Every day or so, I log into my checking account and I am asked-What is your mother’s maiden name? —Some days it will ask for my maternal grandmother’s name or the name of the street I lived as a child or my first pet’s name or the elementary school I attended. Before I can even find out if I am overdrawn or if the power bill is due, I am swept up in the memories of my mother and grandmother, a tiny terrier named Tinker and a blue house on Morrison Street. I remember feelings of security and a rose trellis, a white bird bath and a basement family room painted fire engine red, the smell of cut grass and four-o’clocks climbing the house, the sounds of Johnny Cash and Eddie Arnold on the radio, mostly I remember being loved…..
Recently, my mother made the comment that she was a little out of step with her peers in her parenting style. She didn’t pay much attention to what the mothering guru of her time, Dr. Spock, was teaching. She had her children “naturally” when other mothers put their trust in sterile, modern medicine. She breastfed in the new era of formula feeding. She was a professional, working mom. She was laid back and always up for a fun outing while the other moms had us locked outside, lest we mess up the vacuum lines in their carpets. She loved the outdoors and instilled in her children a love of nature, wide-open vistas, the desert and aspens. My earliest memories are of the mountains, streams, Jeep trails, ghost towns and scenic overlooks. My mother was a church goer-always alone, but we knew Jesus and we knew what it meant to be a Christian. My first memories of singing were “Jesus loves the little children… and This little light of mine….” Most important, when other moms were “shake and baking,” my mom had a rotisserie chicken on the barbeque with homemade bar-be-que sauce, baked beans that took hours to make in the oven, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass playing a “Taste of Honey” on the stereo, and margaritas in the blender—(she doesn’t remember that though;-) Oh the joy of warm Arizona evenings!
The more I think about my mother and her slightly unconventional mothering; I realize how I am like her in so many ways. The helicopter in both our parenting careers never seemed to get off the ground. I was a latch-key kid and as an adult now realize how much I needed the independence that raising yourself brings. I was free to roam the neighborhood, experiment in the kitchen and curl up in a corner and read a book. I could navigate Chicago O’Hare airport at an age that today’s children are still supposed to be in a booster seat. I have wondered if my own children wish they could sometimes come home to an empty house. Oh and books—mom loves books, I love books-Please let my kids love books- (or at least a Kindle). She always was a member of a book club-the arrival of a book each month was exciting-James Michener’s latest work, The Thorn Birds, Pearl Buck. Perhaps, it explains my addiction to Amazon and the joy I get when I open the mailbox and see a cardboard box. School was OUR domain-she sent us there and expected us to make it work-and we did-I don’t remember reading charts or SEOP’s, parent teacher conferences or heaven forbid a teacher ever calling her unless we had thrown up—and back then we had school nurses for such emergencies. We were independent contractors in our home. Unless, of course, we needed to build a haunted house, decorate for Christmas or load the car to go camping-then we worked as a team.
As I reminisce about my mother, I start to think of her mother and the slightly hazy memories I have of her and it occurred to me that like my nearsightedness and fiery temper in the face of injustice, I have inherited many of the qualities that the women ahead of me also share. My mom once told me that my “Grandma Bernie” was the black sheep of her family (check). Seeing a picture of her and her first husband standing in front of an airplane in 1929 with a note on the back that said, “our plane,” I felt a kinship of spirit; she obviously had her head in the clouds. (check) I wished I had known her better and heard stories of when she was young. I do know she was a “Rosie the Riveter” during World War II, when they moved from New Mexico to L.A. I know that she kept a jar of money to make sure my Mom had what she needed even when money was tight. (check). I know that she worked hard her entire life and I have a faint memory of going to the variety store where she was a cashier to buy my first Barbie doll.
Our mothering styles are an amalgamation of so many influences, the generation we are born into, the combining of parenting styles of our spouses, magazines, television, and church. But, the golden thread that binds us together is the love we have experienced in our own homes and our desire to pass that on to our children. Happy Mother’s Day to my mom and sisters and to my girls who are now mothering my grandchildren. We are so lucky to be born into a land of milk and honey—breast milk and Honeyfields that is!