Sunday, May 08, 2011

Things my mother taught me...

Let me tell you about my mom, her name is Naomi. Mom is a kind, compassionate, and giving person. She wouldn't blink an eye to help the people she cares about. If you need her help, she'll do the best to help you, within reason. But trust me, if you screw her over, she will never lift a finger to help you again. She's got a heart of gold but she also knows her limit.

Mom is a true tree hugger but not in a radical sense. She knows there's a fine balance necessary for the coexistence between man and nature. She enjoys nature, believes it serves a purpose to our existence and she wants to keep what we've got so future generations can enjoy it. Mom loves animals and rescues them whenever they are in injured or in danger. Birds are her favorite but she's rescued squirrels, raccoons, turtles, cats, dogs and other kinds of critters over the course of her life. It's something she was born to do.

My mom is a fantastic writer with a great imagination, she used to write short stories all the time when we were younger. Her stories were as good as anything Spielberg has directed or King has written. Her stories "Wings" and "The Caretaker" are timeless classics and I still remember them to this day after having read them more than 25 years ago.

Mom was always an advocate, since she was a young girl. She's the girl who would sit with the black kids on the bus to show solidarity with them during the 60's when America was fighting racial segregation. A few years after we moved from Miami to the country in North Central Florida, mom was given her own column in a small rural local paper. Back then she was in her late thirties and she was on a mission, partly to fight injustice in a small town and perhaps part of it to assert herself and define who she was, which is common at a certain age in life. Having always been an advocate for the little guy and one to defend those who cannot defend themselves, she never had any problem coming out against injustice and the "establishment". Never one to give in to criticism, mom was fueled by the occasional idiotic letter to the editor bashing her for her views just because she was Jewish or an "outsider".

Mom is a logical, common sense person. She's a die-hard Democrat but she has no problem voting Republican if the right one comes along. I remember she even praised George Bush a few times! Her father was a Teamster and her husband was a member of the AFL-CIO so she knows how unions work, yet she's no fan of union corruption so she isn't swayed by Democrat logic. What sways her is the person, not the party.  If you don't like her vote, she'll let you know she doesn't give a damn what you think!

Mom always put her family first. Back in the 70's she enjoyed being home when we kids got home from school but as we got older she went back to work. She hated being gone all day because she really enjoyed taking care of the household, her husband and three kids. It was a lot of work but mom was a natural at it. Every night when she and dad came home from work, she would proceed to cook a huge meal for the five of us, clean house, and get laundry going. I am not sure when she slept. It wasn't until years later when I became an adult with a number of responsibilities I often wondered how mom did it all. I don't have kids and I think about how I'm glad I don't because where would I find the time or energy? Somehow mom did it all, we just never realized back then how much she really did for us.

In my family, my dad was generally the assertive and aggressive one while mom was the passive placater. She was by no means weak, but her personality wasn't as dominant as dad's. They fought like every couple, and dad was definitely a dominant personality, but they balanced each other out. Many times when dad's temper flared or he was angry about something, mom was able to calm him down and get him to see the other side of things. Mom kept our household balanced.Only in her later years when we were adults did mom's more assertive side come out. Come to find out that mom had always had an assertive side but it stayed hidden for many years. Mom always had a voice and a mouth and was never afraid to use either one of them.

It wasn't until dad died in March 2009 that mom's independence of her youth began to re-emerge. Gone was the woman we'd all been afraid might collapse from heartbreak after dad's passing, and here emerged the mom who had always been independent, authoritative woman who knows what is best for her and does what she wants to do for herself. I guess when you get married, sometimes pieces of your personality may subside in an effort to balance out the relationship. You can't have two overly assertive and aggressive personalities fighting for dominance (trust me, I live with that every day and it's difficult as hell!). Mom's independence flared when it was time for it to do so, and she hasn't looked back since. I'm really proud of mom for being able to take care of herself and emerge from losing dad, her partner of 43 years, and stand on her own. She is very brave and we are proud of her.

Mom has always lived in close proximity to her mother. While I was able to break away from my parents at the age of 18, mom always lived near hers, never being more than a few hours by car. Mom's mother is in her 90's now and lives next door. Sometimes they get on each other's nerves as my grandmother, as wonderful as she is, is a dominating personality, much like her mother and grandmother before her. They were tough Italian and Sicilian women. Dad was always the buffer between mom and grandma. He had no problem telling everyone to "shut up" LOL and take a seat when things got heated. Dad always worried grams would drive mom crazy when he died but you know mom has really proven him wrong.  Mom stands up to grams now and doesn't let that guilt complex get to her. And let me tell you the women in this family are soooo good at the guilt thing, they can do it without even trying, really it's like a gift.  I'm proud of my mom for standing up to her mom and showing that at 65 and widowed she is still able to take care of herself and doesn't need to be nagged or guilted into doing anything she doesn't want to do.

