Did you know I had a mom? Oh, yes I did. You won’t know her, she has been dead over half of my life, but she raised me. I am lucky, I have siblings that barely caught a glimpse of the life force she was, and though my time with her was short, it was time.
She taught me more than anyone. She loved me stronger than she had to, but she did it because she was my mother. I don’t talk about her. I don’t talk about things that upset me. It is my safety. I have a little box stored inside of me where I lock away the things that hurt. She hurts. My father is not a man people like. I don’t really know any other way to say it. I am sure he has his reasons. I am sure somewhere along the way life didn’t go as planned. It’s just that I don’t know because he never says, and he never will, and I have to be OK with that.
My mother once told me she hugged us often and told us she loved us always because my father never did, and she had to make up for it. This is true. I have found that kids will forgive parents of almost anything so long as they know they are loved.
My mother, she wasn’t perfect. I’d say far from it. She was real though. She was beautiful in her reality. She was beautiful in her being. She had a history with men and drugs. She had some sort of complicated relationship with her mother. We never talked about those things, not really. This is what I know. She listened to me, she really listened. She cared, deep deep down she cared about me and my siblings. She talked too much about what an ass my father was, and I prayed she would leave him. In the end she never did, she simply told me not to marry anyone like him.
She was brave. She was strong. She was a working mother. She came to my room every day to ask me how I was, and the one time she didn’t do this right away it broke my heart a little. My dad never left his room. He yelled. I know she yelled too and she slapped me across the face more than once, but the difference was she said sorry. She would hug me. She said she loved me, and well, kids forgive almost anything if they are loved.
I heard my parents fight often about me. Yelling, screaming. I don’t really know what I did. I just was. I rebelled not by drinking or having sex but by adamantly not doing any of these things. She hugged me. Encouraged me to speak up for what I believed, no matter what it was. She taught me it was OK to be sarcastic, witty, strong, to take the lead, to voice my opinion, and not back down. She taught me it was OK to love even when it is complicated. Her laugh was contagious. Her voice raspy from cigarettes, but lovely still. She didn’t judge. In an age before being gay was accepted, she taught me that it was not my place to say what was or was not, what should be or should not. Never call people derogative names because in the end we are all humans and we all have struggles. You are not above anyone nor is anyone above you.
She taught me family came first. I knew it. I always knew it, but sometimes I hated it. She taught me I was beautiful on the outside even though my ugly years were long, but that what really mattered was how beautiful I was on the inside. I think my ugly on the inside years were longer than they should have been. She supported our family. We had 5 kids. She worked at the post office but my dad didn’t work. He stayed in his room. She came home and she did everything. I do mean everything. I saw my dad when he came out to yell at us. She taught me that women can do it all. Women, more often than not, suck it up and just deal. She was my best friend. I trusted her with everything, all my crazy.
Then she died. I felt betrayed for awhile. She picked cigarettes over us. Even when she was dying she picked them. So see, I knew she could be weak too. I knew she had vices she wished she didn’t have.
A lot of time has passed. I still don’t really talk about her. It isn’t that I am mad at her or God or anyone, but I had to keep living. I put her in a box, and there she stays. My kids ask about her, and I call her my mom not their grandma. Maybe that is selfish, but I was a kid when she died and she was my mom. She kept me safe, she gave me double the love because she knew she had to. She did everything and to call her anything different than my mom feels like it is taking away from what she was.
She isn’t their granny or grandma in the way my mother-in-law is. She doesn’t get to love them, tell them stories, play with them, hold them, listen to them, laugh, tell completely inappropriate jokes, cuss near them and then tell me to lighten up, and she doesn’t get to spoil them. She didn’t see me stop being such a mess; she didn’t see me graduate high school, get married, or have kids.
No, I did that alone.
Maybe I did it because she died, and it was up to me to get my act together. Still. In the end she was my mother. She loved me in those unlovable years and that counts for a whole hell of a lot. When my kids ask me if I had a mother, I say yeah. But what I mean is that no one ever on earth was as strong as her, and everyday I try to emulate that strength.
I know she was flawed, but it is those flaws that made her love so much more genuine. Yes, I had a mother.