As mothers go, my mother wasn’t mother material. It’s what movie industry people call bad casting. But despite my mother’s ineptness as a parent I have managed to learn a thing or two. We all do regardless of who our parents are.
It was my mother who taught me that if I didn’t have enough money to tip I didn’t have enough money to go out to eat. Good advice.
One time my mother had a hangover; we were en-route to Grand Central Station from Brooklyn so I could go back home to upstate New York. We stopped by a diner in Greenwich Village to get something to eat. My mother foolishly ordered an egg salad sandwich.
Shortly after I had arrived home, I called my mother to inquire about how she was feeling. She told me that, on the subway back to Brooklyn, she threw up that egg salad sandwich, she said that within seconds she had the entire subway car to herself.
I couldn’t stop laughing at that last part and my mother hung up on me in disgust. Lessons Learned: Never sport a hangover in public and never eat an egg salad sandwich when you have an upset stomach.
In my last year of high school, I moved from Upstate to Brooklyn to live with my mom. My mother wanted me to go to a nearby Catholic School but I did not want to wear that uniform on the subway for fear of harassment. I ended up going to a local public school where I was the only white student in the entire school. I somehow made it through the school year, the black girls assumed I was Latina since I mostly hung up with Puerto Rican girls and made it on the coveted softball team. Those girls can really play ball.
We lived in a section of Brooklyn that is the trendiest neighborhood today but back then it was a dump. The public pool had been permanently closed and had become a crack den. I used the running track as did many people in the neighborhood but it was not a safe place to be after dark. Political correctness was never my mother’s strong point. No ethnic groups were off limits to my mother’s scathing commentary of them. Our just off the boat Polish immigrant landlord who recently bought the piece of crap apartment building on North Sixth street where we lived was frequently referred to as “that stupid Polack.” However, I must admit that my mother’s diatribes against him were not without merit.
The Polish landlord who barely spoke English commanded two phrases and used them frequently. Anytime my mother went to him for anything that needed to be fixed in our crappy railroad flat, she would invariably be told by him, “I put paint” or “I put tape.” We literally had that ugly gray duct tape in the front of our house to patch up the spots where the property was falling apart, as if the duct tape would save the house from decay. It also didn’t help that our newly arrived in America Polish landlord bore a striking resemblance to the cartoon character Elmer Fudd, complete with ridiculous looking hunting cap. The only thing that was missing was the rifle with the cork.
My mother used to tell me, “Nancy, one day were gonna come home and the entire house is gonna be wrapped in duct tape.” My mother’s friend Billy joked that our apartment building was starting to resemble a Yoko Ono art project.
As most teenage girls in the 1980’s I worshiped Madonna. My mother as most mothers, despised Madonna and everything she stood for which only made me adore her even more. It was my mother who informed me that Madonna in her opinion was nothing more than a talent-less, opportunistic slut who no one would even remember a year from then. The year was 1985. Throwing this back in my mother’s face whenever the opportunity presents itself never fails to delight and entertain me.
Despite my mother’s lack of parenting skills and logic regarding the merits of pop culture, she did manage to get some things right. She instilled in me the value of culture and took me to see foreign films and we made regular pilgrimages to almost every museum in New York City. It was my mother who insisted on taking me to see the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit at the Whitney Museum long before mainstream media falsely touted him as a shameless pornographer.
Lesson learned: Just because we were poor doesn’t mean we couldn’t be cultured.
We would on occasion go to see Broadway shows and sometimes off Broadway plays as they were far less expensive. If the weather was nice we would walk through Central Park. It was these moments and experiences with my mother that I will always cherish as I recall them with great fondness.
Other times my mother’s ineptness as a parent was painfully clear; like the time she barged into my room one summer afternoon when I was about thirteen and awkwardly shoved a paperback book about sex into my hands and stated, “Don’t believe what you hear on the street” and then turned on her heels and walked out of the room. I must have stood there stunned for at least a minute or two fully expecting her to return to finish the conversation. She never did. That was all of “the talk.”
There are many who believe that motherhood and nurturing are “innate” qualities among female people. Other people know better. If you have been lucky enough to have a wonderful supportive mother; good for you, I hope you are grateful and never take her for granted.
But for the rest of us, who have had to endure mothers who may have been alcoholics, drug addicted and/or mentally unstable, celebrating Mother’s Day has become something of a farce, another thing to survive, another holiday I would much rather avoid and move past. The over-commercialization of the holiday doesn’t help me feel better about the day either. I forgive my mother. She was a teenager when she had me. It wasn’t easy and our culture has always been judgmental of women regardless of what we do or don’t do.
I must admit that since I became a mother myself; I am far more compassionate for my mother’s failings at being a parent than I would have been had I not had my own child. I’ve made some embarrassing mistakes as a mother. We all have.
I am on the verge of turning 50 this month. I never thought I would make it this far. At a certain point in your life you have to let shit go and be happy for what you have. Even though my Mother was never right about things she most certainly wasn’t wrong about everything either. We all are just trying to do the best we can do with the tools that we have. Sometimes all you need at the end of the day is a little compassion and kindness. Just do the best you can do and keep it moving forward. Happy Mother’s Day.
Nancy Muldoon lives in Saratoga Springs, New York. She is about to turn 50. Where she had a little filter before she will have none as soon as she turns 50. Consider yourself warned.
Check Nancy out: http://insidesaratoga.info