So now that you know something about my mom let me tell you what she taught me. Now, much of what I learned from my mom weren't things that she sat down and told me, on the contrary, we never had those kind of talks where mom sat me down and said "ok this is how you do this" or "this is how you do that" rather she taught me by example. I watched how she lived her life over the period of 65 years and looking back I have learned a great deal. I am sure there were times she wasn't intending to teach me anything, but regardless, I learned something anyway just by watching or listening.

My mom taught me to read when I was three years old. My exceptional reading skills were evident to all my teachers at a very young age and my reading comprehension led me to be an excellent speller, going to state competitions twice when I was a kid. Even today I can't get enough of reading and I drive people crazy with my anal-retentiveness over spelling! :)

Mom taught me good penmanship. And now that I'm older I notice my handwriting is nearly exactly the same as hers even though I write with my right hand and she with her left.

My mom taught me how to write, how to use words to make people think. My greatest gift, my writing, I  owe all to her.

Mom taught me to love animals and nature. She taught me compassion to help injured and suffering animals. I can't help rescuing some poor creature because it's what I learned from her. It's in my blood.

Mom taught me compassion and kindness. She taught me not to turn my back on people who need my help.

Mom taught me the art of mediation. Like her, I am a born placater and I thrive on bringing "warring factions" together and finding middle ground. Like mom, I'm a peacemaker.

Mom taught me to not be afraid to voice my opinion. And oh boy sometimes she must roll her eyes at that because I take it to the extreme and beyond sometimes. Mom taught me to fight for the "little guy" and fight corruption and injustice. Mom taught me that you don't have to hide behind anonymity, that it's ok to put your name on it and run with it. Don't be afraid to speak your mind, what do you care what others think? What matters is what you think of yourself.

Mom taught me it's ok for us to forgive ourselves for stupid mistakes we made in our lives. We all do stupid things we later regret but what's the point of beating ourselves up over it? What's done is done. We can't change the past but we can change the future.

Mom taught me never to rely on anyone but myself. Oh it's nice to have people you can count on, but you have to be able to take care of yourself first before you can take care of anyone else.

Mom taught me about the value of friendship. How many people do you know who have the same best friend after nearly 50 years? Well mom and June have been best friends since they were in high school. And though they went for extended periods not being in touch, just because life got in the way, when they picked up the phone it was like no time had passed at all. Mom taught me a true friend doesn't give a crap about what kind of job you have, how much money you make, how you dress, what you look like, they only care about what's in your heart. 

Finally, mom taught me it's ok to be me that it doesn't matter what others think of me, what matters is what I think of myself. She taught me that family will always love you, even when you screw up. She taught me that no matter what I do in this life, there will always be people who love me and care about me even in my darkest days. Whether those people are family or friends, what matters is that the ones who truly care about you will always be there when you need them, never asking for anything in return and she was right.

Thanks mom for putting up with me for the last 41 years. Thanks for not telling dad a lot of the really stupid things I did that he would have driven him crazy.  Thanks for driving me to and from summer school and for letting me quit that one year I didn't want to go. Thanks for the times you were trying to teach me a lesson and I didn't quite get it. Thanks for buying me pretty little frilly dresses and shiny black patent leather shoes to wear when I was in elementary school. Thanks for the barbie dolls, fashion plates, and girlie things you bought me. Thanks for the Black Beauty book and all the great books you gave me for my birthday and Christmas each year. Thanks for coming to find me when I ran away from home, TWICE!   Thanks for helping me with my homework, making me read my schoolbooks as punishment (which actually HELPED me!), and for teaching me to write and spell. Thanks for encouraging me to go back to college and earn my degree. Thanks for thinking I was worth all the crap I put you through! LOL :D

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea you had written this!!! To think it's been up for a week. I'm so sorry :-( You made me laugh and cry while I was reading it, and I need to save this because I don't ever want to forget one word of what you've written. Thank you Jess, for making me feel that I did do some things right after all! I love you so much XOXOXOXO