Today is my mum’s birthday. She is turning 71 and while that may not seem old by today’s standards, believe me when I say that I am very grateful that she is still here with us. She hasn’t led an easy life and she had a heart attack about 10 years ago that gave us quite a scare. Her health is poor, her arthritis makes it incredibly difficult to walk, and she gets very stressed out about the smallest things. I love her very much, but she is not my best friend. She is my mum. And that is a million times more important.
She isn’t the kind of mum who takes you on shopping sprees and teaches you how to do your hair and makeup. Although she was a hottie in her younger years, time and age have long ago taken away her desire to keep up appearances. She lives in stretch polyester and sometimes dabs on some frosted pink lipstick if she’s going out somewhere. We didn’t gossip or share secrets. She didn’t give sage advice. She didn’t help with my homework because she was never was able to finish high school.
There were times when my sister and I would come home to fresh-baked cookies after school, but my mum was no great housekeeper. I can remember going around the living room with a grocery bag, emptying ash trays and picking up wrappers and pop cans. I can remember her picking us up after school and stopping at the convenience store every day to get a bag of chips and a chocolate bar each for our snack. I remember her letting us eat french fries and gravy every day in high school from the cafeteria because she never forced us to pack lunches and always gave us $4 instead.
For years she worked in retail at a local discount department store and sometimes she would be home for dinner or sometimes she would be working until 10 at night. My dad didn’t cook, so my sister and I would make whatever we felt like – often involving french fries. My dad was what my mum would call a ‘drinker’ but what we would call an alcoholic. He wasn’t physically abusive but he was very adept at going out for a loaf of bread and returning 6 hours later. It was a constant, pervasive source of tension in our house and my mum never called him on it in front of us. I’m not sure she ever called him on it at all.
What I have come to realize as an adult and a mother is that my own mum was doing the best she could do. By looking at her life, I have learned how to take control of my own. I have a partner who doesn’t drink at all, a relationship where we try to air our grievances. I went to university and have skills that will always translate into work that I enjoy. I eat a healthy diet and try to impress it upon my children so they will have the skills to be healthy when they are out on their own and fending for themselves. I try to take care of my body and look good because it makes me feel good.
Am I the polar opposite of my own mother? Not at all. In fact, I would say that we are incredibly alike. We look similar and have the same body shape, which has taught me that I need to take care of my wonky back and stay fit so that when arthritis inevitably hits, I will be better equipped to handle it. We have the same anxiety problems which seems to have worked its way through generations of women on my mother’s side. But while my mum suffered panic attacks, I spoke to my doctor and got medication. I work at jobs where my innate stubbornness and manic organizational skills are appreciated. We also have what I have come to realize is a compulsive eating problem, turning to food in times of stress. I recognize it and manage it where my mum never could, leading her to become morbidly obese. I am sure that I am not done learning from her either, as I enter menopause with very little grace and a lot of bitching.
So, Happy Birthday Mum. You are not my best friend and I would never want you to be. You are my rock, my sympathetic ear, my example of what to be and what not to be. I love you with all my heart.