Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mothers of Invention

All through growing up in the orphanage, my best friend Starr Ann and I used to create stories for ourselves about what our mother would be like, if we had one. We got so much in the habit of inventing our ideal mother, that to this day, one of us will occasionally begin a sentence with, "If we had a mother,she would..."

Sometime a story would come out of a dream, sometime we'd just make it up, but whatever the source, all our stories became part of this elaborate mother history we shared.

Anyway, here are a few of our mom stories and our approximate ages when they popped into being.

(3-year-old Starr Ann)(made up) Our mom would think of real fun games to play with us whenever it stormed, just so we'd get used to liking rough weather.

(7-year-old me)(dreamed) Starr Ann and I had two beautiful green turtles, the ones about as big around as a half dollar. Their names were Speedy and Greeny (we were little, okay?). One time, our mom accidentally stacked a bunch of cotton diapers right next to the turtles' bowl and the diaper lint made a thin coating on the water that also coated Speedy and Greeny's noses and they couldn't breathe. As much as our mom must have been hurting over finding them dead, she came outside and called us to the porch with this great big smile on her face. Our mom told us she had wonderful news. She was cleaning the turtle bowl and Speedy and Greeny jumped down into the toilet and swam to the river to be with their mother. Our mom said we should be very happy for them. Not the best way to help your children create their grief pathways, but our mom didn't know that.

(9-year-old Starr Ann)(made up)
All through grade school, whenever one of the teachers at our little parochial school would be absent for some reason, our mom was the default substitute teacher. When the sixth grade teacher had a nervous breakdown, our mom taught at our school for a whole year. Her kids loved her so much that a bunch of them used to come to our house almost every day after school, which meant we got to hang out with older kids! It was great until a couple of the wilder boys tricked Starr Ann by giving her a candy bar that was really laxative. But Starr Ann came out the winner, because our mom made those boys bring Starr Ann a real candy bar each and every day until school was out.

(12-year-old me)(dreamed) Our mom's favorite movie star was Susan Hayward. Whenever you mentioned the name Susan Hayward, our mom would say something like, "Ohhhhh, just the thought of her makes my knees weak." Heh. Just sayin'.

(13-year-old Starr Ann)(dreamed)
There was this boy in our neighborhood who was a senior in high school when I was a freshman. Our mom really liked him, but I didn't. When this boy asked me to his prom, I didn't want to go, but my mom practically forced me to. I counted every second of that miserable night and came home real early.

(young adult me)(made up)
When I broke the news to our mom that I was lesbian, I told her it was because she made me go to that prom with that boy I didn't like. Even though she's cool with me being gay, I still tell her that.

About a month ago, Starr Ann dreamed our mom got real sick and had to be put on life support. After a couple of days, she was conscious, but couldn't say a word due to the breathing tube down her throat. She kept looking at me, trying to say something. We tried and tried to guess what she meant, but she shook her head no with each guess. Finally, the nurse brought in this sheet of paper with big block letters on it, and said maybe our mom was lucid enough to spell out her message. Our mom spelled out C-H-A-I-R and pointed at me. She always did worry about how I stand up for too long when she's in the hospital, and here she comes out of a very near death episode, with a breathing tube down her throat and a feeding tube down her nose and needles in her arm and all she's thinking about is my comfort. When Starr Ann and I invent a mother, we really invent a mother.

Not that our mom doesn't have her faults and didn't make mistakes and doesn't drive us nuts at times. We added those parts to the history, too, but somehow they don't tend to stick or seem very important.

Since Starr Ann's dream where our mom almost died, we've been talking and thinking a lot about mothers in general. Starr Ann and I have just about decided nobody in the world sees their mother all that realistically. In fact, it's about as impossible to be objective about your own mother as it is to see your own image the way other people do.

Anyway, in the last couple of weeks, I've added this new scenario where even though the doctors say she's had many silent heart attacks over the years, and even though they say her lungs are awfully bad, our mom is so resilient that she's amazing them every day with how well she's bouncing back.

We love our mom.