Things About My Mom

She put a box of condoms in the bathroom when I was fifteen years old and told me that they were there for me or my friends or whoever might need them. I reacted predictably (“Eeeeeeeeeeeeeew!”) and never used them, but I am so glad she did that, now.

She still had a lot of her Studio-54 era disco clothes when we first moved to Miami and every once in a while as a big special treat she’d let my sister and I try on her platform peep-toe shoes and this awesome beaded headdress thing that I thought was the coolest thing ever.

She used to ask me to send her my college papers just so she could read my writing.

When she got her master’s degree she didn’t go to the official graduation but instead went to the beach with her two best friends, who took pictures of her wearing her cap and gown and her bathing suit and holding a bottle of champagne.

When she came to Wellington to visit she was interested in everything and wanted to go everywhere and talk to everyone. One of her favorite moments was when she was meeting me after work and someone asked her for directions and she was able to give them, just like a local.

She has been going to visit my grandmother in Michigan every four to six weeks for the past three years, setting the standard for how my sister and I will care for her when she’s an old lady very high indeed. I want my mom to come and live with me one day.

All of my friends love my mom and think she’s cool. I like a lot of my friends’ moms too, and I love it when me, my friends, and our moms can all get together and have lunch. The latest mom (or “mum,” rather) I’d like to add to this list is A’s, who spent the weekend with us on her way back from Australia and who I think my own mom would like to have lunch with very much.

The first thing she did when she and I went to Paris together three years ago (oh, man, three years ago?) was get her hair cut, speaking French the whole time, at a salon in the gayborhood where we were staying. She said later that she was pretty sure that a woman had never darkened the door of that salon before, but every time we passed it that weekend the hair dudes would smile and wave and say “Bonjooooour Madame!” I have very fond memories of stumbling upon the Festival Of Bread and going to the lovely Middle Ages Museum with her, as well as our tour of Paris with a lovely old French couple she knew, who took us to an Algerian restaurant and told us stories about when the Marais was the Jewish section of the city.

We started ballet classes together when I was eight and she was forty; we were in a production of The Hobbit at my elementary school, in which I was a dwarf and she was Elrond, complete with rubber elf ears.

She has been a teacher at Montessori kindergarden since I was in pre-school, and usually she raises a clutch of chickens with the kids every spring. This year she decided not to do it and was wondering what animal she should have instead. I as usual, was full of bright ideas:

“How about a clutch of tarantula eggs, Mom?”

“Hmm, yes,” she said. I could feel her eyes brightening over the phone on the other side of the world. “I could put them by the Thinking Chair,” she mused. “That would give it a whole new feel.

She did not, I learned much after the fact, really approve of my being so involved in church when I was a kid, but patiently endured stuff like my telling her, at age fourteen, that she was going to hell and never stopped me from participating in church and from spending a lot of time with people with whom she vehemently disagreed on a lot of issues. When I asked her why she let me continue with youth group and everything, she said, “Well, honey…I just hoped you would come back to me one day.”

When I was about five years old lice was going around my school and so she pre-emptively cut off all my hair one night. While I was asleep. I remember waking up and being very confused indeed.

She got my sister and I out of a really bad family situation when we were very young and, I think, considers that one of her highest achievements.

After not having been to New York for like fifteen years, she and my cousin Delores spent a weekend there together a couple of months ago and texted me from the lobby of the ABBA musical to tell me how happy she was.

Speaking of my beloved Delores (whom we actually just call Dee), she tells me that when she met my mother in 1967 in the Village in New York, my mom was dressed entirely in pink and purple and wearing beads and some amazing green velvet knee-high lace-up boots. Mom used to tell us bedtime stories about those boots. I would give anything for a picture of her then.

Mom used to own and run a health food store in the seventies in Park Slope (“It was just starting to gentrify back then,” she said–when I told her that Williamsburg was a hip neighborhood now she laughed and laughed, saying that when she lived in New York, “cabs wouldn’t even take you there.”), behind the counter of which she was pregnant with me, her palms stained orange from too much carrot juice. Anyway, she’d just got this new Persian kitten and was trying to figure out what to name it. Mom actually took Farsi in college, randomly, but didn’t know the words for “little fluffy cat,” so when an Iranian woman came into the store she took the opportunity to ask her how to say it. The woman told her (I don’t know how to spell it but phonetically it sounds like “koochie-kay garbay barogh”—we just called the cat Koochie, which is a really really really dirty name for a cat, I now know) and Mom was so grateful that she didn’t charge the woman for the packet of unsprouted wheat seeds she was buying. The Persian lady immediately burst into tears and told Mom that she was preparing for Nowruz, and that she was very far away from home and missing her family. I think the wheat seeds are supposed to be a gift, and she hated having to buy them for herself that year, so when Mom gave them to her it was this very big wonderful strange thing.

She grew up on her family’s dairy farm and went to a one-room schoolhouse, for real, until she was in fifth grade. She had horses and was afraid of tomato worms and was the smartest person in her school. When we were little she would tell us—when she wasn’t telling us about her green velvet knee-high lace-up boots, I guess—all about that farm and what they did and how they lived, so differently from how I lived. Even though the stables and fields were gone by the time I was born I can still see her as a little girl going to break the ice on the cows’ water trough in the winter (really) and riding her horse and visiting her family: the fairy tales of the ordinary became extraordinary to us.

Things I’ve inherited from my mom: a big crazy laugh, a sarcastic sense of humor, a tendency to get sad instead of angry, a predilection for watching movies by myself, a healthy curiosity about how people do their things, an affinity for languages, a preference for eating out of bowls rather than plates, a rather difficult time with romantic relationships, a love of dance, and a healthy sense of the ridiculous.

Things about my mom I hope to emulate one day: bravery, willingness to work hard, pragmatism, compassion, intuition, fierce no-holds-barred love, and the ability to walk in high heels.

8 comments

  1. gorgeous. love you. Happy Mother’s Day to your mum!

  2. That was really nice to read, thanks for sharing!

  3. Wow, awesome mom, awesome daughter. (And you already demonstrate so many of those qualities in your last sentence. I’m not sure about the high heels thing, though.)

  4. You are inspirational.

  5. I have a list of things I wish I could talk to my Mom about. She is a wonderful woman, but you have to catch a right time or right place or right mood to talk to her about truly personal things. And we don’t get those moments often enough. I miss her because I don’t feel I know her very well.

    When my Dad died, it wasn’t so much HIM I mourned, but all the things I would never know about him…never get to ask him about…never learn to love about him.

    I don’t want to have that happen with my Mom…

  6. You and your mom are the cooliest ladies ever. I hope you had a great Mother’s Day celebration, Chiara’s Mom!

  7. What a lovely tribute. Salutes to your mom who embodies the “Full Life” that I think everyone, deep down, is after. Of course, you are an extension of her full life, made even fuller, because she can live vicariously through your own adventures and misadventures in high heels.