Sunday, May 08, 2005

Mama said

My sister was born August 21st, 1967 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. My father had just started his junior year in college; my mother was 20 years old. They had been married for 7 months. Two and a half years later I was born. My grandmother sent my mother a letter, advising her about birth control.

This August, my sister will turn 38. My parents are still married. This feat should be attributed to both of them, but since it's Mother's Day, I'll just talk about Mom.

My parents moved back to their home town when Dad finished law school. By then they had been married 4 years and had two kids. Everyone in town was just waiting for them to get divorced. My mom was 24 years old. They had very little money, but Dad had a job at a local law firm, and they were determined. Eventually, he started his own firm, and after struggling for several years, his hard work began to pay off. My brother was born in 1975, and by 1978 we had moved to a "nice" area of town, in a big house. In 1980, in 5th grade, I started private school. My brother went to private school his whole life.

The years from 1972 to 1980 were a struggle. My dad worked very long hours, and when he had weekends off, he unwound by going to the golf course. My memories of early childhood revolve completely around my mother, and sometimes my maternal grandparents. Dad doesn't figure much, except as the enforcer of punishments. My sister and I were mostly afraid of him.

But, back to Mom. She was young. She had two children, and little money. She had an entire community watching her, expecting her to fail. Her husband was largely absent from family life. But, I knew none of this. All I knew was that she loved me, that she thought I was special, that whatever I needed I could get from her.

I'm not going to tell you that she never raised her voice. Or that she was the sweet, cookie-baking, pant-sewing Donna Reed type mom. She did yell when we deserved it--and maybe sometimes when we didn't. Sometimes she'd make cookies, but more often it was Rice Krispy treats, and we were the ones making them, with her supervision. She also sewed, but only as a last resort when we couldn't afford new clothes.

She let us play for hours, unsupervised, in the woods behind our subdivision. (I know, a different time, but I wonder how different I might be today if all my play had been supervised, like it is these days.) She taught me to play in the dirt, to climb trees, to not be afraid of bugs.

She read all the Little House books to us, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The Mouse and the Motorcycle. She taught us to care about other people, never to judge by appearances, and to be friendly. When we were older, she practiced field hockey and lacrosse with us, she stroked my hair when the girls at junior high turned on me, she helped us pick out the right clothes to wear the first day of school.

After my brother was born, my mother went back to college, at night, and earned her degree. In 1981 she went to work for my father. I am a stay-at-home-mom, like my mother was until my adolescent years. It is the hardest thing I've ever done. I am 35 years old. My husband comes home from work every day and helps me--a lot. I cannot imagine being 24 years old, pregnant, and taking care of two children all day long with no help.

I know there are plenty of younger mothers out there even today. This astounds me, since my own early twenties was a very selfish time for me. I graduated from college, got a half-way decent job, and spent the rest of the time partying. It was all about me, and what fun I would be having the next evening, the next weekend, the next party. It was great. There is no way I could have been a mother in that time. Being a mother requires too much sacrifice for my 24 year old self.

Yet my mom did it, and didn't complain (that I heard, anyway). She never got to live on her own. She never got to come and go when she pleased without worrying about anyone else. She went from college, where she needed written permission from her father to leave campus, to being a mother, where she couldn't leave if she wanted to, because who would watch the baby? She never was able to leave work on a Friday afternoon and decide to head to the beach with some friends at the last minute. She never got to spend her whole paycheck on outrageously priced and impractical shoes. She never got to plan a wedding, or wear a wedding dress.

She will tell you that she doesn't miss these things. That she was able to do many of them in her late 40s and early 50s, when all her children were grown. That it wasn't as hard as I paint it. And maybe that is the best thing she taught me: be happy with what you have. Be grateful for what you have, because it could be a lot worse.

I have always felt completely at ease with Mom. Which is not to say I tell her everything: I don't, and there are plenty of things she wouldn't want to know. But we have a comfortable, easy relationship. When we get together we laugh a lot, we gossip, we rarely argue. Fortunately, when we start to get on each other's nerves, we simply hang up the phone. Not living in close proximity has perhaps made it easier to forgive each other our faults.

You see what is happening here? I keep thinking of more things I want to tell you about my mother. But I need to save some things for her birthday, and next year. So I'll just leave you with a visual:

Here she is, with Vivian last summer Posted by Hello

Happy Mother's Day.

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