I’ve been motherless for 19 years, but when Mother’s Day rolls around, I remember her.
It’s not with the cotton candy joy of mushy Hallmark cards, memories of hugs and kisses and platters of piping hot, home-baked chocolate chip cookies, or with the swell of pride and excitement with each motherly compliment.
No, my mother wasn’t like that.
For one thing, Hallmark has yet to develop a Mother’s Day card for Tiger Moms such as my mother. Come to think of it, they haven’t exactly cornered the market on the kind of mother I am, who is on Facebook and belongs to such wonderful groups as “Moms Who Drink and Swear.” Thanks to my husband, who is militantly anti-Hallmark, my kids make my greeting cards, sometimes including fresh and original pithy poetry. I’d rather laugh until I cry and pee my pants than to open a saccharine $4 card that just isn’t me.
My mother wasn’t much of a kissy-huggy person either; I grew up in the 1960s when there was still a line of parental thinking that included corporal punishment. I was an Army brat, and the household was run with military precision. My mother’s culinary skills were sadly lacking, listing toward items canned, frozen, or found on a menu.
Thinking back, I doubt she complimented me even once. If I got a B, she would wonder why it wasn’t an A (Heaven forbid if the grade was anything less than a B). If I raised the grade to A, she would bemoan the fact that it wasn’t an A+. But it wasn’t just grades; I was too thin, too hippie, too high, wrote things too controversial, picked boyfriends who were too horny or too substandard.
I am not by any means complaining. My mother might not have been Donna Reed or June Cleaver; I seriously doubt she was close to Marge Simpson. She was a milspouse, and an immigrant on top of that. She was tough, stern, over-protective, sometimes emotionally abusive, and completely Asian nuts. She was a Tiger Mom decades before the book came out and the term popularized, born out of a long line of them. Yet I loved her and thought she did a decent enough job.
Life is nothing if not grossly unfair. There are two ways of looking at your mother. She can be the scapegoat for all that is wrong with your life. You can blame your problems, your failures, your damaged psyche on the way you were raised. You can take your mother’s mistakes and foibles and amplify them, using them and her as a crutch to explain away your shortcomings.
Or you can take a step back, determine what worked, cast off strategies that didn’t. It’s all in attitude. Your mother plants the seed, but it’s the child who owns the seed and is responsible for seeing his or her life to fruition.
My kids thought I was a “mean mom” until they heard my sisters and I discussing our childhood. They realized how vastly different it was compared to their own. I was a cream puff, a Tabby Cat Mom. Compared to my own mother, with her admonitions not to cross the street when we were very young and her strict curfews when in high school, I was a crushing pushover. With the exception of insisting upon studying an instrument, I rejected most of my mother’s theories of raising children with an iron fist.
I still wonder whose approach was more “right,” but I’m not going to worry about it. We did the best we could with what we had.
Happy Mother’s Day, Tiger Mom.