When my mother quit smoking, I was a tween. She loved smoking. It was a part of her everyday. I always wanted her to quit and then there was the day that she did. I’m still stunned by the amazing force of will it took for her to overcome cigarettes. She had tried in the past and was unsuccessful. But this time? She’d set her mind to it. And I’ve never met a human with a greater ability to force something into being with just intense willpower. But she did it. She still doesn’t smoke and I’m the mother to my own tween now.
I should have never doubted her. You see my mother is a force of nature. She’s actually a stunning example of a human being. She always wanted to be a mom, but more specifically, be the mom to her children that she never had.
My grandmother battled mental illness. It was so severe it took her away from her children and husband. The result of which presented my mom with an unconventional upbringing. My grandfather was pressured often to put his girls up for adoption. He refused. In a time when single fatherhood was almost unheard of, he raised three girls.
My mother was one of these little girls. She hated school and would come home for lunch to sit and watch George Burns, only to turn around and walk all the way back to finish her dreaded day. There were days when her mother would come back home, a whirlwind of wild energy followed by crushing depression. I can picture my mother’s cornflower blue eyes looking at the pretty lady that was her mom and wishing. Wishing she could get it together enough to do a few normal things around the house.
It was not to be. The girls were in charge of keeping the household running while their father worked full time. When my mom would tell stories of her childhood, it was always peppered with her optimism and humor.
Lying in her bed at night after a day filled with very adult drama, my mother would comfort herself with the thought, “Well, tomorrow will be a better day.” That’s how a little girl would go to bed after her mother showed up at school with her face covered in wild lipstick.
She never stopped loving her mom, understanding somehow that if her mother could control her illness, she would love her daughters unconditionally in a more physically present kind of way.
So what’s it like when this exceptional woman grows up and marries the man of her dreams? Going on to have two daughters of her own?
Well, I’m one of those kids. Blissfully unaware of anything other than having two reliable parents, sitting in the audience for whatever special thing my sister and I did. I had meals cooked for me, laundry clean and in the drawers. I had friends over all the time. Mom would make sure every kid had a snack and a drink. She was quick with hugs, always willing when I was a child and forcing them on me as a surly teen.
She gave my sister and I everything she never had. When we made mistakes, my sister and I would eventually have to laugh as my parents would hilariously make fun of the situation. No matter how hormonal we were, every single mishap turned into a pants-wetting laughter session.
I was too stupid to know that this wasn’t everyone’s reality, this kind of childhood. My parents worked so hard to put us through private schools filled with children of high privilege. Their girls were going to have the best even if it meant overtime for dad and a waitressing job for mom. Of course mom would only work the hours we were at school because when we got home, she was there.
I was at school one day, crying about something (I don’t even remember what) waiting for my mother to pick me up or bring me lunch, something. The nun in charge shook her head at me and said, “Has your mother ever missed anything? She’ll be here.”
And the nun was right. She never missed anything, she has always been there. Now, as an adult I talk to her everyday. We’ve always been close. My sister shares the same relationship with my mom. When Mom goes on a cruise with no cell service, my sister and I are lost, we’re so spoiled with the very presence of her.
This post could go on forever. I could tell you how much of a bulldog she is. How she’d never take no for an answer when it came (and comes) to her children and grandchildren. How she can relate to people in such a way that they never forget her. How, as a preschool teacher, she made long days for little ones enjoyable. How she plays her music too loud. How she used to make the car “dance” when her favorite song came on. How she treats my father so freaking cute. How, when I told her I wanted to be the President of the United States, she nodded with enthusiasm. How she was room mom every year. How she made sure we had a Cabbage Patch Doll even though she had to go to the toy store and wait forever for the chance at one. She did that because when she was a girl and asked her dad for a Barbie for Christmas she got the Barbie Styling Head instead. How that little girl with the cornflower blue eyes gave that head a smile that pulled to one side a bit. Because the fucking thing didn’t even have a body. And that head was the only Barbie she ever got.
Because one Christmas my father made me a handmade doll house for my giant tub of Barbies. Barbies with an entire body, each one of them.