May 9, 2015
(This is part of a 365 project during my 70th year where I write and illustrate a blog on each day's gift.)
|My mother and me|
Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my mother who passed away in 1995, but today she has been on my mind even more. I just searched for photos of my mother and me together and discovered there are only a few. She did not like people to take pictures of her and when I became the family photographer, most of my photos show her with her mouth open saying, “Don’t [take my picture],” or with her hand blocking her face. However, she did have a sense of history and the importance of family record, and she posed in group photos throughout her life. The only photos I have that include my mother and me are when I was a baby or, later, those that also have one or both of my sisters in it. I was the first-born of three daughters, but as her family grew, she never showed favoritism. “I love all my children equally,” she said more than a few times. This certainly had an effect on how my sisters and I relate, with the absence of jealousy.
I think it must have been more difficult for my mother to love me as much as my sisters. Even in some of the toddler photos of both of us, I seem to be struggling to push away and go in another direction. My middle sister Nancy is 27 months younger than me, and my mother loved to dress us alike so that many people thought we were twins. She always laid out our outfits for us in the morning—matching outfits. One day I rebelled. Maybe I was six. I refused to wear the same thing as my sister. I said, “I’m not her. I don’t want to wear the same thing.” My mother must have wisely figured out that some battles are not worth fighting and I got my way.
My mother and I were very different. She filled her life with family and domestic skills. She did not read books unless they were filled with recipes or directions for crocheting and I devoured books, especially novels. She sought friends like herself, while I have always wanted a larger circle. I love to travel but she did not and said, “My home and my family are good enough for me.” We took comfort in knowing how much she cared for us.
She would fight for us like a lioness if she thought we had been wronged. I was an excellent student and well-behaved, but in the 5th grade I received detention for the first time. During recess, the older students had one section of the playground and the younger ones another. A teacher-appointed “safety” would help ensure that the class followed the rules. I was looking at the “monkey bars” during one recess where I wanted to climb to the top. The student safety must have noticed this and she said to me, “Go ahead. I won’t tell on you.” The gullible kid that I was, I did. The safety reported me and I had to stay after school. When I arrived late to my mother, who was waiting outside the school at dismissal time, I told her tearfully what had happened. I was humiliated that the teacher had to punish me. My mother saw it a different way. “That girl was mean to you. She tempted you and then betrayed you.” Then she marched in to tell the teacher how it had really gone down.
Another time, though, my mother did not take up for me when I was bullied. I had just learned to ride a two-wheel bicycle. My father had gotten hold of an old boys’ bike but my legs weren’t long enough to reach the pedals. He tied wooden blocks onto the pedals so I could reach them. Getting onto the bike was difficult. At first he lifted me on and ran down the alley with me as he held onto the bike seat to steady me. No training wheels for me. Just a large bike and his hands that let go more and more frequently until I had my balance. Once I could ride it on my own, there was the problem of getting on and off the bike. I had to lean the bike in toward a fence and carefully climb on. Then I’d push out cautiously with my hand to start my balance while I began to pedal. When I stopped, I had to steer over to a fence and reverse the process. It worked, though, and I felt like I’d come of age with my bike and new skills.
My riding territory was limited to just one block... the alley behind our house. I couldn’t ride in the street because my mother said it was too dangerous. So I rode up and down the alley hundreds of times, feeling quite independent.
One time, however, as I got about three-quarters of the way toward the lower end, a chubby girl shouted out that I was not allowed to go past her yard. I ignored her and continued, carefully turned around at the end, and rode to the other end. Again I turned around and rode down the alley, but this time, she was standing in the middle with feet planted far apart and arms outstretched.
“Nyaa, nyaa, nyaa, nyaa nyaa! You can’t go past!” She taunted me.
I didn’t have any choice but to steer toward a fence, carefully get off and say, “Yes, I can!”
“No you can’t,” she replied and didn’t budge.
I walked my bike back to my house and complained to my mother, who was in the kitchen shelling peas and making crabcakes, purchases from the A-rab and his horse-drawn wagon that had come down our alley earlier that morning. I told her what had happened and she said I had every right to ride in the alley. I should get back on my bike, tell the girl that she couldn’t do that and to please move.
The same scene played out again and I walked my bike back home.
“Please go down there and make her let me go by,” I begged my mother.
“No,” she said. “You get back on your bike. Tell her to move or you’ll run her over.”
What?!!! My mother was telling me to run over someone on my bike! My usually gentle, non-violent mother. So I leaned my bike against the fence, climbed on, reached my feet down to the wooden blocks on the pedals, and carefully pushed off. Just as I’d feared, the bully was positioned and blocking my way. I told her in a shaky voice, “Move or I’ll run you over.”
“You dare!” she said.
These words did it! How dare she step on my rights! I took a deep breath and actually pedaled harder. In my heart, I desperately hoped she’d see me barreling down on her and jump out of the way at the last minute. But she didn’t. And I ran into her.
She fell and I noticed tread marks on her arm. I fell and accumulated a number of scrapes. She ran into her house crying to her mother. I got back up on my bike, finished to the end, turned around and came back up the alley...with no one blocking the way. She never tried that stunt again. I had freed my alley from tyranny.
The point of this story is that my mother gave me something special that day, something that eventually helped me deal with teaching middle school and junior high students. She helped me understand the power I had to deal with some problems.
Later, in my teen years, she may have had some regrets because I gave her and my father more trouble than they had anticipated. We had our battles and often we did not see eye-to-eye. But when I married a man she would not have chosen for me (and whom I later divorced), she kept quiet. Later she learned to love my second husband David. Although she disapproved of my timeline, marrying six weeks before our baby was born, she was ecstatic about her new grandchild, the first granddaughter, and loved looking after her for weekends and sometimes for a couple of weeks while David and I traveled. For my mother, family was her whole life and that was what gave it meaning.
She often offered me advice on how to cook, get rid of insect pests and remove clothing stains, but one piece of advice I was thinking about today. When my daughter Lauren was a toddler, my mother told me, “Never talk about your daughter in front of her and other people.” At the time, I thought that was interesting but now I realize that she was reminding me to never treat my child as an object and to remember that she had ears and feelings, even at a very young age.
The life my mother gave to me, our battles, her parenting, our differences—all contributed to who I am. I found security in her love, strength in our battles and some wisdom, too, along the way.
My gift today is remembering lessons my mother taught me.
You can find links to my other posts on this project here: