“Mom always said, don’t play ball in the house.” Poor Bobby Brady. Those words triple repeated every 10 seconds for that entire half hour episode of the Brady Bunch. For those of you who have no idea who the Brady’s are, we middle agers who grew up with the Brady’s know them as our tv neighbors.
It was Florence Henderson’s portrayal of Carole Brady that brainwashed us into painting the portrait of what mom should be: cool, calm, collected, always dressed in polyester pant suits and always having time for her kids at the kitchen table, snack in hand.
Maybe she isn’t Carole, but we all have some frame of reference of what a mom should be, based on our own experience. We all have a mother. And, although we may not always admit it, we mother the way our mothers did. If your fairy godmother appeared when you were seventeen and told you would be just like mom, you would cringe with complete disgust while pointing your finger down your throat. “Oh, gag me with a spoon,” you might retort.
My perspective is poignant, but different. I loved my mother. She was as close to a soul mate as I could have, better than any spouse, friend or sibling. But, in a sick twist of fate, she died after a second bout of breast cancer when I was 28, and my first child, Devin was 6 weeks old. My world crumbled. Dreams left unfulfilled. Visions I had since I was six of being a mommy with her would never be realized. I would never go out to lunch with her and my baby, stroll the mall with her, or ask her to pick the kids up from school or babysit. I spent most of my pregnancy taking her to radiation and chemo, never thinking the final equalizer would mar this amazing time in my life, or more so, the physical bond with this amazing woman I simply called, mom.
As a woman, raising a child without your mother can be a daunting task. As my wonderful friend Chris who shares this dubious distinction with me calls us, “motherless mothers.” My human reference book was gone. What did I do when I was two? How quickly did I potty train? Did I have a lisp when I was three? Were my tantrums embarrassing like all get-out? I was on my own. I had to figure it all out without the baby coach on call 24-7. I prayed for spiritual enlightenment from her thrown in heaven, begging her to send signs, like huge flashes of light on my front lawn or that annoying “this is only a test,” tv signal to let me know I was doing ok, the baby was swaddled correctly, and you are a good mom.
But now, after having 8 children of my own, ranging from 17 years to 4 months, I realized, she was there. Even when she was gone, she was there. She taught me how to mother when I didn’t even know she was doing it. All the subliminal absorption was now coming to the forefront. All that she said, even if I found it annoying or monotonous, or “give me a break,” was now part of my routine with my own children. Her love of cooking and bring her family to the table each night was now my routine. Her desire to keep up with fashion turned me into a clothes horse. She kept me in Catholic school my entire school career, and that is where all my kids are. The list goes on, and all without any physical direction. It just happened. She gave all to her family, and she taught me to do the same, without ever telling me, in words how to do it.
So, if Bobby Brady were real, and Carole Brady moved on to hipper clothes, and ditched the station wagon with the wood paneling, he would always remember her words of wisdom about playing ball in the house. He would remember her after his darlings shattered his flat screen tv instead of the vase he broke. But, she would always be there, as any good mother would be, even just as a figment.
I thank you, mom, for teaching me the ropes, even though I didn’t realize I was your student. Thank you for teaching me how to love a child, accept their faults, and have patience even when I didn’t think I had any left. You taught me that there is no job that requires more loyalty, more hands on and less sleep than a medical resident in his first year. You have, and always will be my virtual guide for all mothering past, present and to come.