My mom has never made a big deal out of Mother’s Day, which is certainly pleasant for me and Dad. A card is nice, flowers are always appreciated but not necessary, and you can pretty much stop right there. No breakfast in bed (she would hate it). No fuss. No brunch or shopping or spa treatment (not our style, anyway). For her, it is a made-up holiday to be tolerated. Her refreshing approach cuts down on guilt and expenditures – I think it means more to me now that I’m older than it does to her, so I usually send an e-card and some flowers and, when long-distance, give her a call. She’s always pleased and reminds me, sincerely: “You didn’t have to do anything!”
This year she got, in lieu of flowers, a $30 Amazon gift card, which she will hopefully spend on herself. So given her low-key approach, I don’t have a soppy Mother’s Day message, but I do have some beautiful pictures my father sent us of Mom playing with me on the bed as a baby, and I wanted to post a few.
My dad is a brilliant photographer, and I am lucky enough that he was on the forefront of the home video era, and we therefore have some amazing home movies from my early childhood. I used to watch these with my parents, hypnotized with myself, because it was not only magical to see myself onscreen, but to watch a recording of events I remembered, however mundane. It always made me feel real, and shocked to see evidence of my existence.
A couple of years ago, he transferred a number of these old Betamax videos to DVD and mailed them to me. 20 years on, it was a revelation. While I was still interested in seeing this child version of myself, I was far more transfixed with the adults and this entire world that had played out in my orbit but was beyond my comprehension. Seeing my parents in their mid-to-late thirties, not so far from my present age, is such an incredible and contemporary privilege.
While my dad indulgently zoomed in on my four-year-old self in a tutu, jumping on the sofa in my grandmother’s house, I now shout at the screen, “Go back to the kitchen!” The kitchen, where my mother and Gram were smoking, and Mom rolled her eyes and drawled some sardonic reply to my grandmother’s comment about my father’s filming. My dad laughs offscreen and retorts back. The visuals bring it all back to me with a jolt, and I am desperate to know what the adults are saying, because they’re now… people to me. Smart, complicated, messy, and fascinating people – not just the grown-ups anymore, observed through the happily self-absorbed eyes of a kid. Not just present to ensure I am fed, clean, entertained, and content, but people who existed separate from my needs.
I’ve wondered before what really marks adulthood, and I think to some extent it has to be this realization and understanding of your family as individual and flawed human beings, with personal motivations and experiences that have nothing to do with you. I think this starts to develop, for most, in early teenage years, when issues of identity and selfhood are especially intense, and gains a stronger foothold over time. Maturity brings an appreciation for the adults intimately involved in your upbringing, so that you can begin to view them as individuals not strictly defined by their relationship to you.
I love these pictures, not only because they evoke powerful memories of my childhood, but because I look at them and relate more to my mother than I do to my baby self, even though I don’t have children of my own. She’s only four years older in these photos than I am right now, my dad only six.
My mom and I have a much more open relationship now than we did in my adolescent years, and the frank discussions of family, love, life, education, and sex we enjoy make my relationship with her probably the most powerful in my life. Still, she is always my mother, not my friend, and I am so grateful for how we’ve developed together as my appreciation for her as an individual person has grown. We’ve had a lot of hard times and I realize I am very, very lucky.
However complicated our relationship, however frustrating and angry it may have been in the past, it is ultimately solid. I truly feel there is nothing she wouldn’t do for me. With a greater knowledge of her life and history, I see how much see pushes me to be strong and independent, yet is always standing behind me with a safety net. It’s not perfect, but it’s very good, and I hope will get even better.
I remember flipping through a family album many years ago, and stumbled across an 8″x10″ of my mom from the late seventies. She’s lying on her stomach on a couch, laughing, and wearing nothing but skimpy undies. It’s a very playful, sexy, and intimate picture, a great picture even, and I recall blushing and slamming the album closed. Obviously, my dad had taken it before I was born, and while I could recognize that it was a wonderful photograph, it was also clearly none of my business. Now, the thought of that picture makes me smile.
All images copyright my Dad, early 1982.
(ETA from Dad: “High Speed Ektachrome Tungsten, ISO 160. Olympus OM2N, 50mm f/1.4. Wide open at 1/30 sec. Pretty good pix, I do think.”)