Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Few Words on the Bestest Mom in the World

Happy Mother's Day, everybody, but mostly Happy Mother's Day to my Mom.

Some of you all know my Mom, and a lot of you don't, but I thought I'd take a minute to sing her praises today. Those of you who know my Mom usually tell me that she's one of the sweetest and kindest people you've ever met.

This is true.

But what you don't know about Mom -- but that I do know -- is that she's also she's one of the toughest and most uncomplaining people you'll ever meet. Mom's had cancer twice -- once as a young woman in the 1960s (when the cure for kidney cancer was "ok, kidney's out, now cross your fingers for five years"...which I guess is still the cure for kidney cancer) and more recently in 2003 when she had double breast cancer (yep, unrelated cancers on both sides, which her doctor said is something you may see in one of 10,000 women with breast cancer...so my Mom is also unique!). She also has fibromyalgia, developed reflex sympathetic dystrophy from a wrist fracture, and is one of the millions of women who have felt the side effects of anti-cancer drugs like Arimidex, which does a yeoman's job preventing breast cancer recurrence but also destroys your joints (and hey, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, you're brilliant and all but instead of running those obnoxious radio ads that basically say it's your own fault if you die of cancer unless you get treated at Memorial, how about you spend that money instead on researching a second generation drug that doesn't have these side efx?). So it's hard for Mom to get around these days -- she travels with a walker and long distance walks are a no-go.

Personally, I would probably handle all that with a decades-long sulk. And alcohol. And mind-altering drugs. But I've never heard Mom complain, and I've never smelled alcohol on her breath (she will roll her eyes at me for that comment). Here's an example of how my Mom handles it: a few years ago, my Dad nearly died after what should have been minor surgery but turned into major malpractice. He was in three different hospitals for over 100 days, with myriad doctors visits in between. Hospitals, ironically, are incredibly unfriendly places for people with movement limitations...which is perhaps something, given that they are HOSPITALS, they should work on. But Mom, physical limitations, pain, and all, picked up her cane and walked those long hallways every day to go visit Dad. And, of course, when the doctors were bullshitting (sorry, Mom) wildly about how great my Dad was doing (a hard case to make as Dad at the time thought there were fuzzy orange birds flying around the room and named Gerald Ford as our current president), she managed to be kind to them and get the answers she needed all at once. A lesser person (me), was calling them incompetent and leaving notes, requesting that they call me, on business cards that said "Carter Anne McGowan, ESQ." in big letters.

Another thing you probably don't know about my Mom is, well, pretty much everything. A lot of people think that my Mom doesn't talk much. Usually, those people are McGowans. If you're not a McGowan, you probably don't understand the extraordinary wisdom of "not talking much" at McGowan gatherings as the general rule of such get-togethers is "S/he who shouts loudest has the floor." Mom just shrugs and knows that there's no way she's shouting loudest, as she wasn't born into this cantankerous tribe. What I would hate is for anyone to think that this means my Mom has nothing to say or does nothing that you should want to hear about. So, since she won't shout loudest, I -- being born into this McGowan tribe -- shall:

1. Mom's smarter than all of us and can talk circles around everyone when it comes to current politics (Do not ask her how much she likes Obama. No. Just don't.) She's also one of the best teachers on the planet. She taught English, French, Spanish, Latin, History and...I feel like I'm missing something. She used to be the teacher who would change up what classes and subjects she taught every year or two because she'd get bored teaching the same thing. Mom turned all that teaching heavy artillery onto me as a kid, and I started playing "Kitchen Classroom" with her when I was about three. By the time I was reading on a second grade reading level, before kindergarten, she figured she ought to pull back. But I think both my Dad and I will acknowledge that had Mom been born in a different era, it is not Hilary Clinton who would be Sec State, but Mom, and just so you know, Mom, all of those hours in the Kitchen Classroom set the stage for any of my later academic accomplishments. So, thanks Mom.

2. Mom was an extraordinary pianist. The physical ailments she has now have taken that away from her, but I remember "The Revolutionary Etude" thundering through the house when I was a kid (I'd hide under the bed with the dog) and wouldn't come out until she started playing "It's Not That Easy Being Green," which was one of her favorite pieces but it always made me a little sad. I didn't get it then, but I kind of think Mom always felt like she was the "green sheep" (or frog, I guess, if we're talking Kermit), in her family. Probably also a little bit around Dad and me. Mom was also an actress in college. She changed her major from theatre to Spanish and History when she realized that the theatre people were (her words) "just too strange." (Oh, how I wish I had internalized this one before about the age of 40 :)) So, the art, the culture, the theatre in the house -- things that became my career - thanks, Mom. I think. (Kidding!) And I always feel like a green sheep too (not kidding!), so you're not green alone.

3. Mom is the most creative person I know. She can sew like nobody's business, she has created fantastic quilts, and she makes blankets for Project Linus. She made the most extraordinary dresses for me when I was a little girl, and she continued to make them for my goddaughter, Graceanne. She even made dresses and sent them away to little girls in a poor community in Appalachia. On behalf of all of those girls, all the kids in Project Linus, Graceanne, and me, thanks Mom. (Although I still am a particular fan of the "reffy" outfit she made me when I was two -- Dad officiated football on the weekends and I wanted a matching ref suit).

4. Mom's always got the time to hear about somebody else's problems. She's a classy lady of the kind they don't make and we don't value as much as we should anymore (much to our severe detriment). Even I don't value that as much as I should sometimes. I'm sorry, Mom (and we'll probably continue to argue over whether a comb would do my hair better than a brush :)), but to be completely honest, in so many ways I wish I could be more like you.

I could (and should) keep going although I have a feeling that blogspot is going to call quits on a blog post of this length. So let me wrap:

I've always had the feeling that Mom gave up a lot in her life to make a good home for Dad and for me, as Dad and I tended to run around like crazed rabbits multitasking work and hobbies within an inch of our lives while Mom served as the air traffic controller (one of the good ones, not like the ones who fall asleep in the tower). Maybe my feelings about Mom having given up a lot come from me being born in the 1970s and having a wholly different world to look at. Because if you look at the body of this post, it's all about doing things for others, which is how my Mom has lived her whole life.

Because, and no slight to Dad because I'm sure he would agree, she's also the most loving person I know.

Thanks, Mom. Happy Mother's Day, and I love you.

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