Image by cleopatra69 via Flickr"A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary." ~ Dorothy Fisher
This is what my mother did for me, and she did it early in my life. I was never destined to camp out in my parents' home throughout my twenties and thirties, as many young people seem to blissfully do today. Some of these "kids" don't even bother helping out monetarily with rent or groceries or helping out around the house. They communicate with their parents only when they need something - an iPod, a computer, a car. Most of my friends who find themselves catering to children who are dug in like ticks, live their lives for tomorrow.... "I'll be happy when "Jake" can go out and find a job and afford his own place." Until then (whenever that will be, since it's up for Jake to decide) no cruise to Alaska, no holiday in Tuscany, no candy apple Porsche for Daddy.
These folks have put many dreams and desires on hold in order to raise children. It was my mom who showed me the truth of motherhood, after she had six of us and realized that she hadn't wanted children in the first place. There was a point when she just stepped back and stopped doing everything for us. She allowed us to figure out how to do it for ourselves.
I appear in this month's Psychology Today (January 2010). Mine is the first story in a photographic essay entitled "Mommy Damnedest." After coming across the piece, a woman from Minnesota wrote me an email asking for a few more details about my mom and my upbringing. When I told her I had not yet seen the article, she was kind enough to scan it and send it to me. It was a little unsettling to see how everything I had talked to the reporter about in an interview of at least an hour had been whittled down to the most "sensational" of quotes. My mom came off a bit uncaring and callous.
The kind woman from Minnesota shared her thoughts: I guess I was drawn to your story and that article for a few reasons: one, as a school psychologist, I thought: Oh, if only those people would have received the mental health services they so desperately needed," plus obvious warning signs of depression and/or other mental illness that were missed, etc. etc. Another reason I was drawn to it was as a daughter, I feel like my own relationship with my mother was complicated, but seriously ~ kid stuff in comparison. And finally, as a mother, frankly it's comforting to know that even though I am not perfect and my little ones try my patience, at least I'm not THAT bad.
What had my mother done that was so bad, you may wonder?
She called up a reporter with the Detroit Free Press and explained to him that she was tired of doing everything for eight people. She was retiring from motherhood. Her story hit the front page of the Women's Section on Mother's Day of 1974.
I wasn't surprised to see the article, really. There'd been a run-up to that moment of many years as my mom had banged her head against the glass ceiling before people even acknowledged that one existed. She wanted to return to work and had been a nurse prior to marrying my dad and having six children. When she jotted down "mother" on the job application forms, she was dismissed by every Human Resources person in the city. This really pissed her off. Her point was that all the work she had performed as a mother was perceived as worthless by social standards.
My dad sometimes used to joke that "You couldn't get out fast enough" when I left home at 18 to pursue college. And then a couple of years later I hitchhiked to California with about a hundred dollars in my pocket, intent on forging a future as a writer. There were a few scary moments. I was homeless for a brief period of time in San Francisco until I could find work and earn enough money for rent. I became "street-wise," learning how to read people and avoid dangerous situations. If it were not for my amazing typing skills (120 words a minute) and the ensuing secretarial jobs I found, who knows what I might have done? (Thanks Mom, for encouraging me to take a typing class at high school over the summer, and for buying me a typewriter - a Smith Corona, if I remember correctly).
Some will cast my mother in a dark light for not being a stellar example of motherhood. That she was not cast in the mold of a perfect mother does not bother me. Neither was I, except I thankfully did not have to take a path I did not want to tread, just because society dictated that I must. My mother was not so fortunate. At least she did not react to it the way poets Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton did; both asphyxiated to death by their own hand. No, my mom stood and fought social mores, and she stood alone in her fight. Even now, 35 years later, she may catch a little flak about this Psychology Today article but if I know her, she will revel in it, as she still thrives on controversy and proudly stands up for her beliefs.