I’ll be honest. It still boggles my mind why any self-respecting political science program would have their graduating students write an essay about their mother, and what she instilled in us, but since it is a requirement, here goes nothing.
My mother. Both strong and weak, both saint and sinner. She is the woman who gently sang songs to put me back to sleep at two in the morning, and she is the woman who laid in bed mid-day on Sundays, struck down by depression, while my father ran around and got the groceries. She is the woman who brought me up with Beyonce and Revere Beach gal day-trips, proudly donning a two piece on her mid-thirties body, and she is the woman I caught once, just once, scowling at her naked, gravity-ridden torso in the mirror. She is the woman who taught me what every word, expression, and nuance of the English language meant, and she is the woman who barely speaks in groups (it was embarassing how quiet she was. I used to mistake this for weakness and apathy. Why be quiet when there is so much to say?!) But she wrote! Oh, did she write.
The craziest thing about my mother is that you’d never know. You’d never know the storm that was happening inside. She was and is beautiful, with the cutest round face and cupid’s bow lips (which, she admitted to me later on, was something she’d use to her advantage at times). And she looked so serene, especially when she was about to leave for work to listen to others’ problems. I don’t know how she did it, without a drink for all these years.
Did I mention she’s a recovered alcoholic? She’s a recovered alcoholic. She got sober before I came along though, so I never saw her drink.
But anyways, you’d never know she was hurting. Usually. From what she’s told me, depression wreaked havoc on a semi-daily basis, and when it was bad, it wanted her dead. But she would get up, go on a run, drop me off at my Nana’s, and go to work, all while feeding me Munchkins in the backseat and risking our lives by watching me make a silly face in the driver’s rearview mirror, after I demanded she watch. (Some say I was a strong-willed child. I say persistent is a more positive word. But I digress…)
Did she ever explode on me? Sure. But hell, I was a kid worth exploding on! Apparently, once I attempted to strangle her when I was four after she told me it was time to go home after a trip to the park in Boston. (Again, before you judge, I want to remind you that my persistence is what got me into this graduate program.) She was not perfect, for sure, and she manipulated others with her intelligence to make her feel better at times. That used to bother me a great deal; it made her seem like a snob next to my father.
So I guess there were some things about her that weren’t that great. But aren’t there negative things about everyone? That’s the one thing I never got about her – how hard she was on herself. As if she was someone special who had to be held to a higher standard than others. This seemed both arrogant and masochistic. She held such a shame about her flaws, about her mistakes, how’d she hurt people – she kept it all to herself. She had a trusted few she’d call, like Auntie Jenni or Auntie April, but other than that, she bottled it up. It’s as if she didn’t know how to reach out for help, even to my father, at times. It’s as if she thought she had to go it alone. My Nana always said she got it from my Grampy (who died when I was very young and only memory is of him meowing like a cat to make me laugh). Who knows. All I know, is that I don’t want to live my life like that.
Which is what I guess I’ve learned inadvertently from her. To lean on others, not to recoil into herself the way she did. To see every new individual I meet as a growth opportunity, a chance to expand my world a little bit (and to expand theirs! I am pretty awesome). And through her self-criticism, I’ve learned to laugh at my mistakes. They are a necessary part of life we all must embrace.
You see, my mother always taught me that you could not have the light without the dark, and that the imperfections were the good stuff. So I’m not going to write some fluffy, dumbass essay about my perfect mother who sang beautifully and was so raw and so real. (People would say that about her writing all the time and it made me barf, quite frankly.) I’ve written about what mistakes she’s made and what I’ve learned from that. Because every generation should do a little better than the previous one, shouldn’t they?
And perhaps one day, my offspring will be writing a similar essay, about how they learned when to keep quiet from their boisterous and overbearing mother.