Last October, as the pandemic dragged on, my mother-in-law passed away.
She was 87 years-old and had been in poor health for a while, so I wasn’t surprised. At the same time, I was very surprised. Maggie was larger than life to me. She was unique, quirky, and completely different than my own mother. She was also the best mother-in-law I could have ever asked for.
Because of the circumstances, and because my husband and his siblings are private about such matters, only our family and friends were informed. There wasn’t even an obituary.
But today is our first Mother’s Day without her, and I couldn’t let it pass without paying tribute to the feisty woman who I credit for raising the man I married.
If this were an actual obituary, I’d be expected to provide the basic facts about Maggie that anyone could find on a genealogy site. I might even sprinkle in a few of her significant accomplishments. But a traditional obituary isn’t fitting for a woman like Maggie. Besides, the only interesting nugget from her early life, which I find incredibly entertaining, is the fact that, according to my husband, she once won a beauty pageant. She’ll probably start haunting me now for even making that public knowledge.
My husband tells me that his mom changed quite a bit from when he was a child to the time when I first met her. She wasn’t even called Maggie until all of her children were grown. My brother-in-law, Keith, started calling her that, and the name stuck. Growing up, she was called Marge, and, at some point, was dubbed Muff after Little Miss Muffet, apparently because she was so tiny. I don’t get the connection, but I wasn’t around back in the 1950’s either.
She never told me she was called Muff. I found out when I was attending a large meeting when we still lived in Charleston. I was sitting next to another Grand Dame, Helaine Rotgin. Maggie had worked on Helaine’s campaign for the WV State Legislature in the 1970’s, and Helaine was quite fond of her. As we waited for the meeting to start, Helaine turned to me and loudly yelled (yes, she yelled as she was getting hard of hearing)”How is Muff?” Everyone stopped and stared at me. All I could say was, “fine?” Only later did I get an explanation.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that Maggie had supported Helaine, who was a die-hard democrat, and to my knowledge, the first Jewish woman in the WV Legislature. Maggie herself was a die-hard Democrat. Shortly after Trump was elected and Maggie was still living on her own, I stopped by to visit while on a business trip in Charleston. She proudly showed me the Obama button she still wore every day “just to piss people off.” She was addicted to MSNBC and spent the last few years of her life raging against Trump. Unfortunately, she died when he was still president. I can only imagine how joyful she would have been about the Biden inauguration.
But Maggie, didn’t just watch television. Up until the last couple of years of her life, she was a voracious reader. I actually met her at the bookstore where she worked for years, and I didn’t leave the store empty handed. She picked out several books that, according to her, I “had to read.” That pattern continued for decades, and I spent many hours on the phone talking to Maggie about books. Her recommendations were always stellar.
Other than reading, Maggie’s favorite hobby was going to thrift stores before thrifting was cool. She had a talent for finding the coolest clothes and jewelry then gifting them to just the right person. Generally, her gifts were random as she wasn’t one for dedicating time and energy to celebrating holidays, with the exception of Halloween. I’ll never forget taking my then three- year-old son to her house for Halloween to find her dressed up as Eminem. No that’s not a mistake. She wasn’t dressed as M&M candies. She was dressed as Eminem the rapper.
That wasn’t the only time Maggie left me speechless. My husband and I had just started dating when Maggie struck up a friendship with her neighbor, a flaming gay guy at least thirty years her junior. I adored their friendship, but I became worried when he convinced her to start breaking into empty houses that were for sale just to “have a look around.” Thankfully, they were never caught and arrested.
Don’t get me wrong. Maggie was far from a criminal. In fact, she spent a good part of her life caring for her others. In addition to raising three children, she took care of her sister for years. She also cared for both of my children after they were born. In fact, she and my son had a bond that I never experienced with my own grandparents. Of course, the fact that he could cuss around her and she would cuss right back probably helped cement their relationship,
My children were her only grandchildren, and she adored them. My husband and I must have been arguing one of the only times I witnessed her get angry with him. “Trina will always be right,” she said. “She gave birth to my grandchildren, so I will always side with her.”
