My Mom and I had a somewhat adversarial relationship.

There were times when dad would intervene, with a gently spoken, “Now, Mary…” when she was yet again pushing my buttons. There were times when I would look at him with great sincerity and ask, “Dad, isn’t it legal to hit your mom just once?” I don’t think I ever really meant it.

Lest you think I’m terrible, there were also times I could hug Mom so tightly with love that I’d worry about hurting her. In her defense, I don’t think anything about me was easy as a child.

Pretty Mom, 1950s

Pretty Mom, 1950s

 

The worse thing Seester did was eat cigarette butts from ashtrays. Between hand-smacking and stomach aches the correlation sunk in that this wasn’t the smartest thing to do. She went back to eating Oreos and wafer cookies. Seester rather looks like an Oreo and a wafer cookie smashed together—she’s tiny, fair complexioned and has the unruliest, curliest, solid black hair ever to be seen.

It’s her only area lacking perfection—this hair that can’t be combed or bobby-pinned into place. I’m sure part of me relished the agony Mom put her through each morning as she tried to tame the springy curls. I’m positive my mother would have killed for mousse.

For two years Mom had the (almost) perfect daughter.

My first problem is that I was born with a radiant head of red hair. Listen, I mean, red hair. I don’t mean orange, strawberry blonde or auburn. I mean red and it was bright. By the time I was five or six, my hair mellowed to an old-lady-in-the-stores-stopping shade of auburn. They’d lean down, but not to pinch “Leave it to Beaver” fat cheeks, they were caressing my board straight, flaming auburn tresses and, wherever did you get such beautiful hair?

Being the only redhead in a sea of brunettes, I was obstinate and had a fiery hot attitude. Compared to perfect Seester (except for the crazy hair) and golden-child Wojo (except for his monkey arms), I was certainly the one to challenge Mom on a regular basis.

When I moved back to Western Pennsylvania I spent a lot of time at my parents. Sometimes it was every other weekend, sometimes once a month, rarely did I go longer than four weeks without seeing them. Many times Dad and I would sneak off for coffee at his favorite greasy spoon. Those were among my favorite-in-all-my-life-times. Since Mom was not a morning person it didn’t seem we were doing anything wrong by leaving her at home.

There were times I’d take her shopping. In the early days, she would trudge along, carrying her portable oxygen tank, but eventually, I’d have to get one of the store wheelchairs and push her here and there. I’d do everything I could to make these happy trips, from posing like a mannequin until she was laughing so hard it hurt, to donning hats and scarfs and doing the runway model walk.

We had our moments.

But still, she’d be a brat sometimes. Like holding her forty-something daughter accountable (again and again) for breaking her nun-clothed doll when I was a toddler. I mean, seriously, how many times could I apologize? Did I mean to break it? Who knows? Even if I did, I sure felt bad for it when she told me about it (again and again) as a grown up. One day, she brought it up as I was leaving. I looked her dead in the eye, hugged her and told her if she ever mentioned it again I was leaving and never coming back. I. Was. Dead. Serious.

She hugged me and whispered in my ear, You broke my doll.

I broke our hug, walked out, told dad what happened and it took a whole lot of him before I went home again.

Do you get it? We had a weird, odd relationship.

Loss doesn’t really dim

It’s been six years this August that she died and I miss her. I miss the woman my dad fell in love with. I miss the imp she could be. I miss the woman that I, my siblings, my blessed family, cared for in the last ten days of her life.

That woman was amazing.

Seester told me once that if someone is in pain, maybe on medication, that their true personality comes through. That resonated as Mom’s body fought the cancer inside. She was sweet and kind and appreciative.

She wore down every wall I had built up over forty-nine years of our life together and made me fall in love with her.

I thank God repeatedly for that.

There were times during Mom’s agitated sleep that I would drag my blankets in from the living room and sleep on the floor of my parent’s room. There were times she would be restless and breaking my Dad’s heart. I’d climb into bed with her and hold on. Just hold on until she calmed down and could sleep again.

I loved her very much.

There are regrets

And yes, I wished with all my heart that this woman who clung to me with obvious love had been the same woman I’d grown up with. Of course, I wish that. As it was, I grew to acknowledge and understand the pain that she caused—that I’m sure I caused her—and moved from it to unconditional love.

Familial love can be the best thing and the worst thing in our lives. It can encourage us, beat us down, help our dreams soar or crush them to pieces. We have the power to choose which parts of those roller coaster ups and downs we want to savor and cling to.

God gave me a chance to re-learn my Mom, to step back from the challenges and re-think—no, scratch that—to re-love her as I would have from the moment a child learns love. This is the Mom I choose to remember and miss with my adult heart.

Mom & Me, 1992, yes, the hair color is real

Mom & Me, 1992, yes, the hair color is real

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