Relationships are hard. Probably none are harder than the parent and child ones. In the early years, parents are your role models, they guide you and teach you. In later years those models are the ones you fight against or with as you gain your own identity and independence. I had many fights and stand offs with my mom through the years, especially after my father passed as I became the substitute for my dad.
Despite those fights there were truths and behaviors that my parents, my mom, taught me that became the foundation of who I am with some personal tweaks, of course.
When I was young, I was sick and spent weeks in the hospital undergoing tests and operations. My mom was with my through all the appointments and every night in the hospital while I got better. There were times during that ordeal that I was the one who had to comfort her – telling her I would be fine and that she didn’t have to cry.
When I was about to give birth to M, my daughter, I didn’t want her to come to the hospital with me because it was in the same hospital where my dad passed only seven months before. She was still so sad and frail. But she was there and despite my fear of her passing out, she held M in her arms in utter shock of how I made it through labor. I snapped at her and said “Mom, you did the same thing three times.” But she worried about me then and about us always and that’s what moms do. She worried up to the end. Some of the last things she said to me was to make sure that I put a hat on and to ensure that we all ate.
As most of you know, I am a big dog lover. This I did not get from my mom. Or, so I thought. When I was younger, I bugged my parents for a dog relentlessly.
My mom’s responses were – these are in translation and censored:
'Enough with the dog already.'
'Get out of here with the dog'
'When you get older, you can get one.'
Sure enough, when I was older, I got one. My mom was furious with me.
But over the years who was the one asking me to bring the dog over, who informed me we were having chicken for dinner because that’s what the dog asked for, who gave up her seat on the couch so the dog would be comfortable. She had a big heart and it seemed at times that it was biggest for the dogs.
It was also a very big heart for children. She often babysat and was a nanny as we were growing up and we got older. She often would tell me stories of what the children did and said while she was with them. She always had a sparkle in her eyes as she retold those stories. Often laughing so hard, she would gasp for air. She was very sweet and played with the kids. She did this with M too –singing to her, playing peek-a-boo and getting ‘scared’ just to hear her laugh.
She had a great sense of humor. Her sense of sarcasm was impeccable. She often tried to laugh or find humor in the smallest things. Both of my parents had that talent and I try to emulate that even through hard times.
What I am most grateful for is that despite only have a fifth grade education, she and my dad worked tirelessly so we could all go to college. We could have something that they didn’t. She rallied for both my and my sister’s education because she came from a country and a time where girls didn’t get to go to high school much less college. She knew that education over here, in America, was the first step to a better life. Although she was physically here in the US, her heart and her thoughts were always in Italy. There’s a line in a song that goes ‘you cannot return to where you never left’. Every time I hear it I think of my mom. I probably won’t listen to that song for a while now.
She was a strong woman, ‘manufactured in a different time and place’ as many neighbors said. Through her rounds of chemotherapy, she never once exhibited the nausea or vomiting that we were told to expect. The nurses and oncologist always remarked that ‘she was a fighter – a tough cookie’. And she was. She fought hard in life, with me, with us and now she’ll go back to fighting with my dad. Dad, I hope you tuck your shirt in and that you have smoked your share of cigarettes while you had your break. Mom, say hi to my fuzzies and thank you for everything.