I always feel like a wimp and somewhat ashamed whenever I complain, better yet, make that violently wail, about the challenges of being a mother. Let’s admit it - all moms have those days when we feel sorry for ourselves. My guilt in indulging my bad mom mood comes from thinking about my mother. Now, there’s a Mom. Many, many times I have asked myself how did she do it? She had four kids in five years and raised all of us without the help of video games, cable television, computers, the internet, portable DVD players, drive through windows, and disposable diapers. Compared to her I’m a loser.
Recently my wise, wonderful, 75-year-old mom gave me a gift. She confessed to me that there is “no way in Satan’s own burning hell she could be a mom today.” I was shocked, totally taken aback and worried if she needed medication. “How can that possible be?” I asked her. You had it so much harder. She was out there on the parenting landscape mostly solo. My Dad is/was a very handsome workaholic. His parenting role was that of enforcer. He, like most men of his generation, came in only on a “as needed” basis. She did everything. I’m talking every dinner was three courses with a dessert. My mom hand sewed our Halloween costumes and made our Easter dresses. Raised two sons that could charitably be described as handfuls. Then she dropped the bomb that would forever change my life. She uttered the phrase - “Honey, I was a horrible mother.” Now, I’m seriously worried that she’s having a brain aneurism. “What are you talking about?”, I said in a very upset voice while looking for my cell phone so I can dial 9-1-1. She clarified her statement and said, “Well, compared to mothers today we were all horrible mothers back then.” (By back then she means the 60’s and 70’s.)
I got a little nauseated, had some chest pains, started sweating and then it all started coming back to me - the holy grail of repressed childhood memories. Oh, dear Lord she did suck as a mom. Amid the swirling, traumatic, recollections of my youth I remember so many things she did that I would be handcuffed and on the 11 o’clock news for today. After I laid down on the couch, elevated my feet, had cold cloths placed on my forehead and some vodka administered for pharmaceutical purposes I was ready to work through the pain of my mother’s maternal transgressions.
It started pre-conception. She drank gin and tonic’s and smoked not one but a couple of packs of day of Winstons “it taste like a cigarette should” a day. When she found out she was pregnant, she did nothing to alter her behavior, because in her words “who knew” and “even the doctor smoked during your prenatal appointment and could blow “impressive smoke rings.” I lay my low math S.A.T. scores directly on the doorstep of this act of egregious prenatal negligence. During my birth she says she was in a much-needed Demerol stupor resulting in what looked like to her “a lovely set of Reed & Barton stainless steel salad tongs” being used to pull me out. (I’m guessing she means forceps. But, I can see when you’re all demeroled up how forceps could be mistaken for salad tongs.) After I was born she didn’t offer me, her sweet precious infant, mother’s milk. Oh no, I got homemade baby formula where the main ingredient was - wait for - Karo syrup. The horrors! That my friends is where the formation of my sugar addiction, thunder thighs and cellulite can all be traced back to. Thanks mom, for making me a fatty right out of the gate.
As an infant my mother didn’t make sure I slept on my back, had infant massages or was recreating the womb experience by swaddling me. She said all her babies were stomach sleepers and massages were things ladies of ill repute gave to sailors and she for sure didn’t do any baby sign language. During my toddler years I was confined like cage veal to a wooden playpen with hinges that would pinch my fingers. When I was released from my cage I would randomly stick my figures in the unprotected wall outlets. My car seat was indeed a car seat. I asked my Mom, how did you keep me safe in the car when I was a baby? She looked at me like I needed more vodka and said, “I held you in my lap. What else would I have done?” Great - my mom’s parenting skills were right up there with Brittney Spears. "Oh," she said, "I just remembered I used to also stick you in a laundry basket and put you in the floor board of the car." Even better, I supposed the Downy fabric softener in the basket was acting as a child safety restraint to keep me from catapulting through the windshield if she had an accident.
Safety was a non issue. I rode my bike without a helmet and even better with a friend on the handlebars and another one sharing the seat with me. I had a paper route when I was 10 that involved me riding my bike by myself and delivering papers at 5 a.m. I also rode my bike to the corner store to get my mom her beloved Winstons and on some occasions gin. My mom never made a “play-date” in her life. During the summer months she would lock all four of us kids out of the house and tell us to go play. (That was her version of making a play-date) I asked what she was doing while all of us were locked out. Her reply - “none of your business.” We disappeared for hours, playing on the train tracks, swimming totally unsupervised by any adult in a lake, and riding the neighbors horses bareback and barefoot in shorts, a t-shirt and a cowboy hat. “Mom,” I sighed, “What about child predators and not to mention my basic personal safety?” Her replay, “I’m sure there were just as many child molesters back than as there are now. We just weren’t scared to death, I mean educated by the news media, like you are today.” “Plus,” she said, “There were safety in numbers. Every kid lived outside.” What about protective head-gear?” I asked. She gave me her signature, “You are a dumb ass look” and said, “The only protective head-gear back then were cowboy hats.”
