Friday, May 6, 2011

The Mother I Cannot Call on Mother's Day

There comes a point, in the process of falling in love, when it’s time to get down to brass tacks. You somehow have to get the difficult questions into the conversation, to figure out what it is, exactly, you’re getting yourself into. Taking advantage of a lull, you might press tongue to upper lip and look toward the sky as though a random question can be found there. So, um, what does a professor get paid exactly? How many children do you have? Any diseases I should know about?

And perhaps most important of all, for a woman, What kind of mother did you have, growing up?

“Flawless,” my husband-to-be answered, in a flash.

This was bad. The poor guy with the flawless mother was never going to find that again, most especially not in me. I’m not saying he or all men are trying to resolve an Oedipus Complex with their selection of partner, not at all  --  but for them a mother seems to set a certain baseline standard for what an adult woman is. I could have been a huge improvement over Depressed Alcoholic Mother, or Trapped Emotionally Distant Mother. Smother Mother would have been great, as I only rarely develop the clinginess of a baby monkey. But just my luck. “Flawless.”

Worst of all for me, she really was. Her Southern upbringing was evident in every word that she said, in that slow, comforting, throaty drawl that, really, who couldn’t love? Tall and regal, she had just the most perfect frame on which to hang 1950s fashion. Picture June Cleaver, except born and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee  --  for real. She was quiet and strong. Messes were cleaned up before the children looked over their shoulders to notice them, and she was reliable as the constant flow of new mornings since the dawn of time. Always found precisely where she was supposed to be. If Mama was not waiting at the bus stop as expected when the children got off, they freaked --  surely some terrible fate had befallen mankind and they were now standing on an evil alternative planet. For a whole lifetime, she steadfastly continued to wear classy, understated skirts and heels, preserving her boy’s vision of motherly loveliness decades and decades into his adulthood.

Well, I am tall.

* * *
Doug’s mother is 85 years old, and has Alzheimer’s Disease. Much of who she is has been torn asunder. I want to cry when I think about it; I want to give her back "flawless." The magnificent managerial skills she had that kept her family's world running so smoothly for so long. Those who never have experienced Alzheimer’s in their families may not know: suffering is involved. Sometimes. It is not a disease that, “thank heavens,” takes the patient’s every conscious understanding away, so that he or she at least does not know what is happening. She has waking nightmares terrifying as any that anyone could imagine, without even a small child’s capability to realize she is awake and the dream is not real.

Her husband of 60 years, Doug’s father, is able to provide her with the very best of care. It is no small relief that we can trust in his complete devotion to her. That is a gift, from a father.

We can’t be in Doug's hometown on Mother’s Day, but I wanted to send this message in a bottle out into the virtual world. Much of who Doug’s mother is has been torn asunder, but the essence of her can always be found, even now. If she has difficult moments or even hours, the girl raised up with Knoxville manners will be back. Her blue eyes will crinkle again with a childlike joy that she has always had, in the company of her family, regardless of whether she recognizes us. She will fold her hands characteristically, quietly, in her lap, then lift one in a sideways motion swiping the air, as if to say, oh, you! The deep pitch and roll of her Southern drawl remains. Above all, the woman sitting in her chair in the nursing home is, and will always be, a mother. Nothing, but nothing, can take that away.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Not One For The Girls?

Today I face more than the usual trepidation staring at this blank page, which is staring back like a white-painted board ready to come out of the screen and clock me on the forehead.

First, fun as writing my last blog was, it seemed to have left me needing more than the usual recovery time. Then, the week’s events galloped away at breakneck speed, leaving me tied up in a stirrup, clanging along behind, sorting through the miles and miles of ideas with my face bouncing in the dirt. Idea-generation went something like this: Ow, no; ow, no; ow, no, not that one either ...  (To recap the week’s events, first there was a Royal Wedding and a sudden market for real rotten tomatoes to fill a void in the virtual world, that may yet bring nanotechnology into the present. Then, an EF3 tornado a few miles from my home killed three people and gravely injured many, many others. Then, the death of Osama Bin Laden. Enough said on that one.)

So imagine just how meekly I approach you, dear reader, and request that we return to the subject of the Royal Wedding. (Holy Mary, Mother of Nanotechnology, please protect me from future rotten tomatoes.) In the interest of not pushing weak stomachs and delicate sensibilities too far, I will keep my hypothesis short.

My question to all those who had a strong visceral reaction to the Royal Wedding is this:  If you loathed it strangely much, as though Justin Bieber were headlining, could it have been because it was too female? Maybe too gay? The kind of event little girls dream of ensconced in their pink canopy beds, and to which people like Alexander McQueen devote lifetimes of artistry and passion?

I am aware of all the good arguments that could be used to disagree with this inference, involving symbolism, imperialism, and a lot of dollar figures that, I suspect, would balance out in favor of local economies and small businesses, if the analyses were completely done. But these arguments were more rarely used than the “compare this wedding to so much other more important news” complaint  --  a postulation that has always failed a test of logic, in my opinion. I suspect if people really thought about it, many would sit back on their heels at the idea misogyny and other kinds of “hating” were largely the origins, somewhere, for so much disgust.

The response to the wedding reminded me often of a social networking backlash some months ago, involving Breast Cancer Awareness. Fulfilling a secret, online pact, women posted where they kept their purses using a prescribed innuendo. Mine went like this:  “I like it hanging from hardware specially installed on the wall.” The mystery of the meme would be solved at some later date  --  the “awareness” part of the equation. It took some time for the anger that followed to find its voice, to evolve into something that could become a counter-meme. At first men were curious, asking “what are these women up to?” Then, many were pissed, the vitriol sounding quite misogynistic. Finally the reaction caught on when the message sounded more reasonable, suggesting people do something “for real” to benefit breast cancer victims instead. Logic failure again: the purpose was to raise awareness, and the effort was working off-the-charts better than any billboards and brochures campaign that money could ever buy. (Note there was no such wholesale backlash for “Turn Your Profile Picture Purple” in support of gay rights  --  the real reason would be too obvious  --  or dozens and dozens of other attempts to use the status update to promote understanding.) All I could hear in the breast cancer backlash was, “Women, get back in your proper places.”

The wedding was breathtaking, from an artistic point of view. Color, scale, symmetry, all spectacularly executed --  yes, the parts of my brain- and heart- neural pathways that respond to beauty lit up like fireworks in the sky. I make no apologies. And if anyone dares ask for my participation in a future breast cancer awareness campaign, I will do it. I may be the only one, after that last slap to countless women’s faces, but I will. I love a good wedding, and I love to refuse to get back in my place.