A Mother First
My mother did not work outside the home until later in life. And then she worked part-time in a bakery, waiting on people. She had me play where she could see me from the window, and often I would run inside to get a treat. At the time, she believed only her eyes were good enough to ensure my safety. She was always a mother first.
It was apparent to me, even at a young age, that wearing the title “mom” was my mother’s most important identity. I felt it in the way she looked at me, in her voice, and in her touch. From the beginning, almost to a fault, my mother offered me the most important part of her besides her love—her attention. In spite of the problems tossed her way, the distractions, her own yearnings for more in her marriage and in her life, she at least had attained one goal—to be a mother first.
Sometimes she would go overboard with her enthusiasm. If it was cold, I had on too many sweaters and never could be without my earmuffs. If it was hot, and our apartment was always hot, she would flee to the beaches and hurry me into the ocean. She was a worrying mother, and when a famous family lost their child in a kidnapping, my mother put bottles of coins on the window ledge so that, if they fell, she would be warned there was an intruder in the house. And if anyone threatened me at school with a schoolyard confrontation, my mother would square off with them if she found out. She was my protector, supporter, and the first person who ever made me feel as if I were special, as nowhere else in life.
I can still hear her voice encouraging me on my first date. “Go,” she ordered. “Have fun,” she smiled. “And don’t let him touch you,” she warned. And when I was older, and a date had left me waiting while he went out on the boardwalk with someone else, my mother found him and later told me, “I gave him a piece of my mind.” Though mortified at the time by her behavior, it is a memory I cherish.
Later in life, I wondered how she could know so much about me that I did not know about myself. She knew even though my marks were average in school, that I was just bored but smart enough. She believed in me even when I made mistakes that caused others to shudder. She wanted me to be more than she had been, when I thought she was everything I wanted to be.
Recently my children—a son and daughter—came to visit. In their forties now, they are married and with children of their own. Both were tired and soon fell asleep, one on the couch, the other on the bed. Carefully, while they slept, I took some blankets and tucked them in, as I had done so many times when they were young. I took the telephone off the receiver, so they would not be disturbed, lowered the shades, and for a precious moment, watched over them, grateful to be, just as my mother had been, a mother first.