Today my mother would have turned 61. She’s been gone for a little over eight years now, which is, it turns out, long enough that while I marked the day on my calendar, patted her urn as I walked past, and allowed myself a few minutes of quiet reflection, it didn’t send waves of debilitating grief through me. I am still sad that she’s gone, I still miss her, and if I sit and think about it too much I will start to cry – but daily routines, the raising of my own kids, and life itself is a miraculous band-aid. She made choices in her life that I will never agree with or even understand, but it was her life — and she raised me to live my own. If nothing else, she taught me to be independent. Thing is, for all her faults she taught me far more than that.
She taught me how to strip wallpaper in a 1904 farmhouse, how to patch the lath-and-plaster walls below when the wallpaper took off chunks of plaster, and how to hang new wallpaper to disguise the uneven patches. She taught me to crochet and sew, and how to change the points in a distributor on a 1971 Toyota Corona (and gap them with a matchbook). One hot summer she taught me how to replace the sewer pipe to the septic tank after a houseful of females clogged it up with feminine hygeine products. And how to use a gas-powered post-hole digger to assemble a Big Toy playset in the backyard (never mind that the two of us combined didn’t weigh enough to handle the thing and that when it caught on a rock and propellered it smacked us both in the thighs and sent us flying; we left it there, running and spinning, until it ran out of gas. I don’t know how we avoided fracturing our femurs; we both limped for weeks.) She taught me the importance of being in control of your own money, which is incredibly ironic because she was the worst money manager I’ve ever seen.
It is because my mom didn’t like to cook that I am such a good one – I learned at an early age, when I tired of canned, boxed, and frozen meals. When her issues really started escalating round about 1980 I learned how to do much of the general housework, using a footstool to reach the washer and dryer, washing dishes and vacuuming the floor; I changed my brother’s diaper and made sure both he and my sister were fed when mom was having one of her increasingly-frequent ‘bad days’.
Despite Mom’s issues, she had a good dose of day-to-day wisdom and resourcefulness that I wish I could still draw upon. It was my mom who told me to put my first child on soy milk, despite his pediatrician assuring me that infants are not capable of projectile vomiting and it couldn’t possibly be lactose intolerant so young. It was mom who showed me how to patch up injured animals and bottle-feed sick and abandoned kittens and puppies.
And it is mom’s laugh that occasionally escapes from my mouth when I least expect it. I’m still working on letting go of all the negatives, but every time I pick up a power tool, fix a squeaky door hinge, or help my husband diagnose car troubles I can’t help but think of my mom and how her life choices made it so that I learned how to do these things for myself.
Happy Birthday, Mom. I miss you, I love you, I forgive you.