My mother is our family’s punching bag. Before recoiling in horror please know that she coined the title and wears this badge with great pride and honor. My mother is strong, no-nonsense, caring, supportive and fiercely overprotective of her grown children and grandchildren. She doesn’t consider her role of mother to be finished now that her kids are grown. Quite to the contrary, she has expanded her job parameters, taking an even greater in-depth interest.
I call my mother with good news. No one is happier for me than she is. No one revels in my accomplishments (or those of my husband and children) the way she does. Because unlike anyone else on this planet, she is my mother. I call my mother when I’m sad. I call her when I’m angry. Sometimes I call to unload crap on her and have the gall to start off by saying that she’s not going to understand, shouldn’t comment, and shouldn’t annoy me with philosophies that are bound to piss me off. And she never asks, “so why did you call?!”
My mother doesn’t sugar-coat reality for me. She never has. As a result I grew up accepting my flaws and assets with realism and a sense of humor. “So you’re bad in math? So what? You have self-confidence. You have opinions. You should run for office!” She encouraged me to be all that I can be, within certain guidelines of course: lawyer, doctor, engineer…. she was on board with any of the options that she provided. And the best part? She will laugh and get all verklempt when she reads this. When I suggested applying to the Rhode Island School of Design after concentrating on many art classes in high school, mom shut down the idea. “What? You can draw as a hobby. Find a career that can support you — on your own two feet.”
On your own two feet is one of mom’s favorite phrases. What other feet are there? When I once asked that question during a heated argument about college courses, she retorted that she wasn’t sending me to college to get my “Mrs.” degree. Did I want to end up a Mrs. Doctor someday?! I choose not to remind her that that’s what happened anyway.
My mother didn’t just dispense advice about self-sufficiency. She talked the talk and walked the walk right into a Masters program followed by a PhD, while raising three kids and supporting my father’s career. She finished her thesis in three years by studying late at night so as not to take too much time away from our family. She said she would make time to rest when she reached her grave. Oy mommy! She became a full professor, published tons of articles and three books. One of them on sex and aging – a source of amusement and embarrassment for my siblings and me (mainly because of the visuals).
My mother told me I was outstanding any time I doubted myself. She didn’t shower me with hugs, kisses and empty compliments. She was practical. She looked me right in the eye any time I acted insecure, and told me I had hidden strength and traits that I had yet to appreciate. Looking back on it, I realize I grew up with my own personal cheerleader. She told me I could do anything and that the teachers were lucky she sent me to their school (I’m sure the teachers saw it differently). I didn’t always believe her, but I knew she always believed in me.
My mother wasn’t afraid of anything and took on the world to defend her children. In return she expected that I learn how to advocate on my own behalf, accept that I can’t always win and above all, maintain my integrity. She loves the color red and has a few favorite expressions including, “do me a favor, put on a little lipstick.” And these words of wisdom make a lot of sense. She taught me that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, that if you go looking for trouble you will find it, and that most importantly, when you think you’ve sunk as far as you can go the only way to go is up.
She doesn’t wallow in her sorrows and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She never took on my battles – she gave me the tools to navigate them myself. She believes that you should always be off your ass doing something productive. On weekend mornings in high school, she pulled my shades open way too early and announced the arrival of The New York Times and bagels. Why should this weekend be different than any other?
My mom comes out fighting no matter what life throws at her. She is strong as a punching bag. She accepts and relishes that as a mother she will get slapped around by those who love her most. She lives to be the recipient of all our love, trust, complaining, sadness, angst and triumphs. Even with the punches she doesn’t deserve – she always comes through.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom! I am the luckiest Erris in the world (knock wood).