Friday, December 20, 2013

A Mother's Touch

With Christmas just around the corner, ‘tis the season for family gatherings. This provides either a blissful rush of joy or a pang of fear and dread, depending on your family dynamics. The holidays bring us together, whether we like it or not.
Family traditions are big around the holidays. I always flash back to the customs my mother instilled: tasteful decorations, plenty of homemade treats, and a mandatory live tree. The year we tried out a fake, I cried and cried.

Mothers have a tough job. There’s nothing more demanding than a newborn and that’s just the start of decades' worth of nurturing. I was lucky. My mother provided a loving childhood for me and my siblings and her life lessons still reverberate when I think back to all she taught me.
So stop and reflect for a moment on all that mothers do. For one thing, they signed on to giving birth to you and, let’s face it, pregnancy ain’t no picnic.

From the moment of conception, the woman’s body begins to change. Even before the pee strip turns blue, hormones inside her body are gearing up for the ordeal. Rising levels of estrogen and progesterone usher in the traditional “morning sickness.” The breasts swell (no complaints from the menfolk), urination increases, and fatigue latches on for a nine-month ride. Blood vessels dilate, leaving her hypotensive and dizzy; food is absorbed more slowly, causing heartburn and constipation; and her emotions climb aboard the pregnancy rollercoaster. Yes, it’s a joyful experience… and this is only the first trimester.
It’s hard for me to fathom my mother going through this four times, especially since I’m too gutless to even give it a one-time shot. But she came through like a champ and even managed to guide four kids to adulthood.

I’ve already discussed my haphazard childhood in April’s Disfigured. My injury calamities put my parents through the wringer, but mom was pretty savvy when it came to managing our maladies. She was stern when it came to illness (German roots). Whenever we tried to dodge school, she would nail us with her standard response: “YOU CAN MAKE IT!” It became a joke around our house. I could have lost a limb in a lawnmower mishap and she would have scooted me right out the door with my book bag, lunchbox, and a trauma dressing.
She was a master at tending wounds, and with four kids, she practically ran her own M.A.S.H. unit. Our bathroom was fully stocked with Band-aids, Neosporin, and baby aspirin and she administered each with the practiced precision of a drill sergeant. I remember her driving me to the hospital when I broke my arm, applying cold compresses when I knocked out my front teeth, and tenderly nursing me through chicken pox, measles, and a steady onslaught of ear infections (although according to my grandmother, she pushed my bassinet into the kitchen and shut the door after a particularly long night of my wailing).

She was also a patient instructor when it came to the mysteries of sex. I remember her gently explaining my baby brother’s bizarre genitalia (although because of her I still refer to testicles as “plump-plumps”). She explained the nourishment of the fetus when I pointed to his gross little umbilical stump, and she guided me and my sisters through the perils of menstruation with hands-on lessons in feminine protection.
So as you gather for the holidays, take a moment to appreciate your mother. Put aside any petty disagreements over clothing styles, makeup, or your choice of a spouse. Practice patience when she dictates how long the turkey should roast or points out the lumps in your gravy. And keep in mind how priorities and perspectives shift as we age.

My mother died of cancer on Christmas Day when I was twenty-three. Since then, the joy of the holiday is always laced with the pale taint of grief, the faint echo of loss. But I focus on the wonderful traditions she instilled, the warmth and happiness she so generously spread, and the valuable lessons she taught through her ever-patient instruction.
These things live on.

Happy Holidays.

My beautiful mother and her girls... I'm the goofy one in the underwear.