I don’t know if you all knew, but the most amazing woman in the world will be 75 years old next week.
That woman happens to be my mother, the original Strong Woman.
My mom was raised in Brooklyn, from a family of Scottish and Irish (tad bit German too) descent. She started out with her grandparents because her mother (possibly struck with PTSD and PPD after my mom’s twin brother was stillborn) just up and handed her off. A few years later, her mother came and took her back.
My mom lived a real-world Cinderella story: “Every Saturday yaw Grandmother would go get her hair done while I scrubbed the flaaaws (floors in Brooklyn-ese) and cleaned the house.”
A critical and not so loving woman, my grandmother put herself as the center of the world, while my mom rotated on the edge of her axis.
From a divorced family, my mom rarely saw her dad due to her mom’s restrictions.
My mom on the other hand, while as fiery as a stop sign, always loved us. We were always the center of her world.
Growing up with Mom, I lived in a world in which the letter R at the end of each word was never pronounced,thanks to her Brooklyn accent, one I find totally endearing.
Bumper became “bumpa,” and sticker became “sticka.”
Different consonants, I mean, strokes for different folks.
She never let anyone bully me, especially boys. We had two obnoxious male neighbors who loved to tease my best friend and me, and Mom made it her goal to put them in her place.
Walking outside of our front door with her cigarette in hand (always with a cigarette my mother–cocked to the side in her mouth, nestled in between her fingers, or sliding fingers in a pack for a fresh one) and her certifiably copyrighted Claire saunter–she’s 5’8 and skinny as a rail, so she glides– she’d get in their faces.
“Hey boys: you wanna pick on these little girls? Go ahead. Do it again, and watch when I get my daughters to kick your ass. Then they’ll go to school and tell everyone you go beat up by a bunch of girls! Just do it!”
As the two sour-pussed brats walked inside their homes, mumbling about how they were going to tell their “mommies,” there were quite a few times when my mom said, “Go ahead! Tell yaw mothas! See if I care!”
In today’s world, she would be in jail, but in those days, we called it “family loyalty.” We called it “bringing the bullies down ourselves.”
It was a great feeling to watch those two nasty boys droop their way into their houses like deflated balloons.
The best may have been when some 8th grader smacked me in the face, and I was just in 1st grade.
Instructions from the Motherland?
Talking to my sister, “Don’t forget to pull out yaw earrings!”
My dad got upset, but my sister did as she was told, chasing the brute who struck me around the school parking lot.
My mom didn’t just teach me that we were loyal to our family, but that we were to defend each other, even if it meant getting our noses broken.
I am one of four girls, and if there is one thing my mom did damn right, is she raised us to believe that we weren’t just equal to boys, but we were better and there wasn’t anything we couldn’t do.
Politics wasn’t parlayed in stodgy fashion, but my mother’s democratic and feminist views were on display for me to watch through her actions.
Abortion talks, encouraging her lesbian friends to come out of the closet, union marches, refusing to shop at Walmart or buy Japanese products were just some of the things Mom did in every day life to tell me what was important to her.
For that, I am grateful. She gave me the gift of feminism and free-spirited ness that most mothers would not have given. She doesn’t always agree with me and has protested things I have done, but she never turned her back on me. She never told me to think differently. She knew that wouldn’t work anyway.
Apple and the tree.
And her openness to my desire to have my own ways extended to others.
My one sister converted to Mormonism, and while she was not happy, she had many a Mormon missionary in the house, talking to her about their beliefs. Did she agree? Not once as I can recall, but the discussion was respectful.
When people said, “How do you have them over all the time?” my mother’s response was, “So what? So I don’t agree. They don’t drink, smoke, do drugs, or have sex. How harmful can they be? They’re respectful and nice.”
When I came home from college and said I felt that “gender was fluid, and that so is sexuality,” she seemed to agree, but if she didn’t, she never let it on.
When I told her as an angry teen that maybe there was some cunning strength and wisdom in Satanism but that I wouldn’t practice it, she listened to what I had to say.
Note: I never ate a bat or put a spell on anyone.
Well, most of the time.
I am now a practicing agnostic…who believes in the power of Santa, celebrating Jewish traditions, and questioning the establishment.
Before her days of reading countless Harlequin Romance Novels while smoking and drinking black coffee (to hell with cream or milk, she says!) while carting her girls places and telling me not to wear blue “eyelina,” Mom rode Harleys. Mom even had a girlfriend.
