A Special Mother's Day Post
Until my 10-years-younger brother was born, I was the only boy among 4 sisters. I don't think my mother favored me, but I had a relationship with her that was different from her relationship with any of those 4 sisters. As a very trad-Catholic, I think she felt quite certain about how to raise girls, but maybe was less sure about raising boys. No doubt she would be considered a sexist nowadays, because I think she imagined that men and women had very different roles in families and in society. My mother was more a more "prescriptive" parent to my sisters, in terms of what she encouraged them or directed them to do; with me, she tended to encourage me to find my own way, and she always supported me in whatever I chose to do and forgave me when I tried but failed.
If I struggled with algebra, she would tell me "it's OK; some people aren't good at math". My physics professor dad didn't see it that way. We had a piano in the house. All us kids had to take lessons; one sister liked lessons. Three sisters didn't, and neither did I. But those three sisters had to keep at it, while I was allowed to quit lessons. As a result, I began playing the piano on my own, never learning to read music, but teaching myself chords and finding a way to play things by ear. It turned out I was really good at that—not piano technique, but "finding" music on my own.
I look back now and I understand two things about myself: 1): being raised by a strong mother among 4 beloved sisters made me into a man who has always had strong, productive relationships with women in the social and professional realm. It's ironic, but the "sexist" notions about roles did not imprint on me, in terms of how I understand women's roles. This serves me well in my academic life, where women now outnumber men among the faculty in our department, and I have excellent partnerships doing team-teaching with some of these women.
2): That freedom to "explore" and find my way has everything to do with who I have become, and how I got to where I am. I changed majors about 5 times, but ultimately ended up in a profession that I love, and I want to never retire. Also, that freedom with the piano—endless hours of entirely voluntary unstructured noodling—meant that much later in life, long after my mother had passed away, I discovered that I was a songwriter. Not on piano, but on guitar. I've now written hundreds of songs, and I have a "serious amateur" band who get together every week to play. It is a source of constant joy for me.
I love my work, and I love my music. Thanks mom.
Epilogue: my mom died when I was 25, and she was 52 (cancer). About 4 years before she died, she bought me a much nicer guitar (Gibson Hummingbird) than she could afford, but she got a deal on it because it was a scratched-up store demo. I had that guitar around for many years, playing it occasionally, but for some reason I began to play it a lot more, later in life. What I began to do differently was to play the guitar experimentally and open-endedly, instead of trying to play songs written by others. That has opened up a new world for me, a world of constant renewal, a place of great creative intimacy with my bandmates.
And I never pick up that Gibson Hummingbird (still my primary guitar) without thinking of mom.
I am sure your mother is having the best time reading today’s post, a perfect gift to her on this special day. Happy Mother’s Day to both of you!
One of the most wonderful parts of becoming a mother myself, was seeing what absolute joy my girls brought to my mother (and father)! Mom adored my children , a gift they will treasure always!
“If one of you girls doesn’t marry Roger, you are both crazy!”
No pointed shoes! And now so many of my friends are having bunion surgery because that was not a rule in their houses!
When my mother’s contemporaries insisted “girls” did not need to go to college, she supported all of mine and my sister’s dreams to do that. Dad did too, though.
When we decided to expand our business and open a second store, which ultimately failed, she said, “ If you hadn’t done it, you would have always wished you had tried.”
What a lovely tribute to your incredible mom! I am so impressed at what both of you have accomplished and given so freely to others. Happy Mother’s Day to you both!
Best advice my mum gave me, never pass up the opportunity to use the bathroom! She used to navigate the 80 mile journey to my house by places she could pee! Turn left at the Royal Lion Public House, they have a clean bathroom!