Sunday, May 22, 2011
One of the reasons I couldn’t get a post up last week was that apparently the universe decided to punish me for not saying enough nice things about my mother in my Mother’s Day post. My mom had to have emergency surgery a week ago for a perforated colon. How she managed to perforate her colon, neither I, nor she, nor evidently her doctors, seem to know. But she got it, and she had the surgery, and now she’s doing fine. But it occurred to me that I might want to take a moment this week to talk a bit about my mother.
Now, I can’t deny that I’ve had a bit of a contentious relationship with my parents, both as a child and as an adult. But that’s not to say that I don’t love my mother. (And my father too, although I suppose that’s a topic for another day.) I’m lucky enough to still have my parents around, in case I need them, but not so close that we can get on each other’s nerves. In fact, there are a couple thousand miles between me and my parents—2,713, in fact, according to Google maps, by the most direct route. They’re quite happy continuing to live in the town I grew up in, the same town where I was born. The same town where they were born, for that matter. In fact, the three of us were all born in the same hospital, and graduated from the same high school. You’d think they’d be sick of it by now ... obviously I was, since I moved first 4 hours away, and then later 43 hours away. But they seem to like it there, and I expect they’ll be there until they die.
Which is hopefully a goodly amount of time in the future, perforated colons notwithstanding. My mother, for instance, has always been pretty healthy. She’s a bit overweight, and she’s had a few worrisome skin cancers that she had to have removed, but, really, she’s probably had fewer medical issues than I have, overall. She was a nurse for many years, so perhaps that has something to do with it, somehow. She became a nurse because her father wanted a son who would grow up to be a doctor, and I suppose that was as close as she could come, back in those days. Might she have become a doctor even so? Well, according to Time Magazine, there were 7,500 female doctors in the U.S. in 1941, and that was 23 years before my mother entered nursing school (at that same hospital where we were all born, in fact). So perhaps it might have been possible. But bucking tradition was never my mother’s way.
Tradition, in fact, has always been very important to her. Christmas in our house was a series of carefully choreographed events, and that’s only one simple example. She’s got a bit of fear of change, I think, and maybe even a smattering of OCD. I know it’s always driven her crazy to have a lightswitch in the up position when the light’s off, which can happen in my parents’ house because of multiple switches for the same light. In fact, there’s one light—in the upstairs hall—that has three switches, and I remember her bedtime dance, up and down the stairs, to make sure all the switches were down, before she could turn in for the evening. I would tease her about it often.
Perhaps that’s why I have to have all the money in my clip turned the same way, or why I’m constantly realphabetizing my CD’s and DVD’s.
But that’s not what I actually think about when I think what I got from my mother. She was an intellectual, despite never having attended college. She had a love for trivia, and for intricacies of grammar, and for literature. She taught me lists: all the letters of the Greek alphabet, all the books of the Bible, all the bones in the human body, all the Presidents of the United States. And how to count to ten in Spanish, French, German, and Malay. And I still remember all of that, except I don’t think I could get the bones in the wrist and ankles right any more, and the Malay is long gone. I would say the majority of my intellectual curiosity comes from her.
She was also a very open-minded and unprejudiced person. I love all my family, both parents and all four grandparents, but, of the six of them, only one wasn’t a racist, or a homophobe, or convinced that a women’s place was in the kitchen, and that was my mom. I can’t call her a liberal, because politically she votes however my father tells her to, which means she’s technically a Republican, but, if I’m a liberal, it’s certainly her fault. She taught me that a person is a person, regardless of appearance, that all religions have some validity to them, that no sexual act between consenting adults is wrong, that other cultures, no matter how strange they might appear, are just different, not bad. She taught me, long before I heard Quentin Tarantino say it, that the less a man makes declarative statements, the less apt he is to look foolish in retrospect. She taught me to think before speaking, a lesson which I have not always followed as well as I should, but a lesson which has informed my actions my whole life.
She taught me how to sing along with the radio and not care who hears it. She taught me how to smirk, and how to raise one eyebrow, and how to push your glasses up your nose with your middle finger when you’re irked at the person you’re talking to. She taught me how to make my grandmother’s spaghetti sauce, and she taught me to appreciate bleu cheese on crackers while you’re waiting for it to cook. She taught me to love animals, and mythology, and Stephen King books. She taught me to enjoy wandering through cemeteries, and woods, and gardens. She taught me how to wash my own clothes, and how to make hospital corners on my bed. She taught me how to read.
There are perhaps some things I wish I could change about my mother. But so much of who I am comes straight from her; perhaps changing her would’ve meant changing me. And I’m pretty happy with me, for the most part. I’d like to think that I’ve taken the best parts of my mother and my father, and left the worst behind. I’m probably fooling myself a little. But I do see quite a lot that I’ve inherited from Mom that I’m happy to have, and I hope that I’m leaving those bits to my children as well. If there are a few warts here and there—hers or mine—well, we are none of us perfect, and that’s okay too.
So thank you, Mom, for all you gave to me and all that I am that comes from you. I hope that you continue to be around for many years, in your same house in your same town, 2,713 miles away. Just in case I need you.