As mom begins to let go, her lessons remain

May 13, 2007|By Paul Lamb

VALLEJO, Calif. -- My mother is getting older now and is often sick. This is hard to take, as she has always been so strong and emotionally present in my life. Now that she is not as frequently in full bloom, a part of me is afraid and a part of me is sad. Her hand is slowly letting go of mine, and I am not sure what I will do when she lets go altogether.

I am not a mama's boy. Far from it. My mother has never coddled me or tried to keep me sheltered from the world. If anything, the opposite is true.

She is a strong-willed and independent person, and has taught me to be the same. She was the first person in her family to go to college, and became one of the first female police officers in Detroit in the 1950s, working the inner-city beat. She went to law school, did some modeling, and has since lived and worked abroad in Mexico.

She ultimately chose a life of service, taking up causes like civil rights and joining the women's and peace movements. Her family didn't always understand her choices, but she did what she thought was right. She still does.

My mother is a fighter, too. She tells a story about when my twin brother John died shortly after our premature birth. She says she dealt with the pain not by giving in to her grief but by willing me to live. She hid the pills that the doctor gave her to dry up her breast milk (he claimed that her milk lacked sufficient nutrition for a premature baby) and breast-fed me anyway. I have been healthy ever since.

Determined and tough as she is, my mom is also a warm and gentle soul, the kind that makes everyone she encounters feel welcome, appreciated and unique. Frankly, I have a hard time picturing her with a police revolver in her pocketbook.

Beyond her strength and tremendous presence, she is very much an average mom - in the best sense. For example, she would do that thing that all moms did in the days before seat belts in cars were required. Remember sitting next to your mom when she was driving, and at a sudden stop she would reflexively throw her arm up in front of you - supposedly to protect you from flying headfirst through the windshield? We all know this was a futile exercise. In the event of a major collision you would have both gone flying through the windshield with equal force, regardless of her shielding action. But my mom, like so many others, did it anyway. Instinctively.

She could have easily been at the top of whatever profession she chose as a career woman, but instead she chose to devote her prime professional years to raising my brother, my sister and me. In my late teens, I somewhat resented her for that choice. But now, as a part-time stay-at-home dad, I understand her choice and love her more deeply for it. I also respect the fact that, regardless of her parental and part-time work duties, she always stayed active in a variety of causes, ranging from neighborhood issues to international struggles. At nearly 75, she continues her activism unabated, albeit at a slower pace.

My mom is by no means perfect. She is a bit controlling at times and perhaps overly proud. She worries too much and doesn't take care of herself as well as she should, too often putting the needs of others before her own.

But I love the complete package that is my mom, warts and all. And because of that, I need to turn to her and say something that cannot wait until she is gone.

Mom, I am scared to death of losing you. I don't know what I will do without your wonderful smile, your firm hug, and the way that you spontaneously squeeze my hand just to let me know that you are thinking of me. I don't know what I will do without that loving gaze, pouring every ounce of your joy into my soul. I don't know what I will do without all of your prayers, and even all the worrying.

I guess the best thing I can do this Mother's Day - and beyond - is just what you did without hesitation for me, Mom: put my arm up to protect my kids from flying through the windshield. They won't understand, of course, but you and I always will. And knowing that you are still sitting beside me, I won't be nearly as afraid for the rest of the ride.

Paul Lamb, a management consultant, entrepreneur and writer, is co-author of the "Be a Better Partner Handbook for Couples." His e-mail is pauljlamb@gmail.com.

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