Monday, May 01, 2006
I was flattered when Kara from Cape Buffalo invited me to write about Motherhood in honor of Mother's Day. Then I looked at the list of people she asked to be a part of the project throughout the month, and I became quite intimidated. I am sure most of them write for a living ( but claim to have other vocations,) they are really that good. Go on, read them. I am sure there will be several posts that you won't be able to get through without Kleenex. I am sure a few will be quite funny. I don't think a single one will be boring--we're talking about Moms here!
It has only been since I have been married that my mother and I have accepted each other’s differences and become friendly. It hasn’t been easy—that’s for sure. My mother is the most stubborn and inflexible person I know, and any relative in my family will back me up (they are quiet about it though—they are all afraid of her.) She lies about her health and finances because she doesn’t want to “bother” us. She swears like a sailor. She drinks too much, smokes too much, and doesn’t eat right. There is only one way to skin a cat in my mother’s world, and it’s HER way. On the very best of days, our relationship can be really difficult. On the worst of days, she is a colossal pain in the ass and I thank God that she isn't my birth mother. And then I curse God for allowing my adoption into this family to have taken place. As a child, I always thought that when it came to me, my mother was mean, judgmental, stifling and regretful of adopting me. Over the years, I slowly learned the truth. My mother, herself, was stifled and afflicted with abuse as a child, leaving it very difficult for her to give and receive love gracefully. Her love, however, could be seen in the orchard, two gardens, several flowerbeds, and the 4 acres of well-clipped lawn at my childhood home. My mother’s horticultural endeavors were the one thing that remained constant in her life for so long.
I remember as a child hearing all kinds of stories of how Mom used to steal flowers from the neighbors and try to replant them in my Gramma’s yard. Gramma didn’t have time for such silliness since she worked three jobs to raise her four children without a husband. Mom didn’t realize that the roots of plants are necessary in order to transplant. Sixty years later, my mother knows EVERYTHING about flowers (and plants! and trees! and shrubs!) From the time I was old enough to know what a weed was until I moved out of the house at eighteen, the two words that ruined my life were “yard day!” That meant that my sister and I had to weed the ever-growing population of foliage in our yard. Did I mention there were 4 acres? My sister and I would cry, complain, and even accuse her of abuse. Her response was always, “Tough shit. Do what you’re told.” I would sob about how much my life sucked because I had to work so hard. I never bothered to notice that my mother was working much harder and longer than I ever did.
My mother dropped out of high school at 16. She married my father at 20 and lived a very comfortable life because my father was one of only three electricians to service all of the steel mills in Gary, Indiana. After three miscarriages, my parents found out that my mother had endometriosis and would never be able to bear children. First, my sister was adopted in 1967. I was adopted in 1969. They built a beautiful ranch home and started to reap the rewards of the middle class dream. The only mistake my father made was not checking a box and signing his name to part of the mortgage that would continue house payments if he became permanently disabled. He thought he would always be healthy.
When I was six years old, my father became one of the first quadruple bypass surgery patients in the country at the age of 41. He ended up being disabled for the rest of his life. After his open-heart surgery, the insurance company cancelled his plan and refused to pay for the then-experimental procedure. This left our family in a huge bind. Without a diploma or marketable skills my mother had no idea how to support a sick husband, two kids, and pay a mortgage. I remember a lot of crying when Dad was sleeping in their bedroom. Almost every day, my mom would spend hours outside. When it rained, she would go into the garage and tend to her little seedlings and saplings, and repot indoor plants. When a new family member was born, she’d plant a new fruit tree in the orchard and name it after the baby (My tree was a McIntosh Apple.)
After awhile, car after car pulled up into our driveway and people started buying what Mom was growing. The Chrysanthemums and Shasta Daisies kept food on the table. The apples, peaches, pears and cherries paid for my sister’s thrice-weekly trips to an allergist almost an hour away. My mother’s African Violets paid for the mortgage on the house, and the fresh and canned vegetables and fruit kept us well fed.
Over the years, my mother went to school to learn bookkeeping and worked for a friend. Even though my sister and I were long gone, she still would break her back working long hours at her job and then work outside until she couldn’t see. A few years after I got married, my father took a turn for the worse. He had a heart transplant during my last semester in college, but he was starting to have so many other problems. In between hospital stays, my mother would still continue to work in the yard. After my father died, my mother tried to take care of the house and the yard, but it was too overwhelming. She was having her own medical problems and was drinking too much. My sister and I begged her to sell the place after she had lung surgery. She was drowning in debt and the once-beautiful yard was in shambles.
Mom finally agreed to sell the house. I thought she would die from the sadness. She has since been living in an apartment complex for the elderly. She calls it, “the place where people go to die if they don’t go to a nursing home first.” Her apartment is tiny and filled with boxes of paperwork. She uses a hall closet to store food. The shelving in the closet broke a long time ago from the weight of the canned goods, so she now has jars and cans on the hallway floor. We have attempted to replace the shelving but she insists that a friend is “building shelves as we speak.” There are also plants. Everywhere. She desperately wants to leave, but there aren’t too many affordable options for her since she has no retirement nest egg. We also have concerns about her ability to care for herself due to the scary-strong pain killers she occasionally has to take because the wounds from her lung surgery have never healed. We have all but begged her to live with us, but she refuses. My mother fears that we would hate her if she lived with us. I am considering a different approach with our impending move. I am going to tell her I want to hire her to be my landscape architect. I truly feel she needs a project that will make her feel useful and proud. Her flowers gave her the power to cultivate beauty and keep her at peace with herself. I would love for her to have that again.
Posted by Pinterest Failures at Monday, May 01, 2006