Monday, November 3, 2008

Hands that rock the cradle

In a couple weeks I'll be traveling across country to visit with my parents. In the United States, we celebrate Mother's Day in May with much hoopla, gifts and cards. But then, for whatever reason we sort of take them for granted. My stepmother will be eighty this year. As frightening as the concept is, I know that our time together is limited.

She came into my life the year I was eleven. I was a wild child, rude and angry because my mother had died the year before in a car accident. I certainly didn't want some strange woman telling me what to do, how to dress or any of the other important things that this woman tried desperately to pass on to me.

Things like courtesy and dressing neatly, cleanliness and respect for my elders. It was due to my stepmother's urging that I wrote to my grandparents and aunt and uncle who lived far away in Arizona. That's no small accomplishment when one of the correspondents is a mulish eleven-year-old.

She was terribly mean. She made me go to bed early. She expected good grades. And I had to do chores every week. When I finally graduated from high school and had a full time job, I was expected to pay rent!

When we were younger, she read a chapter each evening before we went to bed from a collection of Christian YA books. The stories were very exciting and we eagerly looked forward to the new chapter each evening. I still remember the last name of the family in the books--Jolly.

Though it no doubt was a pain on the ears, she made sure that I practiced the piano an hour every day. I played the piano for many years and that musical background has stood me in good stead all these years later.

I look forward to our visit even as I know that it will possibly be our last visit. Joy and grief. Memories and sorrow. Funny how they walk hand in hand. On this third of November let us be thankful for the women who had to courage to bear us for nine months and for those who raised us. Often those are not the same women as in my own case. Let us be thankful for the mothers, aunts, grandmothers, stepmothers and foster mothers who stand in the breech, doing whatever has to be done, teaching us the things we have to know to be worthy adults.



  1. My mom is 89 and I try to get home to visit her as often as I can -- she's 250 miles away, so sometimes it's once a month if I can get time away from work. It's all weather-dependent, of course. She lives in Iowa and I'm in Minnesota. Last year I went 4 times in the winter but had to turn around and leave 24 hours after I got there because storms moved in.

    In the 10 years since Dad died, she's have 4 surgeries and I was with her for every one. I'm the hospital daughter and my one sister is the 'recover at home daughter' and the other is 'hassle the insurance people' daughter. We all have our roles.

    She's a staunch supporter of my writing and my biggest fan, but she's not worried about telling me when I screw up in a book, too. I spoke in October to her book group (lowering the median age in the room by about 30 years) and she was SO proud of me -- we had a book signing later at the library and she held court when all her friends stopped by.

    Was I a PITA kid growing up? You bet -- I was the one who protested the war, advocated for civil rights and argued with my Republican parents about everything. But all of that pales in comparison to the love and support we've given each other through the ups and downs.

    She's been pretty healthy, but five years ago she quit golfing (yes, at age 84). That's when we knew she was on the final lap of her journey. I'll miss her terribly when she's gone, but she's getting so very tired and has so many aches and pains. When she goes, I know it'll be a blessing to her.

  2. I have a brother and I swear you'd think we were raised by different parents. He's bitter with her, angry, unsupportive when she's sick and at time rude, which then brings my father to bear.

    I remember childhood as an adventure, travelling from one country to another, always having everything I need and sometimes things I didn't. I had chores and responsibilities, curfews and requirements of study, but school was private and paid for and laughter and love everywhere. I looked up to my brother and STILL have trouble distinguishing between things he said to tease me and truth as he saw it.

    He sees all those same gifts and calls it trauma. He sees our laughing relationship and says I was the favored kid who never understood him. But except for the two years where he sneaked out and got drunk, I don't see where our upbringing differed.

    Through it all, Mom and Dad have been tirelessly supportive of us both. They stay out of our personal business when they can and redirect as all parents are wont to do. They are treasures to me and I hope they have many more years left on this earth.

  3. Perfectly said, Anny.

    Kelly. I think your brother and mine must be clones. I swear, I have no idea who raised him. Not the same parents I knew at all.

  4. I hope you'll have a great visit. My mom died when I was 29 and although I'm an adult I'm so thankful that my aunt has been like a mother to me since. She's about 80, too, so I don't know how much longer she'll be here.