Mother’s Day: Part II

I can’t remember when I decided that I wanted to have children. As a tween, I babysat a few times but didn’t really enjoy it. I never felt comfortable in someone else’s home changing diapers for babies I wasn’t related to. As the oldest of three I definitely did more than my share of “babysitting” every Saturday night when my parents went out. So, I had lots of experience caring for children. And, I loved to play house as a young child. But that was all pretend; it wasn’t a future I planned for. It wasn’t something I saw myself doing as an adult. Certainly, I didn’t have dreams of being a mom – my view of what that meant was narrow and skewed.

My mother was a homemaker in the late 50s through the 70s; a house wife. Until this moment I hadn’t pondered the phrase “house wife.” What does that mean? Just the words sound belittling and demeaning; rather Cinderella-ish, if you ask me. My mom never worked outside the home. In fact, my dad used to joke that she quit her job the day they got engaged. She wasn’t a fan of school and had no interest in going to college. In those days, women weren’t encouraged to get an education. Her brother, however, was expected to go to college and earned his Ph.D., teaching at the university level for more than 40 years. That was not for my mom and there was no expectation to advance her education. She wanted to have a family. In fact, she confessed that her motivation to get married was so she could have babies and be a mother.

That life wasn’t for me. I wanted to “be something.” To me, staying home and managing the household wasn’t appealing. I didn’t see value in it and my mom didn’t make any effort to endorse her role or sway me in a different direction.  Without an alternative in mind, I knew for sure that I wasn’t going to be a stay at home parent. I had no dreams about a white picket fence, 2.5 kids and a husband who would provide for me. I was my own woman and would figure it out. (More on that later)

Growing up, I was told, “you can be anything you set your mind to.” Funny thing is that whenever I mentioned a career aspiration, my father would find some reason why that path was not good enough. If you hear that enough times, it’s hard to find confidence in any decision or the inner strength to forge ahead. Other than the negative feedback, I had no guidance whatsoever. Neither of my parents went to college so they hadn’t a clue as to how to advise me when the time came to apply. And, parents back then were not likely to hover; there were no college tours, test prep or AP courses to worry about. Just bring home A’s and make the folks happy. Good grades equaled success. Sadly, when I got to college and everyone had A’s in high school, I quickly learned that good grades were not enough.

College in the 70s was interesting and quite different than college today. Life in the 70s was very different. We didn’t have technology to connect us to a universe of resources, high-end laptops to write and research, mobile devices that never left our hands or a need to worry about security and safety. Dorm room doors were always open; if you wanted to talk to someone on the floor, you walked down the hall. Feeling lonely and wanted to call home, you picked up the corded phone attached to the wall in every room and dialed your house phone. Smoking pot was not prohibited, blue security lights across campus didn’t exist and you could walk around in the wee hours of the morning drunk or high without anyone giving you a second glance. College was a place to find yourself, figure out your future, meet Mr. or Ms. Right and begin a life worth living.

I didn’t find myself or Mr. Right or my future path. I found sadness and loss and escape.

When I graduated it was without my mom by my side. My dad, his new wife and my siblings were there. It was not a joyous day. I was no closer to identifying my career path than I was four years earlier. There isn’t much I remember about the day other than my dad was in a horrific mood and ranted that, “we were all ruining his day.” HIS DAY!?

Soon after, I boarded a plane with a friend to travel around Europe. As part of the planning, I practiced walking with a full backpack that was a cross between a hiking pack and a soft-sided suitcase. I cut my hair short, which alleviated the need to pack hair styling products. I don’t think I even took a single make-up item. This was the no-frills version of me. Since the pack could only hold so much, I limited myself to a few necessary clothing items, a journal, a rough itinerary and a yearning to get away. It was late summer, 1980, and the plan was to see London, Paris, Munich, multiple cities in Italy and Greece. Once again, the fatherly feedback was negative. His opinion – don’t travel, use the money to buy a car, and get to work. In my mind, this was the only time in my life when I would be able to just take off, work could wait (I had no idea what I was going to do anyway), and I’d figure out my transportation when I returned. I needed to do this.

The trip was amazing. I practiced my French, ate my way through Italy and inadvertently sampled goat’s milk in Greece. We drank beer in Munich at the Oktoberfest with the best roasted chicken and fries I’ve ever had. Our accommodations ranged from tents to youth hostels to small, inexpensive inns. We gravitated to others our age on the same identity seeking mission and rode the trains from one country to the next. After six weeks of being a nomad I was tired. I was homesick. I was broke. I needed to come home.

My travel partner was not ready to turn in her backpack for her cozy room at home. I needed to leave. In one day, I booked by ticket, flew from Italy to London and home. Before heading to the airport, I called home (from a call center designed to accommodate tourists) to let my dad know of my plans. The phone was answered by his new-ish wife; dad was not at home. So, I gave her my news, shared that I was just exhausted and needed to be home.

