I shy from sending mom’s day messages to my friends or celebrating it to any extent. For now I’ll say it could be because there was nothing remarkable about my mother. Everybody else’s mom seems to be a compassionate loving sacrificial hybrid of heroic proportions.
As a mother, mine did all the things that moms are supposed to do. Before school, she’d wash and brush my hair, bought me a toothbrush and made me brush my teeth, give me clean clothes to put on, tie my shoes. Sometimes she got me pretty things for my hair, new barrettes or headbands. She couldn’t always get me nice clothes but she did what she could. Otherwise, everything was pressed, clean and neatly mended. She always made sure I had everything I needed for school, pencils, a notebook and milk money which included a quick hard fast hug before class started. Like I said, the sort of stuff moms are supposed to do.
Her name was Mrs. Armstrong and she wasn’t my mother. She was my second grade teacher. Although she wasn’t really my mom, she was the only mother I ever knew. I liked to imagine that she was, that I’d go home with her everyday after school. I loved her to distraction. She had me come to school early everyday to get ready before school started. I cried the last day of school because I knew I’d never see her again.
My real mom split when I was five. There were five of us, my youngest brother was three months old. I grew up quickly then. Other than the day she left, my earliest memory is standing on a chair stirring oatmeal on the stove. I remember sitting on books to sew, repairing clothing. My dad still has that machine. I remember changing diapers, bathing babies and making school lunches. It was all I could do to get the other kids off to school. When Mrs Armstrong first started taking care of me, I was embarrassed since I obviously couldn’t have been doing such a good job with my brothers and sisters, I thought I was doing a good job. I used what she did with me, as a crib sheet for what to do with my siblings. I’m guessing she knew my story, not that I ever would have admitted it because moms only leave bad kids. That’s what you think when you’re a kid. Of course my real mother left because of my dad. Sober as they come, my dad didn’t need to drink to be a bone breaker. The rest of us left too, before we’d grown. None of us finished high school. You may imagine Father’s Day sparks even more ambivalent feelings.
So in the end, I don’t celebrate mother’s day because it’s the day I reserve to celebrate my teachers, to remember the men and women who parented me, cared about me, showed me with varying degrees of love and firmness, a way to make a place for myself in this world. There was no one else to teach me how to be a person. You learn this from your parents. If you have no parents or poor ones, you learn by hook and crook, ineptly, in fits and starts. I’m still trying to catch up. And it shows. I can only continue to prevail upon your infinite patience as I grow before your eyes.
This is not to say I haven’t had problems with teachers, far from it. My first grade teacher hated me. I was so traumatized on my first day of school, I don’t remember anything else (including her name) about that first year. I was paddled and sent home within the first half hour of class. My crime was proclaiming (loudly) that I was not going to read those baby books. Stacked on each desk were three red, green and blue “Dick and Jane” books. I remember the teacher saying we were going to learn to read those “this year”. Although my intellectual career spanned all of fifteen minutes – and in thirteen of which, I did in fact, read those “baby books”-, I was insulted and having none of it.
It should be no surprise to you that I was a snot even then. The truth was, I’d never seen a children’s book. I read through them while the teacher was talking, unable to tear my eyes from the colors and pictures. I was enthralled, entranced. These were nothing like the books I read at home, there were pictures in these! The only pictures in the books at home were of naked women (reading material was limited to what my dad read, namely science fiction and Playboy magazine). My reading material was a topic of discussion in the principal’s office and I got paddled, don’t know if it was for refusing to read the baby books or for reading dirty magazines or for reading the even dirtier science fiction authors (Heinlein). My dad had to come and get me and the principal had a discussion with him that I wasn’t privy to other than that he was not to teach me how to read. I thought that odd. I don’t remember a time I couldn’t read. My dad has a picture of me, in diapers, reading the newspaper. Anyway, when we got home, I got paddled again. I remember my dad came home late that night. He came back with a whole set of what I know now was this series put out by the Great Books, unabridged juvenile classics. I got my first taste of Robinson Crusoe, Robin Hood, Arabian Knights and the like. I’d sleep with them under my pillow. Soon after, he bought all of the OZ books. I must have read all sixteen of them over a hundred times. He also bought a set of the Great Books which I didn’t like as much but most of which I managed to wade through by the time I was 16. Which warps you more, Machiavelli or Playboy? I’m tempted to say the former but I’m none the worse for having read both.
Before I got off on a tear, I was saying that mother’s day is teacher’s day for me. Other than two who nearly destroyed me, I loved my teachers. Bar none, they were the greatest influence in my life, they saved me. None of them were paid to love me, care for me or nurture me and I will be eternally grateful for their contributions to my character. Of course, they all said I would grow up and become someone important, that I would make my mark on the world but teachers always say that (not that I knew that, I believed them). I can only hope I have not disappointed them but I will never know for sure. Mother’s day is a sad day for me. There’s no one I can check in with to mark my progress, no one person who knew me when. No one to pat me on the head, to tell me what a good girl I’ve been or to shape up. Or worse, always waiting for your mother to come back, only she never does. I guess growing up means knowing she never will. Does one ever stop looking for the long lost on the horizon? I would like to say I have but I still don’t know if that is true.
Mother’s day can be a weighty day indeed. I know many have conflictive thoughts today, some of us with baggage over and above the alloted carry on. Enjoy your loves today. The rest of us want you to enjoy the day, loving well and spreading that along. Eventually it reaches us too, particularly if you’re the mother of a teacher. Hug a teacher today if you have the chance.