So, I phoned my mom yesterday, which by my own laborious calendrical calculations happened to be Mother’s Day. Good timing on my part, I think. I am both the firstborn of her three children, and her only son. Yes, the psychoanalysis just jumps out doesn’t it? I can see the nodding heads and set mouths, “Ah, yes, it all fits into place now.” But yes, it’s true. Our relationship has had its, um, phases. Of course, it’s all my fault.
Spoken like a firstborn, eh?
But let’s consider the history, shall we? First of all, instead of behaving like all dutiful firstborns, I decided to speed up the delivery process and was born a bit early. Surprise! Yes, headstrong from the beginning. Indeed, my daughters love–I mean, love–the story Ma tells of me when I was (I think) two years old. I was standing up in the front seat of the car. (It was a different world back then.) She wanted me to sit down. I refused. I don’t recall how long this impasse went on (you’d have to ask her–and she would love to tell you), but it ultimately ended with a grab and/or slap on my upper torso. I, with righteous indignation worthy of an Old Testament prophet, replied, “Don’t. Hurt. My. Coat.”
I do believe, however, that I sat down.
There was another occasion not too long afterwards in which I had been spanked by my mother for some offense. I, however, recall quite clearly to this day that the application of such a punishment was an egregious excess to the proportionality of said offense. I stood quite seriously before our front door and told my mother that I was going to go to Dad’s work and tell on her. I do not think my declaration either made much sense to my mother, or that she did not grasp the magnitude of what I was about to attempt. Somehow I made it out our front door, and I walked all the way to the four-lane highway (U. S. 54) near our home. I knew that Dad’s work lay westward, so I stood patiently by the side of this busy highway that goes through southern Kansas and waited for the cars to stop so I could walk to Dad’s work. My great aunt Bessie lived within feet of where I was standing, and saw me out her front window. With great presence of mind, she walked calmly up to me and asked me what I was doing. I told her and she somehow coaxed me away from the side of the road, and hand in hand we walked back to her house, where I stayed until Dad got off work. Far from being vindicated by patriarchal judgment, the maternal punishment of earlier in the day was applied by my father with somewhat more vigor. I was changrined to say the least. But I did not do that again.
The teen years were not without their episodes of humilia–er, I mean, hilarity. It was at Pizza Hut that we were sitting and waiting on pizza, when Ma said, loud enough I was quite certain to be heard by the staff in the back, “Do you want to take care of that zit, or shall I?” And she wonders why I didn’t date much in high school!
Or take the occasion of my first preseason team scrimmage with the football team at Sehome High School. I’d made enough of an impression on the coaching staff to make first string defense (and back up full back), but the scrimmage happened to be in full game uniforms. Except that I didn’t have the proper socks. So Ma goes to buy socks and brings them to me just prior to suiting up. I had stated quite clearly to her: I need socks with green and gold bands to match the uniform. Lo and behold, there are different kinds of green in this world, and Ma was on the wrong side of the statistics. I played but afterwards Coach said to me: “Healy, it’s not Kelly green. Get new socks before next game.”
It’s a wonder I’m as psychologically healthy as I am, isn’t it?
But there were other occasions that are unforgettable in different ways. I recall some time when I was about in kindergarten or first grade, I had read something from the Sermon on the Mount and had a question about it. I don’t at all recall the details. But I do remember this impression: my question was taken seriously, and I was encouraged to keep reading the Bible. That was a significant moment.
I recall applying for and successfully being granted the opportunity to be an exchange student to Germany. What mother would not greet this with joy at her son’s success, but dread at the coming separation? Yet while I can only imagine the anxiety in her mother’s heart, she remained silent and supportive. (In the end for differing reasons, I chose not to go.)
When Dad was transferred to a refinery in Washington state, I recall Ma staying behind extra weeks so I could finish football season and the high school play I was in. Then driving alone through a Wyoming blizzard with a car packed full and with three young kids some two thousand miles to our new home. We arrived on Thanksgiving Day, and for the first time in our lives we ate the Thanksgiving meal at a restaurant without extended family. How hard that must have been for her.
As is the way of things, and given my personality and weaknesses, there have been moments and periods in my life that I have allowed the turmoil of my times to interfere with my relationship with my mother. Some of these are the ups and downs of growing up. Others of these are more hurtful and cause me, still, great pain in remembering them. We are, all of us, sinners; even mothers. A mother knows this, I suppose, but it does not make the bearing of her own children’s hurts any the easier for such an awareness.
And yet, it is a tribute to my own mother, that despite these things her firstborn and only son has done, she has not changed one whit in her love for me.
Happy Mother’s Day, Ma. Yesterday and every day.