Many of us are lucky in this world. We have at least one person, who from before we’re even born, loved us unconditionally with every fiber of their being. They would do anything to make us happy. Anything to make us stop screaming our lungs out at 3:30 in the morning. Anything to protect us.
Some of us are truly blessed and have multiple people throughout our lives giving us the support, caring, and hugs we need to thrive in this world.
But always, there is The One. The One Who Started It All.
For me, that’s my mother.
And today is her 60th birthday.
The Will To Survive and See Her Daughters Grow Up
I know many women might hate to have their age, particularly THAT age posted for all the world to see. They lament about how old they are and just want to turn back the clock to those younger years.
But my mother isn’t That Woman.
Instead, I know she will rejoice that she got to live and enjoy 60 years of life (and counting).
Because when she was the age I am now, she never thought she’d live to see her two little girls get married, much less have Been There, Done That plus Met Two Grandchildren too. And my brother wouldn’t even come into existence for several more years.
She had cancer. Lymphoma. Which in the early 1980’s meant you were royally screwed.
I think I inherited my stubbornness from her.
Mom refused to go down without a fight.
The lymphoma was fast. It was aggressive. It created a large growth that began crowding out her heart and lungs.
Ironically, this was a blessing in disguise. The speed and location caused the shortness of breath and other symptoms that a woman in good physical condition shouldn’t have. She went to a doctor, and many many many tests later the tumor was discovered. Before it had a chance to metastasize.
At age 7, I had no idea how close I came to losing her. At that point, all I knew was my mother would leave for a week or two and “move” into a hotel in Minnesota so the Mayo Clinic could “make her better.” But when she came home, I couldn’t even hug her. Her skin was burned more than when you skipped the sunscreen during an eight hour day at a water park or lake. Even using raw aloe direct from the plant could only do so much. That’s what Old School Radiation Treatment did to you.
Time moves differently at that age. I’m not sure how many times she had to endure radiation. I just know the results: it killed the tumor. And finally, my mom could be a Mom again instead of Very Sick.
I’m certain that I would be a different person today had my mother not fought so hard to stay with us. Even when I was a bratty tween (before “tweens” was a word in our vocabularies), I knew beyond a shadow of doubt, that Mom loved me. And while I exhibited the typical Parents Are Not Cool behavior, she was the biggest anchor in my life.
In sixth grade, I got to experience what happened When Friends Suddenly Stop Talking To You Except for Laughing Behind Your Back Syndrome. No fights. No arguing. Just one day, with no warning, the people who were your friends for several years suddenly weren’t speaking you. Not just that, but Ignoring You Completely.
It had just the tiniest affect on my self esteem.
For the first time ever, I hated my life. School was torture. After school was just as bad as my “friends” lived within a 1 block radius of me. I had no one to walk with. No one to ride the bus with. I was alone.
I wanted to curl into a little ball and die.
But one thing, one person, prevented me from transitioning from the My Life Sucks/My Friends Hate Me/I Want To Kill Myself stage to the Plotting To End It stage.
Because even though My Life Sucked Big Hairy Yak Testicles (are they hairy?), I KNEW if something ever happened to me, it would devastate my mother. And I loved her too much to hurt her that way.
And if she loved me so much, then there had to be some redeeming quality about me. Right?
While I’ll never know how I would’ve reacted if my mother hadn’t Pwned Lymphoma, I can’t help but feel that she gave me life twice.
Because I lived to learn that what “my friends” did, had nothing to do with me and everything to do with them. I was the first person they ousted. I wasn’t the last.
And surviving The End of The World As I Knew It at the young age of twelve made me stronger. And more stubborn.
Double Standards and Dealing With the Queen of Loopholes
Eventually, I made friends from other grades who liked me for who I was. They’re still my friends today.
At the time, my mom (and dad) just wished they weren’t mostly male. Because they believed When Harry Met Sally. Especially the Male Teenagers and Female Teenagers Cannot Be Friends Even If They Just Like to Drink Mountain Dew, Eat Popcorn, and Watch Rented Horror Movies Until 2 AM Together.
What parent could possibly have a problem with that?
My new friends generated the long awaited Teen Rebellion Toward Parents in me that had laid dormant thanks to no real threat from the outside (other than my best friend, but she was a girl). Curfews appeared where none had existed. They hadn’t cared if I’d stayed at my best friend’s all night (who lived 3 houses away) , until a BOY Might Be There Too.
And while I knew my mother still loved me, I chafed at the restraints placed upon me. Because in my mind, I had done nothing to warrant them. I was always where I said I’d be. I didn’t smoke, or drink, or do drugs, or have sex. I had already faced the worst peer pressure had to offer and Pwned It. Just like Mom and lymphoma.
