My mother and I had, I guess the best way to put it, a strained relationship. Maybe it was because we were similar but I didn't see that until much later.
I am the oldest of three boys and she had me just two years after Benjamin Spock published his book, Baby and Child Care. I don't know for sure, as that book is not one of the ones that I inherited, but it's a good bet that she had it. Spock's simple core message was revolutionary at the time: "Don't be afraid to trust your own common sense." Between that and his insistence that parents should show love and affection to their children rather than constant strict discipline, he challenged the conventional wisdom of early 20th century child rearing like no one else.
One of the reasons I think she had the book is that part about parents showing love and affection to their children rather than strict discipline. Growing up, I was shown love and affection but was not disciplined at all. I paid a price for this and for many years blamed my parents for not having disciplined me when I was younger. If I had to guess, they just weren't sure what to do with me (as my middle brother, Jay, has different recollections of growing up than I do). But, they thought they were doing the right thing.
I grew up in a middle-class family although my mothers' parents felt that they were more high-class, perhaps based on their ability to pay for a pretty lavish wedding in an well-known New York City hotel (I have the receipts and the prices are simply amazing...so much for so little!) and they could afford go away for the whole summer (a modest resort in Morris County, NJ) and they had made the move from Walton Avenue in the Bronx to Haring Street, off 63rd Drive in Rego Park, Queens, New York into a large two-bedroom apartment that they lived in for more than 40 years. My mothers' father, Herman Silverman, worked in the fur business. I have some photos of him in the great white north standing around, smoking his cigar and talking with fur trappers.
My father came from a very, very poor family and I am pretty sure that my mothers' parents were not happy that she fell in love with someone 'beneath them.' Actually, now that I think of it, I wonder if their divorce, some 30+ years later had anything to do with their basic differences: my father was ultra-conservative (even when they had the chance to buy Weight Watchers stock as insiders) and my mother was an independent woman, an entrepreneur and a world traveler who ran her own travel agency for many years.
I also had issues with my mother when she turned out to not be the grandmother that she claimed to be. But, when I got to a stage in my life where I realized I needed to deal with these and other issues, I understood that she was only doing the best she could and she wasn't going to be the person I wanted her to be, just because, and so I decided that I needed to work on accepting her as she was.
Sadly, that insight came very close to when she got sick and died at 68. But, although having been distant (philosophically but living physically close), when Jay called from Arizona to tell me she had fallen off a chair and that something was wrong and I needed to go to her aid, of course, I went immediately. She had survived lung cancer a good number of years before and I don't know if she had gone for her six-month checkups religiously. But, after this event, she deteriorated pretty quickly. And, as I spent time with her, taking her to doctors, finding someone to come in and watch her (she complained about all of them), I noticed a change in her. She got nicer. I didn't realize it then but that was the dementia setting in which was the result of the diagnosis that was confirmed: brain cancer (although supposedly not connected to her previous cancer). Some of her comments were funny but the situation was sad. And, after consulting with a wonderful doctor at one of the top hospitals in New York, we decided to let nature take it's course rather than subject her to chemotherapy.
At some point, probably about a year before she got sick, when I had separated from the mother of my sons, living in a basement room of a good friend in Sea Bright, NJ (it actually was a pretty nice room and I learned how to live vertically...needing to stack stuff up rather than spread out), I received an envelope from my mother. This was, sadly, before I had reached the point of wanting to accept her and reconcile with her. From my recollection of the feel of the envelope, it was likely a letter of some length. All in all, there are really very few things I regret in my life. Was it still a leftover from the lack of discipline for which I'd paid a price for many years? More likely, it was just a stubborn act, a dumb act, done without any thought. I threw the letter out without reading it, without evening opening it. But, maybe my mother would have understood as she and I shared some personality traits, some good and some harmful to ourselves. I have always wondered what that letter said. Sadly, I will never know but I'm pretty sure it had nothing to do with disciplining me. She would have written about her love for me.
Happy Mother's Day Mom.
Happy Mother's Day to all you Mom's out there, somewhere over the rainbow.
Happy Mother's Day to my mother-in-law who is failing in a hospital in Montreal.