Thankfully, my Mom was never one of those Moms who commented on weight or personal appearance, other than to say things like, “Stop slouching. Stand up straight.” Or, “Are you sure there’s enough room in the crotch?”
I count myself lucky for that.
Both my Mom and Dad taught us from an early age that the world was not fair, that it didn’t owe us anything: a job, a car, or even love. It was, after all, up to us to learn everything we could; to be good people, good friends, good citizens in order to secure these things. As a result, my childhood was often like an ongoing lecture series in self-sufficiency, entitled: Here’s How, starring my mother.
“Here’s how to hold the potato when you peel it…”
“This is how to make a hospital corner…”
“How on earth have you gotten through life this far without knowing how to ____?”
“Ask the doctor questions. It’s your body.”
“Look it up.”
When my sister and I were young, Mom kept our hair short.
She says she kept it short because we screamed whenever she touched our hair, although I have no recollection of this. I do, however, remember her scorching the tips of our ears with the curling iron as she curled our short, Dorothy Hamill hairdos under.
Me, screeching: “You’re burning me! You’re burning me!”
Mom, flatly: “Don’t be silly. That’s just my finger.”
Because I had short hair and dressed in jeans and t-shirts, I was often mistaken for a boy.
This pained Mom to no end.
One might think a nifty solution to this problem might be say…grow the child’s hair out. Put it in pigtails. With ribbons even.
But if you did that, you’d miss the magic that is my Mother.
Rather than let my hair grow out, she decided it was a better idea to sew white eyelet lace around the back panel of my jean jacket.
My jean jacket.
It looked as horrific as you are imagining.
Even at six, I knew it was awful.
I refused to wear the jacket.
I joke with her now and again that white eyelet lace is the reason I’m gay.
She laughs. Most of the time.
Actually, she and I were folding underwear in her bedroom when I came out to her.
I chose neither the venue nor the timing of this discussion, but when she specifically asks me if the bar where I’m going that evening is a gay bar, I say yes.
She says nothing.
I fold and refold a pair of Dad’s underwear three times and realize this is the moment.
I say, “Is there anything else you want to ask me?”
She says no, and I am certain she means it.
Something inside me clenches with fear so fiercely that rather than come out, I tiptoe forward.
I say, “Well, I’m pretty sure that I’m gay.”
She stops folding and says, “I’ll go get your Father.”
Also not in the plan.
The other night I went to see a friend perform in a production of Oklahoma! She was amazing, and the bunch of us that attended were very proud. Also, we sat in the second row which is really not the best idea for a musical. The truth is, you need a little physical distance from people who burst into song every few moments.
At any rate, there’s a scene in which the “bad guy,” Jud, sings a song that turns into a monotone dirge about his own death. The line he sings is: “Poor Jud is dead. A candle lights his head.”
This is the very line my Mom would sing to us when she woke us when we were kids, or if she caught us dozing off somewhere, or if we were being overly dramatic teenagers who might “die” if we didn’t get to [insert the thing we wanted to do here]. So here I am at the play the other night, laughing uncontrollably at a scene which is decidedly not funny, all because my Mom sang that bit to me at least a thousand times.
I am certain that using that line to wake her slumbering babes was never part of her plan. I mean, at least I hope it wasn’t, because talk about dark…However, it is for just this reason and a thousand others that I love her, that I find her maddening and irreplaceable and funny and frustrating and perfectly mine. Happy Mother’s Day, Mama, there’s simply no one quite like you.