Posted in My Bonnie

Ode to Blonde

When I was just a little girl, I asked my mother, What will I be? Will I be pretty?
Will I be rich? Here’s what she said to me…

My mother and me

My mother loved that song and insisted I play it for her on the piano. She adored Doris Day too, mostly for her blonde hair, I suspect, ie. her leading role on the stage of American womanhood.

This was long before the internet at a time when one didn’t go looking for a beautiful blonde gal’s background which was awfully suspicious given her real name: Kappelhoff.

I bet my dark-haired, dark-eyed mother didn’t know that Day’s family wasn’t even Protestant, but Catholic like her own.

“It was the only ambition I ever had,” said Day. “To be a housewife in a good marriage.”

She was married 4 times.

But Day’s screen presence offered the illusion of ease and perfection, and perfection is what my mother was after.

Or maybe I misunderstood my mother. Maybe despite her prettiness and married-up wealth, she came to understand that all women, even blondes, suffer, that women’s dreams are lost, and that surrender was the only path forward.

Que sera, sera, Whatever will be, will be, the future’s not ours to see, Que sera, sera. What will be, will be.

And yet, after her own failed marriage to my father, my mother began lightening her dark hair, little by little, year after year, until it was yellow-blonde, a color my physician father whispered to me in the hallway of the hospital outside the room where she lay dying, “It looks cheap.”

Will I be pretty? Will I be rich?

I explained to him that his ex-wife’s alimony didn’t allow her to pay what his new wife paid to achieve the right shade of blonde.

Posted in Ancestors, legacy, My Bonnie

Inheritance

My mother in her kitchen

All of a sudden, I wondered, Had I done it?

I turned to ask my husband but he was asleep. I considered waking him. It was an important question. Timely. Our youngest was about to graduate. But my husband had another early morning ahead of him–at the high school–which is where he will hand our youngest his diploma on the football field as he did our first born.

I had begun shaping my expectations during my own high school years, announced one with specificity, to my health teacher, and on this point, my best friend and I agreed, even while the adults in our lives shook their heads at our naivety, even as our classmates did.

But we’d done it, she and I. We had raised our children without it. Two boys each. Fine young men. The oldest, hers, in his thirties. The youngest, mine, 18.

The expectations grew over time.

What had begun as a girlhood pact–to withstrain from physically assaulting our children–had been extended by me as an antidote to my own childhood:

To No spanking, I added:
No addiction.
No affair.
No abandonment.
No punishment.
No silencing.
No squashing.

At first, I thought perfection possible. That illusion went on far too long. 4 and a half years as a mother–of one–without yelling once. Without losing my cool. Sustaining a loving connection through everything. If only failure would have freed me sooner from such constraint, I would have been a better mother; I would have been gentler on myself.

At first, I thought it possible to simultaneously rescue my other children–7 younger siblings–but on this account, I failed, not for lack of trying, but for trying too hard, so that instead of rescue, I may have pushed some heads deeper underwater, or worse yet, dragging them toward my shore instead of theirs.

But had I succeeded with the two that I brought into the world?

Had I delivered them from birth to adulthood without inflicting trauma?

Had I ended the legacies that I inherited so that my grandchildren might flourish in ways that I can only imagine?

And if so, how will I celebrate? How will I honor such commitment? Such courage. Such vulnerability. Such creativity. Such sacrifice. Such determination.

There are so many ways I failed. One can’t try so hard without leaking joy and ease and spaciousness.

But now the day-to-day is done.

And what have I done?

Have I, like I was instructed by my father when I was a girl, made the best contribution I could make to the world?

And isn’t this now theirs to decide?

“…What is it you plan to do
with your one wild & precious life?”

And isn’t it now mine again too?

Posted in Ancestors, Artifacts/My Bonnie, Lanscape of Loss, My Bonnie, Spring

Our Mother’s Grief

Though I was 19 before I knew that I wasn’t, in fact, her firstborn–something she confided in the small kitchen of her new home (after she left our father’s), a confession which was meant to be a cautionary tale of fertility (her own at the same age, but alas 3 years too late for me)–it was too late. I had already assumed her burdens, spoken and mostly unspoken, embodied, and here was yet another—a heartache she carried alone for so long—her firstborn daughter, delivered at a Home for Unwed Mothers, less than a year before she married my father, pregnant with me.

“He wouldn’t let me talk about her,” she said. “I just wanted to know that she was as okay.”

Do all firstborn daughters & onlies and even sons carry the weight of their mother’s grief?

Which is not to say, there weren’t other inheritances.

The light of my mother’s consciousness.
Her dedication to study.
Her devotion to home.
Her innate gentleness and good nature.
Her capacity to see a whole person even in those who had harmed her/us–at times to a fault.
Her loneliness. Her isolation. Her martyrdom.

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