Monday, November 06, 2006

I Know This Lady

I know this lady. A lady in every sense of the word, and quite a woman to boot. She's not wordly or refined, but she's certainly a lady. She's not overly feminine nor does she exude endless charm, but she's a woman.

She's a bit of a social butterfly. In fact she's in her element when she's entertaining and she's at her most beautiful when she's laughing and joking with friends and family. I've known her all my life, yet she remains a mystery to me. I catch myself staring at her a lot. Sometimes in wonder, most times in amusement and a lot of times in frustration, because just as easily as she can make me laugh with her impish smile, and her sometimes nonsensical thinking, she can make me cry with her harrassed frown and biting anger. Her name is Teresita. Her parents and sibling call her Tessie. Her friends and co-workers call her Terry. I call her Mama.

When I was still single and lived at home, around this time of the year I used to set out to produce a small family newsletter to send out with the Christmas cards. The easiest person to write about was my dad who basically lived in Alaska, working there almost 8 to 10 months of the year. Then there were my three brothers, one was in the Navy having adventure after adventure traveling here and there. The other two were in junior high and high school and it was easy to write about their activities and progress in school. I had my job and school to write about.

My mom was another story though. I knew she deserved more than two lines in the newsletter, but what couild I say in a newsletter? She worked at Western State Hospital as a mental health technician, dealing with the mentally ill eight hours a day, 5 days a week then came home to face the truly demented, her kids.

That's basically what my mom did, and still does, year in and year out. This time, subtract me and my younger brothers from the house, but add two grade-school-aged grandsons and one toddler granddaughter who are dropped off after she gets home from work. On her two days off, she spends the night with her 92 year old mother. It's the truth, but it's not everything.

I believe it would take dozens of newsletters just to put a dent in what my mom does and puts herself through in the name of love, family and pride.

If I still made this newsletter, I would love to write what I see in my mom instead of what she did this year. I'd write that I see a tremendous amount of courage and determination and I'd write that I see an equal amount of fatigue. But I'd add that I only see that fatigue when she's just too tired to hide it.

With my father first in the military and then working in Alaska, my mother virtually reared my brothers and I singlehandedly. I get tired just thinking about what my brothers and I put her through and still continue to put her through, this time via grandchildren. But you know what? She wouldn't have it any other way.

Of me and my brothers, my mother has always been the most honest with me, since I am the one who challenged her ideas and rules. I think my mom and I are as close as we are only because I dared to argue with her and that's something we're both good at. She doesn't hesitate in times of anger and regret to be brutally honest, even to the point of letting me know that taking care of my father and me and my brothers had stood in the way of her getting a college education.

That kind of knowledge can hurt a child and at times it still bothers me, but I learned to admire my mom's honesty in letting me know how she felt. I am sure I would have surprised a lot of my relatives if I put this in the newsletter because what they see of my mom, or better yet, what my mom lets them see is that she's a simple woman, satisfied with what she has.

Maybe she is, in a way, but that's not all that I see. Behind those bright eyes I see intelligence constantly clicking away, a savvy, not simple, mind working to understand and struggling to evercome clumsy pronunciation and semantics of a language not her own.

Satisfied? Maybe, but I see roughened and calloused hands that she constantly compares to mine saying, "My hands used to look like yours, with fingers smooth and white, like candlesticks." I used to look at her hands and see the redness and the chapping and not see the hard work and tireless drive behind them. I see them now. And I think I know why they are that way. For as much as she claims to be happy and satisfied, there remains a relentless drive in her to be better, to have better, for herself and for her family, even as each year passes and the drive takes more out of her than she receives.

I read this plaque once about mean mothers. It said mean mothers teach their children responsibility by making them do chores. Mean mothers teach their children honesty by making them tell the truth. A mean mother teaches her children discipline by making them follow rules. A mean mother makes her children let her know where they'll be at what time, teaching them that she cares. My mother was wonderfully mean, sacrificing to teach my brothers and I about love. She remains wonderfully mean as she shares that love and those lessons with her grandchildren. That's the mother I know and love.

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