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Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Lessons in Mothering

By Deb who blogs at Simple Not Easy

For Mother's Day this year some Facebookers changed their profile picture to one of their mother. So I added one of my mother, the one her family called "Little Matt" all her life.

One of my FB friends remarked that she looked “adorable" which about made me splort my morning coffee onto my keyboard.

Mother was tiny. She stood four foot 10 inches in her size four shoes and never weighed 90 pounds before she hit 50. But she was a force to be reckoned with, and she was in no earthly sense "adorable.”

Mothering comes in all forms and styles. My mother's style was Marine boot camp. You were scoured clean twice daily, dressed in heavily starched and crisply ironed clothes and drilled in piano and ballet.

You wore starched pajamas for your afternoon nap and were fed the traditional three squares a day Southern-style, a diet so high in saturated fat, salt and carbohydrates that none of her family escaped their 50s without heart attacks.

My older siblings thought I was spoiled because Daddy didn't whip me with his belt the way he'd whipped them but if I was spoiled I didn't notice. The one I was afraid of was my mother.

I remember looking at my friends' mothers and thinking, "My mama's different." She never kissed me or even touched me unnecessarily.

The only picture I have of the two of us together is a small grainy snapshot of her kneeling in the grass holding me at the age of six months. I am lying on my back, looking into the sun, arms and legs flung out in startle. She has a perplexed frown and holds me like an awkwardly wrapped parcel

As an old man, my brother would weep, "Mom and Dad never loved us," and I would gently argue that they did but neither of them knew how to show it other than to house, scrub and feed us.

Whatever love they'd learned as children was crushed beneath the weight of their own misery. Their relationship was like that of two tectonic plates slowly grinding the life from each other at the edges. They were not suited.

As an adult, I am inclined to be tender toward my mother. She had lived with my moody, melancholy father for 25 years when I was born. My sister was 23 and married, my brothers were off to college.

My mother filed for divorce and dreamed of freedom. Then she found herself pregnant and at age 44 produced an unwanted, homely, sickly child. Freud might make something of that, saying she was giving herself a reason not to leave but he would be barking up the wrong neurosis.

Her spirit cracked. I was a prison she could not escape. When my father worked nights, I would hear her sobbing and pounding the bedroom wall with her small fists.

She's been gone more than 30 years but time is only meaningful on a calendar. She is as with me now as she was one summer morning when I was five. She'd pulled green onions from the garden and while cleaning them, stopped to show me how you could make the green blade into a whistle.

We whistled our green onions together, in a shrill note I could not hold. She laughed with me.

Adorable? By no means. She was a small fire of thorns. To approach her was to be both burned and scratched.

Maybe she could have been a better mother but she did the best she could with what she had. I learned from her. Sometimes you learn how to do something by seeing how it isn't done.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


I read you story with interest although it made me sad. I wish you had the loving family I had. We were all huggers, which sometimes caused unintentional trouble for me when I was a young adult, but I still do it.

Many professionals emphasize the importance of fathers. I agree that children need good fathers in addition to mothers for their full normal development but I personally believe there is nothing worse than a bad mother.

You are fortunate to learn from your parents' mistakes. Many do not.

"They did what they knew to do--" To paraphrase Maya Angelou, "When I knew better, I did better," is a phrase that has helped me forgive myself for parenting mistakes. I'm so sorry you had the childhood you did--so many people I know lived behind closed doors with unspeakable things going on. It convinces me that communal dwellings would be a good idea and help avoid this belief that I can do anything I want to my child because there is nobody to see or hear it. So Jackie, I'll go you one more and say "I think it takes a village."I was in a loving folk music extended family and it helped when things were rough.


You have articulated a childhood which is perhaps not the "ideal," but your wonderful writing has made me see it so clearly! Perhaps your Mother didn't give you hugs that all children need, but she must have given you insight, somehow. Your description here is filled with it. Thanks for sharing. Karen

Jackie: You have pointed up how different your childhood was than those of your friends, but you gained an insight into how mother's do the best they can under their different circumstances. I felt really sorry for your mother, but from her you have learned the strength that has made you a better understanding and probably loving person.

Hmm, I thought Deb was the author. Good job Deb.

I appreciate your insights. Is there a way to follow your blog, Simple, but not Easy?

This is one of many essays I have read on this site that touched me...I think too that communal living has wonderful advantages to it, never thought that until I was well into my 40s/50s and heard tales from people who had endured sad, sad childhoods..Parents often do the best they can with little skills, never mind financial assets needed to raise a family. Charles Dickens and other authors are often quoted about the conditions children are raised in, but all of us have seen, heard and often been intimate with modern day situations that are shocking..Parenting does not come naturally to everyone & when it is missing from one's own life, well, we see the wreckage..Becoming strong and surviving childhood is often the stuff of comedienes and punsters, but all of us could agree, it "ain't" too funny...You are brave to share personal experiences because no matter how old we all get, we all read them and sigh for you and with you about "growing up."

I am afraid I must have been misleading in my comments. I had a wonderful mother and father, both of whom gave me self-respect, insight, discipline and love, but when I was working in mental health, I saw just the opposite. That experience made me say there was nothing worse than a bad mother.

Our family hugging was routine for family and friends. No one thought a thing about it then since there was nothing sexual about it. It was just a manifestation of love. When I became a woman, some people misunderstood my hugs so I had to watch it.


I apologize for the error. My post should have been directed to you as the writer, not Jackie. I truly enjoyed your writing about your mother.


What an insightful, but touching post. I am impressed by your ability to use words masterfully. I'm glad you can see that your mother did the best she could. Sometimes events happen for a reason and we are not able to see why. Perhaps this is one such situation.

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