This is a day to celebrate mothers.
The woman who gave birth to me was a truly amazing person, and those who met her either loved her or hated her, but they never forgot her. She was incredibly bubbly, opinionated, and loud. When she arrived to pick me up from ballet class, I always heard her laugh before I saw her, much to my chagrin when I was a very quiet and awkward teenager. She was also a person who was never able to really chart her own course. When she was young, she was an artist, musician, and dancer. Her paintings hung in many of the rooms in the house I grew up in, she talked passionately about her favorite composer (Rachmaninoff), and loved to reminisce about how, at 5'10" she always had to "be the boy" when she danced. Though 5'4" is a slight exaggeration of my height, I somehow inherited her scale of movement, and choreographers liked to pair me with very tall men because it was interesting to see such a small girl keep up. Though I'm not much of a musician myself, I can be moved to tears by music, just like my mother. I also had access to every kind of arts and crafts supplies, and was left to my own devices to use them as I saw fit, which I did in the extreme.
However, my mother was a middle-school math and science teacher until my brother was born; then she became a stay-at-home mom. She was never an art or music historian as she would have liked because the only way her parents would support her going to college was if she went into a career that was "suitable for a woman". To them, that meant school teacher or nurse, and I think she made the best of her limited options. Judging from the way her former students greeted her with real affection when we ran into them around town, she must have been an excellent teacher, but she did not like to teach her own children (a slanted sort of blessing). She did, however, do everything she could to help me achieve the very sorts of goals that she was never allowed to aim for in earnest. As I got more involved in dance, she managed my schedule, drove me to classes, rehearsals, and auditions. She sought out and expedited all sorts of opportunities for me, and even made me custom leotards and dresses (for better fit, to save money, and because she enjoyed it). She also pushed my high school guidance counselors to put me in all AP classes, with no study hall, in spite of the fact that I had rehearsals until almost 9:00 most nights (later, sometimes, for tech or dress before shows), because she knew I could do the work, and that someday, I would need that education. You better believe I'm thankful for that now!
At the age of 47, she lost her husband to a heart attack, and was diagnosed with terminal inflammatory breast cancer a few months later. She died before her 48th birthday. She was the only one of her siblings to get a college degree, and she had worked incredibly hard to put her children on the trajectory to college. My fathers' siblings all had large families already, and none of them lived in our town. So, she asked her best friend, who lived a couple of blocks away, to finish raising her children. And she said "yes" without hesitation.
That was 17 years ago. This year marks the point at which I will have been mothered by these two women for the same number of years. My second mother is every bit as passionate about and committed to raising children who achieve their greatest potential, but is in no way a carbon copy of the first. She has a successful and busy career. She taught me how to drive - I don't know how she kept her cool when I couldn't shift into fifth gear the first time I went on the highway. Then gave me an old car and allowed me to get myself where I needed to go. She didn't manage my schedule; she only asked that I let her know when I'd be in. She didn't involve herself at all in what I wore. She asked me what my goals were, arranged meetings for me with people who could help, introduced me, then sat quietly while I spoke for myself (not very well, at first). She taught me, and continues to teach me, how to be an adult. And she never treated me as anything but her beloved daughter, even though I often had a hard time returning the favor.
I know I am lucky to have known two such amazing and different mothers. There is no such thing as the perfect mother - for every thing a person can do, there are many best ways. Happy Mothers' Day.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
This is a day to celebrate mothers.