On Being the Son of Calamity Jane. Happy Mother's Day, Mom.
I don't know what it's like to be a mom. I don't know what it's like to be a father. I hear the stories though. Those stories with all of the utterances of love and joy and simultaneous terror and exhaustion and perhaps this-wasn't-such-a-good-idea-let's-tie-them-in-sacks-and-toss-them-off-the-bridge mental escapisms.
Yes, that sounds about what I expect to happen. A whole lot of the happiest you'll ever be, and a whole lot of the most maddening.
On this Mother's Day, I think about my role as son in all of my Mom's happiest and most maddening moments.
I think of the time I fell off my bike at my birthday party when I turned fifteen. My friend Matt had, for some reason, tinkered with the brakes on my second-hand Dyno I purchased at the local Play-it-Again Sports. As a result of his tinkering, my bike was rendered brake-less. I didn't discover this until I was halfway down the gargantuan hill that led up to our house. I pedaled fast, and when I tried to brake only to find that I didn't have any, I panicked and propelled myself off the bike and onto the asphalt. I felt okay, but my friends urged me to go up to the house after relaying their collective discomfort at the sight of the oozy, bloody wound that formed on the bottom of my chin. When we got home, my Mom took one glance and said, "I can stitch that up."
That's my Mom. She was sincere about it too. But she saw that my hand had swollen into a stegosaurus-shaped balloon. As wonderfully capable as my Mom is, she doesn't have the capacity to put human bones back together. So, we went to the doctor and I received a handful of stitches and a cast for a broken wrist.
I think of the time I realized I wasn't embarrassed by her. I was ten or eleven, in elementary school. My Mom came to pick me up and made a loud, goofy entrance. I think there might have been a few hip shakes; I don’t remember exactly. But I do remember actually thinking to myself, that’s cool—even with the other kids around. She exclaimed, as she usually did, “oh, he’s not embarrassed.” And yes, even in those moments—when any other kid/teenager would have been all red-faced derision and annoyance—she was never embarrassing. Not with my Mom. It was never going to be like that. It was simply her being her and me being me.
To this day, I am in awe of her ability to express her individuality. Like the way she breaks into dance in wild, incomprehensible and wholly her version of any number (and by that I mean all of them smashed together into an amorphous blob of dance euphoria) of Gene Kelly dance routines—in front of fleeing classmates and anyone that just so happened to be in the general vicinity.
I think of the time (there were many times, but this one stands out in particular) we went to the local library together. We climbed into the giant, tan-colored Econoline van. This van came after the maroon beast (some sort of van) that belched forth that hilarious beeping sound when in reverse. When we arrived at the library, Mom indicated to us that we were to check-out “only four books this time.” I remember Tannen picked out the next four books in the Goosebumps series. I don’t recall what Isaac chose, but it probably had something to do with trucks or airplanes. I picked out Where The Red Fern Grows for the fifth trip in a row. It was one of my favorites (still is). I love the adventure, kinship, and the sense of individuality. Billy Coleman, in many ways, reminded me of Mom. Just like Billy, she has a spirit of adventure that is unflinching and untainted by whatever is going on in the world around her. Just like Billy, she was her own person. And so, while these library trips were very much about the books we loved to read, the trips were also our little adventure. My brothers may have seen it differently, but I saw it as time spent away from Dad. Those library adventures were always so fun and carefree. We didn’t have to worry about what we looked like, or how we appeared to others. We didn’t have to worry about criticism. We didn’t have to worry about having fun. We were with Billy Coleman. We were with Mom.
I think of the time she told me that she was "happy," post-dad. With Dan the fireman, the hunter, the adventuring Daniel Boone. I remember thinking, Calamity Jane (Doris Day version) and Daniel Boone will make a fine match. And they do. And I’m happy. Mom deserves it.
But she doesn’t deserve this. Recently, she told us about a tumor in her eye; some rare piece-of-shit tumor that had developed in her retina. The good news is that she has fought her way past the super dangerous stuff and is now in the monitoring stages. It’s Mom, I think. She has to get past this. She’s a fighter. She’s the toughest person I know.
The mom who had five children in the (dis)comfort of her own bed. No drugs.
The mom who made it through the whirlwind of anger and abuse that was dad.
She is stronger than anyone I've ever met. Both in the way she can beat up your dad, and all the other ways one can display strength: in character, in spirit, in joy.
And yes, that even means strength to raise her kids on lentils and "oaty wheaties."
For this particular Mother's Day, I want to thank my mom for dancing when societal constructs inform her that she shouldn't be dancing. I want to thank my mom for introducing me to Joni Mitchell. I want to thank my mom for enabling us to see the joy in laughter. I want to thank my mom for being the beacon of strength I can aspire to.
And I want to preemptively thank my mom for kicking that tumor's ass. You can do it, mom.
I asked my mom to write down her thoughts on being a mom. This is what she said:
When you become a mom, you can no longer be selfish and think of yourself. You get a bundle of joy when your child is born and you can't believe how much you love them. There is nothing like holding your child in your arms, looking at the little fingers, the toes, those little heart lips. The bond of a mom and child is the strongest of any bond in the world.
As your children grow, you watch, sometimes with fear as they climb a tree and get too high, go down a skateboard ramp, ride a bike for the first time, drive; waiting up until they came home, praying that they will be safe. Fevers, cuts, stitches.
There are joys that are so high, that you can't believe that you can be this happy, and then there are hurts and pains that break your heart.
Your kids don't always love you or like you and you don't always like them, but you always love them. It is the hardest thing in the world to be a mom, but also the best. I love my kids; and now that they are grown, I enjoy so much that they are individuals and have their own ideas and dreams. And watching them grow and become the men and women that they should be is the best it can be.
I love being a mom and I always will believe it is the best part of my life.
You're my best part too, mom. Love you.