Mom’s sphere of influence ripples beyond her nest
Today, between choruses of Happy Mother’s Day, I reflected on all of the Mother’s Days I’ve celebrated with my mom. Instead of years, they are easier to count off in decades. Then I remembered a piece I wrote about Mom when I was the editor of the Christian Examiner newspaper. I dusted it off and though it’s been more than a dozen years since it appeared in print and some of the details have changed, the sentiment has not.
“I hate Mother’s Day,” my girlfriend blurted out with the abrupt honesty that endeared me to her from the start of our friendship. The statement was really no great surprise, as I’ve helplessly watched her struggle with the demands of parenting teen-agers while coping with an aging mother who is more like a child herself.
At times, my friend reminds me of an Oreo cookie, the sweet stuffing getting licked from both ends, giving until it’s all gone.
While her comment didn’t surprise me, the way it echoed through the spring air took my breath away.
“I hate Mother’s Day.”
I sorrowfully realized she’s not alone. Most of my friends have serious Mom issues. A lifelong pattern of hurts stuffed into awkward tiptoeing relationships.
I try to empathize with them, but I admit it’s really foreign to me. I’ve been blessed with a relationship with my mother that I cherish as much for its ease and comfort as for its uniqueness.
Quite frankly, my mother is a love. Even at the office, where she works two days a month sending out newspapers to subscribers, she’s called Mom by my colleagues, even my boss. Her arrival is marked by shrieks befitting a celebrity.
Last year she joined my monthly bunko group, where she’s become Mom to many of the players there, too. And it’s not just my friends. Her orbit includes the workers at the pharmacy, her hair dresser, the mail carrier, even little Michael across the street, a pint of young boy who has a huge smile and loves Sponge Bob Square Pants.
She’s adopted my sister-in-law, my husband’s grandmother and the owner of the neighborhood deli. Her wake is wide and I can’t count the number of people she’s touched over the years. Her penchant for sending cards should have earned her a millionaire’s stake in Hallmark.
I know much is often made by parents whose children grow up to be successful, considerate citizens, but it’s truly remarkable to be able to also do so with a parent. I can’t explain the contentment deep inside when others are blessed by Mom. Sharing her with my friends is a gift I could never buy and, truthfully, it helps to ease the guilt of knowing I have a relationship with my mother that many of my friends have never experienced.
Mom in training
What amazes me the most, though, is that Mom didn’t have much of a role model. It’s not an indictment on my grandmother’s mothering skills, but a stark testimony of loss. My mother lost her mother, her father, and her oldest brother, killed in World War II, before she became a teen-ager. With older siblings unable or unwilling to take her in, Mom was sent from her East Coast home in Baltimore to live with relatives she never met. It was a trip that took her to beautiful San Diego.
Ultimately she found a role model in a co-worker who “adopted” her into her family of three children. Over the years Grandma Fran became her surrogate mom, helping guide her through the teens, marriage and motherhood.
Mom’s childhood offered plenty of opportunities for her to fail, and yet she refused to use it as an excuse for coming up short. Instead, she looked elsewhere, absorbing like a sponge. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate how delicate the maternal bond can be. I’ve never taken it for granted, though I admit it was difficult at times to emulate.
In her footsteps
As a step mom of two with no natural-born children of my own, I had to learn a whole different set of rules and, at times, I failed miserably. I still cringe at some of the senseless battles I chose to fight. But with the rebellious teen years more than a decade away, and my approach softened by an ever-maturing faith, my daughter, Julie, and I are finally forging a relationship based as much on respect as love. Of course it helps that Julie’s a mom of her own and passing on the legacy. When I watch the occasional tug-of-war between Julie and her own children, I admit enjoying an inner laugh.
And then I quietly thank my Mom.