Oh how, I loved that woman.
As I as writing this, my husband walked in and asked what I was doing.
“I’m writing about your mom,” I said. “You know she’d hate that,” he replied.
He was right. Maggie would hate it. But she also deserves it.
Here are three truths that guide my life:
1) Perfection is highly overrated. I’ve never met a perfect person, and I certainly wasn’t raised by anyone who met the criteria.
2) We learn more far more from our mistakes than we will ever learn from accomplishments.
3) The best advice we receive isn’t handed to us wrapped in words of wisdom. Instead, the most meaningful lessons are often hidden in what we observe, what we hear, and, in many cases, what we don’t hear.
My mom has spent more than 51 years trying to impart these nuggets of truth on my brother and me.
When I was young, she sometimes interspersed her acquired wisdom into our conversations, but what went unsaid was always more powerful.
For example, my mom never once told me I deserved anything. NEVER.
I was well into adulthood before I realized that.
No matter what I achieved, she never used the word deserve. Of course she encouraged me and told me that I’d earned my successes, but she implied that earning something is entirely different from deserving it.
She never explained this, and we never discussed the matter.
But by not speaking that one word, deserve, she said volumes.
In matters of every day life, human beings don’t have the right, or the ability, to decide who is deserving of something. Because, in doing so, we imply that others are not deserving.
Life is one big poker game in which the draw sometimes determines everything. Yes, some people are better at playing the game. Yes, some people use their cards to gain an advantage. Yes, some people avoid temptations and are able to improve their chances. And yes, some people are so charming and engaging that they can cloud reality to sway the beliefs of others.
But in the end, some people are simply luckier, and luck has nothing to do with their character, their abilities, their fortitude, their courage, or whether they are more “deserving” than others
So even though Mom never talked about why she threw “deserve” into her junk pile of words that are either misused or meaningless, she said everything through the life she’s led.
And for that, I will always be grateful.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.
I am making plenty of mistakes while raising my children.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
When they see me make mistakes and carry on anyway, they know they can do the same. When they see me make mistakes and learn from them. they can better understand how to use their own mistakes to their advantage. And when I apologize for my mistakes, they learn to take responsibility for their actions.
Most of all, when my kids love me despite my flaws, they realize that perfection is never a criteria for love.
And that always makes me smile.
Day 309: Lessons Learned from Motherhood Day 308: When a Difficult Problem is Solved Day 307: Living Near Hills and Mountains Day 306: Recognizing How Far Women Have Come Day 305: Creative House and Yard Decorations Day 304: The Power to Forgive Day 303: Marrying Someone Who Always Knows How to Make Me Smile Day 302: People Who Sport the Breaking Bad Car Magnet Day 301: The song of the whippoorwill Day 300: Coming Home Day 299: Clean Water Day 298: Blue Bells Day 297: Listening to Books When Driving Long Distances Day 296: Walking in the Woods Day 295: The Warm Sun on My Face Day 294: Turning Loud Shoes into a Conversation Item Day 293: Seeing Something New in the Every Day Day 292: Dreams Day 291: “What a Wonderful World” Day 290: Softly Falling Petals During Spring Day 289: Home king with Love Day 288: Coloring Easter Eggs Day 287: The View From Above Day 286: The Wisdom of Mr. Rogers Day 285: The Princess Bride Day 284: All Creatures Great and Small Day 283: The Legend of the Dogwood Day 282: Sleeping with