wonderful, loving, caring, thoughtful daughters, and a bevy of wonderful family members and friends. i have been blessed….

  5. Aw. I didn’t mean to make you cry, mom. : ) But thanks.

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