My mother’s spiritual home is New York. She hustles through the spontaneous choreography of the city’s streets utterly joyful in its energy, relishing the swish of divergent fashion, languages and ages. It called to her as a child when she went to visit her aunts. An oasis for her from her geographical home in the “safe’ 1950s Greenridge section of Scranton. New York was a universe where no one who her family, where she wasn’t defined by gender roles, where there existed many paths to one’s authentic self. She left for the city as a young woman.
My mother was the black sheep of the family. Her childhood career dreams were becoming a cowboy or mountain man. Instead of playing with dolls she pretended she was a doctor and performed surgery on her stuffed panda. She wanted to shovel snow sidewalks to earn money but wasn’t allowed.
And on the surface, it may appear my mother ended up on that more traditional path. She has been married the same man almost years, had two children and ended up in a nursing career that probably wasn’t the best fit for her personality because in her era there was not much open to women. But this is not the full story. She married my father because in addition to his intelligence, genuineness and poetic sensibilities he was open minded and understood her need to be independent. She was the more practical and non-emotional figure, solving problems and handling the finances. She found a passion for the psychiatric part of nursing where she could study and try to understand the mind. And my mother honestly followed her own callings. Not having the same love of Ireland as my father they often took separate vacation. When she retired she didn’t waste any time to follow her dreams of traveling more and has visited ranging from China Cambodia.
My mother is the freest person I know. I am always in awe of how she moves so confidently in the world. She talks to anyone and can get them to open up. She is comfortable walking into a high-end designer shop or a biker bar. She doesn’t suffer from those trappings that befall many of us: expectations, comparisons, worries about what other people think or the FOMO in the Facebook era. And while she did not necessarily get to have the complete life of travel and adventure and a career better suited to her if she took a different path, regrets don’t consume her. She loves her family and appreciates the richness of her life as it has unfolded. She taught me how important it is to have gratitude is and made sure I sent thank you notes for everything, a practice I carried into adulthood.
If I get my writing ability, love of the outdoors and emotional sensitivities from my father, I get my love of adventure, proclivity for intellectualism and interest in psychology from my mothers. She didn’t believe in sheltering children from the shadow side of life. We were read the real Grimm’s Fairy tales growing up with all their darkness, as when Cinderella’s step sisters slice off their heels to try to fit into the slipper. My childhood was filled with art. She took me to the Metropolitan Museum starting when I was two and expressing myself creatively was encouraged. And always my Mom singing is a part of the soundtrack of my life. Everything from Madame Butterfly, Civil War battle songs, country music, Gospel, Joan Baez, ABBA and Kanye West. She can often be found at the Bog on Monday night breaking into song.
Some people stereotype older adults as a population who know nothing about technology, youth culture or who have a limited recreational life. My mother was one of the first people to have an iPad and always wants to learn about the latest dating apps. Just this past Christmas we sat around with our family and friends talking and my mom said mentioned something about K-pop. She attends the Electric City Tattoo Convention every year. She volunteers with elementary kids, gives dream interpretation workshops and visits all of the latest restaurants and bars. She is an inspiration to many people and has counseled many of my friends through crises.
Mothers and daughters remain mysteries to each other. The daughter trying to understand that fate that brought their mother to this most intimate and consuming of roles. The mother humbled and awed by process of a daughter grow up and become her own person. If they are lucky and have a good relationship they meet in the middle and I am happy we have. My moods are volatile and I am disorderly. My mother the opposite cool, practical and able to leave things behind. She has witnessed my roller coaster moods throughout my life, often baffled and frustrated. She is constantly telling me to close my purse so my wallet doesn’t fall out. And yet she has also been my biggest spiritual guide. Starting in college and through my difficult twenties, she started sending me articles she would find to help me. I kept in something I called “My Spiritual Binder.” She still counsels me from everything from dealing with difficult people to my own often distorted thoughts.
Language is always a flawed tool to capture reality, especially a human life, which we can only observe from a limited angle. But it is all I have, and if my mother has taught me anything it’s “don’t wait. “The present is all we have. So this is my attempt at a thank you note, incomplete in its description but complete in its gratitude. Happy Birthday Mom!!!