100th birthday, assignments, boy, childless, Christmas cookies, conscience, cooking, counseling, crying, dad, daughter, deterioration of health, domestic quarrel, dressed in mother's clothes, drunk driving, girl, giving birth, Great Depression, Holidays, homeless, homemaker, Hungarian, Husband, in memory, labor pains, marital bliss, Mommies are special, mommy's little helper, mother, mother-child relationship, mourning, New York City, Ohio, personal sacrifice, picnics, pregnancy, rape, Reformed Church, role model, sadness, salads, selfish, son, spousal abuse, stay-at-home mom, Transsexual, will to live
My mom would have been 100 years old today. She made it to 88. For her final two months, the nurses would tell me that they didn’t know what was keeping her alive.
I have an idea what it might have been. When she was born, it was a particularly cold winter in NE Ohio. She was a tiny child born to a poor immigrant Hungarian family. She had two older brothers, but other siblings died in infancy. The doctors didn’t think that she would make it, either. They sent for the pastor of the Hungarian Reformed Church, so that my mom could be baptized.
But she demonstrated a will to live. The doctors misjudged by 88 years and 8 months. That will persisted even for a few months when she told me that she was ready to go home and join my dad. In her lifetime, she had watched her mother brutalized by an alcoholic father, took care of her 9 year old sister on her own when she was still in high school and her mother (now divorced) came to New York City to find work during the depression, endured times of being homeless, kept going after being raped, scrimped and saved and sacrificed so that her husband and her two children could wear nice clothes in public, those children eventually graduating from college (and one child, me, also going to private school in grades 6-12).
By the time she was my age, she was dealing with a number of infirmities: frequent headaches, a nervous stomach, glaucoma, three hernias, broke the same elbow twice, had gall bladder problems for years until it was removed, mobility issues during her last few years, plus the usual aches and pains that come with aging. She hung on through all those conditions. Her body had persevered through so much, when it was time to let go, she was almost too stubborn to die!
My mom wasn’t perfect. I mentioned in my previous blog post that she let me down when it came to my relationship with the person I married. But when she caught me in her clothes the only time I ever dressed in my parents’ house, she was remarkably enlightened for the 1960’s in terms of not punishing me and not bringing my dad in to beat masculinity into me. She was a stay-at-home mom, always there when I came home from school. She was the one who was in my corner when I wanted to go to private school and when I started my career as a stockbroker. We could talk about almost anything together and I could disagree as long as I was respectful of the fact that she was the parent. And as I got closer to my teen years, we began to work beautifully together in the kitchen whenever there was a major cooking project to do: salads and other side dishes for picnics we hosted, holiday dinners or those wonderful platters of Christmas cookies. Oh, and when she got older, we would make stuffed cabbage together. She would tell other people that she would rather work with me in the kitchen than anyone else. I was as happy to hear that as when I would get an A in school or have a great game or earn a big commission. I loved both of my parents, but she was my role model.
As might be expected, my mom and my relationship with her were brought up a few times in my counseling. In honor of the 100th anniversary of her birth, I am sharing some of that today.
[Written May 29, 2012 – this conversation with my mom never actually happened; it is my recollection of a composite of how I internalized my mom as the voice of my conscience and conflict]
How dare you?
I want to be a girl. I should be a girl.
Why are you so ungrateful? Mommy and Daddy had to sacrifice a lot so that you can have all the things you have: your own room in a nice house; plenty of food to eat; clean clothes. If you had gone through the depression like we did, then you would know the meaning of want. Until we were married, Daddy had to give almost all of his paycheck to Grandpa and Grandma because Grandpa couldn’t work anymore. There was a time when he had to take a pay cut just to keep his job. All the people where he worked had to do that. And there were many nights when I had to sleep in the subway and didn’t know where my next meal was going to come from.
But there’s nothing wrong with being a girl. Why can’t I be a girl? I’d rather be a girl than a boy.
You are just being selfish. Think of all the starving children in China.
But I want to be your girl and grow up just like you, Mommy. Wouldn’t you want a daughter like [Aunt A____ and Aunt H____] have?
If I had a daughter, I would have named you Linda and I would have been happy to have a daughter. But God gave me you, and I am proud that you are my son. I wouldn’t change a thing. You shouldn’t want to, either.
[Written for the same counseling assignment, in this dialogue I am a bit older and the conversation is with my self as my conscience.]
Whose side are you on, anyway?