Couldn’t they see that?
Oh right. They met as teenagers. They would always fear the worst.
My relationship with Mom remained at the I Love You But I Want to Strangle You stage for the remainder of high school. I wanted the freedom of a responsible adult. They wanted all males off the premises by 9:30 PM.
Did I mention 3/4 of my good friends were guys?
As a parent now, I realize they were trying to do what they felt was best. And the least likely to result in them achieving Grandparent Status too early. But at the time, it was the crux of the majority of my Battles with the Parental Units.
My mom (and dad) learned What Not To Do With Kids 2 & 3 with me. If there was a loophole in a rule, I found it. If they gave me a reason for something I deemed bogus, I acknowledged the reason in a way that completely backfired.
Example #1: “We are giving you a 1 AM curfew not because we are worried you will have sex or do drugs or anything silly like that. No, we just want to know you are home and safe so we can sleep.”
My Answer #1: Okaaay. If you really thought that, you’d let my male friends in after 9:30 PM (they had no issue with female friend). “Sooo… I’ll be home by 1 AM, turn off the alarm, and hang out in the driveway/yard all night. I’m technically home, you know I’m home, but I can still hang with my friends who aren’t allowed to set foot in the house.”
Example #2 (first weekend I came home from college, which was about 40 minutes away): “We still want you to have a 1 AM curfew.”
My Answer #2: You are trying to give me a curfew when I can come and go as I please whenever I want at college??? Seriously? (Midnight hits) “Bye guys! I going back to school now. Maybe I’ll see you next weekend!”
They never tried to give me a curfew after that as they realized I would never spend the night at home again.
Example #3 (summer after freshman year): “We really don’t like you coming home at 3 or 4 AM. It can be dangerous for a female driving that late at night. What if something should happen?”
My Answer #3: You still won’t let me have guys in the house after 9:30 PM huh? I wonder if this rule will exist for my brother when he’s a teen. “Okaaay… I don’t want you to worry about me driving. I’ll just crash on my friend’s couch and come home after the sun comes up and the roads are safe again.”
I’m pretty sure at this point, my mom wished she hadn’t encouraged my creativity quite so much.
I never really lived At Home again, except for one summer after my freshman year. And by then I’d firmly established the I Can Come And Go As I Please Just Like I Could At College Rule.
The Farther Away We Are, The Closer We Get
My mom and I gradually grew closer again with the rules no longer building a wall between us.
They wisely got an 800# so I could call home as much as I liked without paying for it (this was in the days before unlimited free long distance existed). I called frequently. I went home for at least part most weekends.
To see old friends. To do laundry.
Then came The Call. Lead formed in my gut when I heard she had a lump in her breast. So small, so tiny, yet due to diligent check ups, she’d noticed it. Most likely caused by the very radiation that had saved her life.
And before I could blink (I think it was end of the semester, so I was swamped at school), she’d had a mastectomy. No half measures. She had plans to see my brother graduate, and hopes that I’d marry CG and give her grandbabies. She wasn’t going to risk it.
When I graduated college with honors (and debt free thanks to Southwestern), no one was prouder than Mom (although Dad and the G-rents were really close). To her, it was another milestone she never thought she’d see.
I bought my first house a year after I graduated. My deck became The Place to Grill on gorgeous weekends when I’d invite Mom and the Family to come over.
This was my favorite time. I lived 40 minutes away (in my college town). It was far enough away my family wasn’t likely to stop by without notice. It was close enough for BBQs, holidays, and even hanging out for dinner. My job took me to Des Moines frequently, so I’d often join the family for Mom’s Home Cooking. Because nothing can top that.
I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.
Always, Mom welcomed me. Never once did she say “this is a bad time, can you go away please?” There were a few “I’m expecting company, so don’t trash the place.”
When I told her I was getting married, the joy was unmistakable. Followed by a “What can I do to help as you have six months to plan this thing?” I’m pretty sure CG and my wedding would’ve taken place in a parking lot somewhere if she hadn’t taken the time to make the gazillion phone calls to find places/people who weren’t booked yet.
The emotion that hit her as I walked down the aisle (and 5 years later, my sister), was overwhelming. This image, living to see this, was one of the things that kept her going during radiation.
She wasn’t as thrilled about the move to Texas, but she put on her game face. “You’ll have fun there. You’ll meet new friends. You won’t miss the wind chill or shoveling.”
All very true.
But I miss having that option to take a quick drive and have some dinner, or Mimi’s Famous Sticky Rolls, or fresh sweet corn from the Farmer’s Market.
Or just to say hi and get a quick hug.
Thank goodness unlimited minutes existed by this point.
