I have this thing my husband calls my patent-pending salmon maneuver. If I see crowds going one way, I am compelled to go the opposite direction. If you tell me to do something, it’s very likely I won’t. I am in no way a follower. My childhood answer of “Make me” has matured into my frequent adult use of “No.”
I get this rebel/contrarian streak from my mother.
She was feisty, opinionated and sometimes jarringly abrupt. Her favorite defense, “Well, I can say it because it’s the truth!” She once told me she didn’t like my hair short because I have a fat face. She also confessed she never really liked my name, but my father chose it. Thanks, Mom. You would think this would scar, but it makes me laugh. That was Mom; biting yet loving, giving yet self-absorbed, a gloriously imperfect person, one of the true loves of my life.
But she was much braver than I. She would have no issue with telling anyone and everyone what she thought, to their faces, whenever she wanted. I hide behind a keyboard.
Here is one of my favorite Mom stories. I think it illustrates her personality perfectly.
It was an extremely cold winter morning (remember those?) third grade, public school. This would have been the late 1960’s. It was a time when school faculty frequently would admonish girls to be “more ladylike.” On very cold mornings, girls were allowed to wear pants to school, but had to bring a dress or skirt to change into once we arrived. My mom bristled at this ridiculous edict. Her nonsense-tolerance limit finally exploded. She thrust a pair of pants at me. I put them on, then went to grab a skirt. She yanked it out of my hand. “No. Go to school in those pants.”
I begged her not to make an example of me. “I’ll be sent to the principal’s office!”
“Good, have him call me. I think we have some things to discuss.”
It went as expected. My teacher told me to go change into my girl wear. I didn’t have any. I went to the principal’s office. He asked me what excuse I had. I could only answer, “My mother.”
Three days later a letter was sent to all parents alerting them to changes in the school dress code. Girls now were allowed to wear pants at school when the morning temperature was below X degrees.
As I grew older, I noticed a few other things. Her life did not revolve around her children. Of course she loved us and cared for us, but her husband was her first priority. Looking back, I don’t see this as a bad thing, theirs was an epic love story I hope to emulate with my husband.
She also didn’t parent quite the same way as other moms. We didn’t really get “grounded” or punished often. She simply allowed us to suffer the consequences of our actions, and didn’t swoop in to smooth things over for us. I remember skipping an afternoon class in high school and arriving home when I thought Mom would still be out. She wasn’t. She said, “When the school calls, I’m going to tell them you are skipping class,” and walked out of the room.
Looking back, she was an excellent parent. All she had to say was “I’m so disappointed in you” to get us to rethink and make different choices.
She also was vivacious and fun-loving. She collected friends like flowers, loved a good joke, practical or otherwise, and once froze over our driveway so we could have our own ice-skating rink.
I think she was a bit disappointed she never became a true entertainer. She sang and performed in local groups, but I think, in her heart of hearts, she wanted to be a star, perhaps a natural off-shoot of her rather severe case of only-child syndrome. She was a bit of a stage mother to me, which caused more than a pinch of friction with a daughter who didn’t really want to be on stage.
I remember looking up at her funeral and seeing so many people truly touched by her life, smiling through tears. What a wonderful legacy to be so loved, and a testament to a life well-lived.
I think she would be glad to know she is remembered, a star in her own way. She died two years ago, on 3/14/15. Even a non-math person like me appreciates the infinite irony of pi. She was a force of nature, and I think the death date may just have been her choice, a very Mom-like, unforgettable last curtain call.