Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mother's Day has come and gone, and for me, it was very, very nice. My family let me sleep in, we went out to Antoine's for brunch in the Rex room, amidst a spangly queen of Rex gown and innumerable pictures of upper crust, self-styled royalty from 1876 on, and concluded the day with gin and tonics at our friend Justin's house. Life is so hard down here sometimes.

This year's Mother's Day brought some things to mind, however. First thing, an old Quarter street gag, designed to get your money from as easily and as deftly as possible:

Bet you twenty I can tell you how many kids your father had!

If you take 'em up on the bet, you find real soon you're out of your twenty:

Your father didn't have any kids, it was your mama that had the kids!

Haven't seen any of those tricksters on Bourbon lately. My first trip to New Orleans featured them prominently when they stiffed an ex-boyfriend by telling him where he got his shoes. Put him off Bourbon Street for life. Another one bites the dust...

Second thing, a tale of two mamas, recounted through direct contact and conversation at the zoo recently. The zoo is a great place to take kids on a regular basis here, once one becomes a member. It pays for itself many times over, what with a ride on the zoo train, kids' attractions such as the petting zoo, the carousel, a safari simulation ride, and a small playground. My son was crawling all over the playground when I encountered one mom who wanted to read my FEMA T-shirt. Turned out she was chaperoning with her daughter's school group, and she complained a little about the teachers in charge of the group, that they could have walked up to her and told her about where to meet in the zoo rather than calling her on her cell phone. We talked about a number of things as we were sitting on a nearby bench, watching our kids play.

As with most things around here, the talk turned to flooding, to rebuilding, to some of the new hurts people have to endure. Somewhere in the middle of it all, a woman nearby overheard us and chimed in some, too. Chaperone Mom was in the midst of renovations on her house, and was ticked that she didn't have windows yet, and here was hurricane season coming around the corner. The Home Depot was supposed to have come and measured for them around January, and it still hadn't happened yet. I talked of how much I had wanted to help friends we had down here when all hell was breaking loose, and she talked of those she knew, close family members who still needed help after all this time. People who had had to evacuate and couldn't return. People who had died from grief, old and young, at the loss of property and of loved ones. The places they had left had been their homes for generations. C-Mom herself was not in the best of states, having gained at least thirty pounds over the past months since the storm. If she could leave, she would, but home was here, and she was going to make the best of it.

Overhearing Mom talked of having had to evacuate when she was about to move into a new house. Her husband had had tenure at Tulane, until they eliminated his department as part of the university's restructuring. Now they will be moving on to a college in a nearby state, having never moved into or lived in their house here. O-Mom's kids were still pretty young, and would probably be able to take that move okay, but C-Mom's daughter was in grade school and had already endured a lot. Each mom was having to be strong for her kids in different ways. C-Mom wished me good luck with life down here. I was going to need it, she said. She will need it too, as will O-Mom.

Luck brings me to the third thing, sheer dumb luck.

Most of my friends know that my mother and the Big One of 2005 share the same name. When I first saw trackings of Katrina as it was entering the Gulf and picking up steam, I e-mailed my mom and told her there were much easier ways to visit New Orleans. And then it turned into the mess that we are still reeling from.

In the weeks after August 29, my mother went into a department store and pulled out her credit card for a purchase. The clerk took one look at the name on her card and let out an uncomfortable, "Ohhhhh," at the sight of her first name on the card. Sheer dumb luck.

My mom deserves to have many things named for her, but a storm that will go down in history as the cause of one of the biggest natural disasters to hit these shores should not have been one of them. I see the T-shirts and bumper stickers, and even an art show, calling the storm one nasty five letter word, and sometimes it takes major self-control for me not to blurt out, "Leave my mother OUT of this!" Sure Mom sometimes behaves like a force of nature, but she's only human, and her behavior doesn't affect as many people.

Mom was one of the first people in my family to support our moving back to New Orleans. She knew how much Dan and I love the city, and she sees it as another great adventure we are embarking upon, helping to rebuild this place and keep it on the map. If she didn't feel such an obligation to her family, Max the dog, and to her job, she'd probably find a way to get on down here herself. And I'd do my best to live it up with her, because she deserves it, after all these years.

Mom should have gotten her Ph. D. She shouldn't have had me at such an early age. Shoulda, woulda, coulda...hindsight is twenty/twenty. Facts are, she had me when she was still in college, got her BS with child care help from my grandparents, moved us down to Houston for better job opportunities, met and married the man who adopted me and helped raise me, and toiled away as a research technician while dealing with me, the kid with behavior problems from hell. And then, when I was sixteen, she had to move to a teeny Pennsylvania town when my dad got a better job opportunity and took it. That move was hardest on my mom, in the end. She had to make her life over, especially since she was my baby brother's caretaker for the first year or so in town and really was unable to get to know many people at the time. It took time, but she stood up to the challenge.

I love her for that. I love her for her struggles, and for letting us know that it was okay to let off some steam in the process, so long as you forged ahead as best you could. I frequently made the mistake of thinking that all the anger she let off was directed at me, and I'm still afraid of it sometimes - it can be a frightening thing to behold, and you really don't want to get sucked into its vortex. Once the storm passes, however, she's there, like a rock of Gibraltar. She's one of the best nurses on the planet when you're sick. She will move heaven and earth to make life better for her children and her family. She doesn't hesitate to call us on our craziness on occasion, and she's always had the best laugh around. She is a champion worrier - if there is ever an award created for that, it deserves to be named for her. And she is a constant practitioner of the art of letting things go.

A former music theory instructor of mine used to preface our handing back a test with the admonition to "Be a good parent and let it go." I have found my mom to be a fountainhead for teaching, nurturing, and goading one's children - to a point. There is a point when you have no control, and you must go on sheer faith. Faith in your teachings, faith that the synapses are snapping in your child's head, and that, coupled with the values you have taught, will enable the child to make the right decisions at the right times. It's been hard for Mom to hold herself down, but she's been strong enough to do it, God bless her.

Since I've been down here, I've bought my mom two things. One was a cute poster that helped raise funds for the local Children's Hospital, a local artist's print of "Katrina's Party", a cartoon homage to Mardi Gras apres Katrina. The other is a soft velvet throw pillow that, unfortunately will arrive after Mother's Day, but the message on it will endure for ever.

"You can't scare me - I HAVE CHILDREN."

Ain't that the truth.

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