Thinking about Moms

I’m thinking about moms today, particularly my own, but other people’s moms too. When my mother was only nine years old, she lost her own mom to tuberculosis. The death happened after several months of being separated from her mother who was hidden away in a sanatorium as they did in those days. My mom often told me and my sisters, “I have never stopped missing my mother.” She also would remind us, “You only have one mother.” I realize some have do not even have one.

My Mom

Today is my mother’s 75th birthday. My sister, Maria,  is celebrating by baking a cake and sharing it with her own family and some friends, a tradition Maria started since 2007 a few months after our mother passed away from cancer. We have creative ways of mourning in our family.

My father likes to leave doughnuts and bread on his mother’s grave. Birds and animals come by “to keep her company.” Once when he saw a bunch of droppings left by deer that chowed down on coffee cake, he remarked, “Yeah, look, the deers left little rosary beads for your grandmother.” Grandma Toscano (my dad’s mother) said the rosary daily, and in her later years recited it out loud with Sister Frangelica on the TV and the volume turned up to 25 blaring the incessant Hail Marys and Our Fathers throughout the small house where she lived with my parents. My own mom, Anita Toscano, NEVER said the rosary and had little patience with the Roman Catholic Church (after being raised Catholic.) It is a testament to her good nature and self-control that she never bashed in the TV.

A friend of mine unexpectedly saw her mom yesterday. They have had a strained relationship over my friend being lesbian and the mom being, well, Christian, (as in not affirming of lesbians type of Christian.) It’s more complicated than that of course, but that was where the line between them has been most clearly drawn. Lots of parents struggle with homosexuality, particularly in having a child who is bisexual or gay or lesbian or questioning. I know my own parents had their own struggles with the issue when they discovered I liked guys back in nineteen eighty something when I was in my late teens and the HIV/AIDS crisis was still only known as GRID or else “God’s punishment against homosexuals.” My parents didn’t know many (any?) happy homosexuals, lucky lesbians, or beautiful bisexuals. The queers of their lives were often outcasts and treated badly, while heterosexuals received all sorts of praise and privileges.

Parents often feel blamed for the choices their children make (particularly bad choices) and moms have been especially blamed for making kids turn queer. In reading an article, My Son, the Pink Boy, a mother of a gender non-conforming child regularly gets corrected by other mothers. She is told to toughen up her young son. Stop indulging him in his girly interests, behaviors, and dress (he opted to wear dresses for a couple of years.) Then the experts weigh in–Dr. Phil, the ex-gay folks, etc–with their theories about how bad mothers can screw up their children. According to lots of ex-gay teaching, the worst thing for a mother is to be too strong, too in charge. That somehow messes up the natural order of things and turns the world upside down. I like what the mom who wrote the article has to say,

The problem is that, as a mother, I’m too powerful. Or too weak. We’re not sure which. Because I’ve also been told that I need to learn to parent forcefully, to learn to stand up and say NO. That my son wouldn’t be like he is if I simply didn’t allow him to be like he is. But here’s the truth: I’m actually kind of a NO-saying badass. Check me out: Can we throw this baseball in the kitchen? NO. Can we eat chocolate cake for breakfast? NO. Can we make fun of the girl in the wheelchair? NO. I really can haul out a NO when I need to, and I whip it out many times a day. But I try to save NO for things that actually cause demonstrable harm to property, to my children or to other people.

Is it really my maternal strength/weakness that caused my son to adore pink Marabou-feather slippers at age 3? You decide. But consider that mothers have regularly been blamed for their children’s — especially their sons’ — quirks and challenges.

My mom regularly reminded us kids, “There’s no love like a mother’s love.” Well, she never said those words directly to us. I heard other people say it to me throughout my life, but especially right after my mom passed away. I think about all the forgiving mothers (and fathers) too. I shudder when I think of the jams I got into and my mom was always there to help out, or to offer advice, a rebuke, some money, and a chance to explain myself.

Last night I cooked a fancy dinner for nine guests (in the end seven showed up so we have lots of leftovers.) My mom ran a restaurant for over thirty years until my sister, Maria took over. As a result, I learned almost everything I know about cooking and serving food and putting on a party from mother. She taught me all her tricks. Last night I knew how to prepare the meal so that the fish was cooked just right without being overdone or too cold by the time it reached the table. Although an amazing cook, my mom was a picky eater, and ended up cooking many dishes she would never ever  dream of eating. Somehow she cared enough about those people around the table to give them the food they liked, and not simply all of her favorites.

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This post has 8 Comments

  1. wilfuloptimist on February 23, 2011 at 3:09 am Reply

    What a lovely tribute Peterson. Thank you for sharing these memories, they are personally encouraging to me as I stumble about trying to be a mother myself. I welcome the advice about being forgiving and gracious. There are always so many people ready to offer advice but there is nothing like learning from the good choices that our own mothers have made. She sounds like a great lady, and I can see you in her picture. X

  2. Sheria on February 23, 2011 at 5:33 am Reply

    A great tribute to your mom Peter, very personal and touching too you (almost) brought me to tears and thought of my own mom who is just the most wonderful mom I have ever known. I see my mom in your mom (does that make sense)? Wait, maybe all mothers are just that, wonderful..And I absolutely agree; There is no love like a mother’s love indeed; so gentle, caring, tender, pure and patient… Much as our strict father loves us, there is just something special, different about my mom’s love which cannot be woven into words.. So happy birthday mom (Toscano)! Nice article Peterson! xoxo

  3. Joe G. on February 23, 2011 at 12:54 pm Reply

    Lovely tribute, Peterson. I agree with your mom: there isn’t a day that doesn’t got by that I don’t think about my mom who died in 2001.

    I know I tease you a lot, but this time I can’t find the words. Well, I can, but I digress. I’m glad you’re keeping the important Italian-American/Italian tradition of a son honoring his mom, because we I-A/I sons know that Mama really is the true Divine Force of All Things.

    PS: Your dad is such a hoot; I know where you get your humor from (besides stealing jokes from me).

    PPS: Yes, I know, I just teased you, and you love it.

  4. Sheria on February 23, 2011 at 4:05 pm Reply

    Wow that’s profound Joe G: ” Mama really is the true Divine Force of All Things.” Great, great words there, absolutely beautiful…

  5. Joe G. on February 24, 2011 at 8:59 am Reply

    Much obliged, Sheria. 🙂

  6. almighty llama on February 25, 2011 at 12:33 pm Reply

    Hey Peterson. I am a bisexual male trying to reconcile his faith and sexuality.

    I struggle with the idea of God. I’d like to believe in a high power… What bothers me is that there is no proof either way. Do you have any advice for me? What is that makes you believe in God?

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