the Windows Open Day 281: Four Significant Birthdays in One Year Day 280: Discovering Great Music Day 279: Funny Names for Wi-Fi connections Day 278: Sad Cat Diary Day 277: The Smiling Cow Day 276: Celebrating 16 years of motherhood Day 275: Seeing Potential in Our Children Day 274: Stained Glass Day 273: Naturalization Ceremonies Day 272: “Let It Be” by the Beatles Day 271: Sharing Meals with Great Friends Day 270: Daffodils Day 269: April Fool’s Day Day 268: Acoustic Music Day 267: Country Roads Day 266: Sunsets on Pamlico Sound Day 265: The Sound and Smell of the Ocean Day 264: Crossing the Bonner Bridge Day 263: Mark Twain Quotes Day 262: Old-fashion Fun Day 261: The Far Side Cartoons by Gary Larson Day 260: Nostalgic Theme Songs Day 259: Appreciating Life’s Rewards Day 258: Awkward Conversations With Strangers Day 257: The arrival of Spring Day 256: Being Saved by Buffy the Vampire Slayer Day 255: Thoughtful Husbands Day 254: The Pot of Gold at the End of the Rainbow Day 253: When Kids Want to Clean Day 252: Conversations in Cars Day 251: Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day Day 250: Bonnie Bell Over-sized LipSmackers versus Egg-Shaped Eos Lip Balm Day 249: Watching Those I Cherish Sleep Day 248: Getting Back on My Bike after the Longest Winter ay 247: “Don’t Worry. Be Happy.” Day 246: Multiple Reminders of Beauty Day 245: Being Nice to Total Strangers Day 244: The Perfect Phrase Day 243: Little Girls With AttitudeDay 242: The Soup Nazi Day 241: Contagious Smiles Day 240: Oklahoma Day 239: Dr. Seuss’ Persistence Day 238: Over-Dependence on Spell Check Day 237: Only 28 days in February Day 236: Genuine Signatures Day 235: Television Personalities Who Don’t Take Themselves Too Seriously Day 234: The Words “Happy Birthday” Day 233: Teenagers Who Care about Their Grandparents Day 232: “Morning Has Broken”Day 231: Avoiding Jury Duty Day 230: Melting Snow after a Long Winter Day 229: Hungry Teenage Boys Day 228: Having a DreamDay 227: Mispronunciations Day 226: Awkward Animal MomentsDay 225: Shaking Hands With Scott HamiltonDay 224: Having an Office With Windows Day 223: Watching Our Children Mature Day 222: Getting the Upper Hand Over Life’s Challenges Day 221: St. Teresa’s Prayer Day 220: Children Who Are True to Self Day 219: Frosted Sugar Cookies Day 218: Children with a Global Perspective Day 217: Enchanted Day 216: Having a “secret weapon” Day 215: Jack and Diane Day 214: The Volkswagen Beetle Day 213: Moments that Can’t Be Recreated Day 212: “The Soul” Quote Day 211: Rubber Ducky Day 210: Tracks in the Snow Day 209: Finding a Penny on the Ground Day 208: Kids who Use Their Manners Day 207: Reminders of Warm Sunny Days Day 206: Dogs Playing in the Snow Day 205: Descriptive Phrases Day 204: Arsenic and Old Lace Day 203: Reminders of Resiliency Day 102: Stephanie’s Ponytail Day 201: Being Asked to Help Day 200: Boys and Their Toys Day 199: The Most Important Person Day 198: People With Courage to Do What is Right Day 197: Being Pleasantly Surprised by My Children Day 196: Being Told I’m Young Day 195: Good News Day 194: Meaningful Eye Contact Day 193: A Sense of Accomplishment Day 192: Growing Into the Person I’ll Someday Be Day 191: Matt Groening Day 190: Tuning Out Bad News and Tuning In to What We Enjoy Day 189: Parents Who Encourage Independence Day 188: Watching Young Minds at Work Day 187: Funny Phone Calls Day 186: Healthy Lungs Day 185: Reality Checks Day 184: Coincidence Day 183: Lame Attempts to Go Retro Day 182: Learning From Our Mistakes Day 181: Goofy Childhood Memories Day 180: A soak in a bathtub Day 179: Optimism Day 178: The Year’s Top Baby Names Day 177: Reading on a Rainy Day Day 176: “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey Day 175: Watching the Torch Pass Day 174: Converse Tennis Shoes Day 173: Family Acceptance Day 172: Christmas Day 171: The Mr. Grinch Song Day 170: Positive People Day 169: Watching Movies From my Childhood With My Kids Day 168: Jealous