We were at a softball game. My mother and her friends sat on the steel bleachers by the field, watching as their husbands and boyfriends played. All the kids ran to a nearby hill to play and, as we slipped around on the grass that was wet from recent rain, we decided to slide down the hill on our bottoms. Up and down we went and, on one of my trips down, I slid over a piece of glass imbedded in the mud. I jumped up and put my hand on the back on my leg and saw the blood.
I walked gingerly towards the bleachers and, by the time I got there, my sock was soaked in blood. My mom was focused on the game, a cigarette in one hand and a Budweiser in the other. “Mom…” I said it quietly but she turned to look at me and then noticed all the blood and said, “Jes-us Christ. What did you do?” She finished off her beer, took one last long drag off her cigarette before stubbing it out and flicking it underneath the bleachers and then called me closer. “Turn around” she said and I did as I was told. She plunged her hand into her cooler, grabbed a handful of ice and began cleaning off my leg with less care than she would have shown the hood of her Monte Carlo.
“I think I need stitches, mom.”
“Nah. You’ll be fine.”
She reached into her purse and pulled out some tape and taped the cut. She then told me to go sit on the curb and wait for the game to be over. The tape didn’t stick – that was never the intended purpose of scotch tape. I waited on the curb and, when the game was finally over, we went home.
Years later, when my mother had mellowed and we had reached our fragile peace, I mentioned that day and she said, “Yeah, you should have had stitches but I took care of it.”
“Mom, you tried to scotch tape my ass.”
She laughed and said, “Well, that probably wasn’t one of my best moments.”
When I first started sharing my writing about my mother with others, someone asked my rhetorically, “How do you learn to mother your children when you weren’t nurtured by your own mother?” I wondered that myself.
I thought a lot about mothers this week as we prepared for Listen To Your Mother and that question came back to me and I settled on part of the answer.
My mother taught me how to be tough, how to be independent, how to survive. Those are all good gifts. But, I really learned about mothering from my sister.
My sister is 14 years older than me and has always been the kindest presence in my life.
It was my sister who bathed me when I was little, who brushed my long hair.
It was my sister who took me to the zoo and the circus, who baked Christmas cookies with me and made birthdays special.
My sister was the first person I came out to and, despite her fears and worries, she supported me without question.
It was my sister who came to our commitment ceremony and toasted both Luisa and me, who later hosted the baby shower for our first child.
My sister was in the room with us for each of our kids’ births.
My sister is also a mother and, in watching her, I learned to advocate for my children, that you must be fierce even if later you break down in tears.
It is my sister’s voice I hear in my head when I have been far too strict and controlling with my own children and her whisper reminds me to have fun, to enjoy them and to spoil them every once in awhile.
My sister is the person who taught me that some people do love unconditionally.
Today is my sister’s birthday and I forgot to send her a card. I have it. It’s on my desk. It’s just that I never managed to put a stamp on it and drop it in the mail. But, as I contemplated motherhood this week, I was holding her close in my heart.
So…Sis…if you read this, I want you to know that I love you and admire you and you will always be one of my heroes. Thank you for being an incredible sister and for loving me and for making me a better person. I love you very much.