Sunday, May 08, 2016

Let me tell you about my Mom.

When my mom and I get into an argument, she’ll sometimes express her frustration with me by say, “You’re just like your father.”  
Now, I’ll admit that there are similarities between me and dad in our tempers and temperament, and how we handle things in general, but I honestly don’t think that I’m “just like” my father.  In fact, it would be my considered opinion that, when it comes to the softer, squishier, harder to define parts of my personality, I believe that I draw more from my mom than my dad.  
Consider these examples...
When I was a small child, in my early elementary school years, there was a hard and fast rule about my bedtime.  During school days, I was to be in bed by 9 PM.  No exceptions.  
Then came a day when, after flipping through the TV guide, I very much wanted to have an exception made.  I approached my mom about it.  
“Can I stay up tonight?”  
“Bedtime is nine.”  My mom didn’t even look at me as she sat at the kitchen table doing some sort of “mom thing.”  
I had expected that answer, but I persisted.  “Please...?”  
“What for?”  
“There’s a movie I want to watch.”
“A movie?”  She stopped what she was doing and looked at me.  “Unless it ends at 9 PM, then you’ll have to miss it.  What movie?”  
“It’s a pirate movie.  Called, ‘The Seahawk.’”  I had recently become interested in pirates and spotted the listing for the film in the guide.  
“The Seahawk?  With Errol Flynn?”  
My mom paused for a moment, then said.  “Sure.  We’ll watch it together.”  
And we did.  I thought it was pretty incredible at the time.  But we sat together on the couch and watched The Seahawk.  And I listened to mom tell me about the other movies like it that she watched in the theaters as a young girl.  Captain Blood.  Robin Hood.  The Mark of Zorro.  All of which I eventually saw myself, and most of which I own on DVD or even VHS.  
After that, the inflexible rule became in bed by 9 PM on school nights...  UNLESS there was a pirate movie.  Or a swashbuckler, really, since it covered The Three Musketeers with Gene Kelly.  The rule was modified later to something like, in bed by 9 PM on school nights, unless there is a classic swashbuckler on TV OR you’re reading a really good book and you just HAVE TO finish this part to find out what happens or there’ll be no way you’ll get to sleep.  I think I got my love of reading from my mom, cutting my fiction reading teeth on her historical romances before getting into science fiction, as well as my love for movies where men carried swords and put their lives on the line for king and country.  
Another thing I got from my mom was an appreciation of self-sufficiency.  Being able to do for yourself and take care of yourself.  My favorite example of that is one I may have told in this forum before, when my mom taught me how to cook.  And by “taught,” I mean something like kicking me into the river where I was going to either sink or swim.  
This was when I was thirteen, after my youngest sister was born.  Mom had quit working at her job as a nurse’s aid to have my sister.  It was about the time she started going back in on a part-time basis to spell other people on short notice.  
It was one such day when I was coming down the stairs to find mom grabbing her things before heading out the door.  When she spotted me, she started throwing me instructions.  
“They called me in for a half-shift.  Take care of the baby.  Make sure Philip and Virginia stay home.  I’ll be back in a few hours.”  She was pulling open the front door to step out.  
“Who’ll fix me dinner?”  
Mom stopped and gave me a long look past the edge of the open door that told me I’d made a mistake.  Before I could back-pedal...
“Come with me.”  She waved her hand at me to follow as she headed toward the kitchen.  
“Now then,” she had her arm around my shoulders as we stood at the kitchen’s edge.  “You know how to read, right?”  
“Uh...  Yeah.” 
“And you know where I keep my cookbooks, right?”  
I looked toward the upper cabinets where they were kept.  “Yeah...”  
“And you know where we keep the food, right?  And the things like flour, salt, sugar, yes?”  
My eyes darted from the refrigerator, to the pantry, then up at her.  “Yeah.”  
“Then, you know how to cook.”  She patted me on the shoulder then turned to leave.  She stopped at the bed in the hallway and looked back, looking me in the eyes.  “And I would appreciate it, while I was out helping to earn the money that bought the meal you’ll be making, if you left some for me when I got home.”  
That was the start of my first cooking lesson.  It went pretty well.  I found out that cooking was pretty straightforward, and was actually fun.  I even got to the point of collecting my own recipes and cooking a day or two each week.  I also made the discovery that there is something pleasurable about cooking for someone you care for and having them enjoy it.  
And since I’ve mentioned my mom’s job, working as a nurse’s aid in a convalescent hospital, I think I should mention the most eye-opening thing I learned from her.  
It was during the same time period when I started cooking on my own.  My mom got called in.  For some reason, I was the only one at home and she decided to take me with her. We drove to the hospital she worked at and she lead me inside.  
It was strange to see the other nurses and nurse’s aids greet her.  Like she was a normal person, or like anyone else, not like my mom.  It was the first time I saw her with people that weren’t neighbors, or teachers or relatives.  
But the biggest surprise was when she had me follow her around on her rounds.  It started with almost the first room we went into.  
“Hello, there...!  How are we doing tonight?”  My mom greeted the elderly woman in the hospital bed with a cheery voice and a big smile.  But the moment she got close, her expression changed.  
“Oh, no...”  She pulled back the covers and then I could smell it, too.  The poor woman had soiled herself.  It looked like she’d been left like that for some time.  
My mom didn’t miss a beat though.  “Let’s get you cleaned up.”  With no indication at all that it was gross or unpleasant or that there was anything wrong with doing it, my mom cleaned the woman up, rolled her back and forth to clean the sheets, got every thing as spic-n-span as it could be.  She even combed back the woman’s hair and made sure se was tucked in for the night.  
The woman reached out and touched my mom’s wrist.  “Thank you,” she said in a craggy voice, broken with age.  She had only mewed when my mom first approached, like a stray kitten.  Now, she could speak, like a person.  
It was like that as we made the rounds.  My mom cared for these people.  Not just as in the emotional sense of feeling sympathy toward them.  She translated what she felt for them as people into genuine, concrete actions that demonstrated that feeling to them.  
And they responded.  Every single one of them that was awake when she came in the room were so very happy to see her, and expressed how glad they were it was her coming to check on them.  
Then, when my mom returned to the station that handled those rooms, there was another lesson.  It came when my mom, who wasn’t a supervisor or shift-leader or anyone with some sort of official standing, told the other aids on duty what she had found, and reminded how they needed to do more that poke their heads into the room to make sure the patients were still breathing.  
I recognized the tone of voice she used.  It was the same one she used with me and my brother and sisters when we failed to live up to our responsibilities.  Seeing her school these women made me realize that she didn’t tell me or my siblings these things because she was a mom and that’s what moms did with their kids.  She told me these things because they were right.  They were important.  They represented how people should go about their business, doing a job as if it were a signature on their life.  Treating people with respect, particularly those who were in your care.  Speaking out when something was wrong, even if it wasn’t your “place” to do so.  
I am like my dad in a lot of ways.  But, I’m like my mom in a lot of ways, too.  Or rather, when I remember the things mom taught me by example, enjoying the things that give  you pleasure, taking care of business in a way that you could be proud of, taking care of yourself and speaking your mind when you needed to, and try to live up to them in my life, that’s when I’m more like the person I would like to be.  
Finally, if my mom happens to read this, I just want to say one thing more.  
I love you, Mom.  I’m happy and proud to be your son and have been raised by you.  
Happy Mother’s Day.


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