I have that wonderfully complex mother/daughter relationship with, well, uh, my mother. I love her to pieces. She’s warm and quirky and funny and full of spirit. She also drives me crazy. Now, that may sound harsh but if you’re a daughter you know what I mean. Our mothers naturally drive us crazy. The unspoken secret…we drive our mothers crazy too, so it’s a balanced relationship.
I’m thirty-seven now (Kealoha and I just figured it out. I thought I might be 38 and he said “No, you’re 37” and I said “Am I?” Apparently I am.) My mom is sixty-one. We’ve had lots of ups and downs in our relationship and have finally settled into that wonderfully adult understanding where Mom knows my neuroses and tries to navigate them and I understand hers and say things like “Now, Mom, I know you need to have a lot of stuff with you but when you bring over six garbage bags full of clothes it makes me feel anxious.” She then hides the bags so I won’t see them, does her laundry and then everyone is happy.
Mom is the inspiration for the quirky mothers in my fiction. They all have a spark of her. While she’s never done naked meditation outside (that I know of) like the mom in Blunder Woman, she does carry a parachute in her car for emergency gaming. And there have been far too many conversations where she’s asked me about my sex life and I blush and say “Mom!” and she says “Okay, you don’t have to tell me but you should know that a good sex life is really important, especially for the Knaggs family.” (My mom’s side of the family, according to my mom, has a very high libido. Something I didn’t really want to know.)
My mom is also one of the kindest people on the planet. I’m not kidding. She’d do anything for a friend in need and has. She’s done anything she could for me from staying with me in my apartment for a week in college when I was horribly sick, to helping me when I had my kids, to watching the kids and taking care of me when I had a broken foot last year and was going through a divorce. Mom has picked up people off the street (a family once) and taken them to run errands because they didn’t have any way to do it on their own. She’s worked with mentally ill, on psych wards, helping those with minds wasted by years of medication. She does crafts with them. Endlessly patient and helping them glue sea shells to picture frames. Around my mom, people just get calm…while at times she seems to be a kinetic bundle of energy.
She’s had lots of trouble with relationships (which caused trouble for me growing up) and has admitted that for most of her life she’s looked to a man to support her. She’s currently separated and struggling with starting a new life and dealing with lonelieness. I feel for her. I wish I could make it better.
And as much as she makes me crazy (she needs to be surrounded by stuff; I need things clean) she also cracks me up. I love listening to the stories she tells my kids while they do crafts. They begin harmless enough but they take a turn somewhere.
“Oh! Hawaii!” she said when Louis asked her about it. “I went to Hawaii a couple of years ago and it’s so warm and it smells like flowers and it’s surrounded by the ocean. You have to take a plane and travel for hours and hours to get there. And when I went there it was a dream come true and I got to help my dear friend because her husband had terminal cancer and then he died and that was really tough for her. And do you know that they have something called macadamia nuts…”
Uh…Her stories are usually like this: informative, soft, and then with some mention of a terminal disease. The kids listen scientifically. This week my mom went through her ornaments with the kids. “Now, if mommy says you can put this on the tree, you can, but mommy gets really anxious if there’s too much stuff around. She has a lot of anxiety so we have to ask her if we can put up this candy garland…”
Simone was looking at the old nativity set I used to put up. My mom held it out to her. “Here’s the baby Jesus in his crib. Now, we lost the crib so your mommy made him a crib from a box of matches and folded a napkin in there for a little pillow. See the little pillow?”
Simone peered into the little box. “Where is baby Jesus’s hand? Why’s he only got one hand?”
My mom considered this. “Perhaps baby Jesus had an amputation.”
I started laughing. “It was a real Christmas Miracle,” I said.
I think her quirkiness makes me love her more...and as I get older, I have a lot of respect for her too. My mom was a single mom in the seventies and eighties. I spent a lot of time on my own while she worked. We were poor. We struggled. But I never went without food. Mom never made more than 18 thousand dollars a year and my dad didn’t pay child support. I don’t know how she did it. I’ve been a single mom for a year, and it’s been exhausting and horrible and terrifying. I’m scared to death of losing my job and not being able to pay the mortgage or feed my kids (part of why I’m so driven. I'm also driven because I want to be able to take care of my mom financially and find her a good place to live. It's a struggle).
Mom told me a story once and she told it while laughing. Like wasn’t it funny and ridiculous. “One time I was PMSing so bad and I wanted a candy bar. I didn’t have any money and I’d just fed you and Shawn the last box of macaroni and cheese and we had nothing. And I had this moment where I just was exhausted and I wanted a fucking candy bar and I remember crying my eyes out and checking all the couch cushions looking for a quarter so I could just go buy a fucking candy bar. That’s how bad the PMS was.”
She laughed and I laughed and then it dawned on me: she fed us the last box of macaroni and cheese. “Did you find a quarter, Mom? Did you get the candy bar?”
“Naw,” she said. “But I’ll never forget that wanting.”
My mom is a beautiful person. She really is…and when I look back on my life and what I’m grateful for, she’s at the top of the list, along with all her stuff.