This Hanukkah, she shared with everyone about her lesbian days.
Colorful holidays we have at our house, and I wouldn’t have it any differently.
As a daughter, was I always a gem?
Nope. Even such a diamond as myself has her off days.
Hard to believe, I’m sure.
While my mom scared me sometimes, had a bad temper, and had way too much to do and not enough help, I gave her a run for her money.
My least favorite memory from my teenage years is watching as a nurse held my mom in her arms, all 5’8 inches of her, rocking her back and forth, telling her it would all be okay as my mom cried, “My baby, my baby, my baby.”
The baby was me.
I was 15 and in a psychiatric hospital. A rape victim whose first foursome was at age 14, I had a lot of problems, and didn’t really want to live anymore.
Putting my mom through that…it broke a selfish, tortured, and naive 15 year-old’s heart. How did I have the power to do that to her? How could I have done that to her…so it felt.
Motherhood is not always rosy baby cheeks, straight-A report card, and graduations.
My mom, while she didn’t always ask the right questions or do the right things, (does any parent?) she always helped me. It took years to recover from that point in the hospital, and therapy bill upon therapy bill to get me to even talk seriously about those life events that not only shaped that fragile 15 year-old heart, but shaped every male interaction I was to have subsequently afterwards.
When I laid in a hospital bed ten years later, certain I wanted to die again but too afraid to go through with it, who was there to bumble through the next year in which I painfully tried to deal with memories I couldn’t take carrying with myself anymore?
My mom. My parents.
Their golden years, but not my shiniest.
And of course, I’ve made my mom proud: overcome all of the above nonsense, brought a kid into the world, graduated from college, got into the workforce, fought a terrible pregnancy, and all the other happy shit that we moms get giddy over.
No matter how she was in her darker moments or less than “mom” perfect moments, I will always remember the woman who sat at the kitchen table, listening to kids as they spoke about their (mostly my friends) abusive homes, heartbreaks, conflicts over their sexual identity, hatred towards their parents, terrible boyfriends or girlfriends, and drug problems.
Never once did she stop them from talking.
With cigarette in mouth, and romance novel in hand with some burly-muscular man clad in almost nothing as he holds some writhing woman in a bikini, she offered comfort and friendship.
It wasn’t unusual to hear, “Is your mom home, Laura? Where’s your mom?”
This was part of the landscape of my life.
When I found out I was having a girl, I cried. After enduring hyperemesis and still battling with it at 20 weeks, I was finally home after being hospitalized for over 30 days and at my OBGYN for the gender scan.
“It’s girl,” the woman told me, and I burst into tears.
My husband said to me softly, “I didn’t know how much you wanted a girl.”
I did, but I didn’t want to let on to him or anyone how badly I wanted a girl. After all of the torture, health risks, and sickness of hyperemesis, I could not go through it again. I needed a girl to be my friend for life, because I knew she would be all I would have.
Each day for the most part, I call my mom. Sometimes I don’t tell her when I’m upset out of fear of making her worried, but there is very little I am too afraid to tell her.
I can only hope that one day, my daughter will be the same.
Sure, it is different being one of four. I do not always get the attention or care I would like. I am not the priority, and often I will fall by the way side if someone else needs Mom more, but this is life with many siblings. It’s fine. My child on the other hand, will always have me and there will be no competition.
I could list all the ways my mom and I have disappointed each other but that’s just water under the bridge. When I think of my mother, I think of how she taught me to accept others and speak my mind. I think of how she taught me to view the world with a pair of eyes of kindness, warmth, and openness.
It’s such a priceless gift.
I think of how when I would say “Fucking car!” or “Fucking shoe!” while angry, she’d say to me, “If cars could fuck, there would be little tiny cars all over the place.”
Of course, this is the woman that frequently would say the F word, yet we weren’t allowed to say “motherfucker.”
It was the cardinal of sins.
As smart as Mom is, we kids often said, “Mommy, watch the language!’
I think of how when I get exasperated and I exclaim, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” that I got it from her.
My mom was always blaming the trifecta when the shit hit the fan.
I cannot help but see my mother and myself in my daughter. When she tells her teacher, ” I think that was a bad choice, you know” at 2.5 years old…and notifies me, “Mommy, I’m going to scream now,” I know she has the blood of independence, rebellion, and freewill that will only make for trouble.
Then again, well-behaved women rarely make history, and I am more than happy to watch as my daughter creates her very own crooked and random path in this world.
It’s my honor.
Happy Birthday mom!