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.
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.