[Note: about halfway through writing this internal dialogue, I got a bit emotional and teary-eyed.]
(My parents didn’t have major fights often. Both exceptions involved my dad drinking too much at a family wedding and then wanting to drive all of us home. The first one happened in September 1960, when I was not quite 8, so I don’t remember as many details from that one. The second one was the summer of 1964 and I was going on 12. I knew my Mom was doing it to protect me, so in some way she was my hero. But at the same time I felt a little embarrassed, because members of my extended family witnessed it and it seemed like they were judging my mom negatively because of it.)
It feels good to take Mommy’s side.
You’re a traitor. You should be on the boy’s side.
Mommy wants me on her side.
Mommy tells you to be a good boy. You’re a boy.
Mommy likes it when I help her. She says that I am a good helper.
But she still calls you a boy, not a girl.
Mommy got mad at me for talking to Daddy when they were fighting. She accused me of talking to the enemy.
You know she didn’t mean that. Mommy and Daddy made up, right?
But I felt bad when she said that to me. I didn’t like her calling Daddy the enemy. But I didn’t like betraying Mommy either. I love Mommy. I want to be like her. I want to be a Mommy.
You’re a boy. Boys become Daddies, not Mommies. Everyone says how smart you are. You do well in school. Mommy is proud of how well you do in school. Daddy is proud of how well you do in school. He gives you a reward when you bring home a good report card. You are supposed to go to school and then get a job, get married and become a Daddy.
Can’t I get a job and be a Mommy? Some women do that these days. And it doesn’t feel right to date a girl.
No boy is going to ask you for a date. You are a boy, not a girl. You’re a boy. Boys become Daddies, not Mommies. You’re supposed to like girls, not be one. Boys become Daddies, not Mommies. <echo & fade>
What’s so special about being a Mommy:
[Note: I cry during part of this. I think that I have finally mourned my mother’s death. It took over 8 years.]
Mommies tuck you in at night.
Mommies make you feel better when you are sick or hurt yourself.
Mommies discipline you but tell you that they love you when they do it and that it hurts them more than it hurts you.
Mommies tell you that they love you even when you get mad at them and say “I hate you” to them.
Mommies make nice things to eat including special treats.
Mommies put you ahead of themselves.
Mommies make Christmas and birthdays special.
Mommies know when you are upset and try to make you feel better.
Mommies are always there for you.
I want to be a Mommy.
[Written January 22, 2013 – this was not for an assignment. I was already living full-time. It was something I realized and wanted to discuss at a session.]
Sadness at being childless
The sad thing for me is that I will never know the joy of giving birth to a child. That first moment when you feel something you have never felt before and an ancient instinct is repeated once again, letting you know there is a new life inside of you. You may go to a doctor or get a home pregnancy test to confirm it, but somehow you know. It is your honor to carry that life inside of you, nurturing it with the fruits of your own body, protecting it like the precious jewel it is, taking better care of yourself than you ever have before in the knowledge that anything you do to your body affects your baby, the flesh of your flesh, and yet at the same time not even trying to understand any weird cravings you might be having, deciding your body knows better what it needs than your conscious mind does. And the sacrifices you make! Your figure, your comfort, your mobility, perhaps some of your favorite activities and your freedom, large chunks of your wardrobe, and even (you feel a little foolish for thinking this) the ability to see your own toes. Finally the ultimate sacrifice, your willingness to experience the pangs of childbirth as you exert your body to its limits, knowing that you will never be quite this close again to your child, but it is the first of many times when you will need to let go.
If you have chosen well, your husband is by your side, sharing the joy of the life you have created together, knowing that now and for many years to come if your child is kept safe and healthy, you will be sharing the responsibility of nurturing that child through the stages of childhood until you have to let go once more to release your child into the adult world. You look up at your husband, seeing the look of love and admiration on his face as he looks at you and your baby nestled in your arms. You are so proud to be his wife and you know that the love you had for him as you were courting and in the honeymoon period of your marriage is now stronger, deeper and more mature. You love the strength, protection and provision he brings into your life and the life of your family, and you know the feminine qualities you bring in return to make his life better, more balanced and more complete. If, while in the grip of the worst labor pains, you felt a moment of anger toward him for putting you through that pain, those thoughts have vanished and you silently thank him for choosing you to be his wife, knowing that this meant it would be you to whom he would give his seed so you were able to experience this blessed event.
He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD. – Psalm 113:9