“I’ve been sweet and I’ve been good 🎵 I’ve had a whole full day of motherhood 🎵 But I’m gonna have an Aviance night!”
I didn’t need to see this commercial in 1977 to know that motherhood was something I wanted to avoid at all costs. My mom had profound ambivalence about being a parent, which she shared openly with her girls while we were growing up, and we harbored few romantic illusions about “the pitter-patter of little feet.” Raising kids was hard work!
My mother hated the overtly commercial nature and artificiality of Mother’s Day. She’d accept flowers and chocolate any day of the year – but greeting cards on Mother’s Day? No way! One year I sent her a card intended for a NON-mother, and it made her laugh – which was my intention. (I loved to make her laugh!)
I don’t recall her ever complaining about how “pregnancy had destroyed” her figure, as other women have been known to do; in fact, she said she liked how nursing babies filled out her bosom. She wasn’t crazy about housework (who is??), and once she allowed herself to spend the money, really loved going out for meals instead of cooking at home. And treating you! She was generous like that – and lots of other ways.
However, she had mixed feelings about possessions, including furniture. For the longest time she didn’t have any. This worked almost as an anti-welcome mat, except that she had friends and family stay over frequently. Still, I remember visiting her in San Francisco where the only place to sit (besides the FLOOR!?) was the toilet! She had sewn up some multi-colored pillows for the hardwood floor and that night I slept on Chiclets!
When her older sister came for a visit in NYC, my mother finally broke down and bought a couple of captain’s beds, a table and 2 chairs – “they’re for Helen!” she said. But she kept them after that, so maybe they were for other guests, too?
The incongruity of her resistance to motherhood is that she was actually quite gifted at the most important parts of being a mother; she liked to teach us, to share her enthusiasms (art, music, theater, fashion, movies, other people’s cooking, etc.) She followed her interests and tried new things – she wasn’t fearless but she did it anyway. And she could be extraordinarily affectionate and playful; sometimes she’d hug you and refuse to let go, until it got silly and you both collapsed in laughter! And then she’d grab and hug you again!
Among my loved ones, she was “the one that got away” – the person I most wanted to impress, whose attention was most elusive and thus most precious. In a way, I never stopped being her baby; looking for her approval, desperately wanting her to be happy. I think she always wanted to be wanted – and she was!