“The future destiny of a child is ?always the work of the mother.”
– Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France
My mother went to the hospital on Labor Day night and I was born the next morning. She worked Friday and had me Tuesday, after the Monday holiday. Her first day of maternity leave, she went into labor. A dedicated 9-5’er in a medical office, she brags about me being born at 9:04 am.
“How organized am I,” she said laughing. “Efficient!”
It’s one of my favorite stories about my mother. It’s classic Vicky, what I call her rather than Mom and she hates it. (I figured out about 12 year ago that it’s easier to yell “Vicky” and have one head turn in a crowded store, than yell “Mom” and have a few dozen heads snap.)
We both make lists. She’s always early and I am always late. We’re both excitable when talking, speaking too quickly for most people to follow and even sound the same on the phone. Sometimes, the way I write certain letters mimics her handwriting. We both can snap out of frustration. We have to take a deep breath, though saying that to the other yields more yelling.
As a parent, she’s always been supportive, maintaining her cool through tough times, usually relating to the sports I played growing up – like not wringing a coach’s neck when I didn’t make the team or dealing with parents who would groan loudly when I goal went past me on the field.
“You know it’s your daughter they’re complaining about,” she said. “It was very stressful.”
She says her most rewarding moment as a parent is seeing a great sense of humor be passed on to me.
“My mother loved my sense of humor, too. Just the way I told stories made her laugh,” she said.
Her mother was lenient but introverted, very focused on raising her three daughters, my mother the youngest. Vicky admired her mom, the wife of a ship captain. For more than 30 years, he was out to sea for months at a time, leaving my grandmother total responsibility for the home and raising the children.
“At least I had your Dad to help,” she says. “I wonder how my mom did it sometimes.”
My parents were behind a lot of her other friends when it came to the timing of marriage and children. While most people her age were married and mothers in their early 20s, she had me at 28. (Something closer to today’s average age of newlyweds and first-time mothers.)
She realized she wanted to be a mother only after she got married. Before she figured she would have dogs, not children. After settling into married life, with good jobs and house, she changed her attitude.
“I knew your father would be a great dad. He’s totally hands on. He definitely helped with more science projects than me,” Vicky said.
“I swore with my children, I wouldn’t repeat certain phrases my mother told me growing up, but I did,” Vicky said. Her mother was famous for saying, “If Joe Blow jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you jump, too?”
Vicky made sure we had fun summers on Sebago Lake, like she did growing up. She fondly remembers hanging out with her cousins and making lasting memories. My brother and I had a similar experience. We all piled into cramped quarters, without TV, but it was an unforgettable adventure filled with board games, cookouts and non-stop swimming.
There’s a few memorable parenting decisions that she recalls and I remember. I had a very tame childhood, no stories about getting arrested or me sneaking out. Or partying in the woods. I was lucky enough to always have a close relationship with my parents – they weren’t the enemy. But we’re not bffs. My mom’s not trying to wear my jeans.
Vicky made me go to church growing up and enrolled me in Religious Education, also serving as a lector and altar server.
“Faith and God were very important to me growing up and I wanted to instill the same in my children,” she said.
While I appreciate the sense of community the church gave me, at 25 my opinion on God and faith conflict with my personal and political beliefs. I would consider myself spiritual but I have a real problem with the Catholic Church’s stance on abortion and gay marriage. I take to heart the bigger lessons I learned growing up – being kind and forgiveness – in these troubled times for the church. My mother has had her struggles with Catholicism today, too, the sense of community is gone for her, made all too evident when a fellow parishioner backed into her new car one Sunday and left without so much as a note.
She was also a stickler for following the MPAA guidelines for films: I couldn’t see a rated “R” movie until I was 17 and waited until I was pretty close for PG-13. There was one memorable 14-year-old’s birthday party, where fellow partiers got permission from their parents to see “Scream 2.” I stuck to what I was taught and opted to see “Flubber” instead.
She also did not tolerate drinking under 21. Being involved in sports and activities where drinking would kick you off the team or out of the group, I obliged. I was too busy with after-school activities to feel denied anything or left out.
She instilled in me a sense of rule and order and I stuck with it. With drinking and rated-R movies, it made me look forward to celebrating the privileges that come with certain milestones.
She thought the most controversial decision she made was not letting me go to a Rolling Stones concert, five hours away in Montre?al, my freshman year of college. She didn’t know my new friends and didn’t trust them on an international trip to a place where our irresponsible 18-year-old selves were all legally allowed to imbibe.
Vicky asked, “Do you even know who the Rolling Stones are?”
She was right, and I never regretted missing the show. My friends could touch the concrete walls at the back of the arena from their seats and had to guess which tiny figure Mick Jagger was from his movements.
Her advice to other mothers is simple: “It’s not bad to be old-fashioned – having good morals, having your children work for what they want and a healthy dose of saying no. There is too much instant gratification today.”
Growing up, I remember just enough balance of give and take, want and need. Thank God I grew up just before video games and can remember bartering everything I had (brother included) to go play outside after dinner in the summer before the sun set.
So, Happy Mothers’ Day to all, but especially to mine – the only person I can always count on to read and champion my column.
Vicky and 3-year-old Katie Bell share a hug in 1987. (Vicky had just found out she was pregnant with her second child, Joseph.)Katie Bell is a graphic designer and freelance writer with Current Publishing.