Monday, September 21, 2015

My first and best birthday present

When I was growing up my mom Lucie was flat-out outmatched by my brother Kevin and I. My dad would come home from work and night school and she'd be too tired to speak--we'd worn her out. Though we were born ten months apart we functioned like twins and would tag-team her to get what we wanted. Pacifiers hidden between our patterned couch cushions seemed to be our holy grail but we went for seconds on desserts, another bedtime story, extra time in the apartment complex pool--whatever we could get.

My mother was not a disciplinarian. She admits she had no idea how to raise kids, and although she was terrified at times of her ignorance, she never charged down to the library to take a book out either. Instead she winged it, easy-going and social, chatting up the other moms at the pool or the trike thruway in the hallway if we made her delay naps a little longer. We did, after all, siesta for hours every afternoon until we started kindergarten, or so she tells the story. She couldn't deny us much because we were huge and enormously cute. Willful. Creative. Tandem Terrors.

We loved her with a fierce kind of loyalty that has never faded, because that's how she loved us. Like even in total hellion mode we amused her and gave her tiny shivers of joy.  We were reckless; I lost most of my front teeth doing flips from that flowered couch, but that kind of daring came from her first. She was the first mom I knew to get an "inch cut" at the hairdresser's, and tried out three or fours (was it six?) kinds of jobs figuring out what to do with her sociology degree.

In the 60's she regularly dragged her two fifty-pound babies in a carriage down to the Washington Mall during the Poor People's Campaign to help feed those living in the mud city. In the 70's she taught Head Start, and sold real estate and worked as a bank teller and even when she was tired she'd take us to the beach after work because she loved the water and wanted us to be strong swimmers. Of course we were. Kevin lifeguarded summers and I was a swim team captain, not because she expected it, but because she encouraged us to try something she loved.

In the 80's she became a credit union manager, and then president. A single mom with a busy career but she called us on the phone all afternoon if she thought we were fighting. Told us to cut it out, over and over. Then forgot all that and came home and kissed us and made dinner and asked about our days.

Most kids would resist her but anything she asked when she cupped my face and kissed me I would pretty much give her flat-out. She had a way of showing her love and not asking for much in return that was highly effective. I still can't keep a secret from her, even when her expression says she doesn't want to know.

She taught us how to read emotions because her face was so open. Laughing loud when she was happy, slitting her eyes when she was pissed in a look that never scared us but did get our attention. Blank when she felt defeated so we wouldn't worry, reserved when she was generous shopping because money was never-quite-there. When she was fed-up she had the perfect "fuck-it" flip of her chin. On a bad day she sometimes needed a hug herself.

Am I like this too? Yup, pretty much, coach. Same game, just a variations on plays.

Until all the patterns are set as an adult you never see how much of your life is that of an imprinted duckling, making minor detours but largely following right behind whichever duck or swan claims you. So on the day I was born I know Lucie felt lucky but life actually works in reverse. That day I was given a whip-smart, scared shitless, miracle of a mom as my guide to life.

Today's her birthday. How could I ever top that gift?

I found her a card that played Louis Armstrong singing "What A Wonderful World" and made her a lemon cake and gave her an elephant lamp. Kevin brought chili dogs and beer to her big family picnic and gave her a sweatshirt with his son's baseball number and name for when she's in the stands. She cried like she always does, so so happy with such thoughtful gifts and to have us living nearby with our families and that we're still such good kids.

Seriously, Mom, how else could we turn out?

But you're welcome of course, because yes, you taught us manners.

Happy Birthday, Lucille Elizabeth Allen Creane Paladino


From one lucky girl to her mother

Love, Lisa


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