My dear old mom passed away in 2016. Of course I miss her every day. While she was nearing her last days, I happened to be cleaning out my office. Never could I have imagined how these two random events would take my brain and heart to thoughts and feelings untapped – an epiphany of sorts. Let me explain.
Withered at 93, Mom was fragile, unaware, and childlike, a far cry from the capable, confident matriarch she once was. She’d recognized the harbinger years prior when she lost sight in one eye, and in true Betty Mulligan form, she got right down to business. She and my father moved from their little house in a retirement village near the Jersey shore to an age-in-place facility closer to three of my siblings in northern New Jersey. Mom was only too ready to give up cooking, even if my father wasn’t ready to say goodbye to his longtime culinary favorites. It was the right move to make, as Dad’s health deteriorated soon after, and when he passed away in 2009, Mom was surrounded by new friends, helpful staff, three meals a day, and her family close by.
While cleaning out my office, I unearthed my children’s school artwork, photographs, Mother’s Day creations, Christmas cards, birthday cards, personal notes, report cards, calendars, newsletters, credit card statements, old tax returns, client files, writing samples, and lice research. (I never did start that lice support group, but I still had the data.) As I sifted and tossed, culled and collected, I reminisced. Mom simmered top of mind, even though I was perusing mementos of my own motherhood. Why was Mom so prevalent here? It finally made sense to me, not only because her words fly out of my mouth on a regular basis, but also because she was the standard bearer. Hers was a lasting impression of comfortable control, always in charge. How many times have I wondered, why am I in charge? Where’s Betty? She’s the one with the answers. She never faltered, never doubted, never compromised. She did not negotiate. Of course we knew she loved us, but she ruled with a firm grip. There was comfort in her resoluteness; you never wondered where you stood. And if you did have occasion to wonder, you were likely standing right in her crosshairs. Snap.
Predictable and overdramatized, the realization you’re becoming your mother is the stuff of memes and therapy sessions the world over. But maybe, and this was my epiphany in my upside-down, detritus-strewn office, Mom was more like me. Confident on the outside but perhaps less so on the inside. Resolute but maybe tentative. Did that sheer will waffle a bit when we weren’t watching? And the more I thought about it, the younger Mom became in my eyes. Did she ever wonder how she became the boss or question her decisions? I know she missed her own mom, so did she also wonder if she could ever measure up to the strong female lead she’d been shown? Betty parented in tumultuous times, from 1950 through 1980, raising six children as all the rules changed while she was practicing duty and rite in her role. I’m fairly certain that in all that uncertainty, she just learned to trust her instincts. It’s probably a little easier on my generation, as we witnessed our parents come through great change and though they seemed surprised and unprepared for all that changed, we learned early on that nothing stays the same. Of course, now we’re all wading through the muck-strewn waters of iphones, snapchat and livestreams, and trying to explain to our children how anti-social all that social media really is. Who knows what parenting challenges await our kids when it’s their turn? What would Betty say? “Oi vey.” That’s definitely what she’d say.
Happy Mother’s Day, moms. Trust your instincts. Love you all.