Her response, “So soon?”


Stay tuned for Part III

#standwithtrans #protecttransyouth #supporttransyouth #allyparents

Mother’s Day: Part I

I have been motherless for nearly 40 years. I was 21, a senior in college and unprepared and ill-equipped to fully deal with or understand what this profound, life-changing event would mean for me or to my siblings. Not yet an adult, I certainly lacked the maturity required to manage this loss. There was no guidance ahead of time or conversations about what we would do when the time came. No one talked about the big “C” forty years ago. And, no one talked about the severity and seriousness of my mom’s diagnosis in front of her. Somewhere along the line, a decision was made to keep things from her. This “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy meant that everyone walked around with their heads in the sand or truly unaware and unable to imagine a time without her.

As a teen, I was rebellious. My parents were stupid…(in my mind) didn’t understand anything and they never left room for possibilities. Conversations were shut down with a word. My mother never asked me about anything she didn’t want to know about. More “don’t ask, don’t tell.” That seemed to be the family motto. Truths were cloaked in secrecy. Private whispers shoved to the background because there were just some things that shouldn’t be talked about.

Ironically, as a young child I was clingy and hated leaving my mother’s side. I couldn’t play for more than a few minutes outside without running in to check on her whereabouts. I remember yelling down to the basement through the laundry shoot to see if she was there or where in the house she might be. God forbid she left me. In fact, one summer, when I was four years old, I overhead by mom talking about sending me to the parks and recreation day camp. Unfortunately, you needed to be five years old to attend…fortunately for me, I had one more summer at home with my mama. Apparently, in those days, proof of birth date was not required. My mom walked me to the camp and signed me up…just like that. Was she so desperate to get rid of me? She lied to the camp office. I never went anywhere without her except to my grandparents’ house. That day, 57 years ago, is imprinted on my brain like a tattoo. No sooner did my mom turn and walk off that I began to cry…hysterical, wracking sobs. “I want my mommy…. I’m only four,” I managed to get out in between tears. BUSTED. My mom was called to come retrieve me. She must have been so embarrassed. Can you imagine?

Then came puberty. My mother handed me a book and told me to let her know if I had questions. SERIOUSLY? This was the “film strip” era; health in school was delivered via this medium and certainly wasn’t taught in a way that celebrated puberty, changing bodies or healthy sexual relationships. I believe that at one point my mom did tell me that intercourse happens when a man and a woman (who are married) love each other. By the way, this is the very same woman who had three babies delivered while under general anesthesia. So much was hidden, not talked about and attached to some level of shame. She couldn’t teach me how to use a tampon and didn’t offer to go bra shopping or find appropriate make-up for a 12-year-old. I needed her for all of those things and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” mindset made it impossible for me to let her know this.

When I was a sophomore in college the call came from my dad who handed over the phone to my mom, I didn’t really know what to make of the information. Something had happened while she was out enjoying a ladies’ luncheon. Whatever she experienced scared her. She asked me to come home; she needed me. I don’t think I’d ever heard my mom say that. I didn’t know what my presence would do for her or why she needed me. But, she did. So, home I went. I went to the doctor’s appointment with both my mom and dad where difficult news was shared. I was just a kid (in my mind). On some level, I think I knew more than she did, but we never talked about it.

Surgeries, chemo, hair loss, radiation and devastating news…the tumor is back. More poisonous cancer treatments.

I was away at school so not plugged in to the day to day at home. Keep in mind this was before facetime was even an idea and the only phones we had were attached to the wall with a cord. I believe it was Passover. I came home for the traditional Seder and brought a friend from school. We took the bus from campus. When my parents picked us up at the bus stop, there was a stranger among the group… no one bothered to tell me that the cancer treatments changed my mom’s physical appearance. My mom was nearly unrecognizable. I actually let out a gasp when I realized who I was looking at. In that moment, I was angry and ashamed. That was not my mom. She didn’t look like that. And why didn’t anyone prepare me?

There were quite a few life events that I was unprepared for, especially my first few Mother’s Days without my mom. More shame. I didn’t know how to get past the day of not having a mother. I felt less than. I couldn’t talk about it. Kids were supposed to have mothers and fathers. I didn’t know any different until it happened to me. And then, it was unnatural. It was something to hide. More “don’t ask, don’t tell.” I was ashamed to be a motherless daughter.

Four decades later, Mother’s Day has a very different meaning. However, I’m keenly aware of those who are without and those who are experiencing their very first without their mom. It is a loss that is unimaginable. Even as adults, we need our moms or a mom-like figure in our lives; someone who will love you without question, who will feed your soul, nourish your mind and fill your heart like no one else.

Part II

To come

#standwithtrans #youarenotalone #supporttransyouth