Oh Mother!

Margaret Tearman’s bright idea for Bay Weekly’s annual Mother’s Day story has kept me chuckling since its light popped on in her brain months ago. In the instant of illumination, she wrote her Mother Made Me essay, and that was all it took to sell me on the idea.
    The Bay Weekly family of writers reacted the same way. Within minutes after I sent out the call for stories on that theme, I had five early reservations and one completed story.
    As well as giggling at Margaret’s telling, I’ve smiled, laughed and pondered over the 10 other tales — and in one case, a writer’s daughter — who responded to our call.
    I’m betting you’ll enjoy them as much as I have, for their own sake, for the comparison they make to your own life — and for the train of memory they fire up in your head.
    That’s how a good story works. Even as you savor it, your unconscious (or is it your subconscious? I’m always getting them confused, and if you can sort me out, I’ll be grateful) starts telling your own stories. Holding stories up side by side to see where they’re alike and where different is how we learn about life. And in this case, mothering.
    Me, I’d never been much of a believer in Mother Knows Best.
    As I was a docile, agreeable child (that’s how I remember me, and nobody’s around to say otherwise), Mother didn’t have many occasions to lay down the law. When she did, I tried to abide by it, though even then I knew the big, full skirts she selected did not become me. Mostly, I got to do as I wanted, which may have been why I was agreeable.
    Of course I now know Mother’s ways were seeping in by osmosis. I couldn’t beg to differ at my oldest friend’s judgment just last week that the older I get, the more I get like my mother. Dear friend Linda was, I thought, stating the case mildly, though I could hear that smidgen of ruefulness in her tone. From the start of our friendship as 14-year-old, first-year high schoolers mad about baseball, Linda and my mother each knew the other had life all wrong.
    When you’re a teen, it’s easier to hear your mother criticized than your best friend.
    As a teen, I was no longer docile or agreeable. By the time I got licensed to drive, I’d grown smart enough to know that Mother’s values were all wrong, and mine were all right. About this time, Mother started trying to tell me what to do, and our Italian tempers (hers full and mine half) crashed like a cold front hitting a stable, warm air mass. Storms ensued.
    For years, off and on for decades, Mother Did Not Know Best.
    Rather, my mother didn’t.
    For not long out of my teens, I became Mother. As Mother, I followed the style of Queen Elizabeth. I, not II. I not only knew best, I knew absolutely. For husband Bill and sons Lexey and Nat to doubt me was against the natural order.
    They not only doubted but defied. Saturday mornings — when chores followed cereal with early television — became a war zone. Worse, Bill taught them to laugh out loud at me. He’d tackle me, and they’d all three plus the dog, Slip Mahoney (who is another story), pile on and tickle me.
    So I read these Mother’s Day stories with mixed reactions. My recollection homes like a Smart Missile on indignities Mother heaped on me, like sending me to Patricia Stevens’ Modeling School by bus on Saturday mornings when I was 13.
    At the same time, my consciousness expands. I am moved and awed learning how Dennis Doyle’s mother headed her sons into success, at how Janice Lynch Schuster’s mother guided her out of the depths of loss. At how my mother, Elsa Olivetti Martin, gave me what I needed most when my need was greatest — side by side with the loads of junk that came at other times.
    In the demanding role of Mother, that is, I think, doing the job well. I hope it’s the standard I’ll be judged by.
    These stories have given me lots of fun, and lots of thought. Now it’s your turn.