I don't know quite what to say about my mother. I love her. I talk to her twice a day on the phone. She spent years tending to a pack of feral cats, and now she works in a pet shelter. She loves her grandchildren more than you could ever know.
My mother lost her own mother when I was two. After a long struggle with cancer, my Grandma Alice was gone, and my mother, a new mother, was left with two squalling kids and one on the way. My dad worked long hours and didn't change diapers. She was alone and left doing the unglamorous tasks of childrearing and housework. She baked pound cakes and devil's food cakes from the box. At Christmas she made hundreds of cookies from scratch and chocolate lollipops shaped like snowmen and snowladies.
When my mother was young she worked in Manhattan. For a time she was an executive secretary who wore smart outfits with matching shoes and gloves. When she worked at Gimbel's, the famous department store immortalized in A Miracle on 34th Street, she was tapped to appear in a newspaper ad for hats. I imagine my mother cut a glamorous figure on the subway each morning in her sheer stockings and velvet coat. I'll bet she had a book in hand, or a pad and paper for clever notes. At a young age I remember seeing her old clothes in the basement -- tweed and velvet and imported wool. Coats and short dresses with sparkly adornments -- clothes so foreign from the red windbreaker and sensible front-pleated polyester black pants she hid behind when she was my mom. Those two moms were too hard to reconcile. Sometimes I was mad that I was left with Polyester Pants Mom and not Purple Paisley Pea Coat Mom.
Purple Paisley Pea Coat Mom might have been stronger and braver. She might have resisted her lot, resisted us kids, and had more of her own life. She might have joined a book group full of clever women who drank wine from Long Island vineyards and occasionally journeyed to the city to see a Broadway show. Paisley Pea Coat Mom would have been happier, happier with herself, happier with her world. She would have gotten angry sometimes. She wouldn't have let her inner pain ball grow and grow and grow and grow. She would have subscribed both to People magazine and the New Yorker. When she laughed, it would have been long and loud and true.
I love my mom. I love who she is now, and I love that after I left for college she started to tend to herself and tend to her life.
Was she waiting for me to leave?
She joined a gym and made gym-friends; she started getting brave and confident and strong. She stopped putting herself last and started to realize that she was as important as her family. She bought more colorful shoes.
It took time and tending, but my mom grew back into the purple paisley pea coat long after the coat itself had turned to purple paisley dust.
I have decided not to be a mother. Sometimes I think this hurts my mom. It is not because of childhood misery that I want to forgo a child. It is because I don't want to risk giving up my purple paisley pea coat. My mom was, is, unselfish and loving and willing to give up everything for her family without thinking. Without getting the credit, the appreciation, the rousing applause that she deserved. I won't do it, I can't do it.
And it only makes me love her more.