Like many women, my mother and I have always had a tricky relationship. I wonder sometimes why mother/daughter and father/son dyads are more often more fraught with challenges than their father/daughter and mother/son counterparts. Is it that a same sex parent has more trouble differentiating from their child? Is it that the child identifies strongly with the parent who shares their gender and looks to that parent for guidance in how to be a man or woman? Does gender even play into it?
Regardless of the reasons, I find myself wishing I could connect with my mother in a way that would bring her peace and happiness but always holding a bit of myself in reserve. As I’ve said before, life is full of sad things that can’t be fixed. My mother and I have both worked so hard to understand each other and she has made huge changes in how she interacts with me. Changes that involve a lot of determination. We get along better now than I can ever remember and yet there is this wariness that may never resolve given our current time constraints.
It got me thinking of what I would like to leave to my mother. What I came up with was a list. I’d like to leave her a list of all the ways I’m cool because of her and I’d like her to know about these things while I’m still alive so here it is:
1)Love of color
…or since my mom is Canadian, “colour”. My mom’s townhouse was a riot of purple and pink and her clothes insured that she would never be hit by a car. The dress she wore to both my wedding and Jason and Allison’s wedding was a symphony of greens,pinks and blues. When I put my apartment together I remembered her admonition: People who live in beige houses have a beige lives. Color makes me so happy and I get that from her.
2) Appreciation of flowers.
Whenever I worked in my garden I remembered how my mother loved every plant and leaf. I surprised myself by how many names I already knew and by how good I was at making flowers grow. (again I picked BRIGHT colors)I can’t garden anymore but my friends made me a beautiful deck garden and I love love love fresh cut flowers, especially gerber daisies.
3) Dancing and singing in the house.
I did this until I was in the wheelchair full time – dancing even in my walker. After my folks split, my mom said “please, God, send me a man who can dance.” She would boogie around the house and sometimes in public, which horrified me. Many years later, I was in Vancouver on New Year’s Eve and a bunch of Hari Krishnas were dancing in the street by Robson Square. I joined them much to the horror of my teenaged son. I get that from my mom.
4) Dirty humor and shameless flirting.
Mayra my accomplice said to me one day, “When you was walking you must have been very dangerooz.” Recently I pondered aloud to a friend “What if I had the sexual confidence I have now with the looks I had in my 20s?” “You would have died of AIDS instead of ALS” she said matter of factly. My mom has always delighted in a good filthy joke and is a champion flirt.
What the fuck else can I say?
6) Guessing the ends of movies.
I used to think she was a witch until I could do it too. This used to piss off my ex to no end. Happily, my son has inherited this gift so someone can continue to torture my ex long after I’m gone.
7) Excellent fashion sense.
My mom was always turned out well and looking like a million bucks. She’s married to an older man now so she doesn’t need to try so hard but man did she look great all the time. I used to be jealous of how snappy she dressed and how dumpy I looked. It takes awhile to learn how to dress for your body and she really knew how to do that.
8) Open door policy.
Every day when I came home from school there was someone at the table having tea. We could have used a revolving back door for friends and neighbors. My mom drove her friend Sylvia shopping since Sylvia didn’t know how (to drive – she knew how to shop, oh yes she did) and if I couldn’t find her, she’s be at Sylvia’s helping make drapes, homemade granola or working on some other project My mom loves company and so do I. This has made the transition from independent to dependent much smoother for me.
9) Love of public radio
It was always on and when it wasn’t, she would say “ I heard the most interesting thing on the CBC today….” For me it’s KPFA or NPR.
10) Irrepressible love of the every day things in life
To be truthful, many was the time I felt overcome with a homicidal rage when we would be walking to a specific destination and my mom would gasp loudly, scaring the crap out of me, exclaiming :”Oh, Carla! Look at the flowers!!” She would proceed to smell them, admire them, talk to strangers about them, etc. all while I silently shouted “let’s get a move on, people.” Now I am the one to hold up the expedition party to smell a rose, watch a hummingbird or enjoy a funny scene played out on the street. I don’t gasp audibly but inwardly my heart yells “Holy shit – look how amazing this is!”
11) Humor with an edge
Growing up with a handicapped and very troubled brother was no picnic. I have learned from both my parents that a little humor goes a long way to getting through adversity. My entire family is hilarious and I have memories of all of them cracking me up at one point but my mom is perhaps the most devilish in her humor. I remember (not entirely fondly) family car trips in which my dad took his goal of how many miles we’d drive on any given day so seriously that you’d think we were escaping Nazis rather than heading to Disneyland (coincidentally, Walt leaned in the Hitler direction so we were running to the Nazis). We would have our legs crossed begging to pull over to pee and my dad would say “As soon as we hit Eugene.” Or something equally horrifying. Finally one day my mom took off her seatbelt the buzzer to which did NOT automatically turn off like they do today. She crossed her arms and smiled a Cheshire cat grin for the longest time while the nasal buzz of the seatbelt warning taunted my Dad (okay, me and my non-deaf brother as well) until finally, my Dad couldn’t take it anymore and pulled over where we could gratefully relieve our bladders,
It’s not been an easy relationship for either of us - my Mom and I. I suspect that it will remain bumpy, however I am aware of how much my illness is tearing my mother apart and if I can leave her with the knowledge that a lot of what people love about me comes from her, that she helped make me the person I am today, that I can see her good traits – her charm, her delight in the every day things, her creativity, maybe we can make this bitter pill go down a little easier.
PS – if you see me in a pretty sweater, she probably bought it.