My mom has always understood: a mother's duty merely begins when she has children. Linda Bouvier took me to heart from the start — to museums when I was two, to symphonies at three -- and she read me good words from conception until, well, she just read something uplifting to me over the telephone a week ago. It didn't faze my mom that I was too noisy and rambunctious to civilize as a child; for my own good she did what she could to enlighten me for higher things. And it doesn't faze her now that I sometimes return the favor and civilize her, now that I'm a grown man. Back then, we'd have to leave the museum because I was the one putting on a display, and today I'll suggest to her which artists she might go see. Such are the prices and prizes for raising a son who is more or less culturally aware.
My mother's own acculturation turned her verbal. She learned the art of good communication. Even when she's quiet, you can see her brain working; even when she listens, you can tell she bites her tongue. But the words she holds are almost entirely good words, positive words, words sewn of fine and strong fiber.
My mom provides helpful advice, candid opinions, blunt judgments, and well-imagined scenarios. Often, her words are of the sympathetic, self-help variety. She takes another person's situations deeply into consideration, and then she'll launch a thousand ways to rethink any mess. This is because my mother is very much a force for Good. She wants to believe in Goodness, and she wants to help everyone else see Good in everything. Which is to say, if you're bad, or if you stand in her way, then watch out! My mom can throw you a scolding like no one else.
Besides her offerings of honest words, my mother cleans. She is a cleaner. When she came to visit San Diego over the holidays, just weeks after my ex and I were separated, my mom took one look around the house, asked where all my rags and cleaning products were, and then got down to scrubbing.
After a few hours of cleansing, scouring, tidying, and polishing, during which I'd tried to help her but had been turned away, she told me, chillingly, "I'm not just cleaning. I'm exorcising an energy."
By the time she was done with the place, I understood a new definition for "shine." I saw the day air through suddenly dustless light. My mother finds dirt beyond the tangible dirt, it seems. For her, the messes in our lives are metaphysical.
My mother has always been somewhat of a live wire. Fresh out of college, she left her Italian immigrant family behind, in upstate New York, to dream in Southern California with my dad. After I came along, we moved back east, to Connecticut, added my sister to the mix, and my mom raised us exclusively for a few years before she went into the newspaper business mostly on a whim. In a short time, she made managing editor.
After our local paper, the Milford Citizen, was taken over by one of the big news organizations, my mother picked up and decided she wanted to go into the trade of designing kitchens. She's currently the president of Milford Rotary. And she still plays first-rate tennis at 61 years young.
Back in the day, my mom was a cheerleader and the queen of her high school prom. Now -- her charismatic teenager's smile both improved and intact -- the vivid eyes of my mom glow readily from under boisterous wisps of brilliant silver hair. She's beautiful. And when I call her on Sundays, she still ends our conversations the same way: "Believe in yourself," she'll counsel me, out of the blue. And then, like this past Sunday, she tells me, "Hold on a second. I want to read you something. 'Keep on listening. Be flexible. Laugh. Know the important issues. Let all the other stuff just float away.' " And then she always conveys the three motherly words I've heard from her more than any of her other motherly words. The three words she delivers with utmost sincerity, since probably even before she delivered me. The words at the veritable heart of my mother's sanguine doctrine: "I love you."