It’s a beautiful day and the outside world is calling me but alas, I’m off to a slow start. Today is Mother’s Day, a “holiday” that didn’t bear much weight while I was growing up. My parents aren’t generally Parents’ Day people.
However, my mother is such an exquisite being and integral part of my life that I’d be remiss in not honoring her today (brief phone conversation notwithstanding). I just read a very sad essay by a woman who’s virtually estranged from her abusive mother and for whom this day is very difficult, and I’m reminded again of how blessed I am. My mother is beautiful, brilliant, witty, elegant, talented, gracious and so much more. She is excellent at everything she does, and chooses not to do the things she doesn’t do well. She did not have an easy time growing up, caught, as she was, between cultures; she spent the first part of her life in Shanghai, where her half-German heritage made her “other”, and then moved to the States where half-Asian girls with funny last names were easy targets for teasing. She studied theater at Cornell and became a stage actress, and this is where her other-ness became an asset. She fell in love and had her heart broken by a much older man who later took his life. She met my father at the Robin Hood Theater in Arden, Delaware; he’d stage managed the summer before and was invited back to meet the “Eurasian ingenue with the almond eyes” — a meeting he recalls much more vividly than she does. He was smitten — he still is — and he eventually won her over with his sense of humor and persistence.
And then she stopped acting. I think it was a long time before she realized she could find passion and fulfillment elsewhere. My sister was born the mid-late-60s and I came along at the very end of 1970. I was born on the 28th of December; by New Year’s Eve my mom was home trying to enjoy (cheap) Champagne and I was gearing up to launch my holy war against any semblance of peace and calm in the household for years to come. I was not an easy child. I am not an easy adult. And things were tough for my mom in those early years. We moved from the city to Westchester County, and soon became one of those suburban families with a dad who commuted to the city by train and a mom who joined the PTA and made costumes for school plays and holidays. There are several photos of my sister and me in handmade colonial finery in honor of the 1976 bicentennial, which was a very big deal at George Washington Elementary School. My mom didn’t work for several years and she is not at all suited to an idle lifestyle, nor is she suited to the suburbs; they moved back into the city part time in the early 80s and full-time after I graduated high school. She found her next calling sometime around 1980 and has since become a fundraising dynamo, directing, among othe things, the capital campaigns of NYU Medical Center, American Ballet Theater, and MOMA.
My mother has beaten rare forms of cancer three times – the first time she was given a very bleak prognosis; by my father’s account, as he burst into tears she looked at the doctor and said, “That’s ridiculous.” Thank God she was right.
We get along beautifully, see each other at least once a week, sometimes more, and though I’ve always been extremely devoted to her, it’s never been “easy”. Her vulnerability is my greatest fear; her happiness is more important to me than my own. I worry about inevitabilities. I worry that she’ll try, as she once did, to shield me from truths where her health is concerned. I worry most that she worries about me, because she does. I’m reaching the point in my life where “Someday I’ll be a mom” is looking less likely, and I worry that I am not creating enough of a legacy, that I’m depriving her of grandchildren on this coast. I worry that I’ll one day regret not having children, though the ability to be alone with my thoughts is something I can’t imagine not having at the moment.
Like most females I grew up assuming I’d be a mother some day. I began to worry about the physicality of childbirth and started to explore the adoption process, and then, 11 years ago, one of my dearest friends died after giving birth. This sent me reeling; I got a dog; I stopped thinking about having children. I never ached to have them, like some women I know, but I do have a need to nurture and mother. And yes, at times it veers toward nagging, but I think this happens when my desire to nurture is met with resistance. Add that to the list of things to work on.
The upshot of all this, if in fact there is one, is that mothering comes in many guises, female and male, human and canine, and so on and so on and so on. So happy Mother’s Day to everyone out there who nurtures another living thing. When I was much younger and worried that I couldn’t find the words to adequately express my love, my mom suggested, “I love you more than words can say.”
I love you more than words can say, Mama.