Graduating from Mom to Mimi
We talked on the phone all the time. In fact, we probably talked more than we did when I lived at home, or even in the state. When I told her we were trying to conceive I could almost hear her do a little jig over the phone.
And when she learned of the issues I had getting pregnant, she shared that she had to take measures to have my sister and me as well.
And the day I told her we were successful… well, I think it trumped my wedding day, judging by the squeal that pierced my ear.
When it was time for Chase’s arrival, I told her to visit after the first week. I wanted to use that time to allow CG and I to bond with him without others around.
Yeah, I was stupid. Ignorant. I had no idea how miserable I’d feel on top of having The Most Extreme Sleep Deprivation Ever. What I should’ve said was “How fast and soon can you get here and can you just move in for the first year?”
Her visit marked the turning point in my introduction to motherhood, which other than that glow I had the first day, was not going the way I expected. The Baby Who Only Stayed Asleep If Being Held required another person around just to hold him. Never mind laundry. Or groceries. Or meals. Or sleep. With Mom’s (now Mimi’s) arrival, we had that magical third person to help us out of our robotic struggle for survival.
And I fell in love with my mother all over again and gained a new level of appreciation for her.
She did everything we needed. Groceries, cooking, dishes, laundry, holding He Who Would Not Stay Asleep In His Bed (that last one was her favorite). I don’t know if I would’ve survived those first three weeks without her.
When I screamed at her, pushed past the point of delirium, in pain from the agony of breast feeding The Boy Who Bit, she didn’t rise to the bait. She didn’t fight back, as she had in our past when I’d attacked her.
Nope. My Mom was the New and Improved Mimi. She allowed my frustration to slide right off of her and offered me some food. Or a hug. Or advice on how to deal with it.
She was awesome.
When I learned I was pregnant again, I had my priorities straight. After I told my mom (and gave her a few minutes to bask in the I Will Be A Mimi AGAIN Glow), the next thing out of my mouth was, “How can we get you here as close to when it’s born as possible? And how long can you stay for? A month? A year?”
Mimi bought a plane ticket for a week before my due date, figuring if Lil Diva arrived a few weeks early, she’d try to switch it out, but Mom didn’t want to be here too soon because she could only get away for a month before my Dad shriveled away from lack of Mimi’s Cooking.
Once again, I don’t think we could have survived without Mimi around. The day I came home with Lil Diva, The Tackler ran a fever. Two doctors visits later (the first one was worthless as fever was the only symptom at the time), we discovered he had croup.
We had to split up our duties. CG took The Tackler most of the time. I had Lil Diva and marathon nursing sessions. Mimi did everything else and subbed for us when we had to do other things. I hated having little contact with Tackler those first few days, for fear of getting sick and passing it on to my baby girl.
Without my mom, there would’ve been no food. No clean clothes. No sleep.
I cried when she left me with two children, dependent on their exhausted mom who had no idea how to meet both of their needs at the same time.
I’m still working on that.
When CG needed surgery last April, Mimi jumped at the opportunity to spend more time with us.
Once again, without her, I don’t know if I would’ve made it. Because CG was certainly in no shape to help. In fact, for several days it was like I had three children to take care of.
And Tackler was not happy that he lost his Daddy Toy.
Luckily, Mimi was there to help and fill in for Daddy.
Today, I’m closer with my mom than I have been in years. Seeing her bond with my children, makes me love her even more as MY mother. The power of her attention is almost drug-like, as my children bask in the warmth she gives them.
She left last Tuesday after a two week visit (for Lil Diva’s first birthday). My children have been More Difficult Than Usual since she left.
They miss the glow of Mimi and her undivided attention.
“I’m upset. I don’t want to talk because I’m really really upset.” The Tackler informed me after a successful potty deposit following his nap today. His lower lip jutted out and his brow furrowed.
“Why are you upset sweetie?”
“Because I miss Mimi. I want her to come back.”
Me too, buddy. Me too.
May I provide my children with all the unconditional love, support, and warmth that you have given and still provide me.
Despite our battles and conflicts of the past (and future, I’m sure), know that you have been one of the biggest influences in my life, and have helped mold me into the person I am today.
Without you I not only wouldn’t exist, but I would be a fraction, a missing piece, lacking some vitality that can only come from knowing that No Matter What I Do, I have a mother who loves me.
And that is the most priceless gift of all.
Know that I love you in the same way. You are My Mother. You are Mimi.
And if you are not my mother and have somehow lasted through reading this marathon blog, go and hug or call The One Who Started It All for you. Let them know that you love them as unconditionally as they love you.
If you have children, give them an extra kiss and a squeeze.
It couldn’t hurt.