About a Mom

So I got a good night’s rest last night, and I’m feeling a little better. Plus, aside from bedtime (Bun had a meltdown, but it is an exception instead of the rule these days) I didn’t have to give my girls time out yesterday.

It was a good night.

What I wrote yesterday and a lot of what I read that contributed to what I wrote got me thinking. And then I read this, about another mother, and it made me feel even better and left me amazed that someone could write so powerful a tribute to her amazing mom.

It made me think about my own mother on this spectrum of “bad” to Good.

My mom is a great mom. She is a real mom, if you know what I mean. Growing up, she didn’t give me unrealistic expectations of how to have a career and be a loving mom and wife. She wasn’t Super Mom. She was a super mom, and she is one of my heroes, but I never think to myself, “How did my mother do this?”

She just did it. When we were very young, she stayed home while my father (a pharmacist) worked full time and more than full time. Eventually, my mom started back to work (she is also a pharmacist) on a part-time basis — as little as one day a week. When her youngest daughter started first grade, my mom returned to work full time. She and my father were partners in a business. They talked about it a lot. As a matter of fact, I remember as a 12-year-old suddenly exploding at the dinner table: “Can’t you talk about something beside work? I’m so tired of hearing about your nursing homes!” My mother and father exchanged a look. And changed the subject.

Was she a perfect mom? Did she revere us children, put us first in her life? Did she bake cookies and never yell?

I do recall some cookie baking. And some yelling. And the occasional swat to the behind with a wooden spoon. She wasn’t perfect. But she was still great.

Her marriage came first. She and my dad had date nights (I remember disco lessons and bowling league). They were partners, and neither one of them ever chose one of us children over their partnership.

They were loving and stern disciplinarians. We had boundaries; we learned to toe the line. We had mealtimes, and bedtimes, and curfews, and chores. We had structure. It’s something I am striving to provide for my own children.

My mom took care of us. She cooked meals — we ate as a family probably five times a week. She packed lunches, tended to us when we were sick, made sure we had clean clothes, read us bedtime stories (my dad read to us too). She took us to the beach and to the zoo and she made us laugh.

My mom did all the things that to my mind moms were supposed to do. And that includes having a strong, loving partnership with her husband, and pursuing a career. I’m not going to say she made it look easy. I remember frustration and silence in my house; I remember stress and tension. But it never looked so hard that I thought to myself, “There’s no way I can do that.”

My mom provided encouragement, both through her words and actions, and by example. At a time when many women were choosing college to get their MRS degrees, my mother pursued a career instead. She was probably the only woman to graduate from Duquesne School of Pharmacy in 1968. And, yeah, that’s where she met my father, but that’s not why she went. She went because she wanted to work. My parents didn’t get married until they were 25 years old.

My mom didn’t always approve of my choices — whether clothes or boys or the decision to pierce my lip (I was a college graduate by then; she couldn’t stop me). One of my mother’s catch phrases was “that’s not appropriate”. She worried about me, and the decisions I made. But she was always there; she never turned her back on me (we had a close call once; dad intervened).

She danced at my wedding. She was there when Gabriel died. She was there when my daughters were born. She’s still here, and that makes me a lucky woman, daughter, and mom.

She doesn’t interfere in my life, and she doesn’t offer a lot of advice. She says that we were perfect children; she also says she doesn’t remember struggling. I believe her. But she always listens to me, and she always assures me that it will be okay. And I believe her.

Besides, she is a perfect grandmother — or Nonna, as my girls call her.

I wouldn’t want it any other way. I wouldn’t want any other mom. I hope I do it half as well as she does.

What I Am: Reading this Week

The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb
This is a story about a fictional couple and their lives in the aftermath of a real event: Columbine. Caelum Quirk is an English teacher at the school; his third wife Maureen is a part-time school nurse. The day of the shootings, Caelum is in New England dealing with the death of his only relative, his Aunt Lolly; Maureen is in the library, where most of the children were killed that day, and where Harris and Klebold committed suicide. She survives the day by hiding in a cabinet, but she suffers severe PTSD.

I am about two-thirds of the way through the book. It is compelling. Several other storylines are woven into the lives of Caelum and Maureen: Caelum’s childhood as the son of an alcoholic man who commits suicide and a woman so damaged by her marriage she can barely tolerate raising her only son; the couple’s relationship with Velvet Hoon, another collateral casualty of Columbine — and more; the Mick couple, a bi-racial man and his white wife fleeing the destruction of Katrina; and the family of Morgan S, a teenage boy who crosses paths with Maureen with devastating consequences.

Wally Lamb has only written three novels, and I have been amazed by them all. His protagonists are broken men and women trying to piece their lives back together. Their humanity is so naked and raw, that I cannot help rooting for them. They are far from perfect, but I don’t find them unlikable.

What I find especially touching about The Hour I First Believed, told primarily through the first person perspective of Caelum, is the intense introspective nature of the writing. He knows how flawed he is, but he works to be better, to be strong for his wife, to help himself so he can help her. He takes missteps along the way, of course. He also discovers in his aunt’s papers the history of his family, which provides more insight into his own character.

The book is literate, with black humor and great dialogue. I don’t know where the story of Caelum and Maureen ends up; I am hoping for the best. It doesn’t have to be a conclusive ending, but I have to admit to hoping for a happy one. I’ve read Lamb before, though, so I can’t hold out high hopes for that.

****

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Suggested to me by Kelly at Peace, Love, and Flowers. I have to thank her for that.

This is a gothic novel set in the early 20th century. It has all the requisite elements: a single woman with a secret; an elderly woman with more secrets; secret rooms and passageways; ghosts; madwomen (and men); orphans (of the literal and figurative types); and startling revelations. Beautifully written with its own humor, the story recalls the classics like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I was thoroughly engaged and delighted.

****

“A Mother’s Day Uprising” from Newsweek.com

I can’t quite grasp the tone of this article. Satire? Commentary? Humor? Complaint Journalism? Encouragement? Commiseration?

I don’t know when I knew it was okay to not be and do everything — to not be Super Woman. After I became a mother, certainly. When I went back to work for sure. I try to keep my household running — that means decent meals, laundry, and minimum clutter (DearDR is helping more and more with that last one, because it drives him bonkers). I make sure my daughters know they are loved; I also make sure they are fed, bathed, read to; I pack lunches; I underline show & tell or other special school events on the calendar. I juggle our finances. I take the kids to the doctors and get their prescriptions filled; I do most of the shopping. I continue to tend to my relationship with my husband.

Do I do it “all”? No. I have yet to sign either of the girls up for “extracurricular” activities like swim lessons or Mommy & Me classes. The dust in my home is truly shameful. My sinks are a bit sticky. I have too many girls’ clothes of varying sizes all over the upstairs, too many clean clothes still in laundry baskets.

I feel I’m doing the best I can with what I got. Most days, this is perfectly okay. Sometimes, it’s a little embarrassing — I would be mortified if you, dear reader, came to my house unannounced. Occasionally, DearDR and I fight about it, and, occasionally, I find it depressing.

But I just refuse to stress out about it anymore. That is definitely not worth my time. I think it will get better as the girls get older. Some days, even now, I can see it’s getting easier for me, and different as well.

What are your expectations of yourself? As a woman, as a mother? Have they changed for you over the years? Do you think this mothering gig will get easier? Harder? Just different?

And what are you reading this week?