Happy Mothers Day to all of my readers, both mothers and those who are here because they had mothers. It is early on Mothers Day morning and my home is silent except for the cooing of a mourning dove, the clicking of my husband Bob’s keyboard and the occasional sound of coffee being sipped.
As most moms can attest, mothering is an inexact science. No formulas, algorithms or blueprints guarantee that you will get perfect results, whether you are a tiger mom, an indecisive free spirit, or somewhere in between. Over time you learn to accept that you will do an imperfect job, that sometimes you will nail it and the memories of other times will make you cringe. So forgive your mom for any shortcomings and fervently pray that your own children forgive you.
Mothers Day morning is the perfect time to reflect on the women who’ve inspired me with how they’ve mothered. Like fine art, motherhood is best learned by studying its practitioners – both their great works and their mistakes – then plunging in with courage and just doing it yourself.
Here are some the women in my gallery of great moms. I haven’t always been great at following their examples but I am still striving.
From my own beloved mom, Gloria, I learned the art of accepting people’s quirks. From the time we were little Mom has always told us, “there’s a touch of abnormality in all of us,” and time has only strengthened my conviction that she is right. She lived this credo herself…I once caught her vacuuming my house in her underwear (she was making this mundane task into an aerobic workout), and she’d often karate-chop her hips (to break up the fat) while waiting for the macaroni pot to boil. She also continues to blame the full moon for squabbling coworkers, rebellious teens, and sullen spouses, a coping habit I’ve picked up as well.
Mom also taught us the value of an open mind and open heart. When we were growing up we could tell her nearly everything. Whether we were facing an unrequited love, a mean girl in middle school,
a backyard volleyball game with unevenly matched sides or other travails, Mom would always tell us that we were okay and life would eventually get better. From Mom we learned to take setbacks in stride and be optimistic. Not surprisingly, many of our friends with less open-minded parents confided in mom as well; I once found my high school boyfriend sharing his deepest secrets with Mom, before he shared them with me.
Mom also mastered the art of being resourceful with little money. She knew the location of every thrift shop, where we found clothes from Saks and Bonwit Teller at Kmart prices. The pasta e fagioli, spaghetti aglio e olio, and other peasant Italian dishes she made because it was all we could afford can now be had at top dollar at many chic restaurants.
Along with my own mom, I’ve been blessed with not one but two outstanding mothers-in-law. Ita, the first, was everything I wasn’t – tall, stately and reserved. A former shop-girl for Worth, a classy women’s boutique from long ago, she had exquisite taste in clothing, decorating and gardening. She looked fabulous even when she was out pulling weeds. She taught me the names and growing habits of dozens of flowers, and while she died several years ago I feel her presence whenever I am around a garden. Ita also taught me not to judge by appearances. It wasn’t until I got to know Ita that I realized that behind the carefully coiffed, Talbots catalog exterior was a very loving, kind woman who could keep a secret and accept people for who they are. Even after my first marriage ended we continued to stay close.
My second mother-in-law, Lois, is Ita’s polar opposite: petite, fiery, opinionated. Lois is a study in fierce advocacy and dogged persistence. She is a champion of the underdog, and if you happen to be one Lois is the one person you want on your side. My father-in-law is alive today despite a battle with cancer because Lois rode herd on his doctors. She knew everything that was on his charts and made sure the doctors and nurses did too.
In a more lighthearted memory, Lois worked her unique brand of artistry on the host at El Torito, a Mexican restaurant near her California home. Seven of us went there for dinner one summer night, only to be told we had an hour’s wait unless we wanted to retire to the room where they were hosting a very noisy taco night. But a table with plenty of room for seven, at the window facing the ocean, was unoccupied. While my husband and I steamed angrily near the $1 taco tables, I glanced up and saw Lois getting in the host’s face, her mouth and hands moving expressively as she pointed several times to the table with the view. It was ours within a few minutes.
Another inspiration, my Aunt Theresa, never went to college but became a top advertising executive at a newspaper by working hard, trusting her instincts and being a straight shooter. She continues to inspire me every day. Mrs. O’Toole, a former neighbor, was a study in fearlessness. When her doctor told her she couldn’t travel anymore because of an illness, she told him “Who are you to tell me what to do with my body?” She died in Italy.
Mary, another neighbor, taught us that even single moms can raise outstanding kids. Mary was pregnant and left at the altar by her dirtbag boyfriend, a spineless cad whose parents talked him into abandoning her. Her illegitimate son eventually became a successful construction company owner, who in turn with his wife raised a Beverly Hills lawyer and other successful children.
All of these women had their imperfect moments, and I am sure they have all had regrets, just as I do. But they continue to inspire as moms and as human beings. Happy Mothers Day!