“No matter how old you are, you’re always your mom’s kid.”
Every year, a student will walk into my office and talk to me about something family-related and how things aren’t going well or whatever. They then some how come down to “And my mom said…” and then they pause and look away a little bit.
The look always seems to say, “I’m a college student and I’m still dealing with my mom and what she thinks or says or feels… Could I be any more of a tool?”
I always respond with the line above. I always mean it. For better, or for worse.
Somehow, that always seems to make things a bit better for them, given that I’m more than twice their age and I still get it.
Mom is mom.
When I was a kid, we always had dinner as a family. This continued through my high school years until I was unable to make all the meals due to play practice or other extra-curricular endeavors. My parents both worked, but we sat down for a meal, by hook or by crook.
Usually Dad would start talking about his day at the factory, using lingo that only engineers or factory workers would understand. Flange this and forging that and over here in the met lab and so forth. Mom would listen and offer positive commentary or probing questions.
One year, long after I was out of the house, I asked about this. I never understood what the hell he was talking about and I wondered how she figured it all out.
Part of it was learning the lingo, she told me, but for the most part she felt about as lost as I was. Still, she said, it was important to Dad, so it was important to her.
She also listened to me that summer the newspaper shut down. We’d sit in the kitchen when I’d come home for a weekend. She would do the ironing, I’d collapse in a chair, feeling like a wrung-out towel. No matter how bad it was or what little she could do to help, she always listened as she pressed creases into Dad’s shirts or flattened out the fronts of her blouses.
Don’t get me wrong. Mom wasn’t a June-Cleaver-meets-Mrs.-Wilson domestic. When I wrote articles for the paper, she pinned them on the fridge, but she also asked a lot of questions and poked a lot of holes in them. When I had to write reports for school, she was constantly on my case about my penmanship. When I decided that “average” was a good enough grade, she busted out a whole case of whup-ass on me.
She was someone who worked like hell to get where she was and never let anyone forget it.
As she was growing up, the paltry sums of money allocated for college tuition went to my uncle. My grandfather’s logic was simple for the time: You’re a woman. You’re going to get married and have a husband support you. Instead, she worked her ass off, often taking a couple buses to get to the Boston Store downtown so she could make tuition and books. She was 20 when she was married, and thus balanced family and school. The photo that always sits in my mind is the one black and white shot Dad took of her at the old Formica kitchen table with her books spread out and a bottle of Coke. She looked up like someone who had been nearly drown, but who was in no way giving up.
She had to fight through the sexism that was her father-in-law’s common patter. His wife didn’t work, what the hell did his son’s wife need to work for? It’s a miracle that they were able to coexist, but she was strong enough to push back and smart enough to know which battles needed to be won. When she sensed that gender bias was creeping into her son’s lexicon, she quickly disabused me of the notion that women were less than in any way. In doing so, she not only made me smarter and better, but she taught me the value of hand-cleaned toilet shines and why it’s a great feeling to iron everything (including pillow cases).
She cared for at least three family members who spent their final days suffering from some of the worst forms of cancer and lowest forms of health care out there. She would somehow manage to keep Grandma’s wash running or Uncle Harry’s bed set up or Uncle Ronnie’s hospice nurse informed while running from pillar to post on her own. Death always bothers me, but I’ve always been amazed at how she handled everything, knowing that the grains of sand were flowing so quickly out of these hourglasses.
Every year, she ponders retirement. Every year, she takes the Gordie Howe approach, “I’m going to play next year and if they can’t find anyone better than me, I’ll play another year.” So far, she’s stacked together 45 years and still outruns colleagues who haven’t reached 45 years of age yet.
I also know that there are no guarantees with anything anymore. Mom and Dad used to read the local paper’s obituaries and find grandparents of friends. Then, it was parents of friends. Now, it’s friends and people even younger. Every hug means more. Every laugh echoes a bit longer. Every minute gets just a touch more important.
This Mother’s Day, she wants a road trip to a small Native American Gaming resort upstate, so that’s what we’re doing. Even though we play penny slots, the idea of winning still resonates with all three of us. We’ll probably catch an estate sale or two and eat at some place that’s “local” which means a boat load of food that will lead to all of us saying, “Dammit, I ate too much.”
Last year, I took her to see Paul McCartney, something she desperately wanted and something my father disparagingly groused about. The tickets were a surprise and I bought two with the idea she could take a friend. After the initial shock wore off, she immediately asked, “Will you go with me?” What about Dad or a friend? “I want to go with my son. Is there something wrong with that?” Uh… no… but… I kind of looked at my wife who had a smile on her face. She knew.
Mom is mom. And I’ll always be her kid.