In Brief—A discussion of motherhood with a focus on the author’s mother and his experience.
Does the Apple Fall Far from the Tree?—
Everybody is born of a mother. Some mothers are loved and lovable. Some are less so. Some are capable. Some are not. Some are even monsters. All humans are unique and mothers are no exception. Being a mother is a tough job.
What follows is my experience with mothers: my own, other mothers I have known, and still others who have been described by friends. They vary for reasons known and unknown. In this case, Mom is as American as apple pie.
For starters, the mother I am most familiar with is my own. It’s only with the passage of time since her death at 95 in 2005 that I have been able to judge her with more objectivity, the strengths as well as the weaknesses.
For the first five years, only the faults and meanness dominated my thoughts. Since then I have come to realize that although Mother—she refused to let us call her “Mom”—had a limited toolbox, she may have instilled in me some positive characteristics. Life is responsible for the rest.
My earliest memory of Mother was her laughter as she bathed me. Until I was thirty and discovered I was attractive to women, I chose to interpret that laughter as derision. But was it derision or simple pleasure at the sight of her little son in all his glory?
When I returned after a year in boarding school, my dog, Bouncer, was missing. Mother’s questionable explanation was that Bouncer became vicious (impossible), that he barked at the milkman (believable) and that the neighbors complained (possible, but only after their dogs provoked Bouncer). With me away in boarding school, the most plausible answer was that Mother simply got rid of Bouncer because she didn’t want the responsibility.
Mother’s meanness was displayed when she delighted in using the scissors to stealthily clip away half of Dad’s mustache while he was napping. He loved that mustache, but she hated it. Stunned, Dad shaved off the rest of the mustache and never wore one again.
Or what about the time Dad brought home a toboggan for us to play with in the nearby foothills? My sister and I were ecstatic and Dad was pleased. Mother said absolutely not and angrily demanded he take it back. Berated and demeaned in front of his children, the toboggan was returned.
On only a handful of occasions in my youth do I remember Mother permitting my friends at my house. I went to their houses instead. Once in my teens, I was allowed to invite three friends to a boys-only Thanksgiving meal at which turkey was the main course. I love turkey. Always have. With the appetite of a typical teenager, I put a significant dent in the turkey leftovers from that meal. Mother angrily scolded me in terms that I still clearly recall.
By way of contrast, one friend’s mother regularly baked pies and cookies for all of us. Sometimes, it was with cherries from their tree. She was a warm and giving person who always made us feel welcome. Needless to say, we spent a fair amount of time at their house.
After the army and after putting in a day as a laborer before leaving for UCLA, I quietly listened as Mother insisted my sister send her visiting boyfriend back to Kansas during the Labor Day holiday. My sister’s reasoned pleas were bluntly rejected. Mother remained adamant. Having listened without comment, I calmly told Mother that I thought my sister was right: her boyfriend should be allowed to stay until after the holiday. Without a word, Mother spun around and slapped me so hard that I literally saw red. I grabbed her and fortunately stopped myself. Swearing, I packed and was gone within minutes. Mother never apologized or even mentioned it again.
On later visits to her house, Mother turned up the radio when Rush Limbaugh propagandized because she knew I found him to be a hypocritical liar. She hated where I live, my liberal philosophy and even demeaned my Swedish wife though never when she was present. Mother’s meanness was bone deep.
Again, by contrast, wives of friends have told me how much they not only love their mothers but like them. Their mothers visited often while mine never once visited though living not far away and refusing repeated offers to drive her.
These are merely a few of the many instances in which Mother showed her true nature. Her mother—who never allowed us to call her “Grandma”—was a cold, narrow woman who sent Mother to boarding school for twelve years and advised Mother do the same with my sister and me. Thus, Mother had a limited tool box and a good example of selfishness. Where the meanness came from, I’m unable to say.
Females may have the physical makeup to bear a child, but some lack the capability to give the kind of love and guidance necessary for any child. Fortunately, many have that capability. Mother, however, was one of those deprived females. It was up to her children to acquire elsewhere the full tool box that she lacked.
What about your “Mom?”