Thursday, April 30, 2015

     Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been 99 years old. Cancer took her from us when she was only a year older than me today. My mom was a big smoker. This led to lung cancer. The eight years between her diagnosis and her passing were spent dancing, partying, traveling, spending time with friends and family and praying. She was a resilient woman whose life was cut too short.

     My mother and I were not close. I have always envied those who had the bond I never did. It was no one’s fault; it just was. The times I judged and resented her could have been avoided had I just asked for an explanation. I never did. I didn’t know how. 

     My mother was brought up by a brilliant, extremely independent, critical mother who left home as a teen-ager and was brought up by an aunt and uncle. The critical link went back in time, and often it seems that there is a propensity to repeat the negative--in this case, the critical tongue. As mothers, the term “critical” can be hidden in such terms as “discipline,” “rules,” “because I said so.” Standards may be set by random comments such as, “I got all As in high school” ---a statement that told me early on that anything less than my mother’s perfection was my failure. Maybe my over-sensitive gene had been firmly implanted by then. Who knows?

     My mother was a career woman who lived alone with me while my father was in France during World War II. Although he never saw battle, he was still gone just months after their marriage. Growing up, it was always about my father and his “war” experiences--never about how my mother survived alone not knowing from one day to the next if he would return whole and unscathed by what he’d seen and experienced.

     After the war, my mother went to work when all of my friends’ moms stayed home. My sister and I were brought up by nannies while my mother used her income (along with my Dad’s) to decorate the house, buy beautiful clothes, take fancy trips and buy Cadillacs. I saw all this as superfluous and resented the lack of attention I thought I deserved. My lens  was not necessarily clear, but, ironically, what I hated about her absence and lack of attention I learned to admire. I recognized her courage and tenacity to follow her own dreams despite criticism by friends and family. 

     My mother worked her way up the career ladder without one day in a college classroom. She retired after 25 years from General Motors and was extremely proud of her accomplishments. 

     Later in my life, I learned that she had needs that were never met. I learned that she knew that motherhood wasn’t her thing, and she felt guilty that we felt cheated. I learned that she was human and just did the best she could. I learned, most importantly, that she gave me gifts that I didn’t recognize or thank her for:  a life-of-the-party spirit, boundless energy, shapely legs, tips on how to be a lady, (walk tall, dress feminine, speak softly) manners, a flair for decorating, a passion for stilettos, a large dose of resilience and a system for keeping order in my daily life. I loved her even though I never really knew her. I wish I could have spent less time feeling cheated and more time thanking her. Thanks, Mom.