My mother gave birth to seven children, starting off with a set of twins. The babies were lying athwart each other and sixty-five years ago, there were no sonograms at sixteen weeks to warn a lady of her impending good fortune. The obstetrician figured it out late in the pregnancy but kept the realization to himself lest he “upset” his patient. Mom found out she was having twins when baby No. 1 came squalling into the world, and the nurse told her to keep pushing, because, “Mrs. Burrowes, you’re still in labor.”
Mom coped. She’s been coping ever since. In her late eighties, she copes with hearing loss, diminution of energy (I can almost keep up with her now), failing eyesight, and a few other blessings of great age.
My mother never got me. Domestication was pretty much her identity, which was fortunate if the laundry were going to get done (using a wringer washer) and the meals prepared for a household of nine-plus people. I abhor housework, it gives me no satisfaction. Twenty minutes after I scrub the floor, some cat comes and hurks on it—what’s the point?
My mother loves to cook. I have many memories of our house being full of company, with extra tables set here and there on holidays. Every bit of the food consumed was something Mom made in a small, antiquated kitchen.
I hate to cook. It’s messy and time consuming and bothersome.
But… when I turned up pregnant without benefit of matrimony, I called my parents (eventually). Dad happened to pick up the phone.
“Dad, I have some news… I’m going to have a baby.”
“Well. That is some news. Do you love the baby’s father and is he a good genetic risk?” My dad is ever the scientist.
“Yes and Yes.” What else was I going to say?
“Well. I’m going to make your mother a drink while you talk to her.”
Mom was disappointed in me, but I’d been disappointed in her for a while too. We were even. Neener, neener.
Was I, or was I not, an utter ass? The pregnancy turned high risk, and the docs wanted to put me in the hospital. Mom, in addition to her other accomplishments, is a registered nurse. She got her sexagenarian (at the time) self on a plane in the dead of winter to come look after me, sparing me a month in the hospital (which I could not afford) and then hanging around for weeks to look after Her Highness The Baby while I tried to put my life back together.
And a strange thing happened when I became the parent of a daughter. I stopped pouting and throwing tantrums in pursuit of my Right to Be the Baby—my petty efforts in this regard were upstaged by the Genuine Article, Beloved Offspring Herself. As I struggled to provide basic necessities for my daughter, I realized my mother had done her best with me, her very, very best, and an impressive effort it was too. When I offered her civility instead of respect, she loved me. When I was blind to her sacrifices, she loved me. When I was a complete croaking toad (sound familiar?), she loved me.
She didn’t always like or understand me, but she loved me. It has taken only fifty-some years, but I get it now: Love isn’t about a perpetual warm fuzzy without conflict or friction, it’s about being there for someone despite the conflict and friction. Could I have written a single worthwhile Happily Ever After without my mother’s example?
I do not think so.
Does she get me now?
It doesn’t matter. I get her, and some day, if my daughter gets me, it will be because my mother loved me. Despite all, every day of my life, my mother has loved me.