This tiny lapse in finesse caused me to snap and realize that I am a better mother than Livia Soprano or Joan Crawford and, at the risk of blasphemy, my own mother. I will add that my mother was a working single mom from the time I was seven years old. She was also a woman who firmly believed that a woman needed a man. I am sure there are lots of other excuses too, although the core of her unrightness is still illusive to me. Now she has faded, (not that she was any more forthcoming pre-dementia) and I will never know.
Leslie asked me, how my mother was after her boyfriend died when I was fifteen and I couldn’t remember. I recall that she was angry and hurt about not being asked to sit in the family room with his daughter at the service and that she was not remembered in his will. And, this was the year Joni Mitchell released For the Roses and Jackson Browne released his first album and overachiever Neil Young released Harvest and Journey through the Past. The songs of 1972 saturate my soul and memory. My mother’s grief is mist.
My dad took me in 1972 to see the Godfather at the Egyptian Theatre and we were both blown away. I had a projector at home and would take big stacks of 16mm features in fiber shipping cases and ditch school for days on end, lie on the hi/lo carpet and run film after film. I met kids who loved music and movies as passionately as I did. I befriended my teachers and interesting acquaintances of my parents and spent a lot of time hanging with adults. The fifteen year old who lives among us is also beguiled by music and movies and adult conversation. The comfort he takes here, comforts me. I love that he seeks the same escapes that I sought but I hope so much that he never feels compelled to escape with the same desperation I did at the same age.
I am hazy about my interactions with my mom during this sad year and uncertain about the degree to which my sister was in residence. She would blow into Fulton Avenue every year or so, in some sort of trouble, on the outs with a boyfriend and broke. Sometimes she was great fun and we had great trips to Las Vegas and we’d take diet pills and stay up all night. But my sister suffered the unrightness, probably the most unright of all of us, and never felt loved enough by anyone. Sometimes when I was arguing with my mom, my sister, to curry mother favor, would haul off on me.
Once, during one of my sister’s tenancies on Fulton Avenue, there was an argument. I remember only that I was expecting friends. There was yelling. The bell rang and I opened the door to two girl friends and at this moment, my sister slapped me to the granite entry hall floor. I remember my friends’ faces when my sister slammed the door.
I do not know what demons haunt my fifteen year old or which, if any, of the gifts I lay at his feet will make his life better. I try to talk to him. He blows me off but maybe some of it will register someday. I told him that often I am frightened and that I went into this mother thing, based on my own childhood, ill prepared. I encourage him to find sustenance in film and music and hope too that he will find more succor in his home and family than I did at age fifteen.
My parents’ marriage crumbled after twenty two years. My father left Fulton Avenue when I was seven and my memories of my parents together consist of being awakened to their screaming fights and being taken to a fancy restaurant to be told about their decision to divorce. It is only very recently and out of full blown dementia that I am able to spend time with my mother without her expressing bitterness directed at my father. Even after she’d forgotten the hideous leather jacket that Richard and I sold at the garage sale, she’d still drill me on the arrival of the alimony check.
Himself and I have had our miserable times and our children have heard us scream and undoubtedly will again. I have no crystal ball but I told the fifteen year old that for all of our fuckedupness as parents, the one gift I am pretty confident that we will bestow on him is a model for how to be married. We did it not so great for years and even now there are times when we do it quite badly. But, for all of the fifteen year old’s frightening acumen about our weaknesses, I don’t think he’ll ever be able to say that his parents didn’t love each other tenderly and fiercely. We have been courageous and sacrificing and often had the shit scared out of us nurturing this marriage we both happened upon.
Neither of us had a clue from our own parents about how to navigate this weird institution but we have, Himself and I, persevered and I am proud of what we have and it seems inevitable that our children will be better prepared by their parents for loving partnership than we were by ours. Perhaps I’m not the best wife in the world but I am better than I was and strive for further improvement. My weaknesses as a mother have been related to me quite extensively and perhaps accurately. Maybe it is wrong to feel self righteous nevertheless about creating a better home for my children than the one I was raised in but still, I’ll be cutting myself a bit of slack when I do inevitably miss the mark.
My mother and sister were driven by demons that remain a mystery to me. Maybe their burdens would have been eased if they’d partaken of psychotherapy or psychopharmacology or prayer or physical exercise. Maybe it would have been easier if they had been born at a time when a woman’s value wasn’t determined by the quality of man she could attract. I have enough issues with my parents for Leslie my therapist to buy Beverly Hills real estate but I am also aware that both contributed, if only financially, towards my escaping Fulton Avenue at age seventeen to begin college and enter perhaps the first milieu where I was able explore options for healing, like therapy and spirituality. On Fulton Avenue, there were always movies and music but the legacy in blood of the family that lived there courses through me and through my fifteen year old. I don’t know if the unrightness inside that I’ve suffered with for fifty one years is the same unrightness that plagued my sister and mother. The fifteen year old’s instinct to temper the unrightness by drinking in the magic of movies and music is dead on. For the other instincts that come from the unrightness, the family legacy, I will strive to remain loving and vigilant no matter how much he pisses me off.
Likewise, I remain loving and vigilant with Himself, the finest mind and sweetest soul I’ve encountered on this planet, my bershert, whose excuse for not operating his cellular phone is so friggin’ lame I could puke. Because we are nurturing our life sentence of marriage and trying to be excellent models of partnership for our children, it would be wrong to say that my husband, in refusing to use his cell phone and be accessible to me in the case of an emergency (ahem…vibrate mode) is a withholding asshole. Very wrong.
Rightness this week was attending a school potluck and hearing Leo’s teachers go on about how smart and funny he is. Spuds baked a perfect two layer chocolate cake and we went up to the stadium and to pick up our tickets. It is so cool how well he is known and loved there at Chavez Ravine, his second home. Opening Day is March 31 and we have high hopes for Joe Torre.
My heart is with Julia, and Bernie, her dad, who I will always remember as being a scrappy, robust, dynamo of a man. Be brave Julia. I love you.
I hope to make a real Shabbat tonight, celebrate rightness, and be surrounded by blessed light. Blah Blah Blah Baby! I am. I know. Share it. Take it. Shabbat Shalom.