Friday, 10 May 2013
Meet My Mother - A Natural-Born Activist
My mother is, well, unique. When I was in kindergarten, I walked to school - alone. All the other children were dropped off by their parents, but my Mom just woke me up, left a bowl of cereal at the end of my bed (who doesn't love breakfast in bed?) and after we both got dressed, she left for work and we parted ways at the front door. Mom was the only woman in our neighborhood to be employed outside the home. She had no interest whatsoever in cooking ("Here, eat this peanut butter sandwich so you won't be hungry anymore") and she cleaned, but not for fun. My Mom was the original independent, hard-nosed, who-cares-what-the-neighbors-think feminist.
Mom's moral compass is embedded in her DNA - she didn't learn right from wrong at university - she never went. After the depression, only the boys had that privilege. But Mom always had a job; usually as a secretary at our school. She always took jobs that allowed her to be home with us during school holidays.
Growing up, I watched with a mixture of fascination, mortification and eventually pride as Mom would become exorcised over some perceived unfairness that my sister or I suffered at school. On my first day of grade one, Mom let my teacher have it. After school, I told my parents how during class, I had put up my hand to ask for a drink from the hallway water fountain. The day was scorching and in those days, there was no air conditioning. The teacher refused to let any child out of class, even for water. Mom worked in my school as the secretary and the principal was also our parish priest. My first day at that school was also my last and I was transferred out of Catholic school into our local public one. The priest came knocking on our door at home and pleaded with Mom to put me back into Catholic school, on religious grounds. He might as well have been talking to a post.
Once, I remember that my Dad made the mistake of telling Mom (who was dressed in her pyjamas at the time) not to have her morning coffee and cigarette on our front porch. "I don't want the neighbours to be looking over here", he said. That was Mom's cue to dance around a birch seedling in our front lawn, may-pole style. My sister and I screeched with laughter and Dad just shook his head.
When my sister Karen had premature twins, Mom was there for night duty. When Nicholas was diagnosed with disabilities, Mom arrived with a pot of 'stew' (her signature dish), boxes of chocolate cookies (the marshmallow kind called "Whippets") and cuddles at the ready.
Once, when the children were a little older, Mom came to visit and help out around the house. I arrived home from a therapy appointment with Nicholas to find my mother outside on ladder, cigarette dangling from her lips, washing the windows. She was about 70 at the time. "Mom! What are you doing?! Get down from there!", I shouted in alarm. "Well, the windows aren't going to wash themselves, they're dirty. And where's your ironing? I'll do that when I'm finished. You go lie down. Now." That was Mom - direct, unapologetic, funny and slightly outrageous.
Today, Mom still smokes and enjoys her chocolate bars with a rum and coke. She plays a mean hand of duplicate bridge and beats me every time at scrabble. A couple of years ago, Mom got so annoyed at the cost of cigarettes, that she wrote a letter to the editor of her local paper voicing her opinion that seniors who contributed to the war effort should be exempt from paying taxes on smokes.
What did I learn from my mother? I learned resilience, assertiveness, kindness, loyalty and a passion for justice. These are all qualities that I endeavor to use daily in my work as a caregiver activist. Thank you Mom, and Happy Mother's Day. You are one of a kind and I love you.