Sunday, August 3, 2014

How My Mother Ruined My Life

To the editors of  Chicken Soup for the Soul "Thanks to My Mom", 101 Stories of Gratitude, Love and Lessons":

Your solicitation will undoubtedly elicit thousands of heartwarming tales of the beauty, grace, elegance, charm, devotion and caring of the matriarchs who have guided and shaped our lives. This story is not one of them.

Upon reading the title for the forthcoming book, my wife and son, almost in unison, instructed me to start my piece by informing the readers that my mom had ruined my life. What a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad thing to say about a woman who, now almost 97, has been such a compellingly wonderful person and has shown nothing but unfettered warmth and attention towards me. Aye, there's the rub.

I was a spoiled 1950's and 1960's child, growing up in an idyllic setting, with a mom and dad right out of the television shows of that era. My sister and I knew a universe where the dad worked hard,  the mom stayed home and attended to our needs, and we were blessed with a housekeeper who assisted in making certain that life was pristine and easy.

My dad, a natural athlete and a completely involved parent, was not, as far as I can recall, one for whom work around the house was a calling. In the far recesses of my mind, I can see him performing some chores, but it was anything but second nature for him to pick up a hammer or perform other household tasks beyond cutting the grass. My dad was not lazy, he was merely placed in a role that required relatively little of him once he walked through the door after a day at work. I don't know that I ever saw my dad cook a meal.

Hawaiian chicken. If you really want to know my expectations in childhood, this would be a perfect example. I particularly liked this dish but it would take two days of preparation by my mom to meander through the various steps to present the finished product on the table. But, if I said I was in the mood for this dish, as certain as the sun sets in the west, it would be ready for consumption within 48 hours.

I know my friend Neal thought I was spoiled, and that his life, so like mine in so many ways, did not include the same kind of coddling. I never noticed the distinction and thought little of the irreparable damage my mother was inflicting.

I don't know that this can all be laid at the relatively small feet of my mom. There must have been some wires that were crossed in my head at birth which have prevented me from performing even the simplest of tasks to aid my beleaguered spouse. My son says that I hold a dish in my hand at the sink like a foreign object to be treated with fear and confusion. Loading a dishwasher, separating colors from lights at a washing machine, screwing in a light-bulb, folding shirts, lighting an oven, boiling water, even moving furniture, all remain mysteries far beyond my grasp. And for all of this, it is suggested that my mother's handiwork is almost entirely to blame.

We are all supposed to be examples to our children of the way things are intended. From the manner in which we treat strangers, to the attitude we present in our voice to our spouse when we are tired, irritated, drained or just bored, from what we do to make ourselves and others around us better to how we hold our forks and cut our meat, everything that happens around our children has consequence and meaning. And so, how much, or how little was demanded of us growing up, how much we were called upon to use our own resources instead of relying on others, how hard rather than how easy, how independent we are forced to be, it is in all these areas that my downfall was preordained by my mother's single minded focus on not allowing the bad and the difficult, or even the almost bad and the maybe difficult to penetrate into our domain.

For making love so easy to obtain, for giving approval with such ease, for not allowing hardship to darken my door or ruin my day,  for protecting me and making me feel warm and safe, adored and pampered, for being the absolute kindest and sweetest and most attentive mom she could be, my mom failed me miserably.

And worse, I fear I have been just as bad a parent to my children.

Damn you, I mean thank you, mom.


Pam said...

A beautiful testimony.. to a lovely person and a wonderful mother.. but you better hope your kids find someone like your wife.. or at least a neighbor like you had in Tenafly that helped change your lightbulbs...

Anonymous said...

It was the times . My sister got the braces not me. My sister had a curfew not me. Mom made dinner dad brought home the bacon


Anonymous said...

Your description was so vivid and on target that for a moment I thought we may have had the same mother. But I checked with my two brothers and they don't remember there being four of us or a housekeeper. We all agreed though that your mother is probably Jewish or Italian. And also they reminded me that my father did do woodworking and that I inherited his tools which I have been known to use. Great piece


Anonymous said...

Amazing! Al least we know what Rob will do in retirement - WRITE!
Simply amazing!!!


Anonymous said...

an incredible writer with incredible insight!! Thank you so much for sharing this writing and blog with me!!!!!


Anonymous said...

Life was so simple then. You have such a wonderful style of expressing yourself. You trigger so many images of all of our lives, it was a wonderful trip down memory lane for me . Your mom would be so very proud . Thanks for sharing!


Anonymous said...

Love it. Actually sounds similar to my mom. She never let me do anything at home. What an amazing generation. And how lucky we were to have experienced such coddling. Love the article.


Morry said...

Ah, it brings back memories. Not identical to yours, but good memories nevertheless. Well done young man. Keep going.