Pets Day 167: Family Christmas Recipes Day 166: Church BellsDay 165: School Holiday 164: Unexpected Grace Day 163: Letting Go of Things We Can’t Control Day 162: Anticipating a good story Day 161: Hope Day 160: When Dogs Try to Avoid Embarrassment Day 159: Surprises in the Mail Day 158: Kids who aren’t superficial Day 157: A Garage on Winter Days Day 156: Real Christmas Trees Day 155: Being a Parent Day 154: Selfless People Day 153: Nelson Mandela Day 152: Memorable Road Trips Day 151: Great Neighbors Day 150: Oscar Wilde’s quote about being yourself Day 149: Love Letters Day 148: The first day of Advent Day 147: The Breakfast Club Day 146: Marriage and Shared Anniversaries 145: JFK’s quote about gratitude Day 144: Watching My Dog Play Day 143: Having my Family’s Basic Needs Met Day 142: When Our Children Become Role Models Day 141: Random Acts of Kindness Day 140; People Watching Day 139: Sharing Interests with My Children Day 138: Eleanor Roosevelt’s Best Advice Day 137: Weird Human Behavior about Garbage Day 136: Postcards from Heaven Day 135: Mickey Mouse Day 134: Generous Souls Day 133: I’m Moving On Day 132: A Family That is Really Family Day 131: A Personal Motto Day 130: Mork and Mindy Day 129: The Bears’ House Day 128: Veterans Day 127: Doppelgangers Day 126: Letting Life Unfold as It Should Day 125: The Constantly Changing Sky Day 124: When History Repeats Itself Day 123: The Love Scene in The Sound of Music Day 122: Helen Keller Day 121: The Welcome Back Kotter Theme Song Day 120: Sheldon Cooper Day 119: Having Permission to Make Mistakes Day 118: A Diverse Group of Friends Day 117: Family Traditions Day 116: The Haunting Season Day 115; Life Experience Day 114: Changes Day 113: The Wooly Bear Caterpillar Day 112: The National Anthem Day 111: Parents Who Care Day 110: Good Friends Day 109: My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss Day 108: A.A. Milne QuotesDay 107: Spending Time Wisely Day 106: Parades Day 105: The Peanuts Gang Dancing Day 104: Sharing a Secret Language Day 103: The Electric Company Day 102: Doing the Right Thing Day 101: When Siblings Agree Day 100: Being Optimistic Day 99: Trying Something New Day 98: The Sound of Children on a Playground Day97: Good Advice Day 96: Red and white peppermint candy Day 95: The Soundtrack from the Movie Shrek Day 94: Accepting Change Day 93: True Love Day 92: Camera Phones Day 91: Bicycle Brakes Day 90: HeroesDay 89: The Cricket in Times Square Day 88: The Grand Canyon Day 87: Unanswered Prayers Day 86: Apples Fresh from the Orchard Day 85: Being Human Day 84: Captain Underpants Day 83: The Diary of Anne Frank Day 82: In Cold Blood Day 81: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Day 80: The Outsiders Day 79: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Day 78: The First Amendment Day77: People Who Touch Our Lives Day 76: The Rewards of Parenting Day 75: Improvements Day 74: Family Traditions Day 73: Learning From Our Mistakes Day 72: Live Music Day 71: Sleeping In Day 70: Grover Day 69: A Good Hair Day Day 68: A Sense of Community Day 67: Kindness Day 66: Living in a Place You Love Day 65: Gifts from the Heart Day 64: The Arrival of Fall Day 63: To Kill a Mockingbird Day 62: Green LightsDay 61: My Canine Friends Day 60: Differences Day 59: A New Box of Crayons Day 58: Bookworms Day 57: Being Oblivious Day 56: Three-day Weekends Day 55: A Cat Purring Day 54: Being a Unique Individual Day 53: Children’s Artwork Day 52: Lefties Day 51: The Neighborhood Deer Day 50: Campfires Day 49: Childhood Crushes Day 48: The Words “Miss You” Day 47: Birthday Stories Day 46: Nature’s Hold on Us Day 45: Play-Doh Day 44: First Day of School Pictures Day 43: Calvin and Hobbes Day 42: Appreciative Readers Day 41: Marilyn Monroe’s Best Quote Day 40: Being Silly Day 39: Being Happy Exactly Where You Are Day 38: Proud Grandparents Day 37: Chocolate Chip Cookies Day 36: Challenging Experiences that Make Great Stories Day 35: You Can’t Always Get What