About 35 years ago, I was working at my first engineering job, going to school for my masters degree at night and living with my Mom, Dad and my two younger brothers. At work we had a group of younger people that would eat lunch together and sometimes get together after work. One time I invited the group over for a barbecue after work. I don’t recall much about the barbecue, except that everyone met my family and we had a good time.
The next morning at work, one of the women who was at the barbecue said to me “You have a different relationship with your parents”. She said that she was not sure how to explain it, but it was obvious that I felt very comfortable with them and she could sense it. I don’t recall what I replied, maybe just nodded, but I knew what she said was true. I knew that my relationship with my Mom and Dad was different than any of my siblings or my friends had with their parents. It was something I just knew to be true but couldn’t express what was different or understand how it came to be that way.
Over time what I did come to realize, is that long before I could ever have put it into words, I understood that my Mom and Dad always acted in what they felt were my best long term interests. When they told me things I did not want to hear, made me earn something instead of just giving it to me, didn’t let me do something I wanted to do or made me do something that I did want to do, it wasn’t to be mean or because they were having a bad day or it was the easy thing for them to do. Most of the time what they said or did was the right thing for me, being human they were not right 100% of the time, but their motivation was right 100% of the time. They always had the same motivation, what they did or said was what they thought was best for me. I think I always sensed that and appreciated it for the gift that it was. This lead to a life long relationship that doesn’t have the emotional minefields that so many relationships have. My Mom and I talk for about half an hour, twice a week now days. The conversations go into many areas where we will disagree strongly (we both can be strongly opinionated) but it never digresses into petty anger, just an appreciation of the other point of view.
How things came to be this way is something I still don’t understand but I’ve always suspected that it might have something to do with how I came to be.
My Mom and Dad both were born and grew up in New York City. My Dad in the Bronx and my Mom as the third of six children in a house in Bellerose, Queens. My Dad was the youngest of three children but his cousin, my aunt Patricia, lived with them like an older sister. Patricia married my Uncle Billy and they bought a house in Floral Park Queens, a town next to Bellerose, when my Dad was a teenager. Not being a city person, my Dad spent a lot of time out in the “country”, Floral Park, with my Aunt and Uncle.
Way back when I was a teenager, they showed me the place where they first met, at some handball courts in a local school yard, the year was 1950. Mom was 14 and Dad 17 at the time. I only recently learned during a phone call with my Mom that the handball court were just built that year and was the new place where many of the local kids would hang out.
Mom was a very good student, having won a city wide essay contest when in the 8th grade (I didn’t inherit her writing gene), but in those days most women were not expected to go to college. She worked several different part jobs while attending school and on graduation went to work at the phone company.
Dad finished high school and 2 years later graduated from the Academy of Aeronautics as an aircraft mechanic. He had always loved aviation but needing eye glasses a career as a pilot was out of the question. He did get a private pilot license and I have some memories from the time before my brothers were born and it became too expensive to do, of flying with him in a single engine plane (piper cub?). I mostly remember looking down and seeing cars and trucks that looked to me like toys. He started working at TWA (remember them) after graduating. but then was drafted into the army. Luckily the attending the academy delayed his drafting long enough for the Korean war to wind down.
At the 50th anniversary party, my aunt Patricia told me the story of how my Mom and Dad had asked her to approach my Grandmother about the idea of getting married. They got married when my Dad finished basic training. So Mom having just turned 18 went off with my Dad to various army bases around the country. She told me that since neither of them had been very far from New York, they requested assignments at bases in the western states so they could see the country. During their stop at Fort Ord, California the following year, I was born.
So at age 19, without any help from family, my Mom was taking take of a baby while moving around the country. Of course I have no memory from that time, only stories she has told me, like about the first time I laughed. That story immediately popped into my head when my daughter, Jessica, laughed her first time while I was changing her. Maybe during that time, that I have no memory of, that special understanding developed between the three of us. I’ll never know for sure. But I do know it takes someone very special to manage all that she did at such a young age.
Mom – Happy Mother’s Day!