I doubt it is apparent from this blog how my mom and I SO did not get along in my teenage years. I believe, in fact, that we did not utter a kind word to each other for the entire year of 1990. We were two bull moose locking antlers. And yet, ironically, I think she kind of meant it to be that way. My mom had every intention of raising a girl who was as strong willed, outspoken, and opinionated as she was, although I think she got more than she bargained for.
Saying that my mom is a "personality" is like saying that Sybil was a bit of a personality. My mom is ALL Susan ALL the time, which I found exasperating at fourteen. She had blue and purple spiky hair and a mouth to match. Why couldn't she just be my mom and blend in to the mom wallpaper behind all the other kids? Mind you, I had flaming red hair but this was supposed to be my prerogative as an expressive adolescent, not hers.
Behind the scenes of all of this quirkiness and bravado I was oblivious to what my mom was really doing, which was taking care of other people all the time. She worked at a homeless shelter for people with disabilities. She went back to nursing school in her 40s, which meant tackling algebra again for the first time in 30 years (of course, she was nominated to give the speech for her graduating class at NYU). She raised an angsty teenager and a small child in a crowded apartment with my dad who, awesome though he was, worked all the time. She had to usher her ailing parents and aunt through long, slow declines of alcoholism and Alzheimers and death pretty much by herself. She faced this all with a directness and humor that I now understand to be the only practical way of dealing with a tragic situation without going crazy in the process.
At the time I think I misinterpreted the goal of all of this strong female will to be conquering a successful career. But when I think about it now I realize that she was after something bigger, namely for me to be able to cope with any shit the universe threw at me. To not hedge, to not avoid or hide or backpedal as so many are apt to do in the presence of fear and the absence of coping. I don't think without having this fortitude ground into be from birth that I could have survived Lula's life and death. And without my mom, who dropped everything, retired from her job and pretty much moved in with us, Lula would not likely have lived as long as she did.
Being a mom really is a terrifying responsibility. In the natural order of the universe everyone's mom is their first and last line of defense. One of the most frightening realizations I had as Lula was dying was that that my mom didn't have her own mom to lean on any more, that all of her strength, which built a wall of love and safety around me, came from her and her alone. I don't know how I will ever be so strong without her.
She still drives me crazy. She's a chronic over-sharer and occasional busybody. She tends towards vanity and obsesses over everyone's thinness and fatness like a walking US Weekly. I have never had to own a scale because I know my weight by her inferences. I refuse to be her Facebook friend because she has a way of teasing me that I don't have a sense of humor about. But I can only imagine what irritates her about me, with my incessant requests for babysitting and relentless nagging to quit smoking and eat some vegetables. She is still my hero, she still shows me all the time how to keep living on this devastating and mystifying of planets.
|Grandma Marion, Me, Mom (this photo is a repeat but it's my favorite so here it is again)|