Friday, May 11, 2012

Mothers and Moms

I would be crazy to say anything against the term "Mom," which is firmly fixed in our language now, as in SAHM. I will just comment that as a person trained in the ways language impacts us, that I think a Mom is different than the Mothers of our youth (mine and Tom's, your youth if you are much over fifty).

Perhaps in illustration, I recall a Sunday dinner with my high school boyfriend, whose parents were immigrants and went to the 9:00 service in German at their Lutheran church.  His older brother was there, too, with his fiancee, a really sweet, feminine girl named Ann.  Al's mother made rolls every Sunday as part of a very nice 1:00 dinner - from scratch - it was the late 1950s, and cake mixes hadn't been around that long.

There was something stiff and silent about those meals.  At one point, into the silence, Ann said, "The rolls are really wonderful, Mother Nickles."  I'd never heard anyone addressed like that before.

Al's parents were the kind of parents who expected respect. That same year, perhaps it was before Easter dinner, Al said to his father (as he reported to me), "Why can't we do some other kind of grace before dinner once in a while?"  His father knocked him across the room. Somehow, Al had not expected that.

Oh, I am not standing in defense of this kind of parenting, a pure form of patriarchy and its rigid ideas about heirarchy and how people ought to act.  But I confess to an internal sigh, when someone talks about herself as a Mom.  There is something very friendly and casual about that.  But mothering is a pretty intense occupation.

When I was growing up, our mothers were not our friends.  Though as I think of it, I was very close to my mother in my twenties, and ended up at one point in my thirties in a different role, advising her when she was going through a nervous breakdown.  What did I know?  But I told her, "You need to go to college."  She must have wanted to, because she did, and attained an Associate Degree.  Later she would say those were the best years of her life.  She was the only one of twelve kids in her family to go to college; it was my generation that got nudged into degrees and attainments.  Her generation stayed in The Mill - Youngstown Sheet and Tube. My father was the exception in his family too, went through college on the GI Bill.

This is early, but if I try to save it for Mother's Day Sunday, I am likely to forget to post it.  And it does give me a chance to say, if you don't have children yourself, you might not realize how much it means to get a Mother's Day card and gift.  It's different than any other honor I've known.

[image: a tree peony with a Polaroid effect applied.  Instant cameras were the greatest thing back then.]


  1. Note the contrast: I grew up calling my father "Dad" and my mother "Mother". She insisted upon it. I suspect my relationship with her would have been somewhat different if she had been my "mom". I wonder now just how...

    Bob P.

  2. Great story, Jeanne. I read it with rapt interest. I know my Polish grandparents were pretty austere with their own children, so I could picture the Sunday roll family fairly well.

    Your last line about the unique honour of celebrating Mother's Day choked me up. Thank you.

    1. It's funny about parenting here and now; we expect to set our children loose into the world, independent of us. Many people expect them to move anywhere in the wide world. It's only been these last 50-100 years in America, maybe anywhere, that people thought they would raise children who they did not expect to provide the ultimate social security in their old age.