I’m the happy product of the baby-boomer generation that afforded me a dad who worked long hours at his job and mom who worked longer hours at home. My mother’s parenting began in the early morning hours, as she put together my three course breakfast before tiptoeing into my room to wake me. For those of you born too late to be privy to 1950’s breakfast delights—here’s a sample: fresh squeezed orange juice, or a grapefruit half, scrambled eggs, cold sugary cereal with whole milk and buttered toast with raspberry jam. And that was only school-days fare—on weekends she served up multi-course feasts.
After walking the eight blocks to school with me, she grocery shopped for the day. Mom didn’t drive then, not that we could afford a second car even if she did. At home, she tackled house cleaning with military precision, learned when she worked for the US Army while my father served as a medic in WWII. Mondays were laundry and bedroom scrub-downs. Tuesdays, she took on the carpets. Dust mites cowered as she scoured her way to Friday; putting a shine on our floors that could please the gruffest drill sergeant.
She made our lunches every day. My favorites were her meatball sandwiches. When dinner included meatballs, whether Swedish or Italian, the next day’s lunch was a leftover sandwich. Wrapped lovingly in waxed paper were 2 slices of bread thinly coated in ketchup. In the middle, sat one lone meatball. My friends laughed at my ball-in-a-blanket, but I gobbled up my ketchup sandwich with its Tootsie Pop- like surprise middle.
Mom attended all my school functions, even while pregnant and later with an infant in her arms. She also designed my school play costumes. For our school’s Health Day Assembly, when my speaking role was one word, Meat, she wrapped me in brown crepe paper with stapled magazine photos of steak on my middle. She may not have been as crafty as Martha Stewart, but she had the same fervor.
My mom was a card-carrying member of the PTA and a Girl Scout den mother helper. She also taught me to swim, skate and bike-ride with varying degrees of success. Through it all, she had the strength and will to become a Mah Jong champ and Scrabble prizewinner while still being fashionable on a very tight budget.
Even through the awful years of her long goodbye-she wore cherry red lipstick as her snub to old age.
What’s amazing is that she wasn’t any different from most mothers of her generation. Many were children of the Great Depression or daughters of immigrants who fled the ravages of Asia or the racism of Europe and others were granddaughters of former slaves. Whatever their roots, they took to parenting like a divine calling.
I should have thought of Mom as my hero, but I was a Daddy’s Girl who worshipped only one idol.
On a Mother’s Day in my childhood, I looked down at the backyard from an upstairs window to count the cherry blossoms blowing off into the wind. My aunt, only eight years my senior, nudged me to move down to share the view. “When I was your age,” she began with an authoritarian sigh, “I thought your father could lift this house.”
Why hadn’t I realized it before. My father couldn’t lift our house. I put my little hands on my hips and answered as best I could without crying, “he can too!”
Eventually, I dismissed my aunt’s biting words. My father could indeed lift our house; out of poverty with his hard work, out of sadness with his keen wit and out of boredom with his bigger than life spontaneity. But the unsung champion of our home was my mom. Her sacrifices made it possible for me to be poor without going hungry, educated without being rich and sensible no matter what some cute boy promised.
Work-At-Home moms are becoming icons of a different age like black and white televisions and saddle shoes, but on this Mother’s Day I’m reminded that even if a father can lift a house, it still takes a mother to raise the children who live in it.