You Want Day 34: Accepting the Fog Day 33: I See the Moon Day 32: The Stonehenge Scene from This is Spinal Tap Day 31: Perspective Day 30: Unlikely Friendships Day 29: Good Samaritans Day 28: Am I a Man or Am I a Muppet? Day 27: Shadows Day 26: Bike Riding on Country Roads Day 25: When Harry Met Sally Day 24: Hibiscus Day 23: The Ice Cream Truck Day 22: The Wonderful World of Disney Day 21: Puppy love Day 20 Personal Theme Songs Day 19: Summer Clouds Day 18: Bartholomew Cubbin’s VictoryDay 17: A Royal Birth Day 16: Creative Kids Day 15: The Scent of Honeysuckle Day 14: Clip of Kevin Kline Exploring His MasculinityDay 13: Random Text Messages from My Daughter Day 12: Round Bales of HayDay 11: Water Fountains for Dogs Day 10: The Rainier Beer Motorcycle Commercial Day 9: Four-Leaf Clovers Day 8: Great Teachers We Still RememberDay 7: Finding the missing sock Day 6: Children’s books that teach life-long lessonsDay 5: The Perfect Photo at the Perfect Moment Day 4: Jumping in Puddles Day 3: The Ride Downhill after the Struggle Uphill Day 2: Old Photographs Day 1: The Martians on Sesame Street
I looked down and realized that, despite my best efforts to never have my mother’s hands, I had failed.
Growing up, I was always very aware that my mother’s hands didn’t look like those of my friends’ mothers.
Her fingers never sparkled with jewelry or nail polish. The only ring she ever wore was a simple gold band on her left hand, and her nails were always cut short so dirt couldn’t accumulate under them. She never considered polishing them, and, as a teenager, I brought the first bottle of nail polish into our house.
Neither were my mother’s hands soft. They were rough from all the tasks she required of them.
And she required a great deal.
When I was a child, she always had a meal on the table, her house was always spotless and the laundry was always done and hung on the line to dry. She canned and froze the vegetables and fruits my dad grew in his large garden and she sewed almost all the clothes I wore. She made bread from scratch and biscuits from memory. As a Girl Scout leader, she taught me how to start a fire, put up a tent and forge a trail. And when she wasn’t being a mom, she was a photographer and a journalist. She dragged my brother and me from everything to train wrecks to hippie communes to worm farms.
By the time her day was over, she didn’t have the time, energy or interest to soak her hands or massage them with lotion. Her hands were too busy turning the pages of a book.
I was an adult before I realized that I had no reason to be embarrassed by my mother’s hands. They were simply a reflection of whom she is, which isn’t whom I am at all.
I don’t like to cook, and my house is never spotless. I haven’t canned or frozen any vegetables since she stood at my side teaching me. And I refuse to sew anything.
And yet, as heredity would have it, I now have my mother’s hands not because I have labored as she did but because I have labored in my own ways.
My hands, like her hands, are rarely idle. My hands, like her hands, have chosen meaningful work over vanity. And my hands, like her hands, have taken care of two children in the best way they know how.
As I look down at my hands now, I am no longer shocked or even bothered. Instead I am proud that they reflect who I am: one in a long line of women who are true to themselves, true to their families and true to their beliefs.
Even if we aren’t true to fashion.
I was incredibly intent the year I had to make a corsage for my mom out of tissue paper. While my fellow students curled the colorful paper around their pencil erasers then glued it to cardboard to resemble bright flowers, I felt the need to put order to chaos. The result was a smiling face that, in retrospect, bore a striking likeness to the Wal-Mart smiley face.
My mother never hesitated to wear the hideous yellow corsage. In fact, she wore it all day on Mother’s Day, even though it thoroughly clashed with her dress.
