-- My mother adored me. I was her midlife baby, and even though I had two teenage sisters, I grew up pretty much as an only child. They were both out of the house by the time my memories begin. My mom, Ruthie, was a stay-at-home mom, so we had plenty of time together, but I’m guessing I must have had time alone too, to think about things, because I had my own opinions and expressed them from a very early age.
Ruthie was a great seamstress and made me wonderful pinafore dresses, jumpers, sock dolls, and the best princess costume ever. She sewed us mother and daughter dresses that we wore on our summer walks along the New Jersey Boardwalk. She praised my rhyming poetry and my homemade greeting cards. And certainly she defended me when my grown sisters claimed she was spoiling me.
Truth is I was never spoiled with material possessions (yes, I had a Patti Playpal, a Hula Hoop, and a transistor radio, but not one of those bedrooms furnished in poofy pink carpets and spreads) but rather with love. I never for a minute doubted my mother’s devotion to me.
After my father passed away, when I was 13, Ruthie and I became even more of a unit. The two of us, now independent, could come and go as we pleased. Of course she took a job to support us and I did my best in school, but if we wanted to stay up late and watch Woody Allen movies on TV, we did. If we wanted to have bread and cheese with a little honey wine for dinner, no one could tell us not to. My mother always said that having me kept her young.
During those years, I was a good girl. It was the late ’60s when I was finishing high school. Mother had a simple request, “Please don’t smoke any of that stuff,” at least until I left home. That was no problem. But times were changing and I couldn’t wait to leave my hometown and head off to college. I wanted to meet new people and talk about the kinds of things I was hearing on late-night radio, WBAI, WFMU. There was obviously more going on in the world than what was available in my New Jersey town.
And once I left home, I never really came back. In the early ’70s people were not in touch on a moment-to-moment or everyday basis. You could go weeks without calling home, and if a parent called the pay phone on your dormitory floor, the chances of reaching you were very low. I never stopped to think about how my leaving might have affected my mom. Sure, she had asked my sister and brother-in-law to take me to college that first time because she didn’t think she could bear it, but my outlook was really all about me. What I wanted to do, where life would lead me. I remember coming home on one of my first school breaks and berating my mom for some of the incorrect values she had instilled in me. I made her cry but I was just trying to show her I was growing up and thinking for myself.
I was pretty independent except when I occasionally got into trouble and needed her help. I spent a few college summers with her but I was only a visitor. Once I graduated, I was out on my own or with whomever I was with at the time. I stayed in touch with Ruthie but never felt an obligation to her. I loved her, she loved me, and as far as I was concerned, all was good.
But now that I am a mother with a daughter out of the house, the shoe is on the other foot, as they say. With a new perspective, I realize how much of herself my mother gave me and how I took it all as what was naturally coming to me: love, support, adoration. I’m sure I gave love back, but never an amount equal to what was given — how could I? I was way too young to appreciate the full picture, and sadly I lost my mother before I was 30, before I married and before I gave birth to my own child, the child I love unconditionally and who on occasion tells me I’m a gooney bird or insane when I give advice or express my opinion.
As modern mothers do, I put a lot of time, love, and effort into raising her. It started with many hours spent carrying her around the city in that little chest pouch, pushing her in the carriage, and finally holding her hand walking to and from school. As she grew older there were so many talks about friends, plans, life! From the moment she could talk, I enjoyed my daughter’s company because even as a little one she was cool, bright, and perceptive, and I became dependent on the joy she brought to my daily life. It was torture when she first went away to school, but I have work, a loving husband, and a life of my own.
Still, as she is spreading her wings I selfishly miss her company. She has a job, an apartment, and a community of friends. We talk often and she shares details of her life and sometimes asks for advice, but it hurts a little bit to know I am only in the background and not really a full part of her new life, which is, of course, as it needs to be now, all about her.
The other day as I was out running, thoughts passing freely through my mind, I realized something true and basic about being a mother. A mother gives unconditional love to her child and the child basks in this love. This love moves in one direction, from mother to child. It’s love that’s passed on from one generation to the next. My mother adored me, and in the very same way, I adore my child. My daughter loves me too, no doubt about it, but not in the all-encompassing way that I, as a mother, love her. God willing, when it’s her turn she’ll pass it on.