When summer was over my mom rarely darkened the door of my school. Come to think of it no moms came to school. Today, I’m my kids teachers toady. I’m up at the school currying favor by making copies, collating, laminating, correcting spelling tests, planning parties, getting teacher appreciation gifts, going on field trips, organizing field day, and fundraising. According to my mom, “If I wanted to be at school I would have been a teacher. I didn’t so I’m not.”
My mother also copped to poisoning her children. We drank thousands of gallons of cyclamate laden Kool Aid and Choo Choo Cherry Funny Face beverages. In 1969 the FDA banned cyclamate after research showed it caused cancer and testicular atrophy in rats. (Oops - my poor brothers.) Who knows how much DDT contaminated fruits and vegetables we ate. “Oh my God Mom,” I cried, “You were like the witch in Snow White handing me a poisoned apple.” Now, I now why she sneers at my organic produce and manic washing of fruits and vegetables. I don’t even want to think about what was in the dairy and beef she fed us. I’m sure I have more bovine hormones in me than estrogen. Come to think of it in the right light I do bear a fair resemblance to Elsie the Borden Milk cow. My siblings and I were also nicotine poisoned. I know for a fact, that I have second-hand smoked 4,419 packs of cigarettes. (That number was calculated by my sister, the math wiz, during one very boring family New Year's Eve party.)
In high school her mothering skills became even more lax. No vigilant oversight of my teen years. She had five basic rules. Keep your virtue intact, no drugs, drinking, smoking or my father will get involved (bad, very bad if that happened), no sassy smart mouth, be home by 11 on weekends and get into a college she wouldn’t be embarrassed to share with her friends. As far as college selection went there were no SAT improvement classes, no meeting with career counselors, no college selection advisory consults, no handpicking of my high school schedule to optimize my competitive college choices. Nothing - I took my S.A.T.’s, I applied to three colleges I liked and I picked a college. Oh, think of the career I might now have if she had only manipulated every facet of my scholastic life like I’m now doing with my children.
“Mom, mom, mom,” I chant, “You’re right, you were a horrible mother. Dear God in heaven it’s amazing I’m still able to walk upright and chew and sallow my own food. Didn’t you care?” “Oh, I cared,” she said. “I did what every other mom was doing at that time. Back then I was an exemplary mother.” “Does exemplary mean severe parental neglect?” I shriek. “No,” she said, “And calm down. I don’t appreciate your tone.” She gave me the look I have seen a million times. The look that meant interrupt me again and I would experience the back of her hand. So, I shut up, sipped my vodka that was now more ice than liquor, asked for a Tums and prepared myself for a lecture.
“Today mom’s have it tough.”, she said. “In fact, to be blunt, you’re screwed. (If she still smoked, right about now is when she would be taking a big drag on her Winston light’s and blowing a smoke ring.) You can’t just be parent, you have to be 24 hour sentry for your child’s future. You can’t just worry about the neighborhood, you have to worry about the world. I could look out the living room window and see that you were safe. You have to worry about the pervert on-line that lives in Taiwan. Good God in heaven, today your kids aren’t even safe in their own homes. Things are more competitive for kids today. I didn’t sign you up for soccer starting when you were four. I gave you a ball and put you in the backyard with your older brother. Now, mother’s have to plan, schedule and strategize their kids entire day. Trust me I wasn’t thinking about your college choice when you were 13 or the long-term implications of whether your elementary school math curriculum would impact your college entrance exams. On top of all that you’ve got global warming, sexually transmitted diseases that kill, a collapsing world economy, terrorists attacks and that damn texting and Facebook thingy. It’s exhausting. Like I said, I couldn’t be a mom today. I’d be arrested.” “For sure you’d be arrested and Child Protective Services would have removed all four of us kids from the home.” I said. ‘Well, now, I think you’re being just a little overly dramatic,” my Mom replies tersely, “but then you always were theatrical.” That signals the end of the conversation/lecture or what my siblings and I used to call the “lecversation.”
As I’m driving home that night I think about everything my mom shared with me she’s right - mother does know best. Where my mother’s generation had the luxury of raising their children with a laissez-faire attitude we 21st Century Mom’s have to be brave Amazon Warriors. (They are mythical women that have extraordinary skill in war, strength superior to men, rode bare breasted into battle armed with bows and arrows and a serious take no prisoners attitude. Although, I prefer to think of us galloping on a horse with a top on, or at the very least some kind of underwire sports bar, because I think the whole naked chest thing would really, really hurt and be bad for our connective breast tissue.) Regardless of top on or topless we are amazing warriors armed with way too much knowledge about the evils of the world. We valiantly ride into battle everyday using ourselves as human shields to protect our children and win the ultimate victory of shepherding them safely to adulthood in an ever-changing global environment. So, 21st century mothers I salute you for your dedication, bravery, sacrifice, combined with just a little bit of crazy, that all adds up to women heroically fighting to make making the future better not just for their children, but for the world. Happy Mother’s Day Warrior Moms - you’ve earned it!