I was incredibly proud the year I played Mary Poppins in the Mother’s Day program. Families were required to provide the props, and because my frugal family didn’t have a normal umbrella, I twirled a hideous clear, plastic one shaped like a mushroom as I danced through boxes painted like chimneys. I resembled Mary Poppins about as much as I resembled Grace Kelly.
I was incredibly naive when I bought my mother a card that described Mother’s Day as a “gay” holiday.
I’m a lot older now, and I’m a lot less naive.
But I still don’t have a problem describing Mother’s Day as a gay holiday, especially this year.
That’s because, as I’ve aged, Mother’s Day has come to mean more than simply honoring and thanking my own mom. It’s also become a day to reflect on what being a good mother is.
While my experience is limited to 14 years, I’ve come to recognize three primary truths about being a parent:
1. A mother’s primary responsibility is to ensure that her children grow up to be responsible adults;
2. Every child is different, so there is no “right” way to be a parent;
3. Teaching our children to defend and stand up for those who are different is much more important than teaching them how to be popular or stylish.
This week, our President served as a parent to our entire nation when he publicly declared his support of gay marriage. I know the motivations behind his statements can be disputed, but I choose to believe that he was guided by his sense of morality and his need to set an example for all of us.
I heard his message loud and clear; if we tolerate hate and intolerance wrapped in religion then we are acting in direct opposition to the principles on which our country was established: a country in which all people are supposed to be treated equally.
So, while I seriously doubt my children will ever used their hard-earned allowance to buy a card that describes Mother’s Day as gay, I know that if they do, I would be honored to receive it. After all, it might be describing a holiday that looks beyond stereotypes and bias and unites us with a purpose of increasing tolerance for the next generation.
I can certainly hope.
As Mother’s Day drew near, I once again found myself shopping for the perfect card for my mother.
Shopping for my mother is never an easy task, but card shopping for her is next to impossible.
I just can’t equate any of the flowery, sappy cards with my mother.
Granted, I’m not the flowery, sappy type myself, but compared to her? I’m a sentimental fool. I would be kidding myself and others if I claimed I had never wished my mother was the warm fuzzy type. Or that I didn’t find her a bit too serious and intense. Or that on more than one occasion (count hundreds in my teen years), I’d wished she was more like other mothers.
But I’d also be kidding myself if I didn’t recognize that if it weren’t for my mom, I wouldn’t be me. And, although it’s taken way too many years for me to publicly admit the fact, I really do like myself. So thanks Mom.
Thanks for living your life on your own terms and not bending to societal pressures. And thanks for expecting that I do the same.
Thanks for having the fortitude to speak out for what you believe, even when everyone else is keeping quiet. And thanks for expecting I do the same.
Thanks for taking on stereotypical male roles and responsibilities. And thanks for expecting I do the same.
Thanks for living a life that demonstrates what you do for others is more important than accumulating material possessions. And thanks for expecting I do the same.
Thanks for taking time to pursue your own dreams and passions while still ensuring your children get everything they need. And thanks for expecting I do the same.
And while I am grateful for everything my mom is and did, I’ve never have found the perfect Mother’s Day card to share that message. This year, I settled on one that simply said “You are special.” But I wish I could find the perfect card for her.
It would be a card that tells her to relax. She did her job as mother, and she did it brilliantly. It would tell her that she needs to stop worrying about her perceived missteps and focus on the facts: both of her kids turned out just fine. We never went to jail and we never made headlines for our bad behavior (at least I never made headlines for my bad behavior, I’m not sure my brother even participated in bad behavior.)
It would tell her she helped stack the odds in our favor so that we could live happy, productive lives. We are both well-educated, we are both responsible for ourselves and our own families and we are both parents who greatly appreciate that we had positive role models in our parents.
Most importantly, the card would tell her that she gave her children the best gift of all: the gift of knowing we are accepted and appreciated for being who we are with all our own flaws and quirks.
So instead of providing her with the perfect card, the best I can do is write my thoughts and share them with anyone who is willing to read them.
Happy Mother’s Day Mom.
I love you!