I had no mothering of an affectionate nature. Oh, I had Buster Brown shoes, starched crinolines, squeaky clean hair drawn back in taut braids. I had all that a mother could provide so long as it didn’t include loving affection. I have always regarded with wonder women who genuinely love their children, to the effect of their wanting to be with them: to wanting to hold them, hug them, comfort them, to look upon them adoringly & with genuine warmth. This was not my experience. I did not learn it from anyone, let alone from my Mother.
Mom was a physical person. She was tireless in pursuit of a better life for her children. She managed to send us to Catholic school on a dire salary, paying for uniforms, white blouses with stiff collars & cuffs, regulation socks, ill-fitting slips.
She put incredibly good food on our table, homemade, hand-made pasta of all sorts, blended sauce of such aroma as to cause visitors to grow dizzy with hunger. She pushed upon us good flesh, thick porkchops, Philly cheesesteak sandwiches served on Italian rolls with the breading pulled out of them to fit more steak, the best meatballs in New Jersey. She served vegetables perfectly prepared (which I would seldom eat, just because).
My mother never drove me to dancing class or judo; these were not readily available options in our small summer town which came alive only in that season. But it was always the beach & therein my refuge, my penchant for sand & big skies with mysterious clouds. It seemed she was forever at work. But it was just that she chose to labor in the hours we were home as less complicated shifts to do nursing (which she came to late in life after a long career as the only cook & owner of an Italian restaurant on the Boardwalk.) When my brother & I were home, she was at work. Simple. From an early age, babysitting fell upon him. When he found friends to hang out with, I cared for myself, rolling around the house like a loose marble. I don’t remember raiding the kitchen for snacks, there were never potato chips, but probably cookies of some kind, and always fruit, boring, boring fruit, which I still choose last.
She raised two daughters ahead of us, sixteen & ten years ahead respectively. She was, well, the best word I can use to describe her … stern. She brooked no backtalk, no crying, no whining. Her feet were unendingly sore; her response to any cough or sneeze was an enema. Her nursing uniforms were severe, raspy, over the knee. Her white shoes were always freshly polished using a brown bottle with a narrow neck, from which she drew a wire with a furry white ball on its end. Her smiles were tired. Dinner was always in the refrigerator for Joe to warm up for me. We were otherwise not permitted in the kitchen during prep time, unless it was to roll the handle of the bread crumb grinder, the same one used to crumble the hard Locatelli cheese she favored above all else. Or to clean the dishes. I escaped these chores as much as I could, incurring resentment & glares from put-upon brother Joe.
Years later, I was told by a healing woman working on me that my mother worked too much. I said, “How do you know that?” She, (Mormon mother of ten), replied darkly, “There are many ways to find excuses not to be with your children.” I just smiled. I knew who Mom had been by that time.
I cannot remember holding Mom’s hand except when we went into the city to buy school uniforms. I cannot remember ever getting my choice of clothing or shoes or anything in my exact size as she relied on growth to happen & always “left room.” When I stayed a shrimp, it just meant all my clothing hung off me as though I was dressed from a third world closet – a comparison I’m sure she is bristling at in her grave as I type.
I was in my 50’s when my husband took my face gently in his hands & kissed my forehead. I burst into uncontrollable tears.
But the reality is, Mom DIDN’T avoid us, she accepted us with all the responsibility she could wrap us in. She saw to the everything of our lives without any mush/gush of overt loving. I think she just didn’t have the energy for love. We lacked for nothing, got hollered at a great lot, were expected to make First Honors every report card cycle. We were expected to never do wrong, to sing in the choir, to serve on the altar, to not bring home friends as they made more work for her.
I grew into who I am, wary of relationships, a loner with no real abilities except reading, no talent except writing, (which she despised – I often say her only words to me, ever, were “Go outside! You live at the beach! Just GO!”) I never remember being tickled on the belly. But I was never slapped either, or smacked, or punished except by voice & disapproval. But these can be crushing in their own ways.
Once I discussed my lack of understanding how to be a mother because of my own experiences with my daughter & she, far wiser than I with her Masters in Special Ed (itself a telling education), said, “You hit the nail on the head, Mom!” I hardly remember opening my arms to her during our time together before she elected to live with her father instead. I do remember frequently saying, “Will you just go outside!?”
A father…my father disgraced himself in Mom’s eyes with another woman. We saw Daddy once a year when he came to paint the house. He had five more children after his four with Mom. There was neither time nor funding for us, his last two with her. I understand that now.
Without this upbringing, I would not be the person I am. I don’t regret a bit of it, all these years later. I just comprehend it better. There was never a moment when either of them did not do what they perceived to be their very best for us.
In a reading once, I asked what the karmic connection with my mother & my family was. I was told there was none, that we had elected to incarnate together as a family to resolve more of concepts than karma. Concepts like patience, tolerance and the like. I could not have had a better environment in which to spend my childhood than the five-mile island where I biked & walked & goggled at the Sisters of St. Joseph who enacted my discipline & taught me discretion.
I have inherited an enlarged heart from Mother. But when the physician looked to induce fear in me by telling me this, I only said, “More room to love.” This, I know, I learned from Mom.
So, I’d say in the farther reaches of time where I now dwell, close to the age where my mother made her Crossover, alone & asleep in her own bed at the beach while I dwelled inland. I think about mortality, but don’t believe in it for me, not really. (This is a common belief, you know. Few really plan for their own demise. Mother did, though.)
Were I to die in my bed tonight, I would not be disaffected of her. I would expect her to be waiting under the “Exit” sign with open arms, saying, “It was all a dream, Carol. Let’s wake up together.”
You’ll have to pardon any errors in this post, my eyes are filled with tears.
Undeniable truth. Beautifully spelled out. As one of the “older two” once in awhile I did get “smacked,” along with admonished for many things. I think sister and I paved the way for you and brother, but I was the brattiest and so coming right before you (unfortunately) was the role model she felt you would follow. (Sorry, sis). It is only now, 27 years after she’s left this plane for the higher one, do I realize how very much I loved her and try to emulate her in every way except the “no hugs” part. I am at the other end of that spectrum giving hugs to any and all who will accept them. Perhaps hoping she will feel them wherever she is.