On April 23rd my mom turned 91. It boggles the mind. Before you start wondering if I’m in my 70′s, I will confess that I’m still in my 40′s and leave it at that. I’ve been thinking of writing a post about my mom for a long time. I started one before her birthday and then was going to finish it by Mother’s Day. Here it is mid-July so I figured I better hurry up. This isn’t anything she’ll ever read so I’m not doing it to butter her up. This is just my way of honoring her as she hits another milestone.
As a little kid, I always told my mom she was the best mom in the whole world. Maybe all kids do this. In my case, it was true. Even better, it still holds true. I know what it’s like to not have the kind of relationship you want with a parent (I had that with my dad) so it means the world to me that my relationship with my mom is perfect. Obviously, nothing in life is perfect but this is as close as it gets. It’s not even that we’re so much alike. She’s born in April like my husband and I think they’re more alike than she and I. It is that we have always loved each other and put each other first.
We have little sayings we say to each other: “I love you today” and the other will say “I love you yesterday”, “I love you next week”, etc. Another is “You’ve got so many nice things” and the other will say, “I’ve got you!”. Corny and sappy but I love them. My mom has lived with me since she got divorced from my dad while I was in college. After I got married, she lived with us as well. Yes, my husband must be a saint to have his mother-in-law live here. She worked 35+ years as a long distance operator at AT&T. I look forward to waking her up every morning and giving her a hug. I know how blessed I am to still have my mother living and present in my life. I know how lucky I am that I got a mother who knew how to cook and bake, sew, drive, fish, grow plants, craft, gamble, travel, make people laugh, shop, fight, etc. and taught me how to do most of it as well.
Everyone who meets my mom says she’s a real character. She has a unique sense of humor and people wouldn’t know if she was joking or not. She could make just about anyone laugh. Since she was in her 40′s when I was born, I didn’t have grandparents to be around. Both my grandfathers died before I was born and my mom’s mom lived in MN and died when I was 5. My dad’s mom lived to be 93 and I was 9 when she passed away in a nursing home. My mom says when I was a baby, people would tell her her granddaughter was beautiful. Besides being mother and father to me (yes, I had a father), she was a grandma to me too. She did so many nice things for me as a kid, I can’t even begin to recall all of them. The best thing I remember her doing was listening to me. I was one of those kids that talks non-stop. I was always filled with questions and was constantly analyzing everything. She listened to me and didn’t just pretend to listen. I was an overly sensitive kid and she was able to empathize which meant the world to me.
My mom taught me right from wrong. She believed in discipline and I knew I’d get a spanking with the yardstick if I misbehaved. I was mostly a good kid since I had so many examples of how not to be from my half-siblings. After seeing how awful the step children treated her, I knew from an early age I would never marry a man that had kids from a previous marriage.
My mom was raised on a farm and believed in hard work. She was a superhero to me because I was always in awe at everything she could do. Besides working full time, she washed clothes, cooked and cleaned for our family which included the youngest 3 of the 4 step kids, my dad and me. She managed to bake pies and other desserts from scratch, host holidays and birthday parties at our house. She was the best cook and loves food as much as I do. She is where I get my love of recipes from. She loves looking through magazines and cookbooks and trying new recipes as much as I do. She used to make me sit at the table until I cleaned my plate. That could be hours or maybe it just seemed like hours! I hated lima beans (which taste like soapsuds), liver and some fish. I’ve learned to like fish but still not the other 2.
My dad owned 2 rental properties. One was next door in the building that used to be my grandparents’ corner grocery store. It was converted into an upper and lower apartment. The other was an old fancy house near the UW-Eau Claire. I used to want us to live there because it was in a much nicer neighborhood and used to be where a rich family lived. It had many rooms with amenities like pocket doors and gorgeous woodwork and a servants’ stairway in back. That was converted into a multi-room house for college students. In any case there was always a ton of work to be done on both places. Cleaning, remodeling, painting, installing floor tiles, yardwork, etc. My mom pitched in like a trooper and did most of it. She taught me how to paint and I ended up doing most of the painting which I loved. To this day I still love painting but only if someone sets me up with the tarps and ladder and cleans my brushes afterwards. I’ve got my husband to take over that role now.
It wasn’t until I was an adult, age 25, that I started standing up for myself. Even then it’s been a work in progress. Learning to speak up and not be taken advantage of is a hard lesson to learn. I was extremely shy as a kid. I didn’t even want to go up to the counter at McDonald’s and ask for a spoon. I still don’t but I’ll do it now. I watched my mom have no problem defending herself or me and calling people out on their bullshit. Over time I have become her in this respect and I’m proud that I have. Unless you stand up for yourself, you walk around feeling powerless and used.
I have invested all my time, energy, emotions, love into only 2 relationships. The one with my mother and the one with my husband. To the detriment of all other relationships. I did this for 2 reasons, besides them being the 2 most important people to me, I didn’t want to ever say or think that I didn’t do enough for them. That I didn’t spend enough time with them or love them enough. Or tell them I loved them everyday. I do all of those things and it has made the relationships the most rewarding I could possibly have.
My mom and I have done crazy things together like spending the night in the Greyhound bus station in downtown Milwaukee. We had taken the bus from Madison (where we were living) to Milwaukee to go to the Safehouse bar and missed the last bus.
We’ve talked ourselves blue in the face over pitchers of beer at the KK Club (a college bar below where we lived in Madison).
We’ve walked up and down State Street in Madison on Halloween back in the early ’80′s. Wall to wall people, mostly drunken college students. Being swept along by a sea of crazies and laughing until our mouths were sore.
We’ve taken our first and last cruise to the Carribean together. Shared hatred equals another blog post at a future date.
We’ve driven up to Bayfield, WI and the Apostle Islands and on a another trip went to Door County and picked cherries.
We’ve done so many things together and when my future mate came along, we went off on our own adventures for a few years until we married and then started bringing Mom everywhere we went like she’s our child. I wouldn’t have it any other way. They say you can’t or shouldn’t be friends with your child. I agree but only until the child reaches 18, then you can be both parent and friend. My mom is the friend I was born with. Yes, I know how fortunate I am and I’ll never forget it.