All About My Mother
Here’s my sob story accompanied by violin in A minor: My parents divorced when I was two. Both remarried. My dad once and forever. My mom (She Who Shall Be Named Culpable) three more times. There was The Cop, The Fireman and The Shipping Magnate.
Depending on the marriage Mom and I lived in a 100-year old Spanish home in Claremont, a 70-foot sailboat in the Antioch Delta, a little shack on a creek in Larkspur, a 35-foot catch in Alameda and various apartments ranging from cinder block to marble stone.
She carried a 21 Bobcat Beretta in her purse (the cop), was briefly a nudist (the fireman) and became an honorary Italian who tippled martinis in jazz bars (the trumpet-playing shipping magnate).
She was movie-star beautiful, whip smart, volcanically emotional, tender-hearted and driven-to-the-brink-of-madness-by-men.
She left me in my dad and stepmom’s care when I was ten, intending to take me back when she recovered from divorcing the cop, but at some point there was no going back.
I saw her summers and holidays.I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of my mom. For about twenty years I blamed her for everything that was wrong in my life; specifically that I was driven-to-the-brink-of-madness by men (one of them a fireman and another the son of a cop. Dr. Freud? Calling Dr. Freud!).
I kept my mom at arm’s length for years because I was angry and never thought I’d need her again. Until now. Because sharing my daughters with my mom is one of the things that make me happiest. Turns out my mom is: A perfect Grandmother.
Today in the park I sat on the bench and watched her play in the sand with Clare and Bridget.
I am sick of the sand. And the monkey bars. And the swings. I am sick of all park things.(Oops, slipped into Seuss-rap).
From a distance I couldn’t tell what they were doing, but I noticed that several other children had gathered round and my mom was leading them into the bushes from whence they’d return carrying branches, leaves, bramble and rocks and cluster around their little piles in the sand.
Finally curiosity got the best of me and I stood and slogged over.
My mom had ten toddlers making a sand garden. Some kids were hoeing, some were planting, some were watering, pruning, weeding. They showed me which were “carrots” which were “ta-toes, peaths and ketch-up.”
I stood there with the other moms looking at this playground Co-op and remembered all the things my mom did right when I was a kid:
Kiss and hug me like I were a delectable dessert (probably chocolate in nature).
Make me bathe only when there was a ring of dirt around my neck.
Let me sneak the pork from her woeful pork n’ beans to our dog Max who’d eat his own poop.
Save honey bees from drowning in our swimming pool because she loved all animals, including insects with stingers, like they were human beings.
Give me pig-snuffles in my ear while putting me to bed at night.
Bray Swanee River horribly off-key when she washed my hair in the kitchen sink.
Remove a tic from my ear with the hot end of an extinguished match after a trip to Baja.
Dive with me like a monkey on her back through the wild, windswept waves on Henry’s Beach where she grew up in Santa Barbara.
And so many other things that are stored in my cells if not my memory.
It’s true her love affairs tore her apart, but she’s been married to The Shipping Magnate, Guido (yes, Guido) since I was thirteen; i.e. several millenia.
Guido had a massive stroke five years ago and my mom became his primary caregiver. Now she does everything for him that I do for my daughters. We’re living the same life, but while Clare and Bridget will grow up and become independent, Guido, who fought in World War II and commanded all shipping into Asia, will never walk or talk again.
So here I am in a new place, looking at this person who is my mother, transformed by the role of grandmother, I suppose as I’m transformed by the role of mother.
I can’t help but stop and wonder just how much my daughters will blame their mistakes and miseries on me? I can only hope that they too will have a daughter one day and forgive me.