Notes on my mom
3 min read

Notes on my mom

We are who we are, forged largely in half-remembered experiences from our childhood. We're living stories brought to life at the hands of our mothers, the ultimate directors. Some are gifted; some are hacks.
Palms by the pool, Las Vegas, 2018.

My mom was born the youngest of six kids in a poor, rural Arkansas family. Her mother never told her she was pretty.

She got up and got out as fast as she could on a postwar path familiar to many: Leave the sticks. Get a job. Meet a boy. Get married.

She was and is private. Married once -- some guy in the service -- but it was brief and I know nothing about him. Married again, and took his name for more than half a century. Ask me for any more details about her life before she was 30 or so -- before she was Mom -- and I'll come up pretty light.

She couldn't have kids, so she adopted. More than 50 years ago, I exited of one woman's body at the hospital and left in another woman's arms, a birth certificate showing the names of my adopted parents.

Later on, she adopted a little girl, too -- big smile and funny legs that needed corrective braces. Bratty, but we eventually became best friends.

* * *

What my mother lacked in education was made up many times over in willpower and good (if not strictly legal) ideas. She leaned in, although she'd be dismissive of the term if anyone bothered to explain it.

She taught us to read early because, she reasoned, then we could teach ourselves new things. She taught us to rummage through stuff left outside the Goodwill booth because there were times we needed money or clothes, and that was a way to make it happen. Did I hold onto my little sister and lower her into a booth, following mom's orders? Yeah, I did.

She got up early every Friday, Saturday and Sunday for 50 years, hitting yard sales and going to sell at the swap meet. A hobby? Yeah. But also the difference between living at the poverty line or living above it, something a kid, riding shotgun and playing mapbook navigator in the age before GPS, couldn't understand.

There were no crimes of commerce in our house. Got something you can sell at school, from firecrackers to lead soldiers? You had her approval. I see -- now, too many years gone by to truly appreciate it -- that this was by design, not just lax temperament.

We never played organized sports. We never joined the scouts. But I could turn $5 into $20 without anyone's help by the time I could ride a bike.* * *None of these things are the stuff of Hallmark specials, which is why I find most of the pap and schmaltz of Mother's Day worthless. It oversimplifies things. Admiration, love, adoration, frustration, neediness and all the rest in a card? Might as well be one of those hacks doing portraits on grain of rice. Sounds impressive, but the canvas enforces its boundaries.

And the truth is, my mom screwed up -- many, many times. I bet yours did too.

She hit us a little too much and a little too hard. We never visited the doctor except when a bone was broken or might have been. We never went to a dentist at all.

She was and remains paranoid and self-centered, the latter compounded by age's slow, steady pull. And our roles are reversing. My mom was an adult; today she's probably best described as a tween. Eventually, God help me, she'll be a toddler.

We are who we are, forged largely in half-remembered experiences from our childhood.  We're living stories brought to life at the hands of our mothers, the ultimate directors. Some are gifted; some are hacks.

Most of them stuck around and did the job even when they realized they might not be the best choice.

Owning who you are means owning who your mother was, good and bad.

* * *

I know almost nothing of parenthood, but I do know one thing, even from my middle-aged, non-parent perch on the sidelines.

Parenting is a daily act of faith. You can't see. You don't know. You *won't* know.

You press on anyway.

And, like faith, parenting tests you in the fire and refines what's already there. It'll bring out the stuff -- gold, mud or both -- buried in the bedrock.

Buried in my mother's bedrock was strong-willed love alongside insecurity. Improvising without always having the emotional or educational tools to build a long-term fix. Gold alongside the lead.

And so I'll visit. I'll wish her a happy Mother's Day. I have love in my heart enough for that, just like I have love enough that I can still be reduced to the edge of raging tears if she says something callously, unintentionally hurtful.

I wish she knew she was pretty.