Tuesday, December 02, 2008

My Mother, Myself

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.

5) Cursing.
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.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the wonderful things you learned from your mother. You really did take her lessons to heart Carla!

I'm going to try to apply them to my life as well. First goal -- dance in the street (preferably with my kids as witnesses).


bdaul said...

Carla, what a wonderful list of gifts. I can identify with so many of you facets. One aspect I have learned was how much lovelier the world and life can be when you "fricken" slow down and smell the flowers! Thanks...

Anonymous said...

Mothers and daughters....wow...I am visiting my mother next week in MA and I will make a list like yours to give her. You are such a wonderful teacher. Incidentally, Will has had a breakthrough and our script will be finished in January. OH MY GOD! It's a Christmas miracle......:) J

bdaul said...

Another list that your friends could create that would be beautiful is:


I would love to see such a list and I can imagine some of the most beautiful lessons that would be scribed.

Anonymous said...

The What I Learned from Carla List

1. to be kind rather than right
2. to look closely at butterflies
3. to value friendship
4. to care about children, your own and others
5. to laugh and make jokes whenever possible
6. to never give up

Anyone wanna add to this?

Anonymous said...

Dearest Carla, What a gift you have given your mother ~ to see beyond the tensions to the gifts. My mother died before I'd grown into enough adulthood to acknowledge her in such a way but even though she's been gone 35 years I'm going to do it right now in loving detail ~ as I all too clearly see 'my mother, my self'. Thank you for your courage, candor, open heart ~ and for befriending us. Love from another grateful museling ~ Francia

bdaul said...

to add to the list:

7. Keep your eyes open for beauty
8. Express yourself honestly
9. You can love people you barely know.
10. You can learn a lot from a little
11. Appreciate life
12. What a wonderful world this could be...
13. Carla is precious beyond words and time

Anonymous said...

I loved this post. It reminded me of a place I reached once in my relationship with my step dad. One day I realized I'd been so busy hating him for his abusive ways that I had never acknowledged the ways he had helped me. And then one step beyond that, was when I learned to be grateful for even the bad things that he did because of the way they had shaped me too.

I am who I am, my children (these specific children) exist because of every step that led me to this day.

If I changed one single thing, who knows where I'd be. But, I wouldn't be me.

Anonymous said...

I am happy to hear that there are other people that can guess the outcome of a movie! I have that ability too and for a long time would not pay to go see them because half way thru I was done and my husband was asleep so why bother?

Anonymous said...

This happens between sisters too....

Unknown said...

Carla - having known your Mom since high school (another Gladstone Gal) the comments were perfect. Velma was always "out there" sharing, looking great and totally interested in everything. You and she share some marvellous and amazing qualities, colour included. Enjoy Australia and sing, sing, sing at the Opera House, we will travel in spirit. Thanks for the update on Allison, she has been in our prayers and we will continue them for both of you, fondly, Mary Stein Franklin (class of '57)