Diane Miessler: The package that was my mom
Growing up as the baby of the family, I figured we’d always led the kind of Ozzie-and-Harriet life in the suburbs I was born into. Nice house that stayed effortlessly clean, four basic food groups at every meal, clean skivvies always neatly folded in my drawer — you get the picture.
It wasn’t until I became a mom myself that I realized how much work my parents put into maintaining that world for us. And it wasn’t until I became grown up enough to talk to my mom as a fellow human being that I realized how hard the road sometimes was that led her to my childhood home on Whittier Lane.
My parents moved to California after the war, like so many peoplel eaving the Midwest and family and most of what was familiar to pursue golden dreams in the Golden State. But they didn’t move directly to Ozzie and Harrietland.
They lived in a series of spare rooms, converted garages and one-bedroom apartments (where they slept on a hide-a-bed in the living room with two kids in the bedroom and one in the kitchen under the telephone).
Somewhere in there I came along, the last of four. My mom said she knew she’d had enough kids because, at 9 pounds 6 ounces, “you felt like a watermelon.”
My dad got a good job as a teacher, and we moved to a bigger house in Hayward. When I was 2 and a half, my mom went back to work as a nurse, piling on the global guilt all mothers feel for not doing enough for their kids.
But she did do enough. More than enough. She was a complicated mom, too critical and sometimes irritable, and I still struggle with having taken in that criticism. Still, she worked hard to give us a nice home, the best way she knew to show us her love. And she sometimes delighted in us.
I hope she knew how much I appreciated the smell of frying chicken or cookies that sometimes drifted down the street as I was walking home from school — the four little piles of chocolate chips she’d leave on the counter for us kids when she baked; the folded skivvies (OK, I didn’t appreciate them but now I’m impressed).
Thanks, Mom, for who you were, for your simple acceptance of everyone, your spontaneity, even your unedited reporting of what was going through your mind (often some way her kids could do better).
I never had to wonder what you were thinking. And thanks especially for loving us through our sometimes bewildering morphs into adulthood, and for letting us walk our own, varied paths, never once withdrawing that love.
Parenting is, by nature, an imperfect art. It brings out our tiredest, crabbiest, stretched-thinnest selves, not at all the magazine-cover-moms we envisioned being. But this form that mother’s love takes, that my mom’s love took, this slogging through the daily details of running a family in all its frayed, chaotic, coming-apart-at-the-seams glory, of making it all somehow hold together and, most importantly, making sure that everyone knows they’re loved, no matter how frayed that love is, well … it’s not perfection, but it may be something better.
It’s the stuff of humanity, that wonderful mixture of beauty and warts and mistakes and forgiveness and the amazing power of love to smooth out the rest. Thank you, Mom, for your unique brand of mother love.
My mom died on July 27, 2012. I miss her chocolate chip cookies, the folded skivvies, and the whole complicated package that was her.
Diane Miessler lives in Nevada City.
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