Even if we have brothers and sisters, our parents are ours alone.
Time changes us all by itself, even if everything around us stays the same. And circumstances change us even more.
My parents were youngish (old for their era, but on the young end of trends among millennials). It was a new world for them: married only a year, a new house, new baby, new lifestyle. When I was a toddler, my dad would patiently sit under the dining table for “tea” with me. My mother read to me all the time.
By the time the kid count was up to four, our parents were no longer the easygoing couple they had been as newlyweds. You could say they were different people. Harried. Organization was not my mother’s forte. Plus, housekeeping was a full-time job–you couldn’t throw clothes in the washer; you had to stand there and run them through the ringer, then change the water for rinsing, then wring them out again. Then hang them on the line. Even in winter. I remember my dad’s overalls being frozen stiff. No disposable diapers. Imagine keeping up when you had to soak and ring out individual diapers while making sure four extremely exuberant, carefree/less charges stayed safe/didn’t burn down the house/didn’t launch WWIII.
All the same, I am sure my mom did read a lot to my younger siblings (I didn’t pay attention–I always had my own nose in a book and wouldn’t have bothered hearing baby stories). Books were her thing. Although she had to divide her attention among more kids, she was clear about loving us. When I would have nightmares, I would call for her, terrified to stick so much as a toe out of my bed, and she would drag herself out of her own sweet dreams to comfort me, rubbing my stomach until I fell back to sleep. How did she keep up with four of us?
When the nest was empty, my mom dove into genealogy with with gusto. My dad used to say, “your mother is digging up the dead.” She wanted not just names and dates, but all the details of ancestors’ lives. Then she put them into stories. She joined a writing group and warily let me read her submissions a few times. I was shocked. They were good. Even downright funny. Where was she hiding this person?!?!
Of course, we trained her to be serious. Everybody wants to have the cool, funny parents, but everybody finds that their own parents are neither cool nor funny no matter what they do or what anybody else thinks. Even Tina Fey’s kid came down on her. And Jerry Seinfeld’s. We tell our parents, “that’s not funny” or “don’t embarrass me” or “act normal.” And, because they love us more than life itself, they put away their personality and try to blend into the furniture for the sake of our fragile egos. Even my own kid sometimes scolds me, especially when it’s my turn at the wheel of the activities carpool: “Don’t say anything! Just drive.”My mom was shy by nature, never given to joking or clowning around. But there was a time when she would belt out “I Beg Your Pardon. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” whenever it came on the radio, which was hourly. We would groan and beg her to stop, that it wasn’t funny. Actually, now I wonder whether my siblings remember that–the youngest might have been too little. That’s what I mean by our parents being unique to each of their kids. Even in our shared experience, we had different ages and digested events in different ways.
I spent most of my life trying to be the complete opposite of my mom. I thought of her as weak, but eventually I discovered all the ways she was strong. And I found something in her I wanted to emulate: her parenting. Her unquestionable love, the way her kids were her unshakeable priority.
I miss her every day. If you are lucky enough to still have your mother around, give her a call, a hug. And laugh at her jokes.