Like Pedro Almodóvar , This Post Is 'All About My Mother'Most of this post comes from a letter that I wrote to my friend Claire, who is in school to become a psychotherapist in Los Angeles. Ever notice how med students get kind of excited when you cut yourself, or you need to take your temperature? Claire must have felt the same way when she said to me recently "Tell me about your mother."
Here's my response:
My mom is not a super-mom or a domestic goddess -- never has been, never tried to be. She just has a heart as big as the world and has always used all of her power and influence to help the people she loves to be happy. She has no idea that when she is being pragmatic, she's kinda being a downer, and I don't have the heart to suggest that I know exactly which branch in the family tree bore me as a somewhat depressive fruit. She doesn't need that shit.
My mom taught me to read before I started kindergarten and took me to the library every single time I asked, even after I was old enough to drive myself. We still go together, sometimes, and I'll never get tired of it.
Here are a few anecdotes that you can use to triangulate your impression of my mom, and the rest will have to come in dribs and drabs.
1) When I was in kindergarten, I came into the kitchen where my mother was cooking supper. She was standing there, chopping, I don't know, something, and leaking tears, sobbing. "Mommy, what's wrong?" I asked her.
"I just want to run away," she said. "Just run away from everything and everyone and hide forever. There's so much to do and so much I can't do, and I just want to run away."
This happened more than once. I didn't get it for a long, long time, but I get it now: being the Mom is really, really hard and there's no clocking out.
The important thing to understand here is: my mother never did run away. Never once, not even metaphorically. When I look back over the last twenty-five or so years since that particular conversation, I can't think of a single time that my mom has ever let me down. Never once. Whenever I was down, dumped, fired or whatever, she was always there with a hug, open ears, and a peculiar brand of pragmatic hope. She has always found it in herself to be there for the people she loves, every time. It's a hell of an example.
2) I have personally been present twice when my parents BOTH forgot that it was their anniversary. Both times they realized it around dinnertime, looking up from whatever they were doing and saying "Hey, wait. Did we get married today?" "Maybe," my dad says. "Kinda feels like it. What's the date again?"
Both times they celebrated by ordering takeout and watching Masterpiece Theater together, which they were planning to do anyway.
3) Once I asked my mom what the secret was to making a marriage last now 33+ years. "Low expectations," she said. "Simple as that." While I was not prepared to hear about how to keep it hot in the bedroom, that came across as pretty flat to me. "Jeffrey," she said, "It's really quite simple. I only have a very few things that I actually EXPECT your father to do, and those things are really simple and VERY obvious. After that, all the things your father does for me are constant, wonderful surprises."
That is why I think 'Sex and the City' can fuck right off. Sure, it's entertaining, but I've seen its essential premise eviscerated in thirty seconds by a nervous senior citizen in a sweatsuit.
4) Right after I had my tonsils removed (an operation that came as a gift to their underemployed 27-year-old son, I might add), I was recuperating at my parents' house. I couldn't speak, could barely move. My mom and I bonded over the first season of Six Feet Under, watching every second of it in order, together. It was a wonderful thing to share, a memory I will take to my grave.
During that first season, there is a scene where David Fisher is caught by the cops having some ROUGH gay sex in a parking garage with a prostitute. Not precisely the sort of thing I wanted to be watching with my mom. I fumbled for the remote, trying to say "Oh, I'm so sorry, here, let's watch something else" but with shrunken, bloody vocal cords that only whispered and squeaked.
While I sat there, horrified and trying to apologize, she turned to me with a look of eternal sadness on her face, a hand flying to her chest.
"Oh Jeffrey," she said. "This is just terrible. I feel so bad for him ... he's so LOST right now."
There's so much more of this, a lifetime's worth. But it's all I have right now, tonight. I'm off to ignore my filthy dishes and sleep in an unmade bed. There's some things the best moms on earth can't teach ... and I know this because one of those moms is mine.