It’s Mother’s Day and I’ve been staying off the internet. I don’t begrudge others the happiness in celebrating their moms but I’m still raw from losing mine even two years later. At first, I’d dread specific days - Mother’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, her birthday, my birthday, every holiday. But really every day is hard. It's never just one day, one month, one holiday, one season that reminds you of the people you love. They are part of everything and little reminder notes from them are everywhere. I remember after dad died, I used to hear Irish music in Central Park. I'd just be out walking the dog and suddenly there’d be a lone singer with a guitar belting out the Fields of Athenry and it was like a cosmic post-it note: “Think about DAD!!!"
With mom, it's more subtle and pervasive. I had no idea how many little habits I'd created that are connected to her. The biggest one is how I still reach for my cell phone when I get into a taxi or car for a long ride or when I've decided to walk the 15 minutes across town instead of going underground. Those were the times I'd call her; when I knew I had uninterrupted time to talk. To tell her what's going on and get her advice on what color I should paint living room. Even now I find myself reaching for the phone before I even remember she's dead. It's muscle memory.
Mom was going on 40 when she had me - her 6th and final surprise. She was on bed rest for weeks and weeks because she had Placenta Previa and babies died a lot back then when that happened. She delivered me early- about 6 weeks - and I like to joke that was the last time I was ever early for anything.
I think I was a pretty cute kid all things being equal. Mom used to tell me that I looked like Elizabeth Taylor - violet eyes and black hair. My eyes are green now and have been since I can remember, but who am I to argue? I don't remember ever being a cute kid, though. I only remember being fat, bespeckled, gap-toothed, frequently wearing hand me downs (but sometimes they didn’t fit so I had to wear clothes from the Sears “Huskies" line), and usually with a crooked home-kitchen haircut. And always, always eating. Or thinking about eating, or trying to sneak food.
Photos of my parents from the 1950s are directly out of Central Casting. When she married my father, mom was an auburn beauty with a waist so tiny dad could put both hands around her and his fingers would meet in the back. Six kids later, still beautiful, she was in a state of perpetual dieting: starting one, cheating on one, buying a book about a new one. I remember the time when I was about 6 years old that she joined the local ladies fitness center - it was a very pink, very 70s place called Elaine Powers. Mom went out and bought us matching fitness clothes, which were basically black ballet bodysuits with pink tights. I can only remember that visits to Elaine Powers included a lot of leg lifts (which mom called “up downs”) and a machine with a vibrating belt that would “melt the fat” off of our butts and thighs. She was also a card-carrying member of Weight Watchers and she’d go with my Aunt Joan to get weighed, coming home with fascinating little booklets and miniature scales to weigh cheese and cold cuts. It wasn’t long before I started going with her, which maybe at first was a function of not having child care, but later became part of my own struggle with being overweight.
No matter her size, Mom was always glamorous. We referred to our parents as “Burt and Dinah,” a joke that was of its time. Burt Reynolds and Dinah Shore were the “it couple” of the early 70s - scandalizing Hollywood due to their 20-year age difference. Dad was a full 3 months younger than Mom, so he loved the comparison all the more. They even sort of looked like them. Dad had thick, dark hair and Mom was a blonde by the time I was born. The bleachy, chemical smell of hair dye still transports me to her bathroom where I’d watch her apply thick purple goop to her roots. She'd tweeze and then redraw her eyebrows while we waited for the blonde to come back. My hair was a stubborn brown color that I thought I’d have forever. But mom knew better. “Someday you’ll go blonde, too, just you wait,” she’d say as she untangled wigs and “falls" from a trash bag in her closet. I thought she was crazy. Beautiful, but crazy.
Like many moms, ours was full of useful life advice. Sunshine and sea water can cure almost anything; a cup of tea and a couple of Anacins will take care of the rest. Always dress up when you travel on an airplane, you never know who you’ll meet. The first thing to do when moving into a new place is make your bed. Say a prayer to Saint Anthony if you’ve lost something. As discounts go, 10% isn’t worth the time. Yellow is the best color for kitchens and flowers. Numbers, found pennies, shamrocks, and seagull poop can be lucky if you just believe they are. Everyone needs a statue of the Blessed Mother in their place. A little sparkle never hurt anybody.